An Interview With: Midnight Oil

Posted: Thursday 23 May 2019

Legendary Australian band, Midnight Oil, make their return to the UK this summer after their triumphant comeback world tour in 2017. As one of the biggest and most important voices in rock, what do the band have to say after nearly 50 years? We find out in this in-depth interview with guitarist and founding member, Jim Moginie.

Let’s kick things off then by talking about your upcoming shows, you’ve only got two in the UK, why have you decided to keep it minimal this time around?

We’re doing quite a few shows in Germany this time, we did a couple shows in London before and that went pretty well so we were sold on coming back to London again, but really, we’re just coming back to Germany to do some shows and festivals. It’s a long way to come, it’d be great if we could go up and down the M1 and do all the little gigs, like playing Luton, Birmingham and Glasgow.

Well hopefully you can come back and tick off all those places next time you visit.

Yeah! I suppose further down the track we might end up playing in a bar somewhere up in Glasgow.

Have you started planning and rehearsing for the shows? What can fans expect?

We’ve been dusting it off a bit. We did a lot of rehearsing for the 2017 shows, where we tried to make it a big Midnight Oil experience, playing some of the earlier stuff and playing some of the newer stuff, as well as the hits, of course, so we’ve been playing a bit of that in the past few weeks and rehearsing.

It’s a funny thing, because the band split up in 2002 after being together for 25 years, then we got back together 15 or so years after that and we’re right back into it. It’s funny to have 15 years off, but myself, Martin and Ron were always working together during that time anyway, so I feel like we haven’t really dropped it, even though Peter was off doing his thing, we kept playing and kept the tools sharp, so it doesn’t feel like a too steep a climb to get back into it again.

That’s good to hear! How do you even start with picking a setlist? You’ve got so many albums now and obviously there’s the hits that fans will want to hear, but how do you narrow it down? Is there a process?

Oh, it’s a total process. I suppose we’ve got to play the ones that people know, anything from the albums Blue Sky Mining and Diesel And Dust we’ll probably have a go at. There’s an album we did called 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, which we dig into as well and then the rest of it is trying to provide a slightly deeper experience for people and change the songs that aren’t the hits, every night.

The internet has I suppose become this kind of trainspotting environment where people compare setlists one night after the other, which is good in a way because it makes us want to change the songs and make it different for the fans. In terms of what to expect, I mean, we’ve been doing our thing since the mid-seventies, so you’re going to be seeing slightly old guys play their instruments a certain amount, singing about things that are important to them from a completely different part of the world.

We’re always just wanting to have a conversation with our audience really, that’s what it’s all about. We don’t want to be political in terms of shoving a message down people’s throats, we just want to talk about things that are important to us and maybe they’re important to you too, if you get on board with it then great, if you don’t then you can just dance to it anyway. There’s nothing wrong with a good tune and a good sing-along and I think you get both at our gigs.

You’ve teased that you’re going to be working on new material as well after the tour, have you got any idea as to what those songs will sound like? The messages and themes that you want to explore?

It’s a bit early days, I mean there’s certainly no shortage of things to write about. There are some things in the world that haven’t changed in the last 40 years, but other things have. In terms of our songs, we’ll see, it’s a little too early to talk about it now. It’s just lovely that we can all sit down and write and talk to each other, we don’t dislike each other like a lot of older bands, we get on reasonably well!

That’s nice to hear! Why did it feel right to you as a band to come back now? Was there a particular catalyst or was it more of a group decision to just get back on the horse and do it?

It was a bit like an itch wanting to be scratched, I think. The reality of it, is that everyone is getting a bit older, a lot of our friends in bands here in Australia have died, some have had life issues to deal with, so it was like, “Well let’s get on with it, we’re still here, the tools are sharp, everyone’s thinking and nobody’s lost the plot yet.” There's things to say, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of bands out in the world saying much, so we felt that it was time we stood up while we still can, as brothers in rock and see if we can make a bit of noise.

It’s a special thing being in a band, especially a long-term band, it’s like family but it’s also more than that, it’s a connection with one another and the songs connect to other people in a strange sort of way, fortunately for us, there were people out there who wanted to see us.

So much has changed in music since you first started the band, with technology and the ways in which people access music, but what are the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the industry?

Oh boy. When we first got together you just got in a room and played and that’s how you made a record, whereas now with all the auto-dubbing and auto tune, limitless tracks, it’s changed so much. We used to think in terms of albums, now people just drop a track and it goes out to the world in an instant, who would have thought that that would be the case? It’s unbelievable when you think about it. It’s a revelation and it’s something we’re probably struggling to come to terms with, being this old band. It’ll be interesting with our new material to see how we’ll deliver it, maybe we’ll do it in a spaceship or something and it’ll get beamed down.

That would be very cool.

It would be very cool, it could be hovering over O2 Academy Brixton as we speak!

Haha, that would be mad! Now, as a band you’re very environmentally aware, how do you keep things eco-friendly on tour? Do you have any tips for other bands, things that they could do to make the touring process more eco-friendly?

That’s a really interesting question. We’ve got a thing back stage that it’s all glass bottles or things that you can recycle. It hasn’t really got to the point of us all being vegans, but it’s just about trying to avoid some things, like you can avoid plastic now and yeah, we’re going to be using electricity on the grid, but fuel sources are changing too now. It’s easy to get hung up on every detail and there are details that we’re going to miss inevitably, but you can do things to help.

Australia has such a brilliant music scene as well, are there any bands that we should be keeping our eyes on?

Oh jeez. Well, you’ve probably heard of Tame Impala… I really like a band called Pond. There’s a wonderful singer called Dan Sultan out here, who’s an aboriginal guy and is fantastic. We’ve got a girl who was in the Eurovision song contest for us, called Kate Miller-Heidke and she’s incredible, she sang in the London opera, I know her a bit and she’s a wonderful character with a remarkable talent.

It’s a different environment here, it’s a bit isolated from the rest of the world, especially with aboriginal bands, it tends to develop in its own way. There are a lot of radio stations here that are dedicated to playing just Australian music and independent music, and I run a studio in Sydney where we record a lot of the younger bands, so there’s some great people coming through.

There are some good suggestions in there! Finally, what do you want Midnight Oil to be remembered for as a band?

Oh wow, umm, that we rocked with a conscience? I don’t know. I suppose it’s more that we’re just trying to have a conversation with people and talk about things that are important to us, hopefully that’ll connect with other people too.

We come from strange times, almost another world, so we have a very individual take on things with our band and I think we’ll probably be remembered for our political things, more than anything else, but that’s because there aren’t that many ‘political’ bands out there. It’s always been about the songs for us and the music has always been the Trojan horse for the message, you can play an A minor chord for half an hour and bang on about the destruction of the environment, but it’s a bit boring. Our thing has always been to have a good tune, as well as having something to sing about.

Want to see what the Midnight Oil experience is all about? Well, you’ve got two chances to see them when they return to the UK, so grab your tickets now:

O2 Apollo Manchester: Sunday 9 June Buy Tickets

O2 Academy Brixton: Thursday 13 June Buy Tickets

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