All posts tagged gareth

  • The Vine interview: Gareth Liddiard of The Drones, February 2013

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    The Drones: “I’m not addicted to love”

    Gareth Liddiard of The Drones, interviewed by freelance journalist Andrew McMillen, February 2013

    It’s a busy time for Melbourne rock band The Drones – or so I thought. When singer/guitarist Gareth Liddiard (main photo, far left) calls in early February, their sixth studio album I See Seaweed is less than a month away from release, and the second All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP) festival to take place in Australia – curated by Liddiard and his bandmates – is but a fortnight away. Yet the singer is lazily strolling around at his home in the Victorian bush, oil can in hand, searching for strong mobile phone reception. A picture of calm.

    I’m being slightly disingenuous in this depiction, of course. Late in our half-hour interview, it emerges that Liddiard’s had little time to himself lately. While their ATP curating duties have long since finished – judging by what I hear today, it seems there’s little more required of The Drones beyond showing up next weekend, shaking some hands, plugging in, and playing some songs – completing I See Seaweed has been a full-time concern of late.

    It shows in the songs. I’ve played the eight-track album perhaps 25 times by the time Liddiard and I speak, and I’m convinced it’s a contender for their best yet. Our conversation contains in-depth discussion around songs that, at the time of writing, you won’t have heard. Album spoilers aside, Liddiard offers a typically expansive conversation that touches on space-bound canines, alternative ideas to programming festivals, The Drones’ newly-confirmed fifth member, and experimenting with topless photography.

    The lyrical themes of I See Seaweed are as varied as ever; it seems that nothing’s out of bounds for you. How do you decide what to write about?

    It’s more what not to write about. Some things are boring, and they’re done to death, so I steer clear of them, really.

    For example?

    Any sort of clichés. I don’t pick cotton; I’m not addicted to love. You know what I mean? Some things have been done before, so I try not to do that.

    I’m just trying to think whether I’ve ever heard a Drones love song before. I don’t think I have.

    There are love songs, but they’re not really obvious. It would be retarded if we did love songs, because I’d either get into trouble from the bass player [Fiona Kitschin, Liddiard’s partner] for being in love with someone who isn’t her, or if I wrote a love song about her, imagine me showing her the chords and telling her how to play it! That’s really wrong.

    Point taken. You mentioned avoiding clichés; has that always been something you’ve aimed to do? Has this changed since [2002 debut album] Here Come The Lies?

    I’ve always tried to avoid it, but I wasn’t always successful. I wasn’t always aware that some things were clichés. It’s self-awareness, that’s all. And being self-critical, I guess. Everyone has their blind spots, but you’ve got to work on those. Some people go, “check this out, man!” as if it’s some amazing thing, but they’ve just copied someone else. They have this enormous blind spot.

    I think the best example for all that is something like American Idol, or Australian Idol. There’s some severe fuckin’ blind spots going on there; people who aren’t self-critical at all. They think they’re good at what they do, but they’re not. If they just rationalised it – or if they used rational thought – they would see where they’re going wrong. But often that’s painful to do.

    I don’t find any clichés in your writing. Certainly not in the last few albums.

    Like anyone, I fuck up. I just try. I like it; it’s fun. It’s interesting. It’s like science. I’m sure a lot of scientists would be a wee bit striking [in their approach] when they initially put their hypothesis out there. People shoot ‘em down. But I’m sure there’s a large part of them that would be excited to see where they went wrong.

    It’s all about the truth; it’s getting close to the truth. They’re trying to find out what the hole is. I’m just trying to figure out what I’m capable of. I mean, I’ve got limits. I’m just using up everything within my limits to make music that’s interesting. Because I want to hear interesting music. That’s all that is.

    For the full interview, visit The Vine.

  • The Weekend Australian album reviews, November 2012: Spencer P. Jones, Crystal Castles

    Two album reviews for The Weekend Australian, published in November.


    Spencer P. Jones and The Nothing Butts – Spencer P. Jones and The Nothing Butts

    For Australian rock fans, this supergroup is a match made in heaven: two members from Beasts of Bourbon and two from The Drones combining to make a beautiful racket.

    On the group’s self-titled debut, the best of both bands can be heard: smart lyricism, enviable energy, finely tuned ears for melody and fantastic guitar sounds.

    Drones leader Gareth Liddiard doesn’t sing here, but his sonic fingerprints are all over these nine tracks: spiralling natural harmonics, whammy-bar flexes and overwhelming klaxon-call effects in the coda of ‘Freak Out’. Removed from the context of his masterful songwriting – Jones is the only lyricist here – it’s apparent exactly how exceptional and valuable Liddiard’s guitar playing is: no other rock guitarist in the world sounds like he does. The noise is enthralling.

    ‘When He Finds Out’ is the centrepiece, filled with unsubtle innuendo and stretched across eight gripping minutes: “Blood is thicker than water, your father screams and shouts / I shudder to think what he’ll do when he finds out,” sings Jones, while James Baker’s hi-hat bounces out an uneasy rhythm and Fiona Kitschin’s sparse bass notes add to the mystique. There’s no humour here, just unresolved tension: the extended guitar freak-out is effectively a stand-in for a violent confrontation. Fearsome stuff.

    Elsewhere, titles such as ‘When Friends Turn’ and ‘Duplicity’ hint at the headspace Jones was in while writing. Not a second is wasted: at 39 minutes, the album feels tantalisingly brief and demands repeated listens. This is an absorbing and cathartic collection of songs performed by four accomplished musicians. Not to be missed.

    Label: Shock
    Rating: 4.5 stars


    Crystal Castles – III

    The third full-length album released by this young Canadian electronic duo lacks the immediate sonic punch that made their first two albums such compelling listens.

