Each week, John Moyle brings you the best examples of recent Australian songs and music videos. This week: Custard’s ‘The Min Min Lights’.
Footage found in a box that Custard’s Dave McCormack had carried with him from the mid-nineties in the United States to Brisbane and onto Kings Cross has created a trip through nostalgia for the video clip for band’s latest single ‘The Min Min Lights’.
“I carried the Hi8 footage in this little bag and a year ago I tried to digitise it, but I couldn’t find a Hi8 camera until this place in Five Dock did it for me cheaply,” McCormack said.
“It was from when we were recording and playing in the States around ’96 or ’97.”
With a new album about to be released through ABC Music, McCormack knew the band needed footage for a clip, but due to Covid it was difficult getting the members and a shooting crew together – so the idea of using the found footage of a much younger band made perfect sense.
“I gave the footage to Glenn Thompson (guitar) and he picked out what he loved and put it through filters and stuff,” the singer-songwriter said.
Thompson had earlier experience editing video clips and after receiving the Dropbox files from McCormack, set about selecting from hours of Custard footage on the road in the States.
“The footage in the video is of us after we flew from recording in Memphis to LA and then drove to Las Vegas where we had a gig and then drove back through Phoenix,” McCormack said.
“A complete debacle.”
Glenn Thompson, who edited the video, said: “It was pretty raw footage and for some reason I decided that it would look better if it was coloured yellow and that made the blues pop out a bit too, which gave it a very nostalgic look.
“To bring the clip together with the music I decided to put the text up as well, and knowing me I would have gone through a lot of font choices until I found one that was bold and simple and effective.”
Like the video, the song ‘The Min Min Lights’ came about in bits and pieces, beginning as a raw track recorded in Perth which McCormack took back to his home studio in Sydney.
“When we recorded it i had no idea of the lyrics,” McCormack said.
“I don’t know who Veronica is as it was supposed to be Jennifer because I thought that sounded better.
“But we have a Jennifer as a neighbour and I thought that might be complicated, so I thought about Stephanie, which has the same amount of syllables.
“I just had to pick someone who I didn’t know, and I definitely don’t know any Veronicas.”
The Min Min lights are a mysterious natural phenomenon which occur near the outback Queensland towns of Boulia and Winton, experienced by local Aboriginals and later by white settlers. Sightings continue to this day.
As the song is about estrangement and alienation, McCormack thought this unexplained phenomenon was a good analogy.
“The Min Min lights have always fascinated me as being like the Song of the Siren … the lights call you and you are led off into the inky blackness never to return, and I somehow shoe-horned this into a song about a mysterious person or persons,” McCormack said.
“In the great Australian isolation, I was trying to get into the world of Wake in Fright with domestic violence and Christmas lights on in the middle of the year.”
Custard’s story is one of the little band from Brisbane that almost cracked the big time, with a few detours along the road, until the wheels fell off.
Signed initially to RooArt and later BMG they were seen as serious contenders for the mantle of Aussie rock gods, and showered with studio recording time and tour support.
Custard got their introduction to touring in the States through supporting Seattle band The Presidents of the United States in Australia, which included a blistering show at Sydney’s Metro.
“It was like Beatlemania and they were doing a US tour with Red Kross and we opened for them and it was coordinated around our recording in Memphis with Eric Drew Feldmann,” McCormack said.
“We had gone from being big in Australia to opening for them in 1000 seaters and no-one knew us and we were disheartened about going on first.”
Whether hubris or opportunity was the motivation, the band spent the next three months criss-crossing the States and Canada, including a run of dates in Banff where there were few in the audience.
“Foolishly, or perhaps wisely, we decided to get tour support from BMG, and that is why to this day we still owe hundreds of thousands of un-recouped money,” McCormack said.
“It was definitely an eye opener to go to a new territory and start at the bottom after we are on the precipice of breaking big in Australia.
“We did that for three months and then we came home and said, ‘Let’s never do that again.’”
Today being a part of Custard is much more relaxed, with no record contracts and the freedom to record whenever and whatever they want.
Demand might have slowed during Covid but there are still major festivals penciled in for later in the year, and the band that began in 1989 is feeling good.
“We are doing it now because we feel like doing it and there is no other reason, there is no pressure,” McCormack said.
‘The Min Min Lights’ is taken from the album Respect All Lifeforms (ABC Music). Visit www.custardband.com for more info.
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