Photo & Video Credits: L.J. Spruyt Photography
Almost three decades ago Rob Snarski and Phil Kakulas formed The Blackeyed Susans. In all those years they’ve had a myriad of talent come through, but one thing remained on point – the music. Gloom meets passion with them. Always has and always will, especially on their latest Close Your Eyes and See. We talked at length about their style, their annual holiday shows coming up this week, and a lot more.
Kendra: You all have been doing this for almost three decades. When you sit back and look at your latest, Close Your Eyes and See, what elements of growth do you notice compared to your debut album?
The Blackeyed Susans: When I listen to the early stuff I hear big ambitions and small budgets. The last day of mixing our ’93 album All Souls Alive was a 26-hour marathon and it kinda sounds like it. Some will tell you that’s part of its charm and maybe they’re right but on Close Your Eyes and See we had the luxury of time to get things right. It’s a far more realized expression of our ideas.
Kendra: Do you stay focused on always outdoing the last album, or do you just go into the studio focused on the present?
The Blackeyed Susans: We go into the studio with the intention of making the best Susans’ album ever but once there our focus is on the songs at hand. They are our masters and us their loyal servants, bathing and dressing them in robes and rags, ready for the world.
Kendra: Everyone says your sound is “moody romantic” and I honestly didn’t understand what that could mean. Then I put on “Dream On” and a lightbulb went off. Definitely hypnotic in the best way, but now I have to know what was the last song that put you into a hypnotic trance?
The Blackeyed Susans: “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” by Gavin Bryars is a 74-minute opus built around a short repeating loop of an unknown homeless man singing a fragment of a hymn against an ever-growing orchestra of strings, bells, and voices. At around the 34-minute mark, Tom Waits appears and the heavens open and tears rain.
Kendra: I noticed over the years you’ve had some members come and go. Is there a common theme among members both past and present…other than being great musicians that have allowed them to be a part of this band?
The Blackeyed Susans: When newcomer JP Shilo joined the band about a decade ago, friends remarked that they couldn’t believe we’d “found another Susan.” Many people are great at playing instruments but we prefer the few that are great at playing songs.
Kendra: Let’s talk about what you have coming up. You’ve been doing this Christmas show for the past nine years in Melbourne. What inspired you to do the first and then keep it up?
The Blackeyed Susans: Christmas is a time for both celebration and commiseration. So naturally it lends itself to the poetry of music. It gives us the opportunity to play songs both sacred and profane. “Silent Night” is a beautiful, mysterious song honed by the ages. “Fairytale of New York” is hilarious and outrageous. We have some more surprises this year. Nine years on and we’re still finding gems amongst the rubble.
Kendra: Has there always been a kid-friendly matinee to go along with the other Christmas shows or did that evolve over time?
The Blackeyed Susans: It’s something we’ve been experimenting with these last few years in partnership with The Spotted Mallard. Its an all ages event and kids under 12 get in free. It makes for a different atmosphere and a good experience for all we hope. We’re not The Wiggles but we’ve got one or two songs the nippers like. Most popular is “A Cat Needs A Mouse.” Children always enjoy a little murder.
Kendra: After the holidays, what’s going on with you guys in the new year?
The Blackeyed Susans: Stay tuned. We have some big stuff coming up but nothing we can talk about just yet.
Kendra: Lastly, here at ZO, we’re all about the creative realms coming together. With that, if you had to compare Blackeyed Susans’ lengthy career to a famous work of art what would it be and why?
The Blackeyed Susans: Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray comes to mind – but in reverse; The music, photos, and videos are ageless and unchanging. While we the band march on, ravaged by the elements, older but no wiser.