    It’s their darkest set yet, but that isn’t such a bad thing. It shows that producer Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass seek artistic growth, and that they’re not content to stay within their comfort zone.

    With their 2008 self-titled debut, Crystal Castles emerged with a fully formed sound that merged synth-led pop ideals with ugly, distorted chiptune sounds, born from Kath’s experimentation with bending circuitry. The music they produced was unique four years ago and remains so.

    As with previous releases, the vocals on III often take on an eerie quality, as Glass rarely sings without the aid of pitch-shifting effects. Those few phrases that are allowed to penetrate through the wash of sound are stark and blunt: “Catch a moth, hold it in my hand / Crush it casually,” she sings sweetly on ‘Affection’, yet the song ends with a cold, cyborg-like voice stating: “We drown in pneumonia, not rivers and streams.”

    This merging of man and machine seems to be one of Crystal Castles’ main goals and they’re bloody good at it; most of the time there’s little sense that human beings had a hand in creating this work. They did, of course, and they undoubtedly worked hard, yet III gives off no sense of struggle. This isn’t their most accessible release – that is 2010’s II – but it’s still a fine extension of their effortless sound, at once beautiful and ugly; intentionally flawed, yet polished to near-perfection.

    Label: Shock
    Rating: 3.5 stars

  • The Weekend Australian story: ‘Dirty Three’s divine trinity of sound’, March 2012

    A story for The Weekend Australian’s Review section, published in the March 3-4 edition.

    Dirty Three’s divine trinity of sound
    by Andrew McMillen

    In his 2009 book The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll, Australian singer-songwriter Robert Forster wrote that “the three-piece band is the purest form of rock and roll expression”. The author had American band Nirvana in mind when he penned that line but admits instrumental trio Dirty Three fits “the whole theory and idea perfectly”.

    Brandishing an unconventional guitar-drums-violin configuration, Dirty Three formed in Melbourne in 1992 and has celebrated its 20th anniversary by releasing its eighth album, Toward the Low Sun. Forster, co-founder of Brisbane pop giants the Go-Betweens, describes the band’s unique musical style as “the magic of a chemical explosion”, and notes “they come from the time of grunge. They existed when Nirvana existed; another three-piece who were chaotic, mad and intense on stage. You can probably still see a bit of that in them.”

    Dirty Three’s catalogue evokes by turns deep melancholia – due largely to Warren Ellis’s emotive violin strokes – and sublime euphoria when the three members lock into a rhythmic pulse that is, oddly, reliant more on guitarist Mick Turner than drummer Jim White. Bobby Gillespie of Scottish rock band Primal Scream has referred to Turner’s idiosyncratic playing as “the way that stars are spaced out in the sky”, while White is more interested in exploring experimental percussive techniques than holding down anything resembling a standard rock drumbeat.

    Yet viewing Dirty Three through the lens of rock – or, for that matter, jazz or folk – is wrong. And although the band lacks a vocalist, it doesn’t sit comfortably with what’s typically understood as instrumental music, either. “Normally people who do instrumental music can be quite dry and sedate, whereas Dirty Three put on a show,” Forster says. “They have an aesthetic of something like ‘minimal’, or instrumental music, but they have a rock ‘n’ roll attitude. It’s almost like there was an invisible lead singer there. That was part of their appeal, besides the fact that they have very good melodies, and that there was something charismatic about the band.”

    The group’s absence of vocals has affected the course of contemporary Australian music in strange ways.

    Gareth Liddiard says Dirty Three has been “a huge influence on what I do lyrically” with Melbourne band The Drones, of which he is lead singer, as well as his solo material. “They made me realise that if you’re going to have words, they need a f. . king good excuse to be there in the first place. They better be good, otherwise why bother?”

    Liddiard says Dirty Three’s music “sounds like someone pushed a drum kit down the stairs and plugged a violin into a f. . kin’ Marshall [amplifier]”. He follows this stark assessment with the highest compliment: “For my money, they’re the best band from this country, ever.”

    Before the band’s formation, all three members had spent years playing in various rock groups. “It seemed like there was this healthy live scene starting in Melbourne,” Ellis says of the early 1990s. “There was a lot of venues to play in, a lot of opportunities to get out and play in front of people. The live scene provided a livelihood for a lot of people. Bands were really trying to confront and challenge you, and there was this great crowd of people going along to check it out each week.”

    Ellis puts the band’s irregular musical components down to a desire to be different. “When we started off, we really wanted to challenge people’s conceptions and also to go against the mainstream,” he says. “There’s something great about feeling like you’re out there, flying your own flag. There is something really empowering about it.”

    The story behind the trio’s debut gig is emblematic of the hunger for original live music in Melbourne at the time. Ellis had a friend who owned a bar called the Baker’s Arms; he told the violinist that he wanted background music but didn’t want to play CDs. Ellis asked White to play drums; he, in turn, asked Turner to play guitar. On a Friday afternoon, hours ahead of the band’s first performance, the trio rehearsed some ideas in Ellis’s kitchen, then played them that night.

    “We had to play for three hours, so we made the songs really long,” Ellis says. This ideology is occasionally reflected in the length of the band’s recordings, too: ‘Deep Waters’, from the 1998 album Ocean Songs, runs for 16 minutes. Ellis’s pal enjoyed the performance, paid them $50 apiece and asked them to come back the next week. To three young men trying to support themselves as working musicians, this was a great deal. “We’d go down and play every Friday night, and get out of our brains,” Ellis says. “Our mates would come along; it was just this great Friday night where nobody had to clean up the mess after.”

    Two decades later, the trio commands a worldwide following and the kind of deep respect among the Australian music community that has been afforded to few acts. All three attribute the band’s longevity to the fact they rarely meet face to face: Turner lives in Melbourne, Ellis calls Paris home, and White splits his time between Brooklyn, Detroit and Australia.

