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Exclusive Interview by Wendy Lloyd Curley, Hotsource
Matt Finish 2006
We were intrigued and happy to hear that Matt Finish (the band) was going to get together to do a few live shows. When the band's former lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter Matt Moffitt (the person) died in 2003, there was little fanfare from the media or general public, but the music industry mourned the loss. It was a quiet affair.
"Matt has an incredible history," says John Prior, drummer and original band member. "There is an incredible story to his life. Not just Matt [Moffitt] but the band. The band was surrounded by tragedy all the time. I don't know if it's because the name Matt Finish is a fatalistic term.... And, you know, [the song] "Fade Away"... I guess what played heavily on my mind was that Matt was the closest to me of all the people that I have worked with who have died."
I had the pleasure of meeting John to discuss the [then] upcoming shows and to learn a little bit more about what inspired the group to get together and make it all happen again. The man I met was passionate about music, flabbergasted by the greed of others, and excited to bring the past back to the stage. I got more than I expected when I met John Prior.
Hotsource: What inspired you to start working on Matt Finish again?
John Prior & Adrian Belew 2006
JP: After the Adrian Belew tour, when I played drums and Rob [Rob Prior, John's brother and Matt Finish's promoter] and I promoted a couple of shows, Rob suggested Matt Finish, and I said, "Not in a million years." Then he just talked about it for a while and convinced me that it was a part of our history and that I would actually love to get out there and play our old songs again. It would also be a fitting tribute to Matt (Moffitt) because Matt died in 2003 and it's tragic. I guess I felt a bit guilty. That wasn't what Rob suggested, but it did play on my mind. Later, after Matt Finish, I was involved in other exciting projects, while Matt’s songs got sadder and sadder until they were all ballads. They are beautiful by the way, I don't mean that in any way as a criticism, he matured as a songwriter, but instead of the high-energy side of Matt Finish, he tended to do more songs like Short Note and Come On Over, which I guess are the ballads that people would remember from the early days.
He didn't hook up with the right promoters. He didn't find the right manager. His bands kept changing and his health deteriorated until he died. That made me feel guilty. The fact that I hadn't helped him more. Its funny because he was the ex-Catholic and I've always been an atheist. I tend not to suffer from guilt, but in this case I did. I thought that playing some shows would be a fitting tribute, mainly to remind people of Matt's wonderful music. Also I only recently discovered that Short Note is still available in the shops, its been in the shops continually for 26 years! I had no idea, because the record company that sells it hasn’t accounted to us. When I’ve been into record stores over the last 20 years, I haven’t seen it. What I didn't realize is that thousands of people are going up to the counter and saying, "Do you have Matt Finish’s Short Note?" And, of course....
Hotsource: They can order it in.
JP: CBS, and now Sony Music, have stockpiles in the warehouse. I’ve made contact with them music recently and they have written back saying that I couldn't possibly have any claim whatsoever to do with Matt Finish, or words to that effect. I find that intersesting, because there is no valid contract in place regarding my performance, songs, arrangements and likeness with them.
Hotsource: And your sounds.
JP: And our sounds, that's right and production.
Hotsource: Certainly there would be music and lyric copyrights, too? Forget recording copyright...there would be music and lyric copyrights that you are not receiving either?
JP: Absolutely. To start the story back in the days of 1978 through to '84, Matt was by far the most prolific songwriter in the band and I don't mean to detract from his wonderful talents, but we all composed and filled out APRA cards and send them in. For some reason, none of them were registered properly with APRA.
Hotsource: That's because they used index cards.
JP: Yes, they didn't have a computer system back then and as everybody knows it's a massive, complex area. How many thousands of pieces of music are playing this second? Are all the composers being paid properly?
JP: I’ve been involved in a couple of other copyright disputes. For example, I wrote the theme for The Great Outdoors and the people who hired me to write the piece turned around and said they wrote it. So over ten years, eventually it reached the Federal Court and we had a court case and I won.
Hotsource: Good. Although 10 years went by....
JP: Yes, 10 years went by and that means a substantial amount of royalties by the way. It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars and of course I lost a lot of it in legal fees. Now I believe I have a very strong claim regarding APRA, Sony Music and all the publishers that were involved with Matt Finish. I haven't addressed any issues with Matt's estate, because I also believe that Matt didn't receive what he should have. The fact is that in the mid-eighties, all of the songs were registered to Matt Moffitt and they shouldn’t have been.
Hotsource: Where does Matt Moffitt end and Matt Finish begin or vice versa?
JP: Where does Sean Connery end and James Bond begin... When people see a movie, often they are going to pay the most attention to the lead actor. They will think that James Bond is Sean Connery. Sean Connery is James Bond. For the theatre going public, that's what it's all about. They sell the movie on the strength of Sean Connery’s appeal. Now if he had also co-written some of the film, well that would also highlight his talents. But Sean Connery isn’t there any more… and that is the situation with Matt Finish.
