Midnight Oil - 2002 Interview with Peter Garrett

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edited December 2020 in Interviews all

Oil On The Road
In The Spotlight - Midnight Oil
Brief Interview with Peter Garrett
Written by: Lee Bradfield (May, 03, 2002)

Midnight Oil - the Aussie melodic rockers who captured the world's imagination with their 1987 smash 'Beds Are Burning'. How many times have we heard and read this description of them? The plain truth is that they've been recording heartfelt, accomplished rock music since the late 70's, and a trip down the back catalogue reveals a flair for incisive lyrical commentary dating right back to the first album.

Their gift for combining music and message is unparallelled, and has resulted in a substantial global fan base of the most loyal variety. A fan base that could always count on a passionate live show, and a never-ending string of unforgettable albums.

It's that time again, now that the Oils have recently released a masterpiece named 'Capricornia', and are even now taking it out on the road in the USA. For a few minutes on a night off, Heart Of The Rock's Lee Bradfield and collaborator David Viljoen were lucky enough to have their 10 questions arrive on the PC of band leader and vocalist Peter Garrett. Here's what he had to say.

Firstly Peter, welcome to Heart Of The Rock, and thank you for sharing some of your time with us, despite your busy schedule. Congratulations on a great new album - you're on record as saying that many of the songs have been lying around home studios, garages and in peoples heads for some time. Bearing that in mind, how did you still manage to produce an album so inherently thematic and integrated, despite it's eclectic and scattered history?
Hi Lee. Partly through using some of the original songs Jim Moginie brought to the table when we were contemplating doing Capricornia as a film and album, they stayed with us. Partly as we have a joint love of the landscapes and culture of the remote and partly by luck.

Capricornia is your first release outside of the Sony stable, opting for the BMG distributed Liquid 8 label this time around - what led to this transition taking place and are you happy with the decision so far?
Despite having fair amounts of freedom in our Sony arrangements it was clear that the demands of the business in North America in particular and our sense of where we wanted the band to go were at odds. The big companies are devouring each other and anyone in their path who doesn't make them a lot of money. A smaller label with enthusiasm is a safer happier harbour.


What had you hoped to be giving fans in this new album?
Pop songs that would stick to their ears.

A tour of the USA and Canada is imminent. how have rehearsals been going, and roughly how many tracks from Capricornia can concert goers look forward to hearing amongst established classics?
We are already out on the frog and toad, not too much grunting and lots of soaring - it's going well. The set will not disappoint Midnight Oil listeners long or short time.

In any given live performance, are there a handful of tracks you would never consider omitting from the setlist, and if so which are they?
Not really but 'Beds..' usually gets a run for obvious reasons, then some uptempos: 'Sometimes', 'Dreamworld', 'Hercules', 'Redneck', 'Wonderland' - after that it can change around a lot from tour to tour.

Your gripping performance of 'Beds Are Burning' at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney was witnessed by many around the world at a time when much pressure was being put on the government to apologize for the past. Was your display of the word 'sorry' meant as a substitute for the silence of the government or do you think it was more a formalisation of a sentiment more widely held - in other words, do you think you spoke for Australians or in place of them?
Both. It was the only component of the Reconciliation campaign that hadn't been specifically mentioned in the course of the Olympics so we felt it needed to be spotlit. Only three months before we had marched with half a million Sydneysiders for Reconciliation, the campaign had support of many in the community, (polls about 67% in favour) so the issue was alive in people's minds.

You've played live in my home country South Africa a few years ago, if I remember correctly at Ellis Park Stadium in front of a substantial audience. Could you tell us what the experience was like and if you're planning a return anytime soon?
We enjoyed that show a great deal, as well as touring the country. Please get someone to pay for us to come again! Seriously we'd like to get across if it's feasible, now is the time, as we are spending all year on the road.

To what extent do you find the messages in your lyrics hitting home?
No idea. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, depends on audience words and circumstance.

Focusing on the earlier albums - from the eponymous debut album, your combination of melody and energy was already apparent. Would you entertain the theory that the melodic facets of your songwriting evolved with each release, culminating in something of a watershed release in the form of 1983's '10 to 1' album? How do these early classics hold up for you today?
Jim and Rob have shouldered a good deal of the songwriting duties over time and having worked together since high school. There is, up to E and S and M, a strong coherence in many of the pieces that I think is a feature of our music. Since then it has been more singularly originated but satisfying in a different way. We probably think as one occasionally when we go to record and when that happens the results stand well. The early material sounds fine to me, apart from production differences, I don't think we changed much at all.

The video of 'Cemetary In My Mind' carries much symbolism. It appears to relate to someone's childhood and related memories, is this correct? Does the story relate to anyone of the band members? Perhaps you could comment on some of the symbolism.
Correct up to a point but we never fully understood the clip apart from recognising the narrative you describe - filmic versions of songs are always problematic, this one as much as any. I prefer our desert era clips because the scenery is so good.

Thanks again for participating, we wish you an outstanding tour - don't let your drum tech forget to nail the kit into the stage!
No worries Lee, all the best. - Peter Garrett

Glory Daze interviewer's note : questions prepared by Lee Bradfield and David Viljoen

To go to Midnight Oil's website, click here..

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