    A week or two before its national tour in March to celebrate the release of Toward the Low Sun, the band will convene in the Victorian capital for rehearsals and simply to catch up. “We usually sit around talking for a few hours talking, just because we haven’t seen each other for so long,” Turner says. “We don’t necessarily talk about music; just about life, our friends, our families.”

    The guitarist believes this close friendship is another reason they have lasted the distance. “We’ve all got a high regard for each other,” Turner says. “If you lose respect for your bandmates, that’s when it’s going to fall apart, I think.” Ellis agrees. “We’ve always treated each other as equal in the musical sense, and in terms of the group’s profile. We share all the songwriting, and royalties equally,” he says.

    “Nobody’s seen as contributing more or less. We’re a group, in the purest sense.” The trio are in regular contact via phone and email; a necessity, given that they split band management duties three ways.

    “We did that a long time ago,” White says. They were once managed by Rayner Jesson, who also handled Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but that relationship ended a few years before Jesson’s death in 2007. “It ebbs and flows over the years in terms of how engaged we are,” says the drummer, who handles their tour bookings. Last year the band played just two shows together: a festival slot at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Tokyo and a benefit concert in January for 3RRR announcer Stephen Walker (to raise money for the legendary broadcaster’s multiple sclerosis treatment) at the Forum in Melbourne, featuring Cave on keyboard.

    Turner admits the lack of a single decision-maker can be problematic. “If a question comes up, it’s got to be fielded around, so it takes a while to be answered,” he says. “One of us might be on tour, and it’s hard to get down and do your email when you’re in the middle of travelling.”

    The three men occupy themselves with other creative outlets during the band’s downtime. White regularly tours and records with other bands: last year he toured with Australian folk-pop trio Seeker Lover Keeper, and the week after we spoke he was scheduled to play shows in Helsinki, Geneva, Istanbul and Tel Aviv with American singer-songwriter Cat Power (real name Chan Marshall) who is one of only two vocalists to have lent their voices to Dirty Three songs. The other singer is Sally Timms, of British rock act The Mekons; both contributions appeared on the trio’s previous release, 2005’s Cinder.

    Ellis has been a member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds since 1995; he plays electric mandolin and guitar in the band. With Cave, he has scored several films, including The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Road and Australian film The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat, which won the pair an AFI award for best original music score in 2005. He also played in Cave’s other rock band, Grinderman, which announced a hiatus at the Meredith Music Festival last December after releasing two albums together.

    Turner splits his focus 50-50 between art and music. His distinctive paintings have appeared on the cover of all of the band’s albums besides its 1995 debut, Sad & Dangerous. His work has been exhibited at galleries across the world and he plans to release a fourth solo album later this year. The guitarist recently attended his primary school reunion, and was amused to discover not one of his former Black Rock State School classmates had heard of his 20-year-old band; unsurprising, perhaps, given that the trio’s sound exists on the periphery of contemporary Australian music tastes.

    Ellis’s Bad Seeds bandmate, Ed Kuepper, calls Dirty Three’s output “a form of pure expression”. According to Kuepper – who co-founded Brisbane punk rock group the Saints and whom Turner considers “one of my only guitar hero figures” – the band consists of “three very recognisable, distinct musicians and they don’t get in each others’ way. They probably become even stronger together. It’s a rare thing.

    “It’s a really unusual thing that they do in terms of Australian music; the approach to the way they play, and the non-standard rhythm [section],” Kuepper says.

    “Very few people do that. Even fewer have any sort of success because in some way it’s quite an esoteric thing that sits outside of the kind that seems to get lauded in Australia, which is generally a lot more mainstream and musically conventional.”

    Since Toward the Low Sun is an extension of the band’s remarkably consistent canon, rather than a stylistic reinvention, it’s unlikely Dirty Three’s eighth album will set the ARIA charts alight on release. The nine theatre shows the band has booked in March, though, are likely to sell out, if its previous national trek two years ago – billed as a performance of the 1998 LP Ocean Songs in full – is to be used as a benchmark of popularity on the live circuit.

    The new album had a particularly long gestation period: the band recorded for six days in February 2010, then didn’t review the recordings for more than a year. It did some additional recording in March last year. An American producer based in Melbourne, Casey Rice, captured the first session at Head Gap Studio in Preston: he worked with the band on its last release, Cinder, too.

    “They’re very focused,” Rice says of Dirty Three’s work ethic in the studio. “A lot of time it’s not just a matter of trying to get it right in a performative sense; it’s more of a feel thing.” The band will play a song slowly, then speed it up for the next take; it will try a song played softly, and then louder; White will work the kit with his drumsticks, then try his brushes for a softer percussive tone.

    “The basis of everything is tracked live,” Rice says. “If there’s more than an electric violin, guitar, and drums on a song, then it’s been added as an overdub. So the bass, extra strings, mellotron, and nylon stringed guitar were overdubbed. But the process remained the same for Toward the Low Sun: they set up, and played it down. That’s what works about Dirty Three; that’s where the magic comes from.”

    There’s that word again, the one Forster used: magic. A distinct sense of the otherworldly encompasses everything the trio does. Yet it’s not exactly the most accessible sound in the world, and there are few points of reference for unfamiliar listeners to latch on to. Liddiard recounts an anecdote that highlights the band’s divisive nature.

    “I’ve seen Dirty Three 40,000 times,” says Liddiard, exaggerating only slightly. “I remember standing behind two dudes at one of their gigs; it could have been in Sydney, or Perth. One guy’s like, ‘This sounds like cat shit, let’s go.’ The other guy just looks at him, incredulous. Like: ‘What the f. . k? Can you not hear that?’ That really sums them up. Some people just don’t get it. And if they don’t get it, there’s something wrong with them, I find.”

