Two men with a cavalier approach to facial hair, intoxicants and outright silliness, Daniel Johns (then still of Silverchair) and Paul Mac (once of, among others, the ecstasy dealer’s favourite, Itch-E & Scratch-E) made an unlikely - at first - pairing.
But the sense of this pudding was in the eating, as it were. And in 2004, as that pudding was being put to the live test, they spoke. And laughed. And lost it. While I tried to keep up.
Seems to me lockdown through 2020 and 2021 demands a return of The Dissociatives. But for now, we’ll return instead to Hobart. And a throwback of their own.
The two-headed beast of Paul Mac and Daniel Johns is in Hobart a few hours before the first show ever played as the Dissociatives and there’s a decided retro feel about things.
For a start it’s a case of like a virgin. Although Johns is 10 years into a career, it’s always been with the other two-thirds of Silverchair. And while Mac is a dance veteran (and one time member of art noise makers Smash Mac Mac) he is a relative rock band novice, particularly as one of the band leaders.
You may expect them then to be in psycho killer mode: tense and nervous and can’t relax. Hardly. It’s more Laurel and Hardy, or Abbott and Costello.
Before we begin, I stumble on to the tail-end of a discussion that climaxes with the name Brian Cadd. The man who wrote A Little Ray Of Sunshine and Class of ’74, you ask? Yes, that one. But why?
“We were talking about him last night for some bizarre reason I can’t remember,” says Mac. But Johns starts laughing. “I can remember. You can remember too Paul, but we can’t say it in an interview.” To which Mac laughs conspiratorially.
Did it involve discussion of inappropriate facial hair? After all, while Johns has long had several artistic smudges of hair on his face, only recently has Mac begun sporting a most un-dance music-like full beard. Some of you may remember the keyboard playing Cadd had more hair than absolutely necessary.
“Oh yes I’ve modelled myself on him,” says Mac, much to the amusement of Johns who giggles.
There are gales of laughter again as Mac explains that Cadd-like, he’s “got to the stage of being the elder statesman of technology and rock and roll” and, to more guffaws, “I’m showing this little fellow how to make his way through the terrible music industry and [teaching him] a few more chords here and there. It’s my conservatoire training.”
If you haven’t twigged yet, these two are having an unreasonable amount of fun, something which is all too obvious over the course of the debut Dissociative’s album. Its often sparkling pop features Mac on one track providing “operatic nah nahs” alongside Johns’ “klippety klomp piano”, and has the exuberance that only comes from two people enjoying themselves.
Did they ever feel guilty during the (brief, 14 day) recording over how much fun they were having?
“That’s the way it should be, “says Mac. “As music narrows out into increasingly smaller genre it’s important to bring the fun of making music back into play. Not following any predetermined rules and making the most honest beautiful music we could is fun.”
Johns tops that with: “The whole reason we enjoy working together is we’re both the type of people who cannot be fucked arguing. If you find someone who doesn’t want to argue, plus is someone who you think is your musical soul mate only more talented than you, then why wouldn’t you do an album with them?”
There’s a burst of embarrassed snorting from Mac and Johns adds “I’m referring to Paul being more talented than me, as opposed to the other way around. I know I keep saying 'as opposed to' but it’s the air in Hobart that’s making me do it. I feel like I’m slightly paralysed but only intellectually. Physically I feel fine, the arthritis is long gone a thing of the past, in case that was the next question. And married life is treating me just dandily.”
Now both of them collapse into extended fits of giggles. Right. Well, having got the New Idea topics out of the way, we move on.
They were saying that neither of them like to argue and they respect each other but while Paul is familiar with collaboration, it’s not something Daniel’s ever felt comfortable with is it?
“I’ve always wanted to find someone I’d feel comfortable collaborating with,” he says. “You create something through a feeling that’s as close to love as you can get but it’s all because of music. Two men can’t make babies so we thought why not make an album. You know what I mean?”
Ah, yeah, sure Daniel.
“Can that be the front cover of the Sydney Morning Herald, that quote?” he practically bounces. “And a picture of me in knickerbockers and Paul in one sandal and a sleeping cat.”
Well unless that cat is strategically positioned in front of the Mac family jewels we may not be able to get that on the front of the paper, I point out.
“Well can he have some kind of really sexy underwear? You’ve got the budget.”
It depends where you want to wear the underwear.
“Well, where you normally wear underwear,” Johns says.
What, on your head?
“Now you’re just confusing me. Don’t worry about that idea, let’s go back to the beginning,” says Johns.
Hey, I’m just hanging on here; you’re driving this bus Daniel.
“Well I’ll give you some guidelines,” he says as Mac begins to chortle in the background. ‘The Dissociatives: together they form one of the most powerful and sensational forces in Australian music today’. Something like that as the intro. And then as an outro: ‘But overall I think highly over-rated.’ How’s that?”
Mac’s laughter drowns out anything else. Again.