Looking forward, looking back. What started as a scratching post for Gareth Liddiard’s more avant-garde and obscure ideas in the late-90s across in Perth has evolved over the years into a collective widely regarded as one of this country’s most historically-important and endlessly-fruitful bands. Theirs is a musical endeavour that pushes through any and all conventions laid out by rock, blues and even noise music. It’s taken the band across six acclaimed albums, countless international tours and a live show that comes in the highest of regard across demographic and genre boundaries.
In 2015, The Drones are both reflecting on the ten-year anniversary of their breakthrough LP, the remarkably-titled Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By; as well as looking toward the imminent release of their as-yet-untitled seventh studio album.
We spoke with drummer Christian Strybosch, who was originally a part of the band from 2000 to 2004 before returning to the fold once again in 2014. We talk through his initial involvement, his return and the dream job of “getting drunk and playing drums.”
Music Feeds: This is the second time around that you’ve been involved with playing in the band. Tell us about your initial involvement…
Christian Strybosch: Oh man, we’re taking it back a bit here… [laughs] I was playing around in some mate’s bands in Melbourne. We were kicking around at the Tote, the Public Bar, having a good old time. At the same time, though, I was looking for something more. I’ve got a twin brother, Nicko – shout out to Nicko! – and he was always reading the local street press and the local zines and things like that.
He saw this ad – normally they’re after dudes into The Stooges and into KISS and stuff like that. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those bands, of course, but it just wasn’t what I was after. This ad, however, was looking for a drummer that was into, like, Townes Van Zandt, John Coltrane, The Gun Club, all different kinds of shit. I was like, “What the fuck are these guys gonna sound like?”
Nicko convinced me to give Gaz [Gareth Liddiard, lead vocals/guitar] a ring, and soon enough it was lined up for a jam. Rui [Pereira] was on guitar back then, and Brendon Humphries was on bass. He’s still playing around Melbourne quite a bit, too. When we jammed together, it was like nothing I’d ever played before. Straightaway, we just locked in.
It was really working. None of us were interested in 4/4 rock’n’roll – it was loose, it was loud and it was something we were all into. I got the gig on the spot and Rui told me that we had a gig in a week’s time. It was exciting, but it also felt like I was getting thrown straight in the deep end with these guys.
Watch: The Drones – Shark Fin Blues
MF: Do you remember that first gig at all?
CS: It was probably at the Greyhound or something. No-one was there, and everyone that was there hated us, but we had fun anyway. I remember toward the end, Gaz just started playing this fucking Scientists song that we’d not rehearsed and I’d never even heard before. I just had to wing the whole song! That’s where it started – we were doing Mondays at the Tote, ended up doing some Tuesday shows. Once we got a Wednesday show, that’s when we knew that we’d made it. [laughs]
MF: You’re credited as playing on the first two Drones albums – Here Come the Lies in 2002, and Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By. You recorded Wait Long in 2004, but by the time the album came out in 2005 you had left the fold and been replaced by Mike Noga.
Ironically enough, it was around the release of Wait Long that the public profile of the band grew exponentially, with wide critical acclaim and eventual classic status put onto that record in particular. One can’t help but feel that your departure prior to this makes you the Pete Best of The Drones…
CS: That’s fantastic. Pete Best was a fucking great drummer. I’ll take it! [laughs] I guess you could see it that way, yeah. They had a lot of trouble getting the album out, but none of us could believe the reception it got when it finally did. It was so good. It was beyond what any of us could have imagined.
Their success definitely felt like it was overnight to a lot of people, but anyone behind the scenes knew that it was a really long time coming – even just in terms of getting that record out. By the time the record was finished, the rest of the band wanted to start doing more stuff overseas. That wasn’t where I was at, so we parted ways – totally amicably, wasn’t any animosity or anything like that. We were just going different ways. I stuck around and then joined up with Dan Kelly. I was playing in his backing band, The Alpha Males, for awhile there. So yeah, I like the comparison to Pete Best… but he never rejoined, did he?
MF: That’s true! Fast-forward ten years and you’re reclaiming your spot from Mike once again. How did that eventuate?
CS: They came to me with a huge bag of cash and a huge bag of cocaine and said, “You’ve gotta do it!” So I spoke to my wife, she said no… so I did it!
MF: Just like in The Blues Brothers!
CS: Exactly like in The Blues Brothers, to a T.
MF: You’re married to Aretha Franklin, right?
