This year is Australian punk legends the Hard-Ons’ 30th Anniversary! To mark the milestone they’re touring and delivering a whole lot of punk rock awesome for our pleasure in celebration: YUMMY/DATELESS DUDES’ CLUB 2CD remaster/reissue on CITADEL RECORDS, various split singles on 7″ with THE NECKS, THE MELVINS, NEIL HAMBURGER and PLIGHT SLAPPERS; and a brand new album with Murray (Drums), Ray (bass), Blackie (guitar vocals) and Keish (vocals). They also did a limited edition re-issue of Girl In The Sweater on 7″ for Record Store Day through the raddest music shop in Brisbane Tym Guitars.
I’ve loved these guys forever, one of my old bands actually used to cover their song, There Was A Time. I’ve always been a big fangirl of Ray’s art too; there’s an original piece hanging in my home. They’ve inspired so many people, bands and art—Henry Rollins loves them, so does Ramones, Jello Biafra and well, pretty much most of my musical heroes. I recently caught up with Ray Ahn for a chat.
Before joining The Hard-Ons you did art for the band; how did you transition into playing bass for Hard-Ons?
RAY AHN: My parents bought me a bass because I asked for one, there were many guitar players in my neighbourhood but hardly anyone was playing bass. I figured sooner or later the guys in the DEAD RATS will ask me to join, as their bass player was a great guy but into more rock and not so much punk. When I joined we changed our name to PLEBS then HARD-ONS.
You have such a distinctive art style. Where do you feel your strong original style has developed from? What’s inspired it?
RA: My Mother’s father was a lawyer in Seoul but his passion was drawing, he was quite an artist and he always encouraged me to draw. As a kid I bought a lot of comic books. When my family migrated to Australia I got into superhero comics and my favourite artists were Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby; it is easy to see Jack Kirby’s style in my art. Also I became a big fan of MC ESCHER, Hieronymus Bosch and DALI. A bit like the Hard-ons music, my art tends to have layers of stupid in-jokes. That is because I love the absurdist humour of MONTY PYTHON and such.
What are your favourite kinds of things to draw?
RA: I like using geometrical patterns, I like using popular culture characters to juxtapose against things in nature. I really prefer to draw people and animals. As a rule I do not draw backgrounds and sceneries, I have no interest in things that happen in far distances, as a consequence I find it difficult to draw for other people and other bands. I now say no to bands and magazines if they ask me to draw something for them, as I don’t want to disappoint them, I am too limited in what I can draw.
Previously you’ve said that “in the 80s I did not have any job…I relied on money made from the Hard-ons to live” and these days you work in a record store to pay the bills; what are your thoughts on not having to rely on money made from your art to support yourself and your family?
RA: It would be nice to earn enough money from art to make a living but not at a cost of losing my freedom. For example, I know my two friends Glenn Smith and Ben Brown do a lot of commissioned art to pay bills but I could not do that, as I am far too limited in my skills, and also the whole idea of drawing to someone else’s specific requirements sickens me. I did some stuff back in the 80’s and 90’s and got paid OK but it was prostitution. To do what Ben and Glenn do, one needs to be flexible enough and talented enough. I am not. I wish I could whip up a poster for some techno nightclub etc but it is not in me to be able to do it. Drawing for someone else, for money, it is an entirely different skill-set. Once, the guitar player from Hard-ons said I should go back to commercial art for a living. He thought me stupid for not following up on opportunities of that kind. I asked him if he’d happily write shit songs for someone else for a living. He said no. I told him then, to leave me be. Sometimes, freedom is all you need in life, and everything else will work out OK some way.
How hard is it for you to get your finished piece of art to match with the vision you have for it in your head?
RA: Pretty easy. My art is limited but so is my imagination
What’s your creative process? Can you give us a little insight? How important is art and music in your life?
RA: To be honest I do not live and breathe art and music, these are important but if I keep a distance from them I will only get pleasant surprises rather than crushing disappointments. But that is really a Buddhist way, and many Koreans are Buddhists, as my family were. I only for example draw when I need something whipped up for the Hard-ons. But everyday something quite funny will come to me. I will put it in the memory bank to revisit later. If it is really, really good, I will do a quick sketch. Then I will draw properly later. First in pencil. Then I ink it. As I ink it I change things, because I will get new ideas on the run.
What’s your personal favourite piece of Hard-Ons art you’ve done so far? What significance does it have to you?
RA: It was a drawing of me, Blackie and Keish as members of the KKK. A fascist skinhead at the Gold Coast once bought that shirt at our gig. He had no idea it was ironic. He had no idea there were two coloured pricks in the band. He wanted his money back. We refused. It was the greatest day of my life.
For more HARD-ONS. Be sure to catch them on tour in Australia this month (details below).
*Art featured by Ray. Ray mixed media collage by me.