Gareth Liddiard takes a cavalier approach to being a frontman in a rock and roll band. His lyrics feature political and social commentary that takes him into territories other musicians would fear to tread, while musically he has relentlessly redefined and reinvented what it means to be a rock guitarist. His band The Drones are one of most critically acclaimed Australian acts of the 21st century, and now with his new project, Tropical Fuck Storm, Liddiard is relishing the opportunities that come with change, which Perth audiences get to experience first hand on Friday, February 23 at Chevron Gardens for Perth Festival. Ahead of the gig, MICHAEL D HOLLICK caught up with Liddiard to discuss the new group, Ryan Gosling and just what A Laughing Death in Meatspace is – the title of their debut album, out May 4 (check out new single You Let My Tyres Down below).
How did Tropical Fuck Storm come together?
It came from, let me think… Well, Erica (Dunn) has been doing stuff with The Drones for a while. She sings in a band called Harmony, and they toured with us and then she would jump up on stage and sing with us and she has been a backing singer with us too. Lauren (Hammel) plays in High Tension, which is this kind of doom metal band, and I was like, wow, oh shit, when I saw them live.
And then for Fiona (Kitschin) and I, we did that last (The Drones) record and we had done a whole bunch of touring and it was just like, we’ve being doing this forever. And everyone else in The Drones has done their own thing, or had a project at some stage, but we haven’t really. Like we have done a couple of things on the side over the fifteen years, but nothing substantial, so we thought, fuck it, let’s try a new band to see what it’s like and those two were the obvious choices.
I believe that TFS are recording four singles, one at a time, and then releasing them shortly thereafter on 7 inch. What do you hope to get out this quick turnaround process?
Firstly, it keeps it fun. When we get together and go through things, we don’t think through things too much. I’m having the best time I’ve had in decades, it’s cool.
Any plans for an album?
Yeah, after the singles we’ve got an album coming out, called A Laughing Death in Meatspace. And that name comes from two very specific things. A laughing death is mad cow disease for people. You get this horrible disease, and you stop functioning. It happened in PNG, it’s definitely worth googling to see what humans can do to themselves. Meatspace, I don’t know if you know this, but it’s this term that people in Silicon Valley, like Facebook or Google people, it’s what they call the real word. It’s like a derogatory term.
How has the writing process been?
We just started jamming and well, it’s just pretty straight forward really. There’s not a real exciting story lying behind it or anything. No deep dark secrets, or some sort of competitive tale.
There wasn’t any reality TV styled drama, like you might see behind the scenes on X-Factor, or on a MTV show?
No, there was none of that type of thing. That’s not really us. I guess for The Drones when I die, maybe they could do one of those INXS type things where they look for a new singer. Didn’t they get some sort of Irish office worker to become their singer?
I actually think they went through a few… So who do you think would be a suitable replacement for yourself? Or even, say, to play you in a documentary?
I’d say Ryan Gosling.
Oh, he’s a dreamboat. Why him though?
Well, Fi wants to marry him. And it’s just an acting gig, so if the money is right, he’d do it right? To be honest though, I just think he’d do me justice in the looks department.
He’d have to get a wig…
Oh yeah. He’d definitely have to get a wig to get my hair-do down pat. And he’d have to go to the gym more.
I have noted that the band’s name has to feature asterisks in the advertising. Does this type of censorship bother you?
Yeah, they’ve done it a fair bit and it can be annoying. The worse one is Facebook because, as a small business, you can’t do paid promotions with the word fuck in them. But, you know, if you were ISIS, you could do a paid promotion of a beheading or something and that’d be alright. I mean, just so long as you don’t have the word fuck in it.
Would you have changed the name if you had thought about it?
Not really. It’ll get out there eventually. There are all sorts of bands with the word Fuck in the name, like there’s a band in Melbourne called Fuck Cunts. End of the day, if people are going to be weird about it and be like “oh, I can’t publish this, it’s got the word fuck in it” I bet you those same people will go home and masturbate to porn. I mean, even 12 year old kids walk around and tell each other to get fucked, so it’s obviously okay. Or maybe not. I dunno. (laughs)
The two TFS singles released thus far both share a hip hop styled delivery from yourself, and previously you have mentioned that you were listening to a lot of GZA when you were writing (The Drones’ last record) Feelin’ Kinda Free. Is hip hop still a major influence for you?
Yes, but it’s less beats and more vocal phrasing. If you listen to GZA, it’s so different to the thing that Chuck Berry invented. He’s like a new Chuck Berry in a way.
You know with rock and roll, folk, that kind of thing, all that songwriting, the meters, the verse structures, they are always the same, whether it’s Slayer or Bob Dylan, you will find that structure there. But with hip hop, it’s different. And it’s interesting to get a different take on things, particularly for me as a songwriter, I really appreciate a different set of scaffolding to hang things off. But to me, our music doesn’t sound that hip hop. I understand that some people don’t like it. But then some people didn’t like it when Herb Alpert amplified his trumpet, so whatever. You need change. We can’t be playing The Cramps or Chuck Berry styled rock and roll forever.
So, the similarities that exist between (The Drones’ last LP) Feelin’ Kinda Free and TFS’s singles are due to your current outlook and songwriting interests?
Yeah, it’s where I am in time. As time rolls on I would like to try and keep up. I wouldn’t say I’m a classic, ultra-modern kind of musician or cutting edge guy, but I’m definitely not at the back of the pack either. In my social group, and who I hang around, we don’t have a fixed sort of genre of music that we stick to. And for me, when hear things that I like, usually the thing that I pick up on at first is that it is different. For me, Missy Elliot isn’t any different from Ornet Coleman, Stravinsky, or Suicide or Kraftwerk or Einsturde Neubaten. For me, the 2000’s, musically, was Missy Elliot and Timbaland. The music she made with Timabland, there was nothing like that before. Sure, there was stuff leading up to it. There was pop music that had the same instruments and sounds in it, but those two, they just revolutionised it. They are iconoclasts. They come out of nowhere and just smash what existed. Like Miles Davis or Nina Simone. I like those people. They keep things exciting, they keep it fresh, I like them wherever they are.
What do you think the people that you have just mentioned share in common?
They have faith in their intuition, and faith in their moral and creative compass. They don’t need to be told, they don’t need permission, it’s not like you had to be hard headed or strong willed. I don’t agree with everybody and everything all the time. Generally, there’s no Gestapo that is going to come and arrest me. Why should I fear just being myself? Like, of course, it’d be different in Nazi Germany, where you’d probably keep your mouth shut, or leave, or fight against them, but in day to day life, more peaceful times, no one is going to arrest Missy Elliot for doing what she wants, you know, they’re not going to shoot Stravinsky for going “fuck this, I’m just going to go crazy here,” there’s no imagination police. And it’s not a courageous act, that’s just common sense, because there is no Gestapo. It’s funny that everyone else gets hung up and worried and anxious about not seeming out of place or not sticking out.
For me, the best music has always been made by the musicians that are enjoying themselves. You know, you’d never listen to a track that all the musicians hated doing and go “wow, that’s fantastic,” you’d hear that there is no vibe, there’s no enjoyment. Do yourself a favour and enjoy yourself, and everyone will enjoy you. It will just work it’s way out.
That’s actually remarkably positive when you think about it…
Yeah, it is. Coming from a guy who makes depressive music and all.