Mary Boukouvalas talks to a star not to be sneezed at

Nic Dalton is one of a kind. Not only does he sing, play bass guitar, guitar, keyboard, harmonica, percussion, and design the art work for his current band Sneeze, he also owns and runs the Half A Cow record label, and has been in such bands as the Kombi Nation, Ratcat, The Plunderers, Hippy Dribble, Godstar, and the Lemonheads, just to name a few. No wonder I felt quite intimidated before the phone rang, but Nic quickly put me at ease with his unpretentiousness and good sense of humour.

After all, who else would tell me about their on-the-road antics, including one of the band's funnier moments where Nic bought a yellow scarf and glasses in Violet Town and thought it was really "70's style funky" until someone said he looked like Tootsie.

Nic actually really enjoys the road trips, where he and the other band members, Tom Morgan and Simon Gibson, discuss social and political issues. "You should hear us; we all get so angry about the issues that make people angry... such as Australia's immigration policy... the Capitalist conservatives and... how we hate John Howard and how come we keep voting in someone with no heart and soul". But when the band get up on stage, Nic is too polite to offend his audience and states: "I want to entertain people, get them away from their worries... although in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, I started yelling 'war on terrorism' and anti-army/bombing but I was sort of singing it in a song".

Many concealed messages are incorporated into Sneeze lyrics and poppy tunes, Sneeze write a lot of their songs from the female's point of view of the relationship. Nic doesn't know why. He says "it just sort of evolved". It just goes to show what sensitive guys they really are. The Tittie Bar Suite, on their latest release, is a 13-minute journey though the sad world of strip clubs, seen through the eyes of a lonely customer, a club MC, and a single mother stripper with a law degree. Nic states: "Tittie Bar was about us having bleeding hearts".

Sneeze are not predictable. There are the "throwaway songs" on their debut album 41-songs-in-47-minutes, the nineteen-minute epic on their second album The Four Seezons, the more consistent soulful songs on their third album Lost The Spirit To Rock & Roll, and on their latest release The Maybe Moving In EP there is, as Nic describes it, "a continuation of that same soulful vibe" of Lost The Spirit To Rock & Roll.

Released on 15th April, The Maybe Moving In EP features the cheery and comical Maybe Moving In Together Wasn't Such A Good Idea, which was briefly adopted by Big Brother last year. As to their thoughts on suddenly being thrust into the mainstream market, Nic and the band "all thought it was really hilarious".

"Here we are," he explains, "this small band on this small label, getting no support from 3JJJ or from the music industry in general, and suddenly we're on the biggest rating show; receiving all this coverage and they're playing six out of our songs and it's more than any of the other bands. We thought it was really funny and it was sort of exciting really cause here's this culture show, where everyone either loved them or hated them or loved to hate them, and we were part of it but the irony of it was no one knew who we were and we were trying to sell records and telling everyone 'hey, we're that band...' and they just weren't believing us. So the record hasn't been a real seller due to it... and maybe our fans thought we were going commercial but the airplay happened by chance... they liked what they heard; the colourful lyrics, the fun music which really suited it and I don't think they actually realised how much they played it til it was all over".

"The same thing happened last month on Triple M, with I Wanna Be A Woman, where they were using it in their promotional ads for a competition they were running and we were being played 5 times an hour for about a month and a half, but no one knew who we were".

Other songs on The Maybe Moving In EP include the beautiful and catchy (Love Theme From) Cousin Erich, (Theme From) Smoke! - Sneeze's light-hearted theme song for a 70's TV show, whose hero is a Shaft-esque Native American Private Investigator, and my favourite, Beibe Pelu, which is a Spanish rendition of Baby Asleep, with the exquisite vocals of Leticia Nischang (of Spain's 120 mins).

What really stands out in all the tracks is the lyrical humour. And this is also transported onto the stage where the songs varied and fun, and the line-up of guest singers and performers, who suddenly pop up from out of the audience, is always interesting and entertaining. This occurs not only with Sneeze, but also with Nic's other bands, as all those lucky Melburnians who witnessed Lick at The Corner last year would testify. Lick was a small side project put together on the early 90s and included Evan Dando on vocals and lead guitar, Tom Morgan on bass and Nic Dalton on drums. When Evan Dando was close to the end of his set in Melbourne, where Sneeze had earlier played in support, there was an announcement made that a 10 year anniversary reformation of the band Lick was about to take place. Evan, Tom and Nic, with Chris Brokaw adding an extra guitar, deliver fantastic punk rock versions of Luka, Different Drum and lastly Rabbit, where Simon takes over from Nic on the drums and Nic works wonders on the Casio. And with the Lick thing, Nic comments that it was Evan who was "the one that was most keen, saying 'yeah we've got to do it' and knowing Evan we'll probably do one in another 10 years time".

So, despite the rumours, Evan and Nic are still good mates. Nic comments that "I'll get these crazy messages from Evan saying 'guess what, I've just been to Burt Bacharach's party'... when he heard we were going over to Europe, he looks like he might be coming over, which will be really good in some of those countries where we're totally unknown, Spain and England we're sort of well-known, but some other countries like Germany or France...".

Nic is definitely too modest. The European tour plans in July are centred round a UK label wanting to release Sneeze over there and a Spanish label wanting to release a compilation of Godstar songs. In addition, last year Sneeze did sell-out shows in America and their records sell really well over there.

Although Godstar will be performing overseas, Nic says there are no plans to do so in Australia. Recently, however, Nic revealed that "Godstar did Teenage Fanclub's Starsign for a tribute record... and, though Godstar finished in 97, with this new version, we didn't know what name to put this under so we thought Godstar - Starsign --- and the sort of same era".

Nevertheless, Nic is more focussed on Sneeze at the moment, and constantly writing new material for the band. Sneeze have already started recording their new album and Nic says "it's more rock... pretty cruisey". Nic tells of one of the songs that involves The Posies, and how they started recording in 1996 with John Auer when The Posies were still together, then they recorded Ken Stringfellow's part in 1990 - even though The Posies had split up; and then they finished the recording when Ken came back last year and The Posies were back together again. Other plans for Sneeze include a follow up to the 41 songs in 47 mins.

Nic is also writing other songs, apart from Sneeze - maybe for a solo album or for another band, but he's in no hurry to release everything. He states: "I keep writing all the time but if I'd release everything I record now it'd be quantity rather than quality - I'm in no rush, there's too much being released at the moment and I'd fell guilty adding to that".

With such honesty, it's cool to trust that Nic is also sincere then he says that Sneeze "really love Melbourne; we played there 9 times last year. We got a really good response to our album and we get a good response to our shows". I'm sure they'll do just as well on their promotional tour of The Maybe Moving In EP this week.

Catch Sneeze at The Empress on Friday, The Tote on Saturday and The Espy on Sunday for their famous three-setter.

Beat Magazine, April 2002