It’s been over a decade since Brisbane band Custard pulled the pin on their hectic career. Burnt out by years of touring, the decision to split was, according to drummer Glenn Thompson, a collective and amicable one. “Those times are a bit blurry now, but it just seemed to peter out,” Thompson recalls. “Even if we hadn’t broken up, I reckon I could have just quit anyway because it was pretty hard touring. I had an 11-year-old daughter, and because we were always working and touring constantly, that was really hard,” Thompson says. “But at the time I felt that it had all run its course.”
Prior to joining Custard in 1997, Thompson was well known on the Brisbane music scene, having played drums in former Go-Between Robert Forster’s band in the 1990s (after Custard’s break-up, Thompson would join Forster, Grant McLennan and bass player Adele Pickvance in a reformed and recalibrated Go-Betweens). “I’d played in bands with David [McCormack] before I joined Custard,” Thompson says. “I knew Custard pretty well – I’d gone to their first single launch in Brisbane, and I played bongos on the first album. Plus I’d done the artwork on their first EP. I suppose I was on the periphery of the band for a while,” he says.
Thompson nominates the band’s tour of the United States in 1997 as one of the highlights of his tenure. “We recorded in Memphis, and I couldn’t believe how much fun it was,” Thompson says. “But I also had a young family at the time, so it was really tough on them. I was away for 11 weeks overseas, and then as soon as we got back, we’d have to get back on the road and tour the new album.”
Thompson also wrote one of Custard’s best known songs, Music Is Crap from 1997’s We Have The Technology. Alongside fellow Brisbane band Regurgitator’s We Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff, Music Is Crap illustrates perfectly the '90s Australian punk-pop sensibility. “I think I was just being contrary when I wrote that song,” Thompson laughs, when I ask what inspired him to write the song. “It was probably a case of ‘what’s the most punk thing I could say’!” Despite remaining active in the Australian music scene, Thompson confesses to having limited awareness of new music - whether it’s crap or not is an illusory enquiry. “I think I’m a bit more sheltered than I used to be!” Thompson laughs. “Back when we were together we used to be on radio stations a lot, and we’d be exposed to new stuff being made and played on the radio. But these days I suppose I just to pick what I want to listen to,” he says.
After Custard broke up, Thompson continued to play with McCormack (and McCormack’s then wife Emma Tom) in The Titanics before joining the Go-Betweens. Thompson stayed in contact with McCormack, and eventually the call came in 2009 to play alongside Powderfinger at a concert organised for the 150th anniversary of Queensland’s proclamation as a colony. “I wasn’t that surprised when we got back together,” Thompson says. “There had been talk of it every now and again, and the right time arose and we were invited to play with Powderfinger,” he says.
Since that initial reformation gig, Custard has continued to play the odd show, generally at a summer festival. With the band members each having other professional and domestic duties to juggle, Thompson sees the occasional festival slot as the extent of Custard’s future schedule. “That’s definitely the point where we’re at the moment,” Thompson says. “When we split, it was a clean break. Now that we’re playing again it might be a bit like The Eagles and hell freezing over, but we’re very keen not to overstay our welcome,” he says. With various other 80s and 90s bands reconvening on a semi-permanent basis, Thompson says the members of Custard are content to appear a couple of times a year to remind audiences of the band’s music – but no more. “We don’t want to be seen as a cover version of ourselves,” Thompson says. “So we’ll only play a couple of times a year – there are no plans to be more busy than that.”
The band’s next reformation is at the Between The Bays Festival on the Mornington Peninsula, alongside former Hunters and Collectors’ singer and guitarist Mark Seymour, Jordie Lane and Melbourne’s much missed troglodyte garage icons The Ooga Boogas. “I know that’s a beautiful part of Victoria, but I haven’t spent much time there,” Thompson says. “I’ve driven that way before when we did the coast road from Sydney to Melbourne. I’m definitely looking forward to checking it out again,” he says.
In its prime. Custard promulgated a certain goofy, adolescent aesthetic, complimented with the band’s power-pop punk sound. Despite the passage of time, Thompson says Custard is just as vibrant as ever. “I suppose we huff and puff a bit more, because it’s quite fast music!” he laughs. “When we got together originally to rehearse it started off as just jumbled memory, but then it fell straight into place. When we were in the rehearsal room and we realised how good it was sounding, we just looked at ourselves stunned. So it’s surprisingly the same as it once was – I know that sounds a bit boring, but it’s true,” Thompson laughs.
BY PATRICK EMERY