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The Southern River Band’s Cal Kramer lays the SmackDown

The Southern River Band bring it live. The spectacle, the pageantry, the costumes—it’s all there. Beacuse of these live elements, frontman Cal Kramer has often drawn comparisons to a young Shawn Michaels (four time world champion, WWE hall of famer), and for good reason—Kramer has long seen Michaels as an inspiration.

For Cal, that’s what music is about; the show, the spectacle, the characters. His emphasis on these elements has made him one of the Aussie music scene’s most beloved new frontmen… a proper damn frontman. So as the band embark on a nation-wide tour in support of their new album Rumour & Innuendo, we caught up with Cal to chat all about his love of pro-wrestling (and my own), the rocky path that led to this new record, and his unbelievable sewing skills.

“It might be the night you fall in love. You might find 50 bucks on the ground. Anything can happen at a Southern River Band show.”

~After a brief technical hiccup on our end, we finally got on the line with Cal~

CAL: How are things looking on your end? All fixed?

HAPPY: Yeah, we’re all sweet. My iCloud was full apparently, so it wasn’t recording.

CAL: Fuck. Don’t ya fucking hate that? Don’t ya hate it when technology fucks ya over?

HAPPY: Dude! It fucks me over daily. It’s time we went back to doing this shit on tape recorders… or even better, pen and paper! I’ve really gotta learn short-hand.

CAL: Man, 100%. And people say “oh, what if there’s a fire? All your shit will get burned,” but I swear I lose my shit because some fucking cloud crashes all the time. Technology fucks up way more often than shit burns down.

HAPPY: That’s exactly right. Well Cal, we were meant to be doing this interview yesterday… but I’ve been told that you “wiped yourself out” after playing Wave Rock the other night. How was the show?

CAL: Man, so Wave Rock is about three-and-a-half-hours east from Thornlie. It’s this big million-year-old rock that’s shaped like this big 30-foot wave. It’s out in the middle of nowhere. There were about 700 people there. Amyl & The Sniffers actually had to pull out, so last week we got the call and did the full Steven Bradbury… came in right at the last minute and headlined it. That was on Sunday, then we drove back Monday… got very little sleep. All hits ya when you get home.

HAPPY: Well hopefully you’re all rested up now. You sound fresh.

CAL: Oh man, I feel fucking great right now. I’m firing.

HAPPY: You’re new album Rumour & Innuendo is all finished! Congrats!

CAL: Cheers man! We should be getting the masters back any moment.

HAPPY: Were there any points of difference you wanted to establish from Live At The Pleasuredome?

CAL: Well I guess in that period of time, because there was a lineup change since the first album, I was doing a lot of writing with Jules… who’s since left the band as well. But it was all about progressing and not staying where we were. Live At The Pleasuredome was very much a band trying to find its feet. We really wanted to up the songwriting. We wanted to make sure we went back and listened to everything, looking for parts we could improve. I personally think we’ve done it. It’s taken fucking forever to get this fucking thing done. There’s been set-backs upon set-backs of every kind, but when I listen to the final mixes last week, I really thought “fuck, we’ve got something here.”

HAPPY: I remember when Chimney came out, they said the album was going to be out in August. What kind of set-backs were you dealing with here?

CAL: I’ve been crook on-and-off. I’ve been losing my voice, because we’ve been gigging so relentlessly. I got real sick in the middle of winter, so we had really limited windows where we could get into the studio. We had these windows where it’d be a Monday that we could do vocals. But after a weekend of gigging, I would’ve blown my voice out. Then there was little shit with touring, trying to link up the dates. All sorts of shit. We had Jules leave the band… who funnily enough filled in on guitar for us at Wave Rock on the weekend. But he left during the middle of the album, so we really had to regroup. So absolutely everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong. Legitimately. But now we’re waiting on the masters, which is very fucking nice to say.

HAPPY: Well, you’ve made it. Congrats again.

CAL: Thanks man.

HAPPY: You’ve dropped three singles from it so far, one of which is Second Best. You recently dropped an insane video for it, and it shows off some pretty next-level wrestling moves. I understand pro-wrestling was a big influence on the band… any particular wrestlers that impacted the band?

