Ross Knight – bassist, singer and mainstay of Australian punk heroes the Cosmic Psychos – tells a good story that ably illustrates his band’s public image.
The Psychos – who are celebrating 40 years of their humble beginnings in central Victoria, as a school band originally named Rancid Spam – were unlikely guests of honor at the Australian Embassy in Berlin in 2013, commemorating 60 years of friendship between Australia and Germany. The group had driven all night from Utrecht in the Netherlands and arrived in Berlin around 3am. Sure enough, they found a bar before rolling into the embassy a few hours later, much in very bad shape.
As they opened the side door of their van, beer cans poured out, rolling toward the gathered dignitaries like unexploded mortar rounds. The band followed the cans into the light, blinking, Knight dressed in Blundstones, jeans and a Yakka shirt and their guitarist, John “Mad Macka” McKeering, in tracksuits.
“We were standing next to generals, majors, ambassadors and God knows who else, saying, ‘How the hell did this happen?’ “, Knight said with a laugh.
The Cosmic Psychos are an Australian institution. Resembling the Crocodile Hunter-led Ramones, they write songs in a distinctly Australian vernacular about drinking, fighting, road accidents and punching above your weight.
This is the self-described Blokes You Can Trust – the title of their third album and the band’s sanctioned, fan-funded 2013 documentary.
Treading Spinal Tap’s famous line between stupid and smart better than anyone, the Psychos’ bludgeoning vision of punk proved enduring, influencing everyone from L7 (who covered the band’s Lost Cause, rewritten as name of Fuel My Fire, later recorded by The Prodigy) to Amyl and the Snifflers.
Telling the cartoon version of their story is easy. The humanity of the group is deeper, more complex and more intelligent.
Knight, now 62, is the constant. Dean Muller replaced the original drummer, Bill Walsh, in 2005 after a bitter dispute with Knight. McKeering, who had cut his teeth in a like-minded Brisbane trio called Onyas, came on board a year later following the death of Robbie “Rocket” Watts. (Watts replaced original guitarist, Peter “Dirty” Jones, in 1990.)
Eamon Sandwith, the singer and bassist of the Cats, is a fan; having supported the Psychos in their early days. And the Cats have just finished a tour headlining their heroes in the United States. “They taught me a lot about not caring what people say about you, how to behave in a somewhat professional setting, and how to deal with hangovers,” says Sandwith .
One-on-one, however, the Cosmic Psychos don’t care more than they might let on. “Anyone who knows the Psychos personally will tell you that they are some of the funniest, kindest and most generous people in this industry,” Sandwith says. “No ego at all. I feel honored to call them my friends.
The documentary about the group gave an insight into Knight’s life outside of his hobby group. For our interview, he calls us from the top of a hill in Spring Plains, the farm where he grew up and still lives. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” he said. “I owe more money than the US government, but I don’t care.”
Knight is no ordinary rock star. He has world championship weightlifting belts in his age and weight category, and a body to prove it: “I have two new hips – I have to do another hip, it doesn’t look very good worked. ” he says. “And my back is ruined. But other than that, I’m in a reasonable situation.
That didn’t stop him from lifting. “Actually, I’m doing it for the black dog. If I’m not lifting weights, I can just feel the world getting a little closer.
The documentary also touches on Knight’s relationship with his profoundly disabled son Jika, who died this year at the age of 26. As a caregiver, Knight spent a lot of time lifting Jika. Her loss represents a different kind of weight. “Grief, you just carry it on your chest, and then you put it on your back, that’s what I was told,” he says. “He will never leave.”
Brisbane-based McKeering says the group was united in grief. “We were all completely destroyed when it happened, because we thought it was going to last forever,” he says. “We knew about a week before it happened that it was a chance, and we thought, ‘Oh no, he’ll get over it, it’ll work,’ and it didn’t happen.”
Like Knight, “Macka” has much more to offer than meets the eye. With the hangdog features of an oversized bloodhound and a mouth like your old uncle’s at a wedding, the Fuckwit City anthem writer usually takes the stage barefoot, in shorts and a singlet. Later, he’ll strip to the waist, rolling his big beer gut for the crowd.
McKeering is also a mathematician: a lawyer with a degree in political science and a Master of Arts in musicology; and a former competitive swimming coach who, as a junior, raced against (and beat) Kieren Perkins. “It was boring,” he says, smiling when asked why he stopped swimming. “Playing guitar was more fun.”
In 1999, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, an illness he remains open about. “I had it, but I beat it,” he said. How did he beat him? “Take pills and organize my life.” What happens if he doesn’t take the medicine? “I’m going into trouble again.”
The Psychos aren’t stopping anytime soon, even though Knight says he’s almost done with touring overseas. “I’m quite happy to talk about Australia and do, I don’t know, half a dozen to a dozen shows a year, if we feel like it,” he says.
“I still like to go into my shed, have a few beers with the dog and play bass. I can’t imagine never doing this. As long as I’m up there writing” – he corrects himself – “concerning– writing the same song for 40 years, with the same three chords, you might as well go out and get free beer every once in a while, and I don’t see why I wouldn’t want to have free beer.
I ask Knight for his favorite drinking song by another artist. “Oh, I guess someone put something in my Ramones drink,” he said. “Hank Williams wrote some terribly sad drinking songs. I don’t want to glory in being a functioning alcoholic, but…”
“Oh, come on on Ross, I’m intervening. “Your last album was called Mountain of Piss!”
“Yes, I know, and it’s a sad story of people trying to climb this mountain of piss. It always ends up swallowing them up. But yeah, put it this way: I think any drinking song is a good one song.
We’re back in cartoon territory. But real life is never far away. Knight is happy that the Cosmic Psychos are not a full-time concern. “The band is an amateur band because I couldn’t be inspired or think about writing about anything if I was a full-time musician, because that would be boring as fuck,” he says.
“You must have stubbed your toe.” You must fear being broke. You must have a hangover. You need to separate from your partner. You have to worry about the kids and all that kind of stuff. If you just travel on a fancy bus and tour the world, what the hell are you supposed to write about? »