Ben Ely, bassist and vocalist of Brisbane-based experimental rock trio Regurgitator, likes to have fun. Full of original ideas and armed with a razor-sharp sense of humour, this is a band that refuses to limit itself in its pursuit of iconoclastic music-making, resulting, over the last 17 years, in seven unique albums that just cannot be pigeonholed.
With Quan Yeomans (lead vocalist/guitarIist) and Peter Kostic (drums) rounding out the trio, Regurgitator has, throughout the years, focused steadily on keeping themselves challenged and their audience on their toes - whether recording the lo-fi '80s synth inspired Unit in 1997, or unleashing their inner hip hop souls on 2001's Eduardo And Rodriguez Wage War On T-Wrecks.
Woody Allen once quipped that a relationship is a lot like a shark; it has to keep moving forward to live. The same can be said about Regurgitator and their constantly evolving personae.
Easy-going and always quick with a friendly laugh, Ely recently chatted with me by phone, eager to discuss the band dynamics and what it is exactly that keeps the flame of imagination alive.
I first mention to him that when Regurgitator released 1999's …art and Eduardo And Rodriguez …, they had pissed off more than a few fans, who were outraged that the band had seemed to have lost their heavy edge. Does Ely think there's a fine line between keeping the fans happy and pushing themselves as a band?
"Yeah, maybe," he states, "but I honestly don't believe our band would still be around today if we were playing just one style of music, or if we were just a hip hop band or just a rock group; I think we would probably feel a little bit unchallenged and bored. But I think that's the thing we like about [Regurgitator] is that we can create what we like when we like it … if we were into '60s folk, we'd probably do an album like that!
"I guess we do have that freedom that allows us to keep going. We also like doing different projects as well, and take breaks. We just did a project with a dance company in Brisbane, and we composed a new soundtrack to [Akira] for the Graphic Comic Book Festival in Sydney - we do all kinds of different things like that that keep us interested!"
And, as Ely admits, sometimes it's when they take breaks and engage in side projects that new ideas will blossom for future Regurgitator albums. "Yeah," he says, "[the ideas] might not work in [that specific side project], but will work with Regurgitator, so the side projects actually help us formulate what works, which is a good process."
As far as their writing process goes, Ely muses, "It's a funny thing! We've been doing it for so long now - usually it'll be like, I write a whole bunch of songs, and Quan will write some songs, and we'll get together and play each other our really crappy demos and go, 'Which song do you like from this?' and we sort of pick from each other's songs. And it's funny, because sometimes the ones I think he's going to like he doesn't!
"So we really write very differently and separately, but then we get together to produce the record; we help each other out and have that extra set of ears and extra points to bounce stuff off of. So yeah, that's what the band is! It does seem to work, and we've stopped fighting. We used to fight all the time back when we started, but it's funny; this relationship seems to be getting more and more sound as we get older!"
Regurgitator's most recent release, SuperHappyFunTimesFriends, which is available for free on their website, wasn't even supposed to have been released as an album. Yeomans was keen on just digitally releasing the songs as they were finished; but an upcoming tour and the necessity of having a physical release ended up changing their plans.
"The tour came up before we had the chance to give away our stuff online - we did give away a few songs, but the idea was to compile a bunch of stuff that we [would give] away, but we didn't have a chance to do that. I don't know why we do that! We just changed our minds when the tour came along."
When I ask him about the power of the internet in releasing new material, he laughs. "We're really into the whole idea of the internet … I think we're really into the idea of giving our music away for free; we always have been. I find the idea of music being a commodity quite a strange concept! But if people come to our show and they want to buy something on vinyl, well they can do that as well. It's good to have an option!"
Speaking of the upcoming tour, what can a punter expect from their live show? "We're doing a whole bunch of new visuals - every time we tour we create visuals and a series of films that we play with each song; we'll do that as well as make up some kind of outfits as well!" he laughs. "But we're really quite happy with how the new record turned out, so we're actually playing more songs off that than with any other record … so yeah, it's turned out really good!"
So, are there any New Year's resolutions in store for Mr Ely? "Oh!" he exclaims. "I think I need to do a little bit less. Because I keep saying 'yes' to things, and end up getting a bit swamped. But then again, it's good to be busy, isn't it? It's funny because when you're not busy, you're thinking, 'Oh, I should be doing more,' and then when you're busy you're thinking, 'Why did I say yes?'"
BY THOMAS BAILEY
Regurgitator hit The Corner Hotel for New Year's Eve on Saturday December 31. You can also catch them at Big Day Out, Sunday January 29 at the Flemington Racecourse. SuperHappyFunTimesFriends is available now through Valve Records or by visiting Regurgitator's website.