Dreamkillers are somewhat of an institution in the Brisbane underground metal scene.
They are a band who are revered in many circles and misunderstood in others, but throughout all have always maintained an integrity and staunchness that have separated them from the rest.
Their mixture of punk and metal was groundbreaking in the early 1990’s with a strong characteristic of their music being their refusal to be stereotyped or pigeon-holed, with vocalist Les Jobson finally setting the record straight.
“What we are is we’re a punk band that learned to play our instruments better so we became a metal band,” he explained. “If you listen to our first album, Poison in the Soup (1992), and then three years later Scorched Earth Policy you’ll hear that there’s not as much punk in Scorched Earth Policy, whereas Poison in the Soup was more punk/pop songs. That’s my take anyway (laughs).”
Jobson has always been somewhat of an enigma. That rare person in music who is as passionate about his lyrics in real life as he is when spitting them with venom from stage, and as such has left a wave of controversy behind his nearly every move.
In 1990 when Dreamkillers played their first note in anger, he says the music scene was already bursting with anarchistic intent and was a powderkeg filled with explosives ready to ignite with the right provocation. Which he duly provided.
“The early ’90s was so hedonistic,” he mused. “They were just such wild times, and I was tied up in that. I didn’t know where it was all gonna go. I was oblivious and happy to be ignorant. It used to do our head in that we’d play in Brisbane and there would be 800 people, and then we’d go to Melbourne three weeks later, and there would be 60! It was like, what are we doing wrong? But it was nothing. It was more that Brisbane just exploded. Jack Boots Joh had everyone under the thumb at the time. We couldn’t even gather in groups of three people or more and then – rest his soul – he left politics, and his influence died off, and fresh blood came in… It’s the entertainment industry, isn’t it? You go and drink alcohol, and you laugh, and you catch a cab home… you don’t have coward punches or road rage. That’s not entertainment. The 90’s were just totally different to now, and don’t forget mate; there were no mobile phones so a lot of stuff was purely word of mouth that you really couldn’t check on. Backpackers were a huge part of our following; then because they would tell people while they were on their route fruit picking and all the rest of it if you go through Brisbane, you’ve gotta see Dreamkillers and no-one could actually check us out unless they came. A lot of them would come not having a clue and think what is this, rock? What is it? Thrash or punk metal, what’s that? I think we came out at a time and period where change was needed, and we provided it.”
Dreamkillers hit gold with their debut E.P Poison in the Soup in 1992, an angst-ridden gem of an album that not only cemented their growing reputation but also exceeded all expectations – except those of the band themselves.
“I wanted to be in a band with Terry McDougal (bass) for decades,” Jobson recalled. “He wrote most of our punk-style songs. We had wanted to be in a band together for years, but until then it hadn’t worked out. I was in one thing and he was in another or he was in Sydney at a different time to me but this time it clicked that we were in the same town at the same time and he had all of these riffs and compositions, so he said all we needed was a guitarist who liked the same things. If we could find someone who contributed compositions as well, we could amalgamate everything together. Rock, punk, pop, metal: whatever we liked, and we were lucky that it came across as fresh. Not that it was (laughs), I just think it was a case that nobody had done it for a long time. Brisbane was… even now mate I love my metal, but with some bands after two songs it’s just like, yeah, I’ve heard enough because I know they are just not trying hard enough. You do sound like your influences – that’s a normal thing with the flow of things and natural attrition – but to actually rip off your favourites… I see bands that sound exactly like Korn, and for the first couple of songs I’m thinking oh, you clever pricks with a tuned down seven-string and all, and then I think Nah, it’s not Korn… it’s just not the same. We had that freshness, and our own way of doing things that I guess made us stand out from the rest.”
From that first album, Jobson declared nothing off limits. Songs like The Monster spoke about a particularly gruesome local murder and Insomnia and Father, Can You Help Me left little to the imagination. While knowingly covering controversial subject matter, Jobson drew the line in the sand from the outset that he didn’t give a fuck whether you agreed with him or not.
“I just write about the human condition,” he shrugged. “It’s all about your emotion and your emotional reaction to what the songs are about. It’s… how do you put it… it’s hard to actually put it in words. It’s just about human nature. The songs are about an emotion. All of my songs are about an emotion. ‘Insomnia‘, ‘Homophobia‘, ‘On the Night’ – they are all things that you experience.”
Dreamkillers released the impressive dual follow-ups Carnival of Skin and Fairgrounds For Insanity in 1993, with the major labels standing up to take notice. Despite initial reservations to becoming a cog in the music machine, Jobson finally settled on a five-album deal with Roadrunner Records Australia that was supposed to take their music to the world but instead led to what could have been a permanent demise.
“Roadrunner didn’t do a good job,” he related. “They sent people to Melbourne – Gertrude Street – to sign up three of the most promising Australian bands. They took on us, they took on Non-Intentional Lifeform, and they took on Effigy – which is a one-man band. Peter Murray could easily have been Gotye; he had that much talent. He played guitar, drums, keyboards, sax; he did it all himself and could program it and support himself with his effects pedal. All three of us happened to meet one day in Melbourne because we’d all been to Roadrunner to sign stuff and pick everything up, so there were nine people, and every one of us had our heads down going what the fuck are we doing? We got sent off on a tour playing a Tuesday night in Ballarat or a Thursday in Kingaroy – it was just stupid. One night we were playing in Wollongong, and we could see all these people walking past, and they looked like us with tatts and dreads, and we asked where they were going. It turned out Henry Rollins was playing on the same side of the road five fucken doors up! It’s their job to make sure things don’t clash like that. We played to three people and a bar lady that night. We ended up sitting on the footpath thinking I’ve got family back at home and have better things to do and Roadrunner ended up getting their asses kicked, but it was a good time for everyone to blame me for what happened. If you check out the other two bands, you will see the exact same thing happened to them. It was piss poor management on Roadrunner Australia’s part. It wasn’t the mother country part of the label – it was Roadrunner Australia – so the deal got canned. We only did two albums out of the five album deal.”
