Words Joel Parnell.
Ross Knight is the bassist, co-songwriter and lead vocalist of the Cosmic Psychos, one of the most underrated, yet hugely influential bands in the history of punk rock. Knight’s brazenly regional-Victorian vocals and thunderous, pile-driving bass sound are of iconic status to any punk rocker who knows even half of their shit. Knight is also the only remaining original member of the band, who have 32 years under their belt and are still hammering on as strong as ever.
As I began to speak with the man, I was taken aback by the humble nature of his character. Here I am picturing this rough-as-guts old punk rock bastard, turns out he’s one of the loveliest, most easy going people I’ve ever spoken to.
Ross Knight: “Hello?”
Joel Parnell: “Hey! Is that Ross?”
Ross: “Yeah mate. Hey listen, can you give me thirty… seven seconds? I’ll be right back!”
I hear some laughter and muckin’ around in the background…
Ross: “Sorry about that mate! I had to make my better half, and I mean better half, a pizza tonight and I was just doing the final ingredients. So now I’m in the good books.”
Joel: “Sorry mate, are you about to tuck into dinner there?”
Ross: “Nah mate, I’m just tucking into beer, don’t worry about it!”
We start off talking about the Psychos’ recent Australian tour with Dune Rats, whom Knight speaks highly of.
Ross: “It was an absolute ripper of a time. I’d heard the Dune Rats had come with somewhat of a reputation, cause I really hadn’t met them or had much to do with them but everyone just said ‘Oooh they’re a bit loose, these blokes, a bit wild’. We got along like a house on fire because their attitude to music and having a bit of fun is very much the same as ours. I could see a lot of us in the way they were carrying on like pork chops ‘cause you know, we’ve been around for a long time and we were young once too. It wasn’t like ‘We did this, we did that. You should do this, you should do that’. We just got along really well.”
It’s well known that Ross and the gang have a long standing friendship with American grunge legends L7, who have recently reformed after years of inactivity. I asked Ross about the likelihood of a Cosmic Psychos / L7 tour being on the cards.
Ross: “I would hope so because err… (He sifts through the sands of memory), eighteen months ago. I think it was eighteen months ago or a couple of years ago. Yeah couple of years. We were in L.A playing and L7 managed to, except for Suzi, get in the same room together for the first time in a long, long time. That’s what I was told. We had a few drinks; we had a great night with ‘em. We hadn’t seen those guys for a long, long time. I hadn’t seen Jennifer for years. She left the band first. So they all got together and I think they’d been talking about it but I think they saw us having a great time and maybe they just sort of missed that kind of fun and thought ‘Bugger it, we’ll do it ourselves’. I would love to play with them again. They are absolutely super people and we’ve had so many good times with them. And a great band. Love ‘em, love ‘em.”
I was curious to know what kind of bassists a player like Knight looks up to.
Joel: “You’re a pretty straight ahead, no nonsense kind of player…”
Ross: “Uhh, I’d say ‘no talented’ kind of player! (laughing)
Joel: “(Laughing) I wouldn’t say that.”
Ross: “I would!”
Joel: “You’re a no bullshit kind of player. A bit like Lemmy maybe?”
Ross: “Lemmy would be Beethoven and I would be the bathroom manager. No, I’m not even that bloody good.”
Joel: “Who do you look at and go ‘Now that’s a fucking bass player’?
Ross: “Well, I thought that Ray Ahn from The Hard–Ons has been one of the bass players I’ve looked at and gone ‘Fuck, how does he do that?’. He’s really good. And when I saw Brett (Jansch) from Dune Rats I’m thinking to meself ‘Hang on, he’s doing what Ray’s doing but he’s actually doing it standing on his head’. He was incredible. There’s a bit of bias there because I love the three of ‘em but he was an incredible bass player. Then I hear that he’s actually a drummer!? Like, he’s a really good drummer. Absolutely amazing. So that’s the kind of stuff I like. Lemmy of course because he’s just full on. With Lemmy it’s like starting up an engine. He plays his song and he turns the motor off and he turns the motor back on, ya know? The only other bass players (that I admire) are Jimmy Lee, who used to play for Slade, a glam rock band from the seventies. John Entwistle, ‘The Ox’, from The Who. He’d stand there looking bored shitless but his hands are doing a million things. But as I said, my modern day bass hero would have to be Brett from the Dune Rats, he’s amazing!”
I wondered how an old school muso like Knight might perceive the transition from the DIY ‘80s (‘The Filthy Eighties’, as Ross remembers it) and ‘90s through to the age of the internet being a make or break format for many up and coming bands.
Joel: “The way things are now, would you say it’s better or worse for a young rock band trying to come up in the world and make a name for themselves?”
