Chris ‘Klondike’ Masuak needs no introduction. Over the last two decades he has been a crucial member of some of the coolest, most rockin’ bands this country has ever produced. Radio Birdman, The Hitmen, The New Christs, The Screaming Tribesmen, The Juke Savages. Guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer. Australian rock n roll owes a large debt to Chris Masuak. This issue, Vicious Kitten speaks to the man himself, and gets the lowdown on everything from the recent re-flight of Radio Birdman, his views on today’s music scene and also his forthcoming plans……..read on cats !
Vicious Kitten: Klondike, let’s talk about the recent Radio Birdman reformation. How did that all come about ?
Chris Masuak: Radio Birdman used to kick out major horsepower. That kind of energy is hard to contain, and when it spilled into our personal lives we didn’t have the skills to deal with it. Subsequently, it’s taken a lot of years to recover from the fallout and for some of us to even talk to each other. When we found ourselves in a recording studio remixing the old albums the feeling was generous, familiar, and comfortable. Then when I was visiting Deniz in the USA last year, a fax from the Big Day Out boys came through. We kind of looked at each other in a vague inquiring way and I guess decided then and there that if it was OK with the other guys it was fine with us. When Ron jammed with Deniz on one of Deniz’ European tours the die was cast. We all had different reasons for wanting the thing to work. I felt that it was a rare opportunity to repair an ugly ending and make the ‘family’ live happily ever after.
VK: From a fan’s perspective it appeared that the old ‘magic’ was still there. How did it feel to play as a unit after such a long time ? Was the old ‘magic’ still there ?
CM: It was awkward at first. The unreality of the situation was overwhelming ! I had to relearn the songs in some cases but it didn’t really seem to gel. Then one day in rehearsal I remembered the feeling, the posture. Genetic memory kicked in and we were back as far as I was concerned. I’m greatly relieved that we were so appreciated. I guess it means the ‘juju’ is still with us.
VK: Do you have a favourite show from that re-union tour? You looked particularly floored by the raucous response from the Selina’s crowd.
CM: It was typical Birdman; erratic, unpredictable, but always a trip. Yeah, sometimes the response surprised me. It was a case of being shocked out of concentration by the unbelievable support of the fans. I loved playing outdoors. There’s something about the sound and feel of megawatts.
VK: It must have been a thrill to have Wayne Kramer fly out and open the shows.
CM: Wayne is a huge influence and a magnificent artist. It was an honour to share the same bill with him, Brock and Paul.
VK: Did any special moments/funny incidents occur during the re-union tour ?
CM: The most hilarious thing is that on any given night there were six old farts up on stage and no one got egged. The sight of Ron sitting behind the kit, like a cross between Buddha and Winnie the Pooh was worth the price of admission.
VK: Will Birdman be releasing any new product ?
CM: It’s possible.
VK: Was the reformation tour a one off ? There are a few rumours of a European tour ?
CM: We’ve all got our own projects and obligations, and we live all over the planet. The last tour was a logistical nightmare and it’s success was testament to John Needham, our manager’s courage and patience. I didn’t believe anything about the last tour until I had the proof in my hands, so who knows.
VK: The last re-incarnation of The Hitmen spawned the wonderful ‘Moronic Inferno’ LP. Your playing on that record is just so fluent. Were you disappointed with the lack of response it received from the music press and the record buying public in general ?
CM: Yeah, The Hitmen kinda fizzled out. We never did get much support from the industry here, and in fact even Triple J usually reject any of my stuff as “not the kind of music they play on this station”. Still, I can’t complain. I got more second chances in twenty odd years of rockin’ than most people dream of.
VK: Whilst on The Hitmen, I find it hard to believe that the indestructible Johnny Kannis is not on a stage somewhere. What is Zeus up to nowadays ?
CM: Johnny’s up north where it’s warm doing entrepreneurial stuff. His injuries really do keep him from doing much, which I know is a frustration.
