Street artist Peter Drew has placed thousands of posters up in their hometown of Adelaide, as well as across the world and also recently released their memoir – Poster Boy. Through their work they take a look at identity, culture and in the pages of their book examined their own place in it all ahead of a new phrase in their life – that includes the hopes and dreams of raising a family.
In this unscripted chat, Drew spoke to radionotes inside the State Library of South Australia…
To listen, click the green ‘play’ triangle… [note: may take few seconds to load]
(Transcript of Peter Drew chat below, check to delivery in audio)
IMAGE CREDIT: Twitter. Shot of Peter Drew holding their ‘Poster Boy’ book outside Imprint Booksellers on Hindley Street in Adelaide, South Australia
Iconic poster of Drew’s in one with the word ‘Aussie’ across it, though they also had a famous pixel-ed head that was seen on the streets many years gone by. As they’re doing numerous media chats on the back of the book – have included some in the links below – have focused with a thread on music throughout this chat with them.
SHOW NOTES: Peter Drew episode
Where to find the show to subscribe/follow:
- PlayPodcast – this link directs you, to the Podcast app on your device (subscribe to not miss an episode)
….or you may prefer to Search “radionotes Podcast” in your favourite podcatcher.
In The Box: The Good Minus
- The Good Minus (Self-titled, Independent release) on Bandcamp or AppleMusic
- Mechanical Shark (Official Music Clip)
Feature Guest: Peter Drew the Poster Boy
It’s a Bit of a Game (making a mix-tape).
- Official Site
- Instagram – Twitter – Facebook
- Artist and activist Peter Drew (Profile – The Saturday Paper)
- Why I Plastered the Country with Faces from the Past (Crikey)
- Broken Hill (Award Winning Short Film)
- Blood Plastic (Official Site) – Broken Hill (Soundcloud)
- Broken Heel Festival (Official Site)
- Indian Love Song – Dirty Three (Bandcamp)
- Aussie, Aussie, Aussie (Oi, Oi, Oi) – Sammy J… his take on the call
- Cruise 1323 AM (Official Site)
- Jake Holmes (Official Site) – A Place Called (Podcast)
- Australian Gun Control Poster (store/where to buy one)
- Inside Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Soundtrack (RollingStone)
- Julie White (Official Site)
- Bjork (Official Site) – Deerhoof (Official Site)
- Mixtape Rules – High Fidelity (YouTube)
- Unchained Melody – Righteous Brothers (1965)
- The Datsuns (Official Site)
- Robert Hughes obituary (The Guardian) – Masterpiece Special (Archives)
- An Australian Street Artist in American (Kickstarter – Archived)
- What is a real AUSSIE? (VIMEO)
- Poster Boy: A Memoir Of Art and Politics (Black Inc.)
Other chats, from other folk with Peter Drew:
- Better Than Yesterday w/ Osher Gunsberg [aCast]
- Just Make The Thing – Street Artist Peter Drew On Identity, Culture & Finding Love
- The Daily Talk Show (episode 452)
- More Than a Whelan (episode 40)
- Books On The Go (episode 83)
Next Episode: Jaymee Franchina
- Taylor Swift v Hottest 100 (Bandcamp)
…so, if you have not already subscribed or following the show – now might be a great time to start. On Spotify, Apple and Google Podcast, Overcast, PocketCast and more…
More details on playpodcast here, thanks to Matt from them.
[Radio Production – notes: Peter Drew fills the whole image, music will leave to you – though Broken Hill by Blood Plastic is a great cut or play some The Good Minus]
Theme/Music: Martin Kennedy and All India Radio
Web-design/tech: Steve Davis
Voice: Tammy Weller
You can make direct contact with the podcast – on the Contact Page
For direct quotes check to audio, first version of transcript by Katie G at REV
John Murch: Peter Drew, welcome to radionotes.
Peter Drew: Thanks for having me.
John Murch: Let’s start off with Blood Plastic.
Peter Drew: I shot a short film in Broken Hill that involved launching some posters on a large balloon from the Line of Lode, which is a big pile of tailings in Broken Hill. The posters had pictures on them. They’re much like the posters that I stick up on the street. There was a camel procession. It was quite a spectacle. I shot a lot of footage of the event, and I wanted to make it into a short film. I originally had a track in mind by the Dirty Three, which had a nice build and a peak to it, and it was all instrumental. I showed it to a friend of mine, Matthew Bate, who is a filmmaker. He recommended that I use Blood Plastic. He put me in touch with Marcin, and he came up with a track which is tailor-made for the film. It made it much better than just sort of picking a pre-existing song off the shelf.
Peter Drew: So that was a great learning process for me. Because it was sort of me having to take myself a little more seriously, really, rather than just picking a song which I liked and I thought did the job. I had to sort of accept the idea that maybe I had to go out a little further and collaborate with a professional musician. It will maybe elevate the film, and it did.
John Murch: You were very mindful of going during the Broken Heel Festival, which was spoken about on this show previously. What was the emphasis to you for going during the Broken Heel Festival?
Peter Drew: I just, I thought it would be an interesting clash, in some ways. I mean, I’d been to the Broken Heel Festival the year before, had a great time, and I wanted to go back and see more of it. Also, it was purely selfish reasons for wanting to be there, at the same time, I realised that. And encouraging my friends to come, as well. They would be more likely to go when the Broken Heel Festival was on. Because as much fun as we were going to have launching this balloon and the camel procession and the rest of it, it sort of ran the risk of being a bit of a somber occasion because of the content of the art. But the Broken Heel Festival is a like phantasmagoric’s celebration, and it was fun, and completely different to what I was doing. So I thought, “Why not?”
John Murch: Let’s talk about what you actually were doing in Broken Hill, with that music that we started off having a chat with. It’s about story-telling, isn’t it?