[John has to leave the room again for a minute. But he comes back.]
JP: This article...or interview. Isn't going to be all about the copyright stuff...?
Hotsource: No, but copyright is a personal interest of mine.
JP: Now that I have enough evidence to protect my copyright, I'm confident. I've worked through the Federal and District Courts and won cases protecting my copyright. I consider it a shot across the bow of parties breaching my copyright and I would love them to get that message. It will be resolved and we’ll win control of our works. They must admit mistakes and act honestly as corporations, and that is what they are at the end of the day. Sony and APRA aren’t charities; they’re businesses and they’re in the business of providing themselves with employment and collecting royalties for songwriters. They have such a complex charter, it ends up seeming such a grey area. I speak to young musicians who say, "Oh it is so complicated - the publishing scene," but it shouldn’t be that complicated.
You have a car, someone takes it, and you work to get it back. It's that simple.
Hotsource: If you look at the website Hotsource you may see some very strong opinions about copyright and about file sharing. We're often less opposed to file sharing than we are about other people making money that you (the musicians) should be getting. We're all for artists making money and would never, ever be against that. If we ever sound very passionate about file sharing and getting the word out for musicians, it's because we think musicians should share their music with everybody and develop fan bases.
John Prior 1978
JP: I think there is a line to be drawn. With Matt Finish, we’ve recorded the song Don't Fade Away and released it for free online. We made that decision. It has already appeared on a surfing film and we won't get money from the producers of the film, but if it's broadcast, well then we’ll get those royalties. We made a conscious decision with Don't Fade Away to do that and it's a way of promoting the band and letting people know what we are now. It's also a way of letting people know that Matt has died, because his death wasn't widely publicized, so that no one feels disappointed if they come to a Matt Finish gig and Matt Moffitt isn’t there.
On the other hand, when an artist doesn't give a song away for free then the copyright should be respected.
Last week, on the front page of the Herald, there was a picture of the U2 concert and everyone was holding up their phones obviously recording the concert and the headline said something like: "soon you won’t be able to do that". I read that headline and thought - it's always been illegal, so why is the Herald saying soon it will be illegal? It's illegal now...
[Quick interruption. But we're back....]
JP: Yeah, I guess its part of the fascist conspiracy, to deny anyone who isn't a fascist, basically left wing people like you and I, any kind of empowerment. It was like the Herald was saying, "hey, go and rip off as much music as you can cos no one is gonna do anything about it right now." Even though it IS illegal; just like if you steal someone's car, it's illegal. So I thought that was interesting, and it is all to do with Howard and Bush and all those people who haven't respected legalities regarding new media technology because the people who would benefit from it are not their people. That's the politics of the world. You know, I can only deal with fascism for so much of the day before it just depresses me and I've got to start thinking positively. Things like taking my daughter to the beach, teaching kids, making music and making my partner as happy as I possibly can. When you think that something like the SMH is going to work so obviously against us, it's very disappointing in society.
I left school thinking about what was I going to do with my life. I knew I loved music, and I knew I didn't want to cause damage on the planet; that was foremost in my mind. I thought I was clever enough to make a decision that I might be able to actually achieve those things. Sure, I am a consumer. I have products; stuff that is ripped out of the ground and whatever. Beyond that, we try to recycle and we try not to create waste and we try not to create hurtful feelings or perpetuate any of the negativities our fascist government is creating at the moment. It's not a democracy. It's fascism. That's a word that I think is missing from the media. To think that the ABC is under so much pressure that they dare not speak the word "fascism", when fascism is an appropriate way of describing what John Howard and the Liberal Party are really doing. I think that is partly what Matt Finish is about. When we were younger we did it in a less specific way. Songs like Introductions - "The Queen is in his counting house, I think he’s feeling used" and "have a right-wing day" - definitely alluded to those issues.
Matt's mother and father were both journalists. His father, Ian Moffitt, was an award-winning journalist and author. He was an editor at News Limited in New York during the early sixties, so Matt was living as a child in a little apartment in NY and his dad took him to JFK's graveside when he was writing a story about the assassination.
Malcolm X was supposed to come round for dinner but he was assassinated too, so he had to cancel the engagement.
That was the sort of thing Ian was doing, that was the environment that Matt grew up in.
Hotsource: That's just insightful.
Matt Finish 1978
JP: Matt has an incredible history. There is an incredible story to his life. Not just Matt, but the band. The band was surrounded by tragedy all the time. I don't know if it's because the name Matt Finish is a fatalistic term, you know "Fade Away"... I guess what played heavily on my mind was that Matt was the closest to me of all the people that I worked with who have died. There are about 15-20 people.
