Henry Rollins: I Went All the Way to Australia to Get a Thee Oh Sees Record
The prize: Thee Oh Sees' Mutilator Defeated at Last on "ultra-clear with orange blob" vinyl
Suddenly, I’m in Sydney, Australia, at the Adina on Crown Street in beautiful Surry Hills. It’s a multipurpose trip. I have a lot of shows here in September, so I had to do press for the tour’s announcement, as well as be a part of the Australian Music Prize (AMP) award ceremony.
Australia is an amazing country. I have made well over 30 visits since I first got to Sydney in 1989. On that first trip, I arrived a few days before my bandmates to do press. I stayed on my new agent Tim Pittman’s couch, a couple of blocks from where I am now.
Before the press started, in an effort to check out a new city and beat jet lag, I walked for hours on the streets. I was so happy to finally be in Australia. That afternoon, I decided I wanted to visit Australia as often as possible. I have never reacted to a country this way before or since. Almost 30 years later, Tim still books my Australian shows and I still like walking around here.
For as long as I can remember, it’s been about location. No matter where I am, I exist. Since this is the case no matter what, I reckon I might as well make where I am as interesting as possible. I will leave a location and go somewhere else just because it’s different from where I was before. When I am on the move, out in the world, that’s when I feel that I am living at the speed of life.
Rather than have loyalty to any one place, I have a great affection for cities all over the world. Sometimes I think that the planet is barely big enough to contain my curiosity and desire to see as much of it as I can.
The last few days here in Sydney, I feel like I have won the lottery. I am where I am supposed to be.
City streets after sundown are the optimal setting. A few nights ago, Sydney held its 38th annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras celebration. An estimated 300,000 costumed people packed the streets. It was an LGBT explosion of color, variety and innovation. The outfits were spectacular, and all you had to do to dig it was be outside.
Same-sex marriage is still illegal in Australia, but there are signs that 2016 could be the year this changes. If well over a quarter million people on the streets in a single city isn’t an indication that the old should give way to the new, I don’t know what is.
One of the best things about being almost anywhere is that I have access to several record stores. And Sydney has some great ones.
Knowing I was going to be arriving early on a Saturday, it was imperative that I get out on the street, adjust to the new time zone and shake off the effects of a 13-hour, 56-minute flight. Before wheels up out of LAX, I contacted top-shelf Sydney area operative Julia Wilson, owner of the awesome Rice Is Nice record label, and asked her to help me get to as many vinyl vendors as possible. Luckily she was available, and around 1130 hrs. we headed out for food, caffeine and vinyl.
You may have heard or read me preach the gospel of the greatness of the Australian music scene. It’s true, mate. The number of excellent bands here is more infestation than phenomenon. They seem to be everywhere.
Thankfully, Chris Sammut, co-owner of Repressed Records in Newtown, is a patient man. When I saw all the independent music releases on his walls, I knew I was going to put him through his paces. I listed several Australian bands I liked and asked Chris if he could play me some new records I might enjoy. He was up for the challenge.
One after another, Chris played tracks from singles and albums as I thanked him and asked him to put them on the ever-growing stack. I had not heard of a single band he played and damn, they were all good. Nun, Tyrannamen, Thigh Master, Red Red Krovvy, Brando’s Island, Terry, Cured Pink, to name a few.
Years ago, I learned that when it comes to Australian vinyl, if you are here, it is best to do all your acquisitioning at that moment. Do not wait until the next day or mail-order at a later date. It is often the case that these records barely get out of the city the band lives in, so if you like the tunes, make your purchase.
Julia and I spent the rest of the day hitting store after store, and while they were all good, it was Repressed that had the jams.
Two days later, after hours of press, I met Julia at the very sturdy Red Eye Records. Well stocked and assiduously curated, it is a mandatory visit.
It was here that I got a record that I would have been very disappointed in myself had I forgotten to look for it. One of the best bands anywhere is California’s own Thee Oh Sees. Their most recent album, Mutilator Defeated at Last, is fantastic. So far, Castle Face Records has released three color variants: black, “cough syrup in yogurt” and, recently, “ultra clear with lead splatter.” What some Oh Sees fans might not know is that last year, the Australian label Flightless made a thousand-copy run of Mutilator in “ultra clear with orange blob.”
The chance to get a limited pressing in the country in which it’s pressed is too good to pass up, so I didn’t. I was so excited to see what it looked like, I opened the sleeve while still in the store. I can’t wait to rock this one. Going to the record store never gets old.
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