    Dirty Three‘s tour starts in Perth on Friday, then WOMADelaide, Adelaide, March 10; Port Macquarie, March 12; Melbourne, March 16; One Perfect Day Festival, Gippsland, March 17; Castlemaine, March 18; Sydney, March 21; Brisbane, March 22; Lismore, March 23.

    Toward the Low Sun is out on Remote Control Records.

    This story was originally published in The Australian; view online version here. For more Dirty Three, visit their website.

  • The Vine interview: Gareth Liddiard of The Drones, April 2010

    An interview for The Vine. (The full interview appears below, since the original publication has been removed from the web.)

    Gareth Liddiard of The DronesGareth Liddiard of The Drones

    As frontman of The Drones, Gareth Liddiard has cultivated a reputation that approaches reverence among Australia’s independent music community. His band were winners of the inaugural Australian Music Prize in 2005, were awarded 2009’s ‘Best Live Act’ by Rolling Stone, and Liddiard’s song ‘Shark Fin Blues’ was voted as the ‘greatest Australian song of all time’ in jmag late last year by his peers. The band have managed to drag this local reverence overseas, garnering ciritcal praise from both sides of the Atlantic while being regular visitors to the US and Europe, most notably as a semi-regular fixture at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals.

    Between recording and touring with The Drones, Liddiard is set to release his debut solo album later this year. Ahead of a solo tour at three east coast venues in mid-April, Andrew McMillen spoke to Gareth Liddiard at length about the pros and cons of performing acoustically, playing Halo 2 while on the dole, ‘sub-par teen angst’, and reading one’s own reviews.

    Andrew: I understand this is the third or fourth time you’ve gone out on a solo tour, Gareth, ahead of a new album. What do you like about previewing these songs in acoustic form?

    Gareth: The chance to get to play them, not necessarily acoustically, but just to get to play them at all, that’s a cool thing. You do your first record where you get to play all the songs live, and then you record it, but after that it goes the other way around where you record then you play live. It’s a bit shit because the songs get better the more you play them live.

    Do you feel a bit nervous bringing them out for the first time in these kinds of circumstances?

    Yeah a little bit, especially when you play solo, you can stuff up. When you’re doing it with a band you can step on the distortion pedal. Acoustic is a bit weirder. I do a few songs I’ve been working on for this tour but it’s kind of more written for the acoustic guitar so I’m not sure if that’s going to make it harder or easier than doing something like previewing Havilah stuff.

    One thing I like about your solo shows is the emphasis it places on your lyrics. Without the external noise of a Drones show, we’re left to concentrate on your stories. Is that your intention?

    Yeah that’s a part of it, one of the reasons. I’m a mumbler anyway, so it’s hard enough with an acoustic guitar, let alone noise from the band. I like to be able to hear what people are singing when they’re singing.

    A downside of acoustic shows is that sometimes you’re not loud enough to overpower those who choose to talk while you play, and that seemed to annoy you at the Troubadour show that you played here in February last year.

    Yeah, I’m not alone on that one. You have to deal with it when it happens. Some people are always going to talk, but it can be irritating.

    I find it interesting that people do that, they pay $15-20 to come see you play and then they talk through the main act.

    A lot of people go up to The Troubadour just to drink, though. There’s nowhere else to drink unless you want to go across the road to that big joint on the corner. Not everyone is there to see the band. Some people have been dragged along by friends and they’re just looking for a beer in a place that isn’t full of women with boob tubes.

    Is there a style of performance that you find more enjoyable as a performer?

    I find if I’m doing electric a lot, I’ll yearn for a bit of acoustic action. If I do acoustic enough I’ll look forward to playing with the band. The grass is always greener. The older I get, the nicer it is to sit down and not have to scream your guts out, you know what I mean? That’s a plus.

    When is the solo album due?

    I think September, maybe. That seems like what the music industry is saying. I’m not going to put it out if it’s crap. I haven’t recorded it yet. If all goes well, I reckon September. I hope.

    Who produced it?

    I don’t know. Production – I don’t believe in that word. I think that word is kind of had its day. It’s too vague. Burke Reid, who did our last record, is going to record it. It seems like everyone how is involved in the recording process has a say. If our neighbour pops over and hears a song we’ve just done and has something to say, then we’ll listen to him. Do I give him production credit? I don’t know. I just think I believe people make records together, rather than one guy produces. It’s such a vague term these days. But, Burke will be recording it.

    I know what you mean – I get some amusement out of reading the music press that places a huge emphasis on the producer behind certain records.

    [Journalists] do that because it just gives them something to understand, that they can understand, but they don’t because it’s not anything that’s easy to understand.

    How much material from that new album are you planning to debut at the upcoming solo shows?

    It depends on what’s ready to go at that point and what I feel I’m capable of that night. I reckon about three tunes, maybe more.

    You write your set lists on the night?

    Yeah, I do them on the night. Some songs, if I was doing a really quiet song, if I hear people talking or something like that, or if it’s just not happening, then there’s no point in doing it. You kind of check the temperature of the room before you make a set list.

    I want to touch briefly on the Kev Carmody tribute show you did in Brisbane in August last year. The Drones only did one song (‘River Of Tears’), and your performance was by far the loudest and most confronting. I think that’s a pretty fair thing to say that the show also exposed you to a crowd more accustomed to Missy Higgins and Bernard Fanning than The Drones. Was that an enjoyable show for you to play – all six minutes of it?

