Like many Australian musicians, Divinyls singer Christina Amphlett has a rather dry sense of humor. Which may be why, when congratulated on the band's recent Top-10 hit, "I Touch Myself," she answers in absolute deadpan, "Well, it's an overnight success,really,isn't it?
Sure it is -- if your idea of "overnight" is four albums over eight years. But Amphlett enjoys the joke almost as much as she relishes the attention her band is finally receiving. "It's just great that people like you -- for a change" she says, laughing. "Everything is much nicer. You can afford to pay your bills, things like that."
Why people wouldn't have liked the group before "I Touch Myself" isn't too hard to understand, though. Despite the fact that the band's early albums -- particularly its American debut, "Desperate" -- include some of the most electrifying and visceral rock and roll ever to have bubbled up from down under, the group's sound and stage presence was considered a bit too intense for most pop fans.
It wasn't just the band's brash instrumental attack, which seemed to blend the stripped-down melodicism of the Easybeats with the brawny overdrive of AC/DC; it was also the rather extreme approach to character in Amphlett's lyrics. "Only Lonely," from "Desperate," included couplets like this: "He said, C'mon baby, not on the first date/ So I said, OK, baby, how long must I wait?"
"Only Lonely," like a number of the band's early songs, was first heard in the soundtrack to "Monkey Grip," an Australian film about desperate living in Melbourne's junkie subculture. Even so, says Amphlett, "We didn't write those songs particularly for the movie. They were written out of experience. The things that I saw, and the things that I wanted to write about were real. I was living in a $20-a-week flea pit -- there were rats running around, and stuff like that -- and the characters were real."
A lot has changed since then, needless to say. Amphlett now has a nice house in Sydney, while guitarist Mark McEntee -- her chief co-conspirator in the group -- has a farm in Queensland. Yet though the music's intensity has diminished with "Divinyls," the band's current album ("You don't want to go and slash your wrists now," Amphlett laughs), it hasn't really gone away.
"I think we've just matured," Amphlett says. "Record by record, you realize what you're doing, and that's basically what happened with this record. We've redefined what we'd done on the others. Maybe people saw Divinyls as being a little psychotic, but this record is more sensual."
"I Touch Myself," with its references to self-stimulation, is the most obvious example on that front. Ironically, though, Amphlett says that the song's original intent was anything but carnal. "It was also written in a heartfelt way," she explains, "touching yourself in a heartfelt way. That was the initial thing, as opposed to the other side of it. But I like double-entendres, so . . .
"It didn't worry me at all, because I really liked it," she adds, "but the musicians were shocked. The musicians freaked, because they didn't see me like that, and they were really worried for me. I don't think they are now; I think they've come to terms with it. But at first, they said, 'How could you?' "
Amphlett may laugh at such sentiments, but she does understand how her bandmates could become concerned. In fact, even she worries sometimes about the extent to which she loses herself in her songs. "I worry about that, I really do. 'Cause I get so lost onstage. I lose myself in each song. That, to me, is what a performer should do. You must lose yourself totally in each song and perform that song, and that's what I try and do. My enjoyment is how far, how much I can lose myself."
Still, she takes care to add that there's a difference between her own persona, and the ones she assumes onstage. "It's so different, really. Because my performing side is like my child, and I'm like the mother who looks after that person. I don't know why; I suppose I've learned to do that to have more control, and look out for that person.
"But that person is not me, it's somebody else. It's the performing side, and that's the character in the songs, and the whole energy. Because you can't live like that the whole time, you know? But I'm lucky that way, in that I can put all my frustrations or whatever into my interpretation of a song, and resolve things that way. I do that a lot."
Which, she adds, is quite helpful, given the incredibly stressful lives musicians must lead on tour. "You can't be normal, you can't," she says. "There's nothing normal about it, because you're constantly displaced. You stay in one place for one night -- you don't stay any longer -- so you don't make any relationships. Your relationships are in your bubble, with your band. It's not normal at all."
Aren't there any advantages to it? "I do enjoy playing," she says, as if stating the obvious. "But you do get your bed made every day. That's what's great about touring -- you don't have to make your bed."
When: June 22, 8 p.m.
Call: 659-7625 for information, 481-6000 for tickets