Peter Drew: What I do with the Poster Series, which the posters that were launched in Broken Hill, they use photographs from the Australian National Archive of people who applied for exemptions to the White Australia policy. I went to the archive, found many of these images, turned them into posters with the word “Aussie” underneath. The appearance of these people conflicts with, still, the stereotype of what it means to be Aussie. The fact that they’re historic images make it doubly interesting.
Peter Drew: But really, more than anything, it’s the fact that these people apply for exemptions to the White Australia policy so they could leave Australia and come back. Not so they could just leave.
Peter Drew: So despite the fact that Australia once had this racist policy, these people wanted to leave and come back. They still wanted to belong here. I think it says something about their resilience, basically. I had the idea of putting three of these posters to make it kind of a kite, I guess. You imagine, so there’s three posters’ backs to one another, all facing out. On the poster is a family of people who are from Broken Hill around the turn of the century. So there’s a man who was born in Karachi, now Pakistan, and his two kids who were born in Broken Hill. I don’t know … From their appearance, it looks like their mother would have been Aboriginal.
Peter Drew: If you can imagine, these two Aboriginal kids had to apply for special exemptions so they could be allowed back into Australia, where their ancestors had lived for 60,000. They had to get a special exemption just so they couldn’t be racially excluded. They’re melancholy images because these kids don’t … they can’t possibly understand what they’re wrapped up in. They’re young kids. One of them is on crutches, and he has a pocket watch ’cause his father was quite successful. The girl looks quite … she would have been sort of early teenager. But she looks sort of forlorn. It’s a melancholy image, the three of them together. I had the idea of putting it on a balloon and sending it off into the sky. So it’s what we did.
John Murch: Three Images of Peter Drew is very important, also. As a surprise to you at the time, when you were doing your Aussie series for some sports people who saw “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie,” three in a row.
Peter Drew: Back in the Olympics, when the Olympics was in Sydney, the cry, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie,” became … It was everywhere. I had never really heard it before the Olympics. It sort of just took over the television. Everyone was saying it at school. It was a nice way of being happy about being Australian. It just seemed of so much optimism back in 2000, in general. The world changed drastically after that. It sort of became less popular to be patriotic, I guess.
Peter Drew: On one occasion especially, I lined up three of my posters that had three of these images of people who applied for the White Australia policy. And because it says Aussie underneath, in the line of three, it reads, “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.” I was sticking them up out the front of … well, near to the MCG when there was a footy match on. Just swarms of footy fans heading in. One of the guys goes, “Oh yeah. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.” It didn’t click until then that that’s the way those posters could be read.
Peter Drew: You can never really predict or control how the audience is going to absorb your art when you put it out on the street or in a gallery, or anywhere. It’s just interesting. However people connect is good, usually.
John Murch: You mentioned the Dirty Three. Is that the kind of music that inspires your visual work?
Peter Drew: I just really connected with that track, in particular. It’s Indian Love Song, which has … It’s just a terrific instrumental track. A great build, and then it sort of … it floats, at a point. It has a real ethereal sort of floating feeling to it. I thought, “That’s what it will feel like when the balloon is floating through the air.” You know, when you’re creating a project in which it’s completely unlikely that it’s going to work, for starters, or that it’s going to fulfill what you desire it to fulfill. Having something to add to the vision of it is really helpful.
Peter Drew: So when I was thinking, “Okay, we’re going to get the camels, we’re going to get the balloon, the poster, put it together, and get it to Broken Hill, had everyone up to the top of the Line of Lode.” The whole thing was so unlikely. But having that song, it really pulled the whole vision together. I was using it by just using the song to think about it before we pulled any of it off. Afterwards, it wasn’t necessary for it to actually be the song in the video.
John Murch: So the question then is, when you’re in a visual state of mind, thinking of a new idea visually, is there some sort of musical stimuli?
Peter Drew: Yeah, absolutely. Not always, but I think the way people, or the way I use music is … there’s all sorts of different ways. Sometimes it’s just fuel to get you through the day. You want something very rhythmic and energetic that’s fun to listen to. For that example, it helped that it wasn’t something that I was very familiar with. It was music that sort of took me out of my comfort zone, I guess. I think I’ve got music that I listen to that I go back to again and again. It doesn’t really propel me intellectually or emotionally. It’s just me. It’s already a part of my identity. And then there’s new music, music that I haven’t really connected with yet. That’s the great stuff to listen to when you are trying to explore and find new ideas.
John Murch: Possibly tongue-in-cheek when you said it in the book, so I’m happy to take it as such. But you said when you got your home eventually, got the $300,000 mortgage, that you started listening to 1323 Cruise AM, the Golden Oldies. Is that true?
Peter Drew: It’s true. I mean, obviously it’s … it’s the shameful truth. But I mean, it’s just one of those … I was trying to get across … It affects you, the way that you live. I started looking at my lawn. I started watering the garden and thinking domestic thoughts. I don’t know, it’s just funny, when your behavior change according to the way you live. It’s like the neighborhood you live in or the friends you have. You just sort of get sucked into its orbit, but at some point I realized, I’ve really been listening to Cruise FM a lot. It must be because I have a mortgage now.
John Murch: Did music play a part within the Tooth and Nails studio and other studios that you’ve worked within? Because that’s more of a communal kind of area.
Peter Drew: Yeah. I think that relates to what I was saying before about music. Because when you’re in a big shared space, there’s a kind of kinetic energy of other people making things. You share time together, and learn techniques. It’s all very quick and communal. That’s doesn’t happen as easily when you’re in a studio of your own. You have to actually go out and find those interactions, Whereas they find you if you’re in a big shared space.
