One of the most notorious Australian pub rock bands, Cosmic Psychos play beer-fueled, garage-accented, heavy-hitting punk rock with no frills and no pretensions. Officially beginning their journey together in 1985, the Psychos gained a reputation for not caring about money as much as the free beer, laughs, and occasional overseas traveling involved with being in a rock band. Despite their lack of careerism, the band has had just that: a career that’s spanned four-plus decades, seen them release over a dozen albums, sing with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, befriend Mudhoney, and supply beer to the then-underage Silverchair at Australia’s Big Day Out Festival.
In the late ’70s, bassist Ross Knight was playing in a high school punk band called Rancid Spam in Victoria, Australia, two hours north of Melbourne. Around the same time, guitarist Peter Jones and drummer Bill Walsh were performing together in the Melbourne group Spring Plains. After Spring Plains lost their bass player in 1982, Walsh and Jones asked their friend Knight for his assistance. Knight agreed to join them on bass, and by 1985 the threesome handed the original singer his walking papers. After deciding that Knight would take over vocal duties, the group changed its name to Cosmic Psychos.
The band played its first gig as Cosmic Psychos at the Stockade Pub in Carlonand, Australia, with the Moodists. That same year, Cosmic Psychos recorded their debut EP, Down on the Farm, on a two-track tape machine in their practice space and released it on Australia’s Mr. Spaceman Records and Europe’s What Goes On label. Two years would pass before Cosmic Psychos would release their first full-length, Cosmic Psychos. Mr. Spaceman released the vinyl version, while Australian label Shagpile had the CD counterpart distributed through Shock Records. By 1989, Cosmic Psychos saw their second full-length album, Go the Hack, released by Australia’s Survival; it also became their first American release when Sub Pop brought it out in the United States. The band followed Go the Hack with its first live album, Slave to the Crave, in 1990, which was taken from a June 1989 performance at Melbourne venue the Palace.
As 1990 set in, Jones vacated the guitar spot. Knight and Walsh asked their friend Robbie Watts, a self-taught guitarist, to join the fold. Watts said yes and Cosmic Psychos ventured to Wisconsin to record their third full-length release, Blokes You Can Trust, at producer Butch Vig’s Smart Studios. Released in 1991, Blokes You Can Trust was the band’s first record for the American noise rock label Amphetamine Reptile, after the bandmembers became drinking buddies with label head Tom Hazelmeyer. (AmRep would also reissue Down on the Farm and Cosmic Psychos on a two-fer CD.) The Psychos conducted a European tour during which they developed an unusual trademark. After seeing many other rock bands take bows after performances, at the end of a show in Potsdam, Germany, Cosmic Psychos decided to alter the tradition by pulling down their pants and mooning the unsuspecting audience.
The release of the 1991 “Dead Roo” single was followed by the Back to School EP, which included a cover of L7’s “Shove.” The latter track was a nod to the Los Angeles all-female rock band, who’d covered a Cosmic Psychos song on a 7″ EP. Amphetamine Reptile also had the band contribute a track to its Dope, Guns and Fucking in the Streets, Vols. 4-7 compilation. The year 1993 saw the release of Palomino Pizza, a six-song EP featuring three cover songs of old Australian pub classics from the likes of Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs, Buffalo, and Guitar Overdose. The bandmembers criticized themselves in interviews, saying they felt that the CD was a half-hearted effort on their part, but they toured in support of the disc nonetheless. They played shows in the United States with Superchunk and the Onyas. Later that year, Cosmic Psychos recorded a split 7″ with the band Vertigo. The record, released on Hippy Knight, was a tribute to noise rock group Halo of Flies (whose lineup included Tom Hazelmeyer) and featured the Psychos playing their own rendition of “Garbage Rock.”
