Over the course of five albums in eight years, the Drones have honed their dauntless apocalyptic sound. Current subterranean champs of Australia’s wide-ranging Melbourne scene, they mangle psych-punk lamentations with epic Goth meditations, creating enough funereal gloom for the doomed, swooned, and lampooned creatures being lyrically subverted. Though supporting musicians have come and gone at a brisk rate since ’02, original brainchild, Gareth Liddiard, continues to improve and diversify his bold artistic endeavor.
Following a self-titled ’02 EP, formative long-play debut, Here Come The Lies, found the Drones honing their bewitching craft. After ‘05s forebodingly titled Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By, misbegotten third album, The Miller’s Daughter, offered menacingly provocative fare such as audacious fetus-scraping lampoon, “She Had An Abortion That She Made Me Pay For.”
But it was ‘06s refined Gala Mill, recorded in a haunted Tasmanian factory, that really put ‘em on the international underground map. Terrifyingly grim mantra, “Jezebel,” with its squealing-to-wankering 6-string feedback and overcast orchestral stridency, recalled intriguing dark-toned rockers such as the Swans, Birthday Party, and Psychic TV. Better still, the apocalyptic video version of “Jezebel” benefited greatly from its willfully confrontational penchant, rustling up mostly old black and white film marked by torture, punishment, and wartime oppression. Combining Sex Pistols snarl with battering hardcore vindication, “I Don’t Ever Want To Change” may be the most accessible cut the Drones devised to this point.
Equipped with his best lyrical abstractions and recorded at his remote “home in the woods,” Liddiard gets personal on ‘09s momentous Havilah, gathering a series of intensely remorseful songs that’ll scare pop-charmed lightweights. Many maintain the stark vulnerability Nick Cave’s meandering post-Birthday Party requiems once delivered, but at times, they’re as tranquil as Bon Iver’s riveting contemporary portraits (like the creaky-voiced divorce-bound folk retreat, “Drifting Housewife”). Astronaut Neil Armstrong gets referenced in numbing acoustic repose, “Penumber,” a sympathetic Red House Painters-like memento Iver’s lackey’s would simply eat up. Similarly, whiny Mick Jagger- modeled ballad, “Cold And Sober,” reaches a reclusive piano-plinked climax meant to shoot out the lights.
Tangibly, each dirge-y low-key turnabout seems to trigger the heavier discordant arsenal the Drones exceedingly showcase. Begging forgiveness and searching for emotional rescue in a cold-hearted universe, opening salvo, “Nail It Down,” breaks free of its familiar “I Want Candy”-styled foundation with several electrifyingly seared solos before going completely berserk. “I Am The Supercargo,” concerning the acquisition of cultist John Frum’s god-like powers, features a lonesome guitar figure straight out of Neil Young’s dissonant ‘70s backlog.
Another backdated keepsake, nightmarish guitar-entangled scree, “The Minotaur,” recalls Captain Beefheart’s mangled cryptic flanges. Though Liddiard’s apparently destitute by the downtrodden “Careful As You Go,” claiming ‘the end is drawing near,’ hopeful mid-tempo closer, “You’re Acting Like The End Of The World,” prompts poignant acoustical Country-folk uplift.
Giving each distended tune a richer resonation at Manhattan club, Pianos, in April, lanky goatee-d front man, Liddiard, provided a deeper baritone sneer than the recordings indicated. Expectedly, his feedback-drenched guitar arpeggios tore into each number with oozing resilience. Stage right, newest affiliate Dan Luscombe looked like a young mod greaser, laying down ancillary roughshod riffs in a determined manner. To the left, bassist Fiona Kitschin rubbed out rhythmic chords from her low-slung four-string, facing vigorous drummer Michael Noga for nearly the entire set.
Blending fertile catalogue material with several Havilah highlights such as “Nail It Down,” the dusky 50-minute performance captivated avid fans and caught the uninitiated off-guard. Steadfastly, Liddiard’s cacophonously amplified ‘beautiful’ noise rose above the steadfast rhythms, lunging in and out of wiry fibrillation’s while wrangling a mess of dirty blues to fiery heights. For wandering 8-minute heartache, “Luck In Odd Numbers,” Liddiard told the scrunched audience, ‘you can dance to it.’ Well, yeah, if you can go from a waltzing crawl to death march stroll during the protracted seance.
