I See Seaweed – the latest (and possibly best) album by The Drones – has kept them very busy indeed.
Ever since its release in February, coinciding with the Melbourne ATP they helped curate – the festival returning to Australia after nearly five years, mirroring the band’s own break between records – it’s as if the five-piece have been making up for lost time.
March saw them suitably supporting Neil Young & Crazy Horse on their most unapologetically abrasive tour in years. April saw them heading out on their own national tour with King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and the rest of their year seem filled by a new festival slot every second month.
Speaking to guitarist Dan Luscombe ahead of one such commitment, July’s Splendour In The Grass, it’s pointed out that it seems the band haven’t had a month off.
“Yeah, although it doesn’t feel like we’re touring hard after what we used to do,” comes Luscombe’s appraisal. “We’ve kind of reduced our shows now down to just Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays,” he settles; “when you’ve got those extra few days off in the week it feels pretty cushy,” he confirms with a relaxed chuckle.
While his band duties include agitated guitars that enhance the acerbic edge to frontman Gareth Liddiard’s ferocious delivery, in conversation, Luscombe’s character is the calm, charming, accessible yin to his music’s yang.
“We used to do overseas [tours], five, sometimes six, occasionally seven nights in the week,” he adds. “Maybe we’re just getting older or more selective but that old method seems to have been turfed in favour of something a bit more civilised. So even if we are playing fairly regularly it never feels like we’re burning ourselves out.” “It’s been a really good year… Something terrible is going to happen, it just has to!”
A good thing considering the number of shows they’ve chalked in this year – including Barcelona’s Primavera, another headline tour in September, November’s Harvest, and the inaugural Dark MOFO. “Oh yeah, shit!” chirps Luscombe, the June festival slipping his mind.
“Which was actually amazing I can’t believe I forgot to mention it,” he says sheepishly, but makes up for his memory lapse with praise for the Tasmanian event. “[It] was incredible… a total spin-out. I hope it keeps happening.”
“There’s something pretty amazing about what that guy’s doing down there,” he remarks of MONA founder, curator, and entrepreneur David Walsh. “I know it’s a lot of people organising it, but from what I can gather it’s David who’s the one losing all the money,” piques Luscombe in his sharply honed dry wit – “and having a good time doing it, it would seem.”
“It’s been a really good year,” surmises the guitarist. “A stupidly good year. Something terrible is going to happen, it just has to!”
Unless you count more new music as tragedy, it doesn’t seem the band’s luck – or that of fans – is going to reverse anytime soon, with Luscombe discussing their intentions to get started on a follow-up on I See Seaweed post haste.
“We’re going to go into pre-production for another record,” he confirms. “We had a pretty lengthy break between [2008 album] Havilah and this one, now we seem to have a newfound enthusiasm for keeping the ball rolling. I think there might be a trip to Europe before the year’s out but besides that.”
While drummer Mike Noga is relocating back to London, says the guitarist, he and the rest of the lineup – Liddiard, bassist Fiona Kitschin, and newly installed pianist Steve Hesketh – “will just get stuck into a bit of pre-production and get the songs ready.”
In fact, Liddiard recently put the call out – in typically frank fashion – for a rental recording space on the band’s Facebook page and Luscombe notes that the new material will be made from a “few things that we got started on in the Seaweed sessions that just didn’t make it.” “I don’t think there’s ever going to be a song by the band that changes things overnight, simply because our songs are stranger beasts than that.”
Adding that the eight track cap on I See Seaweed was partially inspired by music’s epochal masterpieces. “We were sitting around talking about Led Zeppelin’s IV, [Television’s 1977 debut] Marquee Moon, [Van Morrison’s 1968 album] Astral Weeks only has eight songs… we were thinking about all the great albums that only have eight songs – of which there are many – and we decided eight is enough,” he explains.
“So there are few songs on the bench, they weren’t on the bench because they were inferior to the others, they just weren’t finished,” he explains. “We’re finishing a few of them and I think Gaz is writing some words for a couple more new ones right now.”
This fertile creative period and The Drones’ ever-swelling cult following means that Luscombe “hasn’t been in another band for a long time,” as he puts it, but as a long-embedded part of the Australian music landscape, he still has his own projects.
There’s his ongoing work as a composer for film and TV from his own studio, “the thing that kinda keeps me off the streets when I’m not on the road,” as he puts it. Most famously, his work with Paul Kelly on the evocative score for Jindabyne and more recently, the soundtrack for Laid (the ABC comedy mini-series written and created by Luscombe’s friend, Marieke Hardy).
