Midnight Oil co-founder Rob Hirst has a stack of new music already in 2020 and there is more to come. First is ‘Driver Reviver’ with Sean Sennett. Then ‘The Lost and the Found’ with Jay O’Shea. Later in the year there will be new Midnight Oil.
Noise11 caught up with Rob Hirst as he launches three new projects in the first two months 0f 2020 starting with the Rob Hirst + Sean Sennett Driver Reviver EP.
Rob Hirst: “Sean and I have a gig at the Tivoli in Brisbane, early March. That’s our tour of one gig. The EP is pretty much a Brisbane creation Jason Milhouse producing our album up there and recording our album and doing our film clips in Brisbane. It made sense that we play up there because it means we can play all the songs from the first album ‘Crashing the Same Car Twice’ plus all the music from the ‘Driver Reviver’ EP.
Paul Cashmere: Will you keep the Hirst-Sennett shows to just your Hirst-Sennett songs?
Rob Hirst: We’ve got enough material now to play a sweaty, energetic, take no prisoners hour of Brisbane garage pop-rock, whatever it is we do … with a couple of slow songs. With me playing drums the songs are incredibly fast and I’m singing on a couple of them. I always need about a six-week ramp up to get up for that show.
Paul Cashmere: Sean Sennett has a media background. Does that background influence the formating of the construction of your songs?
Rob Hirst: Sean is a great wordsmith. I love the way he delivers the lead vocal. It is almost spoken. With his journalistic background I know he agonizes over lyrics and makes sure the words are in exactly the right place. I love the delivery on top of the musical chaos that goes on behind him which is straight from the garage. He will put a melodic and completely comprehensive vocal on the top. When we write together I’ll do this psychedelic middle-eight part and then we are back to the crunch.
Paul Cashmere: You have the reputation as the historian with the Midnight Oil lyrics. How does the historian react with the journalist when collaborating on a song?
Rob Hirst: The album is called ‘Driver Reviver’ and that is one of the songs. Anyone who has lived in Australia for the last 27 years has probably pulled into one of the Driver Revivers manned by volunteers. They seem to have the worst tea or coffee on Earth. But it gives you a break and its often free. That is a part of Australia’s history I hope continues. I don’t think it exists anywhere else on Earth, not that I’ve seen on my travels with my bands. I hope it never goes away.
The idea of the song is about someone who pulls into a Driver Reviver and falls in love with the volunteer, the young woman serving him coffee. Then they realize they like the same bands and then they form a band. But they can only play in the hall by the highway but its so fucking loud with the trucks coming past. That story really appealed to me.
Paul Cashmere: You do realize there is movie in those lyrics, don’t you?
Rob Hirst: I hope so.
Paul Cashmere: The energy in the Hirst-Sennett release reminds me a lot of the Ghostwriters. Are their creative similarities with you for those two projects?
Rob Hirst: In a way, yes. There is not very much guitar with Hirst-Sennett because Sean is doing all the rhythm and Jason Milhouse the guitarist and producer and Derek our bass player grew up listening to Giffo (Peter Gifford from Midnight Oil). So when we play together it is like playing with someone I’ve always played with. Not from a guitar point of view but like Ghosties, being able to throw in songwriting ideas with Sean and like the Ghosties doing first takes and building it up from there. I think it’s a lot rawer than The Ghostwriters. A lot of it is four blokes hammering it out live. We don’t need to add anything.
Paul Cashmere: Ghostwriters ended 14 years ago. Are there any plans to revive that?
Rob Hirst: I have too many bands at the moment. In the interim I had that album with Paul Greene and then Backsliders, Backsliders make an album every two years. That is a continuing project that I love with Dom Turner and now Joe Glover on harmonica.
With Jay, my daughter, I have another great collaboration. I think we have made a different kind of album together.
Paul Cashmere: The album title is ‘The Lost and the Found’, an appropriate title considering your background together.
Rob Hirst: The cover has an oblique skyscraper with one single light on in this entire darkened image. It is about Jay waiting for the call to be reunited me her adopted father. You know the story, Jay was adopted out when I was a teenager. We found each other after 36 years and gradually started to get together musically with that song ‘Truth Walks Slowly’, dedicated to the Queensland farmer George Bender who fighting the good fight against the gas companies on the Darling Downs. When that song got quite a wide audience we decided we should continue to write together. So from New South Wales to Tennessee and with Brett Clark putting all the ideas you gradually pieced together over 18 months the songs that you hear on ‘The Lost and the Found’.
Paul Cashmere: Isn’t it incredible that when you two found each other she was already entrenched in the music business and like Jimmy Barnes and David Campbell, there is obviously something in the genes.
Rob Hirst: David Campbell and Jay were school friends in North Adelaide.
Paul Cashmere: And Jay had a connection with Bones from Midnight Oil.
Rob Hirst: These connections are amazing. You know the Gum-Leaf Mafia, the Aussies in Nashville. They all know each other. Bones, who is the Midnight Oil bass player, has lived there for 10 years and got to know Mark and Jay. He has played bass with them on a lot of session. Bones was invited to dinner at Mark and Jay’s place that very night I first made the call to my long lost daughter Jay. It was completely out of the blue that he had to be there, the man who stood beside me with The Oils playing bass and who was a good friend, was with them at that time.
Paul Cashmere: That is definitely the Universe talking to you.
Rob Hirst: It really is. It sent shivers up my spine. We had so much to talk about. In the end I said, you go back and have the dinner party and I will gradually send you the story of what I’ve been doing for the last two decades. I sent Jay stories going back 10, 20, 30 years, about the band and the family. I have two daughters Lex and Gabriella who have grown up as well. I introduced her to my music and my family. That’s how we got to know each other.
Paul Cashmere: How much of you and her personally is in the lyrics of the new album.
Rob Hirst: Jay’s ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ is entirely her lyrics. I rearranged the arrangement. A song like ‘Wild’, Jay rewrote the verses but they are my choruses. Gradually we put together ideas not knowing what sort of album we’d make but knowing we both loved strong melodies. Jay is a fantastic vocalist who can sing harmonies out of the air. We like making records with real instruments. Jim Moginie from the Oils plays some guitar. Jack Howard from Hunters & Collectors plays some horn.
Paul Cashmere: Will we hear these songs live?
Rob Hirst: yes but not this year. Jay has her own band with her husband Mark. There is a bunch of Midnight Oil songs coming out as well. Hopefully next year we’ll do some shows.
Paul Cashmere: How did it feel being back in the studio with The Oils?
Rob Hirst: Great. The chemistry is there, dare I say the anger.