Photos courtesy of Angie Paton © 2012
Aussie rock fans are in for another Red Hot Summer when the Aussie Rock Extravaganza kicks off in January. The line-up for this tour is huge, featuring some of the country’s biggest names including Jimmy Barnes, Ian Moss, Baby Animals, Dragon and the Melbourne band who dared to be different when they came crashing head first onto the local music scene in the early 90s with their cover of Carly Simon’s hit, ‘You’re So Vain’, the larger than life Chocolate Starfish.
Lead singer, Adam Thompson, says that the band is ‘pretty excited’ about being a part of such a big show, touring with other iconic Australian artists. “We have never done festivals or anything like this before,” he admits. “Chocolate Starfish, I guess, had a pretty quick rise to success in the 90s. We were not a band that supported many people or did festivals or anything like that so, to be part of a bigger deal, is not something we’ve done a lot of in the past.”
Chocolate Starfish came about when five musicians from various Melbourne bands each brought their own unique style together to form an outfit that just felt… right. “We were all in different bands with different members,” explains Adam, “and we all had different elements to our respective bands but none of us had complete packages. We’d go to a place called The Chevron in Melbourne on a Sunday night after we’d finished our gigs and watch a covers band or something and have a few drinks til two or three in the morning and think ‘why don’t we have a deal?’ and ‘why are we still doing the same pubs that we had been doing for seven or eight years?’ and we realised that we had a really good line-up in front of us that was worth rehearsing. Zoran and I had been writing but hadn’t really put our stuff together properly.” The line-up seemed to work and it was all starting to come together just the way the guys envisaged it.
The popular trend at that time was Grunge, with bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden dominating the scene. Many local bands were trying to emulate that sound and the image that went with it. Enter Chocolate Starfish. “I created an image,” explains Adam. “The shaved head, ponytail look and I really started to hone in on my theatrical skills that I’d grown up with and took a few risks. Our stage shows were never the same. There was always something to watch and everybody has a memory of where they saw us.”
At the time we spoke, Adam was in Ayers Rock, working in one of his multiple roles as a consultant and related the story of an incident that had just happened there. “Á client just came up and said ‘I saw you on Andrew Denton’s show doing ‘I Am Woman’ back in ’94. You sat on Andrew Denton’s knee and stroked his hair and I’ve never seen Denton look so uncomfortable.’ Obviously, that person remembered that moment and it actually prompted a conversation from the rest of the table.” If you missed that episode of Denton’s show, take a moment to check out the clip on You Tube. It really is worth a look and you’ll see exactly what Adam is talking about.
While on the subject of memorable moments, I wonder if the singer has any of his own that would turn out to be pivotal in his life?
“Yes,” he replies, “There’s probably a couple. The first time I saw a video of Freddie Mercury, it blew my mind. Just his presence and his command of the audience and the way that they were in absolute awe of that band and the way he was conducting it. It was something that affected me because I had a theatrical background. I thought ‘Wow! Nothing is too much for this guy! And that was before I even realised what homosexuality was. I wasn’t even looking at him and thinking ‘OK, he’s doing that because he’s gay and he doesn’t care’. I was a naïve country boy and I thought ‘How can that guy wear a crown and cape? And every single fan in Wembley Stadium is clapping in time and men and women were just wide-eyed and they were obviously moved and I thought ‘Maybe I could do something like that.’ That was pivotal for me.”
Another pivotal moment for Adam was when he wrote what was to be the band’s second hit, ‘Mountain’. “As a song writer,” he recalls, “I remember when we actually wrote ‘Mountain’, we’d recorded ‘You’re So Vain’ and we’d written a whole bunch of other songs and we were looking for another single. Zoran had come up with a couple of chords and I was playing this game where I was running back from the gym, trying not to step on the cracks in the pavement. You know when you’re a kid and you try not to step on the cracks in the pavement? And suddenly the rhythm that I was running or jogging sort of fitted, and I had that chord going on in the background and I thought ‘Gee, that’s a good melody.’ And when I got back, virtually within a night, we’d written ‘Mountain’. And we knew straight away that it was going to be a hit single. We just knew. It just had that ‘thing’. And as for the lyric, I was over in L.A. with the band and left my girlfriend at home and she said ‘I don’t want you to tour anymore. When you come home, I want you to stay with me and get a normal job and to be a responsible boyfriend.’ And this was obviously my dream for eight or nine years to be in a band and the passion that I was trying to find and when I was writing the song, the metaphor of the mountain and the river just came to me. She wanted me to stay still, like a mountain, an immovable force and I felt like a river that was just meandering and finding its destiny. The guys and I just looked at it and said ‘Yep, that’s gonna work.’” And, of course, it did.
