My first feature for the Mess+Noise ‘Icons’ series, wherein Australian musicians of cultural significance are profiled at length. In this case, it’s a three-part story that consists of two hours in conversation with Robert Forster.
Icons: Robert Forster
In the first of a three-part interview with Robert Forster – spanning his years in The Go-Betweens, his solo career and his new life as a producer and rock critic – ANDREW MCMILLEN chats to the Brisbane icon about his early years in The Gap, the Bjelke-Peterson regime and meeting longtime collaborator Grant McLennan.
A group called The Go-Betweens emerged from Brisbane in the late 1970s. One half of its songwriting core was an arts student at the University Of Queensland named Robert Forster. With a head full of ambition, a desire for glamour and a hard-earned talent for writing pop songs, Forster would – alongside his best friend, Grant McLennan – eventually lead the band to cultivate a significant, yet disparate following across the world. While there was a decade-long gap in the band’s history during the 1990s, when both songwriters pursued solo careers, critical applause was loudest following the release of what would become The Go-Betweens’ ninth and final album, 2005’s Oceans Apart. A year later, McLennan passed away in his sleep, aged 48. Forster knew immediately that the band’s career was over.
Since The Go-Betweens’ demise, Forster has occupied himself with an ongoing solo career – 2008’sThe Evangelist, his first solo effort in 12 years, was widely noted as among his best work – and an unexpected entrance into music journalism via an invite from The Monthly. That regular album review column led to the publication of his first book The Ten Rules Of Rock And Roll (2009, Black Inc Publications), a collection of his best reviews, and some additional prose, both fiction and non-fiction.
On a rainy morning in May, I meet with Forster at a bakery nearby his home in The Gap, a suburb to the west of Brisbane. He had been briefed by his manager that I intended to discuss his career at length for this piece, and he more than played his part, proving an amicable conversationalist and answering my many questions thoughtfully and at length. Midway through our conversation, he pauses the interview and asks about the reliability of my digital voice recorder, as he’s looking to purchase one for future journalistic endeavours.
As we talk, I come to realise that – although he denies as much during our interview – Forster’s exaggerated, livewire stage manner is very near to the off-stage persona he presents. Both sides of the man are informed by a relentless undercurrent of dry humour, deeply rooted in a sense of irony. He often responds in triplets – “Yeah yeah yeah”, or “No no no” – before confirming or clarifying my research. We speak for more than 90 minutes at the bakery, before he realises he’s late for a meeting. Three days later, Forster again slips into interview mode over the telephone with the ease of a man who has spent the majority of his adult life in the public eye.
Researching, conducting and editing this interview is the highlight of my journalistic career thus far, as I alluded to in my interview with Plus One. Speaking with Robert was a true pleasure.
[Further reading: Forster in conversation with John Willsteed at Brisbane bookstore Avid Reader in November 2009.]