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Cover Story: The Drones

Written by Michael Carr on April 16, 2009

Having ripped apart stages across the country on last years national tour in support of their album Havilah, as well as leaving audiences at both Big Day Out and Laneway crippled and begging for more, The Drones are a band to be feared, respected and worshipped as the lonely Gods of local music they are.

With another tour coming up, I had a chat with lead singer and guitarist Gareth Liddiard a month or so back to get the lowdown on the upcoming tour, their first time hosting Rage and why he has the symbol of German industrial music pioneers Einsturzende Neubauten tattooed on his wrist.

“The first time I saw them I was about 16 and they were on Rage,” he tells me. “I was trippin out on LSD and they just blew me away, they were playing live and it was just out of control.”

Stepping back a second I ask him if he would often make a habit of sitting up to watch Rage on acid. “Yeah, it happens a lot, we used to set it up so if something bad came on you could just mute it and put some music or another video on. It’s an Australian institution really.”

Eager to plumb the scummy depths of his taste in music like the sonic catfish I am, I enquire as to what guilty pleasures he may have chosen to play as guest programmer. “Tonnes of different stuff,” he laughs.

“We got Billy Bob Thornton singing a song called Angelina, you know, guess who, we couldn’t resist that and we got a bit of that 30 Odd Ft Of… ah, Russel Crowe’s band, whatever they’re called, couldn’t help chucking that in either.”

Rising to prominence in 2005 with their second album Wait Long By The River & The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By ( a gloriously broken opus of blues drenched rock which won them the inaugural Australian Music Prize in 2006), The Drones have toured relentlessly stopping only to record albums or recruit new members. With such a gruelling schedule you’d expect the band to hate each other by now, but Gareth reveals they have their own way of keeping things chirpy on the road.

“Funny shit goes on all the time. We try to entertain each other because we know each other so well there’s nothing left to say, so in the end we just end up trying to crack each other up, and things just get more and more extreme and weird. If someone were to jump into the van mid tour they’d have no idea what the fuck was going on.”

The band have played extensively through both Europe and the US, following in the footsteps of artists like Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and The Dirty Three, experiencing more and more success each time as well as becoming a bit of an ATP favourite, having played Minehead in 2007 with The Dirty Three, New York in 2008 with My Bloody Valentine as well as being scheduled to play Wait Long By The River at both the New York ATP as well as being part of 2009’s Don’t Look Back concert series.
“Touring Australia is hard, there’s five capital cities and if you’re playing that weird kind of music, like it’s not the Screaming Jets, but doing that more kind of left of centre shit, you can’t really do a rural tour, you’ll get lynched. And it really cuts down on your opportunities so eventually you just go ‘fuck this let’s go overseas.’”

Part of the band’s popularity has to be attributed to Liddiard’s unique way of playing the guitar, often bringing forth abrasive hooks and jangly rhythms that sort of reverberate up your spine like a vibrator held against your tailbone.

“I started when I was 15 or 16 and I was listening to stuff like Kim Salmon (The Scientists), Roland Howard (The Birthday Party), Blixa Bargeld (Einsturzende Neubauten, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) and Greg Gins (Black Flag), and they were all really strange players in their way, they were all pretty indiosyncratic and they weren’t always technical. Like Blixa Bargeld is just fucking amazing, but he wouldn’t be able to play, like, Metallica or some shit.”
Liddiard and his wife and bassist Fiona Kitscin recorded the latest album, Havilah, in their home in the remote Victorian town of the same name. “The album was all written up there,” he tells me, “and there were bits and pieces of songs that I took from stories from the area. It was a pretty wild place back in the day, it was a goldmining town, 2,000 people lived there, 2,000 maniacs.”

“You’ve gotta look around, there’s plenty of crazy stories in Australia, it doesn’t have to be all cowboys and indians and knights in shining armour, Australia has a pretty nutty history. It might be short, but it’s action packed.”

Speaking of action packed, Liddiard and Kitschin were in the thick of it a few months back, with the Victorian Bushfires threatening their Havilah home.

“We got back there and the fire had come into Havilah, into the valley. It was pretty nerve wracking; pretty much one side of the valley was burning, like a wall and then the next day it got to our house. The house isn’t on a rectangular block or anything, we’ve basically got bush on three sides, but somehow the fire didn’t get into our yard, you know it just basically stopped at our fence.”

Moving on I ask him what we can expect from The Drones following the tour, a new album perhaps? “Yeah we’ll probably be done touring around this time next year, I spose, and then yeah have to think about making a new record. Before then we might try and do some kind of DVD thing where we record us playing a bunch of shit in a room, you know doing as much different stuff as we can in as many different places as we can and then tag on some of the live shows we’ve filmed over the years and stick them in there as well, I mean why not?”

Why not indeed?

Havilah is out now and be sure to catch The Drones at The Metro on April 25th

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