By GRAHAM REID
Bones Hillman's CV wouldn't get him a nice job in a bank, but that was never the point. The bassist/singer started here in a punk outfit called the Masochists back in '77, then joined the seminal Suburban Reptiles.
In the Reptiles he met former Split Enzman Phil Judd and Buster Stiggs and they split off to become the Swingers. Their hits One Good Reason and Counting the Beat are considered Kiwi classics, although by that time they were being claimed by Australia, where they were living. But their success was also their undoing.
Counting the Beat was a huge hit in '81 but they couldn't follow through with another single or live shows. They broke up in '82. In '87, at the suggestion of Neil Finn in whose house he was living, Hillman was taken into a cornerstone Australian rock band, Midnight Oil.
With Peter Garrett's decision to officially leave the band last year - he is now pursuing a parliamentary seat for Labor - Hillman moved back here eight months ago, has recorded with the Finn brothers in the States for their forthcoming album, and is currently recording with Dave Dobbyn. Time for a chat.
Q. What's the one thing about a life in rock'n'roll that no one warns you about?
A. That you have got to be prepared to spend 10 years on the bottom of the pile making less money than anyone else. So the advice is, "Start young".
Q. So you can be in a band like the Oils which has sold 2.5 million albums in the US and still be scratching?
A. Yeah, you can. And you've got to attend to things really well. I've been in bands where you go into a music shop and take things on credit and don't think who's paying for it. But at some point there's a summary and you've got to square things up.
Q. Do you have copies of all those albums and singles you played on?
A. A lot I do, actually. The 70s New Zealand stuff I'm missing a little bit. I had a flat in Parnell that got knocked off so I lost a bit of stuff, so it's not too bad. And now it's been released on CD.
Q. Do you ever just have a guilty pleasure night when the missus is out and play them to yourself and dance like a lunatic?
A. In fact they live in a big silver trunk in the garage. There's our record collection and then there's work. You'll find none of them in our house or on the shelf. There's a couple of them on the iPod and that's about it.
Q. So you consider your stuff work and other people's music pleasure?
A. Yeah, because if I put someone else's record on I don't have the memories. One of our own albums means you flash back to the time and maybe reflect on your life then and where you did it.
Q. Not always happy memories, then?
A. Some are better than others. Some records can be tedious to make and some a pleasure. It'll always be that way.
Q. Midnight Oil? Was it too politically correct for sex and drugs and rock'n'roll?
A. It had its moments. Obviously someone like Peter was always out there in the public eye so had a clean slate, but we had road crews and tours. It was still a rock band.
Q. Peter Garrett is standing for parliament. You know the man and his politics. Would you vote for him?
A. Yeah, but I dunno about the Labor Party in Australia. That was a bit of a shock. I actually thought he would appear doing something for the Greens, but I haven't had much contact with him in the past two years. A few business emails and that's about it. I find it intriguing in one comment he said he'd mellowed with age on a couple of his stands. I guess if anyone joins a major party as a back-bencher then they have to adhere to party policies. But we'll see in years to come. I guess he'll make a play and knock everyone else out.
Q. You've seen that before then?
A. Yeah, slightly.
Q. You had a side-project in the Oils, the Hunting Party. Was that because you had musical ideas which couldn't find their place in a band with so many other writers?
A. Not really, the Oils took a year off - we did it a couple of times - and I got immensely bored. I became sick of being alone in my home studio. So I got together with a talented piano player, Chris Abrahams, and put that together. I'd cruised through the first three months of summer and thought it was fantastic but once winter set in I got lonely. The phone never rang.
It would always ring when we were touring because people would want to be on the guest list or get a copy of something. As soon as we took time off it stopped. That's a result of nine months touring: you come home and no one knows you're around. The nature of rock'n'roll is you lose contact with friends and family because you are gone for so long. I've moved back here and it's been amazing, re-establishing relationships which had been dormant for 15-plus years.
Q. You're recording with Dave Dobbyn now. Do you have time to do your own thing at all or is it taken up with other commitments?
A. I sometimes think I should do something but I don't work that well on my own. I'm not that disciplined. I work better in rooms with no windows; I find myself gazing out the window watching the people next door excavating their garage. I'm better off teamed up with somebody. I'd like to follow through with Dave as much as possible, I think I'll die from laughter working with him.
Q. If push comes to shove, for you is it Neil or Dave?
A. Aaah, it's me. At the moment I'm happy being here, I've spent so many years overseas there's a novelty of coming home and sleeping in my own bed. Playing Helensville and coming home that night? That's fantastic, compared with playing in Detroit or Cleveland. So right now the emphasis is on staying here and doing stuff.
Q. Here's a quote from Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil about you: "I have never seen him make an enemy with anyone. I have never heard him say anything bitter or derogatory about anyone. He has an incredible ability to just shake it off and see the big picture and get on with enjoying life." Is that true?
A. Ask my wife and family. The person at home is very different to the person in the world. Once you're out there pressing the flesh, you are doing the job. There is what my wife refers to as "The Thing". She comes along to shows and sees the The Thing and says, "I don't like that, it's not you." But that's that side of it. When you're home you kick on the ugg boots and don't shave and flop on the couch. You're a different person.
Q. Looking back you started with a punk band and are now with the country's singer-songwriter icons who are somewhat more sedate. Ever just want to get out there and really thrash around like the good old days?
A. I still thrash a fair bit. My major problem is I still rock up to people's projects and have too much energy. I should have a Post It note on my toe which says "Slow Down". That's just adrenalin. Playing with Dave I have to be quite restrained actually.
Q. There are ways to achieve that.
A. What? Prozac?