Although he’s certainly busy as Australia’s minister for school education, early childhood and youth, Peter Garrett doesn’t close the door on the possibility of regrouping Midnight Oil at some point in the future.
“It’s not out of the question,” Garrett tells Billboard.com in front of the release of the new compilation “Essential Oils” on April 30. “I think that sometimes you’ve just got to provide a bit of breathing space in what you’re doing. The boys are off doing interesting things; they’ve made music, put bands together. It looks like a fair bit of fun. And I certainly can’t imagine ever singing with everybody else. I can’t imagine stopping singing — so who knows? I don’t miss the road live, I did that for nearly 30 years. But the business of being creative with your mates and working something up that really shakes the walls, that’s a wonderful experience that I would perhaps like to have again at some point.”
The Oils stopped working — together, at least — after 2002’s “Capricornia.” The band regrouped for the closing ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, a 2005 benefit concert for victims of the prevoius year’s Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2009 Sound Relief concert in Melbourne and, most recently, at this months’s benefit concert for Doc Neeson of The Angels. The group was also inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2006. But Garrett and company have kept inevitable interest in a more full-scale reformation at bay.
“I think we were, and are, a very un-industry focused band,” the singer explains. “We’re just more keenly looking at and listening to what we could manage to put together. I think that we were basically high achievers; with all the rough bits that go wtih building a career, the highs and lows, I think that the output and the focus and the musicianship and the way we put the thing together is something I’m pretty proud of. So that sets kind of a high bar whenever you think about doing something under the (Midnight Oil) banner.”
“Essential Oils” features 36 songs across its two discs, culling material from 12 albums and a pare of EPs. The first disc focuses on 1978-85, while the second takes on the 1987-02 period that saw greater worldwide commercial fortunes — thanks to hits such as “Beds Are Burning” and “The Dead Heart” — without any dilution of the pointed topicality in the band’s songs.
“We were, like, modern troubadours, singing about what we were seeing, what we were experiencing and witnessing,” Garrett explains. “It was a reflection of who we were as people and writers and performers. We had a strong interest in politics, and we got involved in communities and with people and we wanted to give a little bit of substance to the experiences we were having and the times we were living in. Some bands can really disappear into their own fixations and meditations and obsessions, or they can be a bit more outward-looking and outward-thinking about where they are. We went out and had a look around and started writing about it.”
While he’s happy to see the Oils getting their due via the new compilation, Garrett says he has no regrets about dedicating himself to politics. “It’s demanding, and the two things, music and politics, are very, very different,” says Garrett, who also served in the Australian House of Representatives and as minister for environment protection, heritage and the arts. “(Politics) has its ups and downs. It’s an incredible opportunity to do things which hopefully can make the country a better place, and that’s an opportunity not everybody gets. I’m really mindful of that. The art of politics is as challenging now as it’s ever been. Some of it’s a long grind, some of it’s unforgiving, some of it’s scintillating. In both portfolios (politics and music) I certainly feel I’ve been able to do things which have genuinely made a big difference in people’s lives and are important to my set of values.”