Be Fingerprinted By Powderfinger

Powderfinger is a kick-ass rock band -probably the best Australia has seen in the last decade. But just as incredible as their success is their ability to remain unaffected by their increasing fame both here and overseas. spoke to Jon Coghill, drummer from Powderfinger about the release of Fingerprints – The Best of Powderfinger 1994 2000… but we ended up gossiping and telling tales out of school. How do you interview someone who wants to ask all the questions? 


Given Coghill’s appearance during the recent ARIA telecast with bandmate Bernard Fanning, we asked for the drummer’s take on the evening’s events.


“Had a good night,” he says. ”Had a few drinks, gave some lip to Jet when we presented them with one of their awards… they had thanked everyone else so we said they should thank us. We were the only people left!”  


The band  much like Jet – are in possession of a swag of ARIA awards themselves. Does he think the acknowledgement of ARIA affected Powderfinger’s popularity?


“I don’t think there was ever any specific turning point for us! It was always a gradual build up. We’ve been together for over 10 years and we’ve spent a solid eight years of that time touring! There have been a lot of people that have perhaps discovered the band in the last few years but they always knew that we were slowly working away! The ARIAs were really good, everything seemed to fall into place around that time. Every gig is important. Every little thing you do as a band is important because you don’t want to fuck it up! To be recognised for anything you do well is encouraging and motivates you to keep working hard at not making mistakes”


Powderfinger consists of Bernard Fanning on vocals and guitar, Darren Middleton and Ian Haug on guitar and backing vocals, John Collins on bass and Jon Coghill on drums. The guys met at school and university, and by 1993 had released their first EP. Their second EP, released at the end of 1993, knocked Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box from the top of the charts.


Fingerprints – which is available now – shows the expansive and diverse sound of Powderfinger, and charts its growth over the years. The collection represents the essence of the band from its signature melodies, Bernard’s vocals and the folk-rock feel that weaves through their work from Passenger, My Happiness, These Days, My Kinda Scene and D.A.F. It is a snapshot of the journey the band has been on for the past decade, and highlights the path taken to reach where they are today. In addition, there are two new tunes on the album, Bless My Soul and Process This. Bless My Soul in particular seems set – given the critical acclaim it’s received already – to become a Powderfinger favourite.


The compilation follows closely in the wake of the release of These Days, a live CD and DVD recording culled from the band’s sellout show at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in December 2003. Given this level of output, can we expect a new full-lengther any time soon? Jon doesn’t believe so. 


“I think its enough stuff now,” he says. “Fuck that’s enough stuff! The live CD and DVD kinda went together and Fingerprints just happened. We’re taking next year off and then going back to the studio to do an album. It will be two years before anyone sees anything of us.”


The period of rest that the band are planning now is undoubtedly due, in part, to the fact that they spent much of 2004 touring overseas. “We try to go overseas to play to new people but we also try to play to enough people to cover the cost of the tour,” says Coghill. “It’s quite expensive to go and if we end up playing to 90% Australians and 10% foreigners then that’s just the nature of our band. That’s who our audience is – maybe we just don’t appeal to the other market.” Not likely.


For expatriate Aussies, a Powderfinger gig is like a care package from Mum or a visitor from home. When living overseas for any period of time, it’s easy to become nostalgic for things that otherwise would be taken for granted – Vegemite and Tim Tams because they’re not necessarily that easy to find. Invariably, the TimTams sent by your mum taste better than those you can remember, and that analogy holds for a Powderfinger concert in a foreign country – it’s the best concert you can remember. It’s intoxicating and swirls around punters with a cameraderie that normally, politeness would inhibit. Crowded with Aussies, an overseas ‘Finger concert is like an Aussie reunion, where gig-goers bond with familiar strangers purely because they are from Australia, and they like Powderfinger.  


At such gigs, there’s always a few locals squeezed into the mix, but for the most part, Australians buy up all the tickets. Jon had a slightly less flimsy reason for lthe lack of local support: “Particularly in the US you need to get good coverage on MTV to get anywhere and we haven’t really had much luck there,” he says. ”You need to get on the radio and MTV to support a tour there. We have toured there a lot and maybe the crowd was mostly Australians or not, I don’t know. We don’t really care as a band about making it big overseas, in particular countries or anything,  we just want to have a good time and put on a good show.”


The band received a fair amount of criticism from die-hard fans following the concert series used to make These Days. The tour included large venues like the Sydney Entertainment Centre, which the band had, quite emphatically, stated that they would not play. But Coghill isn’t particularly phased by it. “Ian would probably know about that,” he sayd. “He reads the website and messageboards more than any of us and says ‘Oh these people are upset about this,’ or ‘Those people are upset about that,’ … but I haven’t noticed any real effect. People don’t tend to come up to us to complain. Or maybe I just don’t take enough notice!” he laughs. 


The band have had an amazing career over the past 10 years and have well and truly earned their impending year off. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride with their first album, Parable for Wooden Ears, falling short of expectation only to come back in true Powderfinger style with a knock out punch that is their second album, Double Allergic. They haven’t put a foot wrong since. Double Allergic debuted at number seven on the Australian charts and stayed in the top ten for ten weeks and earned seven Aria nods and three spots on the coveted Triple J Hottest 100. The follow-up album Internationalist was released in September 1998 and debuted on the Australian charts at number one and spent over a year in the top 20. The album netted five ARIA nominations (and four wins) while Triple J honoured the band with their own J-Files, as well as placing the band in the premier slot on that year’s Hottest 100 with These Days.


In 2000 they released Odyssey Number 5 and the band receive Music Industry awards for Song and Band of the Year. The album debuted at number one, went platinum in a week, and had clocked up four platinum marks in fourteen weeks. This was followed in 2003 by the much more rock-leaning Vulture Street, which hints at the pool of creativity that the band will draw on for many years to come.


Powderfinger inspires loyal and quirky fans who have created some interesting web sites in their honour. One site features pictures of the band with funny captions in bubbles as submitted by their fans. Coghill is incredulous. “Are you serious? Well you know you’ve made it when you have a site like that dedicated to you. Cool- [it’s] just like being in the social pages!” 

With a slew of ARIAs, a horde of screaming fans, platinum album sales, a best-of album to be envied by their peers and a goofy dedication site, it seems Powderfinger have, indubitably, made it.


Finally, our brief conversation led us to one of rock’s eternal questions: why do drummers typically seem to be the most ‘out there’ members of a band? “We have so much energy,” he replied. ”We’re stuck up the back and we’re more likely to do stupid shit to get rid of it.”


Powderfinger are performing at the Big Day Out and doing sideshows on the East Coast before a well-earned break. It’s your last chance to see them for 2 years, so you’d better act quickly!



19 January: Arena, Brisbane

24 January: Hordern Pavilion, Sydney

28 January: Festival Hall,Melbourne


Big Day Out

21 January: Ericsson Stadium, Auckland

23 January: Gold Coast Parklands, Gold Coast

26 January: Sydney Showgrounds, Homebush

30 January: RAS Showgrounds, Melbourne

4 February: Royal Adelaide Showgrounds, Adelaide

6 February: Claremont Showgrounds, Perth