Ray Ahn is the bass player and sometimes-vocalist for iconic punk rock band the Hard-Ons from Sydney, Australia. Currently playing shows for their 25th Anniversary tour, Music Vice contributor Steve Pass caught up with Ray before their recent gig at Perth’s Rosemount Hotel.
Ray – Well we’ve all been friends for a really long time. I mean, we met in primary school, you know, when we were about 9. That’s a long time. I guess that’s got a lot to do with it, it’s just normal now. The shows this tour have been really fun, too.
So you’ve already seen the worst of each other?
Ray – Yeah, nothing’s really changed.
Do you think your nine-year-old selves would dig the Hard–Ons of today?
Ray – Yeah man, we’re still the same band. We still have all the toilet humour – nothing’s changed there either. Our influences back when we started were bands like the Stooges, MC5 and stuff. We still like them.
What’s your favourite song to pull off live?
Ray – I don’t really like playing our old songs that much, I usually like playing whatever’s new, what we’re working on still. There’s songs tonight that will be on our next album. I never really look down at a set list and think “Wow! It’s… some song”. By the time a song is recorded I’m already kind of sick of it, you know? It’s been played so much already: in the studio about a million times, then live. And it’s never as good as what it sounds like in your head, it’s immediately compromised. Compromised by the gear you’ve got, injuries you’ve got, the way you’re playing, the room’s sound… It’s never perfect.
How does Blackie (guitar, vocals) feel about singing the old songs (previously performed by former singer/drummer, Keish). Does he feel he does them justice?
Ray – I think he sings them fine, but again, we really only play them because the crowd wants us to. I mean, we’re on our 25th Anniversary tour, we have to play songs from way back – that’s why people are coming to these shows. And Blackie’s gotta sing them.
On this tour, you’re selling an exclusive 25th anniversary CD. Can you tell us a little about what we can expect to find on the record?
Ray – Well the original CD we did, 25 Years, 25 Songs sold out on the European/Japan tour. When we got to Japan, the label over there had one box for us, and they’re like “here you go!” and that went real fast. Then we didn’t want to press more of an album of songs that most people have already anyway, so we did the rarities thing [Eat Shit, Listen To Horrible Music] that we’re selling now. It’s a lot of demos and live songs and other stuff. To save money, we mastered it at my house, and I fucked it up because there’s actually 26 songs on it now.
So a bonus for the fans?
Ray – Nah, not a bonus. The extra song’s not that good (laughs).
Can you explain your idea for the art on your exclusive tour t-shirt? (see flyer image, below)
Ray – We’ve always done toilet humour because we thought it was funny, and would laugh at that stuff. The band’s called the Hard-Ons, you know? The albatross around my neck is the Ancient Mariner metaphor. Just a big weight around your neck. When Pete [Kostic, drums] joined the band about 8 years ago, we’d already been a band for ages and best friends and he had to live up to that. He kept saying that was his albatross, not wanting to let people down. That’s the same for us all too, the old songs, the toilet humour, that’s become our albatross. It’s fun, but we can never get away from it.
Everyone has their albatrosses when you’re in a band. When we’d tour with bands like the Beasts of Bourbon and Nick Cave’s band… what were they called?
The Bad Seeds?
Ray – Yeah, when we’d tour with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, they’d play in long suits and ties and stuff when it was fucking hot. When the tour starts in Melbourne that’s great, but then we get to Perth and it’s summer and 40 degrees and these guys are in fucking suits, sweating and all wet and tired and we’re walking around in singlets and saying “that’s crazy!” but that’s their thing that their fans expect; their albatross. Every band has their albatross around the neck.
On your 21st anniversary tour, Keish came out and did a few songs at the shows and sang a couple of songs on the “Most People Are A Waste of Time” CD. Whilst we can’t expect that on this tour, do you guys still keep in touch? Is there the prospect of further recordings or shows as a 4 piece?
Ray – Yeah Keish is a good friend of ours. He’s doing some stuff with us that will be on our next album. When we did the 21st Anniversary tour, he’d ring me up and ask to get on the guest list. He’s our friend and was in the band for a long time, so of course we said yes, but then he’d ask how full the list was and call me up and say “you might as well put me down as ‘artist’ and I’ll sing a few songs”. Then he’d say “now that I’m playing, can I get some guys on the guest list?” and send me 20 fucking names! He has a really big family. When we’d be touring Europe, in a place we’d never played before like that place in Czechoslovakia… Prague. We’d be playing in Prague and he’d have some uncle’s name plus three on the list and there’d be all these brown faces in the crowd smiling up at Keish. It was crazy.
He’s got his own band now too that he plays guitar and sings in. I don’t think he has any interest in ever playing the drums again though. On the last tour, the 21st, I think I only saw him play drums once, at a sound-check. I thought he played them really good, but I think he’s just done with lugging all that stuff around any more.
Of all the bands you’ve shared a stage with over the last 25 years, who’s been your favourite to play with, and who’s been the shittiest?
Ray – Our favourite band was the Ramones. Favourite guys I mean, they were really nice and we were all such big fans, but it was also really disappointing to see them play on that tour. The guy they had on bass when we played with them, C.J. didn’t have that driving, urgent style that we really like about punk – that gave the Ramones their style. They were just like, going through the motions. The shows weren’t good, they weren’t fun shows, but they were great people, really nice to us.
When I first saw the Ramones play too, I was disappointed. They still had Dee Dee Ramone on bass then, and he was my big influence; but by that time he couldn’t really play properly, from years of drugs or whatever. He couldn’t play the down-picks. When a bass player does down-picks, that often leads to getting a bit ahead of the drums, like, giving it the urgency and energy. The kind of messy, great punk style. That’s what we love. When we saw them, instead of hitting the 16 notes in a bar on down-picks, he was all loose and would hit maybe 8. That was the Ramones’ signature sound, that bass and the drums driving the songs, and it wasn’t there anymore.
Wow, thanks Ray. Finally, this interview is for MusicVice.com, so I have to ask the token Music Vice question; what are your biggest vices as a band?
Ray – Vices? I’d say a food addiction. We’re all food-junkies. We eat a lot on tours, but it’s hard to eat too. Our guitarist is a real militant vegan, so he won’t go into a lot of restaurants that serve meat. On this tour, tonight, we found this big vegetarian Buddhist restaurant where we all sat down and ate together. That was good because it doesn’t happen much; everyone at the same time.