Farewelling The Finger

Published in The Music Network

 

After 20 years and millions of sales, Powderfinger are pulling the pin, but not without one last look back. So what is next for the band? And what do they leave behind?

Powderfinger has achieved most things in a remarkable 20-year career. Multimillion album sales, #1 records and fans on the top rung of rock ‘n roll’s pecking order. Though international fame eluded them, the rockers did it their way and they’re finishing on a high note. As they complete one last lap of the country, they speak to TMN about the life ahead after being in Australia’s “biggest rock band.”

Check out photos from Powderfinger’s first farewell show in Newcastle

“We’ve been playing in Brisbane for 20 years,” Powderfinger’s frontman Bernard Fanning tells a packed homecoming show at the city’s Riverstage. He points to the front row, marking-out a female fan who “was minus 13 when we started.” At this show, the first of five hometown gigs for their Sunsets tour, the crowd are indeed a spread of all ages – from minus-13 all the way up to baby boomers. Many have grown with the band. One father is carrying his sleeping toddler, and no doubt hundreds of others are paying for babysitters back home. Including the five men on stage – Bernard Fanning, Ian Haug, Darren Middleton, John Collins and Jon Coghill.

Much has changed since the band first arrived on the scene via a Battle of the Bands contest two decades ago. The core of Powderfinger met in the late 1980s while studying at the University of Queensland. The spectre of former Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen was still lingering on Queensland’s cultural landscape. The band signed their first record deal in the early 1990s, at a time when it was “really uncool to be on a major label,” recalls frontman Bernard Fanning.

With seven studio albums to their credit, Powderfinger emerged as Australia’s preeminent rock group of the noughties, selling more than two million albums in Australia, and scooping a career total of 16 ARIA Awards.

And now, it’s time to move on. Their latest album Golden Rule was the last under their contract with Universal Music Australia, and it will be the last for the group.

“Powderfinger are doing what most bands fail to do. They’re going out on top,” Go-Betweens great Robert Forster tells TMN. For Powderfinger, there’ll be no tears but perhaps a touch of sadness when it’s all done. For Fanning, there’s no unfinished business to tend to. “Everybody was ready to step away after we’d made a record that we felt was that good. Musically, with Golden Rule, we don’t feel the need among the five of us to go into battle and try to make a record better than that,” Fanning tells TMN two weeks later, just hours before their Adelaide show.

After 20 years, band life has boiled down to “five people with vaguely correlating ideas that we have to squash onto a record,” notes Fanning. Powderfinger’s battle is up. “But we’ve got a pretty good record of having cooperated pretty well.”

Golden Rule opened at #1 on the ARIA albums chart on its release in last November, completing a streak of five successive studio albums to top the charts dating back to 1998’s Internationalist.

“I don’t know how long that streak would have continued,” continues Fanning. “It’s probably our best record but it’s certainly not our most popular or most commercially successful record. There are many reasons for that, including the fact that only half as many people are buying records as they used to.”

Golden Rule is no dud. The album is certified double-platinum, and has shifted upwards of 140,000 copies. But that figure pales in comparison to the 300,000 tickets shifted for the aptly titled Sunsets tour, which winds up November 13 at the Riverstage. The five members’ decision to go separate ways was mulled over for a period of time, and it became a focal point when the band completed their headline run at the 2010 Big Day Out.

“It feels right. For me, the closer we get to it, the more it feels like the right thing. Part of me is already out the door,” explains guitarist Darren Middleton. “To do more, we’d have been forced to do it. And that’s never been the attitude amongst us. None of us have ever been forced to do anything. It’s always been a team decision.”

Life after Powderfinger will carry the five members on surprisingly similar paths. The band members are all keen to take time off with family and travel in the New Year. After that, they’ll each hunker down to create music with new collaborators.

“It’s been a phenomenal career,” muses Village SoundsJessica Ducrou, the band’s long-time booking agent. “I don’t think in my lifetime I’ll see a band develop like that again. I can’t think of any Australian band who have decided to move on to other projects at this point of their career. What an amazing way to hang up your gloves.”

Middleton is keen to produce new, rising artists, but there’s no talk yet of a follow-up for his side-project Drag. Guitarist Ian Haug too has been busy. He’s been knocking about with Forster and there are ambitions for his project The Predators, which includes Powderfinger’s bass player John Collins and the group’s original drummer Steven Bishop. An EP has been cut, and an album should come. “I want to play in a folk band, a metal band, a rockabilly band,” says Haug. “I want to see what sticks and what I enjoy the most.”

Fanning will spend a large chunk of 2011 in Spain, the home of his wife. While over there, he’ll undertake Spanish language lessons, and will continue writing a follow-up to his 2005 solo album Tea & Sympathy.

“It’s tempting to reinvent myself, have some kind of radical change. Maybe I’ll play with some Spanish musicians. It could be really interesting and a fun thing to do, or it might be a total failure and I’ll come back to Australia and do it by myself,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t have concrete plans, and I don’t intend to make them. I just want to let it happen.” Says Middleton, “It’s a whole new world of music out there, playing with different people. It’s really inspiring.”

And what will Fanning feel when he takes his last bow after the final Sunsets show? “Probably relief first. Relief that it’s actually all happened and done, and that it’s all come to fruition. Then all of us will feel some sadness, eventually. I can see why there’s sadness attached to it, but for me it’s more of a triumph that a band can be together for 20 years and be able to say, you know what we’re stopping. Thanks. Bye. Instead of being told, ‘fuck off’.”

And when will the Powderfinger reunion gig happen? “That’s certainly not what we’re planning,” explains Fanning. “Unless Kevin Rudd becomes the leader of the Liberal Party. So, no. It’s not going to happen.”

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http://www.themusicnetwork.com/music-features/artists/2010/09/27/farewelling-the-finger/