From The Archives: John Spittles Interview (2000)

Johnny Spittles: photo: D.Gray

John, how’s it going ? What’s been happening with the Asteroids of late ?

Well most things are workin’ out ok for me at the moment thanks Col, and the things that aren’t workin’ out, I’ll get ’em in the end. The band has been pretty quiet because I’ve been away for the best part of 18 months in the last 2 years. But since I’ve been home we have done a hand full of shows. Nothing really as our ‘own show’ but when this new album comes out I would think we would step up a gear. We’ve had a few rehearsals to work on some new ideas and that’s been positive, so things are rollin’ along.

The new album has been recorded for sometime now. It’s coming out on Full Toss right ? What about an overseas release ?

Yeah the record was recorded mid ’98 but it was only finished a couple of months ago. The songs for the record were only written a couple of months before we recorded them and though it seems like a long time before they see the light of day, with me being away and the band not playin’ so much the songs still feel new and fresh to me. Yeah the record is coming out on CD and vinyl on my good buddy Richie’s Full Toss Empire. It’s great to be working with a friend again, like we were in the beginning when we were on Destroyer Records. The Au Go Go thing didn’t work out in the end, they did lift the profile of the band at some stage, but I doubt they were makin’ any sort of money out of the band and it became really fucked trying to deal with ’em in the end. There was loads of bullshit being told to us and in the end the crap could only be spread so far, I mean gettin’ one royalty check for 4 to 5 hundred dollars in five years kinda makes you think ?? And they were sellin’ some records, or at least that’s what they told me, not much of it added up, but hey, you learn ! As for overseas, we have been told of interest here and there but most of the time we’re lazy bastards and haven’t followed it up. I’m really proud of this new record. It feels real to me so I reckon if we pull our fingers out maybe something could happen in Europe for this one.

OK, let’s back track a bit. How did you get into rock ‘n’ roll, and who were your influences when you were growing up ?

How could you not love rock ‘n’ roll ? It’s like you said Col “it’s a disease”, and I’ve been infected since I was a kid . My influences growing up were my Mother and Father, they would always have the king Elvis Presley or Chuck Berry and other 50’s or 60’s rock ‘n ‘roll on the stereo or the wireless, as my grandparents would call it . My Dad got me an electric guitar when I was 13, he showed me how to play ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ and I took it from there.

I guess most clued on people will know you took the name Asteroid B-612 from the Sonic’s Rendezvous band. What do you find so appealing about Fred Smith’s playing ? What does it for you ? Well even the most clued on people can be wrong.

As you said Col, Sonic’s Rendezvous Band had a song called asteroid b612 , but the name comes from a children’s book called The Little Prince which was written by a Frenchman who’s name escapes me at the moment . It’s about this little kid who is a bit of a loner, he doesn’t have many friends so to keep him self occupied he pretends he comes from his own planet, and it’s called the asteroid b612. He plays on the planet and cooks his breakfast by the little exploding volcanos on the asteroid. If you were to read the book you would think an adult would relate to it better than a child , well I did and the name kinda stuck. The story goes {or so I was told} that the guy who wrote it said that one day he was just gonna disappear off the face of the earth, and then one day he went missing and was never seen again ? When I listen to Fred Smith play I hear soul, passion and a fire that seems so real it glows. They are the things I love most about music and I hear them all in him. They are also the things I like to have in my life, so when I heard him play I was sold.

The band has been around for what, 8 or 9 years now ? Any special shows or memories stand out for you in that time ?

The band started in February, ’92 so yeah about 8 and a half years. Fuck is that a long time ? I don’t know ? As for memories jeez I don’t know, but I can tell ya we’ve played lots of great shows and lots of bad shows. I’ve learnt a lot in this band. I’m thankful for the great relationships I have made with the people who are in the band and the ones who have been in the band. I’m also thankful for workin’ out what one of those particular relationships was worth and learning from that. Most of all I’m proud of most of the music we have and are making and the strength, will, and pride that Asteroid B-612 has.

Since Grahame’s been with band (for what, 2 years now), the sound has taken on a whole new dimension. I mean Grant McIver’s voice was strong, but Grahame adds style and presence, and that’s not a slur on Bullet at all. Agreed ?

