Listening to old-school Aussie rocker Tex Perkins talking about the health benefits of quitting sugar was not on this writer's bingo card for 2023.
But then again, Perkins has always been unpredictable.
He tells me he has also "greatly reduced" his carb intake and is feeling fit and fabulous. His energy levels have improved too and he's never been busier.
Perkins is about to tour a new version of The Man in Black, his ode to Johnny Cash; he's played gigs with the Beasts (the former Beasts of Bourbon); has recorded new music and continues to write more; and has a reunion tour planned later this year with a band you might have heard of: The Cruel Sea.
He'll perform a solo gig at Wollongong Town Hall on Saturday September 23.
While he is getting the band back together to mark the 30th anniversary of the five-time ARIA-winning album The Honeymoon is Over with a couple of gigs in Sydney in December.
While The Cruel Sea were already a fixture on the live scene at the time of its release - and had released two albums, Down Below and This Is Not the Way Home - it was this 1993 third studio album, produced by Tony Cohen, that thrust the band into the spotlight and hung around in the Top 40 charts for two years after its release.
Perkins, Jim Elliot (drums), Ken Gormley (bass) and Dan Rumour (guitar) will be joined by Matt Walker (guitar/keys) who is filling in for the much-loved, late James Cruickshank. Fans can expect to hear plenty of favourites from The Honeymoon Is Over, and selected songs from across The Cruel Sea's entire catalogue.
"To play with The Cruel Sea was something I wasn't sure would ever happen again," Perkins says in the media release announcing the tour. He was so excited about it he had actually let the cat out of the bag when we spoke a week earlier.
"But believe me it's happening. Rehearsals have been powerful, emotional and joyful. The Cruel Sea have a sound that can't be found anywhere else."
A cheeky and animated Perkins is keen to chat about anything and everything when ACM calls, including his new, sugar-free existence.
"Yep, I've changed my diet. I've been fat-shamed on Facebook too many times," he says, laughing.
"I had tried to get my shit together before - I exercised and I stopped drinking for a period - but I hadn't really been able to shift anything until I gave up sugar and greatly reduced my carb intake.
"I started last December. I didn't have a particular goal in mind but I knew that I didn't feel good."
The first thing he did was stop putting honey in his tea. He also stopped indiscriminately scoffing chocolate or packets of chips, and quit filling his stomach with a late-night sandwich or bowl of cereal before bed.
He says he has adjusted to the idea of feeling "empty" and now quite likes it.
"My doctor said to me, find a way to eat less. The bad shit wants to be fed and the cravings you get from sugar and carbs are hard to ignore. Your stomach screams at you, you know, wanting to be fed," Perkins says.
"When I stopped feeding the cycle, the screaming quietened down. Everything in my body suddenly stopped aching. My complexion improved.
"I haven't stopped drinking entirely. I like to have a drink, but I drink professionally. I only drink at work [laughs]."
Did I mention he's never been busier, work wise?
"Call me old-fashioned but I need a couple of drinks to get into the entertainment frame of mind. I can do it without, but a couple of little kickstarters help," he says.
"Everything is about balance. Sobriety means nothing if you haven't been drunk. It's doing the same thing every day that's the problem. You can have sugar, or beer, or whatever, but just not every day.
"You've got to be able to visit these things and you've got to be able to walk out of the room too. I've always been able to do that while my friends were drug addicts and alcoholics and into all these activities which I dipped into but never got fully immersed in.
"It would have been rude not to participate, somewhat [laughs], but the never-ending cycle that some people get on never seemed appealing to me."
Perkins has lived a rock'n'roll lifestyle for decades, touring with his bands The Cruel Sea, Beasts of Bourbon, the Dark Horses and the Fat Rubber Band, as well as sharing the studio and stage with artists like Tim Rogers or Charlie Owens.
He's realistic about the toll it can take.
"You can depend on youth for a while, and you can get away with anything, and you reach your 40s and then you start to pay," he says.
