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Cure What Ails Ye: Peter Bibby and The Dog Act

Meet Peter Bibby, an indie rock pioneer hailing from Perth. He’s signed to Spinning Top (label of Tame Impala and POND) and has just announced a national headline tour celebrating his new single Medicine. Bibby has spent the last three years touring Australia and overseas with Melody Pool, the Murlocs and The Peep Tempel, and recently performed solo shows at the Laneway Festival and SXSW.

With a national tour underway and two albums set for release, Pete chats to me about shaving his chest hair, stingy doctors, and adventures with his band The Dog Act.

Your music video for Medicine is bloody awesome, infusing grunge with kaleidoscopic lights and entrails. What’s the inspiration behind it?
The director Aaron McCann came up with the concept, he’s very enthusiastic about gore and blood. I was totally into that. He just heard the song and thought it would be cool to try and make something based on the game Operation, so I met him halfway. I had to shave my chest twice [groans]. It was pretty bad, real painful and itchy. Gotta suffer for the art.

Who’s the kid who crawls into your stomach and grabs your heart?
His name was Mason. He’s just a child of a friend of the director’s, who did a Facebook callout, like “can your children perform an autopsy in this music video?” [The video] had all these kids operating on me. Fun to hang out with them.

Medicine makes me want to dance, but something tells me it’s about something serious. Is there a deeper meaning to the track?
Seven years ago, I had been sick for two weeks and I finally went to the doctor, who told me I should live a healthier life and refused to give me any medicine. There’s no deeper meaning, it’s very straight to the point. It’s kind of a protest song against stingy doctors. “I’m not here for advice – I came here for medicine.”

The title of your debut album, Butcher. Hairstylist. Musician – is this your career path to date?
[Deadpan] Nah, just a record. Medicine’s the first single off that album, that we recorded at the end of 2015.

What are the plans for your upcoming music?
We’re about to put two records out, one that’s soon to be released. We recorded it one or two years ago. It’s called Grand Champion, pretty ironic because the record is full of pretty depressive songs. We recorded that almost 2 years ago, and it’s a bit more of a sonic exploration in a way. The first record Butcher Hairstylist Beautician was recorded mostly live. This next one has a more layered sound, we put a lot of time in the studio to just experiment and play with production. And we just recorded it eight days ago, so we’re super excited about it. That’s going to be self-titled, Peter Bibby’s Dog Act.

It’s still very vocal and guitar based, but with more riffage. We’ve got more instruments, a little upright piano, organ and kazoo, bit of sitar in there. It’s more tongue in cheek than the first album, which was pretty pure and cute. [Butcher Hairstylist Musician] seems innocent looking back now, although it’s pretty rude and crass.

This new record we’ve just done, that’s a dog act! The Dog Act is us three boys, it’s a bit of a mix of live and tracking recordings, really layering stuff on. I’m lucky to have Strawberry Pete – he’s a prodigy and can play basically anything he puts his hands on. It’s a pretty raucous record, pretty weird but it’s good. I’m keen as to let it out into the world.

On his bandmates…
Strawberry Pete is maybe my best friend in the world. He’s an amazing musician, and generally the best person ever. Dirty Dave marches to the beat of his own drum, it’s kinda good ’cause he’s a drummer. There’s a lot of love in this fam. We’re just three good friends going on adventures.

You’ve been compared to Bob Dylan, which is quite an honour. Who were your musical idols growing up?
Listening to mum and dad’s music, Bob Dylan and Paul Kelly definitely seeped in. I stole a few records off my dad that were mostly Bob Dylan, and early blues like Sonny Boy Williamson, stuff like that. Into my teens, I discovered punk music, metal, hip hop. As I got older, I got into Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, then just went further down the rabbithole, finding Deadmoon and Sigar Ross and Shellac … all this amazing shit to pump your brain full of beautiful seeds, seeds to plant in the brain garden.

Your current top banger?
At the moment I’m pretty obsessed with Dreamland by Sun Sister, girls from the 90s. The song is terrifying and awesome.

A lyric from Hates My Boozin, “My cash flow may be low but my inspiration is wealthy” – do you find being skint hinders or helps your songwriting?
Well, I guess when you don’t have much money you can’t do much besides sit at home and entertain yourself… you can’t afford to go anywhere and do anything, gotta do what you can and with what you’ve got. Lack of money means a lack of distraction; you can focus on what’s good and what you can do with your time. Probably the best way for me is writing music and letting my soul blossom.

Do you prefer giant, packed out shows or more intimate gigs?
I like a packed out small venue. Two hundred people in a small sweaty room, that’s ideal for me. I like playing at festivals and stuff but it’s kinda hard to connect to people when you’re up on a big stage with the security barrier, playing to a big oval where everyone’s spread out on a patch of grass – it’s hard to feel like you’re part of it, because separation between performer and punter. Whereas in a tight room, you can really connect with your audience, because you’re all in there together.

What’s been your favourite part of the tour so far?
Probably just having a few days off has been pretty awesome, seeing my friends in Brisbane and hanging out with those guys. Seeing and meeting people is one of the greatest gifts, meeting legends.

In terms of crazy fans?
We had a few weirdos in Adelaide.

The downsides?
Someone got really annoyed with me at the end of this concert because I was trying to settle all the money from the night. That’s a job I have to do, and a couple of people having a go at me… I mean, I don’t go to people’s workplaces and tell them to stop. I don’t think people really realise how much of a job it is. Music is a career where you don’t initially realise how much of it is managing money.

You’re a Tassie fan?
I’m really looking forward to coming to Tasmania. The whole reason I stayed in Melbourne so long is because I discovered Tassie, it’s so easy and cheap to get to from Melbourne. I’d go to Tassie every three months, I love it.

Final question: is music an illness, or a panacea?
Definitely a cure, definitely a panacea. And it can be a bit of a curse in a way… if you are passionate about it, it takes over and becomes more important than everything. All of a sudden you’re broke, and your girlfriend has left you and friends are pissed off, because you’re spending all your time making music. But at the same time, you meet new people, and I have the best friends in the world through music, and I’ve had the best experiences dedicating my time to it. I’m still a broke-ass mofo. But you never stop.

Catch Peter Bibby at the Brisbane Hotel, 3 Brisbane Street Hobart on Friday 20 October. Doors open at 9pm, tickets available at https://tickets.oztix.com.au/?Event=78839

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