    Yeah, it was. We’ve done two of them in Sydney and for each show we do a bunch of rehearsals, so everyone was already really friendly. It was cool. It’s really fun to be around other musicians, it’s like a big barbeque or something. The day starts, Paul [Kelly] gets money off everyone and goes and gets beer and we drink that during rehearsals. Then it runs out, so Tex [Perkins] ends up doing a beer run. It’s that sort of stuff, like a big house party. Then you get to put the show together which is something you don’t usually do, like a theatre production. I really liked it. Everyone was really cool. But you’re right; it’s weird, coming from where we come from, to then be with Bernard [Fanning] and John [Butler], it’s kind of… We come from a different part of the music industry, if you can call it an industry. Like, Detroit has an industry. [laughs]

    It’s cool that you’re friendly with those people, that you can hang out with them even though sonically, you’re quite removed from pop artists.

    Oh, yeah, no one pretends. I’m not a fan of everyone’s music and vice versa. It’d be a problem if we were all 18 – none of us could talk to each other – but we’re not.

    You’re all mature adults.

    Yeah and we all like a drink, and an obnoxious joke, and stuff like that.

    I find the band’s treatment of ‘River Of Tears’ to be one of the most powerful songs in your repertoire these days.

    The good thing about the Kev Carmody gig was we only did one song, so you can kind of give it everything in one go, whereas if you’re doing a whole live show you have to pace yourself. You just run out of steam otherwise, but when we do it in a set I don’t think it’s as good as when we do it at the Kev Carmody shows.

    I see where you’re coming from, but I disagree. I’ve seen you perform it mid-set a couple of times, and it just floors me every time. It’s so powerful.

    It’s a cool song. It’s one of those songs that just works for us. It ticks all the boxes. That was Paul Kelly’s choice. He’s pretty good at curating, and farming out work to the right people. Whether it’s The Drones, if it works for us, or Glenn Richards [of Augie March]. Paul’s had so many different musicians in his band and stuff; he’s got a really good sense of who will make the most of what.

    More recently, I saw The Drones play All Tomorrow’s Parties, at Minehead (UK) in December. It was a bit bizarre to see you open the set to a pretty sparse crowd, having seen you play to full crowds here in Australia for the last couple of years. The Drones are a fixture at these ATP events – do you find them enjoyable?

    Yeah I do, they’re cool. A lot of it depends on your timeslots and shit too. Last time we played to a lot more people. That was a bummer, but the whole general experience is cool. It’s an awesome place.

    I went to the Mt. Buller event a year ago, and Butlins was the first time I’d been to the UK one. It was an awesome experience as a music fan. From what I gather, the musicians seemed to enjoy it just as much as the punters.

    Yeah, they do. Everyone loves it; a lot of the time, it’s a lot of the same bands, so the more you do it the more everyone gets friendly and it’s funny; you bump into each other there or in New York. They also have an ATP stage at a festival in Barcelona, which was a good time. It’s good socially, as well as everything else.

    Given your affiliation with the label ATP Recordings, I would have thought the Drones would have been one of the acts Barry Hogan is considering to curate the next installment of ATP Australia, whenever that happens.

    If it’s going to happen. I think Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds [who curated the first one in January 2009] were a good choice – they’re always going to pull more people than us. I think there is a bit of that, if they were considering getting us, they’d have to consider the possibility to get someone from overseas that Australians are going to tend to prefer that to their own. I don’t know. Maybe if they do it again. Either way, I was happy to go as a punter last time and not do anything.
    Returning to Australia to discuss more recent events, can you describe what you felt when covering [the GOD song] ‘My Pal’ at The Tote?

    I felt hot, and a bit drunk. [laughs] Actually it was a fun song to play. We played it at ATP with Joel [Silbersher] a few years before, too. Me and Mikey got up with Joel at an ATP at Butlins. That was a good one – we played to about 5,000 people. You should have seen that one!

    Most of them probably had no idea what that song was?

    A few people did, ex-pats and that. It’s a fun song to play. It’s just straight-up kind of three chord punk song. It kind of plays itself. No matter how much you fuck it up, it sounds good to them. But I tell you, the Tote thing was really bizarre being the last band to play there, and that was the last song. That was a strange experience, going “Wow, this is it.” We played there more than we’ve played anywhere else in the world, so it was very odd.

    I have no connection to The Tote. I had never been there, and yet reading the coverage and checking out the YouTube video of you playing, it was extremely moving that ‘My Pal’ was the last song. It obviously meant a lot to people.

    Yeah, it’s a bit of a crowd favourite down there, the favourite on the jukebox. That pub had been around since the last ’70s, early ’80’s or something? That’s where The Scientists played the bulk of their shows. It’s been around; it’s been a huge incubator for years.

    To change topics entirely, are you becoming more comfortable with your position as something of a celebrity among the Australian indie music scene?

    No, if anything I just get more uncomfortable saying I’m a celebrity. I’m the sort of guy… To be famous is good, because it means that more people are giving me money. I always felt that success was being able to do this for a living. That’s how I see it. I don’t make very much money at all. I get a little bit more than the dole, contrary to popular belief. That to me is fine, because I can just play music and make a living. So the more the merrier as far as fans go. You do get anxious about – this is Australia, sooner or later they’re going to go, “The Drones suck.”

    The backlash.

    The more people who know who you are… It’s just weird. I’m not a social animal, anyway.

    Do people you meet in the street feel like they can relate to you through your songs?

    I guess. They seem like they do. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell when you meet someone for 30 seconds.

    Does it bother you that people have an image of you that’s cultivated by what they see on stage and what you write about in your songs?

    No, because that’s the way I saw the people I liked when I grew up. I’ve had plenty of people who I’ve formed an opinion of them through whatever they’ve done musically, which is probably way off the mark. I’m not going to blame anyone for being off the mark.