Not only did these incidents take their toll on the band’s popularity, but also the members themselves, to the point where Jobson was unceremoniously dispatched from the band he had created.
“I got sacked,” he reflected. “They actually left me in Ballarat after one of the shows. I was a negative, whinging bastard throwing things around and calling them all cunts. You wouldn’t have put me in the van – I was uncontrollable, but I also had better things to do. I was promised there would be things to bring back for my family if I just sacrificed a little but it just kept going on and on. What the fuck were we doing in Kingaroy on a Wednesday night? It’s not even in our pocket of interest. A couple of cow hands came to check us out and turned their backs on us and drank beers at the bar! It’s deflating. You do ten gigs like that in a row and you just wanna go home. You think I’ve got a one-year-old at home, I could do with a cuddle, I’m going home, fuck this. That’s what happened and Roadrunner did it to everyone who signed.“
While breaking the contract was the right thing to do personally, it had the opposite effect professionally. The finer points of the contract resulted in Jobson being restricted in what he could do musically, with everything from his voice to his look coming under the label’s banner.
“They had a contract that they owned our image and likeness individually,” he revealed, “so when I went to a patent attorney and got legal advice they said my voice was part of the contract as were my tattoos and the way I stand on stage. They owned my likeness and image so that filtered into my voice and that was in there a bit but it was mainly the way you stood and the way you looked – your tattoos, your haircut… it was pretty crazy but it was because they had wasted a lot of money on those two albums. Subsequently, I was advised not to do anything as Dreamkillers, which I didn’t for a lot of years. The other boys took on some singers and rehearsed and played a couple of parties here and there but it never really took off.“
Imagining Dreamkillers without Jobson is akin to a pie without tomato sauce, so finally in 2006 Jobson defied legal advice and reformed the band under the new guise of Jobson’s Dreamkillers.
“In the end, it was time to test the water,” he offered. “Sometimes you’ve just gotta jump in and swim. You’ve gotta test the water and see if there was any legal ramifications or not, which thankfully there wasn’t. For a civil action, it costs someone about $40,000 to get in court so you would wanna be sure you’re gonna win!(laughs)”
Honesty isn’t something that sits well with everyone, a lesson learned often by Jobson with many shows turning into mini-riots and a constant barrage of criticism at his outspokenness often overshadowing his musical achievements. While he usually encouraged such public scrutiny, there were times where the level of insanity reached embarrassing proportions.
“Well this time it wasn’t really my fault,” he smiled, remembering one such gig. “I had died my hair black that day and of course there’s peroxide in it that is highly flammable and I was fire-breathing… I remember thinking the lighting dude really had his shit together (laughs). It didn’t matter where I went he had this spotty on me, so he was doing great! The next minute they were on stage trying to beat me about the head and I thought they were having a go at me, so it turned into a fistfight! That started and then the bouncer came at me and I thought ‘he’s a big one, I’d better hit him real hard straight up’ so I punched him in the face and he grabbed me in a headlock and I got dragged down and then the cops came and everyone else was on stage going what do we do now? I got dragged into the carpark and told to fuck off. People wanted their money back and it had nothing to do with us because we didn’t take it! They were screaming we want our money back; we wanna see that flaming cunt (laughs). They all wanted a piece of me but it was an honest mistake!”
Dreamkillers are synonymous with their evil clown that adorns all of their artwork, with Jobson revealing that the story behind the band’s connection with the infamous character being even more sinister than the image itself.
“It comes from a character called Franklin Smith,” he said, “and he was a vagrant in 1931. He used to hide in the Botanic Gardens and bash and rob people. It went on for about six years. He was a sacked wharfie who had syphilis that had gone to his brain, so he was a bit dippy as well. After about six years the cops got him and put him before a magistrate and he made a fool out of himself and them. He took a shit on the floor and the magistrate sent him to Wolstone Park. He was there for about two years before they killed him and then they lost track of him except for the letters between the sanitarium and the mortuary. The letters revolved around who glued the clown suit on him. Someone had stripped him down and tarred him up with hot tar and glued this clown suit on him and they couldn’t get it off. They said it was destroying the carcass so they buried him in it and he is still buried in Dutton Park in a paupers grave. We go out there sometimes and see if we can find the unmarked grave and find Franklin. He was our own psychotic Brisbane clown.”
After over 45 years in the music scene, Jobson admits time is not on their side, but also maintains that while the passion and hunger is alive, so will remain the iconic Dreamkillers. While saying there is no definitive time frame, he does concede that the curtain has to drawn at some stage.”
“Yeah mate, there will be a use by date,” he mumbled sadly. “Like Kenny Rogers says ‘know when to hold them, know when to fold them’. We wanna put out this next single, we wanna do a live album and then we wanna do another album similar to Scorched Earth Policy so I see a three year plan for our recordings and probably this side of five years we’ll stop performing because they are very demanding songs and as an old man it’s getting hard. You can’t hold back in this game. You feel guilty and look back at the nights where you took it easy because you might have a big night the next night and you regret it because people only saw half of you. Then you feel happy when you go home (laughs).”