Dave Warner is a bit of a legend in Australia. His band Dave Warner from the Suburbs had a gold album in the early 80’s and a big hit with the single, ‘Suburban Boy.’ He published three novels with Pan McMillan that are no longer in print. City of Light, the first book in his trilogy published by Fremantle Press won the West Australian Premier’s Award for Fiction. Before it Breaks won the Ned Kelly Award for Best Australian crime fiction. He wrote or co wrote three screenplays. One of them, Cut starred Kylie Minogue and 80’s ingénue, Molly Ringwald. His most recent novel is Clear to the Horizon. He is married and lives in Sydney with his wife, two daughters and son.
You’ve done a shitload of stuff and I can’t cover it all so I’ll just concentrate on the Perth (and eastern states) live band scene in the early 80’s and the three books you published with Fremantle Press.
Right, Melbourne people believe we had the best live music scene in the world in the early 80’s. I saw that you compared the Perth scene to the Seattle scene and Perth had the Stems, the Triffids, Dave Warner From the Suburbs, the Dugites, Scientists. Tell me about it?
When I started playing in about 1974 Perth was a cover band city divided between cabaret style bands in uniforms playing Running Bear and the bands I used to go and see – Blues bands and “Underground” bands. Nobody played more than one or two original songs a night before me and the Suburbs – actually Sid Rumpo played original blues style songs and Matt Taylor had various outfits. We were the first band to play 3-hour gigs of which only four or five songs – specially chosen were covers. Not only that but many of my songs were specifically about Perth/Western Australia. (Living in WA, African Summer, Perth etc). It really pissed me off when there was a film made about original music in Perth (Something in the Water) and I wasn’t even mentioned. The popular myth seems to be original music started with The Triffids. We preceded the Triffids (who I admired – in fact MC’d one of their first shows) and all those other bands. However, the scene at the time was vibrant. Around 76-77 cover bands like Loaded Dice/The Elks were dynamic performers and musicians. By about 79/81 the wave of bands you mention hit the scene. Because Perth was so far away with so little infrastructure (no record labels or fan magazines) it wasn’t enough to just copy a trend: common with Melbourne and Sydney bands. Perth bands developed in their own original cocoon – that’s what I meant with the Seattle reference.
I liked a band called Martha’s Vineyard, they had a great song called, Old Beach Road. Know them?
Only saw them once – at The Shenton Park Hotel I think. They were younger than me and playing when I was predominantly touring so I’m no authority. But I thought that were interesting and had plenty to offer in that indie Waifs way.
Did you come across to the Eastern states when Suburban Boy became a hit? How were you received?
We first toured early 1978 before Suburban Boy was released. Word had spread about us and we had fabulously dedicated Melbourne fans at gigs like The Tiger Lounge. Then we toured as support to Skyhooks in Sydney and that was something else. Sydney loved us – I couldn’t believe it. There we were equated with “westies” though we had great support from JJ and Paddington style gigs were great for us too.
Just on that, what is the Perth equivalent of Sydney Westies. Melbourne bogans?
In Perth in the 60s and 70s everybody was just suburban – jeans, flannel shirt – the equivalent to bogan was “hoon”. South Fremantle always provided a lot of hoons. Nowadays I think bogan has entered the lexicon.
Getting on to the three novels. Are you happy being called a crime writer because I thought City of Light had bigger themes?
Very happy to be called a crime writer. Richard the Third, Crime and Punishment, Sherlock … good company.
City of Light was a big sweeping novel about politics, rich guys in white shoes, corruption from the Premier down to the cop on the beat and a serial killer. Thoughts?
It was really about a young man coming of age between 79 and 89 in Perth and regrettably all those elements were part of the place at the time.
Where does the main character, Snowy Lane come from?
Snowy is an amalgam of who I am, who I might have wanted to be … there’s a lot of me in Snowy but he’s not as internal as I am – and he’s a better footy player even though he’s not quite A grade.
Were you surprised to win the West Australian Premiers Award? Because you tackle some pretty controversial topics? Early in City of Light, some cops kill the main suspect in the Gruesome killing in his cell. Pretty much it was fuck a trial this guy is dead. And a few of your entrepreneurs resemble Bond and Alan Connell etc?
