Doing Cobain: Justin Burford
With an ARIA award under his belt, End of Fashion frontman Justin Burford goes cabaret – with Kurt Cobain!
More than a few eyebrows rose when a show about Kurt Cobain was announced for the 2012 Cabaret Festival. But hey, Hugh Sheridan did it for Anthony Newley, so why not the lead in one of Australia’s best power pop bands? “I’ve been a huge Kurt Cobain fan since I was in my early teens,” says Justin, “it was my generation’s first taste of actually belonging to something. Everything about him, and Nirvana, was an inspiration. And I’ve seen some great shows like that from Australian artists, especially John Waters in Looking Through a Glass Onion which he wrote because he loved John Lennon’s music and really wanted to be in it himself! I thought ‘I can do that’ only with Kurt Cobain.”
Now the erratic, erotic front man of the world’s greatest grunge band doesn’t immediately spring to mind as the best subject for cabaret. “And you’d be wrong,” says Justin with a grin, “As I’ve got into it, I can’t believe that no-one’s done it before. The music is incredibly varied. I mean, there are huge thrashy numbers and you’ve got to have 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' in there, but there are so many other songs that aren’t so well known and a lot of them are fantastic for a small band. I wanted to write a show that was part narrative, part music, but not in a sort of statement-song, statement-song way, I wanted it to be more organic. And when you look closely at the music, along with what is known of Kurt’s life, you can see that the music actually fills in a lot of gaps. But there’s also a lot that’s open to interpretation – so I do!”
“I’m sure this is going to be a great show,” Justin says confidently, “I’ve become pretty obsessed with it, and I think I’ve listened to something like three hundred hours of tapes of Kurt speaking in interviews and documentaries and tour videos and everything you can think of. And I’ve got the music going round in my head 24/7. But the thing I haven’t had, for the first time in years, is the pressure of having to write the music yourself! That’s been great, because it’s meant I can concentrate on the narrative and the shape of the show. And it’s all come together really well. And I think it’s great to make a statement about the versatility of cabaret as a form. It was reactionary in its time and I’ll be pretty proud if I can be part of keeping up that tradition.”
Justin Burford’s Kurt is in the Banquet Room from 8 – 10 June. Book at Bass.