Whether you have their records or you’ve never heard their name, chances are you’ve heard more than one Mental As Anything song over the years. The Australian classic rock band, celebrating more than 40 years together, will blow the top off Castle Hill next weekend as they headline the Townsville Rock Fest. We caught up with vocalist/ keys player Andy ‘Greedy’ Smith to find out what drives the band to keep going, what to expect at their show, and whether you can expect them to drop the mic anytime soon.
Congratulations on the non-stop gigs!
Thank you, yeah I think the longest break we took from touring was six weeks in 1990! That’s been our longest break in the last 40 years. I feel a bit weird if I’m not playing every couple of weeks, it’s a bit disturbing!
Townsville seems to be a bit of a regular stop for you guys, do you have any favourite spots up here?
Well the Dean Park Soundshell is now a carpark which is sad, that was always a regular spot on tours! I’m just trying to think of other places, but I guess nightclubs were the main places we spent too much time in! Over the years we’ve gone back and forth through Townsville seeing it grow and grow, and have played the proper venues as well as pubs out in the suburbs – I remember once playing as the warm-up act for the Broncos v Cowboys game too, so have done a real variety up there over the years.
For those that haven’t been to a Mental’s gig before, what should they expect next weekend?
I think they’ll be surprised how many of our songs they know! That seems to be the response of younger people, they don’t recognise our name at first but would have heard our songs on the radio or often in their parents’ record and CD collections. That’s a good form of child abuse, when you make your kid listen to your favourite albums growing up. But yeah, through that they’ll probably know songs like Nips are Getting Bigger and Live It Up. We’re the ‘I know that one!’ band in Australia.
It has been a few decades since the band started, so what does drive you to keep going?
Yeah, just passed 40 years now! I think the biggest driver is having people recognise our music. They recognise it, they enjoy it, they sing and they clap. In order to do this, we get on a plane – on a Thursday usually – and go somewhere, a different state most weekends. Been doing that for a long time now, but I love doing it because it’s just always so rewarding when you find an audience that loves your songs. The whole thing about playing the songs is – we do have new songs, we have an EP out – but it’s still about getting the original hits right. The songs tend to morph into different things, playing them over the years, and it’s a constant gardening job to get them into shape. Particularly over the last few months, I’ve been having a great time knocking some of our older songs into shape.
Have the past few years in particular been difficult though, with more band members coming and going?
It has been – especially now that Martin [Plaza] has been fighting cancer for four years. He played Townsville last year, then did one more show before hanging up his guitar which is pretty hard for him to do. But we’ve been continuing on the Good Times tour without him, going on with the Black Sorrows and so yeah having new players in has been a bit of a challenge. It all started in about 2000 when Reg Mombassa left, because he was busy designing big inflatable sculptures for the closing of the Sydney Olympic Games. I don’t like change, but have had to get used to it over the years!
Do you think all the change has made the music and songwriting evolve with the band?
I think it did, particularly because we continue re-looking at stuff to teach new players and that really gets us back to the groove of the recording sessions where we first recorded these songs – and that’s really satisfying, getting them back in shape.
And do you see things for yourself or the band slowing down anytime soon?
Not really! I think we’ve slowed down to about 110 shows a year. There was a time when we were doing 300 a year or pretty close to it, and that was just silly. But yeah, you tour different countries then do an Australian tour, and you know, get on Men At Work’s tour and do 90 shows there. I feel uneasy if I have more than a week away from the stage, I like to be up there doing it.
Being on the road that much, does it affect your personal life much?
I’m sure it has over the years, because it’s pretty hard to be a partner of anyone in a touring rock band. If you’re not playing with the band, you’re basically doing what the band does most of the time which is wait.
What is next for you and the band, do you have any other EPs or LPs in the works?
Well there’s this one that we have out now, but I think we’ll have to do another one soon because while Martin Plaza hasn’t been touring he’s been writing. So we’ll get some songs out of him and he and I will put together another batch hopefully and record it next year.
Catch Mental As Anything, The Radiators, The Nu BLaCK and local supports at the Townsville Rock Fest on Saturday, 14 October. Click here for tickets.