If you know what a Millennium Bug is, and you can name all seven women Lou Bega wants a little bit of, we bet you’re ‘hella excited’ to see Regurgitator at Groovin the Moo this year. They’re part of a massive line-up.
While the band is best known for their 1998 Gold Single, Polyester Girl; they owe their 25-year career to so much more: steadfast management, uncompromising creativity, enduring passion, and little of the old ‘right place, right time’. We caught up with lead vocalist – and Belgian Gardens / Townsville Grammar alumnus – Quan Yeomans to discuss some of Regurgitator’s many creative projects over the years.
On starting as a side project
While forming Regurgitator in 1994 lead to a non-stop musical career, Quan and his founding band mates Ben Ely and Martin Lee, had originally established the band as a side project to their other, much more serious, musical pursuits.
“We were all playing in these really heavy bands where it was all about how technically accurate you could play and complex you could make it,” said Quan. “Part of our brains were buzzing on that and enjoying it, but there was another part that was like ‘there’s this whole kind of groove, pop world’ … I met Ben just randomly. He’s a great groove drummer, really solid, really simple, nothing like the drummers we were playing with and I was getting a bit sick of doing the crazy technical stuff and he was a bit over it as well, so we thought ‘we’ll do a dumb-dumb band’.”
It wasn’t until Regurgitator’s demo unwittingly caught the eye of an A&R rep from Warner Music, that the trio realised this act could eclipse everything else they’d been working on.
“An A&R guy called Michael Parisi had seen Ben’s band [Pangaea] a few times and Warner was actually thinking of signing Pangaea for a while there,” Quan said. “Ben was like ‘oh by the way I’ve got this demo’ and he passed it on to Parisi and Parisi said ‘I think maybe I’d prefer to sign this band instead of Pangaea, if that’s alright with you’.”
On Polyester Girl
*That song* was the third single to come off Regurgitator’s second album, UNIT (1997), which they’d recorded in a condemned warehouse in the Brisbane’s Valley. Quan said it was a throw-away song that the band hadn’t thought much about at the time of recording.
“It was done on a groove box – not what you’d call a brilliant creative machine … but it was so simple; I could create a beat and a very simple melody and sing over it.
“That’s basically all the song is – one drum machine and me singing over it and possibly an overdub live drum, I can’t remember.”
While Polyester Girl was a bit of fun, it’s also been heralded Regurgitator’s ‘anti-commercialism anthem’.
“The thing that really pricks me about mass media is the portrayal of women,” Quan said. “It was this constant barrage of sex sells and women are presented in a certain way to be appealing, and you should work it if you’ve got it, and this whole obsession with plastic surgery. I thought ‘this could be a trademark of the band: that we do strangely appealing pop music that has a very dark edge to the lyrical content so people aren’t really aware until they stop and think about it’.”
On never selling out
Polyester Girl remains Regurgitator’s highest selling single, and Quan and his band-mates had always refused to compromise their integrity and creativity to chase higher chart success.
“We tried our best not to think about where we sit in commercial terms,” said Quan. “We’re not too heavily surrounded by it, we’ve had a buffer with our Manager. He’s been accused of not being the most commercially adroit manager, but he’s still with us now, he’s never ripped us off, he’s always stood by us, he’s done what’s fair to people around him in his mind and in ours.
“The only thing I have to say about it, is when you do actually achieve [commercial] success – which I feel was very accidental for us – there is this part of you that kind of gets used to it and you start double-guessing yourself. You start going ‘How did I actually get there and how do I do it again?’ and at that point, the music starts to get worse. The creative output tends to take a nosedive.”
On Band in a Bubble
In 2004, after splitting with Warner, Regurgitator moved into a giant biosphere in Melbourne’s Federation Square in a recording project-meets art installationmeets social experiment. The band lived in the Bubble for three weeks while writing and recording their fifth album, Mish Mash!
“Our Manager [Paul Curtis] has a very academic mind when it comes to industry and art and I think he proposed something similar in the Brisbane mall [years before] and everyone kind of laughed him off,” said Quan of the idea. “And then I happened to be living in London at the same time David Blaine was living in a tiny little perspex box suspended above the Thames River. I don’t know how long he was up there for, I just thought ‘oh, it’s kind of dull’. He was just sitting there and I thought ‘wouldn’t it be good if we could actually create something and let people see what it’s like to do it?’ That was the impetus to do it and Paul’s brain was like ‘Yep. Just waiting for you.’ and then he got things in motion, got Channel V on board and it all just kind of cascaded from there.”
Band in a Bubble allowed pedestrians to look into most rooms within the bubble, as well as tune in to a 24/7 broadcast on pay TV, to watch the album take shape.
“There was a bit of pre-production work done with that, even though all of the recording was done inside, but I think just the experience itself was so out there, it’s probably the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done,” Quan said. “It was more of a social experiment than a personal experiment or the music.
“I don’t think the record did particularly well even though the actual project had a lot of public attention.”
On the new kids’ album
Regurgitator has recently stepped into Wiggles’ territory, playing a string of kids’ shows and recording a new kids’ album, The Really Really Really Really Boring Album.
While it might seem like an odd move for a band whose previous singles include tracks that we’re not allowed to name here since we cleaned up our language (just Google it, kids), the album has been a long time coming.
“It was borne out of Ben’s just being a great dad,” said Quan.
“Hearing this silly kind of music that he wrote with [his kids], I’d always said ‘look man, don’t do a solo thing, just do a kids record you’re so good at it’ and he was like ‘yeah I know, I’ll get around to it’ and then by the time he didn’t get around to it I was having kids and I was like ‘let’s just do it and see how it goes’.
“What we’ve realised is a lot of our fans have kids now, and they’re bringing them … I think our fans understand the aesthetic because they’ve grown up with us and they want their kids to know about us as a band and know that we’re not going to go down a really normal route for kids’ stuff.
While Quan admits the kids’ shows make him more anxious than anything he’s done for adults, he says the band continues to keep it real and hopes new fans will appreciate the authenticity as much as the old ones.
“For a band that’s been going for so long in the so-called ‘professional’ realm, we make a hell of a lot of errors and I think people enjoy that. Performances are getting slicker … there’s a lot more backing tracks involved, and precision. We come from punk backgrounds so it’s never really been like that and we bring that to a kids’ show as well – a lot of it’s ad-lib. I think kids enjoy seeing that adults aren’t always perfect all the time, they make mistakes too.
Fans will have the chance to see Regurgitator at Groovin the Moo this year, although Quan’s not giving too much away in terms of what punters should expect or of what the band expects from punters.
“We’re just a bunch of old dudes. I think it’s going to be three old dudes doing their thing. I mean we do have lot of energy still, we haven’t got fat. Somehow. We’re all still enjoying life and I think that channels through our music.
“The thing with Groovin the Moo is it’s for younger people who probably haven’t heard a lot of our music, or have only been familiarised with it through parents. Some of the generations missed it and for some people it’s gong to be a whole new thing that they maybe hate, or maybe they’ll be like ‘What is this? Why have I not heard this before?’
“That’s always a fun thing for us, we don’t really know.”
Don’t miss Regurgitator at Groovin the Moo, Townsville on Sunday 5 May 2019. For the full line-up and tickets, got to www.gtm.net.au