Then, the band took a break for a while. “We’d kind of had enough of each other,” Adam reveals. “We’d toured incessantly and our bass player decided to leave. He was an integral, visual part of the band, with the big handlebar moustache and the tattoos and everything. And that changed the dynamic of the live show. Zoran and I just weren’t seeing eye to eye on a lot of things and I needed a change. I needed to find out who I was. For a long time there, because I was iconic looking, (I was probably the only person getting around with a Mohawk ponytail), I stood out. For me, for five years it was obviously great to be on stage and it was great to do that but I had no other life. We just all needed time apart and we just didn’t see eye to eye for a long time. We didn’t mean to do it for so long but it just worked out that way. You know, life happens when you’re busy making other plans and we all got involved with other things and had our successes in other businesses. I guess when we were able to get back together again socially a couple of years ago, without any agendas or conditions attached, that’s when Zoran and I could start writing songs again and we didn’t need it for our financial security. We didn’t need it for our record company’s direction.”
Adam and Zoran started writing again and the band planned a reunion tour. Things were looking up. Then came the very sad news that the guitarist had been diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. “Zoran became ill not long after we started writing again,” Adam shares. “Ironically, we became even closer and towards the end, I was one of the people that he wanted to spend the maximum amount of time with, in his tight circle, in his last six months. He was probably the most guarded out of all of us in terms of he was a very straight laced Croatian guy. He was the strong silent type on stage. He never talked about love and stuff like that and in the end, I was stroking his forehead, massaging him, and meditating with him and we’d often sit there on a Saturday night watching the footy and holding hands. His wife and Darren would just walk in and look at us and shake their heads.”
The two men obviously had a very special friendship. “Yes,” he agrees, “We did. And I guess it’s only now that I don’t have him to bounce off as a song writer anymore, do I realise how special that push and pull was. I’m not comparing us to Lennon and McCartney but, as special as Lennon and McCartney were individually, there was something that they had together and I guarantee that if you really got the truth out of Paul McCartney, he would lament as a seventy year old man ‘What would John and I write now? Without any media reaction to it, what would we write? And what would it really be like?’ We’ll never know.” It’s clear that Adam is not talking about Paul McCartney anymore.
When I ask if the reformation of the band is a permanent thing, Adam pauses before responding. “I think it’s about as permanent as any band can be in this climate. We all do have other things going on. I have a program where I work with kids in the Aboriginal community. It’s a self-development program where music is a tool in awareness of self and other social issues and we’re actually turning that into a TV show now. Unlike the Idol thing, it is all about contribution so you don’t need to have any musical background to be part of our process. We will actually do a song and video and our show will obviously highlight the song but it will also highlight different things about the community. The show will be airing mid next year. It will be a very special show. We will have a couple of young indigenous hosts, a boy and a girl. I will be hosting one segment but the show is driven by 19 yr old Aboriginal kids.”
Last year, the band performed at a special concert, alongside the likes of Screaming Jets, The Models, Boom Crash Opera, Pseudo Echo, The Badloves, Billy Miller and other special guests, for their friend in a show of true support. One Night In October – A Concert for Zoran ‘Zoz’ Romic was a night that will stay in Thompson’s mind forever. “We did a celebration concert,” Adam tells me. “And I guess we were all aware it could possibly be one of the last things we ever did together, and it was. We filmed the whole thing for posterity and I would unequivocally say it was one of the best concerts we’ve ever done. We had a backup guitarist ready to play but Zoran said ‘No, I’ll do it’ and he just carved it up. If you get a chance to see it, when we are all on stage together, arm in arm at the end, it’s one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever seen.” He takes a moment before going on. “We were talking about pivotal moments before and there is no way in the world I will ever forget that night. We just hit the stage, none of us rehearsed. It was a moment… definitely a pivotal moment in my life.”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © 2012 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved
THE RED HOT SUMMER TOUR PRESENTS THE AUSSIE ROCK EXTRAVAGANZA
JIMMY BARNES, BABY ANIMALS, IAN MOSS, DRAGON & CHOCOLATE STARFISH
JANUARY – MARCH 2013 | NSW, VIC, TAS & SA
For more information on The Red Hot Summer tour visit www.redhotsummertour.com.au
Zoran Romic performing at ‘One Night in October – A Concert for Zoran ‘Zoz’ Romic 2011