Peter Drew: When I moved into Tooth and Nail, I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to get involved with screen printing. Screen printing is really the basis of my posters. It was only because I moved into Tooth and Nail and Jake had all his equipment, the whole studio was focused on screen printing, I thought, “Well yeah, I’ll give screen printing a shot.” Then it turned into years and thousands of posters, stuff up all around the country. To when you don’t have a clear direction yourself to just join a community and see where it takes you.
John Murch: Now Jake of the podcast A Place Called Home?
Peter Drew: That’s right.
John Murch: And also, the C’Mon Aussie, C’Mon Aussie-
Peter Drew: Exactly –
John Murch: Marriage equality?
Peter Drew: Exactly, yeah. Jake’s a terrific artist. He designed the C’Mon Aussie poster. It was right after I had finished up with Real Australians Say Welcome. I saw the design online and I thought, “Oh Jake, you’ve got to make a project out of that because that design has a lot of potential.” So I got in touch and just encouraged him to do that, because I knew if I helped him do basically what I’ve done for Real Australians Say Welcome – made a crowd-funding campaign – he could then send the posters all over the country and help propel the marriage equality debate.
Peter Drew: It stalled in some ways because there was a bill in Parliament just while we were kicking off the project. That bill was stopped, and so Jake and I said, “Well, let’s just … I’m sure the debate’s going to come up again. We’ll just wait.”
John Murch: Jake’s project, what you’re saying you gave a bit of a help along with how to build a conclusion. Not that marriage equality has been completely completed in Australia, but the idea of marriage equality through the ability to get married has occurred. Do you get a sense that our own projects might have some conclusion of that level, in the future?
Peter Drew: There’s a real political result to his poster project. I remember saying to Jake at some point, “That must feel great that you were a part of a historical change.” Whereas none of my projects have really, when it comes to border security, nothing’s changed really. There have been little wins and little losses, and there are still people trapped in detention. I’ve sort of had to shift my aim and my direction quite early on really, when I realized that it was going to become quite exhausting if that was my only aim to focus on change in policy. I really try to focus on the effect that posters have on people in Australia. I very early on got messages from asylum-seekers and former asylum-seekers saying that the posters had made them feel more welcome. That became my focus, because that’s … it’s something tangible. That’s probably a better aim for art in general, I think, is affecting people on a one-to-one basis, rather than shifting entire governments.
John Murch: Another campaign you’ve recently done that sent you over to America. How has that been sitting with you in terms of the difference between America’s gun policy, or their lack of, and Australia’s resolve in what we’ve been able to do in that area?
Peter Drew: Well, that was a difficult one. I mean, I felt like I was a guest in that country, so I had to have a lot of touch in some ways. I think with all of my posters, they are a kind of compromise between two extremes. They’re an attempt to find a middle ground. I thought that that poster was quite gentle in some ways, that it just says in the simplest possible terms that gun control does work in Australia and we’re quite happy about it. Maybe you want to give it a try, in not so many words. Because I was a guest, I had to have a lot of touch about it, because I’m not sure that our solution is going to be their solution, because they’re so much further along. There are already so many guns in circulation. I don’t know how they’re going to make things better.
Peter Drew: But it’s just, there’s no point in falling into the rhetorical trap that they’re in, trying to prove that gun control doesn’t work. It can’t possibly work because it doesn’t even work in Australia. I know for a fact that I feel much safer in Australia just knowing that there are vastly less guns on the street. So I would say that gun control does work.
John Murch: I want to get back to the music. What songs are you currently listening to, Peter Drew?
Peter Drew: I’ve recently been listening to the soundtrack to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, the new Tarantino film. It’s a fun soundtrack because it’s very … a lot of the songs are in mono. I think, at least, they haven’t been remastered, so I think it was meant to sound like it would in a car stereo in the late ’60s. I like, when I see a movie or any work of art, I like to really get into it and stay with it for a while afterwards. So I saw the film a week ago, and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack non-stop ever since. It’s a fun soundtrack. It’s a lot of songs … I really love that era. I’m sort of very stuck, in some ways, in that era when it comes to music. So it’s always fun to hear stuff that I haven’t heard before and discover new things, though still not leaving my comfort zone in a way.
John Murch: Which era are we talking about?
Peter Drew: Sort of late ’60s, early ’70s, and sort of spreading out from there. The first music I really got into was bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles. I go back to that. Those are the bands that I’m always going to like in some way. Even if I don’t listen to them for months on end, I know that I’m always going to keep going back there. I’ve definitely become less adventurous the older I get. I have less need to find new music. My sort of musical identity is kind of established.
John Murch: Curiously, you were born in 1983, which is after those said years.
Peter Drew: It is.
John Murch: So who’s responsible for introducing you to such sounds?
Peter Drew: The friends I made in early uni. I think that’s a really funny and interesting point. And we spoke about that as friends, like, “Why are we so nostalgic for this time of our parents’ youth.” That’s so non-rebellious, and there’s a contradiction in that. In that this time, which was rebellious, that we are nostalgic for it, which is not a very rebellious thing to be. But yeah, it was in early uni. All through high school, I sort of just listened to electronic music, run-of-the-mill dance stuff like Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, and the first album of Daft Punk, I really liked Homework. Then I got to uni and started to listening to classic rock, and started playing bass guitar. It was sort of a change of identity.
John Murch: What’s your relationship like with the bass guitar?
Peter Drew: I keep telling my friends that I will practice. I used to play a lot, just every day. These days, I only play it when I’m with my friends. We get together and jam, and that’s really just an excuse to hang out. Although we do take it seriously while it’s happening, it’s become much more … It’s just a fun way of talking to one another. Back in the day, we were silly enough to have ambitions of, “Maybe this could be something.” But now, that has all gone away, and it’s just fun to get together, because we don’t see each other as much as we used to.
John Murch: Does that mean you spent more time indoors during those university days than you might have out in pubs and clubs at the time?
