Q&A with Jim Moginie, guitarist/keyboardist of Midnight Oil

I’ve seen Midnight Oil a few times in Toronto: October 16, 1988 at Maple Leaf Gardens. At Exhibition Stadium with Hunters & Collectors on a rainy May 20, 1990. In April 13, 1993 at The Masonic Temple (Concert Hall) you guys totally blew me away. Then there was the co-headline with The Tragically Hip at Another Roadside Attraction festival in July (23-24) 1993 at The Markham Fairgrounds, just north of Toronto.

The last time you came to Toronto was on Oct. 27, 2001 (The Warehouse)

Then there was a 16-year gap until the gig at The Danforth Music Hall this past May.

What are your fondest memories of your previous shows in Toronto?

I remember walking into a record store in Toronto and seeing every Split Enz album they ever made for sale there. Canadians are a music-loving people, curious about Australian and NZ bands and we have great audience there it seems.

The Maple Leaf Gardens show was huge back in the day. And the Roadside Attraction tour was a brilliant experience, with Dan Lanois, Tragically Hip, Crash Vegas and the Hothouse Flowers. We even all made a Greenpeace benefit record called “Land” with them all one night in a Calgary studio, and getting to know these great artists as people was a top ten experience.

The band is embarking on a six-month Great Circle 2017 reunion tour. Coming to Toronto for a second run on Friday, August 25 to the Budweiser Stage (with Matthew Good and The Living End). How did The Oils decide on these bands and what’s the reception to them being a part of the show been like so far?

The Living End we know from Australia, and these guys take no prisoners live. I’ve worked with them in the studio too and they were hands down one of the best bands I’ve ever recorded so when we found out they were around we snapped them up for a few of our shows on this tour.

Bones, our bass player, has worked with Matt Good as well as our erstwhile producer Warne Livesey, an English producer now relocated to Canada, so we have heard great things about him too. It’s always been a policy to bring out great bands that we like so the audience gets their two bob’s worth.

What was the impetus that made the band want to tour again now after so many years?

The best answer is “we’re all still here.” So many of our contemporaries have lost key members in the last few years, so it’s great to celebrate us all being healthy and alive. Peter got out of politics where he was working for nearly a decade, and Rob, Martin and myself had been working together in a surf band, The Break which has toured and has done two albums. Bones went to Nashville to become an in-demand session player. Peter had a solo album that Martin helped him out on, and they had toured as well.

So we were all ready to go, had done some work together anyway and the tools were sharp. And there was an unexpected new interest in the band, the shows are pretty much all sold out. Plus we play all these songs, our life’s work, which has a great resonance in the current political climate, which is not lost on the audience and ourselves, alike. 

You recently played a huge show (on July 29) in Marks Park, Johannesburg. What was that experience like?

Pretty epic. We have just released a huge retrospective box set, well it’s actually two metal water tanks! One of the DVD discs is a concert we did at Ellis Park in Johannesburg in 1994 which we had no idea had even been filmed, but there it was in the tape cupboard. The concert was huge, 35,000 plus people and was held just weeks after Mandela had become president and apartheid had crashed to the ground, so it was very emotional for us to return after so much time to see what the new South Africa had become. There were good things and some bad, but the spirit of the people is tremendous.

The band recently released a remastered CD box set, The Full Tank, featuring all of the Oils’ existing albums and EPs; the 4 CD/8 DVD collection, The Overflow Tank, containing over 14 hours of previously unreleased and rare material, plus a vinyl collection with 11 remastered LPs and two 12” EPs. That’s a lot of Oils tunes! Got any favourites from the archives?

Well, Ellis Park is great. All the B-sides and extra tracks are there. There’s a disc of completely unreleased songs that were demos essentially but were still good songs that never saw the light of day for some reason. I think some songs start getting more attention once you hit the studio, or producers get involved, lots of factors, so some songs fall by the wayside.

The Tanks give a real depth to the band’s creative process but also it’s political life, Blackfella Whitefella about our experience with aboriginal people, the Exxon protest outside the Exxon building is in there, Ellis Park, plus some great gigs we have done that captured an important era of the band.

What are the most memorable moments in Midnight Oil’s current tour so far?

In Brazil we played on the deck of the Rainbow Warrior. In Normandy we did a festival playing to 20,000 people at night under a full moon. In Ostrava, in the Czech Republic, we played to 35,000 at the site of an abandoned steelworks, and Pete got to use a giant ego ramp into the crowd. Too many to mention, and more to come.

How have your audiences changed over the years?

Apart from all the smartphones that come out for the hit songs, not at all. 

Midnight Oil has always been unafraid to speak out on political issues important to the band. Has Midnight Oil had to tread waters lightly while touring Trump’s America?

No, in fact the more Peter put the boot in during his raves between songs, the more the crowd liked it. In the red states there was a few walk outs but that was to be expected. We are part of the kickback and it’s part of our role to shine a light on Trump’s, or anyone’s reckless tomfoolery.

Anything else you’d like to add?

It’s been an unexpected joy to come together again, rediscover our audience and play these songs. In the 15 years away we all did wildly different things, so to reunite at this stage in our lives with all those new experiences to bring to the table the band sounds unexpectedly fresh and powerful.

We have rehearsed for months, 170+ songs we’ve relearnt so that on some shows we even play whole albums back to back, and the set lists vary wildly night to night. We’re looking forward to revisiting our Toronto friends and giving them a dose of what we have been enjoying so much.

Midnight Oil play the Budweiser Stage (formerly Molson Amphitheatre) on August 25.

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