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The Drones

The Drones

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 25th March, 2013 2:50PM

On top of supporting Neil Young during his recent Australasian tour and curating the second day of All Tomorrow's Parties' recent Melbourne incarnation, 'Ill Be Your Mirror', The Drones have released an excellent, career-defining album of their own called I See Seaweed. UTR caught up with chief songwriter Gareth Liddiard to discuss writing in a beat-up old caravan, being inspired by philosopher John Gray and more.

So you're on tour opening for Neil Young: that must be pretty surreal.

Yeah it’s a total trip - very weird. But because we have to be at the venue at a certain time for sound check, and we have to do a bunch of other shit, we kind of forget that we're on tour with Neil Young. Occasionally we'll be standing there watching him going “I can’t believe I’m standing here on tour with Neil Young”.

What else have you been up to aside from this tour?

We’ve just been finishing and releasing an album, and we’ve been planning a tour around that.

Yeah, you released I See Seaweed, right? Tell me a little bit about your writing process for that one.

I pretty much just put a block of time aside. We live out in the country and I’ve got a beat-up old caravan and I just sit in there and start writing things down.

Is that your process for every album?

Yeah on the last three albums it’s been like that.

What were you concerned with when you were writing the songs for I See Seaweed?

I tend to read a tonne of stuff and a lot of different stuff, and it give me an idea of where to go and it jogs my memory. The overall thing for this album was that I’d been reading a lot of this guy John Gray. He’s an English philosopher - like a preeminent philosopher. His whole world view is in line with mine but of course his is better fleshed out and he really shone a light on a lot of stuff I’d had a hunch about – he cleared it all up. It’s pretty amazing stuff and I won’t describe it in detail here but those were the overarching ideas I was concerned with.

I was reading an feature on Faster Louder where you describe each song on I See Seaweed: there seems to be an interesting metaphor in the title of the album and the title track, ‘I See Seaweed’?

Yeah, it's about specific things but I've interpreted them like a bad dream or something: it’s irrational like a dream. It’s the first song we recorded when we made the album.

We wanted to take the first line from that song for the album's title even though it's not very album-title-y. We kind of liked that it was a bit weird and didn’t fit perfectly.

Now that the album’s finished and you can view it as a full body of work are there any parts that stand out as particularly significant?

There are lots of little bits: the last song is pretty funny. It’s my idea of what we or I do moreso than the other songs - I'm angry about stuff on that song to the point of satire. It sums up my philosophy although it's a bit extreme and takes it over the top, but again, that kind of works.

How does the process of taking songs to the rest of the band and making them songs by The Drones and not songs by you work?

Well it differs with every song really. When I did the album Strange Tourist by myself I didn’t do anything different to what I’d normally do for The Drones: I sit by myself and figure something out on acoustic guitar, you know something that would be able to be played around the campfire basically. So I have each song with a few melodies and that’s about as far as I go with it in terms of showing everyone what to do. Then I take the, to the band and they’ll flesh the, out and add what they have to add - they’ll take something that sucks and turn it into The Drones.

You got a new pianist, Steve Hesketh for this album and you had a specific direction about how you wanted the piano parts to sound right?

With piano you often have this bluesy thing - there’s this classic idea of what rock piano sounds like, and I did not want that. I showed Steve a bunch of twentieth century classical stuff where they dug around for the weirder notes. Their whole shtick was trying something different: they wanted to get away from Mozart and Beethoven and didn’t want to sound like that were poncing around in a mansion or anything. I didn’t actually tell him what to do at all, I told him what not to do and it took him a while but he really got it.

You can also embellish a lot more on a piano than you can on any other instrument I think. It’s easy to sound wanky on guitar but piano is great because you can do really intricate, extended sounding stuff and it doesn’t sound too clichéd.

How would you place I See Seaweed in among you back catalogue? How is it different or the same to your previous albums?

It’s definitely different from earlier work, but in saying that if you put me in front of anything it will sound a bit like this particular thing. Then if you get all of us in the room it’s even more like that. Mike (Noga) and Fi (Kitschin) and I: we’re always going to sound how we sound more or less. It’s a good thing actually because we can try and do something weird that we’ve never done and head down that path but it will still ultimately sound like us. That’s good because we wouldn’t want to do something where we didn’t sound like us at all.

Our general gist going into every album is to do something different from the last album we’ve done: for me that album this time was Strange Tourist and for the rest of the guys it was Havilah, so we also went into this album with different ideas, which was good too. It was always going to be pretty loud and electric sounding.

In various incarnations The Drones have been a band for a pretty long time. I’m interested in how you’ve noticed the bands around you and the sound around you change over the years?

Yeah it has changed. We got to Melbourne at a time when everyone was playing MC5-style seventies rock: turbo-charged kind of stuff. At first we didn’t really sound like that, we were more like a weird Dirty Three – a slow, fucked up thing. When we got to Melbourne everyone was playing flat-out, insane rock ‘n roll and that was our competition to get gigs so we started to sound a bit harder.

Now it's less of a straight rock ‘n roll thing in Melbourne and there’s much weirder stuff going on: bands like My Disco, who are more cerebral, but no less mean! That’s definitely the vibe over there now. We don’t really fit into that so much. We got influenced early on by the rock ‘n roll thing because we were trying to make it work but now I think we stick to our own thing regardless.

The mention of My Disco leads nicely into my next question. You guys curated one day of All Tomorrow's Parties when it was in Australia recently. Tell me about that experience.

Well we’ve been putting our records out with ATP for yonks and we’d done heaps of those festivals overseas - in America and stuff. They just offered us the curation of the Australian leg of ATP and it was awesome. We got a list of dream bands together and obviously you can’t have everyone you want but we got it down to a line-up we were happy with and that was that.

It must have been pretty cool to be there and see how the musicians you picked fitted together right?

Yeah it was awesome, it was wild! Pere Ubu and Einsturzende Neubauten are my favourite bands and so seeing them was pretty perfect. All of our dressing rooms were up in the same area so it was pretty laid back and excellent.

From my perspective it was really nice to attend a festival where the focus is entirely on the music and everyone is there for that.

Yeah totally: if you go to a Big Day Out or something these days you finish it and go home and look back on it and the first thing that seems to come into your head is that you got wasted and there was a bunch of fucken mobile phone and energy drink adverts everywhere all day. And that really overshadows the music, so ATP is really great. And it’s not necessarily about going to see a band that you’ve listened to forever, it’s about checking new shit out and that never happens at festivals anymore.


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