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Interview: Gareth Liddiard
Strange Tourists, Honest Music and Samurais

Gareth Liddiard's first solo LP, Strange Tourist, was released late last year. We recently caught up with Gaz to discuss all manner of shit.

So it's over 6 months now since Strange Tourist came out, how are feeling after 6 months worth of touring this record?

Yeah I'm good. Surprised it went as well as it did actually. I mean it's not like it went platinum but for a little grumpy acoustic record it went well. I mean I expected it to be a difficult thing and I guess I got what I expected out of it, which is good cause I wasn't shooting for the stars. Like I wasn't thinking of going platinum or anything. You know the minute you remove drums is the minute you remove half your audience.

Is that ever a concern for you though? Do you ever think about the sales aspect when you're making a record?

Um, nah... You know if a record I made sold 10 million copies..., well yeah I'd prefer it to sell 10 million copies [laughs]... but then you can't let that get in the way of whatever you're doing. It'd just ruin whatever you're doing as well you know? I mean I wouldn't do anything to make money.

And that's what has always been good about the Drones and now your solo stuff I guess. You don't feel like you're being sold anything.

Yeah well that's the sort of music I like you know. Honest music. And it's really quite fucked how little of it there is. It's madness.

I haven't actually caught any of your solo shows, but it's just you and your acoustic right? How's that dynamic compared to Drones shows?

Well The Drones is physically difficult and the exact opposite is true of the acoustic stuff. But you do have to talk more and entertain more with the acoustic shows. You can't just play a song and say thanks and play another like with the Drones, where you are generally too knackered to talk and are busy tweaking an amp or whatever. Whereas with the acoustic shows I feel more obliged to talk shit.

Yeah I've heard you've moved into delivering Warren Ellis style long monologues recently.

Yeah I just talk shit. People always say they're scared of public speaking but you get used to it and then it's not that difficult anymore. You just open your mouth and shit comes out [laughs]. Hopefully it's not appallingly offensive.

Is that the way you approached making Strange Tourist, just open your mouth and see what comes out?

Yeah just splurged, totally. I never try to shape things much, I just let it happen and that's the trick. Anything that's worth anything, you find that people have just let it organically happen. You really just have to let the music write itself and not be too overbearing and then crush what you're trying to create.

Yeah I guess like Neil Young or Bonnie 'Prince' Billie have done that really well.

Yeah totally. I mean Bonnie 'Prince' Billie, that shit's amazing. He's one of the great young songwriters. Well he's getting on now, he's in his mid forties. But yeah, when you're writing songs you often go for the way you see things and the way you feel things and I think you have to get away from that and that's how you become a good songwriter. The average songwriter will always just be crapping on about themselves. Then with the good ones like, Leonard Cohen or fuckin' Bob Dylan, the usual suspects, they'll sing about other people they won't sing about themselves all the time.

With that, Dylan seems to put himself in songs through other characters...

That's what I was gonna say. That's what you ultimately do, it's all smoke and mirrors. You're still going 'me, me, me', but you're just being clever about it and that's the mark of someone who's the next level up. I've realized that recently, not writing about yourself forces you to use your imagination to be better at what you do.

Would you say a lot of contemporary artists fall into that trap of writing really obvious, linear stuff?

Yeah a lot of it's fuckin horrible. Not next level or from the subconscious.

With a song like Blondin Makes an Omelette for example, obviously you approached that with some historical reference though. It's not all subconscious. Did you just approach that with broad strokes and then put yourself in the characters?

Yeah for sure. I mean that song is sort of about the colonial mentality where a colony always feels not good enough for it's mother country. Like everything English is better than Australian. Not because it is but cause they made us feel like that so we wouldn't misbehave. Be it French-Canadian or fuckin' Belgium-Congo, pretty much all the ex-colonies apart from America I guess, have that problem of low self-esteem, as put there by the colonizers and I guess Blondin is about that. Blondin is the colonizer and the guy complaining is the colony. Yeah I'm represented through that I guess. Otherwise if it was just the straight story, it'd be a dry and boring Henry Rollins type rant. 'I think this, this means this', and that's boring.

How do you feel about the 'what is the song about' question? I think it's a shit question cause shouldn't it be open to the listeners interpretation or is it up to the writer to explain?

I think both. The writer's interpreting it and so is the listener. I've got an idea of what a song's about but then someone else could have a completely different one and that's completely fine. I mean the best stuff with shit like Beethoven or fuckin' Mozart where it's right up there technically etc. but there's no-one singing over the top of it, there's no language and therefore it's more universal. It might make me feel angry but it might you happy. So whatever someone takes out of one of my songs I'm happy really.

Are you conscious of trends when you're writing, or just blissfully unaware?

Well trends are run by people between 20-25. They are the ones fuckin' dumb enough to buy whatever's sold to them. And what happens is when you're that age, you just keep to shit that's from the decade you grew up in. Like me if you came up in the 70's you'll wear 70's clothes and hair and listen to 70's style music. Whereas now, the 25 year olds grew up in the 80's so they listen to and play 80's style music a lot of the time. And the thing about that is the 80's were original at the time, it had never sounded like that before and now it's just recycled.

With that in mind then, do you listen to much new music? Especially Australian stuff?

Yeah I mean there's still good Australian stuff like, My Disco and St Helens, who've broken up now I think. But there's always good stuff around.

Do you think the good stuff gets adequate exposure out here?

