In 2014, I caught up with Justin Heazlewood (AKA The Bedroom Philosopher) following a performance at Queensland Poetry Festival. In August 2017, he will return to the line-up with his highly-praised “Cat Show”. As such, I thought now would be a great time to share some of the best bits from one of my favourite interviews.
Do you still get nervous when you perform live? How do you conquer those fears?
Yes. It used to be more of a loose shock, like weeing on an electric fence – these days it’s more of a focused buzz – like eating good Indian. The key to success is cutting down the amount of ‘nerves’ time before a show. In the early days it’s anywhere up to a month. These days it’s perhaps the morning of the gig. Yoga helps. Meditation helps. Arrogance helps.
If you weren’t a performer, what would you be doing?
Being mentally ill, probably wandering the streets. I would make a good social worker/ guru touring schools and helping kids with issues about self-esteem. This is something I am trying to do more of.
I’m fusing my Bedroom Philosopher skills into a presentation that can fire up school kids and remind them that everyone is messed up and lonely and that it will probably all be okay. That said, I can’t cure cyber bullying – that’s one complex dude.
Who inspires you, both professionally and personally?
I am inspired by artists who have ignored commercial trajectories and just made the work they wanted to make. I recently interviewed over 100 artists for my book Funemployed.
In particular, I was taken with Tony Martin and John Clarke’s attitudes. They don’t have agents, they just keep firing up and making their own work and relying on their personal networks and collaborations. It was a very similar ethos to the one I’ve had – and I’m at a stage in my mid-career where I really need to hear from older artists who are still doing it – because in some ways the world is screaming at you to give up and go away and have kids and disappear.
In your book, you talk about jealousy as being “The Black Cat”. Who are you jealous of and why?
I’m usually jealous of any musical comedy act with more Youtube views and Facebook likes than me. That’s most of them to be honest. I’ve been massively overtaken in the past five years. Mostly by acts who do one thing very well and are extremely clear and concise to market to an Australian middlebrow audience who detest being confused. It meant a lot to write that chapter and clear the air.
To be honest, I’m not so phased by any of these acts any more. I have come to the spiritual conclusion that they are on their path – I’m on mine. I’m a cult artist and part of being ‘cult’ is being criminally undervalued and obscure. I have to remind myself that being unpopular is cool. Right? I rock. Hard. In the corner. By myself.How did writing Funemployed differ from writing The Bedroom Philosopher Diaries?
I wrote Funemployed from scratch, with an editor and had to pitch the book and write test chapters and it was a completely new experience. BP Diaries was a collection of previously written material that I put together myself.
Funemployed I had to earn my keep. I didn’t know how to write a book. Especially not a non-fiction slash memoir slash self-help with over 100 interviews and twenty chapters. I wrote three drafts and worked with two editors and was given feedback like “I’m not sure why I’m reading this – the narrative isn’t working.” And “you sound a bit cold and snarky, let’s warm up the tone.”
I learned how to write a book by writing this one. It was challenging and I was intimidated, but I was in good hands and had a lot of support along the way. I was also time-rich and worked full-time hours on it – and it still took me two years.
You say that Australia is happy with the status quo when it comes to the arts industry and is dubious when people change things up, yet this is something that you do constantly. Why?
As an artist I get bored. As a person I get bored. My instinct is to do the opposite of what I just did. Like Beck with his genre-morphing albums during the 90’s. I not only change genres but art-forms. I’m good at writing, I’m good at music, I’m good at comedy, I’m good at acting. I want to do them all, whenever there’s an opportunity.
I’m a big showoff and have been since school. I have ten projects in mind right now – a play, another book, a serious album, a musical, a school tour, a one man erotic live cookbook adventure. My mind is broiling with ideas – all day, everyday.
The idea of being “NORTHCOTE GUY” or “I’m SO POST MODERN MAN” and playing the same hits to the same people might make sense from a managers or an accountants or an audiences point of view. (DO WHAT YOU’RE KNOWN FOR AND TAKE THE MONEY YOU IDIOT). But I cannot do it because I am ARROGANT when it comes to my own tastes and I will not compromise my ideals. (EVEN IF THAT MEANS BEING $20k in debt and sad). Paradox wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a blanket.
How does performing at poetry festivals such as this differ from performing at other festivals and venues?
Poetry audiences are the best in the world. It’s the ones who’s cracked that the light shines through, as Jeffrey Lewis said. They get me. They laugh. They appreciate madness. They are not scared of it.
You were a senior writer for frankie for five years and have written for various other publications. Is your approach to that different from when you write a song?
Yes, a column is different. It’s 650 words. A song is about 100.
Do you believe in writer’s block and if so, what is your cure?
Fear causes writers block. Fear causes life block. You have to have a cup of tea and a hand-job and carry on.
What are some highlights in your career?
Supporting Amanda Palmer on her national tour in 2012. I played to sold out 1000 seat venues like some champion.
What are your regrets?
I don’t really believe in regret. It’s a word I never use. I see many things I could have done differently – but what are you going to do – go back in time to when you were born and kill your parents and take care of yourself? I lived the life I lived and I was the mid-20s mental who swung wildly from one gig to another impressing some and alienating others. Good on me.
As I say in Funemployed if I hadn’t made all those mistakes I wouldn’t have any lessons to impart. Without a train wreck, there’s no story. My main regrets are simple and accurate. Not kissing Tenille Alford behind the cabins in Grade 6. Paying for my Xmas EP with a cash advance on my credit card (higher interest than if you charged it).
As The Bedroom Philosopher, you’ve been known to perform on trams in Melbourne. Have you got any plans for gigs on other forms of transport, such as the new Gold Coast light rail, or even a plane, like the cast of the Lion King?
Does a waterslide count as transport? I would like to perform “I’m So Post Modern” while going down one of those speed tubes at Wet N Wild.
[Editor/Author Note:This interview was first published by Aphra Mag in October 2014]