There's Megan Williams, the actress from the Sullivans who was with Ian Moss. I wrote some songs for her in the mid-eighties - she died of cancer. I worked with a guy called Benjamin Hugg, who was a wonderful young singer, he also died of cancer in the mid-eighties. I did a tour with Roy Buchanan; he committed suicide after the tour. Wonderful guitarist; he was Jimi Hendrix's inspiration for those wild electronic guitar sounds. The Rolling Stones asked him to join when Mick Taylor left. I played with Mick Taylor and he has had a very fate-filled existence. I toured around Australia with Champion Jack Dupree. He was an 80-year-old barrel-house blues player from New Orleans, a black man self-exiled from America because of the way he’d been treated. He was living in Germany and touring the rest of the world and refused to go back to America. He died of old age - he was the only one. He had a wonderfully long illustrious, productive lifetime.
Hotsource: We should all be so lucky.
JP: We should all be so lucky.
Then I worked with Troy Newman who was a very promising young singer songwriter from Perth. I composed and produced some of his music and a few record companies offered us deals in the late eighties. Troy committed suicide. There are other people that I didn't work with as closely, but we were on the same bill, toured and were on festivals and concerts together - we used to party. Michael Hutchence and Matt were great friends. Steve Gilpin from Misex. Marc Hunter from Dragon. Two of the guys from Australian Crawl.
When we were touring Melbourne in the eighties, Matt and I visited Guy McDonough in hospital when he was dying. We had to go through an ante-room, scrub up and put on sterilized gowns over the top of our clothes. He was grey and drawn and it was the saddest way to see him because he was such a vibrant young healthy, surfing, song-writing, singing, guitar-playing, brilliant, talented guy. Along with James, he was really the backbone of the early Australian Crawl. They were a pretty straight-ahead band all about Australian culture and I think that’s the greatest thing about Australian Crawl. The most touching moment for us was seeing Guy’s mother in the hospital. She said nothing when we arrived, just spoke gently with Guy, who could barely speak. He had almost no energy and he looked like a man of ninety who was about to die. The life had been sucked from him and it was just so sad. As we left, we were taking off the gowns and Matt and I had tears streaming down our faces, not when we were in front of Guy, but after we got out of eyesight, we couldn't help it. Ugggh! His mother showed us photos of when he was healthy and handsome as if to say: "remember him like this and not like what you’ve just seen."
I’ve had to. People do move on, you go for a walk in the park and you accidentally step on a thousand ants - you don't go away feeling guilty about it. People die in your life. I was there when my grandmother died. I was there when my grandfather died. All of these things have really played on my mind since Matt passed on. It inspired me to write a book called "Matt Finish and Other Stories". It’s 80% about Matt Finish. I have tried to write it as dispassionately as possible. Friends who have read it and proofed it for me have said I should put more of my emotions into it. But I think that the emotion is there anyway, just in the way that the story unfolds and not because I’ve written adjectives describing my inner most thoughts, because I am not really like that.
Hotsource: How do you find the stories? Are they melancholy or full of vigour or do they just follow the ebb and flow of life?
JP: It just follows life ... That's the way I tried to write. It’s really a bit like an extended tour guide, you know, when you go to a concert and it tells a story about the band at the front and there's a few photos and some memorabilia. It's about that tour where all the tyres blew.
Hotsource: Is it published?
JP: No, soon. Someone is proofing it one more time for some more objectivity.
Hotsource: It's simply your perspective but trying not to put your emotion on it. That will be an interesting read.
JP: The story is about the rise and fall of Matt and Matt Finish and about all those people who died along the way. It's called "Matt Finish and Other Stories." At the end of the day, it’s really just about all these wonderful creative people.
I just don't think musicians are being supported enough! [For example,] I could only get a home loan because I was doing a lot of advertising that year. The bank saw me as an advertising executive, not as a composer who happened to be writing music for advertising. That is the way musos are treated. You know we talked about the Herald front page last week? You have to develop a thick skin and you have got to learn how to protect yourself and if, in the course of protecting myself, I can protect other musos who come along, well that's a great thing.
Hotsource: I would like to find out a little bit more about specifically about the Matt Moffitt memorial - are you doing three shows and rehearsing for those?
JP: It's just three shows at this stage. There are no plans beyond this. We can't even think about it, because it wouldn't be genuine to think about it as a Matt Moffitt Memorial and be thinking about what we’re doing next year. Jeff can't come over all the time because he manages a newspaper over there.
Hotsource: He's in NZ, right?
JP: Yes, he's in Auckland. He's still playing. We've been in contact and sent each other recordings and worked on them in our respective countries. That's all there is to the plan at the moment.
We wanted to play songs from Short Note, Fade Away and Word Of Mouth and we’ve chosen mainly the songs that Matt wrote as a tribute to him, but a lawyer has written on behalf of Matt’s Estate asking us not to use Matt’s name in the promotion of the tour – so it's a bit bizarre.
