Jim Moginie is the measured one. On stage at least, the guitarist/ keyboard player tends to be the anchor the rest of Midnight Oil spins madly around. So this time last year, the irony was not lost when he slipped and ripped a hamstring during King of the Mountain at Sidney Myer Music Bowl.
“I fell off the mountain,” he jokes. “It was just a bit of moisture on the stage, maybe from the smoke machine or … I just don’t know. I passed out but I found out I kept playing through it, which was interesting.”
It was about three months on his back, as it happened, an unforeseen fog that reveals something of a silver lining in Bark Overtures, a new album by one of his other musical projects, The Family Dog.
“We’d been making this record for about 12 years,” he says a little sheepishly. The downtime turned into “a fire underneath me to finish it, so me and Kent [Steedman] started going through it and we found there was some really good stuff”.
Guitarist Steedman and drummer Paul Loughhead are from Sydney hard-rock band the Celibate Rifles. Multi-instrumentalist Tim Kevin (Knievel, Youth Group) completes a band Moginie defines in terms of “recreation and inspiration”.
“The record was just a result of us jamming, which has been edited together to form some sort of juicy whole. It’s a rollicking kind of record, I think, with the infectious quality of us all having a good time.”
The rough-and-tumble description plays down the philosophical weight of the lead track, Blind Devotion, with its lyrics adapted from the Bhagavad Gita, and the meditative intentions of tracks like In the End and Samadhi Dog. The brain-neutral likes of I’m Happy and Rock are further evidence of a band defining broad terrain.
“Rock is a dumb song,” Moginie says. “It’s supposed to be. I suppose if Midnight Oil did something like that it would be quite weird.
“The Oils is a very serious band in a lot of ways so maybe this is me letting off a bit of steam.”
Inspiration comes in colours for Moginie, who has long recognised a thread of synaesthesia in the way he perceives music. When the Oils split in 2002, he found himself pursuing that instinct as a producer and session player. Another of his projects, the Colour Wheel, “was moving into the world of guitar orchestras, which I love,” he says. “I’m very interested in that way of making music, almost conceived from an art-school aesthetic. Part of that has crept into this [album] as well. A lot of it is quite jammy and abstract and you’re not quite sure what’s going on sometimes. I like that.”
Speaking of which, Moginie professes himself clueless as to the future of Midnight Oil. But like his occasional stints with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, his folkie alter ego Shameless Seamus and his surf instrumental band the Break, they seem to remain on an accessible shelf.