Interview: Bryon Jones
The Rockmelons founding member-turned-producer on making it in a rock-oriented industry
Interview from February 2021
Formed around the nucleus of brothers Bryon and Jonathon Jones, and Bryon's friend Ray Medhurst, Rockmelons gained a reputation for their warehouse parties in Sydney and a taste in music that was anything but mainstream. By the end of the decade, they were one of the most popular non-rock bands in the country. Chart Beats caught up with Bryon to discuss Rockmelons' metamorphosis. The extended interview covers the challenges of debut album Tales Of The City, the band's collaboration with Deni Hines and beyond.
Can you sum up the genesis of Rockmelons?
Ray and I met at NIDA in 1977, and the group is essentially Ray and self-taught musos in me and my brother, who was 15 at that point and still living in Canberra. Ray and I got along at a musical level incredibly well — we just loved music — and he was a doorway to alternate stuff. When punk hit, Ray was the first one who showed me a Ramones cover. Jonathon was in punk bands, and Ray and I would throw warehouse parties. We’d put the music together and get Jonathon’s band to play. The three of us would do strange little instrumental songs with spoken word and call it the Rockmelons.
What happened from there?
When Jonathon finished school, he came to Sydney, and he and I played in bands, making our way through new wave and all that. Ray worked at Phantom Records, which was ground zero for everything cool. He went to New York, and it was right as hip-hop exploded. He came back to Australia with armfuls of hip-hop that no one was playing. Jonathon and my reaction was, “That’s just people shouting over music.” Then he played us “Standing On The Top” by Rick James & The Temptations, and it was like a light went off. At this point, Cold Chisel and guitar rock was king, and we were this strange little outfit putting on warehouse parties once every six months. We brought in a school friend Vince [Dale], because he knew what a chord was and could play a keyboard. And it went from there. Slowly we gathered a reputation as a party you should go to. We didn’t really have aspirations beyond that, although I suppose my inner producer started to emerge and wanted to take it further. Then I remember saying, “We need to get a singer."
So you got three: John Kenny, Sandi Chick and Peter Blakeley.
That’s right. I overreacted and got three. Geoff Stapleton, who was in GANGgajang [and played with Rockmelons], had a friend, John Kenny. Geoff played me some of John’s singing, and I swear you could see my cut-out in Geoff’s front door where I’d run straight
Rockemlons on Chart Beats
through it with a cassette in my hands to Jonathon and Ray going, “I’ve found the singer!” John is a very shy man, and we rang him up and said, “Do you want to sing in our band?” and he said, “No. I couldn’t.” We were playing [a gig] and I said, “Come if you want,” and he went, “I might be there and I might not.” Classic John. He was there and watched us at the back of the room. Years later, he told me he said to himself, “What have I done?” So he told us he’d sing for us. He loved the set — it was from another planet compared to everything else that was going on. Our mission was to throw a great party and have fun, which is why “Time Out (For Serious Fun)” is the name of that first independent single.
That single made the top 100. How did that feel?
Surreal and thrilling. We made a little independent record with Phantom Records, and it was a one-page agreement that said if it makes some money, we’ll make some money. And we made more money off that single than we ever made again, because it was a proper independent record where you share in the profits and you make it for nothing. In the ’80s, once you signed with a major, you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and never recouped. [That first deal] was the best deal we ever did, and we just continued to do a string of shitty deals after that like every other band in the ’80s.
With Sandi and Peter, were they part of the band or was it flexible?
It was a bit flexible. I saw Sandi singing with a country act called The Cheating Hearts. I’m the world’s biggest Dusty Springfield fan so when I heard her, I just went, “You’re coming with us.” And Blakeley was around — another Canberra boy. So we ended up with this barrage of incredible singers, and it’s probably something that’s been a mark of my career — I’ve been able to spot a good singer and choose the right song for them. We did [second single] “Sweat It Out” with Peter Blakeley [on lead], and that didn’t really work. I just felt that the record didn’t sound right and that was a bitter learning curve for me. Johnno and Ray were like, “It’s fine. What are you going on about?” but for me it was a turning point. I was like, “I’m not putting out another record that doesn’t sound competitive at radio.” I wanted to compete. Ray said, “We just need a producer.” We actually didn’t know how to make records.