Song of the day (Australia) – 144: The Drones
Day three of my tribute to being Australian, and no surprise here.
I’m aware that I’ve only seen The Drones perform twice, maybe three times, since being here – but man. This band have absolutely blown my head apart. It’s never struck me as that difficult to get rock – it’s always seemed mind-bogglingly simple to me – but clearly it must be way more difficult than it looks, as so few do. This song I’m linking to here is one of the Greatest Fucking Rock Songs I’ve heard, period. It’s so damn fine.
(Oh, and if you’re grooving on this and haven’t checked the previous entry in this series, Venom P Stinger – do so right NOW! You will not regret it.)
Here’s what I wrote about The Drones a while back for The Guardian.
Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout the Drones. Damn it. Seems like this Melbourne four-piece is Australia’s best bet to reclaim its reputation as a land of great heavy rockers – a reputation that’s been tarnished by the presence in recent years of chart-crafted bands like Jet and the Vines. It seems like everyone I know in Brisbane is crazy for their dark, brooding sound: an unsavoury, bloodshot festering of wrenched guitar and strangled vocals. We’re talking Nick Cave’s early bunch of 70s outcasts, the Boys Next Door; we’re talking Dead Boys without the cock rock; we’re talking the Saints, of course, and the wanton storytelling of the Triffids – rock that even at this late stage is seen as a tool of the revolutionary. Their sound is distinctively Australian (the deranged title track from 2005 album The Miller’s Daughter could be a ‘Mercy Seat’ for the noughties): taking in small town claustrophobia, wide open spaces and electrical storms without ever bothering with American or UK cliches.
Damn it. The Drones’ fourth album – the melancholy, incendiary Havilah – came out a couple of months ago in Australia (it’s out worldwide in January), and the hipsters and the diehards, the drunks and the seafarers have been foaming at the mouth ever since. And rightly so. New single, ‘The Minotaur’, contains the insouciant swagger and intricate guitars that have been so sadly lacking of late from Australian rock. Not for singer Gareth Liddiard the self-serving histrionics of a Daniel Johns or the laddish “charms” of a Powderfinger. He sounds possessed, the way all great rock singers sound possessed, as he beats the shit out of a stray vowel. The song is brutal, brilliant. Drums crack like Lewes firework displays, beats stutter to a halt among bruising repetition. You don’t need to understand lyrics to understand emotion.
Damn it. I’m such a idiot. I have five of their albums sitting here – five albums! – and I’ve been given any number of recommendations from besotted Brisbane musicians and still I didn’t go down to their gig last Saturday at the Zoo. I wasn’t even swayed by the promise of support from My Favourite Brisbane Rock Band, the Gin Club – not swayed by the prospect of catching their drunken sea-shanties and eloquent, nicotine-stained pleas for loving one more time. I let the fact I hadn’t slept the previous night (due to interruptions from my three-year-old son Isaac) sway me – and now all I can do is listen to five albums of top-class, energising, “psychedelic/religious/black metal” with the bitter taste of ash in my mouth, having missed out once again. Those wah-wahs! That inclement, fiery wash of feedback! Those vocals given up to the heavens!
Damn it all.
And here’s my Plan B interview once more.
Words: Everett True
I’d like to take my leave of you now. Flies buzzing round my head, the stench of the feed to come infiltrating every nostril. Hey, narrator. You on your knees wrenching ecstasy and hailstorms out your effect pedals: you at the back hurling your body into a phalanx of cymbals, concussing the drummer with a shimmy of the backbone: you with your refusal to engage in eye-to-eye contact: you, mouthing the words to a tale that’s been recounted millions of times before yet never so cynically. Before I depart the arena for the final time, please: give me a definition of rock’n’roll.
“Little bands that move. That’s all that Talking Heads have in common with Chuck Berry and Einstürzende Neubauten. Rock’n’roll is mobile.”
In the John Wyndham novel, the Triffids are scary walking plants that wander through life, lashing out at unwary passers-by. In Australian rock lore, The Triffids – that grandiose, twisted storytelling band from the 80s – barely exist anymore; certainly not as an influence … everything washed away in the 90s and 00s shitstorms of tepid NME guitar indie and tame Pitchfork country indie.
A few months ago, I was at a barbecue and someone had brought along a ‘best of’ 2008 homemade compilation, full of Arcade Fire this and Jenny Lewis that and dribbles and drabs of bands who think that, just cos they can’t sing with any emotion or play guitar with any passion, if they slow the whole process down they’ll sound soulful. And I was thinking: folk don’t want to process alienation, don’t want to embrace dissent, don’t fancy fucking with loneliness because the in-vogue haircut is always the cheapest is always the most in-vogue. What has Amazon’s limitless marketplace done for us except to limit our choices? 
And I was thinking: what’s so wrong with architecting about dance? 
So that was one front.
On another, ‘alternative’ Australian music websites like Mess And Noise are still running hate articles, 12 months on, based around the fact I had the nerve to suggest online the Australian critic isn’t all what (s)he could be. That perhaps critics can add to the dialogue, enhance enjoyment and understanding of music, that what they do can still be a craft, an art form, even within a new world order that embraces inclusiveness as a marketing slogan and where any twat with a Twitter can be the next Simon Reynolds.
Why do you play rock’n’roll? 
Gareth Liddiard (vocals, guitar): “It’s easier than everything else.”
Dan Luscombe (guitar): “It’s the whole fucking ceremony of things.”
Gareth: “I used to play saxophone and listen to Charlie Parker, and think I’d never be able to do that. And then you hear Hendrix and think, ‘Maybe. Maybe I could be a charlatan.’”
