The sound of popular Australian rock group Spider-bait is characterized by wild swings from jazz-inspired instrumentals to hard-driving rock. Tuneful experimentation has always been the group’s hallmark, and they are equally at home playing rock, electronica, or jazz, often switching from one to the other in the same song. “Every album we push ourselves to record in a different direction,” singer and bass guitarist Janet English told the Central Coast Express. English attributed the band’s staying power to that sense of artistic freedom the group enjoys. “[W]e are given a license to do what we want creatively,” she told the Central Coast Express. “Once you start being dictated to, then it is time to give up.” The group first hit the Australian charts in 1996 with Ivy & the Big Apples. The album also won an ARIA award from the Australian Record Industry Association for Best Australian Alternative Release in 1997.
The group’s three members all hail from the same farm town in New South Wales called Finley, which has a population of less than 2,500 people. Drummer Mark “Kram” Maher and guitarist Damien “Whit” Whity came together first, playing together in high school. Maher went on from high school to attend the Victorian College of the Arts School of Music in Melbourne. There he studied music, with a focus on drums and guitar. But after three years in college, he grew restless, wanting to start his own band. So he returned to Finley, where he formed Spiderbait with Whity and English. “Before I joined the band,” English told the Central Coast Ex-press, “I had not even picked up a guitar.”
The band members moved to Melbourne, where they were inspired by the punk rock scene. “We got out of the country and were exposed to all these punk bands and exciting venues,” English told the Central Coast Express. Playing in lounges at first, mainly for friends, the group collected a growing following. Then, after booking their first pub gig at Melbourne’s Tote in 1990, the group attracted the notice of a small record label, Au-go-go Records, which released the band’s first single, “Circle K,” in 1991. An EP called P’tang Yang Kipper Bang-uh! followed. ShaShaVaGlava was released in 1993, also on the Au-go-go label.
From a raw, unrefined start on their first small-label releases, the group achieved a smooth, assured style that landed them a major record label deal. The deal came about in 1995, after a bidding war ensued for the band’s latest album. After a total of seven albums and singles with Au-go-go, the group signed with Polydor, which later became Universal Music Group. The album was The Unfinished Spanish Galleon of Finley Lake, and it hit the stores in 1995. The album became a best-seller in Australia, and it landed the group recording deals in Canada and Japan, opening opportunities to tour in both of those countries.
The two albums that followed Spiderbait’s first Polydor release, Ivy & the Big Apples, released in 1996, and Grand Slam, released in 1999, were also on the Polydor label, and they both made the top ten on the Australian charts.Ivy & the Big Apples was particularly successful, selling about 250,000 copies, and landing at the number two position on the Australian charts. This album also won the Australian Record Industry Association’s ARIA award for 1997 for Best Australian Alternative Release. The album marked a turning point for the band, firmly establishing it as one of Australia’s most popular groups.
In 2001, Spiderbait released The Flight of Wally Funk on the Universal label (formerly Polydor). As English told the Herald Sun, this album allowed the band to return to their garage band roots. “It’s ridiculous,” she said, “that it’s taken us this long to work out how we want to make a record. We’d rehearse in someone’s big farmhouse with no one around and we’d always say how perfect it would be to record at home when we felt like it, not sitting in the studio feeling really under pressure.” The band recorded this album in Whity’s house in Melbourne, following a relaxed schedule. About the album’s recording process, Whity told the Mercury. “We didn’t want to go back to a clinical studio where you have how much it’s all costing in the back of your mind all the time. We wanted to relax on this album, explore a more raw sound….”
Never a band to pander to the charts, Spiderbait continued their musical explorations on the album. As English told the Herald Sun, “[W]e’ve got this far from loving the sort of music that we love, and making the
Members include Janet English, bass, vocals; Mark “Kram” Maher, drums, vocals; Da-mien “Whit” Whity, guitar, vocals.
Group formed in Finley, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1990; released first single, “Circle-K,” on the Au-go-go label, 1991; followed up with first album, P’tang Yang Kipper Bang-uh! also on Au-go-go, 1991; released three more albums on the Au-go-go album before signing with Polydor and releasing The Unfinished Spanish Galleon of Finley Lake, 1995; released Ivy & the Big Apples, 1996; released Grand Slam, 1999; released The Flight of Wally Funk, 2001.
Awards: Australian Record Industry Association Award (ARIA), Best Australian Alternative Release for Ivy & the Big Apples, 1997.
sort of music that we want to make…. It’s like mum always said, you just do the best you can do, and if people like it, they like it, and if they don’t, well, move on.”
The Flight of Wally Funk was named after a real person, an American, who, although qualified, was rejected from the astronaut corps in the 1960s because she was a woman. “Above all,” English told the Herald Sun, “we just liked her name, Wally Funk. Plus it was a nifty story. So it’s our tribute to Wally….” In spite of their unconventional approach to pop music, or perhaps because of it, Spiderbait continued to attract international attention after the release of The Flight of Wally Funk; one of the band’s songs, “Shazam,” was featured on an episode of the hit HBO television series Sex and the City.
Speaking on OurBrisbane.com, Maher described his reaction to hearing the song on the show. “Our publisher in the U.S. actually got it for us, and we just expected it to be in the background in a bar scene or something. To have it be such a huge feature of the show was quite mindblowing…. But we have been pretty lucky in that respect—a lot of our songs have been used in soundtracks and on TV. It’s a really good way to get your songs out there.” Asked about the band’s future, Maher told OurBrisbane.com that he expected the trio to be together for a long time “because we’re all best friends.”
P’tang Yang Kipper Bang-uh! (EP), Au-go-go, 1991.
ShaShaVaGlava, Au-go-go, 1993.
Run (EP), Au-go-go, 1993.
The Unfinished Spanish Galleon of Finley Lake, Polygram, 1995.
Ivy & the Big Apples, Polygram, 1996.
Grand Slam, Polygram, 1999.
The Flight of Wally Funk, Universal, 2001.
Central Coast Express (Australia), April 12, 2002.
Herald Sun (Australia), October 4, 2001.
Mercury (Australia), September 13, 2001.
ARIA Music Awards, http://www.ariaawards.com (September 10, 2002).
“Spiderbait,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (September 3, 2002).
“Spiderbait—Aussie Arse-Huggers Hit NY Catwalk,” OurBrisbane.com, http://www.ourbrisbane.com/entertainment/music_guide/reviews_interviews/2002_04_03_4.htm (September 10, 2002).
Spiderbait Official Website, http://www.spiderbait.com.au (September 3, 2002).
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