Peter Drew: I’d say so. Yeah. I’d never really been big on going out a whole lot. Never really into live music. But I mean, when I do go out, when I have seen stuff is always fun, but I’d never really gotten into the scene.
John Murch: I want to get back to this idea of the music that you’re into, and still are it seems, is before your time. Was it to get a better connection with the parents?
Peter Drew: There could be some truth to that. You can’t possibly say it’s just because that music is better. I can give you reasons why I like that music better, because it’s played by instruments, and it’s a group of people in a room at the same time, a lot of the time. Musicians started layering and using more production. But it’s just, I like the spontaneity of hearing a group of musicians in a room, and they are communicating with one another in the moment. I think that has a certain energy to it that you can’t get as soon as it’s going through pro tools, or whatever it is.
Peter Drew: I think that getting into the music of the late ’60s, early ’70s, it’s not just about the sounds and the band. It’s the excitement of that time, that there was great change happening. Growing up in the ’90s, when we’d been told that history was over, that the Berlin Wall had come down and from now on it’s just going to be liberal democracy, and everything will be on the up and up. Kind of boring, in a way. There’s no great change happening. It makes sense that we’re nostalgic for a time that was full of turmoil and full of change.
John Murch: What was the music you were listening to in the family home?
Peter Drew: My mom bought a CD player before anyone else had one, and there was a set of classical CDs. I listened to those a lot. The music was so crisp and clear, and you could listen to it as many times as you liked. I had a tape deck, and I recorded things off the radio. But that would have just been the pop songs of the time. You know, when you’re really young, you just sort of … Whatever you hear that captures your ear, you’ll listen to. My mom had some Enya and stuff like that, as well, which she played. It was not a musical household. We were encouraged to play piano when we were younger, but none of us really took to it. It was something that our mom suggested that we do because she never got the chance to, and so we were going to redeem that for her. But none of us … I was basically being taught piano before I liked music, so it didn’t make sense.
Peter Drew: My dad really doesn’t like music. Like he never plays it when we’re in the car. He might hum a tune sometime, but I don’t really know what tune it is he’s humming. We’re not a musical family. And in comparison to my wife … like, she does come from a musical family. Her dad sings and plays guitar. They sing along together. That whole family has so much more musical talent than most of the people I’ve met. I just realised, oh, that’s how you connect to music and have musical ability, is you grow up with it and it becomes this thing that you exchange with one another over the kitchen table. You sing together. Once I met her and her family, I realized I’m never going to be a musician. It’s just not in my bones in the same way it is with her, and her brothers and sisters.
John Murch: I’m curious where your father’s humming was coming from if he didn’t actually listen to music, why there was still the need to hum.
Peter Drew: That’s a good question. I don’t know. Yeah, that’s an odd one. Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve asked him once, “What music do you like?” I can’t even remember what he said. He doesn’t have a collection of music or anything like that.
John Murch: It proves that music is so visceral sometimes, as well. That even those that don’t engage it can, a bit like your art, can still have a response to it.
Peter Drew: Yes.
John Murch: But not consciously engaging with it. Let’s talk about your wife. She’s obviously a guiding light for you during some of those harder times.
Peter Drew: Yeah.
John Murch: Reading the book, anyway, it appears.
Peter Drew: Yeah, that’s what she said. I think it’s true. That book is full of big problems, personal and political. But throughout, I keep coming back to her, and she is very much the constant, the rock that holds me together in a lot of ways.
John Murch: What music bonds you two?
Peter Drew: Oh, that’s a good question. It was funny, we exchanged mix CD’s when we got together, which is a funny ritual. When you make a mix CD-
John Murch: You want to say mix tape, don’t you? You really want to say mix tape. But you know, in your heart of heart, it’s not a mix tape. It’s not an A and B.
Peter Drew: Yep.
John Murch: But did you even try to do an A and B on the CD?
Peter Drew: I think I probably had a … I just had a list. Even mix CDs not going to make sense to some people, because-
John Murch: Should we walk them through it?
Peter Drew: So you have a CD burner. We go into the shop and buy a CD, and put it in your computer, and arrange the songs, and the trick is to arrange them in a way which gets your prospective partner to understand who you are. So you want to put in some of your favorite songs, but you also want to put in some songs which probably aren’t even your favorites, but I’ve just go to make them thing, “Wow, this guy, he’s deep and impressive.”
John Murch: Also known as Jeff Buckley.
Peter Drew: Exactly. So true. Yeah, you want to pick the songs that she’s, “Oh, well that’s the same song that I put on mine for you.” No, we put … we swapped CDs.
John Murch: It’s a bit of a land mine sort of situation, ’cause you think there should be a Hanson song on there, but you’re not sure if there should be.
Peter Drew: Julie is a big Hanson fan, but like when she was 14 or whatever. No, if I had put it on there when we met, it probably wouldn’t have helped.
John Murch: All right, so what was on this mix CD?
Peter Drew: To be honest, I wish I could remember. Julie-
John Murch: Guarantee she can remember.
Peter Drew: No, that’s it. She can remember everything. I can’t remember what I said or what I was wearing last week, but she can remember what I was wearing years ago. I can’t remember what was on there. There would have been some Led Zeppelin, though, ’cause she didn’t know them, and I introduced it to her, and she likes them probably as much as I do. But it’s not the sort of stuff that I listen to these days.
John Murch: What song, if you can remember, did you put on it purely for her? E.g. a song that wasn’t for you. You didn’t possibly like, necessarily, don’t have to admit it. What song was that?
Peter Drew: I really sorry, but I wish I could remember. But there were definitely some songs that were just me trying to win her heart, but they’re not songs that I would have listened to. It would have been newer stuff. Yeah, I can’t remember, sorry.
John Murch: No Fiona Apple or anything like that?