    Is there a particular song among your catalogue that you’re most proud of?

    I don’t know. I have favourites on each record.

    Do you want to list them?

    Okay. The first one [Here Comes The Lies] would be ‘I Walked Across The Dam’. That’s a good song. I think it’s just too long and too psychopathic for most people. I think it’s good. The band sounds good. ‘I’m Here Now’, on Gala Mill, that’s a good one. That’s just a well-written tune. It sort of plays itself; it does what it’s meant to do. Wait Long By The River, I dunno. ‘Freedom In The Loot’? I like that. It’s kind of got a really fucked up Tony Iommi-type riff, and the lyrics are completely stupid. It’s just about getting laid, but I’ve made it sort of sound really intellectual and ridiculous. [laughs] That’s got a huge guitar solo at the end, which is fun. And Havilah, what would it be on Havilah? I like ‘The Drifting Housewife’, I think that’s kind of cool. It feels good to play it. It just plays itself and it’s a really weird song about not very much at all, really, just about a guy whose got a messy divorce out of the way.

    Thank you for listing those. What did you make of the jmag award late last year?

    I can’t remember it. What was it?

    Well, your musician peers voted ‘Shark Fin Blues’ as the best Australian song ever written.

    Oh yeah yeah, I remember that. I thought that was pretty weird. We beat those fuckin’ shitty Easybeats! [laughs] I thought that was pretty funny. We beat ‘Friday on My Mind’, thank God! [mutters indecipherable expletives] You know what I make of it? I think I would say that most of the people who voted for that [poll] were probably 5-6 years younger than us, and hence more likely to hear “Shark Fin Blues” than “Friday on My Mind” or The Loved Ones doing whatever hits they had, or fuckin’ X or fuckin’ Saints. You know what I mean? They weren’t asking Paul Kelly. They weren’t asking Warren Ellis . They were asking people who were… I’d say Sarah Blasko, but she wouldn’t have voted for us.

    Are you more comfortable with praise from musician peers than from critics and journalists you’ve never met?

    I don’t know. It’s all the same. I’m sort of ambivalent about it because it’s like, “wow, this is amazing, it’s incredible that anyone would think that,” but at the same time it’s not really a good barometer of your sense of worth anyway. It’s a hard one.

    Are you comfortable with praise at all, with regard to your music? You mentioned earlier that you think particular songs are well-written, or that they’re good songs, but are you comfortable with people praising what you create?

    Yeah, because if they want to do it they can, like the way if I want to do it I can if I say to someone, “That’s amazing what you did there. That song is something else.” I’m comfortable, but I don’t take it on board that much. It’s like, “Wow, that’s nice,” but I don’t know. There are plenty of people doing all sorts of shit that impresses me, too.

    Do you ever wish you could escape your back catalogue? Do you get tired of playing ‘the hits’ in every set?

    Oh yeah. Fuck yeah. There’s one song – guess what that one is. I’m sick to fuckin’ death of it.

    ‘Shark Fin Blues’?

    Yeah. [laughs] But at the same time, it’s only because I’ve heard it too many times. I don’t think it’s shit. It’s alright. But I wouldn’t go changing the back catalogue. It’s fine. If anything, it’s a back catalogue for a 25-year old with more stamina than a 34-year old. [laughs] I wish that would change.

    For example, that jmag award has set the expectation that you’ll be playing ‘Shark Fin Blues’ at every Drones show, forever. ‘I Don’t Ever Want to Change’ and ‘The Minotaur’ seem to be fixtures among your set lists too.
    Yeah, you get them. You get those songs that are gonna stick. Everyone has that. There’s nothing you can do about that, really. I’m always saying, “Let’s fuck ‘Shark Fin’ off, we don’t have to do it!”, but it’s the band who probably want to hear it more than anyone else. I don’t know why.

    You get outvoted?

    Yeah, I guess. Vetoed!

    Democracy within The Drones.

    Yeah. It was a bad idea!

    Are there certain songs that are more enjoyable than others for you to revisit?

    Yeah, the ones you do less than others. Keep them fresh. That’s the main thing; you get sick of repetition and when you drag something out from the vault that you haven’t played for a while, then it’s great. You look forward to them in the set. It depends what that song is at that time.

    I want to ask you about ‘The City’ which appeared as the last song on The Miller’s Daughter. Have you ever played that live?

    Yeah, we used to play that all the time, back before people came to our shows.

    I think that’s a killer track.

    Yeah, it’s a good song. I forgot about that one. That’s probably on that record, that’s about the favourite on there, too. The recording is live in the studio 100%. That’s what we used to do on stage because most of The Miller’s Daughter, Wait Long and Here Come The Lies is just 100% [recorded] live.

    Is there anything among your catalogue that you’ll never play live again?

    Yeah, there are tons of songs that are just too hard. Some of them are really, really fucking hard. I’m trying to remember which ones. Actually there are not that many. ‘Are You Leaving For The Country’, that song from Gala Mill. It’s never worked live, people just go “Yeah, whatever”. We liked it, the crowd didn’t. I’d say something like ‘I Walked Across The Dam’, which I mentioned before. You’ll probably never hear that one; when we’re in the rehearsal room, me and Fi are like “Let’s play that!”. Dan and Mike – because they didn’t play on that record – they’d be like, “Fuck that!” I think that song uses every root note. That’s a record. How many are there? [counts to self] It uses all 12. That’s a record.


    Thank you!

    I’d like to refer to your comments that you made in Ampersand in 2008, that “blogging has cut the balls off music criticism”. Do you read reviews written about your music and your performances?

    Fuck yeah, of course.



    Do you seek them out?

    Yeah, like not every day, but I particularly like the bad ones. I found a good one the other night. Pretty awful.

    Who wrote it?

