Band Interview: Greatest Hits (Interviewed By Me, Big G)

Scotland and Australia share a long history of cultural collaboration.  When you think of Bon Scott and AC/DC, Colin Hay and Men At Work, Crocodiles and Dundee…You can now think of Greatest Hits and me, Big G.

I saw the (currently) three piece wonder-band on the 24th of May in Glasgow supporting Donny Benét on his European tour.  Enchanted by the sounds that they made and the shapes that they cut I reached out for an interview.

I spoke to Greatest Hits via video call on the 29th of May as they drive through Belgium on their way to Paris for the final gig of the tour.  Guitarist Ryan rides shotgun holding the laptop, Bassist Henry shares the back bench with a floor-to-ceiling stack of instruments, cable bags, and stands, and Singer Chelsea is in the driver’s seat.

Hello and welcome to OTR, can you introduce yourselves for us?
Ryan – We are Ryan, Henry and Chels from Greatest Hits. Currently on the road from Amsterdam to Paris, last night of the tour! 23 days in and we’re onto the last night.

You’re currently on tour all the way from Australia but Australia’s a big place, where abouts are you from?
Ryan – So we all live in Queensland, Chelsea and I are from a place just north of Brisbane called Sunshine Coast and Henry’s in Brisbane. He’s a big city boy.

At the live show you talked a bit about the band’s name, Greatest Hits, can you tell us a bit about that?
Chelsea – (Laughing) yeah, I think we regret that almost daily 

Ryan – The name started out as just a joke. I came home really late one night and just dropped a fun song.  And the next day I wrote another demo and was just joking around with a friend of mine saying there might be something to this, maybe we should come out and make the first album a greatest hits record. And then “Maybe we should just call the band Greatest Hits!”. But we had no intention of taking it further than that first night it was just a bit of fun.

But then at the time all three of us were living in Leeds in England, and I think it was one of our promoter friends or someone in another band somehow heard one of these demos and asked if we’d like to play a show there. That kind of kicked things off. We played a show and before we knew it Greatest Hits became a thing, and it was too late to change the name.

After the gig on the 24th I was trying to describe Greatest Hits and all I could come up with was that you sound like “Good vibes in a bottle”, how to you describe what you do?
Chelsea – I like that!

Henry – I guess the word “Groovy” always comes up.  It’s kind of Indy pop or Sunshine pop…feel good stuff. 

There are only 3 of you, and you use programmed drums and keys live, is that something you always planned on doing? Or is it, I don’t know, are Australian drummers a pain in the arse like Scottish ones?
Ryan – It’s universal!

Chelsea – Yeah that’s it!

Ryan – It’s a bit of a funny story actually, we can thank Donny Benét for the drum machine show. Going back around a year or so ago we got asked to support Donny on the Australian tour. He wanted us to perform as an electronic two-piece version of Greatest Hits.

Chelsea – At that time we usually played as a five-piece.

Ryan – Minimum five-piece, sometimes up to like eight or nine people. Quite a big set up. (At this point the recording cut briefly but Ryan was explaining they were asked to go on the tour but thought they wouldn’t get the slot) We said we can’t do it with two people, but we can probably pull it off with three people. Not thinking that we’d get it. Then we got it and the tour started in like a week. So, we had to figure out how to play the songs with three people. But we’ve actually toured a lot now as a three-piece.

That’s cool, I did see on your Facebook a video of you playing with two live drummers.
Ryan – Yeah, we’ve done that quite a bit as well.

I know some people get snobby about digital and virtual instruments, but I think its quite cool actually having these instruments as part of the band?
Ryan – It’s really fun doing different versions of the live set up as well. Some songs after playing them with live drums you wouldn’t expect them to work with a drum machine. It’s a nice surprise. Some of them maybe even work better. And the drum machine is reliable! Never plays out of time.

Chelsea – It only shows how badly we play out of time haha!

