Alongside The Boys Next Door/The Birthday Party, Models were one of the first Melbourne bands to rise out of the ashes of that city's hothouse punk/new wave explosion of the late 1970s with a clear vision and wider appeal. While The Birthday Party was hell-bent on kicking down the established parameters of rock music, Models were more clearly pop-oriented, and eventually reaped the benefits of their vision.
The band came together in August 1978 when Sean Kelly joined up with the remnants of JAB: Ash Wednesday, Pierre Voltaire and Janis Friedenfelds. Voltaire was quickly replaced by Mark Ferrie (ex-Carrl Myriad Band, Leisuremasters). Wednesday left the band in August 1979 to be replaced by Andrew Duffield (ex-Whirlywirld). Many of the band's early live classics like `Body Shop', `Whisper Through the Wall', `Years Ago', `The Other People Incident' and `Brave New World' did not see release on record. The new line-up issued two independent, gig giveaway singles, `Early Morning Brain (It's Not Quite the Same as Sobriety)' (shared with The Boys Next Door's `Scatterbrain' on the flip side, October 1979) and `Owe You Nothing'/`Progressive Office Pools' (August 1980). The band actually broke up in November 1979, but resumed touring after a successful reunion gig on New Year's Eve 1979. Models undertook an exhaustive schedule of local gigs and interstate tours, with support slots to international visitors like The B52s, The Vapours, The Ramones, XTC and Magazine.
By mid-1980, the band's off-beat pop sound and live popularity had attracted the attention of several major record companies. Mushroom Records eventually signed Models and issued the band's independently recorded debut album Alphabravocharliedeltaechofoxtrotgolf in November 1980. The band refused to issue a single from the album, but Mushroom put out `Two People Per Sq Km'/`Uncontrollable Boy (I'm Just an)', `Young Rodents' as a promotional only 12-inch EP which was sent to radio stations. 1981 commenced with the departure of drummer Friedenfelds, who joined Sacred Cowboys. Ex-Swingers member Buster Stiggs joined in time for a national tour support slot to The Police. Derek Green, vice-president of A&M Records (home to The Police) was so impressed with Models that he offered the band an international deal.
Models flew to the UK and recorded the album Local &/or General at Farmyard Studios with producer Steve Tayler. Local &/or General (October 1981) reached #32 on the national chart, and produced the single `Local &/or General'/`Telstar' (November). Prior to leaving for the UK, the band recorded demos at Richmond Records with producer Tony Cohen. The tracks combined spontaneous experimentation with economic arrangements and turned out so well that Mushroom issued them as the 10-inch mini-album Cut Lunch in July. Buoyed by the whimsical pop tune `Two Cabs to the Toucan', Cut Lunch sold well enough to register #32 on the national chart.
A series of line-up changes plagued the band throughout 1982. First Stiggs and Ferrie quit to be replaced by Graham Scott (drums), John Rowell (guitar, both ex-Curse) and James Freud (bass). Freud had already enjoyed a relatively successful solo career as leader of James Freud and the Radio Stars and James Freud and Berlin. `Modern Girl' had been a #12 national hit for Freud in August 1980, and the album Breaking Silence had sold well. Freud brought a great deal of commercial pop savvy and confidence into the band. Scott and Rowell both left in May, closely followed by long-term member Duffield. Kelly and Freud then recruited New Zealand-born Barton Price (ex-Crocodiles, Sardine v) to fill the drum spot. In the meantime, Mark Ferrie had issued a remixed version of `Unhappy' (from the Local &/or General album) as a solo single backed with `The Ton' (May 1982).
The band's next single, `On'/`The Whole Story' (August 1982) was produced by Lobby Loyde. It reached #1 on the independent charts and was accompanied by a bizarre video produced by the Rich Kids. Gus Till (keyboards; ex-Ears, Beargarden) joined Models briefly toward the end of 1982, but by December a revitalised Duffield had rejoined. Models then hit their commercial stride with the release of the album The Pleasure of Your Company . . . (October 1983) which rose to #12 on the national chart (#6 in Melbourne). Producer Nick Launay (Public Image Ltd, Birthday Party, Midnight Oil) placed a greater emphasis on the rhythm section to provide a more flexible, dance-oriented sound.
