After playing in a local band for a number of years (“we played for a while, but didn’t really realise anything”) Bludge had adopted his stage nom de plume as a means of creating a stage persona. “I felt the need to have a stage name,” he recalls. “I think if you have an interesting name then it looks good on a poster. And I think ‘Joe’ is quite an honest name – I like that name. And shortly after I gave myself the name, I also wrote a signature tune called Joe Bludge,” Bludge laughs.
After Baker had witnessed Bludge’s earlier group and solo musical pursuits, Bludge and Baker decided to form The Painkillers, a folk-punk band that blended Bludge’s folk-tinged lyrics and melodies with Baker’s distinctive troglodyte drumming style.
“Before we started The Painkillers I was doing solo stuff,” Bludge explains, “and James had the idea that we should get together. I decided that if James thought it was a good idea, then it was worth trying.”
Bludge already had “a bunch of songs”, and it didn’t take long for the fledgling duo to start writing songs together. “Usually what happens is that James puts some lyrics together and comes around and sings them,” Bludge details. “It takes a bit of work to make them into songs, making the lyrics rhyme.”
Bludge was already a fan of proto blues and folk musicians such as Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. “I love that United States tradition of blues,” Bludge says. “I like the stories that attach to it, and I like melodic structures and lyrics.”
The Painkillers’ collage of styles reflects Bludge’s observation of the intrinsic link between folk, blues, rock ’n’ roll and punk. “I see it as a fluid thing between those blues and folk artists and rock ’n’ roll, and even punk,” he says. “I still love doing those old tunes, and I love artists like Dylan.”
Bludge and Baker’s first album under The Painkillers moniker was the brilliant 2006 album, Drunk On A Train; in 2008 the band followed up with the short but sweet Love Cancer record – featuring arguably the most confronting cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart ever recorded.
“James tends to write slowly,” Bludge observes, “while I write more frequently. But when we write together it’s much better; it’s also better when we play the songs we’ve written together live.”
The duo’s songwriting partnership has continued with The Painkillers’ third record, Feel The Pain. Like the preceding records, Feel The Pain punctuates originals with a couple of covers, including a Jimmy Rodgers track and a cover of Lipstick by the The Homocides. “That song [Lipstick] was written by Donny who was playing in The Homocides,” Bludge says. “The Homocides were a great Perth band, but they’ve broken up now. Lipstick is a straight cover – we’re really proud of that one”.
The original compositions on the record include On A Lyric By Robert Herrick, in which The Painkillers celebrate the English renaissance poet Robert Herrick. “Robert Herrick wrote some wonderful poems, including these ‘seize the day’ type poems,” Bludge explains happily.
With the Hyde Park Hotel in Perth having sadly closed its doors to live music a couple of years ago, Bludge, like many of his contemporaries in Perth, has been left to lament the contraction in live music venues. “We used to play about 30-40% of our gigs at the Hyde Park,” he sighs. “So that venue going is quite sad. And it’s fragmented the scene a bit – there’s less of a community to some extent. But there’s some new venues starting out, so hopefully things will turn around a bit.”
THE PAINKILLERS return to Melbourne to launch Feel The Pain (out now through Off The Hip) with an Off The Hip instore on Friday June 17 (early) and Yah Yah’s with Midnight Woolf (late). They also play Lyrebird Lounge on Saturday June 18.