The Lipstick Killers formed in 1978 in Sydney, Australia out of the remnants of two other bands: The Pyschosurgeons, which had featured guitarist Mark Taylor and bassist Kim Giddy, and Filth, which had included vocalist Peter Tillman. They took their main influences from American early 70s punk bands such as the Stooges, MC5 and the New York Dolls, and also 60s garage rock groups such as the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and the Chocolate Watch Band. The Lipstick Killers’ output was limited in their original time to just one double A-sided single, ‘Hindu Gods in Love/Shakedown USA’, which came out in 1979 on small local independent label, Lost in Space Records, in an edition of 1,000 copies and was produced by Deniz Tek from Radio Birdman. With Michael Charles replacing original drummer David Taylor shortly beforehand, The Lipstick Killers moved to Los Angeles. While they won fans such as Keith Morris from Black Flag and influential music journalist Byron Coley, they otherwise made little impression on the L.A. scene. Giddy left and was succeeded for their last few months by Stephen Mather, but they broke up as a result of poverty in late 1981. Since their demise, a small but intense cult following has continued to build around The Lipstick Killers. A second single, ‘Sockman’, which featured demos, was released on Australian label, Vi-Nil Records, in late 1984, and was followed in early 1985 on Citadel Records by a live album, ‘Mesmerizer’, which was recorded at one of their rare L.A. shows. Now there is a new double CD retrospective, ‘Strange Flash – Studio and Live ’78-81’, which is being released on Grown Up Wrong! Records, which consists of all of these, various other demos, a live recording made in Adelaide in 1979, and from 1978 The Psychosurgeons’ only single, ‘Horizontal Action/Wild Weekend’. In what is only their second interview since their break-up, Pennyblackmusic spoke to main songwriter Mark Taylor about The Lipstick Killers. PB: A strong punk/alternative scene sprang up in Sydney of which Lipstick Killers were a part in the mid- 70s. It, however, remained almost entirely exclusive to Sydney and did not extend to the rest of Australia. Why do you think it remained so Sydney-based and what do you think were the factors that led to it starting up? MARK TAYLOR: There were quite strong scenes in all the Aussie capitals, each with its own flavour. The Sydney scene happened to be Detroit-centric (Stooges, MC5), because Radio Birdman were such a force here. Sydney was also home to White Light Records, which undoubtedly played a large part in fostering interest in punk and garage music. Queensland and Sunshine Coast bands (or their ex-members) had a tendency to migrate down to Sydney, at least temporarily. Examples are the Saints, Sunnyboys and Fun Things. Melbourne bands were usually self-assured and developed a sound of their own without reference to the Sydney scene. PB: Your previous band The Psychosurgeons came to an abrupt end when your singer Paul Gearside was badly beaten up by a gang of Hell’s Angels at Radio Birdman’s venue, The Oxford Funhouse. The Funhouse was closed down permanently the next day. Was that an isolated incident or was it an especially violent scene? MT: It was an isolated incident, but gradually in the final few weeks of the Funhouse there was a hostile element creeping in, due to the fact that some members of Radio Birdman for some reason seemed to attract and encourage the biker element. That’s just my observa1on, not necessarily accurate. PB: The Lipstick Killers took their name from the proposed title of a never recorded third album by the New York Dolls. The Lipstick Killer was also the moniker for a notorious Chicago serial killer of the 1940s. Did that cause the group a lot of controversy? MT: No. After the Psychosurgeons and Filth, the Lipstick Killers were relatively tame in comparison. Nobody obsessed about the name of a rock band. It was assumed to be fun. In the late ‘70s, there was no PC or cancel culture. You really had to try hard to offend anyone. PB: You took your main influences from American bands such as the Stooges, the New York Dolls and MC5, and garage/psychedelic acts like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Those groups at that time were still pretty obscure, and many of their records were only available in Australia through import. How did you first become aware of them? MT: The records were hard to find, but I was already buying obscure imported records as early as 1972. I had to wait eight or ten weeks after ordering them, as they arrived by ship. I was interested in the Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart, the Velvet Underground etc. This led directly to the Stooges and then the MC5. I would read about the Stooges in ‘Creem’ magazine. I first heard the Elevators on the original ‘Nuggets’ LP. PB: You are a high-profile collector of 60s garage/punk 7” singles. Fan Steve Lorkin in his sleeve notes for ‘Strange Flash’ implies that, like the Psychosurgeons before them, and many of the other bands in your record collection, The Lipstick Killers were perhaps always destined to