CAL: Oh fucking hell man. I put Shawn Michaels up there as one of the biggest influences for the band. He’d be in the top five. Him, Jeff Hardy, Ric Flair… all those sorts of guys. All of em, really. I fucking love it. That’s one of the things that I always try and bring to the live show. I grew up on it… it was always either music or wrestling. That’s how I always think about it when we’re playing; it’s got the pageantry of the wrestling, without the contact. But those are just a few to name. Oh, and Michael P.S Hayes… he’s fucking unreal.

HAPPY: Well I’m a lifelong fan as well.

CAL: Oh fuck are ya?

HAPPY: Yeah man, raised on it!

CAL: Fuck man. How good’s all the AEW/NXT shit going on right now?

HAPPY: Man, it’s awesome. The Wednesday night wars.

CAL: It’s highly entertaining. Remember when you were a kid and you couldn’t tell people you liked wrestling? It was a dirty word. But now wrestling’s sick. You don’t have to talk about it dark alleys.

HAPPY: Who are you supporting, AEW or NXT?

CAL: Everything man. I just want it to not be aimed at kids. I’m 27, so my peak was around 2000-2005. That shit was adult entertainment.

HAPPY: The ruthless agression era.

CAL: Yeah man, there was some shit on there that you could not get away with today. I can’t watch RAW and shit these days. I’ve tried over the past couple of years, but man, who is actually watching this shit? It’s so fucking lame. But I like watching all the old 80’s shit with Jim Cornette. NWA and all that. That was back when they all thought it was real. All the rednecks would get so riled up.

HAPPY: Oh yeah man, back with all that regional shit, fans would try murder the heels. It was intense.

CAL: It was awesome. I think that’s why people hate wrestling. Everyone always suspected it was fake, but then when they found out it definitely was, everyone said “god dammit, these mother fuckers pulled the wool over my eyes!”

HAPPY: There’s always been heaps of crossover between wrestling and music. You had Lemmy singing Triple H’s theme song, you had Billy Corgan start up his own promotion…

CAL: Yeah, he’s the president of the NWA now.

HAPPY: Is that still happening?

CAL: Yeah, they just started up their own YouTube show.

HAPPY: What do you think it is about pro-wrestling that resonates so much with musicians and music fans?

CAL: Well, for me personally, if you go back to the 70’s and the 80’s with music, there is pageantry involved. It’s a show. It’s a spectacle. That’s what fucking wrestling is man. Obviously there’s the physical fighting side, but there’s also the story, the outfits, the music… the entrance music! There’s always been crossover. Watch WWE entrances with all the pyro and shit, then go watch an AC/DC show – it’s the same fucking thing. The pageantry is all the same.

HAPPY: Well AC/DC’s Are You Ready is the new theme for Smackdown.

CAL: Oh shit, is that actually gonna be the song?

HAPPY: Yeah man.

CAL: Fucken oath. It’s fucking sick man. I just reckon it’s one of the most entertaining things in the world. These people actually get the fuck beaten out of them. Like with Mick Foley falling off the cell… who the fuck does that? Why are you doing that?

HAPPY: If you could write entrance music for one wrestler, past or present, who would it be?

CAL: Aw fuck. I wanna say Shawn Michaels, but he has the best entrance music ever and I wouldn’t want to fuck with it. I’m gonna have to go Jeff Hardy. To be honest, I think we already have. Chimney is perfect. Any wrestler or UFC fighter, that is the perfect song to come out to. I can’t see anyone not getting fully jacked-up to fight, or pretend to fight, to that song. It’s what it was made for.

HAPPY: It’s funny you talk about Shawn Michaels as well… beacuse I’ve always thought your pants resemble those of a young Shawn Michaels. I’ve been told that you make these pants yourself. Is that true?

CAL: 100% it is brother. Learning how to sew was a good one. It’s fucking tedious, but I go into Spotlight and hang out with all the old ladies, and they look at me heaps weird because I come out with all this spandex and shit. I keep coming back in and they say “oh, how are you going darl?”

HAPPY: Where on earth did you learn how to sew?