Peter Drew: Oh! No, that is exactly … That is exactly the right sort of thing. I remember listening to that sort of stuff around then. Just suddenly, yeah, when you start falling in love, you start listening to stuff that normally, when you’re hanging out with your mates. Like if we were hanging out jamming, “Oh guys, do you want to try Fiona Apple?” they’d be “What are you talking about?” Yeah, it was nice to swap songs.
John Murch: Do you reckon the mix CD helped in the romance?
Peter Drew: Definitely. I think it’s a great way of getting to know someone. Not just who they are, but who they want to be seen as. It’s a bit of a game. I wish I could remember what she put … There would have been some Bjork, because she’s a big time Bjork fan that has … and that’s one of the things that hasn’t changed, because there was some things on there that were by Deerhoof, who she hasn’t listened to since then, really. She’ll be listening to Bjork forever, I think.
John Murch: Mix CDs, did not know we were going to go there.
Peter Drew: It’s a bit sad that that’s … I wonder what kids exchange now. They must just-
John Murch: Spotify playlists.
Peter Drew: But when you get a mix CD, you are stuck with it. What’s the difference between having a hard medium which you listen to over and over again. You can’t just sort of … I would guess you could skip tracks and stuff, but it’s more … You’re sort of forced to listen to it all, listen to it repeatedly. Whereas if you’re just listening to something on a digital format, it’s so much easier to just, “Oh, I’ll check Instagram or whatever.” But the more easily shareable media becomes less contained when you’re watching it. You can escape and pay less attention to it quite easily.
John Murch: What songs make you subdued when you’re angry? So when you’re angry-
Peter Drew: I don’t know that I listen to music to get subdued.
John Murch: Do you listen to music to get angrier?
Peter Drew: Yeah. I think catharsis works in some ways. You want something that is sympathetic with the way you’re feeling, and it helps you get it out. That’s what works for me. If you’re feeling really sad, and then you hear just a happy song, it just sounds terrible. You want to feel something that makes you feel even worse. Feel at least somebody feels sympathy for what I’m feeling. Yeah, you feel grateful that, “Oh, that is exactly what I’m going through.” I’ve never really been attracted to angry music or sort of metal. There’s something … People aren’t going to like this, but there’s something sort of absurd to me about metal. Stuff like Tool. I’ve got friends that are really into Tool. I sort of try to make fun of them about it because it’s so precise, but so angry. Whereas anger, to me, is chaotic. When you’re precise and angry, I find that to be an ugly combination.
John Murch: So you’re not into restraint?
Peter Drew: Well-
John Murch: That’s what it is, isn’t it? It’s restraining the anger into staccatoed …
Peter Drew: Well, that’s a good way of describing it. Yeah. Oh, that’s an interesting way of seeing it. That makes more sense. But I just, I don’t know, when I feel anger, I like it to be blasting out chaotically.
John Murch: Do you think conflict is important?
Peter Drew: Well, it’s inevitable. If there’s difference, then there’s conflict. I think it’s enjoyable in some ways because it can move things towards some sort of resolution. Good things come out of tension between things. Creativity comes out of tension. If you just sort of … everyone was going along, and you avoid conflict for the sake of it, you miss out on an opportunity for creativity, in some ways. Because if there are two things that are opposed, that’s the solution to those things is a third thing. So sometimes, that third thing needs to be creative. I don’t personally … just my own temperament, I don’t like conflict. I generally dislike it as much as anybody, but I see that if you avoid conflict for the sake of it, things can get worse. Then the conflict becomes harder and harder to deal with, so it’s best to be upfront about it as quickly as you can.
John Murch: We’re currently in conversation with Peter Drew, Poster Boy, is the name of the current book that’s out. Promise to be honest.
Peter Drew: Realize very early on I’m not a writer. The one way you can write a good book without being a writer is to just be completely honest. I think even if you are a writer, that’s probably a good way to go about it. That doesn’t mean getting it right. It just means explaining yourself as clearly as possible, and not holding things back for the sake of not upsetting people or your own discomfort. That’s the main reason why you wouldn’t be honest, is because you’re afraid how you’ll be perceived. Whereas, I was quite confident that I could explain myself well enough for people to not misunderstand me. So I thought, “I’ll be completely honest,” and talk about the things that I don’t like about myself, which is the hardest thing to talk about. And obviously, the things I don’t like about Australia, the things I don’t like about art, and to try to be honest about where I see the conflict.”
Peter Drew: Then if the people who you are in conflict with are also honest, then you can find there is some middle ground and you can move forward. But if you’re really keeping your cards close to your chest, and the other side is as well, you’re really missing the opportunity to come together. It just becomes sort of a silly power game, at that point. Whereas, the whole idea of discourse is that through communicating, the solutions emerge. You can’t really see them on your own. You can only see the solutions once you are engaged in discourse with the people you disagree with. I think that’s a pretty good foundational idea for how to build a civilization, really.
John Murch: I also took from that, the just honesty in the every day, as well, in the interpersonal relations that you might have. Do you seek that? Do you wish to have honesty in all your interactions?
Peter Drew: I try to, but it’s impossible. I mean, you can’t get everything that’s happening in your head out. I don’t mean that’s really what honesty is anyway. I mean, that would be irresponsible to try because the things that flash through your head aren’t necessarily you, as well. They are partly just the noise that is clattering around in your head from everything you’ve absorbed. In your day-to-day life, it is responsible to say what you’re thinking, and to have enough trust that the person who’s listening to you will take that as just what you’re saying. Not necessarily your opinions about something. As long as you do it in a responsible and respectful way.