release just one 7”, and that was possibly the plan. Do you think that there is any truth in that? MT: In those days I was not aware of the depth and quality of 60s garage bands and the 45s they produced. We would have been very happy to record and release more 45s or even an LP. We just didn’t think we had quite enough experience or great material. Just before we left for the USA, we were planning to record an LP, but we decided to go to the States and record it there if possible. PB: How long were The Psychosurgeons together? In what ways, other than having two of the same members, do you see them as comparing to and differing from The Lipstick Killers? MT: The Psychosurgeons lasted about two years, from 1976 to 1978. The early Lipstick Killers played almost all of the Psychosurgeons songs. We only changed the name to avoid the attention of certain individuals or gangs who were said to be looking for an opportunity to cause physical harm to the band members. We had a new singer and bass player, but it’s quite likely that we would have kept the name Psychosurgeons if it had not been so dangerous. When Dave Taylor left the band, we took three months off and returned with Michael Charles as our drummer. The sound changed a lot, and you can hear that by comparing the Adelaide tape to the Lobby Loyde demos. I also worked hard on my guitar playing during that three-month period. PB: Your singer Peter Tillman had previously been in Filth. Were they as extreme as they sound? MT: Yes, they were. Nice guys, but you would have to say they were extreme. One night they smeared rotting blood on their audience, things like that. They had some great songs, and it’s unfortunate that they were never properly recorded. PB: There has been a tradition of Australian bands -AC/DC, The Saints, Radio Birdman and The Triffids – moving for extended periods to the UK, but you chose instead to move to Los Angeles. Why did you decide to go there? MT: Partly because everyone else went to London, plus we were all very keen to have fun, and to ride rollercoasters, and there weren’t any in London. Another reason was Greg Shaw had released ‘Hindu Gods’ on his new Voxx label, and was actively encouraging us to come to California. PB: The Los Angeles punk/alternative music of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s has a legendary status. Your bassist Kim Giddy became unwell and had to leave the band, and you spent most of your time there living in poverty. Do you have any fond memories of that period or, because of the financial and emotional issues that you were going through at the time, do they remain largely negative? MT: My memories are largely not positive or negative, because not a lot was happening. None of us had any money, and Pete was supporting all of us with the wage he received from working at Slash Records. We enjoyed meeting members of local bands such as Chris Desjardins and Keith Morris. They were great guys and really helped us a lot. Byron Coley too, was great fun to be around. PB: Is it true that you broke up in late ’81 following a Christmas dinner of boiled onions and refried beans? Was that the final straw? MT: No, that wasn’t really the final straw but it did happen. I don’t remember any refried beans, I think it was just the one boiled onion. The final straw was when we spent all the money we had on a clapped-out car that only had a few weeks’ life left in it. We intended to drive it to Texas to record an LP, but the car engine seized up and we couldn’t afford to repair it. PB: It has taken forty years, but this first Lipstick Killers anthology is finally coming out. How did it come together and why is it coming out now? It must have brought back a lot of memories. Is there anything that you are especially excited to see on it? MT: Dave Laing is responsible for the ‘Strange Flash’ compilation. Dave had mentioned his desire to do the reissue for many years, but I had always thought that the recording quality of some of the live material was an obstacle. Finally, I agreed and I was surprised really that the tapes came out sounding so good. My favourite track is probably the version of ‘Horizontal Action’ that was recorded live in Adelaide in 1979. It sounds rough because it was recorded at three inches per second, at the end of the tape to squeeze it in before the tape ran out. I also like the version of ‘I’ve Got Levitation’ we did at Madame Wong’s, and the song before it, ‘Twilight of the Idols’. PB: What have the members of The Lipstick Killers done since you broke up? How many of you have remained involved with music? MW: Most of us have done a few things in music. Michael Charles is probably the most actively involved, and he currently plays with Mick Medew and the Mesmerisers. The rest of us just dabble occasionally. I have been spending some time at home recently, recording some of my vast backlog of songs. PB: Thank you.
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John Clarkson speaks to guitarist Mark Taylor from Australian 70s punk act The Lipstick Killers about ‘Strange Flash’, their new double CD retrospective.
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