"I'm 58 and I've flicked the switch. I'm slow to call it a health thing because a lot of people wouldn't agree with my meat eating and the drinking - the professional drinking - but all the disciplines and exercises I did to try to change things were useless while there was still sugar in my body."
With more energy, a greater fitness level and a reduced waistline came greater clarity and creativity. In his words, "there's a lot of stuff going on".
"I am writing and I'm moving from one project to the next, but a lot of it is presenting things that I've done before in a new context," Perkins explains.
"Like The Man in Black, it's a show we've done for over 10 years but this time we've freshened it up with a new script, new dialogue, a slightly different take on the story."
Then there's the creativity involved in bringing back his Beasts of Bourbon bandmates and reliving their back catalogue live on stage.
Anniversaries are hitting me in the face by the week. The Honeymoon is Over is 30, and the Beasts' formation was 40 years ago. Every time I turn around there's an anniversary.- Tex Perkins
"A couple of weekends ago I played with the Beasts, and these are guys I've known for 40 years. I wanted to play with these people again before any more of us shuffle off, which my friends tend to do," Perkins says.
"We're rock'n'rollers in our 50s, 60s and 70s, some of us. The Beasts literally nurtured me as a youngster, an 18-year-old, and they're all older than me, I love them.
"So there was a certain creativity and clarity in bringing that together.
"A lot of thought and heart was put into it, and it was just such a pleasure to play with those people again, and to hear Kim Salmon play that guitar the way he does, and have James Baker ... well, just to have him play again, he is one of my dearest friends.
"It was that tearful mix of meaningful communion of people and good rock 'n' roll music.
"It was very emotional and sentimental, but not overly so, and it certainly honoured the relationships that we all have."
His voice falters when he mentions Baker, who has been battling cancer for several years. It does so again when he mentions his Cruel Sea bandmate James Cruickshank, who lost his battle with cancer in 2015.
"Anniversaries are hitting me in the face by the week. The Honeymoon is Over is 30, and the Beasts' formation was 40 years ago. Every time I turn around there's an anniversary," Perkins says.
"I feel very well and in good health but I'm living my life as if I'm running out of time. This year is a distilled microcosm of my life and career and there are a lot of significant things I'm getting to do, and revisit.
"The big hurdle to a Cruel Sea reunion was not wanting to be disrespectful to James, or maybe it was just too painful. The time had to be right, and the next person had to fit."
Perkins has been working with guitarist and singer Matt Walker since the mid-1990s and calls him "my current great collaborator".
It comes as no surprise to find out it is Walker who will be filling the gap left by Cruickshank for The Cruel Sea's reunion shows later this year.
"As a duo, Matt and Ash Davies used to open for The Cruel Sea. We loved their music," he says.
"He joined the cast of The Man in Black about 10 years ago, so I've worked with him in that context too, and then in 2017 we started working together as a duo and writing songs together, and we just haven't looked back.
"And as I said, Matt is in pretty much everything that I do. I'm lucky to have him.
"He's certainly the right guy for me to collaborate with right now and we're continuing to write new songs as well as investigating my back catalogue and coming up with ideas.
"If I can find the time we're going to record again as soon as possible. You get that itch and the songs start to scream at you."
He has been reading a book by US record producer Rick Rubin which has "resonated strongly" with him (The Creative Act: A Way of Being).
"There's a part where he says sometimes artists can have the same ideas simultaneously and it's not because they're copying each other, it's because an idea's time has come," Perkins explains.
"His take is that artists are transmitters, receivers, and if you're open, stuff will be handed to you.
"It's more about being able to receive ideas rather than conjure them up yourself. Ideas aren't ours, really, they're gifts that are given and you're expected to share."
He recalls a timely anecdote involving his son Louie, 12.
"A couple of years ago I was walking through the lounge room and Louie was playing the guitar and I was like 'What's that?' and he said 'Oh just this thing I'm mucking around with'. Anyway, I pinched that riff and wrote a song," Perkins says, laughing.
"He got a fat third of the writing credits on that song, it's called The Last Drop and it's on The Fat Rubber Band album Other World."
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