Quan Yeomans’ childhood dream was to be an astronaut or a fireman. “I never thought of being a rock star,” Quan admits. “I never posed in front of mirrors with guitars, which is why I looked awkward on stage for most of my career.” Since Quan’s Brisbane-born band, Regurgitator, started out in 1994 – splashing colour, rebellion and plenty of ‘Blubber Boy’ fever over the Australian music scene – he has continued to experiment in the music and animation space. Most recently, he has relocated to Hong Kong and is flying solo with his debut album, The Amateur, released in November last year. Next for the ‘Gurge’ is Rock Show – a music and dance collaboration with gutsy Queensland choreographer, Gavin Webber. The turbo-charged concert plays at QPAC from November 26–29 and promises to be an assault of the senses.From his sparsely furnished warehouse apartment in Hong Kong (aka ‘Honkers’ to locals), Quan Yeomans, 37 – producer, animator, solo muso and the lead singer and guitarist for Regurgitator – tells me he’s not one to look back on life very often. Perhaps that’s because there are too many creative distractions in the now and in the future, including gigs for his The Amateur hip-hop and R&B project and Regurgitator’s new Rock Show collaboration with Gavin Webber.
Quan will spend much of October and December in Brisbane with his mum, famous Vietnamese gourmet chef and author Lien Yeomans, and plans to relocate from Hong Kong to Melbourne sometime next year for a greener existence (he misses trees). He is also ready to spruik his new Sneakerhead vinyl toy with an aim to raise $10,000 for children’s charities in Vietnam. Needless to say, Quan is creatively charged but admits he’s constantly tired. He’s looking forward to finding peace at a five-day Zazen meditation retreat west of Kyoto in Japan. The laptop is not invited.
Despite his rare tendency to reflect, Quan openly winds back the clock. First he touches on the early days of Regurgitator in the ‘90s when disused buildings in the Brisbane CBD doubled as impromptu rehearsal spaces, much to the delight of local musos. Quan also recalls how his loving parents supported and influenced him during his childhood – his “eccentric and super cerebral” psychiatrist father with Zen teachings, word play and poetry, and his mum with school lunchboxes packed full of gourmet delicacies like steamed scallops (“I would just be begging to swap these couture things for something like a peanut-butter sandwich,” Quan laughs).
He credits his dad, who has passed away, for opening his eyes to the world at age 19 when he took Quan to Rio de Janeiro for a UN convention. Quan describes the experience as “defining” and “mind-blowing” because he heard firsthand some of the great activists like Indian scientist and author, Vandana Shiva, speak about the crippling, cyclic effects of debt on the Third World.
“To find out about that was a critical moment for me and inspired a lot of work that I did in the band,” he says. Quan’s dad also taught him his Vietnamese and Australian heritage was a blessing because it gave him a foot in both worlds, “… and it did kind of feel like that”. His mum bought him his first guitar and drum kit and at age 14; Led and Jimi sparked his love affair with music.
When Quan, Ben Ely and Martin Lees kicked off Regurgitator in 1994 (the band currently consists of Quan, Ben, Peter Kostic and Seja Vogel), they had no real sense of their potential. “I don’t know if potential is something you see when you’re starting out,” he says. “I think real artists don’t really know what they’re doing. They just do it for the sake of doing it. They don’t look at potential, they don’t look at success; the idea doesn’t even come into your head. You just do it cause you’re addicted to it. We were just kids doing stuff because we loved to do it.”
Quan says his greatest career moments are defined by the good times he shared with his band mates rather than hit shows or ARIAs (of which they scooped many). There were great challenges too. “Working with a big music label was a bit weird, sometimes depressing, sometimes really annoying. Other times it was just surreal. And of course the money was good. But I would say that at the point of my life when I was making the most money, I was probably the least satisfied, or least happy, because of the stresses and tensions involved with actually maintaining that level of so-called success or productivity.” To stay motivated, he looked within. “My sense of rebellion is what kept me motivated, especially in the early days of Regurgitator. You can hear it in the lyrics and the attitude in the music. We were a very DIY band and so we had that vibe about us for a long time …”
He considers himself a success because he is happy in himself as a person. When he needs to hear words of wisdom he reminds himself: do the next thing. “The classic saying is ‘live in the moment’ but it’s much easier to do if whatever comes next is all you need to worry about.” The next thing for Quan involves stopping off in Hanoi to hand-deliver money his mother raised for a children’s hospital by selling her famous Pho soup. Quan’s also looking forward to bringing his vinyl toys to Australia to raise much-needed funds for Vietnamese children’s charities. Look out for a Sneakerhead toy in a reputable store near you.
Interview by Frances Frangenheim