2005 was an interesting year for Australian music. Ben Lee rebooted with the biggest hit of his career, Wolfmother became the biggest band in the country, hip-hop was beginning to rise in profile and most of the top acts in the land – Faker, Kisschasy, End of Fashion and After the Fall – have all wound up in the “Where are they now?” files.
At the same time, an upsurgence was happening in the heavier side of things; in which a slew of more melodically-inclined but blisteringly-technical acts were carving their name as not only top dogs of their immediate scene but ones that could crossover to a wider audience.
Karnivool were such an act, originally a nu-metal inclined late-nineties project for friends Ian Kenny and Drew Goddard that reinvented and expanded in the first half of the 2000s.
When Themata hit, it didn’t feel like anything else. It was a peerless, extravagant and incredibly versatile album; at once crushingly heavy and soaringly anthemic. Head-spinning time signatures and downtuned riff wizardry found its home among boisterous, all-encompassing choruses – a yin-yang contrast that came to define the very essence of what makes the band such an exceptional force.
Ten years on, fans now have the chance to revisit the album with the band themselves; as Karnivool hit the road to play Themata from start to finish.
Away from rehearsals – and with a sly hint that some new material may be coming sooner than fans think – guitarist Mark “Hoss” Hosking shared his role in the creation of Themata; relocating to west-coast life and keeping nu-metal fun for everyone.
Watch: Karnivool Themata Tour Trailer
Music Feeds: Apart from Kenny and Drew, everyone in the band currently had separate entry points when it came to joining Karnivool. Talk us through you coming into the fold originally.
Mark Hosking: I moved from Melbourne to Perth about thirteen years ago. At that point, Drew had written probably about half of the album. When I came over, we gave ourselves about a six month period to just write further toward the album. I was living out of Drew’s garage at the time, and we had a little studio that we did all the work out of.
It wasn’t actually until after Themata was finished that Steve [Judd, drums] came on board. As most people know, Drew recorded the drums on the album. It was a bit of an uphill battle in those twelve to fourteen months that were spent making that album, but it was all worth it to us.
MF: The move from Melbourne to Perth is a peculiar one, especially for a musician. Almost always, it’s the other way around.
MH: I know, right? [laughs] I originally wasn’t going to make the move for the band. I told them that I would stay in Melbourne and we’d write by sending each other tracks online and such. What was originally supposed to be a six-month project turned into something I more or less committed my life to.
The band and everything else going on over here kind of pulled me in. I’ve come to call Perth home, which is still kind of weird to me. My family and friends are all still in Melbourne, my business is in Melbourne. At the same time though, this band has been really flat out since we more or less christened it with this album.
Watch: Karnivool – Themata
MF: Themata, and really Karnivool as a whole at that point, was Kenny and Drew’s baby. When you initially came into the project, did it ever feel like you were somehow interfering in regards to what they were doing?
MH: Not really. It started the way we’ve always worked since. Drew presented us with these songs, asking us if we could put some ideas for vocals over it. That’s where Jon [Stockman, bass] and I would take the roles of organisers, seeing what ideas can go where; trying to build something up into a finished product.
Often, we’ll write things on our own, maybe get up to the 60-70-percent mark and then bring it to the rest of the band to see what we can do with it. It’s how we started doing it back then and it’s stuck ever since.
When you’re a five piece, you’re rarely there for the entire creation of a song. Everyone has their own things going on at any given time. I think that’s how we create such versatile music – everyone getting their say and getting their ideas across.
MF: At what point did your contributions start developing for what would end up on the record?
MH: More or less straight away. It’s sort of the way the process worked, really. They had five finished songs when I got there and about ten quarter-finished songs. Karnivool’s just a weird process like that, man.
It’s a very rare day when someone comes in and says “Hey, guys! I’ve got this really great song I want to show you.” It’s much more often the case that someone comes in and says “I’ve got this little snippet of an idea, and with a lot of hard work and some late nights we can probably turn it into a song.” [laughs]
MF: One of the biggest regrets that the fans, and surely you guys, have about Themata is that you were not able to record Roquefort with the horn section you originally planned for it. That eventually happened, but the album version has forever remained horn-less. Are you hoping to bring out some horns when you’re playing the song live on this tour?
MH: Yeah, hopefully. We’ll certainly try to. The original guys that recorded on that track, Harry [Angus] and Kieran [Conrau], will sadly be on tour with The Cat Empire in Europe while we’re doing the tour. That won’t stop us from begging, borrowing and stealing from other players, though!
It’s a great deal of fun when we get to play it live with the horns. We recently did a tour of the U.K. with a band called Monuments. Their lead singer, Chris, who’s this killer dude and an amazing singer, actually plays the sax as well. We actually got him to jump up with us a few times and play sax on Roquefort and it was ace. Whoever’s available, we’ll find someone to do it, for sure.