VK: Let’s talk about your time with The Screaming Tribesmen – in particular the US tour of 1987. How did that go, and was the band well received ?
CM: We had support up the yinyang but basically fell apart at the seams. The performances were too erratic for me to accept and we all had personal problems to deal with and the band blew it. It’s always seemed a shame that Mick didn’t take advantage of all the resources and keep going in that direction. He had it all on a plate at that time – despite the problems and with his talent and a bit of vision, may have kept the hits coming. The fans were certainly there for it.
VK: Johnny Kannis and yourself received a ‘thankyou’ on the Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom album ‘…And You ?’, whilst the latter day Hitmen used to open up with ‘The Party Starts Now’. What is the connection there ?
CM: We met the Handsome One in New York, and he came onstage for a Dictators encore at The Cat Club. The next thing you know Andy Shernoff has invited me to play on ‘The Party Starts Now’. There’s this guy in the studio and Andy says “Chris, meet Ross”. Dumb fuck that I am, I go “The Boss ??!!”. I spent much of my career ripping him off. Perhaps the style was too close to the bone ’cause they didn’t end up using my leadbreak (which I consider superior). Kannis and I hung out with them for a while and it was a pleasant surprise to be acknowledged on their album.
VK: What have you been up to of late ? You have a new band – The Raouls, is that correct ?
CM: I live, study and work in Sydney and am preparing for fatherhood. I drum in The Raouls which is primarily Warwick Gilbert’s baby and an outlet for his formidable guitar lust. We have recorded songs for a Spanish label and are putting together a CD for release here. We seem to play regularly so I guess there are a few people left in Sydney who don’t have their heads stuck up their ass too far to have fun.
VK: Are The Juke Savages on hold ? What’s in the pipeline ?
CM: The Juke Savages still exist, with a new drummer, Tubby Wadsworth, who despite the stigma of playing with the Candy Harlots (actually, a good bunch of guys) has given us a shot in the arm. We’re recording for a European release and, hopefully, a tour early next year. We don’t play around much; we’re too rocky for the blues fraternity and too bluesy for the hip venues. Too loud, too old, whatever. We’re patient.
VK: What’s your opinion on today’s scene, with the likes of Oasis fairly dominant ? Doesn’t seem to be too much rock-action out there, you really have to search for it nowadays.
CM: I wouldn’t know what’s out there, particularly. There does seem to be a trend toward pop and cohesive arrangements, which would be great if the new artists would come up with some ideas of their own from time to time.
VK: What excites you musically these days ?
CM: Listening to The Raouls, Juke Savages, Wayne Kramer, Coltrane, Parker. Playing the drums and giving up trying to play guitar at a respectable volume.
VK: How did you get into rock n roll ?
CM: My Dad gave me a guitar at 13.
VK: What was the first record you ever bought ?
CM: My brother and I bought Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
VK: What was the first concert you attended ?
CM: I can’t remember if it was T.Rex or B.B King. T.Rex was crap on every level and I was naive enough to believe that B.B was really collapsing from exertion on stage. I used to go and see these big concerts and heckle bands like Blackfeather, Finch and Hush. Utter crap but no alternative. When I started going to Birdman gigs my academic career was shot to shit and my destiny forged, for better or worse.
VK: Name your five ‘desert island discs’ ?
CM: ‘Cha Cha Cha’ by Bobby Rydell, ‘Linda Sue Dixon’ by Mitch Ryder, ‘Strange Pleasure’ by Jimmie Vaughan, ‘Giant Steps’ by John Coltrane and ‘The Hard Stuff’ by Wayne Kramer.
VK: A message for the Vicious Kitten readers/Klondike fans out there……..
CM: We are all here for a purpose, which I don’t pretend to know. I do know that once we get off our asses and do things, anything, anytime, and lots of it, life gets really weird and interesting and I suspect we get closer to finding out what that purpose may be. Work hard. Play hard. Have fun for cryin’ out loud !
(Archive Source: Vicious Kitten Fanzine Issue 4: July 1996)