    I can’t remember. It was in the States or something like that. Hang on, I’ll have a look in the history. Anyway, of course I read my reviews. Everyone does. Any musician who says, “Nah, I don’t,” is just being a fuckwit. Or they’re not doing it, like an alcoholic doesn’t drink, you know what I mean. Here it is – Prefixmag.

    What did they say, that you’re a shit songwriter?

    Oh fuck yeah! [laughs] “Opaque and impenetrable listening.” This is my favourite – “sub-par teen angst. Torturously slow-paced.” [laughs] Which sounds great! If I was reading the review I’d go, “That sounds awesome. That sounds like good music!” Anyway, I dunno, I don’t really care what this guy thinks. It’s pretty funny. But yeah, everyone reads their reviews.

    As a journalist, I can tell you that most fellow writers that I know hold The Drones in high regard. It’s like writing about your songs and your music is somehow more enjoyable than nearly every artist I can think of. I think it’s something to do with the dark lyrical content, the confronting music, and also the anti-image that you guys have created over the last few years.

    Yeah look, I can see how that works. Things like, if we go to a mill in Tasmania [as they did when recording Gala Mill], that makes your job easier than if we don’t. It gives you an angle. I can see how that works. Clever marketing on our behalf. [laughs]

    Part of the marketing strategy.

    Yeah, totally! That one came from management.

    Have you ever considered writing a tour diary around your solo tour, like Dan [Luscombe] did for your 2007 Europe tour?

    Not really. Dan really lucked out that one because it was a fucking schmozzle. On the next European tour, he tried to do it again and the tour went reasonably well and it was the shittest, most tedious read. He just lucked out on getting the fuckin’ worst tour ever undertaken by anyone. You don’t really get horrible tours like that in Australia. It just isn’t like doing 50 or 60 shows in a row in fucking Europe. So yeah, a tour diary here wouldn’t be entertaining.

    An Australian tour for most artists seems to just involve visiting the same five or six cities, anyway.

    Yeah, well that’s it. It’s not like going to France. If you go to France five times, you play a lot of different cities. The route is different every time and sometimes you hardly ever go back to the same place twice. Whereas here, it’s just bizarre. I should have been born in America, I’d be rich.

    In preparation for this conversation I’ve revisited some of your past interviews, including one with Mess+Noise writer Andrew Ramadge in 2005. In that story you related a story where John Scott from [Adelaide hard rock band] The Mark of Cain gave some advice for young bands. Do you remember that?

    Yeah, he said that in an interview. He said “get a fucking job”.

    I believe you’re at the point now where music is your full-time pursuit, is that correct?
    Yeah it is, but that’s good advice from John. I think he said something like “get a trade,” like what he was saying is – you’re in Australia, mate. This is going to be hard going to make a living so you have to have a backup plan. Which is perfectly sensible.

    Do you know The Mark of Cain guys?

    I’ve met them, but I don’t really know them.

    I’ve read their blog a bit and from what I gather, one of them works for Australian defence security or something.

    Yeah, Kim [Scott], the bass player, work on missile guidance systems.

    Yeah, that sounds like the most interesting job for a musician to have.

    That’s why they don’t put out records every year, which is good. It’s a good way to do it, like Eddy Current or someone like that. It’s a very wise job. Looking back, if I could change anything, I’d probably get a trade. Then I wouldn’t have to do this fucking… all the time.

    You said in that same interview with Ramadge that “You’d have to be a music geek to appreciate our music.” Do you think this still holds true, given the band’s increasing popularity?

    Yeah, to a point, I guess. There’s a lot in it. We sort of somehow pack a lot in to a small amount of space. If you’ve got your music history, you’ll realise that we rip off everything.

    Have you still held true to the touring motto you told Ramadge, that “if there’s no skyscrapers, we don’t play.”

    Fuck yeah, yeah, which is another fucker because that means we can only play in five cities. Everyone else, be it The Gin Club or Grinspoon, everyone else can play in a lot more places than us. We’d have to learn fuckin’ martial arts to play in rural areas.

    This is based on personal experience, I take it – you have tried to tour regional areas.
    Yeah, everyone gives it a shot. If you want to open up more places to play, there are more places to play. But it just does not work for us. Either people don’t show or they think we’re all homosexual. It’s weird. I mean, it’s not weird at all. I can totally understand that a farmer isn’t going to get what we’re on about.

    It’s interesting the contrast between city and country mentalities then, if city people can accept you and country people can’t.

    Yeah, but that’s just what you’re exposed to. People out in the sticks aren’t exposed to much. They’re not going to know who fucking [French singer-songwriter] Serge Gainsbourg is because there’s just no-one down the pub getting into Serge Gainsbourg. That’s all it is.

    Central to your discussion with Andrew Ramadge was the notion that contemporary Australian society undervalues creative ventures like writing songs and like touring as a band. From your perspective, has this perception changed?

    No, no, and it never will. That’s us from here on in. It’s cultural cringe; it just is what it is. There’s one way to stop that, and we’re never going to do that.

    Which is?

    Boot the English out in a fuckin’ extremely nasty way. That’s where all that shit comes from. America is a colony that doesn’t have cultural cringe because it is one of the only colonies that doesn’t have cultural cringe because it’s one of the only colonies that had a very traumatic uprising against its coloniser, who happens to be England. Now America, after the fucking trauma that was, it must have been a hideous time and then once they booted the Poms out, they didn’t feel English anymore. To them, the English are now an ‘other’. We’ve never done that. We’d have to fight to become a republic. Otherwise, we don’t want to be America or England, and we don’t want to be them forever. It’s cultural cringe. Google it!