Yeah I agree. I mean Froffa was the first to say “Grahame’s a much better singer then me”. Don’t get me wrong. Me and Grant {Froffa or Bullet} grew up together and he is a close friend. We have a certain bond but his departure was well timed, because although he has a strong voice he would have really struggled with the songs I wrote for the new record. Grahame has a much better range and control and like you said does add a certain style and presence. He doesn’t jump round like a wild man like Froffa, but he has poise and a better delivery. It’s funny cos’ lots of people say that we aren’t as good without Bullet jumpin’ around out front any more. Grant would often say to me that most of it was bullshit showmanship, but people don’t see past that. I understand that people want to be entertained, but there’s always a circus in town. I guess I’m naive by saying I thought it was about the music. To be honest though , most of the people that have that opinion have no pedigree. Only I can say this because I’m his brother. Grahame is a great singer but would be a fuckin’ great singer if he wasn’t so lazy!

So you recently packed up your guitar and headed over to Philadelphia. Tell us about your time there, highlights etc.

Well I got set up with a dream like situation. My two benefactors Cosmo and Perfect set me up with a band to play in, a place to work and make the mighty greenback, and a place to live while doin’ all this! Pretty fuckin’ lucky I’d say ! I have been like their  adopted brother for a while now, there my peeps ya know ! Highlights ? Well just hangin’ out with my pals Howard {Cosmo} and Eric {Perfect} was the highlight. Also getting’ to know Kevin and his brother Steve from Limecell, and striking up a good friendship with those guys was great too. For me playing with Michael Wilhelm {Flamin’ Groovies, Loose Gravel, the Charlatans. The original psychedelic country rock band circa ’65} was truly an honour. It was a magical thing to be involved with. It’s funny, cos’ I’d be standin’ next to him playin’ , watchin’ him and listening to him thinking ‘fuck, that’s beautiful’, and totally forgettin’ I was up there playing as well! He has a wonderful, warm and rich texture as a guitar player, and has those same attributes as a person. I learnt a lot.

And there is a second Johnny Casino album completed too right ?

Yes there’s about 12 songs or so recorded. I quite like it , for what it’s worth and I prefer it to the other record. It was recorded a couple of days before I left, very unrehearsed, very live, and very raw, in the practice space straight to four track I think. There are about 7 or so Easy Action originals and a hand full of covers too {Modern Lovers, Easybeats, Soul Saviours and the like}.

I always thought you guys should head over to Spain or Germany, do the Europe thing, (or even Japan) where the crowds are more into guitar based rock ‘n’ roll. I guess money is the issue ?

Well yeah money is an issue, but if we had our records released by the right people over there we could then tour and the money would sort itself out I guess. It’s something we’ve always talked about but never got off our arses and done something about it. Loads of friends have told me of the interest in the band over there but we haven’t followed it up. Maybe that’s a thing we could push for with this new album. I think it’s a much better album then the previous ones so I have a bit more faith about it.

What inspires John Spittles as a song writer ?

Nothing new. The people around me, my ex-girlfriend who lives just around the corner from me but can’t even say hello to me, the same old blues that lots of song writers write about. Relationships that work, relationships that don’t, relationships that never leave the ground or your mind until their played on an instrument. Opinions, nothin’ ground breaking but the truth all the same, and that counts for a lot. To be in the position I’m in is really good for my head space because I have an avenue to get all of this shit outta my head. It’s therapy. I have enough hang ups as it is, so getting this stuff out of my head and to the band is a great release for me. I’m lucky in fact that I have a band that most of the time understands my bullshit and can relate to it in one way or another, so they have a feel for what I’m singing about. My songs mean a lot to me, I’m probably at times way too close to them, but that’s just the way I work. I made a decision a few years back to just have one guitar in this band and the decision wasn’t about gettin’ rid of a guitar player. It was about moving forward and tryin’ something else, something with more space, more dynamics, more peaks, more air to breath. I needed to get away from something that at times was like a runaway train. Don’t get me wrong. I like bands that have two guitars in them, so long as they’re both doin’ something,, but this band had already done it and done it fuckin’ good and with more originality than most of these bands that people seem to be wettin’ themselves over. I think it would have been real fuckin’ boring to go on doing what we’d already done. I wanted to write better songs, and not just a good riff built around two good guitar players. What I’m sayin’ is that it doesn’t matter how fuckin’ good you are on the guitar, if you don’t have a good song or idea you have no vehicle. Just recently I was talkin’ about this, and this person said “it’s in the fingers, it’s in the fingers”. BULLSHIT !! It’s in Stevie Vai’s fingers, but it’s in Chuck Berry’s heart and soul! Fuck I think I got off track there a bit, sorry ’bout that. I’m just ramblin’ which is what I do sometimes. We are lucky that enough people out there get something outta the music we make to warrant us playing live and making records. I think that those things as a song writer you gotta respect. I know you are a massive Flamin’ Groovies fan.

