HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE
The Cosmic Psychos launch their Blokes You Can Trust doco with a Lion's Club barbie and homegrown shiraz incentive. TIM goes along for the ride. Words by Michael Dwyer. Photographs by David Cresswell.
The first sign of Ross Knight is his elbow, hanging out of a faded Hard Yakka work shirt from the driver's window of a rusted Rodeo LX. "There's no water in the dunnies yet," the Cosmic Psychos frontman warns as he slows the ute on the dirt track to his farmhouse.
"Lot of thought's gone into this," he adds drily as he rolls on, jerking a thumb at the PA being set up at the lip of a gravel quarry behind him. "We've been planning since last night."
He might be serious behind those inscrutable bikie shades. But for most of us, the gala international launch of the Cosmic Psychos: Blokes You Can Trust documentary has been a promise for nearly a year. Here, between the vast blue sky and amber vineyards of Spring Plains station in rural Victoria, it’s about to come true in a cattle-frightening roar of yobbo rock.
The Psychos' first gig since a Brisbane new year's eve show five months ago is invitation-only: a reward for a couple of hundred fans who made the doco possible by providing footage and/ or cash towards filmmaker Matt Weston's $28,000 budget.
"For 30 years, the Cosmic Psychos have blazed a trail of empty beer cans and busted ear drums around the globe with their quintessential Australian drawl and pounding punk rock songs," went Weston's pitch on the pozible.com crowd-funding site.
The film, then 70 per cent complete, would document "the band's colourful history, as well as the enigmatic and entertaining founding member Ross Knight . . . to get behind the man who rides the bulldozer: farmer, father, weightlifter, frontman."
When pledges closed in August, a whopping $48,121 had been raised, allowing Weston's skeleton crew to fly to the US and London for crowning interviews with Psychos fans Eddie Vedder, L7, Mudhoney, Butch Vig, the Melvins and more.
Later tonight, under the art deco marquee of Castlemaine's Theatre Royal, the final cut will be unveiled to band, crew and the lubricated patrons of the arts who have now begun to arrive in coaches from Melbourne to grab a Lions Club barbie burger, an esky tinnie and Cubaney Rum cocktails.
Drummer Dean Muller explains it was his wife, Kim, who planted the seed for the doco after learning of Knight's boxes of beat-up VHS and Betamax tapes documenting the band's journey from weekend cowshed bangers to global grunge pioneers.
"There's some really great stuff: times with Nirvana before they hit the big time, all that shit. So it's gold. My daughter Nadine was working for Matt Weston, so Kim approached him," he says.
An experienced director of music videos (Beasts of Bourbon, Birds of Tokyo, er, Justine Clarke), Weston is no fool with a camera. "Rock'n'roll documentaries? They don’t make any money," he initially scoffed. But after cursory research he quickly realised "this was a story that had to be told."
With due respect to current and past members both tragically departed and bitterly dismissed, the story very much belongs to our host. The essence of the film, and to some extent the Psychos' appeal as a frill-free Aussie pub institution, is Ross Knight's fundamental commitment to the workingman’s harvest, regardless of the lures of rock stardom.
"My grandfather bought this place in the '30s, part of the returned soldiers’ settlement after World War I," the singer-bass player explains after filling the dunnies, picking up a neighbour's kids he's agreed to babysit and seeing to a perfunctory soundcheck.
He describes the perimeter of the property with a sweep of his arm. House. Bush. Creek. Cattle on agistment. The quarry mines white gravel for six bucks a tonne — "so empty yer boots before you leave," he says.
The vineyard dominating the middle distance is blocked off into merlot, semillon, sauvignon blanc and a strain of Psycho shiraz which earned some cache in the Pozible push: donations of $1000 were rewarded with one bottle; $5000 bought you a case.
"The vineyard's pretty full time," Knight says. "We get 60 tonne a year off it. The vines are going well. It's a reasonable earner. I contract to a vineyard down the Yarra Valley, Stefani Estate. Also Granite Hills, up Bourke and Wills track. A few other vineyards around take a bit of fruit."
So is the beer monster persona just a front for a vino aficionado?
"I wouldn't say I'm an expert but I know the difference between a good and a bad. You spit the bad one out and you swallow the good one. Although I do believe you can find a great bottle of wine for under 10 bucks.”
Knight and his parents put the vines in about 20 years ago, just as the Psychos were going gangbusters in the global grunge slipstream. But unlike most chancers who find their noise miraculously embraced as part of the cultural fabric, he was never tempted to use rock'n'roll as an escape route.
"Shit no. Because if you make it your main gig you're gonna get sick of it. I mean, how many people have I seen, good people in good bands, playing all the time and it just becomes work? They run out of ideas, they feel pressured to write songs and the band slowly buggers up. I mean, there's a few rare exceptions but basically that's what happens."
The sun is sinking behind a massive yellow Caterpillar tractor when Knight, Muller and guitarist John "Mack" McKeering take their positions. The first spin of the chook wheel unleashes Custom Credit, Nice Day To Go to the Pub and Go the Hack in a jagged blitzkrieg that echoes through the picturesque valley.
Over a short but unforgettable set, the rum and the rock prove especially affecting for a select few who tumble in a riot of boots and flannies down the 45-degree slope of the mosh pit, then clamber back up to holler for Dead Roo, Pub and Hooray Fuck.
“Haven’t you got a town to destroy?” Knight finally enquires when it’s time to re-board buses to the gala film premiere. “Castlemaine’s that way. I’ve gotta put me kids to bed. Bugger off.”
Cosmic Psychos: Blokes You Can Trust is now screening exclusively at Cinema Nova, Carlton. Session times here. The band is also touring nationally in support of the film.
Friday August 9
The Hi Fi - MELBOURNE 125 Swanston Street, Melbourne VIC
With Ooga Boogas and Dead River Open
Saturday August 10
The Metro - SYDNEY 624 George Street, Sydney NSW
With Front End Loader and Bruce
Friday August 16
Amplifier Bar - PERTH 393 Murray St, Perth WA
with Devil Rides Out
Saturday August 17
Fowlers Live - ADELAIDE 68 North Terrace, Adelaide SA
with Meatbeaters and Pro Tools
Saturday August 24
The Hi Fi - BRISBANE 125 Boundary Street, West End, Brisbane QLD
with Six Ft Hick + Good Times