For a quarter of a decade now, Regurgitator have been belting out their bizarre brand of computerised, shape-shifting alternative rock. And still, after all these years, fans of all ages lose their fucking minds over anything with Regurgitator’s name on it. It’s remarkable.
So before they embark on a huge national tour in celebration of 25 years of being consumed, we caught up with bassist Ben Ely to chat about the changing landscape of music, releasing music independently, and their notoriously rabid fan base.
This article appears in print in Happy Mag Issue 13. Pre-order your copy here.
Shortly before they tour around the country in celebration of their 25th-anniversary, we caught up with Regurgitator bassist Ben Ely for a chat.
HAPPY: Congratulations, people have been consuming your music for 25 years!
BEN: Yes, it’s been a long time.
HAPPY: In that time, how have you seen the way people consume music change?
BEN: It’s so very different. Lately our managers have been posting old interviews and images from the early nineties, and I guess we were kind of one of the last bands to get signed to one of those big five-album deals. Back in those days, one of the biggest differences was that you had to really work through the system to get anywhere. I know there was still a lot of DIY, indie, and punk stuff still going on… but for the most part, if you really wanted to get anywhere, you had to do it through a major label. These days, it’s a lot more DIY. Kids are making records at home, and putting them out and selling them themselves. And I really like that. I like how the music world is now. Even though back in those days people sold a lot more records.
HAPPY: I was chatting to someone the other day about how electronic music has become the most punk genre… simply beacuse anyone can do it in their bedroom with nothing but a computer.
BEN: Yeah, exactly. Live bands in the early nineties were all more about loud guitars… that was the norm. But you did have electronic music that was another scene. You’d have people who’d stay up for days in warehouses listening to rave music. But I think these days, due to the nature of technology, electronic music has become a lot more popular.
HAPPY: And speaking of working ‘through the system’… you guys haven’t released any music through a major label since 2001, I believe.
BEN: That’s right, yep.
HAPPY: Do you remember a specific point in your career when you decided to only release music independently?
BEN: Well when we first started, we didn’t want to sign to a major label at all. We just wanted to do our own records and not worry about that kind of thing. But we were all on the dole. It came to a point after umming and ahhing about it for months, that eventually they gave us this really excellent deal with a lot of creative freedom. However, we were all still a little shocked we signed it. Quan wrote I Sucked A Lot Of Cock To Get Where I Am because we signed. That song came out of that feeling of ‘is this right?’ So after that five-record contract ended, we decided to put out our own records, and we didn’t really care how many we sold.
HAPPY: When you went independent, did you notice any specific changes in the music you were putting out?
BEN: Mmm, not really. I think we just kind of kept doing the same thing. I think it was always more about the dynamic between band members. There was a time after burning ourselves out in the nineties when we were all really fragmented. Quan went to Europe, and we did have this kind of break. Then we slowly tippy-toed back into it again. I think it’s always more about how your feeling with your life, and your relationships within the band that impact how the album’s sound. At least for us.
HAPPY: It’s interesting with the dynamic of your band, because when you emerged in the early days, there was always this really strange concoction of sounds. When you guys first formed, was each member bringing certain sounds to the table that was forming the music you were making?
BEN: Yeah, it’s kind of funny. Because when we started, we were all playing in these really heavy, technical, serious bands… but we didn’t really like music like that. We loved the Beastie Boys and Cyprus Hill and Sonic Youth and Bad Brains. So we wanted to do something like that – something more fun. That’s what kind of influenced it. And Quan had this really great lyrical thing going on. Our original drummer Martin was really into hip-hop, and while he was our live drummer, he was really into sampling… so he brought this real electronic element to it, which was great. His desire to move in that direction really inpired us. After we sold some records and started making a bit of money, we started buying more gadgets. Then an album like Unit comes out, and technology had a fair bit to do with sound. But yeah, I think we’ve all got our different attributes. Quan always liked to stay at home… especially in the old days, he’d always be home writing, whereas I’d be out networking and doing all the talking. So yeah, we all did have our different elements – we’re all very different people.
HAPPY: I’d really like to talk about your fan base. Because all your fans are still absolute maniacs it seems. Over the course of your career, you’ve always seemed to maintain this really honest presentation of your band. So what kind of relationship do you feel like you’ve created with your fan base, being so open?
BEN: Well, I think our fanbase is the thing that allows us to keep going. We couldn’t do it if they weren’t there. We’ve got so much gratitude to the people that keep turning up, and I think they do keep turning up because we don’t take ourselves too seriously. When we put songs on the table for a new record, we have a kind of pre-requisite that a song needs to have a certain amount of energy, so that when we transpose it live, it really comes across. It’s an energy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I think comes from how we interact as friends.
HAPPY: If I may share a story…
HAPPY: I had a school teacher in high school, and I was only in high school not too long ago, and he would’ve been in his fifties. He never went out to see any live music. But as soon as you guys were ever in town, he’d drop a shit-tonne of drugs and go lose his mind at your show.
BEN: (Laughs) That is awesome!
HAPPY: And I feel like he’s not alone. A lot of Regurgitator fans, even after all these years, are still absolute maniacs. Why do you think this?
BEN: I think it just comes from creating an environment where you can just be stupid. You don’t have to be fashionable, you don’t have to say the right thing… well, to a certain degree. As long as your not racist or sexist, then anything goes. Music really teleports you to a time in your life too. We always meet people at our shows… like couples who say they met one another at our show, and now they’ve got four kids. Then there are all these young people who come to our shows, and they’ve been listening to the music through their parents. That stuff is all really nice. It’s a weird little family. Everyone’s got tentacles and stuff.
HAPPY: Do you have any stories of fans being particularly wild?
BEN: Oh yeah, there’s been some crazy fans. We had this really strange girl who’d send us these realy bizarre letters. We’ve had a few stalkers. I had this one girl who lived in the bushes outside my house. If I left my shoes out, she’d steal my shoes. It was kind of scary.
HAPPY: Dude, that’s terrifying. How’d you shake her?
BEN: I dunno. I think she must’ve got locked up. She just disappeared one day. But yeah, there’s been some weirdos over the years… but really awesome people too.
Catch Regurgitator live at any of the following dates:
OCT 4 – Clayton MONASH UNI
OCT 5 – San Remo WESTERNPORT HOTEL
OCT 6 – Caloundra CALOUNDRA MUSIC FESTIVAL
FRI 11 OCT – Cairns TANKS ARTS CENTRE
SAT 12 OCT – Darwin DARWIN SURF CLUB / DE LA PLAGE
FRI 18 OCT – Adelaide THE GOV
SAT 19 OCT – Adelaide THE GOV
SUN 20 OCT – Hobart UNI BAR
THUR 24 OCT – Canberra THE BASEMENT
FRI 25 OCT – Kingscliff KINGSCLIFF BEACH HOTEL
SAT 26 OCT – Brisbane THE TIVOLI
SUN 27 OCT – Brisbane THE TIVOLI
FRI 1 NOV – Melbourne PRINCE BANDROOM
SAT 2 NOV – Melbourne THE CORNER
More info here.