Peter Drew: I mean, most of the time, the person I’m talking to is Julie. We’ve got a pretty rapport. We’ve been together for ten years, so we sort of understand each other very well. But if I was dishonest with her, it wouldn’t help … If there’s something that I’m doing that she doesn’t like, it doesn’t help if she doesn’t tell me. We need to be really clear and open about it, and sort of have an element of faith that no matter what, we’re going to work it out. I think it works. But if we keep things back, then it sort of festers, and it just comes out later with more force.
John Murch: How do you position yourself to someone like a Banksy, who doesn’t have a face? You obviously do.
Peter Drew: Yeah. I just took that in the silliest way. Well, I’m sure he has a face, as well. I just don’t know what it looks like.
John Murch: Or she has a face.
Peter Drew: Yeah, good point. I think if you’re living in London or New York or one of the centers of the world, there can only be one Banksy, one sort of great anonymous artist. I mean, there are other anonymous artists, but he’s like the Elvis of street art. I just didn’t really need that to do what I wanted to do. I think with what I’m doing now, bringing out this book, it definitely is a chance for me to really say everything that I can’t say through posters. And there’ll be a time after this when I think I will become more private, and then work on some different work. There’s sort of a rhythm to it, I think, because you put up some work on the street that doesn’t fully explain itself. It’s just a picture of a guy in a turban with a cool mustache, and it says “Aussie.” They go, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And that curiosity sort of draws you in. Then you do that for a while, and then you release a book, and then you go back into the shadows again. I just think there’s a bit of a give and take.
Peter Drew: A couple years ago, I didn’t know I was going to write this book. It’s interesting to sort of be … I don’t know, to be exposed in that way. I would think that if I were Banksy … obviously it works for him, but with my temperament, I would get very bored. I think there’s only a certain amount you can do being anonymous. Obviously, once you’re out then you can’t ever go back. I could imagine feeling somewhat trapped. But I mean, I love his stuff. But I knew it from the beginning, it was never for me to be that hidden.
Peter Drew: The thing is, it’s a bit of … What’s the word? It’s not real, in some ways. I mean, no one’s … There’s no task force to find Banksy, and to bring him and to prosecute him for all his illegal street art. He’s not that much of an outlaw. It’s a bit of a performance, and I think it’s terrific. I think if I was to try and do that, it would be a bit pretentious.
John Murch: I want to bring it back to music, whether or not you think, particularly the kind of music that you’re into, whether or not music has any value as a protest movement?
Peter Drew: Of course. But I count myself as … the book is about trying to describe this in some ways that you need to decide between being an artist and an activist. An artist is about curiosity and the imagination, and trying to find out about the world, whereas being an activist is about deciding what the world is and how you want it to change. There are things I’d like to change about the world, but first and foremost, I think of myself as an artist. And more than anything, I want to find out more about the world. So you put art into the world, just sort of ask the question, and then you get a response, and you have to learn from that response.
Peter Drew: I think music, if you want to make it about protests, that’s fine. The more of an activist you are, you do compromise your … You compromise something about yourself as an artist, I think. I mean, there’s so many different ways to compromise yourself as an artist. You can do it commercially. But you can do it from pretending to know too much about the world, and pretending to know too much about how to fix the world. Yeah, it’s something I’ve thought of a lot about. Because obviously, you look at my poster Real Australians Say Welcome, you’d assume, “There’s a guy who thinks he knows how to fix the world.” But really, I’m trying to make fun of people who think they know how to fix the world.
Peter Drew: I think art is, ultimately, a circuit-breaker between the two opposing sides. It’s a way of showing the frailty of each side. That’s the game I’m most interested in, is making art to try to pull people towards a center.
John Murch: Where did the curiosity start for Peter?
Peter Drew: Curiosity for art?
John Murch: Curiosity in general.
Peter Drew: I think that’s-
John Murch: Because, you know, we see it as such a youthful kind of thing, but I think it may have been a little later in life for you.
Peter Drew: I think you’re right. I think, when I started at uni … Well, let me tell you, when I started at uni I wanted to be an accountant. I was enrolled in commerce at Adelaide Uni, and I thought, “Yeah, making money. That’s how I’m going to define myself. That’s a worthy aim.” Because I didn’t know anything about myself, really. I thought … You know, when you’re young, you just latch on to a thing and go, “Right, that’s my identity. That’s enough.” I started studying accounting, and it was at exactly the same time that I met these new friends, and I was starting to listen to all this new … the old music. I thought, “I have got no interest in accounting at all. It’s not who I am. I am interested in art. I’m interested in the imagination and philosophy and history. I just need a little bit of time to figure out who I am and what I want to do.” So I dropped out of commerce, and started studying psychology and philosophy.
John Murch: Did you do that to find yourself? What was –
Peter Drew: No, absolutely. I’m still trying to … That’s what art and philosophy are, is trying to find yourself forever. There’s not a way of finding out some secret that’s going to fix something. It’s kind of … you’re trying to invent yourself for the rest of your life, I guess. I mean, that’s the conclusion I basically came to.
Peter Drew: Yeah, I think I was stunted in a lot of ways till my sort of late teens when I realized, “Oh, I’ve actually got a responsibility to figure out who I am, and built that in some ways. Because just dedicating my life towards just making money, what can be more dull?”
John Murch: Was it stunted because of a lack of role model?
Peter Drew: I take responsibility for it. I think by the time I was 18, 19, I should have … I had plenty of opportunities. Plenty of stuff in the culture that was rebellious and trying to get through to my little teenage brain, saying, “Decide for yourself who you are. Contribute something. Create something.” I mean, that’s what all culture is screaming at us. You know? It’s saying, “Do it yourself. Pick up an instrument. Create something.”
John Murch: Well, Nevermind was released when you were eight years old.
