The boys from Bendigo known as Black Aces should have been putting their feet up after kicking in some doors on their ‘Fear No Beer’ UK tour. We all know what happened next, and instead of counting the battle scars from a jaunt around this sceptered Isle, they are kicking their heels waiting on this pain-in-the-arse pandemic to bugger off. Aces drummer, and bloody legend, Pete McMillan, joined us through the old interweb for a chat about all things Aces related.
What are the origins of the band, how long have you been playing together?
It all really started as Tyler’s high school band. He put it together with a few of his mates. It went through a few line-up changes in those early days. Things didn’t really start kicking-in in earnest until the band became a 4 piece, and not long after Tyler asked me to join. The boys had their first east coast Aussie tour booked and the drummer decided to leave a couple of weeks before it was due to kick off. I’d known Tyler for years at that point, my band had shared hometown stages with various versions of the Aces over the years. I can remember after a show one night sitting in the beer garden of the Newmarket Hotel, our favourite watering hole (and sorely missed), and Tyler walked up and asked if I’d be keen to fill in for this tour. Naturally, I said ‘No worries!’. We had 2 rehearsals and hit the road.
On the road back into Bendigo (our home town) after a string of shows, the bass player at the time also decided to call it quits. So we ended up roping Alex in, who was playing guitar in my other band at the time, to fill in on bass, and both of us have been filling in ever since. Original rhythm guitarist Rhys decided to leave a couple of years a later, (check out his new band Ramblin’ Gold, great boogie rock n roll), so Jazz joined the band. His band The Deep End has just split up, so it worked out quite fortuitously for us. His joining was really a catalyst to take the band further and push us on. It was not long after his joining that we dropped our first album, then headed off for our first European tour and the rest is history really.
How did you feel performing your first gig? And how was it?!
The first show with the Aces was on that tour I was filling in for, I believe it was in Adelaide. I can’t remember the show all too well, for better or worse, haha! I can recall just trying to concentrate on remembering all the songs having only a couple of rehearsals to get my head around em all. I think we ended up playing to the barmaid and the security guard. Huge crowd to say the least, but hey, you gotta start somewhere… I do remember going on the tear after the show and ending up at a party in this 2nd-floor apartment and Tyler almost fell out the bloody window while he was trying to show off his best dance moves! It could have been the end of it before it even started!
What’s the longest distance that you’ve had to travel for a gig?
How long’s the flight from Aus to the UK?! I think we are about as far away from everywhere you can get down in Oz here. Haha! That said it isn’t unusual for us to drive the 10 hours/900km to Sydney, play a show, then come back the next day.
What should people expect when they check the band out? How would you describe yourself?
At the core of it, we are just a good honest rock ‘n’ roll band. No frills, what you see is what you get, hearts on our sleeves, Aussie pub rock.
The new music scene is bursting at the seams with fresh talent, in what ways do you feel that a band has to stand out from the others trying to build a name?
Look, in the age of social media and YouTube, it’s obviously important for bands to develop an online presence and connect with their prospective fans. Anyone with a computer and some half-decent gear now days can do it themselves, record an album or EP, film a video on their phone and away you go. Technology has made things very easy for bands in that respect, the tools are at our fingertips. Getting people to take notice of what you’re doing is another thing though. Yes, that stuff is crucial, but I still believe that the single most important thing for a band is the ability to impress on stage and in front of an audience, LIVE. Playing Live. Going to see a live band. There’s nothing else like it. If a band’s got that spark live, the ability to capture an audience and captivate, there’s that vibe in the room, when it hits you in the chest and you got, ‘Fuck, what was that?!’, people will take notice. Word of mouth will spread, and even in this day and age, word of mouth is still the most powerful tool for promoting a band. If your mate tells you, ‘check this band out that I saw last weekend, they’re killer’, you’re gonna take notice. Live is where people see what a band is really about, warts and all.
What are you working on at the minute that people can check out?
Well, we should have been in the middle of recording a new album at the moment. However, the COVID pandemic has got in the way of that. In fact, we had to cancel a UK tour, plus we had another one in the pipeline too that we had to pull the pin on. Here in Aus, we went into pretty hard lockdown measures which meant we had to cancel the studio time we had booked to record the new album as well. Melbourne, where the studio’s at is still under a strict lockdown, and we can’t even travel there. So it’ll still be some time before we can get in there. You can’t really complain though, everyone is in the same boat. In fact, it’s forced us to take a bit more time and think about what we want to do more, write more songs, and whatnot. So in the long run I think we’ll be better for it, and the new album will benefit as a result. Other than the album though, we’ve got a few ideas for things while we can’t tour, so keep an eye as we move into the end of the year.
