THERE have been tears at the reunion shows by Melbourne band Motor Ace.
Not just the audience, witnessing the band’s first shows in 13 years, but also some band members.
“People are getting emotional,” singer Patrick ‘Patch’ Robertson says.
“You can see it on their faces. You see guys in the audience with their hands on their hearts. There have been tears. A lot of them have been from Damo. I’ve seen him tear up at least three times in the meet and greets.”
Damo is drummer Damian Costin, who now runs highly successful booking/management agency 123, who look after Tash Sultana, The Veronicas, Ocean Alley and Kingswood.
He’s unapologetic about being moved during the meet and greets where “faithful” Motor Ace fans get to watch soundcheck and “hang out with beers” and ask the band where they’ve been for the last decade.
“I’m an emotional man,” Costin says.
“I’ve missed the camaraderie and playing music. I forgot how powerful music is. I work behind the scenes in music so much I’d forgotten about the other side. I forgot how awesome it can make you feel at the end of a song. It’s great being with your mates. Some people don’t like to touch upon nostalgia, but it’s incredible to be nostalgic and to celebrate those moments. We’re very fortunate to be able to do that.”
Motor Ace formed in 1998, inspired by a love of British bands like Ride and Oasis, while their song Death Defy was used on the opening credits to The Secret Life of Us.
Their 2001 album Five Star Laundry reached No. 4 on the ARIA chart, while the follow up, Shoot This, debuted at No. 1 the next year — it is being issued on vinyl for the first time for this tour.
It contained the hit single Carry On, but while 2005’s Animal was a critical success, it was ignored by Triple J and the band split later that year.
“There’s young artists now who literally don’t understand what it’s like when you lose the support of a radio station in Australia you’re f—ed, you’re dead, it’s over,” Robertson says. “Back then, before social media, there was no other genuine outlet to get your music heard.”
Since the band, all the members bar Costin have left music — guitarist Dave Ong works on an oil rig in Bass Strait, bassist Matt Balfe is a communications manager at Yarra Valley Water and Robertson works in the tech department at Aesop.
“It’s nice having a regular income,” Robertson says. “I’ve got a couple of kids, that keeps you pretty busy.”
The reunion wasn’t too difficult to organise — with Robertson and Costin working on a new, 80s rock influenced project Nighthawk, who will release an album later this year.
“Nighthawk is the main reason getting Motor Ace back together for me seemed possible,” Robertson says. “It’s been a long time since I had played music, I wasn’t sure if I was physically capable of doing it.”
“I still have a chip on my shoulder about how the Motor Ace fell over,” Costin says. “I didn’t think it was warranted, there was still some things to do. Over time now we’re further down the track I’m very happy it happened at all. As you get older you have that emotion part where you can have empathy.”
The first rehearsal turned into four hours of catching up.
“Dave had drifted off into the country, no one really saw him,” Robertson says. “Matt we see at Christmas each year. Damo had two or three years after the band where we didn’t speak that much, but we reconnected 10 years ago and see each other all the time.”
They’ve now finished the mini-tour, which has brought back a lot of road memories — not all of them good.
“I don’t miss the touring,” Robertson admits. “It’s been pretty easy, Friday and Saturday nights, nights, no mid week shows. I don’t miss the slog, lugging gear around airports is a pain in the arse. But being on stage is great. It’s been a long time since we’ve been on stage, so some of the shows have been quite emotional and that’s made it quite easy. But I don’t think I could go on the road and do it all again.”
Robertson also did some “Mick Jagger-esque” exercise prep on a bike to increase his stamina for the stage for several months ahead of the tour to get matchfit.
“I’ve had no problem getting through the set. A few times I’ve thought I could do another five or six songs but we don’t really have another five or six songs. We’re not playing a huge amount from the last album, I don’t think that many people have it, they’re more keen to hear the first two albums, they’re the songs everyone is going nuts over.”
Both men have been shocked at the power of muscle memory in recalling songs they haven’t played in over a decade.
“It came back in the first rehearsal,” Robertson says. “It’s locked away somewhere even after all the years of alcohol abuse. I think I’ve only repeated the verse to Death Defy once because I forgot it. Most of it has come back which was remarkable.
Costin notes “I hadn’t played this song called Criminal Past for 14 years, but you just remember where your feet and your hands go. It just comes back. It’s so bizarre.”
Robertson is excited about Nighthawk — the album was self-funded and recorded at home, bar the drums.
“I think the whole thing has cost us about $7000 and it’s almost finished. Shoot This cost something like $150,000. It’s crazy. Technology has changed everything. That’s why bands are now solo guys or kids on their laptops, and bands have Mac laptops on stage. It’s almost impossible to make money in music unless you’re having success outside of Australia. Motor Ace wanted to be an international band to have the potential to keep playing for a long time. But after a while what do you do? I didn’t want to keep playing RSLs and be struggling to get a paycheck by doing a little acoustic gig somewhere, that doesn’t appeal to me at all. It’s very hard to make it work in Australia, unless you can get some success overseas, that’s just the reality.
“Social media has changed everything for bands now. We sold 80-per-cent of tickets for this tour before we put a poster up on the wall or done any press through social media. The downsize is getting You Tube stars and my kids watch absolute trash on You Tube but I wish we’d had social media and streaming when Motor Ace were going. It potentially opens you up to a global audience.”
Costin has managed to make a successful career in music — but behind the scenes.
Robertson isn’t surprised.
“He’s such a driven guy, he works harder than anyone I know and he’s done it all himself. A lot of music industry dudes have parental support or money coming from somewhere, Damo’s done it through pure drive and passion. That’s what he was like in Motor Ace. During my more introspective periods he kept the whole thing rolling. He basically managed the band, no disrespect to our managers.”
Costin says the business side of the music business can be tough.
“It does take a toll on the anxieties and emotion. Turns out when you’re playing in a band you only have three or four partners and a manager. When you get into a business you have multiple partners, multiple things to worry about. We’ve had some amazing success with everything we’ve done with 123 and the management and the label that’s about to start. But it comes with problems. You have to be passionate about it, but there’s as much pain on the flipside. I never thought it would get this big.”
His background in Motor Ace helps him understand what the musicians he looks after are going through, but says it’s a different era.
“I’m noticing how quickly it can change in peoples careers. We’ve represented artists who are busking and then before long they have millions of dollars. That’s not necessarily normal. That’s not a normal scenario. For the most part successes and the hardships of normal life, it’s easier to get your music heard but that doesn’t mean the lifestyle is easier. To have some insights into that might make it easier but people grow up faster these days.”
Motor Ace have been filming the reunion for a documentary, which will also include footage stretching back to their very first gig at Revolver 20 years ago Costin has squirrelled away.
Shoot This will be released on vinyl for this first time during this tour, while an album of b-sides and unreleased tracks (including David Bowie’s Kooks) and demos has been released digitally. It includes the demo version of Carry On, which Robertson says all the band prefer.
“They liked my vocals on the demo better,” he says.
Both Melbourne shows will be filmed as part of the documentary, but will they be the end?
“We’re all getting on really well and enjoying each other’s company,” Robertson says. “Back in the day we got sick of each other. Everyone’s more mature, the egos have tampered down a bit. We want to do a good job on stage but there’s not as much riding on it so the pressure is off. We might do a few more shows, one offs here and there.”
Costin, whose schedule is the one everyone needs to work around, is more committal.
“We definitely have to do something else. It doesn’t feel right to just finish it on Sunday. I’m sure we’ll find ways to do something else. Maybe play an album from start to end. It just feels nice to play music again.”
Motor Ace, 170 Russell, Friday (sold out), Sunday. Moshtix