It was a breakthrough recording for Dave Graney ‘n’ The Coral Snakes and has been described as one of the most important Australian albums of the 1990s, but Graney says it took audiences a while to connect with Night of the Wolverine.
The album, which was recorded in three days in 1992 and released in April 1993 on Mercury Records, features Graney on vocals, his wife and collaborator Clare Moore on drums, Rod Hayward on guitar and Robin Casinader on violin and keyboards.
Graney, who grew up in Mount Gambier, met Moore in Adelaide in 1978 and formed a variety of bands including The Sputniks and The Moodists, before creating the Coral Snakes in 1987.
The Coral Snakes were touring nationally as support for Hunters & Collectors when they first started introducing tracks from Wolverine.
“Audiences hated it at first,” Graney says. “We never got to play this album, really. The audience was wanting to rock and we were annoying, playing quite soft, delicate music. So we had to change what we were doing and we never really played the songs live much.
“The audience was yelling out to us to get off when we were doing the album tour and we did six weeks opening like that. We weren’t hurt or anything, we just reacted by becoming stronger and more powerful.
“Then we went out opening for The Cruel Sea and gradually people were hearing it… then we did our own tour in that year. We did about 95 gigs in 1993, and sort of just bust through to a different audience, so it was quite organic, really.
“It wasn’t played on commercial radio or anything like that; my music has never been on commercial radio my entire life, but it coincided with Triple J going national so we were good for them and they were good for us.”
Gradually, the album began to break through, and the title track and the catchy “You’re Just Too Hip, Baby” made it to numbers 48 and 59 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 in 1993. Night of the Wolverine was also nominated for an ARIA for “Best Alternative Release” in 1994.
Amid the success, Graney also won an ARIA for Best Male Artist in 1996, famously taking to the stage wearing a wig and a pink crushed-velvet suit and announcing his moment as the “King of Pop”.
In 2018, Night of The Wolverine was rated by the ABC as one of the 50 Best Australian albums of the 1990s. It was released at a time when the Australian music industry was thriving – bands toured constantly on the pub circuit, and Graney says music reached mainstream audiences through live television shows such as Recovery and Live & Sweaty on the ABC, and variety shows such as Hey Hey It’s Saturday.
“So there was all manner of things you could get on if you weren’t being played on commercial radio… and we took advantage of everything like that,” he says.
To celebrate 30 years since the album’s release, Graney has got the original band members back together for a national tour, joined by Stu Thomas on the bass. They will play at The Gov in late August, and Moore says she’s looking forward to playing with everyone again after so long.
“We’ve had a few rehearsals and it’s just really exciting to hear the other musicians again,” Moore says.
“Robin is such an amazing keyboard player and also plays violin, and [we’ve got] Rod on guitar again. Stu we do play with as well and he fits into this group really well, and they’re all friends, so it’s really nice to have this time to travel and play, especially after the last few years.
“It seems everything has fallen into place with the album coming out as well, so it just feels like the right time to go out and do it.”
Moore is referring to the first-ever vinyl release of Night of the Wolverine, which was only ever available on CD.
“We’ve made a double LP,” Graney says. “It was released in the era of the CD, so it’s far too long to be on a single vinyl, which would take only about 40 minutes of music, so it’s on a double LP with a gatefold sleeve and it will be available at our shows.”
The tour will see the Wolverine album played in sequence during the first set, while the second set will include songs from albums You Wanna be There But You Don’t Wanna Travel and The Soft ‘n’ Sexy Sound.
Graney believes that when people talk about Night of the Wolverine, they’re not referring just to that one album, but to a time, an era of Dave Graney ‘n’ The Coral Snakes.
“They think it’s all that one album but there are songs that came afterwards that were much bigger live shows,” he says. “We put out four albums in succeeding years and it was one after the other, and we just played constantly nationally.
“So it wasn’t just one thing; it was a whole rolling flow of songs that got out to people because they were being played on community radio and Triple J, and some in a couple of films, that sort of thing.
“The song people always want me to play is called ‘Rock and Roll is Where I Hide’, which comes from Soft ‘n’ Sexy Sound, which came out in 1995. And there’s ‘I’m Gonna Release Your Soul’, ‘The Stars Baby, The Stars’ and ‘Feelin’ Kinda Sporty’.
“But from Night of the Wolverine it’s ‘You’re Just Too Hip, Baby’, ‘Night of the Wolverine’, and a lot of people want me to play ‘Three Dead Passengers in a Stolen Secondhand Ford’, which they often want played at the end of the show, which is a bit of a bummer of a tune.”
Reflecting on Night of the Wolverine, Graney says his songwriting was influenced by the time he and Moore spent living in the UK in the 1980s.
“Well, it’s got a major seventh chord, which is my kind of chord. It’s a bittersweet kind of thing,” he says. “It’s often found in R&B music like Barry White… in rock ‘n’ roll circles it can be seen as kind of cheesy but I like music and chords with that kind of power to them.
“When we spent so long in the UK, we were very influenced by a lot of Black R&B music, Black pop music of the ’80s and ’90s, and we came back to Australia and it’s just loud guitar rock; that’s all it was.
“So we had a distinctive kind of sensibility about music… we were playing in a way different to a lot of artists.
“Night of the Wolverine is a bit of an epic tune. It has two, three parts to it and I’m very influenced by Lou Reed from my teenage years and there’s an arrangement I kind of wanted to follow that was a bit like the title track of his album Street Hassle.”
Graney and Moore have been a creative powerhouse since meeting in Adelaide in the 1970s. Back then, Moore’s parents ran pubs in Adelaide and at one stage the family lived above the Tivoli Hotel in Pirie Street. Moore attended St Aloysius College in the city, where she learnt to play drums from Sister Janet Mead, who famously released a rock version of The Lord’s Prayer in 1973.
“She taught music there and luckily for all the girls, including me, we got to learn rock music stuff,” Moore says. “I did piano for seven years as well, but when I was given the opportunity to learn to play drums, I was really happy about that and it was my main instrument from then on.
“I’d sometimes play at mass and it was just a really good way to learn how to be a drummer and be in a band and rehearse. That sort of stuff is really common in schools now, but it wasn’t back then at all.”
Moore, who is a finalist for the Lifetime Achievement Award in the 2023 Australian Women in Music Awards (alongside Kate Ceberano and Jeannie Lewis), says she’s hardly had time to notice the past 30 years flying by, given she and Graney have been collaborating and creating non-stop throughout those decades. But revisiting Night of the Wolverine live feels like a comfortable step back in time.
“Dave and I have continued to put records out and play a lot, so we’re used to that side of it, but going back to something that was a long time ago is interesting,” Moore says.
“You wonder whether you’re going to remember it and it all just comes flooding back straight away, [like] some kind of muscle memory thing that’s stuck in your head somewhere.”
As well as launching the vinyl LP, Graney is also releasing a book of lyrics covering his career and projects over the decades, There He Goes with His Eye Out, which will also be available at the gig.
Dave Graney ‘n’ The Coral Snakes play at The Gov on August 19. The band is also touring to Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales (dates here).
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