Early in 1984, a Sydney inner-city band sought to create their own distinctive style, challenging the musical preconceptions of the time. Died Pretty quickly garnered a reputation for live shows full of raw passion, intensity, and more often than not, complete disintegration – the most basic elements of musical expression.
Ron Peno arrived back in Sydney after his former band, The 31st, broke up. Ron was a big fan of Brisbane band, The End, formed with singer/guitarist, Brett Myers. Frank Brunetti, a mutual friend of Ron and Brett, suggested they form a group around the nucleus of Peno and Myers. After a floating line-up of drummers (including Radio Birdman’s, Rob Younger) and bass players, former The End rhythm section Colin Barwick and Jonathan Lickliter joined the band. And the rest, as they say, is history…
John Needham played guitar in Sydney band ‘The Minutemen’, and decided early on the only way to put out a record was to ‘do-it-yourself’. John formed legendary label, Citadel Records, that quickly became one of the leading Indie labels around. After seeing Died Pretty live, John was so impressed he funded the band’s first single, ‘Out Of The Unknown’. ‘Mirror Blues’ and the classic, ‘Next To Nothing EP’, soon followed.
In 1986, after three ‘Single of the Week’ features in UK’s Melody Maker , Died Pretty released their debut album ‘Free Dirt’. Not content to stand still, the band set out to prove that they were great at more than just eight minute musical storms. ‘Free Dirt’ moved Melody Maker to write, ‘with disturbing ease we slipped into this whirlpool of sound, becoming lost in these musical rapids, compliant, consenting, never once resurfacing… this album is superb’. Much touring in Europe and the US followed, where the band attracted growing critical acclaim for their live shows.
‘Lost’ was released in 1988 on Citadel’s Blue Mosque. It showed a further evolution in the band’s approach, with a pop punch balancing their epic tendencies. These two extremes are no longer separate – they are often one and the same. Tracks such as ‘Winterland’ showcased their ability to be eerily hummable whilst still bringing your blood to the boil. Again the critics hail the album as a triumph. The attention being given to the band prompted their signing to UK label, Beggars Banquet, for all world territories excluding Australia. The album reached #3 on the Italian pop charts, further solidifying their European fan base.
After a one-off single – ‘Everybody Moves’ – originally recorded for ‘Lost’, the band decides to record for the first time without Radio Birdman’s Rob Younger. Instead, they enlist Jeff Eyrich (Gun Club, The Plimsouls) and the result is 1990’s Every Brilliant Eye. Recorded in LA, the album sees the addition of keyboardist, John Hoey, and bass player, Steve Clark. A leaner, rockier approach is adopted. The album reaches top 10 on US college charts and the press positively gleams. Even the New York Times discovers the band, gushing ‘the best rock and roll has passion and Died Pretty is consumed by it. They don’t so much articulate feelings as evoke them’.
In late 1989, the group records their final Beggars Banquet/Blue Mosque album, ‘Doughboy Hollow’, in Sydney at Trafalgar Studios where they have cut the bulk of their records. This time, looking for a more organic sound, they enlist the English producer/engineer Hugh Jones (Echo and the Bunnymen, Kitchens Of Distinction) and in the process the band takes a quantum leap. The melodic subtleties which always suggested themselves in previous albums are brought to the fore, producing a spacious grandeur unparalleled even by the standards of this extraordinary group. Ronald’s howls, yelps and croonings weave amongst melodic guitar torrents, whilst bass player Clark and drummer Welsh create a rhythmic roller coaster, full of sudden peaks and valleys. After recording, Brisbanite Robbie Warren replaces Steve Clark on bass.
In Australia, the album is lauded as a landmark for the group, reaching well beyond their established following, and hit the mainstream top 20. It was nominated for two ARIA awards – ‘Best Independent Album’ and ‘Best Independent Album Cover’. Again, the overseas press and college/alternative radio hail Died Pretty as a mighty musical force. US Rolling Stone calls the album ‘a gorgeous effort that tells a story with intelligence and grace’. However, after frustrating European distribution problems and a crippling nine-month delay in US release, the band parts with Beggars/Blue Mosque and move on to sign worldwide with Sony Music’s Columbia label.
Determined to outshine ‘Doughboy Hollow’, the band set about working on new material in between hectic touring commitments. Ultimately, 32 new songs are written and demoed. Recording began in February 1993 at Sydney’s EMI Studios 301, again with legendary producer, Hugh Jones. Mixing was completed in May at London’s Master Rock Studios. The new material continued the band’s evolution, demonstrating a new found consistency of approach that they hoped would consolidate their new, broader appeal. The melodicism of ‘Doughboy Hollow’ was now underpinned by soaring guitars, great slabs of keyboards and more focussed rhythms. The band had its biggest single with ‘Harness Up’, continuing to find favour amongst new fans and critics alike…
‘Trace’ debuts at #17 on the national charts, and the band continued touring at a frantic pace. Achieving the highest sales of their career, Columbia send the band far afield to spread the musical word.
The next album ‘Sold’ was a return to roots in many ways. Re-united with original producer, Rob Younger, and engineered by Wayne Connelly, the band looked to create a more expansive, tougher sound. A taster was put out at the start of their Australian tour with REM in Feb 1994 in the form of the EP ‘Days’. A harder edge returned to flesh out some great new songs. The album was a mix of classic pop and guitar rock. After leaving Sony in 1996, the band also return to the home of their original label, Citadel Records.
‘Using My Gills As Road Map’ was true to the spirit of the bands original aspirations – a left field excursion. Produced by Wayne Connolly and the band, it explores aural textures and landscapes that are a first for the group. Samples, minimal guitars, and new technology were in obvious evidence. It also fielded the single, ‘Radio’, arguably the group’s finest release to date.
Nov 2000 saw the release of the album, ‘Everydaydream’, combining the experimentalism and new technology of UMGAARM with the band’s classic pop sensibilities. Building on the themes of it’s predecessor, it continues to stretch the boundaries of what the band are capable of. Local radio stalwarts, national radio station Triple J, place the first single ‘That Look Before’ on high rotation.
Rarely does an Australian act stand the test of time in the way Died Pretty has. And now, as their 19-year career now draws to a close, this site shall live on as testament to the many musical highlights they have shared with us all.