Karnivool Pic: Kane Hibberd

From Khe Sanh To Funkytown

 Karnivool are playing their final headline dates for the year, bringing them to Metropolis Fremantle this Thursday, May 8, with Sydney’s Born Lion in support. They also perform at Groovin The Moo this Saturday, May 10, at Hay Park Bunbury. JODY MACGREGOR reports.

“I’ve seen quite a few crazy things,” says Mark Hosking, and he is not overselling the fact.

The Karnivool guitarist has seen people lose their shit in a variety of ways at their shows, including “a lot of getting – not naked, but a lot of ripping of clothes. That’s always a hilarious one. You kind of think, ‘Hang on, man. How are you getting home? It’s really not that warm outside and I don’t know if you had a back-up plan’.”

Plenty of musicians like to watch the audience to gauge response, but for Hosking it’s about more than feedback – he just plain gets a kick out of it. “I’m a bit of a voyeur in that respect,” he admits. “I love those internet videos of people who hear for the first time, when they get the hearing aid put in their ear. I get so emotional watching those videos. It’s obviously not that level; it’s a different kind of thing when you watch a crowd. When you find a person in the crowd that’s just losing it, loving the moment, you almost want to stop playing and just watch them.”

He’s humble about the cause of those moments, unwilling to take all the credit for triggering such emotional responses. “It’s not our music, it’s just the build-up of the night – the crowd makes it.” Obviously not everybody flies into an ecstatic frenzy at a Karnivool show, but Hosking is okay with other reactions too, especially since their music makes plenty of use of dissonance and is wilfully difficult in that prog way.

“It’s rewarding for us just watching people trying to appreciate discordance sometimes, it’s just a fickle part of music. There’s a lot of it on Asymmetry and it can be really rewarding watching somebody get it; just go, ‘That sounds weird – oh, I see, I get why it’s weird’. You can see it in people’s faces when it works. It can be tough to listen to but… oh, we’re Karnivool. We never promised to be easy.”

The band’s third album, Asymmetry, is also full of jagged edges of another kind, having been recorded with the aim of sounding rawer than the first two – more explicitly the sound of just a band in a room. “It’s quite a rough record from that respect, definitely not as polished as Sound Awake and Themata were, and intentionally so,” Hosking says. 

That may have thrown some listeners off, but as the band gears up for its next tour – its only Australian dates for the rest of the year, with a European trip to follow – Hosking is looking forward to another chance to get the new songs in front of people. “I think it’s a lot easier to grasp from a live arena. A lot of people come to a show and hear Asymmetry, hear some of the songs live and go, ‘Oh, okay. I can get where you guys are at a bit more’. It’s a lot of fun to play live, and challenging in its own respect. It’s a lot different to any of the other stuff we’ve done in the past.”

Having songs that sound so diverse apparently makes putting their setlists together a headache. Hosking says Karnivool are putting “a long time” into getting that right during their current rehearsal period, finding ways to transition between their songs as smoothly as possible. 

“A lot of bands would have that problem, but it’s probably more so for us because they are quite different. We are the band that said we’d never do the same album twice; you can definitely hear the differences between the albums. If you’re not careful it can definitely sound like you’re a cover band playing a small pub who’s had a bit too much to drink, jumping from Khe Sanh into Funkytown or something.”

Hosking likes to keep an eye on what the competition is up to, so recently – like a lot of people who couldn’t afford to fly to California just for a music festival – he’s been watching Coachella on the internet. Only he’s been taking notes while he does it. “Whenever you see something like that you go, ‘Damn, I should have thought of that!’ Not so much, ‘I’ll steal that’, but you feel bad. ‘Oh man, why didn’t I think of that?’ It’s all about personalising.”

There are also plenty of lessons to learn from watching other bands that aren’t at their best, maybe because their hearts aren’t in it anymore and they’re slogging through the hits because that’s what the fans want. “They’re not doing the show they want to do, it’s almost like they’re not putting in 100 per cent. We never want to be like that. It’s important for us, as with any band I guess, to do a show that still keeps you interested and excited and wanting to do it, but at the same time balancing that out with stuff that people want to hear.”

Karnivool will only get one chance to get it right this year, having blocked out the rest of 2014 for writing new songs once they get back from their European tour. Their Groovin The Moo performances and sideshows are all we’ll get to see of them for a little while, but Hosking likes the pressure that creates. “You can put a bit more effort into each bit,” he says. “Knowing that this is our only Australian run means we can throw all our stuff at it and make it a real special show. That’s exciting.”