Are the lyrics on Havilah more personal and less political – or am I nuts?
GARETH LIDDIARD: A little bit of both, I guess. (laughter) Some is historical Australian stuff. I think my political lyrics are more about the state of affairs. They’re pretty obtuse, weird…
Yeah. Desolate – but in an abstract way. It leaves people more open to interpretation, especially now.
Would you agree with online assessments claiming Neil Young’s protracted guitar jams and Tom Waits’ bleak antediluvian theatrics serve as effectual influences?
I don’t disagree. I did a bit of growing up in London in the era when Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Blondie were big. Back in the days, pop music was quite aggressive. That was the stuff I first thought, ‘Wow! What is that?’ Later on, I got into Led Zeppelin, Black Flag, and Suicide. And all the Australian stuff like the Nuns, Birthday Party.
I thought the Swans and Psychic TV’s outré musical experiments may’ve been influential?
Yeah. Yeah. I had a few Psychic TV live records. It was the year they were releasing one live record every month. Genesis P. Orridge was really cool. But only a little bit of the Swans, though Michael Gira played Australia recently.
How’d you hook up with Fiona?
She’s been around since the first album. We moved from Perth to Melbourne – which is a better music town. Perth was like a smaller version of San Diego, but more remote. It’s cool for surf waves, but we moved to Melbourne and Fi came with us. We’ve known each other ten years.
I heard Gala Mill was recorded in a haunted Tasmanian factory.
We didn’t see any ghosts, though. It was in one of the first Australian farms built in the 1900’s. Australia is only as old as California, so… It was in a middle-of-nowhere farm. It was a custom-made studio waiting to happen. All it needed was recording equipment. It was like being on holiday and getting a record done. It worked out good.
How would you compare Gala Mill to its subsequent follow-up, Havilah?
Gala Mill is heavier, but not in a depressing way or in its sonic assault.
Several of Havilah’s slow songs compete favorably against the usual expeditiously blitzing savagery. There’s “Cold And Sober” plus caliginous breakup lament, “The Drifting Housewife.”
As for “The Drifting Housewife,” there was a gazillion love songs, so I figured I’d write a divorce song. We could do all sorts of stuff. It doesn’t have to be political.
What are some of your political views? Are they as bleak and portentous as your lyrics sometimes indicate?
The world is pretty complicated. It’s a lack of people having enough knowledge of what’s happened before that really makes them freak out about shit. Obviously it’s not good to have these current economic conditions. But we’re not living in the streets and we’re not all gonna get killed by terrorists. It’s unnecessary hysteria.
There’s room to be philosophical, but it’s not the first time financial institutions have collapsed. It’s not the first recession anyone’s been bogged down in.
I was quite intrigued by “The Minotaur,” with its scraggly Captain Beefheart-like anxiety and scruffy elegiac characters.
It’s about modern day losers. “The Minotaur” is the offspring of a bull sent down by the gods. He’s just in a maze. And that sort of predatory depressive weirdness happens all the time, a progeny of a fucked up relationship – like the kids locked in their bedrooms getting into porn and ultra-violent video games. It’s just mysterious anti-social behavior. They’re entertaining the worst traits humans have. It’s relatively harmless, but in a stupid way. It’s all about buying a bunch of useless shit that’s obsolete in a week and you’re bored with it so you have to buy more.
You’ve mentioned online how much Blues artists such as Blind Willie Johnson fascinate you.
Blind Willie Mc Tell, too. Everybody talks about Robert Johnson, and he’s cool, but there’s quite weirder, more dexterous, and stranger dudes, like Mississippi John Hurt, Fred Mc Dowell – the finger picking and the song structures. Take Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist. We did a song, “De Kalb Blues,” an old Leadbelly song. We’ve done Blind Willie Johnson’s “Motherless Children.” I’m into all that fucking amazing stuff. That’s what got me into songwriting originally, rather than just Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page’s pyrotechnic stuff.