Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Kill Devil Hills - Belgrade interview

Intervju na srpskom možete pročitati ovde (B92)

Prikaz BGD nastupa

“You give up the control over to the road itself”

In the days between October 19th and 24th, Belgrade, Zrenjanin, Smederevska Palanka (Serbia), Velenje (Slovenia) and Zagreb (Croatia) came under an unexpected Australian desert storm. Instead of dust, it carried at the same time melancholic and sonic guitar and fiddle sounds, “served” in the manner that goes somewhere between blues, folk, garage rock and post-punk noise. The Kill Devil Hills are one of the bands of the Earth’s driest continent whose career is steadily going upwards. Up until this date, they’ve released 3 albums: Heathen Songs (2004), The Drought (2006) i Man, You Should Explode (2010); every one of them has a specific atmosphere and brings new elements in the game. KDH have a really unique music expression; sure, your ear could catch some familiar strains of sound - traditional folk tunes, guitar skills and strength like that of The Drones or The Beasts Of Bourbon, the americana melody and some of the Nick Cave & Bad Seeds darkness, but esencially their sound is their own, authentic. What gets under the skin the most is perhaps the sensibility - KDH have found „that thin line between beauty and savagery“. By following their own music instincts, they came under the radar of serious international critique - The Rolling Stone magazine called their latest album Man, You Should Explode „one of the best releases of 2010“, and had forseen their breakthrough on the international scene. The magazine’s words came true - this fall KDH jumped over the oceans to have shows in Europe, and they’ve really warmed it up. And thanks to Bad Music For Bad People, they’ve also reached the Balkan soil.

Between the two Belgrade shows, on October 20th, frontman Brendon Humphries, guitarist Steve Joines and bass player Ryan Dux and myself discussed their tour experiences, Australian climate, acoustics and electrics, the beauty Belgrade women and of course - Nick Cave.

So this is your biggest non-Australian tour yet?

Brendon: We did a short tour to Australia and Canada about 3 years ago. It was a bit strange - quickly put together. This is our first time in Europe and we’ve been working on this particular tour for some time now, to get a grant from Australian government, because it’s obviously expensive to come from Australia. It was difficult to organize, but maybe that’s why we’re loving it so much.

What’s your impression on your European shows so far?

Steve: In the Basque area of Spain we had a fair crowd. Though all the gigs have been good, regardless of number of people attending.

Brendon: We had our first two albums released by Bang! Records from Spain. They release some Australian music for Europe, so I think that the places those albums reached the most have been really receptive - France, and then of course Spain. Bang! Records are based in the Basque country, so the support there was great. In some shows there were almost 200 people. On the other hand, there were places in Germany where we played for like, 10 people. But those were mostly small, private clubs, illegal clubs, so it was cool - I don’t think there was a show that was “stupid” or a waste of time. There are probably some places that we wouldn’t like to go back to again, but it’s all been a learning experience. And Serbia is a really pleasant surprise. In every way.

But it’s been (physically) hard getting to here, right?

Steve: Oh yes. We had a broken tire somewhere near Trieste, Italy and it was impossible to find somebody to fix it on Sunday there. We finally fixed it in a little town in Slovenia the next day, and the guy who fixed the tire actually knew about the band! So it was quite a shock.

Brendon: We have to put him on the door list when we play in Slovenia, because he helped us so much.

The thing that is noticeable in this region (and beyond) many people tend to think that all music that comes from Australia is somehow closely connected or comparable to Nick Cave. What are your thoughts on that?

Steve: Ridiculous! Nick Cave is just one part of Australian music.

Brendon: I’m probably the only person in the band who is a huge Nick Cave fan. Not so much anymore, but twenty years ago when I discovered his music it was probably my favorite stuff. But there are other great Australian bands, like The Beasts Of Bourbon... I’m a huge fan of Australian music and I think probably listen to that than the other guys. But in my mind we’re influenced as much with American music - Neil Young, or Bob Dylan as with Australian music. American style of music influenced a lot of Australian bands, and you get stereotype of Nick Cave to be most successful. He’s an example of someone in Australia taking that sort of stuff and becoming internationally recognized for it. But no one in Australia gave a shit about Nick Cave until Kyle Minogue got into his fucking song!

Steve: The biggest with Nick Cave is that his old music has particular rawness to it which I think runs through Australian music. Like the Beasts Of Bourbon, and other Australian bands - it’s very raw and real, basically pub music.

