"Good Music is Undomesticated": An Interview with The Drones
Earlier this year, The Drones released one of the albums of the year with Feelin Kinda Free. The album, their seventh in a long career approaching 20 years, is an ambitious and explosive release of acute observations which has been met with wild acclaim. The band have been hitting the road for much of this year, and will be hitting up Fremantle Town Hall on the 3rd of November as part of the Fremantle Festival. They're a sight to behold live, bringing all the energy and expertise you hear on record. We got the chance to talk to frontman Gareth Liddiard ahead of the show about the new album, the state of the world and Perth.
IN: First of all, congratulations on Feelin Kinda Free, it’s right up there with my favourite albums of 2016 (if not, my favourite). It’s got quite a markedly different sound to your previous releases. Was this more a result of a conscious effort on your behalf to “evolve”, or more just how things turned out?
GL: It was more about getting back to where we started. Where Rui and myself started back in Perth in the late 1990s. We just did whatever we wanted and recorded everything. Once we moved to Melbourne we changed because our environment changed. We'd sold all our mad gear before leaving Perth and for the next ten years we would only have bare essentials. We became very poor as opposed to just poor. We had to compete for gigs to make money. We had to be able to travel light. We had to become a viable thing 'cause we'd moved 3000kms to a city where we knew zero people. We moved so we could make a living off music. And then as line ups came and went I had to write stuff that played to their strengths and a lot of those strengths weren't as avant and weird as they had been when we were stoned and fucking around with weird gear at home in Perth years prior. So we wound up being a very austere little guitar band. This is all relative though and an objective observer might point out that we've always sounded pretty weird. But I always thought we sounded pretty straight so I said "fuck it, can we just go nuts? I 'm sick of being a guitar band." The new stuff sounds a lot like the first stuff we did.
IN: There are again a lot of politically charged lyrics on this record. Obviously, world politics are at a particularly precarious place at the moment, with the US Presidential elections and Brexit, amongst a string of issues. Back home the 45th Parliament has already resulted in some interesting exchanges. Can you see much hope in the way things are panning out worldwide right now?
GL: Yeah we'll be right as a whole. We're tough little fuckers. I think we'll probably descend into another mid-century mass murder fest because we've all forgotten about how we got into the first two world wars. That's just because people have been fooled into thinking that humans always improve by Humanists, fundamental scientists like Richard Dawkins, the USA and people like the dead guy who ran Apple. We think nowadays we're too smart for another enormous World War but that's a myth. Technology improves as a natural by-product of human population growth but don't let that fool you into thinking that humans themselves improve. Morally, we're always pretty stagnant. The scum just drifts around the pond. Gay marriage gets legalised in California or whatever but in the same year Nigeria passes a law making homosexuality punishable by death. So if humans are morally improving that means Nigerians aren't human. Cheerleading the Human Project is quite racist in a way. We are condemned by evolution to be flawed but ultimately we get the job done in our messy way. Think of humanity less as an all inclusive ride on the Utopia bus and more like a mad and lethal stampede towards our immediate needs and you'll be ok.
"Think of humanity less as an all inclusive ride on the Utopia bus and more like a mad and lethal stampede towards our immediate needs and you'll be ok."
IN: To me, the album seems like a very Australian record, perhaps even more so than previous releases. Obviously there’s the accent, but there’s also explicit references to things of Australian interest (the Somerton Man, Andrew Bolt, bikie gangs…). You’ve done your fair share of international touring with more coming up (I’ve noticed upcoming dates in Germany and France). Do you find international audiences react quite differently to the audiences you attract in Australia?
GL: Not really. There are hyper snobby hip audiences who need to be ahead of the cool new obscure music curve just to float their self-esteem, then there are people who like music based on its merits and then there are people with shit taste or no taste at all. We've only ever attracted the second kind of audience. They're the same where ever you go, except that they speak different languages.
IN: There’s been a growing interest overseas in Australian music, with artists like Tame Impala and Courtney Barnett receiving massive attention. Where do you think this has all come from? Do you see it as a positive, and where do you think it’ll lead?
GL: People are always saying that. I'd say that worldwide generally there is no interest at all in anything Australian per se. There is only an interest in America. But you're right that there is an interest in Tame Impala, that's because they are really great at making pop albums that don't sound like old people's music. And you're right about Courtney too because there are millions of english speaking females between the age of 8 and 40 who don't feel any connection to hyper sexualised futurists like Rihanna or Beyonce. And they need music too.
IN: One of my highlights of this year was seeing you perform at the “Home” show at Langley Park in February. You live in Victoria now, but what does Perth mean to you, and what are your hopes and maybe fears for the city in the future?
GL: I just hope it doesn't continue to sell out to big corporations. Money trumps everything else in WA and the fucked thing is, the money doesn't even stay in WA. Once upon a time, if you wanted Kurt Cobain to sell out, you would pay him the money garnered from selling his records and he would become very rich and happy. The "logic" now is that if you want Kurt to sell out you can pay all his record royalties to someone far richer than he'll ever be. He won't earn a cent but he'll be just as thrilled with the outcome.
IN: Continuing with the Perth theme, are there any venues you particularly enjoy playing here and why?
GL: I loved the Bakery. Its such a bummer it closed. We're going to play Freo Town Hall soon. We've never done that before. I used to work there quite a bit in the 1990s doing lights for reggae bands and stuff like that. Haile Selassie went there once. He was meant to be Jesus Christ reincarnate.
IN: You’ve had a pretty phenomenal career, approaching 20 years now. How does one remain motivated and invigorating for such a long time?
GL: I just like music I suppose. I like all of it. Except the shit half. As far as I can tell shit music is domesticated music. Good music is undomesticated. Billy Joel vs The Stooges. Andrew Loyd Webber vs Stravinsky. Coolio vs GZA. Nicki Minaj vs Missy Elliot. Winton Marsalis vs Charlie Parker. Peggy Lee vs Nina Simone. Eric Clapton vs Jimi Hendrix, UB40 vs Peter Tosh etc etc etc.... You can't control the good ones.
IN: Are there any new Australian artists who have caught your attention recently?
GL: Yeah there's lots of stuff. Time For Dreams, Ella Stiles, Ben Witt, You Beauty, Dispossessed, Palm Springs, All The Weathers.... There are shitloads of new bands that are good. Lots of girls in bands. I think parents finally got around to making their daughters feel like they weren't second class. They've all grown up and started skateboarding and surfing and joining bands in larger numbers than ever. I think girls of my generation and previous generations were kept out of all that by their parents who had been working on a kind of subconscious autopilot level and passing all this negative shit onto their girls. It's like half the new bands now are female. Or close. People blame the media and the promoters for sexism and exclusion in rock/pop type music but its mums and dads doing it by accident mainly. It's just easier to blame simple and distant shit like media and promoters instead of looking at complex and close range stuff like the parents that loved you and probably treated you pretty well otherwise.