Nearly four decades after their iconic debut single (I’m) Stranded, Chris Bailey still fronts Brisbane’s The Saints, one of rock’s most criminally unsung yet enduringly influential bands. Back with a new studio album, King Of The Sun/King Of The Midnight Sun (which includes studio and ‘live’ versions of the same songs), Bailey cogitates upon The Saints’ “continually happy accident” of a career.
Did you realise that the raw pop primitivism of (I’m) Stranded would later be pigeonholed as punk?
The punk thing was an afterthought, an after-the-fact marketing phenomenon. Me and my gang were listening to classic rock’n’roll and R&B. (I’m) Stranded sounds like the kind of tune that might come out of the minds of young men who quite like Eddie Cochran.
Was seventies Brisbane an ideal breeding ground for alienation?
If you look at the evolution of rock’n’roll, the more interesting twists and turns come from unlikely geographical locations. The Beatles weren’t from London, they were from Liverpool. Outside ‘the scene’ is often the healthiest environment for fostering all that’s best about rock’n’roll.
**You’ve been through a lot of Saints. Is the band a benign dictatorship, or has every incarnation been a democracy creatively? **
I like to think it’s the latter. I accidentally stumbled into show business. I’m the least likely person to do this because I’ve no interest in showbiz, glamour or being famous, yet I’ve become a rock singer. And I find that really weird. The Saints are one continually happy accident. I never imagined we’d ever be famous. To me, the whole point is to make albums, travel the world and play live.
**Bruce Springsteen covering your song Just Like Fire Would must have been a pleasant surprise. **
I would never have dreamt it in a million years. On a personal level it’s quite an honour. And he does a fucking great version of it. I now think of it as a Bruce Springsteen song, which is very bizarre.
**Why the polarised nature of King Of The Sun/King Of The Midnight Sun? **
I’ve always thought that recording and live performance should be two separate entities, like television versus theatre. A live performance is in the moment, full of mistakes, as it should be – it’s rock’n’roll. Whereas you listen to a studio recording in the comfort of your living room. It’s a more cinematic experience. So that’s the simple reason: here are the two sides of how one approaches this stuff.
**When you see ubiquitous Ramones T-shirts, and Iggy Pop selling insurance, do you ever think: “That should be me”? Or rather that you’ve dodged a bullet? **
Very much the latter. I’m actually quite proud of the fact that I’m the least successful merchandising entity that’s ever existed in showbiz. That’s an achievement. And given that I’m still in the position where I get to make records, I kind of figure I’m just happy with that bargain. Because, you know, I’ve met pop stars, and I’m not envious of the life at all.
King Of The Sun/King Of The Midnight Sun is out now via Fire Records.