Interviews

Published on April 11th, 2006 | by Hans Fruck

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The Drones Interview

The stereo’s on. The whole fuckin’ house is shaking. Wrecking-ball drums, squalling guitars, vocals from a quaver to a shriek. It’s The Drones. It’s Dekalb Blues. It’s a punch to the solar plexus. Fuckin’ cop that.

In 2002 Melbourne-based four-piece The Drones unleashed their debut LP, Here Come the Lies, 72 minutes of incandescent guitars, badass vocals, and lyrics that were equal parts violence, vitriol, and vomit. Now, nearly three years later, The Drones are scheduled to release their second record in late January. For fans, it couldn’t have come soon enough.

Here Come the Lies introduced a band that was an odd bundle of characteristics. A dirty-fingernailed mix of blues, country, and rock. Visceral yet cerebral. Jet-engine loud yet poetic. It’s this contrast that hits you right between the eyes. Beautiful sleaze.

Yet Drones singer-guitarist Gareth Liddiard cautions against drawing too many conclusions from that first record. “Here Come the Lies isn’t us per se. We were around for 10 years before that.” Instead it’s a snapshot. In their early Melbourne days, the band’s sound was a product of necessity. “We had to fuckin’ make a huge noise… to get people’s attention, just so we could get shows.”

Liddiard has been playing music with the Drones’ other guitarist, Rui Pereira, for 15 years. Over that time there have been “massive changes” to their sound. This kind of evolution holds true for the new, still-untitled record, which Liddiard describes as “weird” and “psychedelic”, a bit more “laidback” and “mellow”. He also says “it’s heavy as fuck,” before pausing, perplexed. “I dunno… Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”

And that’s the thing about The Drones: they’re difficult to pin down. “We’re totally flexible. We couldn’t give a fuck about what we’re playing. We’re not trying to be any one thing.” The band never plays a song the same way twice, says Liddiard, because they don’t want to become their own best cover band. “It’s never the same. We’ve never wanted to do anything the same. Rui’s always coming up with some weird playing and shit. We often just skip verses, because we can’t be fucked, or make songs shorter. Always big chunks of a show, you just think… let’s just go and see what happens.”

This works because Pereira and Liddiard know each other so well. “It’s just second nature to play, even when we’re not paying any attention to each other.” In fact, Liddiard recalls one show in which “Rui had smashed his guitars, and I only found out a couple of weeks later because someone had taken photographs, and there’s like two wrecked guitars. Six pieces all over the stage. And I said ‘What the fuck’s this?’ And he said ‘That’s my guitars.’ And I hadn’t noticed.”

Liddiard’s familiarity with the other bandmembers also comes into play when he writes a song. “When I write, because the band’s been around for so long, I’m writing for the band. I’m not gonna do anything that they’re not gonna be able to do. That’s the whole thing. I read this great Miles Davis book years ago, and he said: ‘You don’t have a sax player, or a bass player, or a drummer. You have Jack, Pete, and John. When you think about a sax part, don’t think about the sax, just think about Jack. It’s him, not the sax.’

“Once you’ve been doing it for a while, you can figure out that it’s pretty fuckin’ simple. The older and wiser you get, the more you realise that things are simple – and that was the reason you never got it in the first place. You were looking for the complicated. That’s my approach to songwriting.

“It all sounds like a huge guitar fuckin’ wank, but it’s all about songs for us. So we just wanna keep writing better songs… The rest is what it is. At the end of the day, all those songs are just fuckin’ country songs. They’re a pretty straight-up cross between Roy Orbison and Hank Williams with shitloads of distortion.”

Roy Orbison? Shit almighty. “Oh yeah, he writes corny lyrics, but if you look at the arrangements, where the song starts and ends, and there’s nothing repeated between. Something like I Walked Across the Dam, that’s just a longer version of a Roy Orbison arrangement. That’s what it is.”

There’s definitely nothing corny about The Drones’ lyrics. In fact, they have a reflectiveness that belies the music’s tidal surge. Hell and Haydevils, for instance, deals with the ugly side of race relations in Australia. Liddiard says he didn’t have an agenda when he wrote this song. He just wrote about racism “because it’s there. A lot of people won’t sing about anything like that because it’s just not cool. You couldn’t see Jet singing about that shit, or something like that. No matter what you think of Jet – as a fashion statement, it would just be fucked. You know what I mean? A lot of people, they write this shit that just fits a mould, basically… I don’t give a fuck.”

By his own admission, Liddiard has had a spectacularly bad run of luck in his life. He doesn’t elaborate, but does say it has made for better music. “It’s the fucking suffering artist kind of wank. Bad shit happens. It feels fucked while it’s happening, but if you write songs, you will write a better bunch of songs… It’s funny, in a way, that you have all this bad shit, like guilt and regret, all this horrible shit, and you put it in a song and you fuckin’ think, oh, this sounds nice.”

Not that he could stop writing songs even if he wanted to. “It’s the only thing I’m really good at. You know, it’s like people who play fuckin’ sport or whatever – you’re just driven to do it. There’s something wrong with you to do it…

“It’s just an obsessive disorder.”

— Hans Fruck


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