I first got hip to The Drones with the album Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By; I’m sure it’s the place where a lot of people – a lot of Kiwis, particularly – started. On the phone to Gareth Liddiard, or Gaza as it seems most often, he tells me “fuck, that’s as good a place as any to start. We were all go then, fully formed, the ideas flowing. That’s pretty much the sound of the band, we just keep going from there”.
Liddiard is The Drones essentially. They’re a great band and drummer Mike Noga has his own solo career (and though he’s a fantastic drummer in The Drones his solo career does nothing for me) but it’s Liddiard who sets the pace, creates the tone. He’s the frontman, the singer, the writer, guitarist; it’s his voice – in all senses – that comes out to crush you from the stage; that resonates so soundly, roundly from the page.
Liddiard can quote you Bukowski and Yeats and Albert Camus and Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl but he’s also – in and around all that – some Aussie larrikin; good cob, fair dinkum and all that but so full of fucks and cunts and near-enough to struths that you imagine he might one day be played on the big screen by Ben Mendelsohn or the small screen by that guy from Wilfred.
Across the last decade, playing “every fuckin’ shithole known to man”, Liddiard and The Drones – a band that’s really only solidified its line-up the last few years – has built a fearsome reputation as both a revelation to behold as live performer and a songwriter of fine quality; perhaps the best this side of the world has seen in the last wee while, but he’ll laugh off any of that finest of this generation “horseshit”.
The secret then? “Teach yourself to pull ideas from nothing – write about different things beyond this boy-meets-girl/fall-in-love shit. I mean that’s alright too but every other cunt is doing that”.
Liddiard started his musical life in remote Western Australia (“middle o’ fuckin’ nowhere”) and as The Drones started to gather some steam they relocated to Melbourne. Though for Liddiard there are still spells in the country. Currently he’s planning a move back to the city for the next Drones record. “You can’t just pop out and get a kebab, you know? I’m sick of just sitting and reading in the country and it’s getting hard to get everyone together, so the plan, vaguely, is to try to all be in one place, or near one place next time, then we’ll look into creating a studio space and getting to work”.
Wherever he is when he’s writing/working, Liddiard lives with the songs. They make themselves known when it’s time for writing them down. For the most recent album, the excellent I See Seaweed (released earlier this year; click on that link for my review) the songs were written in a way that’s become familiar, comforting for Gaza.
“I’ve got this old bus”, he breaks off here and issues a mischievous cackle, I can’t quite tell if he’s laughing at where this made-up story might go or if he’s just goofing off at the absurdity of what is his actual real life situation.
“It’s been the secret to my songwriting”, he says, mock-boasting. “It’s a shitty old bus and I go and sit out there, it’s all been ripped to guts and I’ve got a shitty fuckin $20 guitar and a double bed and a table. A desk. Some bus seats. But it’s a good place to write. Just sit out there. And watch the world and write out thoughts. It’s got a heater”, he adds, almost with a tone of surprise, “which is good cos it’s fuckin’ cold!”
New Zealand audiences will get the chance to see The Drones in full flight this weekend – the new album very much the backbone of the live set. We did have the chance, some of us, to see The Drones earlier in the year, prior to the release of Seaweed, when they were chosen as the support act for Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s New Zealand and Australian tour.
“That was fucking great”, Liddiard enthuses. “I mean obviously we’re all huge fans of Neil and his music and we were just stoked to be part of that. I mean we were on the bill for this winery thing he did in Aussie and as I understand it he dug us and asked for us to join the rest of his tour and replace whoever had been lined up to open. So that’s pretty fucking great if you ask me”.
It was a shorter set, obviously. Just a half-hour and though they made some new fans in New Zealand it wasn’t their gig, they were just the hired help. And not everyone found them helpful.
“Yeah, I vaguely remember some dimwit telling us to get off in Wellington, but fuck that’s nothing – we’ve played shows to no one; fucking no one. We’ve been the only cunts in the bar. So we just didn’t give a shit about that. We were just happy to play anywhere – and to play a bigger venue than we’d pull on our own, who cares if not everyone is into you. For some people nothing is good apart from the headliner they paid to see so if we got to play our tunes and make a new fans that’s great. And if there were some Drones fans in the audience already then that’s fucking amazing. It was a great tour for us. Great to see something that big too – the organisation behind Neil was amazing. His crew were just so nice, we got to hang with all those guys a bit, they’re all very friendly backstage and we got to hang and you’re talking lifers here, roadies that have been on tour with him forever, that have stories about working with The Grateful Dead and being at Woodstock and, fuck, that was just a piece of history right there mate”.
But Liddiard is excited about returning to New Zealand to play full shows.
“I like the place, what I know of it. And that’s not much but we’ll hopefully get a better look around this time; hopefully see some stuff. Certainly the response when we played with Neil Young was pretty good, good enough for us. So we’re back!”
Liddiard will tell you that seeing The Dirty Three was inspirational for him as a lyricist – “because they don’t have any lyrics”. He’s not joking. “That band is fucking great, they know how to use space and they know how to perform, and they’re a big influence, sure”.
He’s very aware of the space the band occupies.
“We’re not really a unique thing at all – people seem to think we are, but I can hear all the obvious things we’re offering. There’s some Neil Young Crazy Horse-styled guitar and Sonic Youth and you know the Rowland Howard thing and that leads to Bad Seeds and Warren Ellis and there are loads of influences and I’d never hide from admitting any of them – but through it all I’d say we have found our sound; our own sound. You take all those things and mash ‘em together and you get The Drones. And we’re just really fucking happy to be doing what we’re doing. Maybe that’s the unique thing – that we’ve actually managed to have obvious influences and then create our own sound?”
There will be another album – soon. Next year Liddiard thinks. “We’ll finish this tour and then look into finding a studio. It’s good to set a deadline. It used to be that a record company would try and do that but now it’s less about that. I still think it’s good to have a deadline though, cos it gets you off your arse; otherwise, you know, you’re just fucking around. And we do enough of that anyway. We all do enough of that”.
Songs continue to appear, for Gaza it’s simply about “finding the time”. You make the time, he says. You find a space, a place and you “just fucking write; it’s really nothing more than that. You write your songs and you play ‘em. We’ve worked hard with this band, playing in the middle of fucking nowhere and building up a name, I guess, from working. We’ve been a hard working band. Writing songs is just part of working hard. You have a bunch of songs and you go record them, you go play them. It’s a pretty great fucking life really”.
And there’s no sign the band is slowing down. “We seem to have it sussed, a bit of time off here and there, we all go off and do other things, but we come back. And we’re on a good roll right now I think”.
It’s just $25
“So we’ll fuckin see you then and we’re really looking forward to it, it’ll be intense”, Gaza signs off.