Well no, but this is a contentious point. Every thing's publicity and if you don't get it you're fucked, but it can be gotten. So these bands that don't get publicity a lot of the time that's probably their fault. Like the thing about Spencer Jones in Mess & Noise - "poor old Spencer". But then he's not out there trying to get publicity for himself so of course his records will go by the wayside. It seems to be the case that either a band's broke or too busy working full time, or maybe they just don't care and that's fine too. It is a bit of a shame though, cause why the fuck make something if no-one's gonna hear it?

But say with the Drones, it took you guys a while to cut through. Wasn't it difficult to get publicity then?

It didn't take us a while to get publicity, it took us a while to understand we needed it. You can get it easy enough. If you're good and you can get a 10 thousand dollar credit card, you can buy yourself a career. To start with anyway.

Well in your case, the Drones were acknowledged overseas before being reclaimed as our own in a lot of respects. Just like Cave, The Go-Betweens, The Dirty Three etc. Do you think that's a big problem that the Australian industry has?

Um, yeah. If you don't get the super powers out here patting you on the head then yeah. I mean Australia hates itself dude. All the bands have American accents. And when I say that people go, "what a fuckin cunt! That guy's a fuckin asshole!". But why have you got an American accent? Imagine if I dressed up like a fuckin Samurai and walked around like a fuckin Samurai. And then one of my mates goes, "Gaz let's go to the pub", and I say, "stay out of my way! I'm gonna stay battle ready!" That's absurd! But you know what's more absurd?

What?

Is my friend then saying, "nah Gaz is cool, he's a Samurai" [laughs]. And that's what Australian music fans do when they listen to Australian music with an American accent. It's just absurd. But now if I say something like that I'm fucked you know?

Well do you want me to not print that then?

Na you can print whatever you want, I'm over it now. But honestly it's fucked. It's like I'm on an island full of fuckin mental cases.

Well do you see it as a systemic problem then? Like with JJJ our national radio station having a monopoly on the local market and promoting Aussie bands that are just mimicking what is happening overseas. Why do we have to have an Australian version of everything?

Yeah it's just way worse than the original. But then even something like ACDC or Nick Cave doesn't help the low self-esteem. Nothing makes us feel better about ourselves you know?

Why do you think that is?

Cause England did such a good job of making us feel bad about ourselves. People have done PHd's on the cultural cringe bullshit and it's very real. Even though ACDC have sold more albums than the Beatles we still feel second rate.

It's obviously a prevalent thing for you now through your music, but has that always been the case?

Well I'm Australian. I didn't mean to be and I'm not overly patriotic or proud, but I'm a third generation Australian and I'm not ashamed of it. I don't cringe about it when someone uses the vernacular. I think Steve Irwin went overboard [laughs].

That's the other side of the coin isn't it? Not criticizing him specifically, but you seem to get a lot of dumb people in charge of putting us to the world and they ham up the colloquialism too much.

Yeah totally. That creates a bad stereotype.

We've sidetracked a bit here, but I should ask you some questions about Strange Tourist I guess. Did you get overseas with the touring for this album?

Nah, not yet. Might get over there mid year but we'll see how we go. I've done it so much I almost can't be fucked right now.

Do you prefer touring here or overseas?

I love touring over there. Touring here gets a bit boring cause there's only five places to play. I'm quite happy to play, but I've seen Sydney know what I mean? Whereas in Europe you see all this cool stuff and that makes it more fun. But it's punishing stuff at the same time.

When you first went over with the Drones was it a case of like you said before, just really backing it and heading over or was it more nonchalant than that?

Well we went over for SXSW and otherwise we just saw it as an excuse to travel and play shows at the same time really. And then we got to go and play in New York and Paris and it just went from there and we thought that was amazing. And we've never been under any kind of delusions that we're gonna be like INXS. The Drones is a pretty nasty sounding thing so we've never really chased great success over there we just had a good time.

Back to the last few record questions for a sec. With Strange Tourist did you and Burke [Reid, the record's producer] take the approach of keeping it raw?

Yeah I wrote it in 8 weeks and that was the synopsis really. Keep it acoustic and simple.

Did you approach the writing as being for a solo record or could they have been Drones songs?

Na it was always going to be a solo record but it didn't change the way that I've always written songs, so they could have been Drones songs.

So what's next? Any new Drones material soon?

Drones DVD of live stuff throughout the years and crap like that. Haven't watched all the footage yet but yeah that's next. And I'm doing a record with Ben Salter from the Gin Club at the moment. No new Drones stuff, but that'll happen next year.

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Gareth Liddiard's amazing debut solo record, Strange Tourist, is out now. Catch him also playing at this year's Splendour In The Grass festival.

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Gareth Liddiard
The Drones

 

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Comments

glugger

"Imagine if I dressed up like a fuckin Samurai......"
I have no idea what he's saying here.

8 years ago

readylove

He's saying that the absurdity of Aussie's imitating American accents and everyone thinking it's cool, is the same as if we went around dressed like samurai's and everyone thought it was cool.

8 years ago

glugger

'Get out of my way!! I'm gonna stay battle ready!!"

8 years ago

blackbunnybamelam

Great interview. So refreshing to read an interview with an Australian artist that doesn't give a fuck.
Strange Tourist is an epic record. 'The Radicaliasation of D', just amazing in its scope.
Australia has always struggled with artists like Liddiard, preferring to idolise them in death - think Dave McComb from the Triffids & Grant McLennan - Go Betweens rather than give them their due success when they are living.
He is right though about kids with yank accents. They go into music with delusions of commercial granduer & it goes downhill from there.

8 years ago

Hawkhawkins

Great interview

8 years ago

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