You all sing and swap between different keyboards and percussions during the set, how do you find writing songs for a band with more instruments than musicians?
Henry – Ha! I’ve never thought about that before.

Ryan – Maybe we should think about that because it is quite problematic.  I mean I feel like it’s the big temptation for anyone recording music to keep adding and it can be difficult to keep discipline that way.  At some point you’ve actually got to figure out how to play it live.  It’s something that we try to be aware of and it’s a nice challenge to try and keep the arrangements really lean.  Which we sometimes do better, sometimes not so good.

I did like the way some of the songs were arranged, and I have a question for Henry up the back, with Ryan playing a lot of lead lines on the guitar it leaves a lot of room for you to use the higher end of your bass, do you prefer a more melodic style of bass playing?
Henry – I’ve always enjoyed playing that sort of style. All of my bass influences are the flashier style of players. I Really like the Motown stuff like Marvin Gaye, kinda fun stuff like Bootsy Collins who play all over bass as a melodic instrument. And we like that old soul music and R&B and stuff. 

Aye, you can hear that influence.
Henry – It would be nice to have the chance to do it, but the way the songs are… especially with the drum machine there’s no shredding solos or improvisation. Everything’s got to be locked in quite nicely.  But it’s a lot of fun and better than you know just chugging along on the E string.

And Ryan when you play you have a huge pedal board going on can you tell us a bit about what you have and what you use?
Chelsea – I think we’d need to use the whole zoom chat to go over that…

Ryan – My pedal board’s not too big actually. 

(Chelsea gave a healthy sensible chuckle at this suggestion BTW) Years ago when I started playing electric guitar, I bought the pedal board I have now.  As in the actual board that pedals sit on, and I have been committed to sticking to the same size.  Because you do see some guys with these huge pedal boards, and they just keep adding more and more pedals.  For me it’s kind of like our live show with the three of us.  We try to do what we can with what we have and as little as we have.  So yeah, I actually don’t have that much going on but I’ve found a way to use it quite efficiently I guess.

I have this switcher that allows me to do some things with re-ordering effects and programming certain things so that allows me to get the most out of my pedal board.  There’s probably one pedal that’s part of my sound if you like.  I couldn’t do what I do without this pedal.  It’s called a Sea Machine, by Earthquaker.  It’s kind of this really whacky chorus, that does your typical 80’s sound but it can get quite crazy and choppy and an almost vibrato effect as well.  So, it’s not too complicated: A chorus, a phaser, delay…no reverb or anything like that.

We could do a whole separate video call on my pedal board later if you like!  Though it’s probably not what everyone else wants to hear.

Well, who cares about what everyone else wants to hear? I’m doing the interview.

As well as the songs, which is what we’re all there for of course, you were all really movin’ and groovin’ on stage too, is there band choreographer?
Ryan – I can’t take any credit for that.

Chelsea – It’s really me and Henry.

Ryan – Chelsea and Henry are the dancers and I …hold them back.

Chelsea – For one of our music videos we came up with a dance for it, and me and Henry were just sending each other so many videos of us doing these weird moves.  I would have been so embarrassed to do that in any other context, all the weirdest moves we could think of.

Speaking of your songs, I’d love to ask about two songs on your album Vol. 1.  “Lemon Joe” and “Phil, Slow it Down”.  Are lemon Joe and Phil based off real people?
Ryan – Oh yeah Lemon Joe is definitely based off a real person.  (Here Ryan held a devilish smile but said no more about this mystery figure)

“Phil, Slow It Down” not so much.  That’s just an observation of you know, people just racing through life and taking pride in their busy-ness.  People who like to show “I’m the one climbing the ladder.”

On Vol. 2 you have a song called “Palm Springs”, but you told us at the live show you’ve never been to Palm Springs. Have any of the cities on this tour inspired any new songs?
Ryan – I’m sure they will.

Chelsea – Glasgow obviously!

Glen (Interviewer) – Oh aye, everyone loves Glasgow.

