20 years of Grinspoon’s Guide Better Living

Grinspoon frontman, Phil Jamieson and I were sitting in a café in the heart of Sydney when a tall attractive woman with the professional air of a lawyer came over to our table. She apologised for the intrusion but “wanted to tell Phil how much Grinspoon’s music meant to her”. There was no request for an autograph, a hug or any other sort of momento and the entire encounter was over in ten seconds.

It was as though Jamieson and Grinspoon – Pat Davern (guitar), Joe Hansen (bass) and Kristian Hopes (drums) – had an insight, an inner vision that she lacked.

As if the Grinner’s possessed a manual, a roadmap for life.

In essence, a guide to better living, their 1997 album which is now being celebrated with a special 20th anniversary release.

Guide….the band’s first full length slab was unleashed after signing to Universal Music Australia’s offshoot, Grudge.

While the title, Sell Your Parents was initially thrown around, Guide For Better Living was more a manifesto, the statement of intent that was needed even if the name was lifted from a 1960’s Sunbeam white goods catalog.

The album stands now as a similar coming of age as The Angels’ Face to Face, Cold Chisel’s East and Midnight Oils’ 10, 9, 8…were at the time.

Produced by Phil McKellar at Byron Bay’s Rockinghorse Studios, Guide to Better Living provided a number of firsts for the Grinners from classy studio accomodation to ridiculously early opening hours.

“It was the summer of 1997,“ recalled Phil Jamieson, “It was also the first time we had ever stayed at a studio making this a tremendously exciting proposition for 19 year old me. Recording at 4am! Woo! Hoo!”

“We set up the drums in the loungeroom which I had carefully adorned with posters of my favourite bands and set about recording 20 songs in 7 days. From memory, nothing worked on the first day.”

By day four, however, everything was pumping but mostly heart rates and alcohol into punished livers to the point where even the electricity supply collapsed forcing their tired and emotional plans for world domination and Pat Davern’s 25th birthday celebrations to be progressed by feel in the dark.

Joe: “Band’s debut records are often their most honest and I don’t think this was any exception. We just went in and got down to business – no endless sixty song demo sessions, no cut and paste editing. Come to think of it, barely even a guitar solo!”

“Phil just spat out lyrics and melodies seemingly without any effort. We pretty much recorded every song we had written to that point with no second guessing. They were good times.”

On delivering a whopping 20 plus songs to Universal Music, the label immediately had excited visions of a much bigger picture and project.

Phil: “They wanted to release it as a double album! We had around 23 songs by this point and I think the label wanted to do a (Guns N’ Roses’) ‘Use Your Illusion’ type scenario.”

No one in the band was exactly over the moon about such a weighty concept and so that was that.

The album was released in September 1997 and spent much of the next ten months on the charts generating double-platinum sales of more than 140,000 copies on the back of five singles; ‘Pedestrian’, ‘DC×3’, ‘Repeat’, ‘Just Ace’ and ‘Don’t Go Away’.

It also won the 1998 ARIA Music Award in the ‘Breakthrough Artist – Album’ category.

Since then its been a rolling success and yeah, occasionally, excess story with certified sales of well over half a million, seven albums all very familiar with the Top Ten, ARIA Awards, 13 ARIA nominations, well over 1,000 gigs, tens of thousands of international frequent flyer miles, 7 appearances at the Big Day Out as well as slots at Homebake, Falls Festival, Splendour In The Grass, an NRL Grand Final and a Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony in Melbourne.

Not bad for an outfit that formed in Lismore in 1995 after meeting at The Gollan, a local pub on an open stage night.

Within weeks they were not only a band – named Dr. Lester Grinspoon, an Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who supported the medicinal use of marijuana – but had hammered down a two song demo with “Sickfest” entered in Triple J’s Unearthed national band comp.

To everyone’s amazement, they won and for the next two months the song was the station’s number one request. The newly birthed Homebake festival took notice of all the fuss and slotted the band into its lineup.

Who said it was a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll?

Later that year came the six-track EP, Grinspoon with their second EP, Licker Bottle Cozy out in late 1996.

But it was all just clearing the path for the moshpit soundtrack statement, Guide to Better Living.

Under the guidance of producer, Jonathan Burnside (Nirvana) came their second album, Easy in September 1999 and notched up double platinum sales.

After taking a breather, June 2002’s New Detention produced by Phil McKellar marked a bold new radio friendly direction but the punt paid off with the lush, now classic single “Chemical Heart” kicking down any remaining doors that were yet to open for the band.

The ‘23 Hours Of Waiting Around’ DVD  – distilling on screen the band’s renowned live shows, was issued in 2004; achieving Gold sales.

After another successful US mission came September 2004’s Thrills, Kills & Sunday Pills with producer Howard Benson (Motorhead) which again struck platinum sales while taking out the gong for the 2005 ‘Best Rock Album Award’ at the ARIAs.

Best In Show – a retrospective album; compiling Grinspoon’s now impressive string of hits and fan favourites was issued in 2005 – selling over platinum and spending 10 weeks in the Top 40 chart.

Alibis & Other Lies in July 2007 was their farewell to Universal Music and was recorded with Ramesh Sathiah who had worked on their very first EP.

After a break, the band were back with the slamming Six to Midnight in September 2009 on their own label, Chk Chk Boom Records with US producer Rick Will (No Doubt) directing traffic.

September 2012’s Black Rabbits was recorded in LA with producer Dave Schiffman (Weezer, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Bronx) and featured guests and buddies such as Chris Cheney (The Living End), Tim Rogers (You Am I) and Scott Russo (Unwritten Law).

Then it was time for another breather and in December 2013 it was announced that the band would be going on hiatus. But again, not for long.

Afterall, who says no to Jimmy Barnes and doing seven dates with Cold Chisel? It was a neat closing of the circle, a bringing together of old masters and young disciples.

Right now its all about Guide to Better Living once more.

The 20th anniversary deluxe edition is packed with bonuses such as a previously unreleased performance from 1998 at New York’s legendary punk toilet, CBGBs which was the birthing place for the Ramones and the site of AC/DC’s second ever appearance in New York City. There’s also previously unreleased tracks, rare B-sides, remixes, and a show from the Falls Festival in 1997 that has never seen the light of day before. A heady package for past heady times.

Phil: “To this day making Guide To Better Living was just the most outrageously exciting experience and to see it be successful was truly humbling.”

Pat: “It was one of the strangest and most exciting times of my life.”

“Things were different after the album came out. Our lives were changed forever because of it.”