    To change topics, your comment in Ampersand that music critics should “do something useful” struck me as a bit hypocritical in light of what you’re saying about society undervaluing creativity. I mean, like songwriting and playing music, writing – whether about music or otherwise – is a creative endeavour. Is it fair to say that you value writing music in higher regard than writing about music?

    That Ampersand thing is pretty blown out of proportion. [laughs] It was meant to be a lot funnier than the way music journalists took it. The editor said, “do this, but go to town”. She wanted a full-on thing, so you know, I gave it to her. Not that music journos don’t annoy me sometimes, but I don’t write them all off. I wouldn’t take [my comments] literally, as ‘the last word’. If I said that to you in a pub, face-to-face, you wouldn’t take it on board, you know.

    I’m not taking it seriously. I’m just curious. It amused the shit out of me when I read it when it first came out. I could tell you were taking the piss, but some other people I showed it to were like, “Oh, that’s bullshit. What a hypocrite.”

    Look, in that thing as well, didn’t I say also that rock and roll is a dumb thing to do?

    Yeah, you said it’s “retarded“, actually.

    Well, there you go. It’s all retarded. Rock and roll seems like a fairly immature pursuit. And everything surrounding it, be that journalism or the business… Anyone who sort of takes it seriously seems a bit absurd. Like, fuck, there’s more than this to life.

    And yet it’s your life, Gareth; you’re living it.

    Yeah I know! [laughs] That’s why I write about it. I can totally see your point of view. I do understand that one needs the other. It’s symbiotic; it goes both ways. We both make a living from doing this.

    Are you aware of the music journalist Craig Mathieson?

    Yeah, from Mess+Noise?

    Have you seen his latest book Playlisted, which has a photo of you on the cover?
    I have, yeah.

    Did you read it?

    Yeah I did, because they sent me a copy.

    He said of the Drones’ last three albums, that “there is no better sequence of albums from an Australian artist of this decade,” which is pretty damn high praise.

    Yeah, it’s great. He likes us, even when I say he’s useless in my Ampersand thing! [laughs] He’s a nice guy. He’s come to my house a few times. And he put me on the cover of his book as well, which is a very nice thing to do.

    Yes, okay before we end I have to ask you about the line in ‘The Minotaur’ [“He spends all day looking at porn or playing fuckin’ Halo 2″] Are you any good at Halo 2?

    I did have a go at it. I’m aware that it’s now hopelessly out of date. What are we, like Halo 4, 5, or 6 now?
    Three-and-a-half, or something like that.

    Is that all? That’s good, so the song’s still half-relevant. I did a work for the dole thing years ago and I came in a week after this course had started. The guy went, “Oh, fuck, you’ve come in too late, so you can’t catch up this week’s work. There’s a computer, it’s online: go and play Halo 2.” I went in a couple of times and did that all day, during office hours, and played Halo 2. I had a great time! [laughs] Then one morning I woke up and went, “I’m not fucking going in to play that game all day,” and they never kicked me off the dole. The guy was obviously understanding enough not to strike me off the list. Why – are you a fan?

    Yeah, I enjoy it, it’s a good game. I’ve been amused to watch people sing that line – and that line only – when you play the song live.

    Yeah I know, and it’s a certain age group that does it.

    It seems to resonate with overlapping communities of indie rock fans and gamers.

    Yeah, totally, though there are a lot of gamers these days. It’s crazy. I do occasionally open my eyes and look down at that point. People love it. I love the porn bit, too. But then, [the blokes] are giving themselves up, they should keep it down. There’s women in the room.

    Alright Gareth, final question; is there any music lately you’ve been enjoying that you’d like to recommend?

    Yeah. How’s this – you know The Wipers? I only heard them the other day.

    ‘Return of the Rat’.

    Yeah, a friend of mine showed me that, I was like, “Fuck, why didn’t you show me that in high school?” I’ve been enjoying them, Toumani Diabaté, the Kora player. I listen to a lot of that. There is a guy called Abdel Hadi Halo, who’s a North African singer with a huge orchestra, so it’s got these Moorish rhythm crazy scales and shit like that. It’s really mean music. I don’t know how devout they all are, but it’s interesting. It’s kind of really sexy. I don’t think that’s what they’re trying to do. What else? I can’t think of anything else, but it’s stuff like that. Stuff that’s not rock and roll, apart from The Wipers, obviously, which is very rock and roll.

    You tend to keep a distance from rock and roll when you’re not playing it?

    Yeah, because you get sick of it because you do it all the time. And I’ve heard The Stooges and I’ve heard Black Flag and I’ve heard MC5 and I’ve heard Led Zeppelin, I’ve heard Hendrix. It’s like – beat that. If you can suggest anything or if you’re a band who can do anything [better than that], I don’t know. Why should I listen to anything that’s ‘sub-par’, as they say. I can just stick Raw Power on. If someone’s like, “come and see this band!”, it’s like, “Nah, I’ve got Raw Power at home,” and very powerful speakers. Is that wrong?

    You’re obviously a bit tied to the past there, Gareth. You’re not keeping with the times.

    Yeah but – come on. Who is? Apart from someone like Deerhoof or Lightning Bolt, I haven’t heard much very ‘new-sounding’ stuff for a while.

    Well, we’ve spoken for 48 minutes. Thanks for your time, Gareth.

    Oh yeah, no worries. Thanks for talking.

    (Note: This interview was first published at The Vine, but as of 2016 much of the original site content has been deleted, so I’m publishing it here instead.)

    To my knowledge, this was the most comprehensive interview with Gareth published at the time (2010). I researched extensively in preparation, and I think that comes across in both my questioning and his responses. Moreover, because The Drones are my favourite Australian band, it was an absolute pleasure to engage with their key songwriter for most of an hour. It’s one of those occasions where I truly love what I do.