“I’m not doing this for someone else”: How Kingswood rebuilt themselves

When Melbourne’s Kingswood released Microscopic Wars in 2014, they were heralded as a driving new force for Australian rock ‘n roll. In the years since, the band – like anyone else – grew, changed, and found inspiration in new and different elements of music and life. With that, their sound has expanded and flourished. New album After Hours, Close To Dawn, might not be what many fans were expecting. But that’s okay.

From musical influences like Elton John, The Beatles, Freddie Mercury and Aretha Franklin, to geographical ones like living in New York and recording in Nashville, Kingswood’s album reflects where they’ve been, and where they are right now – and that’s a pretty different place to where they were in 2014.

We had a chat to guitarist Alex Laska about how the album came to fruition, how they approached such a wide scope of sonic changes, and the importance of finding the ‘Spirit Level’ in music.

FL: Was there a point where you decided to tackle a different sound, or did it just kick off organically over time?

Alex: It wasn’t a conscious thing. We evolved over time. By the time we started to sit down, stuff just started to happen. And we were like, ‘it feels like us – it feels like us, now.’ Since the first album we’ve significantly progressed and changed and grown. It just kind of evolved into what it was very naturally.

Was there a change in the way the songs actually came together?

They changed ‘cause I broke my finger so I couldn’t play any instruments. I had to sort of write everything more conceptually. Actually, there was one main change to the writing – the main approach was that I should be able to play every one of these songs to you with just a guitar or piano, and sing you the melody and the lyrics and hopefully have them move you. And all the layering and magic tricks and the bells and whistles just facilitate that in an exciting way. But the core of what we’re doing should be strong. And I think that comes across – all the lyrics, all the vocals for the majority are quite forward. So every message can be heard, there’s no hiding, because we stand by all the messages that are coming through on the album.

Was that influenced by playing live, wanting to translate that to the stage?

Not really. It was more a product of just wanting to deliver something true and real. Something real to us. It’s one thing putting a message together, that’s the recording part. And then the performance is how you deliver your message. You can do that in an exciting way or a conceited way or a stuck up way or a romantic way. That’s the performance element: how you capture the message.

Musically the album is not only different, but much broader that your debut album. It almost feels like some tracks are showcasing different types or even eras of rock music.

We just made the songs feel the best way they could. What we came back to most was finding the ‘Spirit Mode,’ which is like that feeling you get when you listen to your favourite recordings. It’s definitely part of modern records, but put on an Al Greene record or Aretha or Freddie Mercury and you’ve channelled history. Put on ‘Yesterday’ – that’s ‘Spirit Mode’. That’s what we call, it’s not necessarily musically perfect they move you and they’ve moved you for years, and years and years.

Can you tell me a bit more about the ‘Spirit Mode’?

It’s definitely a feeling, but it’s coupled with an approach – it can apply to more than just to music. We’ve tried to refine it, to explain it. Basically it’s like Lion King. I don’t know about the latest Pixar releases with incredible animation, cutting edge technology, blah, blah blah. But what’s the greatest of all time? Lion King. Why? No one knows – but it’s got ‘Spirit Mode’. That’s one of the best ways to describe it. There’s a raw element to it, there’s honesty in the message, there’s excitement. It’s something that we need to investigate more and talk about it. It’s a feeling as well as experience.

Was ‘Creepin’ released as the first single because it’s the best transition between the two albums, musically?

Yeah, that’s exactly right. There are elements of what’s to come on this new album sonically. I mean, there’s definitely elements of progression in that song, but that’s a rock ‘n roller – there’s two or three rock ‘n rollers on this album. I mean if we’d gone out with the most extreme representations of the new sound, if you want to call it that, people would’ve just been like ‘What is going on? They’ve lost their minds.’ And in way it still may happen, I don’t know. It often makes sense but it’s still good. Don’t take me wrong – I love rock ‘n roll and I always will. And there’ll always be an element of it in our records.

I think a few people will be pretty surprised by the album’s other sounds.

Imagine you meet me with long hair and beard, and the next time I walk out I’ve shaved my head and face. So you’re like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ It’s the musical version of that. Eventually you’ll be like, ‘Okay, that’s what Al looks like now.’ You’ll get used to it. I feel that’s probably what’s going to happen. And people who don’t like it, 100% fair enough, and people who didn’t like it but now they do, 100% fair enough. It is what it is.

You can’t really worry about that stuff. It’s something you dedicate your entire life to, it’s not something you do for the sake of someone else.

That’s leads into my next question – where does audience perception and reaction come in when you’re writing?

It sounds incredibly selfish but I’m not doing this for someone else. Because then it becomes incredibly selfless at the end of the process you’re like, ‘This is no longer mine. This is now the world’s and the public audience for them to with what they want.’ And judge and comment how they want. It’s a transfer.

I can’t think of anything other than art where that applies – it’s completely selfish in its inception and then completely selfless when it gets released. It becomes everyone else’s, it’s no longer yours once you put it out. It sounds silly but if you think about it, it’s true.

“It sounds incredibly selfish but I’m not doing this for someone else.”

I guess you start thinking more about the audience when you’re looking at the live component?

Yeah. The performance part is fun, because that’s when you get to do it together. That’s when those forces combine. That’s why live performance is such an amazing thing. It’s a constant transfer of energy between lots of people, which is just awesome. It’s just such an interesting feeling, it’s probably very tribal, very instinctual as human beings.

Do you have plans for a new stage show?

Yeah, that’s literally what we’re doing every day. Its so involved, there’s so much that’s going into it, it’s incredibly exciting. There’s all sorts going on – the same application that we applied with the album, we’re applying to our stage show. Get excited, that’s all I’m saying. It’ll be like no Kingswood show that’s happened before.

After Hours, Close to Dawn is out now. Kingswood are heading out on tour this month – all dates can be found below. Click here for tickets and more info.

After Hours, Close To Dawn National Album Tour

Thurs March 23 – Sookie Lounge, Belgrave VIC
Fri March 24 – 170 Russell, Melbourne VIC
Sat March 25 – The Gov, Adelaide SA
Wed March 29 – The Cambridge, Newcastle NSW
Thurs March 30 – Wollongong Uni, Wollongong NSW
Fri March 31 – The Metro, Sydney NSW
Sat April 1 – ANU Bar, Canberra ACT
Thurs April 6 – Miami Marketta, Gold Coast QLD
Fri April 7 – The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
Sun April 16 – The Torquay Hotel, Torquay VIC
Fri April 21 – Discovery, Darwin NT
Thurs April 27 – Settlers Tavern, Margaret River, WA
Fri April 28 – Prince of Wales, Bunbury WA
Sat April 29 – The Capitol, Perth WA

Photo credit: Kane Hibberd