Poolside at a Brisbane hotel in balmy spring sunshine is not, perhaps, where you’d expect to find Gareth Liddiard, the poet of existential wrath and melancholy. But encouraging daft stereotypes was never his forte, either, and the frontman of The Drones is having a welcome day off.
After finishing a twelve date Australian tour and a hasty European jaunt to launch his sombre solo album, Strange Tourist, Liddiard and the Drones have been locked into a daunting new project, creating the live DVD, A Thousand Mistakes.
“It’s been a huge head-fuck,” Liddiard drawls. “We’ve made a million albums and we know how to do that, but for me and Fi (Kitschin, partner and bass player) it’s our first time putting together something filmic.”
Those albums have between them won one Australian Music Prize and been shortlisted for several more, as was Liddiards’s astonishingly bleak and gravely literate solo album. All share that excoriating Drones bare-knuckle signature. The DVD, however, promises even less compromising Drones flavours.
“The main premise is we did a bunch of songs that we never usually play live, kinda because they’re too hard to slot into a set in a dynamic way – the instrumentation is too hard to do live, because, y’know, if we took a church organ on tour Qantas would sting us to death. So we based this upcoming tour around that particular set in the DVD. It’s not going to be the same Drones rock and roll bonanza.”
Australia, however, seems to be lapping up this resolutely tough, unadorned rock and roll – the kind of music that makes say, The Cosmic Psychos look polite. It’s part of an Australian theme, Liddiard suggests.
“We’re ripping off a bunch of stuff – Kim Salmon, Beasts of Bourbon bands like that, but then going a bit further with it. If Australia does have a tradition, it would be that Roland Howard or Angus Young cut-your-head-off nasty guitar sound. We took that vicious American rock to the nth degree. Even the early Go Betweens was pretty gnarly sounding.”
The band will tour A Thousand Mistakes nationally throughout October, in keeping with that relentless live tradition. It’s been paying off, the Drones winning Best Live Act at the inaugural Australian Rolling Stone Awards in 2010, the 2009 AIR Awards for Best Independent Album of the Year and Independent Artist of the Year. Back-to-back tours of Europe have established a major fanbase there, with shows at the prestigious All Tomorrows Parties Festivals in the UK, among countless other European and North American festival tours. Liddiard is frank about this startling artistic success.
“We’ve been moving up a very mild incline for a long time and that was kind of the plan. I knew when I got started that if I got good musicians together and made quality music, then eventually that small part of the population that actually like music a lot will find us and so rather than having a big promotional machine or a gimmick, it will spread itself out, take a long time and always grow. Which we have done. And in Australia it’s a lot easier than it is in America or Europe because the songs are by a guy who was born in this country, so if you’re born here too you’ll probably see things in it that foreigners wouldn’t.”
The songs on Strange Tourist certainly chimed with Australian audiences, to judge from reverent revues and sold out shows across the East Coast.
“It did remarkably well, people were really quiet and attentive,” Liddiard concedes. “It was bigger and more successful than I expected from a grumpy little album.”
But he’s happy to shelve that storytelling style of music for a while and get back to rocking, in his own inimitable way.
“I’m looking forward to picking up an electric guitar again. I’ve been carting around an acoustic and its like 3 kilos as opposed to seven kilos, but the electric is a hundred times easier to play – it’s like playing a rubber band as opposed to playing a high tension wire.”
The Drones tour A Thousand Mistakes nationally, with special guest Adalita throughout October, playing the Cambridge on October 8th. DVD in stores October 7th.
It depends on what doin well is, you can be a flash in the pan without having to go overseas, but there’s a cultural cringe where people feel they’ve gotta have a pat on the head from overseas before they think someone has integrity, more so than just success.
Australias always been a bit behind the eightball because we’re an outpost. You look at the Swingin Sixties in London say and we were way behind ina pop culture way – you had things like yr Lobby Lloyds and yr Billy Thorpes, but it just seems like AC/DC is where it sort of started
There was good bands like the Easybeats, but they were trying to be the Beatles – ACDC weren’t. For a band that was very ambitious they chose a really nasty-sounding guitar sound to be a huge pop band with – so they were real – and after them you’ve got Saints and Radio Birdman and your Boys Next Door and so its really only that Seventies periods where we cottoned on. The Yanks had Chuck Berry and Charlie Parkert back in the early days – we’re just taking our time.