Peter Drew: Yeah, I know. It just didn’t get through. I was sort of … The first CD I ever bought was Smash by The Offspring, and I just had that because some other friend had said The Offspring was good. I never really … I never liked … It’s funny. It’s like falling in love. You think you’ve fallen in love, and then later you really fall in love, and you look back and go, “Hang on, that wasn’t anything.”
John Murch: That was just hormones.
Peter Drew: Yeah, exactly. It was only later when I really found music that I really loved, and I looked back and I go, “Why was I listening to that stuff?” It didn’t really make me feel anything. Even at the time, I was like, “Yay. I like this music. That means I can be friends with other people who say they like this music.”
John Murch: Did you listen to The Offspring album, or did you just play it a couple of times?
Peter Drew: No, I listened to it, and I tried to … I remember finding things in it, but I never thought, “This is me.”
John Murch: I want people to read the books. I’m not going to say too much about this, and I’ve been trying not to. But you have one brother who’s more right of what you are in your views, and then you have one who’s found themselves these days.
Peter Drew: Yeah. I have things that I really like about both of my brothers. And that’s the thing the book is ultimately about, is that you’re going to have disagreements, profound disagreements with the people that you love, and you need to come to terms with that. That doesn’t mean stop loving them. It also doesn’t mean force yourself to agree with them. That happens in families, as it must happen to all of us. Then you can extrapolate that outwards towards the way you treat all people. You should have some element of love for all people. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them completely. There’s always that tension between love and profound disagreement. My family is full of that, and the book is really about being honest about that with them, so that I can get on with the rest of my life.
John Murch: What’s your favorite love song?
Peter Drew: I’m really bad at being pinned down on favorites, because-
John Murch: What comes to mind?
Peter Drew: I was in the supermarket yesterday, and Unchained Melody was on, and I thought, “You know, I actually like this song. It’s actually quite good.” Although, you know, it’s just been spoiled because of the movie Ghost, and all that. I wish I could pull out something quite interesting.
John Murch: You say it’s spoiled by the movie, but you still get your choice to like it beyond that.
Peter Drew: I agree with you. Julie always does this thing whenever a song come son. She always does it for classical music. She goes, “Oh, this is from that scene in Fantasia.” I go, “No Julie, this song is not defined by a Disney movie. You can have it. Take it back, listen to it the way you want to.” That’s the same way I feel about Unchained Melody. But any song that appears in a movie, it’s just a great door to discover that song.
John Murch: Have you had much of a live music experience?
Peter Drew: I mean, I’ve played live a bunch of times, but I’ve never done enough to enjoy it. I mean, it’s one of those things you have to do a bunch of times to sort of –
John Murch: Sure. In terms of going to concerts, I mean.
Peter Drew: Same, in some ways. I mean, I’ve been to a handful of concerts. It’s an odd thing, isn’t it? Because it’s about adjoining a mass of people. You really have to let go in order to get into it. Just trying to think of a concert that I’ve really enjoyed. The concerts I’ve enjoyed the most, when I was quite young and going to the Big Day Out, and it just being this smorgasbord of, “Oh, what are we going to see now? I’ll go over and see this band.” And then just jumping into the mosh pit, and it’s just being in this frenzy. I absolutely loved that. It was sort of so unpretentious because you could just go, “Oh yeah, we’ll just try it out.” Some of the best times I’ve had was with bands that I didn’t really know.
Peter Drew: I remember, I think the Datsuns played. They’re that New Zealand band. They’re awesome, because I was sort of getting into Zeppelin at the time, and they were very sort of Zeppelin-esque. I was just like … I had a terrific time. I guess, when you go to a concert that you really love and you think, “Wow, this is going to be a special experience,” it always builds up too much expectations, sometimes. It’s nice when it’s just a festival atmosphere, and you can just jump in.
John Murch: What has Robert Plant taught you?
Peter Drew: I remember the first time when my friends were introducing me to Led Zeppelin. I saw Robert Plant’s photograph on the liner notes of Remastered, and he was there sort of with his head back, his chest out, and this sort of mane of hair. I thought, “I cannot identify with this guy. He is so full of himself. How can you … That’s ridiculous.” But at some point, I just thought, “No, that’s fantastic, just to be completely comfortable with yourself.” There’s something very sort of magnetic about that. A band like Led Zeppelin is definitely about masculinity, and finding some way of feeling comfortable with it.
Peter Drew: I think, I don’t know, I keep coming back to the book because I’ve just finished writing it. A lot of the book is about trying to find a way of being comfortable with being a man, although it’s a difficult thing, because it’s complicated. Yeah, I look at Robert Plant and say, “Well, there’s a guy who’s very comfortable being a man.” But the thing that I like about him is that he’s not a typical man. He’s very comfortable in masculinity, but there’s something so feminine about him, as well. I think that’s interesting. I think it’s very interesting that in order to be comfortable in masculinity, you need to not be afraid of the feminine, as well. Yeah, maybe that’s the good thing to get from Robert Plant.
John Murch: Let’s talk about another Robert in your life. In your Norwood studio, you had a photo of Robert Hughes, the art critic. Why was that?
Peter Drew: Oh, I love Robert Hughes. I think that he was someone that made me really connect to art in a very sort of literary way, because he was so verbose. Robert Hughes was an Australian art critic, and he had a series called The Shock of the New. It was a television series in which he explains what is modern art, where does it come from, how does it affect the history of art. And he was so talented as explaining art in a way which was accessible, but also very deep. Very cutting, as well. He was not afraid to say what he thought, and whether he liked an artist’s work or not. I think there’s something terrific about that. There’s something flattering about honest criticism. There’s something almost disrespectful about treating somebody as if they’re not strong enough to hear your criticism. That’s what I got from Robert Hughes.
Peter Drew: Yeah, I love all his writing. I love all his TV work. I kind of just like his courage to say exactly what he thinks, and to make it funny, as well.