Additionally, he still plays “the occasional thing” with Paul Kelly and reveals he’s working “on a record at the moment with Rob Snarski from the Blackeyed Susans,” following on from their elegiac 2002 album, There Is Nothing Here That Belongs To You.
Then there’s Luscombe’s mild foray into production, specifically for Melbourne song maiden Courtney Barnett. “She’s great. I’m a big fan,” lolls Luscombe, who first met the young songwriter while the two were playing for Dan Kelly (side note: yes, Luscombe still gets mistaken for Kelly, “I’ve been asked about 780 times”).
“That’s the nature of this town,” he adds. “It is such a tight little community and Courtney is certainly somebody who just slotted into my friend’s scene very easily because she’s incredibly laidback and very funny.”
Just like her music. Especially in the deadpan, adroit single ‘Avant Gardener’, which Luscombe mixed and lent his distinctive fretwork to. “She writes great songs – I really like her kind of Nirvana meets Creedence Clearwater thing going on.”“Every rock band is just inches away from becoming really boring. We’d rather suck than be boring.”
“She’s hopefully going to go places that young lady,” sighs Luscombe, talking of her as the musician every musician is rooting for, without rushing her to the limelight. “She’s got a good head on her shoulders – knows how to be patient, she doesn’t want to rush anything either,” he concludes.
The Drones aren’t ones to rush either, a band that has always – in the guitarist’s terminology – ‘played the long game’.
“It seems to be working well for us,” ponders Luscombe. “We never really had much of a choice… I don’t think there’s ever going to be a song by the band that changes things overnight, simply because our songs are stranger beasts than that,” he elucidates.
“We don’t put out three minute pop songs with really vibrant, expensive film clips attached to them. I think just because of that sheer fact puts you in the long game. But also playing the other game means you have to follow fashions,” he emphasises, tarring the ‘F’ word with a sickly groan.
“That sounds horrible to me. I couldn’t handle making fashionable music. It would be really… hard. Quite difficult to a) do it and b) live with yourself,” he deadpans.
The Drones simply have too much character to follow such trends, a quality that roars in their visceral live shows, that shift from unsettling moments of restraint to a full-blown gale of storming, dissonant fury – sometimes within the one song.
It is these extremes – always at the precipice of overblown noise or unabated chaos – that makes The Drones so thrilling, coursing with lifeblood that draws deep from the unexpected and unconventional like a syringe from a vein.
“We’ve got a fairly… perverse nature,” coos Luscombe. “We like to try and make things quite weird these days; I guess ‘rock music’ is always just…”
He lingers, but not for dramatic effect, only to deliver with the blunt profundity of one of his shrewdly phrased guitar lines. “Every rock band is just inches away from becoming really boring. We’d rather suck than be boring.”
I See Seaweed is out now. Read our album review here.
The Drones Australian Tour 2013 Dates & Tickets
Saturday 21st September – The Bakery, Perth WA
With special guests Harmony
www.nowbaking.com.au 233 James Street, Northbridge, PERTH
Tickets $37 + bf from www.nowbaking.com.au and www.oztix.com.au
Doors open 8pm
Thursday 26th September – Zierholz @ UC, Canberra ACT – JUST ANNOUNCED
With special guests Money For Rope
www.uclive.com.au Building 1, University of Canberra Kirinari St, Bruce ACT
Tickets $30 +bf available from www.oztix.com.au
Friday 27th September – The Hi Fi, Brisbane QLD
With special guests Harmony
www.thehifi.com.au 125 Boundary Street, West End, BRISBANE
Tickets $33 + bf from http://tickets.thehifi.com.au/default.aspx?Event=35901
Doors open 8pm
Saturday 28th September – The Metro, Sydney NSW
With special guests Harmony
www.metrotheatre.com.au 624 George Street, SYDNEY
Tickets $36 + bf from http://premier.ticketek.com.au
Doors open 8pm
Friday 22nd November – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle NSW – JUST ANNOUNCED
With guests Harmony
www.yourcambridge.com 789 Hunter St, Newcastle
Tickets $30 +bf available from www.bigtix.com.au & www.oztix.com.au
Also appearing at:
Sunday Nov 10th Harvest Festival 2013 Melbourne VIC
Saturday Nov 16th Harvest Festival 2013 Sydney NSW
Sunday Nov 17th Harvest Festival 2013 Brisbane QLD