By Karen Ingram
Under direction of another — friend, foe or stranger — to fist fuck the family dog or jerk off their brother, most people would likely sock over a broken nose in a surge of shock and anger. However, if Australian Melbournites the Sailors told you to do either of those things, you should feel nothing less than untainted adulation. Comprising of members Viktor (guitar, vocals), Vernon (guitar, vocals) and Hector (drums, vocals), the Sailors received their first taste of bona fide attention when their debut album Violent Masturbation Blues was released in 2001, courtesy of Dropkick Records. The LP was recorded with virtually no funds, and was intended to be nothing more than a farewell recording session between the boys, prior to Viktor’s returning to Taiwan to be with his wife. Two years earlier, during a trip to Shanyong Province, Viktor had married a local peasant and decided to continue a basic, undemanding lifestyle in the non-English speaking country, doing little more than spending time with his new wife and caring for her family�s rice fields.
Following Viktor�s departure, the tapes of the �VMB� sessions caught the attention of Richard Stanley, head of Dropkick Records. Maintaining firm confidence in the band, Stanley persisted and insisted on the release of Violent Masturbation Blues to the public. Despite his apparent passion for them and their music, Hector and Vernon continued to focus their time on a two-man show they had taken up performing, based on the heartrending story of the renowned country music duo, the Louvin Brothers. Although Stanley�s plans of release were not something they inclined to dismiss, Viktor�s exodus had not been an unwanted occurrence as far as the boys were concerned, and they were in no rush to welcome him back.
Meanwhile, however, discussions were had, and under advice from his new family, Viktor approved the album release of Violent Masturbation Blues on the condition that an advance of royalties be paid in order to support his children and simple lifestyle.
To instigate the album�s release, Dropkick put out the Sailors� 7″ Bawdy House Blues at the end of 2000. Containing only three tracks, Bawdy House Blues was the perfect preface to a band that would later be recognized and commended for their uncouth and pithy song lyrics and titles. Opening with the title track, the vinyl also included “Teenage Homosexual Blues” and “Back From The Dead.”
The Violent Masturbation Blues LP successfully unshackled itself to the people in 2001. It incorporated the tracks “Trim The Bush,” “Turkey Slap Blues,” “Asian Ladies” and “Swashbuckling Faggots,” among others. It also contained a re-working of “Bawdy House Blues,” which was fittingly noted as the “Punch Arse Mix.” If anyone is looking for an insight into the practices and executions of the Sailors, then this album is the ideal overture to their music and abiding style.
Meanwhile, back in Taiwan, Viktor�s regular visits to the local town�s Internet caf� established his belief that releasing a record had supplementary advantages apart from the blatant financial proceeds. Sitting on the receiving end of fan mail from musicians Dave Graney, Spencer P. Jones and Mick Harvey, as well as music critics Richard Meltzer and John Safran, Viktor was touched and flattered. From there on, his life spiraled into the inevitable mess that would soon consume his uncomplicated days in Shanyong Province. Everything he had been doing for the past two years began to scream gloomy implications. All he had once enjoyed and been content with now only frustrated and aggravated him. Life for Viktor was no longer the easy, stress-free existence he had been blessed with for two years, but had since developed into a vexing, exasperating compensation for something he could not attain from his home in Taiwan. Before long, Viktor announced to his Taiwanese family that his mother was very sick, and swiftly boarded back home to Australia.
Returning to his country was an unexpected pleasure for Viktor. In the time he had been overseas, the Australian music press and critics alike had been very supportive of the Sailors. It is an unusual practice for the Australian press to back a band that is virtually unknown to the general public, but it is an even stranger occurrence when the band realistically does not even exist. The glowing reviews Hector and Vernon had been accepting in Viktor�s absence had offered them new hopes and prospects for the Sailors. It did not take long for the band to reform and head back into the studio to record their second full-length, “Turning The Other Cheek.”
The sophomore album was released in 2002 and saw the full-time recruitment of keyboardist Geronimo, along with the part-time assistance from prominent (and arguably legendary) guitarist Spencer P. Jones (ex-Beasts of Bourbon, Chris Bailey and the General Dog, the Johnnys, Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls. His session musician credits include Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Sacred Cowboys, Renee Geyer and Charlie Owen, among others). It was fortunate that Jones was a fan of the band, because he was an incredibly powerful force of contribution for them to acquire.
This record was amazingly consistent with the debut, while still displaying the obvious growth the band had accomplished in their time apart from one another. Consisting of the tracks “YCMA,” “Just Touch It,” “Penis Colada,” “Russian Oil Tanker Blues,” “Young Faggot From China” as well as “(Whatever Happened To) The Paperless Office,” the folks at Dropkick Records best described the record as an �artful and irreverent meshing of punk, country, rhythm n� blues and even touches of faggy new-wave, with unique and hilarious results.� Although the album did not turn as many heads as did the first record, it certainly did not disappoint, as secondary albums often tend to do.
Early 2003 brought the deliverance of the Sailors� third and most accomplished release to date, Failure, Depression, Suicide. Recorded at Corduroy Studios in Melbourne, the release of the album was an introductory parting-gift between the Sailors and their Australian fans, before they embarked on one of the most intense and grueling touring schedules, rarely seen before by most bands this side of the stratosphere. Playing a number of local support and headlining shows before leaving the country, the most notable was the benefit gig they played at the Tote Hotel in Melbourne on August 29, 2003 to raise money for their forthcoming self-funded North American tour. The show arrested the attention of everyone that was present, and the band was able to depart their homeland with not only the extra money in their pockets, but also with the knowledge that an imprint of their euphony had been left on the local crowds� minds.
The task of booking the shows to play in the USA was an event in itself for the band. Insisting to friends and acquaintances that they wanted to play a show every single night on the tour, people were quick to get the word out that the Sailors were coming to town. In fact, the entire southern and mid-west leg of the tour was arranged and coordinated on the message boards of the Goner Records website (www.goner-records.com) by a group of willing people who were keen to help the band. It resulted in the Sailors playing nearly fifty shows across America in just over fifty days.
In this day and age where political correctness seems to be as confining as ever in respect to music and the arts, the Sailors have achieved a great deal of respect from their audiences and critics by inadvertently pushing the envelope with their rustic breed of humour. To top it off, they truly excel as one of the most eclectic, hardest working punk bands in existence today. Which brings me to the question, are they four tremendously hilarious guys who happen to play in a fantastic band, or are they four amazingly talented musicians who happen to be as funny as hell? Whichever way you interpret the Sailors, one thing is for sure: it works pretty damn well.
Violent Masturbation Blues, Turning The Other Cheek and Failure, Depression, Suicide are all available through Dropkick Records (www.dropkick.com.au).
You can view the video clip for “(Whatever Happened To) The Paperless Office” at www.thesailors.biz
For information on Spencer P. Jones� solo efforts and releases, visit the Spooky Records site.