I was surprised but not so much because of the subject matter, more because at that time crime fiction was not recognised as legit. Even the Australia Council did not support crime fiction (or romance writers) at that time.
I read your second novel, Before it Breaks, before the other two. I have to say I like the main character, Dan Clement more than Snowy. He’s a bit less confident than Snowy but he still has woman troubles. Both Snowy and Clement love women who don’t want them and it’s a theme in your hit song, Suburban Boy, too. Anything going on there?
Well Suburban Boy was autobiographical in that sense – I had 17 successive knockbacks when asking girls out at that time. Snowy does find love eventually but like most young Australian men has to learn some harsh lessons. Dan is just a hopeless romantic and of course my women readers seem to love him because he is so in love.
Before it breaks is set in Broome with flashbacks to Hamburg in the 70’s. Did you visit Hamburg in that time or is it just research? I doubt if you could get two more different places. Was it deliberate?
No didn’t visit and yes it was deliberate. I wanted a novel where the setting was a character in itself, somewhere totally unique from the rest of the world. The Kimberley provides this. I then felt I needed the opposite type of location to make the story work to its optimum.
I lived in WA in the early 2000’s for about eighteen months. I really started to understand this thing about WA wanting to secede, like that crazy guy that set up his own country. Hutt River. There’s a hang up about the Eastern States, not with everyone but it’s there. Do you agree?
Most definitely. West Australians used to get a raw deal – the state provided the bulk of Australia’s wealth but for a long time we weren’t even allowed in the Sheffield Shield cricket comp. Also, because of the great distances and expense of travelling we were insular. In Perth everybody knew everybody else and there was most definitely an us against them mentality. That said, WA people are hospitable, and love Melbourne’s “culture” and Sydney’s “beauty.” Mind you, the whole GST thing has created a new resentment.
Your most recent novel, Clear to the Horizon, brings the two main characters from the first two novels together to search for a serial killer. Do you like one better than the other? How much of you is in Snowy Lane, that confident womaniser who becomes a good husband and father?
I don’t prefer either character. I’m a little more like Snowy than Dan. Snowy is more open than me, and I’m more open than Dan. I like using both characters to vent my anger at various things especially anything that is “trendy.”
I saw that you published three books with Pan Macmillan, that are no longer in print. Was this a three- book deal thing?
Yes, that was my Lizard Zirk series. I conceived Lizard as a rock and roll detective – an amateur sleuth. The style was lighter, more classic clue-puzzle whodunit and I was looking for an older female audience. I might republish them if I get time.
Did you suffer any prejudice when you tried to get your books published? And forgive my ignorance but was it, you know, shit, Dave Warner form the Suburbs writing a novel or did people know you were more than that?
The good thing was I still had a ready-made audience from my music fans. I suspect there was a bit of that negative attitude from some writers who consider themselves more literary but overall there was a lot of support.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I’ve always loved reading and I just always wanted to make up stories. It’s as simple as that really. An idea pops into my head and I want to tell it in the best possible way. Songwriting can be a bit different. That’s often a bit more immediate from an emotional stimulus
I saw that Agatha Christie was one of your favourite authors and you can see that with the intricate plotting and red herrings. Anyone else who you really admire and were influenced by?
Conan Doyle, Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Henning Mankell – but I get something from nearly every book I read.
There’s a very dry laconic sense of humour running through all the novels, even in the most desperate of times. Just a turn of phrase but it made me laugh out loud a few times. Do you talk a bit like that?
Not so much now. I used to be able to when I was touring a lot and bantering with the likes of the late Johnny Leopard but you get out of practice. I still think like that though.
In City of Light, Snowy says he likes going to see bands and gets weird looks all-around from his police colleagues. The cops seem very prehistoric, from another world almost. Did you know people like that back then?