CAL: Man, I just started sewing. I asked my mum if I could use her sewing machine, and she said “you’re not going to be able to do it,” and I said “oh fuck off”. I don’t mean any disrespect, but if there are kids in Taiwan making Nike shoes, I think I can figure out how to make a pair of pants. There are heaps of YouTube videos and shit. But I think pants are my limit. I thought about trying to make suits, but that’s a bit much. I don’t have the attention span for that kind of thing.

HAPPY: But you’ve mastered the pants.

CAL: Yeah man, I’ve got my pattern. I’ve got my seam that I just copy from pair to pair. Sit down and go for broke. The tighter, the better. That’s all I’m aiming for.

HAPPY: The more advanced your skill-set gets, the tighter the pants go…

CAL: That right man. I’ve just gotta make sure I’ve got the strongest thread possible to go around the crotchal area.

HAPPY: You fellas are proudly from Thornlie… could you tell us about the Thornlie music scene? Is there much going on over that way?

CAL: Oh bro. Yeah, I can tell ya about the Thornlie music scene… there isn’t one! There never was one, and there’s never going to be one. When we started playing here, we were down at the pub, and there was a bloke named Bear there with big stainless steel rings. On his left hand it says “BEAR” in these massive fucking stainless steal rings. He said “are you guys in a band?” And we said “yeah,” and he said he was gonna get us a gig. Next time we went it he said he’d got us a gig there in three weeks time. So we needed to get a drummer and a bass player. That was about five years ago. So we started playing at the Thornlie Tavern… we started by doing covers. We’d do three 45-minute sets. All you’ve got down there is Thornlie Tavern, which is a dodgier pub, and you’ve got Lakes Club, which is the nicer pub. Then you’ve Gosnells Soccer Club and Thornlie Footy Club that back onto one another. We’re the only fucking band that have ever played at all four of those places.

HAPPY: So you are Thornlie’s band then?

CAL: Yes. We are the band of Thornlie. I think we’re Thornlie’s second greatest export… behind Mitch Wishnowsky who now plays for the NFL. He went to South Thornlie Primary School with me, and now he’s making squillions of dollars as an NFL player. We’re second best mate. That’s where the song comes from.

HAPPY: How do you think growing up in Thornlie inspired the music you make now?

CAL: Well it’s definitely played a massive role. Like I said, there’s really not anything going on. That’s what our song Through The Forest And The Lakes is all about. It’s literally about what it’s like growing up in Thornlie. You turn 18 and you go to the Lakes, because that was the local. You’d see all the same people. Then eventually some people fly the coupe. I’m still here because this music shit don’t make you any money, so I’m still at home living the Thornlie dream. I don’t wanna say it’s a backwards town, but it is stuck back in time. It always makes the top 10 list for Perth crime rates. But hey, I guess it’s better to win an award that not win an award. But yeah man, because it’s so isolated, I didn’t really get to meet many musos other than the ones that came through. My folks ran a jam night here every Tuesday and Friday called ‘The Tuesday Night Club’, and all these different blues musicians would come through and jam. That lasted about 15 years. So that was all I had, really. Apart from my mate Josh who used to play in our band too. I think the isolation means that if you’re gonna do it, you’ve really gotta want to do it. It’s not going to be easy.

HAPPY: Well you’ll be taking your music way out of Thornlie over the next couple of weeks, touring the new album…

CAL: Good fucking segue.

HAPPY: I know right. Impressed?

CAL: That was fucking beautiful. Glorious.

HAPPY: Thank you very much. What can people expect coming out to one of those shows?

CAL: They can expect one of the greatest nights of their life. The band’s on form. Everyone’s hanging to play. It’s been ages since we were over east. We’ve got a few new songs to play off the new album. It’ll be the night that everything changes for anyone that’s there. It might be the night you fall in love. You might find 50 bucks on the ground. Anything can happen at a Southern River Band show.

Rumour & Innuendo is available now, listen above. Catch The Southern River Band live at any of the following dates:

Friday October 11th – Sly Fox, Sydney
Saturday October 12th – The Espy, Melbourne
Thursday October 17th – Milk Factory, Brisbane
Friday October 18th – The Northern, Byron Bay
Saturday October 19th – SolBar, Sunshine Coast
Friday October 25th – Freo Social, Perth
Saturday October 26th – The River, Margaret River

More info here.

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October 11, 2019