Ed Kuepper claims he’s ‘difficult to work with’. But that hasn’t stopped him from founding the Saints, the Laughing Clowns, recording dozens of influential albums and recently, joining the Bad Seeds, possibly the most important band of the past 20 years, as guitar-slinger. On the eve of a national tour with Laughing Clowns drummer Mark Dawson, he reflects on the convoluted artistic process that has brought him to this point.
“I take what I do fairly seriously, I know that can be a kind of , a pain in the arse to people if they’re just trying to have a great time. Hopefully I don’t wallow in too much artistic angst while I’m onstage.
“To be honest with you I haven’t sat around thinking this is a great place to be artistically. I’ve never reached a point where I think ‘well that is so magnificent that I can never do better’.”
Re-enlisting Mark Dawson is a typically lateral move from a loner who constantly shifts direction and personnel. The pair will be ‘re-imagining’ two pivotal albums in Kuepper’s career, Electrical Storm and Today Wonder, on both of which Dawson collaborated.
“I’m hoping that it really ignites. We’re not looking at doing faithful note-for-note recreations. It’s probably fairly true that I’ve never played the same song the same way twice.
“Luckily Mark was up for these shows because he had a big input into these albums. We did a lot of touring in the early Nineties in Europe and there were some really fantastic shows and hopefully we’ll recapture some of that.”
Kuepper is particularly intrigued in the possibilities of Today Wonder, as he maintains it was that record that ‘enabled’ his prolific recording period.
“It made me reappraise the way that I was working – I had fallen into a certain pattern. The album that had proceeded that, Everybodys Got To was a commercial record label production and Today Wonder was about as opposite to that as it could get.”
Kuepper’s ability to reinvent himself has been crucial to his contemporary relevance, and his live act depends upon a similar dynamic – and economic necessity.
“One of the things with a band that’s quite difficult to maintain is spontaneity. . And the reality of working in the music business, unless you’re some kind of superstar, is it’s actually pretty tough and I can’t afford to keep a band on a retainer or anything like that.”
Kuepper’s relentless output and infallible integrity have not only kept him close to the heart of discerning music lovers, but also put him in the sights of Nick Cave, who has already headhunted Warren Ellis of the Dirty Three and previously employed fellow former Saint, Chris Bailey in the Bad Seeds. Kuepper is quietly enthused about his new role.
“Some of those shows we did (in Europe in 2010) were great, certainly some of the biggest crowds that I’ve played to, and it’s hard to be convincing, because people are there for tonnes of different reasons.
“But we’ve talking about doing some recording later in the year. And touring, but it’s not my decision. Hopefully we’ll bring it to Australia.”
Meanwhile he’s working on future releases, and maintaining the artistic trajectory that’s borne him to this wondrous place.
“I’ve been writing a fair bit but the problem is I’ve fallen into the trap of re-writing too much, so I’ve got to get back into the spontaneity I was talking about earlier.”
For Kuepper this seems contingent on the artistic vision that saw him go solo in the first place – and possibly become ‘difficult’ to work with.
“In a band if you have a lot of people on stage the arrangements can be fairly intricate, so it’s quite interesting to take all that away and see what is it that makes these songs work as songs.”