It’s not a competition.
“No, it’s not,” the singer agrees, “but it’s a lot of hard work. We play this music because we’re lazy. It’s terrible how everything gets dumbed down. We’re no exception.”
The Drones are an Australian band. One listen to their current album, the brutal, brittle Havilah, will prove that – these guitars skew and skewer with a horror rarely heard since Rowland S Howard in his prime, the vocals drip with an inclemency and sarcasm and love for dusty cattle tracks rarely witnessed since Dave Graney began torturing Melbourne’s derelict bohemian inner city suburbs with The Moodists in 1980.  Also, The Drones have released five studio albums, but they had to leave (and return to) Australia before they began to get respect back home. 
The Drones are an Australian band, but that’s a term of abuse where I come from (Brisbane).
Gareth: “Yeah, Australia has a problem with that.”
Dan: “A lot of bands are scared to reference Australia, but equally I don’t like all these twee pop bands that sing about, ‘Sitting on a porch in Brisbane/And I walk through the Valley mall’…”
There are a lot of nice porches in Brisbane.
Dan: “You’ve got the NME and Mojo and Rolling Stone from America, that’s the sort of shit that people read in Australia – and then people got the idea that rock’n’roll comes from those two places. Rock’n’roll is an English-speaking music, and it comes from Irish music and folk music, a little bit of African music, some blues scales… Everyone rips everyone else off. Accept that and you can be Australian. You don’t have to be Pete Townsend.”
I’m assuming it wasn’t deliberate on your part.
Gareth: “There’s a whole shame about being Australian. It’s stupid. When we go to America people are like, ‘What the fuck is it with all your dudes singing in American accents?’ Americans don’t sing with Australian accents. It makes no fucking sense. It shits me. I just don’t understand it.”
There’s also something about the guitar sound…
Gareth: “It all depends what you listen to when you grow up. It was all [Australian] X, Kim Salmon And The Surrealists, The Saints, fucking Rowland Howard and The Birthday Party…”
You remind me most of The Triffids, the way you construct lyrics. (“Don’t go getting married/You can only change her name,” Gareth spits on ‘The Drifting Housewife’: “Her hair was wet/Her shoes were damp/And as she travelled on the weather licked her like a stamp,”he howls, demented on the epic ‘Nail It Down’ .) You’re from that storytelling tradition, that thunderhead of broken emotions and wayfaring sea shanty dreams…
Gareth: “There is a way of defining the Australian guitar sound – a broken-down sound, weird ectoplasmic fucked-up-ness, psychedelic bad trip…”
So I’m backstage at a rained-on indie festival in Victoria, and I’m breathing in the cleansing fumes of tobacco and beer. The Kooks or is it Mystery Jets or is it Wolf And Cub are onstage being The Kooks or is it Mystery Jets or is it Wolf And Cub doing their whole Kooks or is it Mystery Jets or is is Wolf And Cub thing because that’s what Amazon and two decades of indie mainstream rock has trained us to expect. And everyone seems to love it – everyone except me.
You see, all I require from my time spent away from my beautiful home in The Gap (at gigs, at festivals, enjoying music) is to ride the Ferris wheel and witness a vigorous re-enactment of Mark E Smith’s three ‘r’s (“Repetition, repetition and repetition”) being tormented and mutated so wantonly that they become the three ‘s’s (“Spontaneity, spontaneity and spontaneity”). THAT’S ALL I WANT.
I don’t know where you’ve been looking, but doesn’t all great rock’n’roll fall between these two phrases?
And where am I going to find it? With the amps turned medium-high, perfect sound forever, all elements of chance wiped as the necessity to have the lighting tuned into the fifth drum roll, second encore, obviates everything else? When Coldplay invites Mercury Rev to open for them at Brisbane Arena? Where the ability to grow a beard while you’re still in your twenties outshines everything else? (Women obv need not apply.)
Quick, turn to The Drones! Those guitars, man – those fucking guitars! Turbulent, sniping, wrenched… Gareth on his knees, hammering several shades of puce out his pedals, solos casually tossed into the humidity, words screamed and discarded, bassist Fiona Kitschin oblivious to the crowd, Michael Noga raging and controlled on drums, Dan stolid and… those guitars!
I cannot resist the call of the wild.
And that is why I must take my leave of you now.
What keeps you awake at night?
Gareth: “Nothing. I sleep well.”
What’s wrong with you? Are you well-adjusted?
Gareth: “I just figured that if I’m going to get through life I’m going to fucking sleep and everyone else can get fucked.”
Dan: “I’m the opposite. I’m a worrier by nature, and there’s nothing more annoying for people like me than people like him. I hate you, Gareth.”
Gareth: “I hate myself, but I don’t lose sleep over it.”
 Actually, they got inducted into the Australian ‘Hall Of Fame’ in 2008, 19 years after they disbanded and nine years after the death of principal songwriter David McComb.
 Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail would argue otherwise.
 I believe QUT in Brisbane has several post-doctorate students studying precisely this subject.
 I’m using the phrase in its basic, most traditional sense (cf, this year’s incredible Trikont compilation Roll Your Moneymaker: Early Black Rock’N’Roll, 1948-1958).
 I could equally have mentioned The Scientists, The Go-Betweens, The Laughing Clowns, The Apartments, Weddings Parties Anything, God…
 The Drones also live in Melbourne, but originally hail from Perth. No one in their right mind would choose to remain in Perth, same way no one in their right mind would live in Milton Keynes.