Commercially, the Triffids didn’t make much of an impact when they were around.
Many had high hopes that the Australian folk-pop group led by songwriter extraordinaire David McComb, who died in 1999 following a car accident, would stun the world with his genius and versatility.
Equally adept at crafting lonesome country and blues songs that captured the “slit your wrists” ennui of rural living as he was at arranging billowing, ’80s dark-wave pop songs as grand as any conceived of by Echo And The Bunnymen, McComb led the Triffids through a number of stunning releases, including two that were reissued in 2007 by the indie record label Domino. One was In The Pines, a rough-hewn affair that was recorded in a wool-shearing shed for peanuts, and it’s diametric opposite, 1987’s big-budget Calenture, a majestic, sweeping suite of lushly arranged pop songs that plunged headlong into deep pools of melodies and didn’t bother coming up for air.
Recently, steel guitarist Graham Lee, who joined the band on the eve of recording 1986’s Born Sandy Devotional, talked to Goldmine about his experiences with the band and his admiration for McComb’s writing, which serves as an inspiration for Lee as he seeks to preserve The Triffids’ legacy.
Goldmine: The packaging for these reissues is so extravagant, with such amazing bonus tracks and all kinds of lyrical notes, photos and such. And the remastering just makes these albums seem more intimate than ever. Where did you find all this stuff and how involved have you been in putting it together?
Graham Lee: A lot of it is from Dave’s personal collection. I have been surrounded by cassettes, photos, master tapes and notebooks for the past two years. There’s no room for anything else. Specifically the lyrical notes come from Dave’s personal songwriting notebooks and it’s been a privilege to be allowed access to them. They show quite clearly the absolute
dedication Dave applied to his writing. Makes me feel positively lazy in
GM: How did this reissue project come about and why did you go with Domino (Liberation in Australia and New Zealand) for the job?
GL: Domino came in at the last minute from one point of view and the first
from another. Liberation have been re-issueing various recordings by
Australian bands for some time, and I knew the people down there. There’s
a certain amount of history in that Liberation is owned by Michael
Gudinski, who owned the Mushroom label that the Triffids were signed to
at the time of Born Sandy Devotional and onwards in Australia. So that
was a fairly easy connection to make. I’d been trying to get in touch
with the right person at Domino for some time but I was unaware that
John Dyer had been in occasional contact with Martyn Casey at the same
time and earlier regarding the Triffids back catalogue. One afternoon I
got an email from John and I was pretty sure from the very beginning
that this was the right thing to do. There were other vague offers but
no one was up for such an extensive and intensive re-issue programme. I
have to say that I have nothing but the highest of praise to heap.
GM: Tell me about meeting David McComb for the first time and hearing his songs. What was it about his songwriting that impressed you?
GL: I’d been involved in music for some time, was older than the rest of the band, but I’d not been exposed to such a serious musical and artistic
intent as Dave showed. He took no prisoners. The thing that still
impresses me about Dave’s writing is that it sounds so natural though I
know that it’s often laboured over and didn’t flow out unbidden. H