Ross: “The good thing about it now is, and I can say this because we’ve never made any money out of it, if you made it big in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and there’s a few examples we don’t have to mention, you end up selling millions and millions of records, but for every one of them bands that does that there’s probably a million bands that don’t get anywhere. But with that exposure now, the Facebook thingy, inter web stuff, whatever it is, I haven’t got a computer, the exposure’s great! The advertising, you can put a thing on Facebook or whatever: ‘We’re playing a gig’ or whatever. You can do your own film clips, make your own recordings. It’s easier to do demos with Protools and all that shit. It’s easier if you’ve got the passion for it, I think. But the problem is nowadays, there’s not the venues to play. That’s the Catch 22 because in the ‘80s, I don’t know about in Melbourne but the gig guide used to go for three pages, now it goes for one and a half columns.”
Joel: “Yeah, it is tough at the moment for venues.”
Ross: “Yeah that’s the shame. So the venues aren’t there but the passion and the independence is right up there, which is great. You see now, you get number one records coming through and the sales aren’t there but the people do it themselves, which is great.”
Because I’m not a real journalist, I always have the question of “What’s in your stereo at the moment?” to fall back on. This was no exception.
Ross: “In one of my utes there would be a Killerbirds CD. They’re doing a couple of shows with us on the next tour. I dunno if you’ve heard of the Killerbirds before, they’re an all-girl band from Bendigo. They’re a really good three piece. Fantastic band. I helped produce their first record. I really like them, I think they’re a great band. Of course I’ve got the Dune Rats CD in my shed loaded at the moment, only because I miss them. I just got told it got taken out before when there was a heap of girls in the shed. And The Casanovas first album. I really like The Casanovas. That’s exactly in my three vehicles, what’s in there at the moment.”
Joel: “So you’ve just put out a clip for ‘Bum For Grubs’, off your new album ‘Cum The Raw Prawn’.
Ross: “Yeah. Have you seen it?”
Joel: “Yes (laughing)”
Ross: “What did you think?”
Joel: “I thought it was great! For those who haven’t seen it, there is a point in the video in which you and the band crawl inside the arse of what you believe to be a woman and punch on with some grubs in there.”
Ross: “Yeah, we had a fight with bum grubs.”
Joel: “(Laughing) Who’s idea was that?”
Knight: “Well, “Check your bum for grubs” has been a saying we’ve been using for a long time and I always threatened to write a song called ‘Check Your Bum For Grubs’. When we did the new album we wrote it on the spot. Basically, the songwriting was down to about a fifteen minute period where we had to actually do something, and I thought “I’m gonna do this song ‘Check Your Bum For Grubs’. Then once we’d done the song, which honestly did take less than fifteen minutes to write, probably five minutes to write, you would never notice, we thought ‘What a great thing to do a film clip (for)’. I said ‘You know what we gotta do for the film clip for this is, we’ve gotta have a fight with bum grubs’ and we just sat there and had a little bit of a pow wow and then I talked to ‘Wezzo’ (Matt Weston) about it and he talked to (Lluis) Fuzzhound about it, the animator, and between the three of us we soon came up with this rough story and just ran with it. We thought ‘How can we make this the most ridiculous, obscure, stupidest, disgusting but yet funny thing?’ and that’s what happened.”
We get on the subject of the upcoming ‘Check Your Bum For Grubs’ Tour, which will see the blokes playing some more ‘out of the way’ towns around regional Australia.
Ross: “We were going to be in Europe this time now but we went there last year and had a great time there last year. We said we were probably gonna do another recording and originally we were gonna go back to Europe and do a couple of shows in The States and then we thought ‘You know what? We all work, we’ve all got kids, we’ve all got partners, we’ve got commitments so how bout we do an Aussie run, as it turned out was the first run with the Dune Rats, which was great, and then we’ll do a second run and play some places that we normally wouldn’t go to every year instead of going to Europe?”.
Joel: “Regional towns and that?”
Ross: “Yeah! Places just off the map a bit and out of the main cities. ‘Cause we’re all country boys, well I (am) and Dean is, and we know what it’s like when people miss out. And they go ‘Oh, they’re playing down the road but it’s too far to get to’, not that we’re The Beatles or anything. But I don’t care if half a dozen people turn up in a rural town, it’s half a dozen people who don’t have to drive two hours or three hours to see a show, so it’s worth it. Years ago I remember going out with Magic Dirt and we just did regional towns, we’d do Wagga Wagga and all kinds of stuff. We’d be in the middle of the sticks. We do that too in America, just to fill in dates. It’s great! You might play a show with bugger all people there but the people that turn up have a ball!”
Joel: “Who does the worst farts in the band?”
Ross: “That’s definitely Digger, our roadie. He’s been our roadie since the first day and he’s still with us. He’s definitely the dirtiest, filthiest lowlife that you could ever possibly imagine. Not only does he not do anything but he just smells. And that’s his job, to smell bad. He makes us look good.”
Knight was such a top bloke that he chewed the fat with me for another fifteen minutes after we’d finished the interview. He really is a genuine, humble and downright lovely dude. What a fucking legend.
Cosmic Psychos: Facebook page.