What band out there at the minute do you feel that you would be best suited to open for?
AC/DC just got the band back together haha! Wouldn’t hurt to tag along with them for the few shows!
On the subject of AC/DC – Brian or Bon? Or both?! Or even Axl!
Axl did a great job filling in, but let’s face it, he’s not AC/DC. It’s a funny one, a lot of people seem to be on one side or the other. ‘Bon is real AC/DC’ etc… I tend to think that’s a close-minded way of looking at it. Bands change. It’s life. My favourite ACDC records a Bon one, Powerage. But you can’t deny Brian. He’s paid his dues, he’s been in the band for 40 years! Bon was there for less than a quarter if that time. I’d have to say I enjoy ’em both equally.
Most underrated AC/DC album?
If You Want Blood – some of the tracks on that record are better than the ones on the actual albums. It really captures the raw power and energy of AC/DC
When you first toured the UK, what regional accent caused you the most problems?!
I can’t say I recall having too much of a hard time. We’re all pretty cultured fellas you know!! Haha! We do get a fair amount of UK TV programs here in Australia, Alex loves his Tony Robinson walking through history docos, So nah, the accents aren’t exactly foreign to us.
Who do you feel is the next band to break out?
I know The Struts are already kicking goals left, right, and centre, but with this next album, it seems like they’re are ready to explode.
What are your first musical memories? And what was the lightbulb moment that made you go “I want to do that”?
For me when I was growing up, my older brother was in bands himself. So I had that around me from a young age. I’d been and seen him play shows and stuff. But that light bulb moment was one day after school, my brother brought me along to a rehearsal. I sat in the corner as they ran through their songs and I spent the time watching the drummer. More so captivated by the drummer, thinking, that’s my jam. I wanna do that. Not long after that, I was having lessons and I was lucky enough to have my old man buy me my first kit.
We have recently had the tragic passing of Eddie Van Halen, do you have a particular favourite Van Halen track?
Honestly, I can’t say I’ve really gotten into Van Halen all that much. That being said, Hot For Teacher is a classic and would have to be my pick. And there is no denying the impact that Eddie Van Halen has had on rock music and guitar playing in general.
What was the last gig that you attended as a fan?
I saw The Darkness in Melbourne at The Forum back in March as part of their Easter Cancelled Tour. Apt name really as the very next day social distancing measures were announced and most concerts and shows were cancelled, so I was very lucky to catch that one.
What current social issue are you particularly passionate about?
I’m passionate about music, and football mate. If we can get back to playing shows, in pubs, in front of crowds, and then having a kick on Sunday, we’ll be moving in the right direction and I’ll be happy.
There is great debate at the minute about whether or not musicians should use their platform to talk about political issues, some for and some against. Music has always been a form of protest, surely an artist has just as much right as the next person to offer an opinion? Or should they “just stick to the music”?
Like you said, music, well not just music, art in general, has always been used as a social and political platform, it’s something that people can rally around. People are entitled to voice their own opinions and beliefs. On the flip side though, music can be an escape from the reality, there’s nothing wrong with writing a song about drinking a beer and having a bit of fun, or if you’re Zeppelin, whatever the hobbits are doing over the Misty Mountains! I don’t think either viewpoint should be frowned upon. People are free to comment on and create what they want, it’s up to the individual. From my experience, the people that carry on and get offended by this kind of stuff are only kicking up a stink because it doesn’t fit their current agenda and frankly life’s too short to be worrying about that shit and worrying about people that weren’t going to listen in the first place.
The album that you have in your album collection/Spotify playlist that would surprise most people?
I think I’ve still got an old Peter Combe record in the collection somewhere! Can’t go wrong with a bit of ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’ ha! But in all seriousness, I’ve got quite a few Elton John records, I bought Carole King’s Tapestry a few months back too.
Who would you class as an underrated songwriter?
Don Walker of Cold Chisel, I wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s underrated, more-so overlooked by the average punter. When you mention Chisel to people they immediately think of Jimmy Barnes and Ian Moss. Don seems to fly under the radar a bit, but he’s written some fantastic songs, Khe Sanh, Cheap Wine, Choir Girl, and many more.
What are your plans for the remainder of 2020?
Well, ideally we’d like to be able to get out there and play some shows again! That’d be bloody great! With restrictions slowly easing here in Victoria that will come. In the meantime, we’ll just be back rehearsing and prepping ourselves for recording the new album. But we’ll be looking to do a few things along the way to pique people’s interest too!
How active are you on social media and where can people connect with you?