McComb was born the youngest of four boys. His parents were both doctors, his father, Dr Harold McComb, a prominent plastic surgeon and his mother, Dr Athel Hockey (AO), a renowned geneticist. The family resided in a historical residence, The Cliffe in McNeil Street, Peppermint Grove. All the boys attended Christ Church Grammar School in Claremont, Western Australia, with David winning prizes in English Literature and Divinity. McComb studied journalism and literature at the Western Australian Institute of Technology. His older brother, Robert McComb, later joined The Triffids as a guitarist.
While still at high school, partly in response to the emergence of punk rock, McComb and Alan “Alsy” MacDonald formed Dalsy (a multimedia project, producing music, books and photographic work, and its output reflected his early interests, in Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Velvet Underground and Patti Smith), in 1976. Dalsy, later known as Blök Music then evolved into The Triffids (from the post-apocalyptic John Wyndham novel, “The Day of the Triffids”). McComb and MacDonald wrote and performed songs with Phil Kakulas (later in Blackeyed Susans), Andrew McGowan, Julian Douglas-Smith, and later Byron Sinclair, Will Akers and Margaret Gillard. By Christmas 1978, they had released several home-recorded cassette tapes and been through many line-up changes. McComb became established as the band’s main songwriter and common denominator in the band’s various line-ups.
In 1980, The Triffids won a band demo competition and released their first 7-inch vinyl single, “Stand Up”, on the Shake Some Action label in the following year. The Triffids then moved to Melbourne before eventually settling in Sydney in 1982. After a couple of singles and EPs, Reverie EP “Spanish Blue” and the “Bad Timing and Other Stories” EP, the group had saved up money from support slots with the Hoodoo Gurus, The Church and Hunters and Collectors, to record and release the band’s debut 12-inch vinyl album “Treeless Plain” for Hot Records, a Sydney independent label.
McComb sold the rights to three songs to ABC-TV, for their 1984 series “Sweet and Sour”: “On The Street Where You Live”, “Digging a Hole”, and “Too Hot To Move”. Lead vocals on the first two were sung for the series by Cathy McQuade (of Deckchairs Overboard) and the latter was performed by Deborah Conway (of Do-Ré-Mi). As part of the sale, The Triffids were no longer able to perform the songs. McComb later said that he regretted selling the songs and that he had bought back “Too Hot to Move”, which The Triffids began to perform again: they recorded it for their 1989 album, The Black Swan. It has also been performed by The Blackeyed Susans (with Rob Snarski on lead vocals).In 1985, The Triffids moved to London, with the addition of “Evil” Graham Lee on pedal steel guitar, recorded their second album “Born Sandy Devotional” in 1986, and “Wide Open Road” EP. The group were hailed by the British media, were featured on the John Peel show and supported Echo & the Bunnymen.
In 1986, with delays in releasing “Born Sandy Devotional”, the Triffids returned to Western Australia where they built an eight-track machine inside a shearing shed on the McComb family’s farming property and recorded their third album In The Pines. On their return to the UK, they signed a three-record deal with Island Records. In 1987 armed with the considerable budget of £125,000, and the production skills of Gil Norton, David McComb and a new recruit, Adam Peters, concocted the lush orchestrations of the poignant “Bury Me Deep in Love” and the wide-screen atmosphere of the subsequent “Calenture” album. Despite the release of another two tracks from the album as singles, “Trick of the Light” and “Holy Water”, Calenture didn’t have the impact expected of it. In 1989, the “Goodbye Little Boy” single featured in the Australian soap opera “Neighbours”. 1989 also saw the Triffids record their last studio album “The Black Swan” in England, with producer Stephen Street. Despite being well received, the album wasn’t an overwhelming success, which disappointed McComb and the rest of the band to the point where they decided to dissolve the band. In order to fulfill their contractual obligations with Island Records a live album recorded in Stockholm, Stockholm was released in 1990 the year after the Triffids split up.
