What does it sound like when a knife cuts into the flesh? Before the brain can register the sharp pain, there's a brief moment of warmth when the blood rises to the surface. It's not only a moment of physical suffering, but perhaps an opportunity for mental awakening. The sound this all makes? Put on The Drones and you can hear it. The rusty blade of Neil Young's guitar slicing at our belly, frantic garage-punk vocals digging into our side, and then the solace of acoustic strings, contemplative lyrics and open space after the steel is removed, it's all found in The Drones. Pain makes us feel. It reminds us we're alive. It's why "cutters" do what they do and for many, it's why we listen to this band.
But instead of the destruction and scars left in the wake of a razor, The Drones let us feel that pain and experience our twisted reality without the consequences of an emergency room and/or padded cell. And just as important, they show us a sliver of light creeping in under the horizon, pointing to the hope of brighter days, even if in the distance.
The seeds of the band were planted in Australia's isolated West Coast city of Perth in the late '90s and began to bloom after relocating to Melbourne. The group released their self-titled debut EP in 2001 and followed it up with 2002's full-length Here Come The Lies and eventually their 2005 breakout release, Wait Long By The River & The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By, which garnered them the 2006 Australian Music Prize. On the heels of their big award, The Drones created 2006's stellar Gala Mill and continued to tour the world, gaining recognition in every corner of the globe.
For Havilah (released in the States on February 17, 2009 by ATP Records), Gareth Liddiard and his wife/bassist Fiona Kitschin decided to record the album in their newfound home deep in the remote foothills of Victoria. After a few months of writing material, Liddiard and Kitschin invited guitarist Dan Luscombe (who replaced original guitarist Rui Pereira in 2006) and drummer Michael Noga into the forest to begin rehearsals.
Speaking to JamBase over email while wild fires threatened his home, Gareth Liddiard opens up about the new album, the band's roots, sharing The Drones with his wife, playing live (The Drones are on tour in the U.S. now, dates available here), the opium trade and why sometimes the knife feels good.
JamBase: The album title Havilah is a strong, heavily religious word. Why did you name the album that?
Gareth Liddiard: It's actually the name of the valley that Fiona and I live in. We brought a whole bunch of recording stuff down from Sydney and turned the place into a recording studio for a fortnight. The valley had a gold mining town in it in the 1800s. Havilah is Hebrew for 'place of gold.' It's a beautiful place, or it was before the weekend [huge wild fires burnt the area badly], now it's as black as the last banana, but back in the day it was populated by about 2000 desperate maniacs from places like the U.S., China, Ireland, Afghanistan... The list goes on. It was all booze, drugs, guns and money and all sorts of nasty shit. Nothing ever really changes.
JamBase: Sometimes I feel your music has almost a Biblical bend and power, but not necessarily religious, maybe a raw creation essence to it. Has this ever crossed your mind? And if so, any thoughts as to why or where it comes from?
Gareth Liddiard: Sometimes if you're singing or writing about some historical character religious things pop up. And I guess we can get pretty epic in an incendiary kind of way. Otherwise, I don't know. Religion stems from a biological lack of a healthy bullshit meter. Believing that the wind in the bushes is a tiger beats believing that the tiger in the bush is the wind, you know? So, if you wonder why Earth is populated with idiots it's cause it's meant to be. It's possibly that kind of belief system that puts me on a stage night after night. So, maybe that's it.
Did the album title come before the songs were recorded or after?
Afterwards, I think. The only thing in this line of work that's harder than making a record is naming it. This is the second record in a row where we've named it after the place it was recorded in. If anyone has a problem with that then they should give it a try themselves - none of this self-titled bullshit either. It's not easy.
Is there a general storyline or arc to this album, anything that carries the songs from one to another?
Well, it was all written and recorded in Havilah. We only had three months to get it all done, so I wrote the tunes in the first, we rehearsed in the second and recorded and everything else after that. It was all written in the same headspace and in the same geography. So, if there's any kind of arc it would be where it's coming from rather than where it's all going. There's no direct narrative links or anything but it was all written under the same cloud. A fluffy little cloud that was in a big fucking rush to meet a deadline.
What can you tell me about the inspiration or general approach to this album – lyrically, musically and otherwise?
It all came together really fast. We had a real deadline, which was new for us. Generally, my job is to get a tune off the ground so I can sit in front of somebody and play it reasonably well on an acoustic guitar. But, I barely got to that point most of the time. "Your Acting's Like The End Of The World" was only finished about five minutes before we recorded it, so the band did a great job considering. I was just shoveling as much crap into my head as possible and then vomiting it all into a song. I just got stuff from everywhere. From the highest of high art to total tabloid garbage, I wasn't being choosey. Historical stuff, Greek stuff, Irish stuff, computer generated word scrambling software stuff, ripping other people off, peyote fueled trips to the desert in leather pants, that kind of shit. And as far as the actual recording side of things went, we broke new ground by ripping off Led Zeppelin.
Did the house where the album was recorded influence the music and/or the recording in any way?
It's made of hard wood and mud-brick and it has big rooms with high ceilings, too. It's pretty much a recording studio anyway. Our nearest neighbor is two miles away so we can do whatever whenever. Our engineer Burke [Reid] had a fine time messing around with all sorts of different approaches. This must be the first record to have had a diesel budget factored in cause we don't have electricity. It influenced a lot of things, not least of all with its beauty. It's kind of like Montana or Colorado.
How do you feel this album is different or perhaps an evolution from The Gala Mill?
Gala Mill was deliberately made into this monotone thing from go to woe. The entire record has a certain thread running right through it and it has a great consistency. When we make records we always wind up going against what we did last time, just to keep things interesting for us. So with the new one, we tried to make each tune really different from the rest. There are tons of different sounds and ideas flying around in there. It wound up being really consistent in its inconsistency.
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