Ryan – It’s kind of funny touring because you think you’ll have all this free time and for some reason you have all these grand plans for things you want to do on the road, but it just doesn’t happen. I think we all brought empty notebooks.

Chelsea – And exercise gear. I thought I’d be running along the canals of Amsterdam but really, I just slept so late, and you guys knocked on my door like “WE’VE GOT TO GO!”

Ryan – I think the skipping ropes only been used once and instead of coming back with books full of lyrics we’ve mostly been doing calculations for merch orders.

Going back to your question, whenever you’re out doing stuff, it always inspires.  Once we get back to Australia we’re back into recording and I know things will come up for sure.

To speak of the little free time you have…Chelsea, You may remember trying to pull the house down doing a pull up on the beam over the stage.
Chelsea – Yeeaahh I remember.

 How do you spend your free time?  Are you very Rock ‘n’ Roll? Do you trash the place and throw roadies out windows?
Chelsea – Look at me man, I’m so Rock ‘n’ Roll! (Chelsea is dutifully keeping her eyes on the road, her hands upon the wheel. And nothing is more Rock ‘n’ Roll than road safety, kids).

I’ve been hitting oolong tea so hard, I’m probably the oppose of Rock ‘n’ Roll. And mostly I was so disappointed because I think I can do a pull up, but I was so scared of breaking the place and after I was like “Damn, I could have done that”

(Sorry for bringing up these traumatic memories if you’re reading this Chelsea.)

Chelsea – I think on tours like these which are so long, and we’ve only had one day off you do have to be disciplined and professional otherwise you’re just going to lose your voice or get sick and you can’t do it.  Sorry to disappoint!

Henry – We got all our partying done on the second night of the tour in Zurich. Someone handed Chelsea like, I don’t even know, half a litre of tequila in this big glass tumbler.

Chelsea – Yeah, we got the partying done on the second night and decided to leave it until Paris…and tonight’s Paris so let’s see!

How has the tour been for you? Has it been what you expected?
Chelsea – It’s been so good.

Ryan – It’s been better than we expected.

Chelsea – I can’t remember if I said in Glasgow, but growing up in Australia the idea of touring in Europe was so glamorous and now we’re doing it it’s pretty amazing. I think every day for the first week I was thinking “what the heck, is this real life?” I can’t believe we just get to turn up on the other side of the world and play music to a room full of beautiful strangers. It’s been incredible.

Ryan – And Donny has some great fans. I think he attracts a really nice group of people. And you know he’s playing nice venues he’s set the bar really high. It might be difficult to follow this up with anything.

What’s on the cards after you do get home?  Is there another tour?  Is there a Vol. 3 coming?
Henry – We’ve got another tour around Australia. I had to rebook my flight three times I think because flights got cancelled and me and Emma (who is accompanying Greatest Hits in the car in between Henry and a very well Tetrised stack of boxes and bags). Have plans after this and our flight is booked the day of the show in Adelaide. So, off the plane and straight back on stage in Adelaide.

Ryan – We have a single coming out about then, so new music as well.

How are the Australian scenes? Are they recovering from covid restrictions? Are the venues open and the crowds there?
Ryan – We’re good in Australia now, I don’t think we have any restrictions. We’ve been open for gigs for a little while now.

Finally, you said it was difficult so help us out, how can we find your music and your socials?
Chelsea – We actually found a hack from speaking to people after the shows who have managed to find us.  That is if you search “Greatest Hits” under the artists tab on Spotify you find us pretty easily.  That or search the name of our songs…maybe you can help us with that.

Glen (Interviewer) – And I certainly will help with that.  I recommend looking for “Phil, Slow It Down”, “Pleasure to Meet You”, or “Banana Moon”.

Thanks for the interview!  I’ll be keeping an eye open for the new single, and if you’re ever back in Scotland I’ll be sure to come along.

Greatest Hits will be playing a number of dates across Australia from the 24th of June to the 29th of July.  They also have a single coming out so keep an eye on their sites.

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