Hotsource: Through a lawyer - did they call you first?
JP: No, not me, other people around me. I guess we didn't react quickly enough, but we have stopped using the name the Matt Moffitt Memorial Tour.
Hotsource: Is there any animosity?
JP: I am really not sure and can’t speculate. There is an undercurrent, but that's OK and I respect their wishes.
Hotsource: Rob asked me/told me to please change it on the site.
JP: We are thinking of calling the tour "a tribute to that guy who used to play with us". And we hope people will know who we’re talking about... or “a tribute to that guy that no one knows actually died who used to play in our band”. [We laugh.]
Hotsource: I certainly knew of him - from an outsiders perspective, I wasn't in Australia during the time of Matt Finish, when I arrived in 1988 a very good friend of mine used to play Short Note and still does to this day and it is his biggest request from his fans. He plays it very well and sings it very well.
JP: Do you know what it's about?
Hotsource: No. I know all the lyrics, but I don't know what it's about.
JP: I think that one of Matt’s talents was to write such cryptic lyrics, that everyone listening to it would read something different into it. It's not as if he withheld his own beliefs and passions because I think they're in there somewhere but he does it in a way that allows people to find their own depth in it. It’s a great talent.
It’s very stream of consciousness, the lyrics are very introspective.
Most people think Short Note is about the passing of time, with the sea as an analogy, but most of Matt's songs were about the grittier things in life: drugs, politics, sex, incest, farting. "The wind in his thighs he could wail." That’s a line in the song It's on My Way. I guess people imagine some guy standing on the hill with the wind rushing past, but I think it's about farting! [We laugh.]
Hotsource: The three shows are planned. Everything going well for those? You’re rehearsing - everything's looking good?
JP: The band is just sounding fantastic and I'm so excited. Luke Dixon and Matt Cornell are brilliant. It's a return to the high-energy side of Matt Finish, which is what I can bring to the party!
Hotsource: Well, the gig in Sydney has moved from the Enmore... I think the Basement should be more than full.
JP: Fingers crossed. For anybody who wants to come and remember Matt and join in, please come.
It'll be Jeff, Matt, Luke and myself with guests. Rick [Grossman, former bass player for Matt Finish, Hoodoo Gurus, inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame for his role in the Divinyls] and Russ are coming.
Hotsource: Who's Russ?
JP: Russ Nelson. Russ was our stage manager in the mid eighties. At one point we were minus a guitarist and Matt would break a string and say "Russ bring me my spare guitar" and Russ would come on stage with the guitar and then Matt would say "No, you play it." So he would join us on guitar for some songs. As it turned out, he knew all the songs! He was a Matt Finish fan and that’s how he ended up working with us; in any capacity that he could. Russell is now a very good friend of mine.
A little story about Russ: he stage-managed us when we were on the 1984 U2 tour of Australia. Entertainment Centres around the country were sold out. It was a wonderful experience. Bono and Edge watched us every night from the side of stage.
Hotsource: Isn't that nice that they took the time.
JP: Yeah I didn't see the other two except when they were performing, but Bono and the Edge were there every night. Anyway, at the end of the tour, we had a farewell dinner because that was actually the end of Matt Finish at that stage. It was just before Matt went off to do his solo album. He invited me to work with him on that album which was made in England. So, anyway, there we were in Perth and we had just been to a party with the guys from U2 - which was wonderful - and we were sitting there in the restaurant having dinner going, "Oh, it's been great working with you." And Russell said, "John, I've got some really bad news to tell you and I feel really guilty."
And I said, "What is it?"
"When we were in Melbourne last week, some stuff was stolen out of our van and your 8" deep maple snare drum was stolen."
I said, "Oh well - that is a shame, but it's not your fault."
And he said, "Well, I probably shouldn't have left it in the van, but I've got an idea what might have happened to it."
I said, "What?"
He said, "Well, I can't tell you because I don't want to blame anyone if I am not 100% sure."
I went, "Oh well, thanks for letting me know, no hard feelings." Then I didn't see him again for two years. He just turned up on my doorstep, which is unusual because he's from Melbourne, and he said, "Do you remember this?" holding the snare drum. As it turns out, he had suspected who had pinched it in Melbourne and it had taken him two years to find an innocent reason to go round and visit this guy. He happened to be in the guy's garage and saw the drum, so he said to him, "That's John Prior’s. I have to take it back to him now and lets just leave it at that."
So he had gone out of his way to bring it to me and I realized what a loyal person he is.
I could have listened to John for a few hours more. In fact, we did talk a lot about the Newtown Beats, a new world music project that John is working on. We'll have more on that in a future article on Hotsource.
Opinionated, passionate, sensitive, and thoughtful are the adjectives I use to describe John Prior. What do you think?
Oh, by the way - here's the review we did on the show - what a cracker!