McComb lived in London in 1990-1992 with his girlfriend, and launched a solo career. In 1991, he and Adam Peters contributed to the Leonard Cohen tribute album “I’m Your Fan” with a cover of “Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On”, later mentioned favorably by Cohen himself. Following this, McComb formed the first incarnation of the Red Ponies and played three London shows in quick succession, at the Powerhaus, Subterranea and the Borderline. The line-up consisted of McComb and Peters along with Nick Allum of Fatima Mansions, who also had played drums on Calenture, Gary Sanford of Aztec Camera, and Martyn P. Casey.
When he returned to Australia, McComb settled in Melbourne, where he commenced studies at the University of Melbourne in art history. He recorded with the Blackeyed Susans, completed a solo album, “Love of Will”, for Mushroom Records, and undertook a solo tour of Europe with his backing band, The Red Ponies, consisting of Graham Lee, Warren Ellis, Peter Luscombe, Bruce Haymes and Michael Vidale. In June 1993 three former members of The Triffids: McComb, Robert and Lee; as well as Charlie Owen and Chris Wilson guested on Acuff’s Rose’s debut studio album, “Never Comin’ Down”.
He also performed in Australia with his last band, Costar, who recorded a never released three-track EP. Recording for a Costar album was also underway at the time of McComb’s death. McComb made occasional appearances with the Blackeyed Susans in Australia, giving Rob Snarski a break from vocals (as did Kim Salmon).
McComb suffered from back pain which worsened over the years. He also struggled with alcoholism, and amphetamine and heroin abuse, which greatly affected his health. He developed cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that, when found in young men, is most commonly caused by alcoholism. In 1996, he underwent a successful heart transplant, but continued his drinking and drug use. In January 1999 he was driving a car which was involved in a collision and was hospitalized overnight, released with bruising. A few days later he died at home, just before his 37th birthday.
His ashes were spread under the pine trees at the family farm (Woodstock) at Jerdacuttup, approximately 22 km north of Hopetoun, Western Australia.
In 2001 the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA), as part of its 75th Anniversary celebrations, named his 1986 composition “Wide Open Road” as one of the thirty greatest Australian songs of all time. On February 21, 2006 David McComb was posthumously inducted into the West Australian Music Industry Association Hall Of Fame, as a composer.
In June 2006, his work with The Triffids was reissued in remastered and extended form on the Domino label, commencing with Born Sandy Devotional. McComb’s work is held in high regard in Europe, to the extent that The Triffids reformed and traveled from Australia to play live performances in Belgium and the Netherlands, in July 2006, with guest vocalists replacing McComb. The band also played four consecutive nights in Sydney in January 2008 with many guest singers and musicians, including Mick Harvey, Rob Snarski and Melanie Oxley. These performances were released as the DVD “It’s Raining Pleasure” in late 2009. On July 1, 2008 The Triffids were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame with McComb’s contribution acknowledge by a tribute performance.
In 2009 a collection of David McComb’s poems, titled Beautiful Waste: Poems by David McComb, was published by Fremantle Press. The anthology was edited by Chris Coughran and Niall Lucy, and includes an introduction by poet John Kinsella.
In September 2009, “Vagabond Holes: David McComb & The Triffids” – edited by Chris Coughran and Niall Lucy, and featuring contributions from Nick Cave, DBC Pierre, Laurie Duggan, John Kinsella, Bleddyn Butcher, Steve Kilbey, Robert Forster, “Handsome” Steve Miller and others – was published by Fremantle Press.
A feature length biopic entitled “Love in Bright Landscapes” was released in January 2010, produced by Melbourne-based Tornado Alley Productions. In late 2009, a live tribute album entitled “Deep in a Dream: An Evening with the Songs of David McComb” featuring The Blackeyed Susans and other Melbourne-based acts, was issued by the filmmakers to help fund the ongoing production of the documentary.ü