The Drones are one of the hardest-working bands in Australia – even when they’re not in the country, which is seemingly most of the time. The four-piece band simply don’t know when to stop; since the release of their debut album Here Come the Lies, the band have been on a non-stop loop of release-tour-tour-tour-record-tour-release-tour-tour-record.
“Any time we’re at home it feels like a break, even if we’re working,” claims frontman Gareth Liddiard from where the band is currently holed up in Palm Springs, on a most-worthy (and most deserved) week’s break mid-tour. “We don’t get much time off. Touring’s exhausting but it’s a strange beast – we get to go to all these weird places, but being in a van just kills you. When we rest it’s always long enough so you get that thing where you start getting bored pretty fast.”
The sheer work rate of the band has taken them into the upper echelons of critical appreciation – their second album Wait Long By the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By scored them the inaugural Australian Music Prize, its follow-up Gala Mill was rightly praised as one of the albums of its year, and now fourth album Havilah is likely to be similarly lauded.
“I don’t write on the road; you just end up as a working hangover, averaging about six hours of sleep a night,” he says. “You hear about people like Bob Dylan doing it back in the day, but they’re all...if we could afford that much speed then I’m sure I could! I need to be by myself to write – there’s no privacy on the road.”
Unbelievably, Gareth explains that all the Drones songs begin their life as acoustic numbers that are then added to be the three other members of the band. “I make a point of doing it because I remember a thing a few years ago where [AC/DC’s] Angus Young said they wrote all their songs and then take them to a piano and bash – “em out on a piano, and that way you could really hear the holes in the songs, and correct them. You can use an acoustic guitar in the same manner – if it sucks on an acoustic guitar then it’ll be okay in the band, but if it’s really good on an acoustic then it’ll be really good in the band.”
It’s an interesting way of working – it strips the songs back to their core essence, yet it’s hard to imagine that a song like Havilah’s first single, The Minotaur, began life in an acoustic manner. “It did though,” Gareth says. “It sounded really great – it’s different, not exactly like it is on the recording, but you can do it.”
Once more, the band elected to record in an usual place when it came time to make Havilah. Holing up near Mount Buffalo that Gareth and bassist Fi Kitschen now call home, the pair moved there in January, 2008, with Gareth commencing writing in February, and then rehearsals began in March prior to recording in April. “It was a great place to write and record. We were literally in the middle of a subalpine forest,” he explains. “We had no electricity, just diesel generators. It’d be just about the only record made on a diesel budget.”
When it came to recording, the band enlisted the help of Gerling member Bourke Reid, who brought his portable ProTools studio with him from Sydney. “He’s got the sexiest possible stuff,” Gareth gushes. “It’s like a top-shelf analogue studio, but with ProTools rather than tape.
“Everyone says it’s all about tape,” he continues of the difference between recording in an analogue format and a digital one, “but it’s all about the pre-amps. We had stacks of these amazing pre-amps stacked up in Bourke’s little room, and they’re as portable as a computer and a box of microphones – all you’ve got to do is chuck it in a van.”
Gareth admits that the band’s choice of locales in which to record is unusual, but it’s also about comfort – there’s no need to go abroad to record in a big studio with all the bells and whistles, when all the accoutrements that go along with that can be brought into the home, so the album can be recorded in comfortable and familiar surroundings. “As long as we’re on earth, I’m comfortable,” Gareth deadpans. “I remember when we started to tour hard it was weird to be out of your comfort zone and not to know your way around, but now I couldn’t be fucked – we’ve been to China, Mexico, and so many weird places. You don’t care where you are; just give me a bed.”
Havilah also sees the debut recording experience of (relatively) new member Dan Luscombe, who came on board with the band at the end of 2006, replacing Rui Pereira on guitar. “His style is a lot different,” Gareth says of the former axeman for the group. “We called him the – “master of disaster’ – you stick him in the room, liquor him up, and press – “go’ and hope for the best and you’d get this whacked-out, spur-of-the-moment amazing thing.
“Whereas Dan,” he continues, “has been a sideman for his whole musical life so he has a different approach – he’s more of a consummate guitar player I guess. I think Dan knows more about studios as well – he knows how to twiddle knobs – whereas normally it’s just me and the engineer doing that, so it was weird to make room for someone else. But we’ve just let him do what he wanted to do to see what we would do.”
The Drones’ Havilah is out now. After playing All Tomorrow’s Parties in New York, the band returns to home soil for a run of shows.
17 Oct – Republic Bar & CafíƒÆ’í‚Â©, Tasmania
18 Oct – The Forum, Melbourne
24 Oct – Metro Theatre, Sydney
25 Oct – The Tivoli, Brisbane
26 Oct – Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide
31 Oct – Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide
7 Nov – The Bakery – Artrage Complex, Perth
8 Nov – Mojo’s Bar, Perth