CS: As a matter of fact, I am. I took off in a car-chase and that’s how they got me. [laughs] Nah, nah, so… Mike had decided to focus on doing his solo stuff, which is really great. Fi [Fiona Kitschin, bass] was the one who rang me not long after Mike told them he was finishing up. She called me up at work, and I don’t mind my job.
Given the choice between the two, though… I think I said “yes” before she’d even asked me. A couple of weeks later, I was playing my first show back at Golden Plains. I went through some of the old stuff that I played on as well as some of the stuff from [2013’s] I See Seaweed. It was an amazing show to come back on, and I couldn’t believe my luck.
Watch: The Drones – I See Seaweed
MF: Obviously a lot happened with the band in the decade that you were away – they released four more albums and became one of the most noted bands in Australian music. You’re also coming back to a very different line-up – Rui was eventually replaced by Dan Luscombe, and Steve Hesketh joined the band on keys in 2013. You mentioned being thrown back into the mix really quickly – have you had a chance at all to catch up on what you missed out on? Is the dynamic different?
CS: I guess Gaz is the common thread through all of it. He’s great to play with on-stage. The dynamic’s totally changed. When I was there originally, Rui and I really had something going on. The way he was playing guitar always sat really well with the way that I was playing drums – it clicked for whatever reason.
We’d either be crashing into a brick wall or we’d be floating in mid-air, having some other-worldly experience. I think we were a pretty good band to watch back then. Of course things have changed since those days – the Gaz dynamic is still there, but we all sort of know where the songs are going these days. Being surrounded by great musicians like Lusky, Fi and Hesky certainly helps – it really makes me want to lift my game. Not that there isn’t an element of surprise – we still like to let shit happen.
MF: Have you had a chance to properly learn Mike’s parts from the records you weren’t a part of? Has there been any scenarios similar to that of when Gaz was playing that Scientists song and you just had to wing it?
CS: Not just yet! I had plenty of time to rehearse, and plenty to work with – Mike’s playing on those albums is just fucking unreal. Back in the day, I was never really a rehearsal sort of guy, so it was sort of weird to sit down with these songs, put my headphones on and do my homework.
They’re not really the sort of songs you can wing, really – there’s a lot going on at any given time. We went to Europe last year to properly tour the I See Seaweed record, so I’ve mostly been learning songs from that. I’ve even had to go back and relearn Wait Long, too – I thought it’d be like riding a bike, but some of those songs just kicked my arse! [laughs]
Gallery: The Drones @ Sydney Opera House, 24/05/15 / Pics by Prudence Upton
MF: What do you recall from making that record in particular? Was there a sense that you guys were onto something when these songs were being written?
CS: We had no fucking idea. From my perspective, I was just having a great time. I was playing drums – which I love; I was hanging out with my mates – which I love; and I was downing a shit-load of Melbourne Bitter in Berlin! We didn’t really have a plan or anything like that – we just wanted to get these songs down. Gaz was taking the reins a lot more in terms of production, which I think really helped make the songs what they were. I’d offer more insight if I could, but I was mostly just getting drunk. [laughs]
MF: What more could you want?
CS: Yeah, look, I’m not a pretentious guy! All I’m doing is getting drunk and playing drums – that’s the dream!
MF: Along with playing through songs from Wait Long earlier this year at the Opera House, you guys played through a brand-new song. Can we get a progress report on the new album?
CS: We’re lucky enough to have a studio that we’re sharing with a few other mates. We’ve been in there since late last year. We’ve been writing, taking our time… it’s pretty much done, actually. We’re waiting on some label interest overseas, looking at getting it out there toward the end of the year.
I think there’s a real progression on this album. It’s nothing like Wait Long or Here Come the Lies. There’s a lot of electronic stuff – I’ve got a few samples here and there, some triggers and shit. We got turned onto a lot of old-school hip-hop, using samplers and stuff like that. We’re slowly turning Gaz into the Hip-Hopapotamus… [laughs]
MF: The Wait Long tour is but a matter of weeks away – are you excited to get back on the road properly in Australia after the one-off at the Opera House?
CS: Yep, absolutely. One question, though – do they have Melbourne Bitter in Sydney?
MF: If you put it on the rider, I’m sure they’ll get it imported for you.
The Drones kick off their ‘Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Float By’ 10 year anniversary tour at the end of August grab all the details here.
Watch: The Drones – Jezebel