MOO MOO Renewed
This is an interview I wrote for one of my favourite bands of (and for) all time… CINEMA PRAGUE.
With the long-awaited launch of Cinema Prague’s Snakes Alive at the Railway Hotel in North Fremantle on Friday, January 30, guitarist George Kailis spoke to Sabian Wilde about reanimating some powerful beasts from the vault.
“I think in our whole career, it’s probably the most gutsy thing we’ve done,” Kailis says of the decision to release Snakes Alive, recorded 12 years ago with original bassist Rex ‘Hossi’ Horan, playing the launch with a reconfigured Prague line up of Kailis, ‘Time’ Lowe and 2008 WAMI-award winning bassist Roy Martinez (Dave Mann Collective).
“In our absence, our cult status had grown – it was really bizarre, and very humbling – it made me really proud, that people should think of us in that way. To come back and put this stuff out there, and possibly fuck it all up – to potentially destroy the whole thing… we could have quite easily not done anything and become an urban myth of the Perth music scene,” Kailis says.
However, rare but sold-out shows in recent years have brought fans out of the woodwork and back into the fold, creating a larger audience than ever, as tight and diverse as the music Prague have created and explored over the years.
“That’s the amazing thing,” says Mr K. “We existed for such a long time, and we moved through quite a few scenes. When we started off we were in the hardcore scene, and then the Freo funk/rock scene, and we collected a lot of fans, and it was great that they all came to the Capitol show. A lot of the young’uns wouldn’t have seen us in a licensed venue back in the day, so they must have been from the [nineties] all-ages scene, it was really cool to see them come.”
“To put it all on the line… it could have been a disaster or, as I hope it has turned out, that we are what people remembered. For the people who had never heard us, but had heard of us, there was potential for people thinking, ‘Well, they’re not that good’. The risk of blowing that whole myth was pretty gutsy.”
The other challenge is presenting the new line up but for the older and geographically divided Praguesters (Hossi is in the UK and Kailis now lives in Melbourne) reuniting the recent line-up with Martinez was the only practical option.
“We had to decide whether to release the album without performances or just bite the bullet and test some new ground,” he says. “Rex was a big part of the band. In a lot of people’s opinion – and mine – he was the front-man and he had a fantastic charisma on stage. Replacing that third of the band was always going to be met with controversy.”
The spirit and music of the original trio is literally ‘live’ and well on Snakes Alive, recorded in just two days at Poons Head in 1997, featuring crowd favourites such as Boogie, Rose Sun P and the best song about linen ever written, Clean Sheets.
Despite playing a starring role in the 90s soundtrack for assorted thrashers, trippers, hippies, freaks and ferals, Kailis is happy that a ‘sensibility outside the mainstream’ has ultimately served the band well, making Snakes Alive as suited to 2009 as it was a decade ago.
“I don’t think our sound has aged too badly. We were never trendy, I guess,” he laughs.
“I have to get excited. If I write a song and it doesn’t keep me up for days, trying to find the perfect end to the melody or whatever, it’s a boring song – you start at point A, go to point B and then the song ends. I like the songs that surprise even me – when even I don’t know where it’s going and it takes a while to feel it.”
Of course, ‘feel’ is a big part of what the Prague experience has always been – there’s a structure and unique logic to it all, but one you have to feel your way through to. In much the same way, Kailis says that although Prague wasn’t actively looking for a new bass player, he intuitively felt Martinez would be a good fit – even though Martinez had never seen Cinema Prague play live.
“We sent [Martinez] all the CDs including Snakes Alive. I wrote charts for all the songs for him, but I had just finished doing my third year of architecture and I was on this trip of doing music as diagrams… I’d give Roy these concepts with pictures and stickers and funny fonts,” he laughs. “I don’t know what he thought of all that, but he interpreted them really well.”
Kailis says Cinema Prague is fiercely proud of Snakes Alive, an album that stands the test of time while being truly representative of the 1997 live band sound, but there are new joys to be had in going back to that material again for the live shows.
“I feel like a historian, but with the ability to change history a little bit,” he says. “Maybe we didn’t quite nail the songwriting back then, so with the live shows, there’s been an opportunity to change the songs. I must say they’re a little more streamlined now and a little less egotistical. We were always keen to show off, but we’ve toned that part of our performance down now.”
“We were very supportive of Rex’s skills back in the day, and now it feels like Tim and I are doing a lot more playing on the night… There’s definitely a different internal dynamic now – in some ways it’s a lot more fun – it has balanced the band out little,” he says.
As far as new material, Kailis says it all depends on how his life is travelling, which explains why he was relatively quiet in the years between the recording and release of Snakes Alive.
“Music, for me, is an artefact of when there’s something in me that feels unbalanced and to balance that, I have to play music. While I was at uni, settled down, with everything planned out for the next five years – Time was tied up with study too – I just didn’t feel as unbalanced as when we started, I guess, I don’t know why.”
With regard to the future, Kailis says that there may be more to come: “We’ve actually still got enough material for another couple of albums – songs that were never recorded – there’s no shortage of material. Because I’m in Melbourne now it’s very hard to rehearse, so it’s good to have a back catalogue we can dip into – including The Big Dish – our 30 minute rock opera about a caveman, inspired by Spinal Tap and band like Yes and Jethro Tull…”