Why do you think the Groovies were so special ?

‘High Flyin’ Baby’, ‘Whisky Woman’, ‘Blues For Phylis’, ‘Slow Death’,   ‘She’s Falling Apart’, The slide, Roy ‘ the boy’ Loney – get the picture ? ‘Road house’, ‘Headin’ For The Texas Border’, ‘Yesterdays Numbers’, ‘City Lights’, ‘Shake Some Action’, ‘The First One’s Free’, ‘Evil Hearted Ada’, ‘Have You Seen My Baby?’ and the rest. PURE UNADULTERATED ROCK”N’ ROLL !!! GROOVE ON !!!!!!!

What do you think of the current state of Australian rock ‘n’ roll. Where is it headed, and will Bardot end up doing scandalous videos and playboy spreads as there career soon nose dives ?

I have no idea where it’s headin’, but I will say since I’ve been home I’ve seen a couple of new bands that I thought were great – the Thermals, 300 St Clair, and the Dirty Low. Also my pal in Melbourne tells me that there’s a new band called the Casanovas that he thinks are great and he’s usually pretty close to the mark. I don’t think there is any problem with a lack of good bands to go and see, most people who bitch and wine about there being nothing to see are living under a fuckin’ rock. There is such a wealth of great rock ‘n’ roll bands in this country, that seems to get ignored or taken for granted, I’ve just grown tired of hearin’ the same old bitch. Depending on your taste there’s bands like Hoss, the Onyas, the Crusaders, the Powder Monkeys, the Hands Of Time, Brother Brick, Tendrils, the Hunchbacks, You Am I, those boring old fuckers in Asteroid B-612, the Freeloaders, Spencer P. Jones and the Last Gasp (fuck I’ve seen that band a bunch of times in the last year they are fuckin great! I wanna join the band!), Bored!, Yesmen, Mustang, the Stunt Car Drivers, the Sunset Strip {if they ever play again}, the Monarchs, all the stuff on Full Toss Records {there ya go Rich}, then you have bands that forged the road for a lot of these bands – the New Christs and the Celibate Rifles. Both still rock ‘n’ roll with the best of ’em, and the stupid thing is, just the other day I was reading an interview with a particular cap, and he said that bands like the New Christs and the Celibate Rifles are physically old and past their use by date, and the longer those bands hang around the more people will associate this kind of music with something that is old and less relevant !! Fuck, when did rock ‘n’ roll get a use by date ? What a stupid fuckin’ thing to say ! Use by date ? What the fuck !! I was just in the States playin’ with a man who’s in his late 50’s, he was playin’ in bands in the early 60’s, he doesn’t have a fuckin’ use by date ! What he does have is a guitar, a song, a passion, soul and fire to much all !!! When that’s gone you can fade away, but I have seen the bands he mentioned since I’ve been home and they were still kickin’ it and had something to say. If he’s worried about what people might think then here’s a tip. Move to Sweden, form a rock ‘n’ roll band that sounds like an Australian rock ‘n’ roll band , then tour this country and the people will love ya ! Fuck, they probably won’t even worry if you are associated with older bands. Anyway, that got my goat for a minute. I guess what I’m sayin’ is that outside most of the mainstream crap, whether your taste be pop music, rock ‘n’ roll, metal, dance, punk, grindcore, jeez I don’t know, all the labels people put on music. But I reckon if your lookin’ for something in particular you will find it in this country and most of the time it will be good , you just have to look beyond the mainstream amenities. As for Bardot I truly think it is a good idea. It proves what me, you, and loads of others have been saying all along. It’s not about music most of the time, it’s about a look and corporation, this may have opened John Doe’s eyes a little. Do you think I’m giving John Doe too much credit ???

The scene is so retarded. Do you think kids will eventually go back to guitar based rock ‘n’ roll ?

