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Mike Noga

Mike Noga

Interviewed by
Natalie Finnigan
Wednesday 9th January, 2013 11:13AM

Mike Noga may be better known as the drummer for critically acclaimed Australian band, The Drones, but his solo offerings are also making waves across the ditch and further afield in Europe and the US. After a manic touring schedule in 2012 he is rejoining good mates Band of Horses to open for them during their Australasian tour and Natalie Finnigan caught up with him for a casual chat ahead of his first New Zealand visit where he'll also play a couple of solo sideshows...

So, how are you doing – you’ve had a busy year touring and now, hopefully have some down time over Christmas?

Yes, I’m great. I’m in Hobart at the moment which is where I grew up. I’m spending some time with family before heading on tour with Band of Horses - a tour which includes stops in New Zealand - my first visit!

How have you not been over the ditch yet?

I’m coming alright! Get off my back (laughs). No seriously, I’ve wanted to and I don’t know why I haven’t yet. I have no excuse.

I hope you’re looking forward to it?

Yes I am, though I have no idea how I’ll be received. Band of Horses have a great rep in NZ and I don’t even know whether my solo stuff or The Drones are known at all in New Zealand. Hopefully I’m not just some guy who is opening for Band of Horses that no one will listen to.

Well, how were you received in Europe? You must have had a good time so far touring with them in Europe and the States...

Yeah, the crowds in Europe had no idea who I was, but they were so into it and incredibly supportive. I’m not really used to it because of Melbourne. I love it here, but the crowds can be so terrible. If you go to see a big act over here, most people just talk through the supporting act and just don’t seem to be open to new things.

I can’t promise it will be all that much better here to be honest. We have good crowds, but I think there might be a similar attitude. Well, there has been at some of the shows I’ve been to...

Maybe we’ve got it too bloody good or something? There are so many choices and options for people that maybe we’ve lost our ability to appreciate what an impressive thing it is for an opening artist to get up on stage in front of a crowd of people who generally have no idea who they are and try to command their attention?

How have you managed to get so tight with Band of Horses?

I first met them about six years ago, because they were actually big Drones fans. We met through mutual friends and discovered they were really lovely people - not an ounce of ego. They asked us to open for them in the States so we joined them on tour and played about 30 shows. They treated us so well and we had the best time. We kept in touch and over the years became really good friends. I toured Europe with them again this year with my other band (The Gentlemen of Fortune) and again it was a great tour. Unfortunately I can’t afford to bring my band with me to NZ so it’ll just be me and my guitar opening in Auckland and Wellington.

What’s life like for you in Melbourne? Do you find it a good place to be creatively?

Actually, I’m moving to London soon. I love Australia but I’m a bit sick of it. It’s a long story...

I’m interested in that story...

Well, it’s partly that I’m 34 and I think if I don’t do it now then I never will. It's also that I lived in London for three months a while back and it was so nice to feel like I was in the thick of things. I think for both Australians and New Zealanders there is this sense of being so distant from the rest of the world. When I came home I felt like I was really at the bottom of the world, whereas in London I was like ‘Wow, I’m a part of things that are happening’.

Do you think you might, equally, miss that feeling of being removed from the chaos when you are living ‘in the thick of it’ in London?

Probably. You’re right, there are positives and negative in both but I guess at this point in my life I’m ready for a change. Plus, the music scene over there provides heaps of opportunities for musicians like myself. While I was there I met great people and played some great shows so I feel like it will be a good fit.

How will it work with the Drones if you’re living in Melbourne?

We’ve sort of reached the point where we release an album once every three or four years and then tour Australia, Europe and sometimes the US. After we go through that cycle we can go our separate ways for a few months before reconnecting to start the process all over again. So, it works quite well with us living in separate cities.

As a musician, are you constantly trying to expand your horizons or are you more interested in refining your sound?

I’d say I fall into the latter category. I feel like a drummer, first and foremost, so the experience of performing with a guitar still feels new to me, and I guess I’m still in that space where I’m trying to find my own voice.

So how do you do that?

Well, I’m actually quite lazy as a musician, I come home and I switch on my local classical music radio station, but I don’t really listen to heaps of music or go searching for inspiration the way I think a lot of other musicians do.

That’s so interesting you should say that, because I’ve spoken to a number of drummers over the years who don’t listen to much music at all – maybe it’s a common characteristic for those who are rhythmically inclined?

I wasn’t going to say, because it sounds really bad, but I actually don’t listen to music very much at all. Almost never.

That doesn’t sound bad, but I do find it very interesting...

I’m an incredibly passionate musician. I’ve dedicated a big part of my life to it, and I know it’s what I’m meant to be doing. I mean, it’s been tough financially but I’ve stuck at it because I love it... So, I don’t really know why that doesn’t translate into a passion for listening to other people’s music.

Maybe being so engrossed in perfecting your sound and having to deal with band mates (bless 'em) obsessing over the musicality of what they’re doing, you just get over it?

God, that would be awful if that were the case, but I can’t rule it out. But don’t go telling your readers I hate music, like “Hey guys, go and watch this guy who hates music open for your favourite band!” I don’t imagine that would go down well.

No, I spoke in jest, I don’t get the impression you are jaded about music at all, although I’ve definitely seen artists perform and thought they seemed over it which was really disappointing...

I fucking hate that! When you can tell someone is forcing or faking a performance it’s just intolerable, but I guess that is a constant struggle for some musicians. If you’ve had enough, how do you get into it again?

I have no idea...

Me neither, but thankfully, I don’t have that problem. I’m really excited about coming to New Zealand, and although I’m uncertain about how I’ll be received, I’m very much looking forward to it.