Throughout 1994, Knight spent time on his farm in Australia recording various song ideas, amassing 40 riffs on one cassette. Cosmic Psychos rummaged through the material and came up with what critics considered their strongest album to date, 1995’s Self Totalled; the group members spent a thousand dollars on liquor to get themselves through the weeklong session. The band played a number of gigs in America and ended their tour in Australia, where they opened for Pearl Jam in Sydney on the recommendation of Mudhoney’s Matt Lukin, who suggested to Eddie Vedder that he look the Psychos up. The audience of 37,000 wound up booing the Psychos’ 45-minute set, and the band responded with their bare-bottomed thanks. The Psychos rounded out their Self Totalled tour by playing at Australia’s Big Day Out festival, which featured the Screaming Trees, Hole, Silverchair, Primal Scream, Luscious Jackson, the Offspring, and Ministry.
At the beginning of 1996, the Shagpile label released a 7″ single featuring the Self Totalled track “Whip Me” along with acoustic renditions of Down on the Farm’s “Crazy Woman” and Go the Hack’s “Lost Cause.” (The CD version included two extra unplugged songs.) The band had never recorded with acoustic instruments before, but growing tired of MTV Unplugged, the band figured they’d release their own version to poke fun at the program’s popularity. Along with producer Lindsay Gravina, the band recorded the tracks with a pre-recorded audience at Birdland Studios. To the band’s surprise, the acoustic numbers received heavy airplay on a large number of Australia’s radio stations. A condensed version of the unplugged session was released in the United States on Man’s Ruin Records. Cosmic Psychos finished their seventh full-length album at the start of 1997 and gave in to their obsession with Australian meat pies, titling the record Oh What a Lovely Pie. The album came out that summer on Amphetamine Reptile in the United States and Europe. It contained ten songs dealing with everything from dominatrix girlfriends to serial killers. The release was followed by a 24-date tour of Europe with the Melvins. Following the jaunt, the two bands recorded a split 7″ for Gearhead Records, which included the Psychos’ cover of the Sweet’s “Some Girls.” (Gearhead also included the song on their Runnin’ on Fumes: The Gearhead Magazine Singles compilation.)
Throughout 1998, Cosmic Psychos continued to tour in support of Oh What a Lovely Pie. Their Australian and European shows included supporting act the Onyas, while in the United States they gigged with Gaunt, Mudhoney, and Nashville Pussy. After a three-month break back in Australia, Cosmic Psychos returned to the United States in July of 1999, teaming up with their old friends the Melvins to promote their split 7″. By the end of the year, work also began on a Cosmic Psychos retrospective LP culling tracks from their first 15 years together. As the year 2000 reared its head, Cosmic Psychos released 15 Years, A Billion Beers, which included rare outtakes, B-sides, and material from their previous records. A European tour with supporting act the Mobile Homos was scheduled to celebrate Cosmic Psychos’ anniversary. Watts decided to sit the tour out, and Knight and Walsh hired the Raunch Hands’ guitarist Mike Mariconda to play the gigs.
In 2005, drummer Bill Walsh left Cosmic Psychos, and was replaced by Dean Muller, who played in Ross Knight’s side project Dung. Muller made his recording debut with the Psychos on 2006’s Off Ya Cruet, which included a bitter kiss-off to Walsh, “Kill Bill.” On July 1, 2006, while the band was on tour promoting the album, Robbie Watts died of a heroin overdose. The Psychos soldiered on, with John McKeering of the Onyas taking over on guitar. The band soon returned to the studio, and Dung Australia was released in 2007, dedicated to Watts’ memory. Four years later, the Psychos released Glorius Barsteds, and in 2012 the band played a run of shows at Melbourne’s Tote Hotel shortly before the venue was closed. The shows were filmed and recorded; an album was released, 2013’s I Love My Tractor: Live at the Tote Hotel, Melbourne, and footage from the shows appeared in Matt Weston’s documentary about the band, Cosmic Psychos: Blokes You Can Trust, which included testimonials from Eddie Vedder, Buzz Osborne from the Melvins, and Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Mudhoney. The year 2015 brought the studio album Cum the Raw Prawn, which was issued in Australia on CD as well as LP in a special pressing the color of beer. The group’s 11th studio album, Loudmouth Soup, appeared in 2018, and was followed by an exhaustive 28-date tour of Australia. ~ Stephen Howell & Mark Deming, Rovi