Led by frontman and guitarist David McCormack, Brisbane’s Custard made important inroads in Australian indie circles with their 1991 debut album Buttercup/Bedford, which boasted tracks like Bedford and Fuming Out. The band developed a cult following thereafter, releasing another four albums (two of which were nominated for ARIA Awards) and a string of memorable singles (including Apartment) over the decade. They split in 1999, much to the anguish of Aussie rock fans. Fortunately, for fans of Custard, a wonderful chance to reunite a decade later, reinvigorated the bands fortunes and since then, they have recorded three albums in five years – their latest, Respect All Lifeforms, a thoroughly satisfying entry released last month that marks a new era for a band now 30 years into their career.
I recently had the opportunity to reach out to Glenn Thompson of Custard to talk about their hook-laden indie rock and humour-filled album. Here is some of what we talked about.
There are a lot of fans of Custard who know your history and I think they would be thrilled to have you back. Are you thrilled to be back?
We are thrilled to be back, although to be pedantic with the timeline, we have been back for nearly ten years now. It is still a thrill to record new Custard albums and cast them out into the sea of contemporary music. Inevitably a Custard fan recognises the bait and latches on. It is also a thrill to see someone in the crowd at a live show singing along to a new song. It’s nice to know we’re not deluded old dudes and reasonable people are actually coming along for the ride.
How do you look back on thirty years or so in terms of evolution and growth of the band?
When I think of the terms evolution and growth I think of us as people but not so much the music. I think we had a pretty good handle on the music side of things years ago. I’m not saying we’re awesome musicians, we’re not, but we seem to know how to make a Custard song like migrating bird knows how to fly home. As people we have (thankfully) grown up. Less cocky more caring. Alert to the needs of others.
Where does your new album Respect All Lifeforms stand in all of this? Do you see this as a new era for your sound and band?
Actually you’re right, that is an area of change, we are very self sufficient now when it comes to producing an album. We used to rely on the industry standards of name producers and big studios. They gave us great results but came with luxurious debt to the record label. So these days we do it ourselves. It has been a long learning process to gain those skills, and it happened pretty much during the ten years we were disbanded. The first album back was recorded and mixed entirely at my studio Horses Of Australia in Marrickville. The two subsequent albums were mostly recorded at other studios and mixed at Horses Of Australia. Respect All Lifeforms is probably the most successful combination of ‘off the cuff’ recording and tedious sonic polishing that we have achieved so far.
There seems to be a patchwork of great references throughout the new album. What strikes you as good material for songwriting?
The patchwork quality of this new album may derive from the fact three of us wrote songs on it and one is a Camper Van Beethoven cover. For me good songwriting material pops up in everyday activities when someone says something that is a combination of words that I’ve not heard in that order before. For the music it is usually the first series of notes or chords I play when I pick up an instrument for the first time in a day or two. Experience tells me they are the only things that will sound fresh that day and I need to use them if I can.
Your latest release Funky Again has been referred to as an irresistible lockdown hit. I believe it’s up there with your best work. How do you personally view the song?
Following on from the previous thought, Funky Again was the first song we recorded at Poonshead Studio in Fremantle when we had some free time before playing a festival in Perth that evening. The version on the record would most likely be the third or fourth time we ran through the song. So the skeleton of the song is fresh with the sensation of an idea newly discovered. There were plenty of overdubs and vocal tracks laid over it when we got home but the foundation had a vibe and we seem to have not ruined it in the mix process. It’s funny that I used a disco drum beat on that which I have only used once before on the song Ringo. Maybe it should be deployed more often!
The world has changed since covid-19 disturbed life so abruptly. Does the idea of touring together again still interest you when life begins to return to some sort of semblance of normal? If yes, what can we expect from a post apocalyptic Custard on stage?
Touring right now is a ticklish proposition. A mixture of pleasure and anxiety comes with the thought of it. Luckily for us we aren’t serious young insects anymore, meaning we don’t need the band in our lives regularly to define us. Although I will miss it when/if it goes. I imagine there will be an explosion of bands booking shows and punters buying tickets when we all feel it is time. Coupled with the possible closure of some venues it will be some kind of musical traffic jam I think. Sounds like fun! Maybe we’ll be playing shows like there’s no tomorrow! And with the new flexible four day working week, we won’t have to stick so closely to Friday and Saturday nights anymore. As the Little Mermaid said, it’s a Whole New World!
Finally, and if we can have a little fun with this, what would the dream Custard merch item be to celebrate your thirtieth anniversary?
We’re not new to having fun with merch. We used to pull into a town and buy little 100gram cans of baked beans, get out the sharpies and sign them, then sell them for $5 at the merch table. It seemed right and wrong all at the same time. I would honestly love to have figurines of us to sell. That is mostly wrong, but if they were fabricated from recyclable materials it would be a little bit OK.
Custard’s new album Respect All Lifeforms is out now via ABC Music Australia and available in all good record stores and digitally. For more information on Custard including tour updates please check out their website. Follow on Facebook. Follow on Twitter. Follow on Instagram. Listen on Spotify. Watch on You Tube.