The first thing Kim Salmon does is slide his new CD across the table. Maybe the new Scientists box set, A Place Called Bad, is bigger news. Maybe a return to the Beasts of Bourbon (no chance) or the Surrealists (inevitable) would ping hotter nostalgia neurons. But from hushed sweetness to strangled angst and tape-loop weirdness, My Script is just what the doctor ordered for the erstwhile grunge pioneer in 2016. The Melbourne café waitress might read his jeans, leather biker jacket and wild explosion of hair as allegiance to some mythic punk ideal, but his sneakers only stop tapping when we get to talking about here and now.
A Place Called Bad has 60-plus Scientists songs; 10 by your earlier band, the Cheap Nasties. Do you love them all equally?
Look, I could say they're all my children [laughs], but there'll be songs in there that I've completely forgotten even existed. Can you say that about a child? It's a fairly comprehensive anthology and I let the people putting it together have a free rein.
The Scientists were part of a fabled post-punk exodus to London along with the Birthday Party, the Moodists, the Go-Betweens, the Triffids... Did you feel any camaraderie with them?
No. We deliberately distanced ourselves from everybody. Particularly the Birthday Party, because our trajectory might have crossed their path a little bit artistically at some point, and I quickly thought, 'No, that's a mistake.' Dave Graney tracked me down a few times. I couldn't avoid that [laughs]. There were people in Europe who thought we were more like Radio Birdman... but we didn't want to align ourselves with anyone or anything, particularly Australian.
You had your share of rejection. How painful was being bottled offstage by Angels fans in Sydney and Siouxsie and the Banshees fans in Glasgow?
We loved it. We kind of engineered that Parramatta Leagues Club thing. It's gone into the mythology so it's done its job. I think Parramatta had just lost the footy that day. It was a massive audience and I think we'd just played "Clear Spot" by Captain Beefheart and there were some grumbles in the audience so I said to the guys, "Let's do that weird-arse jam we worked up the other day", and I just screamed out some old shit and the bottles started coming. In Glasgow we didn't get bottled. There was plenty of abuse directed our way but that was... an artistic success.
All of your bands are in a sinking boat. Salamander Jim. The Surrealists. The Beasts of Bourbon. STM. Antenna. The Business. Salmon. The Darling Downs. Which one do you save?
The Surrealists are still going so I s'pose they're in the lifeboat. Even though it's not the original line-up, the concept behind the band is the same. The idea of not really rehearsing and just being able to make random things happen... it's almost more Dadaism than Surrealism. It's the sound of people salvaging what they can. It doesn't matter if it's the world's leading conductor with the most meticulous score, it's always gonna be a salvage job on the night because nobody is a robot. Everybody is always making the most of the environment and the situation and that's what the MO of the Surrealists really is, for me.
In the early Nineties, the Beasts of Bourbon were probably the most exciting rock band in Australia. Where did it all go wrong?
I agree. I recently had a look at that From the Belly of the Beasts [DVD] and thought, 'That's pretty bloody good.' [Laughs] But I had to leave that band. There was no choice for me. I found it toxic and horrible. There were a lot of ideas about the image of the band that people were getting carried away with.
Are we talking "lifestyle issues"?
That, and egos and pecking order and politics. Irony went out the window. It used to be "bad-arsed" like the Cramps or the Stooges, but then it became really trying to be that and I don't think it improved anybody's personality.
What have you learned about keeping a band together?
I don't bother anymore. I've got a band in Paris, I've got one in Perth, I've got one in Adelaide... I've figured out a way of playing with a diverse range of people and a way to make my music have enough of me in it. I'm finding it very satisfying. That's been the latest project, really, with My Script.
The implication of My Script is that it's all about your health.
There is an allusion to my health; my mental health, physical health, that I'm functioning as well as I can. I didn't have an agenda for it other than it would be a bunch of material that I did in that timeframe. I wanted it to say what it did about me as honestly as it did. The process of creating is always healing. I can do a little watercolour that will take me half an hour and I'll feel way better. It's the same with making music. You know that it's finished, that it's something, and you feel better.
Do you know what's next?
Oh God, yeah. I have an idea for this other project which I'll get around to when I've got a moment. I don't know how much I want to elaborate but it's much more improvisatory; something that maybe challenges the idea of what improvising is. I know lots of people have done loads of things like that in jazz. But I wanna do it for me, in my way.
This article appears in issue #780, available early October, and is part of the Rolling Stone Australia 'Living Legend' series. Top photograph: Bleddyn Butcher.
Catch Kim Salmon launching the new Scientists box-set 'A Place Called Bad' at Live Lodge 2016 on Wednesday, September 28th. Tickets available here.