John Murch: That brings us back to that thing of honesty, as well, how honesty can be one of the strongest things you can give.
Peter Drew: Absolutely. I think, I emphasize that point that it’s respectful to treat somebody like they can take some criticism. If they’re an adult, they should be able to hear something that might offend them. It’s condescending to treat people as if they are somehow all inherently so vulnerable that they can’t hear what you really think. As long as you’re not trying to hurt them. There’s a difference. It’s always based on intention, and so we can’t ever really tell. I mean, it seems like the safest thing to do would be just, don’t upset anybody. Just be super nice all the time. But there’s something fundamentally insulting about that, ironically enough.
John Murch: What kind of music do you think the next generation will be into? Will they be looking at the ’90s as some sort of beautiful era?
Peter Drew: I’m looking forward to being old. And I feel it already, just not understanding what is happening in music. I think … Well, I mean-
John Murch: You didn’t really give your parents that chance, though, did you?
Peter Drew: What do you mean?
John Murch: Well, because you went to their era for your musical influence. So what musical influence will the generation you produce have?
Peter Drew: Well, I guess, I mean … One way to approach that question is, how am I going to offer music to my kids, when I bring them up? I think the way to do it is to just give them as much as possible, and try to help give it some context. Because that helps, I think, is to sort of understand a bit about the era. I mean, I do listen to classical music every now and then because it’s like time travel. It’s like trying to hear the thoughts of somebody who lived hundreds of years ago. Then when you can connect it to other bits of culture, like the books from the time, or what was happening more broadly, it’s finding those connections that really opens up any form of culture. There’ll be a lot of music in the house that will probably … It won’t be on CD though, will it? It will probably be on Spotify.
John Murch: Every city has a sound. Will we be having music more integrated into our streets as your art has become integrated into the streets? Will music become something of the streets?
Peter Drew: I hope not. I mean, I think … you know, it should be personal, as well. For one thing, I like public space, but I don’t particularly like it when you go into a public space, and there’s just sound and music everywhere. It’s a bit of a cacophony. It’s nice when you be in public space, and you can just hear people talking. I wouldn’t like it if it was just … if there’s more music everywhere. I don’t think … there’s lots of music in the world. I don’t think we necessarily just need to have it in more places.
John Murch: Are the 3000 posters, 3000? 4000? About that?
Peter Drew: Between three and five. I’m not very good at keeping count.
John Murch: How many more posters do you have in you before this family becomes the number one ongoing priority?
Peter Drew: That is the question. But I don’t see myself ever stopping. I don’t think that there’s something so dreadfully dangerous about sticking up posters on the street, that I should ever have to give up doing it. That being said, while I was in the States, I was a lot more careful than I am here. I think I’ve just gotten out the aggression with which I used to stick up posters. I really see myself doing it into my old age. I actually prefer the idea of … Isn’t it more interesting? An old man sticking up posters rather than the youthful rebel. That’s a cliché. I’d love to just keep doing it, keep coming up with posters until I cark it. I’d love to just never give up.
John Murch: The drive for which you do your work, will you still have that drive, as you’re saying, when you’re not angry?
Peter Drew: It changes. I think that’s the thing you learn as an artist if you stick at it for any amount of time, is that the youthful energy burns up. But you need to find new reasons for creating, and inevitably do. The reason I make posters now is quite different to the way I did when I was younger. There’s less anger and more consideration. I think you have to be comfortable letting go of the reasons why you used to do it. And it’s natural that you don’t want to get stuck into a trap. Because this happens with all kinds of artists, whether it’s poster artists or musicians, that you become known for doing a certain thing, and then you feel an expectation to keep doing that thing. I’ve always just gradually shifted.
John Murch: You mentioned about masculinity and identity, and I’m sure other interviews will go into more depth regarding this, but do you have a better sense, having done your projects, of who you are as a bloke?
Peter Drew: I think so. I think it’s helped me sort of calm down, in some ways. There’s a bit of catharsis in sticking up thousands of posters. There’s a lot of physical effort that goes into that. Once it’s done, you realize there’s so many more walls in the world. I can stick up posters on all of them. At some point, I need to just sort of relax a bit. But masculinity in general, it’s a very complicated thing. No, I don’t think I understand it entirely, at all, but I feel more comfortable with being a man, being less of a boy, I guess. I just see it as more of taking responsibility for your place in the world. When you’re a child, you can rely on others to take care of you. At some point, you need to take care of others. I think that’s what growing up is all about.
John Murch: Your father, your brothers have read this book now. Is it a good outcome?
Peter Drew: Well, I’ve spoken to my mom and dad, and they’ve both said that they found the book very uncomfortable, which is completely understandable. There are things they really didn’t like about it, which I understand also. But those conversations that we had were some of the better conversations we’ve ever had. And I have a certain amount of faith that in being honest and opening things up, it will help in the long run. I don’t know why I believe that particularly. I just think, more generally, as a rule, honesty and the truth wins, in the end.
John Murch: Is that because honesty has worked in the past for you? That when you have been honest, you’ve been rewarded by more affection or more engagement?
Peter Drew: What I do know is that keeping secrets and hiding from the truth, it sort of festers and corrodes your confidence, your character. So I don’t know that the truth and honesty works, but I do have a pretty strong feeling that the opposite doesn’t work. And that’s enough to guide me, moving forward.
John Murch: If I can quote you, “If lies persist, they gradually erode love into shame.”
Peter Drew: I think that’s true. That happens in all sorts of different ways. You can think about that on a national scale with Australia’s history, or you could think about that with your relationships you have with the people closest to you. If you have some sort of lie, it never really goes away. It can’t be undone just by you keeping it secret. It will sort of chip away at you ever so gradually.
John Murch: Peter Drew, thank you for opening up and chatting to radionotes.
Peter Drew: Thank you very much for having me.