The band was being referred to as a `crossover' act and certainly sold more records than the other two best-known unconventional Melbourne bands of the day, The Birthday Party and Hunters & Collectors. The ebullient `I Hear Motion'/`No Talking' (September 1983) single reached #16 nationally (#10 in Melbourne) during October. Hot on the heels of the album's success, Models scored the prestigious support slot to David Bowie's Serious Moonlight tour of Australia. Oddly enough, the band's next three singles, `No Shoulders No Head'/`A Rainy Day' (December 1983), `God Bless America'/`Watch Your Mouth' (April 1984) and `Big on Love'/`Preacher from the Black Lagoon' (produced by American Reggie Lucas; October 1984), failed to chart convincingly. `Big on Love' was the most successful when it peaked at #21 in December. 1984 ended with the recruitment of sax player James Valentine and the departure of Duffield in controversial circumstances. His place was taken by ex-Berlin member Roger Mason. Duffield issued a solo album, Ten Happy Fingers, on his own Retrograde label in 1988. Wendy Matthews joined Models as back-up vocalist and her input added significantly to the band's sound.
1985 saw the band attain its commercial zenith with the release of the Out of Mind Out of Sight album (#2 on the national chart in September). The single `Barbados'/`Tropic of Cancer' also made #2 nationally (March 1985). `Barbados' was a reggae-tinged pop ballad written by Duffield and sung by Freud, and despite its sunny title was a morbid tale of alcoholism and impending suicide. The video, directed by Richard Lowenstein, was influenced by The Deer Hunter and several scenes had to be edited out in order for it to be aired on prime-time television.
The band's next single, `Out of Mind Out of Sight'/`Seeing is Believing' (July 1985) shot to #1 on the national chart during August, establishing Models as certified pop stars. The song was written and sung by Freud, and was an energetic distillation of his glam-pop roots and the band's brassy R&B predilections. It was the only Australian-recorded single to attain #1 status during 1985. The band's next two singles, `Cold Fever'/`Another Rainy Day' (October) and Kelly's reflective `King of Kings'/ `Down in the Garden', `Out of Mind' (live) (Dec-ember), were minor hits. In 1986 Models flew to the UK to record Models' Media with producers Julian Mendelsohn and Mark Opitz, at Trevor Horn's state-of-the-art Sarm West Studios in London. Meanwhile, the Geffen label had released the `Out of Mind Out of Sight' single in the USA (where it peaked at a respectable #36 in June), and the band toured there during November as special guests of English synth-pop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD).
Models' Media came out in December 1986 and reached #12 at the start of 1987. Its three singles, the R&B flavoured `Evolution'/`Hell to Breakfast' (August 1986), `Let's Kiss'/`A Man in a Boat' (November) and `Hold on'/`Some Kind of Anger' (March 1987) reached #21, #27 and #21 respectively. `Evolution' was included on the soundtrack to the American film Soul Man. Its inclusion was quite an honour for a white, Australian rock band because the rest of the soundtrack comprised black, American soul artists. In January, Models took part in the monumental Australian Made tour across the country. Also on the bill were Mental as Anything, The Triffids, I'm Talking, The Saints, Divinyls, Jimmy Barnes and INXS. Models issued a version of The Beatles' `Oh! Darling'/`Echoes in a Town Called Yamaha' as a single in September 1987. It was not successful and proved to be the band's final single. The Thank You Goodnight tour at the start of 1988 was ostensibly run to cover debts and it was obvious Models were on their last legs. The band's break-up was not made official until June 1988.
Kelly initially went solo before forming the popular Absent Friends with Duffield, Valentine, singer Wendy Matthews and INXS bassist Garry Gary Beers. After Absent Friends split in 1990 (the band was never designed to be a long-term venture), Kelly formed the critically acclaimed R&B/soul/ funk outfit The Dukes which lasted until 1994. Wendy Matthews has enjoyed a successful career as a vocalist in her own right. James Valentine moved into television work (as presenter of the ABC-TV's Afternoon Show and Racket) and later radio broadcasting with the ABC's Radio National.
James Freud relaunched his solo career in 1989 with the Bernard Edwards' produced Step Into the Heat album. It was Mushroom's most expensive album ever, but it was not successful. Freud then teamed up for two years with Mental as Anything's Martin Plaza as dance pop duo Beatfish. Mushroom issued the retrospective Models' Collection in November 1993. That same month, Mushroom also reissued `I Hear Motion' as a CD single which featured four remixes of the song courtesy of techno-dance outfit Boxcar.
Mushroom reissued Models’ biggest hit, ‘Out of Mind Out Of Sight’, on CD single as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations (April 1998). The CD featured the original single version with bonus 12-inch dance remixes.