Well what the kids think is guitar based music is spineless garbage such as Blink-182 and a truck load of other bands from the West Coast of America ( I don’t know their names and I don’t fuckin’ care to). Then the Australian alternative is, bands that sound like all that jellyfish (aka: spineless) music over there like Bodyjar and another truck load of copycat stuff they play on radio, and I could care even less to know their fuckin’ names. Don’t blame the kids, they don’t get a lot to choose from, and in this day and age they’re too lazy to search out a real alternative. So while the radio stations continue to play what’s supposed to be cool in America and for the most part Australian bands that try to imitate them, you will get what we’re getting’. Anyway, “nothing is cool” we know who wrote that right ? I always liked that line, yeah! And I might just go and put that ’45 on .Who were the bands you played with in the States with Johnny Casino’s Easy Action ? I guess while I was there this last time we played about 6 or 7 shows. We played with Philly’s own Limecell, a band from New York called Snuka, Guitar Wolf, Michael Bruce from the Alice Cooper Group, Antiseen, Hellstomper, Frankenstein Drag Queens From Planet 13, and Rancid Vat. I got up and did ‘City Slang’ with the Hellacopters. I think there was a few others but it’s hard to jolt my memory at the moment. There was an interesting gig where my amp some how ended up through the front window of the venue and out on to the street! The window, we were to find out later, was very expensive. About 6 foot by 10 foot glass. As the band keep playin’ on I left the stage to go out side and retrieve my amp and it was gone ! That’s the mean streets of Philadelphia “Hostile City USA ” for ya !

A favourite Australian band from the 60’s ? Are you a big Easybeats fan ?

For sure, I love the Easybeats and little Stevie’s solo records ‘Black Eyed Bruiser’ and ‘Hard Road’. The first band I was in was my uncle’s sixties band when I was 15, and all we used to do was Easybeats, the Hollies, the Animals and Chuck Berry songs. They used to give me shit because I would turn up to every gig in old jeans, sand shoes and a Ramones t-shirt. I was in that band until I bought a Marshall amplifier and then things didn’t work out for the obvious reasons! My uncle still does the ‘sixties covers thing’ and makes a good living out of it, Fuck I missed my boat there ! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I really like early Masters Apprentices and Johnny O’ Keefe, always loved ‘She’s My Baby’. I think there’s probably a bunch of Australian sixties stuff that I’d love that I haven’t been exposed to yet. It’s something I wanna search for.

So what’s the remainder of the year hold for Asteroid B-612 ? Are you gonna head back to Philadelphia, or do some touring to support the album’s release ?

I’ll be home for a while. I’m really happy to be home, not that I don’t appreciate what I had set up for me overseas, but I did get home sick over there. There were a lot of things here that I missed – family, friends and makin’ music with Ben, Scott and my brother Grahame. So when the new record comes out we will be playin’ shows and maybe tour a bit. What we need to do is make sure we sell enough records so Richie’s {Full Toss Records} not in the shit and he can afford to let us do more, so yeah we should be doin’ a bunch of stuff after the record’s out. Would really like to work on some new recording’s later in the year to so that will keep us as busy as we’d like to be.

Can you name your 5 desert island discs ?

Jeez I know I couldn’t do with out ‘Distemper’ by the New Christs and ”Abbey Road’ by the Beatles. But in saying that, if I was to be stranded on a desert island with those records I’d end up doin’ myself in !!!. I really don’t think I can answer this question properly, but ‘Eternally Yours’ by the Saints, ‘Roman Beach Party’ and ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ by the Celibate Rifles. ‘Love It To Death’ by Alice Cooper, ‘Funhouse’ by the Stooges, ”Magic Bus’, ‘My Generation’ and ‘Who’s Next’ by the Who, ‘The Village Green Preservation Society’ and ‘Muswell Hillbillies’ by the Kinks, ‘Let It Bleed’ by the Rolling Stones,’High Time’ by the MC5, ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ by the Byrds, fuck there’s too many, I could go on like this for a while! I think if I couldn’t take ’em all I’d take none. Hey I just realised you said discs, I was takin’ vinyl albums. Surely they’d have a record player on this desert island ???

A message for all the Asteroid’s ? Johnny Casino fans out there ?

There’s only two things you can trust in this life, ya Grandma and rock ‘n’ roll! Was that corny enough ?Well if it was then I’m a corny guy cause I believe it. Well there are a few more people I’d trust, but not many!! Never trust your heart because that will be torn apart every time, now that was corny! Or was it ??? See ya later “may your greyhounds not be vegetarians” JOHN . A . SPITTLES.

Anything else you wanna add John, go for it. Feel free to promote, insult, take the pen !

OK, Col has told me to feel free to promote or insult {that could be interesting. I’ve only had a computer for a few months and have already noticed in certain interviews how brave and self righteous people can be behind the mouse. I’ll return that serve some other time} I choose promotion, because the insult would be “a bit negative” as me old mate Macca would say, so buy all of Richie’s FULL TOSS RECORDS cause he’s a “mate staunch and true” and he’s a good Aussie bloke !!!!.


(Interview by Col Gray. Archive Source: Cat Scratch Fever/Vicious Kitten Records Newsletter Issue 5: Sept 2000)

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