Watch: Karnivool – L1FEL1KE
MF: A lot of the songs on Themata have ended up as staples in the Karnivool setlist, while others have fallen by the wayside. What’s the song on Themata that it’s been the longest since you’ve played?
MH: Probably Sewn and Silent. That, and probably Synops and L1FEL1KE. They’re really songs that we don’t really get a chance to play. They just don’t seem to fit into a typical set, for whatever reason. I don’t think we’ve played Sewn and Silent since maybe the album launch in 2005.
MF: L1FEL1KE makes sense for not fitting into your sets these days. You can definitely tell that one is a product of the nu-metal scene.
MH: Oh, totally, man. [laughs] Songs like it and Fade… we try and get through them in rehearsal and we’ll often break out laughing just because of how silly it can feel now.
It’s hard to give it the same amount of energy that we did back in the day. It’s still a matter of us trying to find some honesty and some feel to those kind of songs – to get something out of them again, in a way. There’s certainly ways you can play those songs without sounding like dudes with dreadlocks jumping up and down in their bedrooms…
MF: Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
MH: [laughs] Not at all! We were all young once! Had to start somewhere!
MF: There’s been a bit of reinvention throughout playing Themata live. The title track, in particular, used to go as long as 8 minutes with a huge, atmospheric intro. Is it important to keep these songs vital and interesting to play?
MH: Definitely. I think you have to, in a way. If you’re a band that’s been touring as long as we have, you have to keep it interesting. You can’t ever feel like you’re on autopilot. That’s a bad thing. It’s important to keep your mind active; keeping things fresh and keeping it honest.
Watch: Karnivool – Hey Now (London Grammar Cover)
MF: What’s your relationship with the album now, looking back at it? Are you the kind of person that laments over wanting to record something better or do a part differently? Or do you simply view the album as a product of what the band was at the time?
MH: That album started everything for us, man. For us, it was our baby. In many ways, we still look at it like that. Of course there’s things I’d change, but it’s pointless over-thinking it.
That’s what it was. That’s what it will be for all time. You just get on with it. It’s nice to get back to this record – especially playing a record in full. That’s something we’ve never done before. It’s exciting to us. In a lot of ways, Themata still has legs for us.
MF: A lot of bands have come and gone within the heavier music scene in the decade since Themata – it’s also the ten-year anniversary of Cog’s The New Normal, for instance, who you guys toured with back in the day.
You can go through a slew of tour posters and see all of these bands that showed promise and could have been huge but ultimately imploded and moved onto other things. The sole constant, at the end of the day, has been Karnivool. You haven’t had a line-up change since, you haven’t gone on “hiatus” or anything like that. The band is almost omnipotent and omnipresent. Why do you feel the band has survived this entire decade unscathed?
MH: There’s definitely something about what we wanted this band to be. We were never the band to impose rules on one another – especially when it came to other projects. We’ve all got our other bits and pieces that we do away from Karnivool – Kenny with Birds [of Tokyo] being the most obvious one.
To be honest, other bands probably wouldn’t have let that happen. What Karnivool was – and what it is – is something we can always come back to. It challenges us. It forces us to be better musicians. It felt like it was always going to be there. Other bands wouldn’t have created that luxury themselves.
It’s why they often tend to get away prematurely. The pressure becomes too much, and we don’t put that pressure on ourselves. You wouldn’t put us as an example in business management, but it’s all added to the longevity.
Karnivool’s Themata Decade Tour kicks off around the country at the end of April. Check below for dates and ticket details.
Gallery: Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, sleepmakeswaves – The Marquee, Brisbane 11/01/14 / Photos by Rebecca Reid
Karnivool – Themata Decade Tour
Thursday, 30th April
Wollongong University, Wollongong
Friday, 1st May
Saturday, 2nd May – SOLD OUT
Sunday, 3rd May – NEW SHOW
Thursday, 7th May
The Northern, Byron Bay
Friday, 8th May
The Coolangatta Hotel, Coolangatta
Saturday, 9th May – SOLD OUT
The Triffid, Brisbane
Sunday, 10th May – NEW SHOW
The Triffid, Brisbane
Tuesday, 12th May – SOLD OUT
The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Wednesday, 13th May – SOLD OUT
The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Thursday, 14th May – NEW SHOW
The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Friday, 15th May
Kay Street, Traralgon
Saturday, 16th May
Wool Exchange, Geelong
Tuesday, 19th May
The Gov, Adelaide
Thursday, 21st May
Friday, 22nd May
Metro City, Perth