Kid Confucius have kept the soul alive in Australia since 2001, when they quickly rose to fame on a wave of original sound. In the years since, the band has toured relentlessly, honing their skills and gaining the confidence to experiment and evolve as a group.
Their third album, The Let Go, was released last year, marking a significant change in the sound of the band, and a return to more traditional influences. Turning away from the Motown-inspired soul aesthetic of their last release, 2007’s Stripes, Kid Confucius returned, as it were, to the roots of funk and soul to deliver a bluesy, rock-driven record that surely won over some new fans, and didn’t fail to impress old school stalwarts.
Having played over four hundred shows in the last eight years, it’s unusual for the band to be starting their first tour of the year in September, but a short run of east coast dates in the next month will indeed signal the first live appearances for the Sydney-siders this year.
Daniel Clarke spoke with disarmingly honest guitarist Andrew Guirguis recently about fun at festivals, pre-modern production and the benefits of a break from the business.
Music Feeds: So what’s been happening with Kid Confucius lately? Have you guys been playing live recently?
Andrew Guirguis: By our standards we’ve had a very quiet year on the live front. We’ve just been working on some things and taking a bit of a break. It feels weird to be taking the first proper tour and it’s September, but you have years like that. I’m very excited to be doing stuff at the end of the year. It’s always better, going into summer, to be up and at ’em. I feel like there are more festivals than there are venues in Australia, you have to get on one.
MF: Do you like the solo show or festival vibe better?
AG: I’d have to say the festival. I think the festival concept is so good for Australian bands. We’ve got the climate for it and I think the Australian people go a little bit more nuts for a festival. There’s also that added bonus of not having to worry too much about the crowd and the organisation and production. We’ve definitely been blessed doing our own headline shows but the festivals are sweet.
MF: It’s been a climactic couple of years for the band. What was it that prompted the change in your music over the 07/08 festival season?
AG: It was a combination of what we were listening to off stage and what we were doing on stage. For me it was bands like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Phoenix, and early Kings of Leon stuff. I think we were all just starting to listen to all the rock bands, blues bands, early soul as opposed to later, more funk-influenced soul. That was changing our brains. There was a tour in late 2007 where we played like thirty dates over the summer and we didn’t have time to rehearse. So we often just got straight on stage and played off the cuff, making stuff up as we went. All of a sudden we found ourselves changing as a band, not relying on rehearsals to tighten things up. We were enjoying letting the rawness of our sound seep into things. We wanted to then take that to the studio and amplify it more.
MF: So that’s made things easy for you, not having to rehearse…?
AG: It’s not so much that we’ve gotten looser as a band it’s that we’ve tried to play more to the strengths of the instruments we have in the band, rather than spending two rehearsals trying to get something sounding completely clean and tight. Like “I’m the kind of guitarist who plays like this so I’m gonna play it like this.” Then trying to write the songs that facilitate that. It’s kinda weird to be doing that with the third album, you’d think that would be the first thing you figure out. We’ve enjoyed jumping between genres and seeing what we could do but the now we can let go and hopefully the next record will be us staking our territory a bit more. This is what it is; we’re a rock soul band, here we are.
MF: Do you think that is something that comes with confidence?
AG: Definitely. If anything we’re a little too comfortable. We’re one of those lucky bands that grew up playing live. We played live for four years before we even recorded our first album. So we played hundreds of shows before we ever went into the studio. I think a lot of bands feel more comfortable in the studio whereas it’s the opposite for us. It’s definitely the confidence in knowing when we get on stage, it’s gonna happen. Trying to take that to the studio has been the main thing. We only gave ourselves four, five days to record the whole thing. It was one of those things, if we failed we would have felt like, as a band we’d failed. But we succeeded and now we feel we can just do one or two takes and that’ll do it. But in the last year or two we’ve also had some lineup changes.
MF: Yeah, you got a new guitarist, James Manson. How long has he been with the band?
AG: He’s been with us since the beginning of 2008. He came along pretty much on the eve of recording The Let Go. It was a real spark for how the album sounded, and we felt like we had a bit of a new look band. He was very different to our old guitarist and it can be hard to acclimatise to that.
MF: Now, when recording the album you used all pre-seventies mikes in the studio and recorded to tape. Was that a deliberate decision?
AG: Definitely. In some ways using old equipment will get you close to achieving an old rock or old soul sound. At the same time our producer Tony Buchen, I don’t want to put words in his mouth but I feel like he thinks that that equipment is just the best equipment to use. At least that’s what we’ve found in the last two albums with him. He’s had a preference for mikes that have character and tapes that have character. Keeping it analog so you can retain that sound right up until the last minute.
If you are recording mostly digitally and you have a relationship mostly with the screen rather than buttons and knobs it does change the way you think about the music. Also there’s something about knowing that when the tape runs out, the money runs out. You know you’ve got to get it in like three takes, you don’t have a million tracks to keep playing with.
MF: How long were you working on the songs before you went into the studio?
AG: To be honest not long enough. In some ways we set ourselves a task of making what we thought would be the fastest recording of an album in history, probably about a month. It was just over a month of pre-production, then five days in the studio, then only about a week of post-production. We just wanted to do something quickly for the story of it, but looking back it’s a pretty tall order. You know, you think maybe with another week or two weeks that song could have gotten to its ultimate state. In terms of the writing that went on before that pre-production it was still only about two months of writing. I had a hand in writing a lot of songs on the album and I know that a lot of them came out in about fifteen minutes. I definitely want to keep that sense of speed and urgency for the next record, but if we could just get another month or two, that’d be great.
MF: What will be seeing from Kid Confucious live on this latest tour? Will the old songs get a rework live?
AG: We’re doing some slightly new arrangements but we don’t want to change it too much. The songs are getting progressed live. We’re chucking in solos where they work, extending sections where they work; doing what Kid C does best which is feeding off the crowd a little bit. So if we think the crowd’s being a bit too timid we’ll take ten minutes out of the show to do what we have to do to get them up and excited. If we’ve got a crowd that’s completely raucous and in our faces we’ll change the songs a bit to play to that. We like to be flexible.
MF: Do you think you’ll be recording again any time soon?
AG: We’re into tour mood right now. I’d love to be able to get onto a couple of festivals and do a string of shows early next year. Summer is the best time to be playing. We’d love to go overseas which is something we’ve been talking about a few years now. It’s starting to become less talking than tense looks shot at each other across the tour bus: “we’ve gotta do this.” There are a couple of new songs kicking about but we want to give ourselves a little bit more time this time. We won’t be recording in the next six months but we’re definitely feeling the juices flowing.
Catch Kid Confucius touring the east coast now, and keep an eye out for their upcoming festival appearances coming soon.