IN WHICH ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S MOST COMPELLING ARTISTS FINDS NEW INSPIRATION WITH YOUNG BLOOD, PITCH PEDALS AND THE LEAST RADIO-FRIENDLY NAME IN THE INDUSTRY. WORDS BY ANDREW P STREET (ESPECIALLY ALL THE CUSSING). PHOTO BY
With Tropical F*** Storm, the clue is in the name. There’s something distinctly humid, carnal and aggressive about the band, and despite Gareth Liddiard (of The Drones fame) having been at this rock’n’roll game for over 20 years, he’s clearly not expecting this band to be the fortune-making commercial breakthrough.
And if ALaughingDeathInMeatspace shares a lot of DNA with The Drones thanks to the presence of Liddiard and bassist Fiona Kitschin, it’s DNA in the sense of splatter patterns around a crime scene.
That’s largely because of the influence of drummer Lauren Hammell (High Tension) and Harmony vocalist Erica Dunn on guitar, who together push the band in strange directions. If single “You Let My Tyres Down” could plausibly be a Drones song, the same couldn’t be said of the aggressive, nightmarish hip hop of “Soft Power or the mosquito riffs of “The Future Of History”.
“The approach is just to try not to do anything normal,” Liddiard explains. “So we’ve used drum machines and just strange kinds of sequencing stuff, just to get ideas, and then we learn how to play them on our actual instruments.”
His argument is that “if you sort of make something up on the guitar, you end up making up a standard guitar riff, most of the time. Your hands go to those shapes. Some of our guitar lines are made up on drum machines, like that riff in the choruses of ‘Soft Power’ – that was made up on a drum machine through a weird Eventide PitchFactor pedal.”
So what were the key toys for the album? “You know Teenage Engineering? They’re a company from Scandinavia – they make the OP-1 synthesiser and these drum machines, which are like 80 f***ing bucks and they’re amazing,” he testifies with the zeal of a religious convert. “They’re the size of a little calculator and they take you down strange little passages that you’d otherwise never go down.”
Packet drum machines are not necessarily the inspiration that you’d expect for a man best known for tearing animal howls out of his Jaguar, but as far as Liddiard is concerned, it’s the same impulse.
“Back in the ‘90s, we were trying to figure out a weird way to do shit, and now it’s become easier. It’s just wild: we can make album after album after album of weird and wacky shit, and people are more up for it these days.”
Why is that? “Well, the upside of the internet is that kids are exposed to crazy shit, y’know? So if you do something completely left of centre, they’ll be ready for it. In the ‘90s, I remember listening to Wu Tang and my rock’n’roll friends were bamboozled. I was like, ‘Man, this is just popular f***ing western music! This isn’t even the Moroccan shit I listen to, or the 1920s Jazz, or the weird avant garde composers that no-one’s ever heard of.’”
The excitement in the band is not merely compositional, though. The Drones’ first gig was in 1997, and Liddiard is thoroughly enjoying reexperiencing the thrill of doing things for the first time through his younger bandmates.
“Hannah and Erica, they’re 30 and 32. They’re keen and they’re free and it’s all novel for them. Like, if we go and play at the f***ing Fillmore in San Francisco they’re like, ‘Holy shit!’ We’ve done it before with The Drones, and it’s great, but it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, cool.’ They’re just kind of jaded.”
Which leads to the obvious question: what’s the status of Liddiard and Kitschin’s main gig?
“It’s on hold because Steve [Hesketch, keys] and Chris [Strybosch, drums] have kids – two kids each and mortgages and other jobs,” he shrugs. “So it’s just too hard. It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of pushing to get the wheels turning.”
Speaking as the father of a 18 month old, I can’t begin to imagine how parents do anything creative under any circumstances. “Oh, it’s full on, man. I mean, having a day job, and then having proper rehearsals, and then going on tour and recording... It’s a lot. So yeah, it’s definitely not done, we’ve just put it on ice for a while. We’re just waiting for the f***ing kids to move out, and then we’ll get back into it!”