Yes, I was interviewed by cops a few times with the Suburbs before they charged me (for political reasons) with disorderly conduct for singing obscene songs. There were a few hip cops but not many. Michael Feeney from my punk band Pus always said the dumbest most bullying kids at school either became cops or crims. It is one note that jars sometimes when I read my Aussie peers’ work – a lot of cops sound like socialist Greenies. That wasn’t my experience going back twenty years but maybe it’s different now.
Oh yeah, Pus was your punk band. So, was Pus or The Saints Australia’s first punk band?
Pus probably pre-dated the Saints. Our first public gig was 1973 but I was rehearsing from 1971. Whether either of us was “punk” who knows? My influences were The Fugs, Zappa, Bonzos, Velvets and Julie London. I used to gob on the ceiling of the Governor Broome Hotel – largely to clear my mouth. I \’d read about Iggy’s performances but never seen footage so I tried to channel Iggy and Elvis. I just wanted to make music that was for me/us not “them”. Saints may well have been the same. I don’t know any of them personally but they seem to come from a similar place (conceptual I mean not geographical).
In one scene from City of Light, Snowy doesn’t like some music his lover puts on and describes it as being so awful it is like a cross between The Captain and Tennille and George Benson. You weren’t worried about upsetting the Captain? Or worse still, Molly?
I wish I’d sold as many records as the Captain. Molly might have had different music tastes to me but I respect him. He is and was a legend and driving force in Australian music – and he’s a Saints supporter. I used to barrack for them too.
Who is your favourite Australian crime fiction writer? Where did that quote about Bob Dylan saying you were his favourite Australia artist come from? It’s a handy accolade.
Peter Corris is my fave because he re-invented the genre. I like the West Aussies, David Whish-Wilson and Alan Carter.
Dylan’s quote came from the Rolling Thunder tour when he was interviewed in Adelaide. I believe Richard Clapton was the other Aussie artist he mentioned liking. Dylan’s band had caught my show in St Kilda and played my cassettes on the touring bus.
And you’re still gigging around the place. Do you like the way music has gone or do you hanker for the old days back in the late 70’s early 80’s when you could see a great band every single night of the week?
I did quite a few gigs last year to promote my first full new album in 25 years WHEN. Yes, I do hanker for the days with live music everywhere. I think music now is much better than in the 9os but I miss the old top 40 playlist with a variety of musical styles, not some survey-driven pigeon-hole music like you get on the commercial stations these days. Public radio is great.
Both of your main characters, Snowy and Clement are relentless in their search for the truth and finding the killer. They talk about it and we see the impact the deaths of the young girls had on their family. Did you research this or feel your way through it?
It was a very direct and personal response of my own. The Birnie killings in Perth in the late 80s and the Claremont Serial Killer abductions touched me deeply and I wanted to bring that emotion to the page.
Again, Snowy and Clement are relentless and there’s a few plot twists that try their patience but they don’t stand around beating their chests they get on with it. Are these guys how you like to think policeman are or just characters in your novels.
I’m sure that most police are like that – hard workers trying to do the right thing. Sometimes it seems they should read more crime novels to expand their thinking but I’m not a cop so I don’t know, and it’s probably just wankerish of me to pontificate.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have a new crime novel RIVER OF SALT that is being edited and will come out 2019 (Fremantle Press) It is set 1963 on the east coast of Aus. A young (reluctant) Philly hit-man escapes his life, comes to Australia to start a new life playing surf guitar in his own bar. When a woman is murdered who attended the bar he has to solve the case or risk exposure.
I’m also helping my daughters with a young adult pirate adventure – 3 sisters circa 1768, and have another YA title of my own. Plus a few other things! (like another Dan Clement novel)
Two questions in one here? Stephen Michael or Polly Farmer? AND Mick Malone or Terry Alderman?
Never saw Polly at his best but he was nearly always beaten by the great East Fremantle ruckman Jack “Stork” Clarke. Stephen Michael, outstanding but not a great kick. Mick Malone – not a bad footballer and definitely handy. Alderman might have been the better bowler but Mick was entertaining.
Sean O’Leary is an Australian author who has published two short story collections and an award-winning novella, Drifting. Drifting, available now here: https://www.busybird.com.au/books/our-books/drifting/