Ryan: I like Nick Cave, but his success in Europe is probably due to marketing. And indeed, many of our interviews or posters have something to do with Nick Cave.

Brendon: We’re know The Bad Seeds and are aware of that they’re big in Europe. I guess that mentioning us as being similar could be useful sometimes. I think there are elements of our music that are similar, but I hope there are quite different as well.

What music influences do you recognize in your own work?

Brendon: The thing about the band is that we’re not all interested in the same music. Actually, we often hate each other’s taste in music.

Steve: I think that’s actually important for our band. And for example, Brendon and I did a show together, must be twenty years ago. We didn’t actually know each other and we played in different bands. I was in a metal band, and he was in something I considered a goth band, so that’s where we come from *laughs*.

Brendon: He was listening to Slayer and I was listening to Joy Division or something. Somewhere in the middle of everything you get folk music and you could define what we do as folk music. Some really common examples of what we all share would be Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits maybe. Also, lots of old blues and country, Hank Williams for example. Then, there is some metal. I listen to a lot of folk, Americana stuff... Ryan is a big Creedence Clearwater Revival fan. But I don’t actually listen to a lot of music. I find that I spend most of my musical imaginary life listening to our music and working on our music. Seriously. I get bored with listening to other music, I’m more interested in making our own I suppose.

Ryan: Rick Rubin, American recordings, all that stuff too.

I can’t shake the feeling that your music carries a piece of atmosphere of the dry, harsh Australian climate. Is that just in my mind or...?

Steve: Well, I guess it must be there somewhere. Cause we sure have a dry climate.

Brendon: I don’t think our music is really urban. It’s not kind of inter-city rock thing. For example, we recorded The Drought in the countryside, and we definitely all love the raw environment, I guess that it inspires us and makes us feel good, simple as that. Also, maybe that’s the key, in Australia we spend a lot of time driving because of the geography, the vast empty space. I always love the albums which I can put on when I go for a long drive. That’s my favorite music and most of the time I listen to music at all is when I’m driving. I always keep coming back to certain albums. So to me it’s always wanting to have that sort of album you can listen to in a car.

Steve: My first job out of high school included a lot of driving through the desert. I was driving and driving for miles, listening to Neil Young’s Harvest, and just loving it. It was fitting in perfectly.

Your first album Heathen songs, has that feel of vast desert spaces particularly...

Brendon: I think that it’s the fact that was recorded live, with few overdubs. It’s that mentioned rawness again. I think we all go for that organic sound. Many Australian bands record in that matter. You always get a more tangible feeling for it - you can sort of touch it, smell it.

That’s the thing - all of your three albums have different feeling and atmosphere to them. The first was raw and acoustic, The Drought was louder and more layered, and finally your latest album is more rock, guitar-oriented. In the same time, your live shows became louder and more sonic experiences. It’s like there was a some sort of click that brought that change. When and how did that happen?

Brendon: In 2008. we really changed the band. Our line-up changed; the bass player and the mandolin player left the band - got kids and various other reasons. We wanted to get a bass player that was more rockery, so Ryan joined the band. I bought electric guitar. We started as an acoustic band, became acoustic band that played fucking loud and it sounded like shit. So we decided to adjust our sound a bit.

Steve: Also, with acoustic instruments we started being shoved in a particular corner: “folk music”, “cowboy music”... And I think many people started seeing us as a parody of “cowboy music”. We were offered a lots of blues and roots shows and kind of got stuck in that blues/roots territory. It’s how people define you: if you’ve got acoustic guitars you’re folk or country. Everyone just wanted to get away from it.

So Ryan, how did you get aboard?

Ryan: Alex (Archer, violin player) called me up. I played some shows with The Floors in Western Australia and he asked me if I can fill in. I learned the songs and played the next gig, and then the next gig, and than the next gig and I said “Well, I might as well stay now”.

Steve: It actually started with an idea that Ryan was getting paid. Then we asked him if he wanted to be in the band, and he said yes, which was foolish - cause it means that the pay stops *laughs*

Ryan: And now I’m broke!

Unlike some artists, you guys have real day jobs supporting you. How do you balance your regular lives and your music lives? Does the work you do builds into your music?

Brendon, Steve, Ryan: Yes!

Brendon: I think it’s the fact that everyone has everyday lives... Also it’s money. We all work to subsidize, we don’t make a living out of the music. Sometimes it’s hard doing all this, because you’re working all week and you have to play a show in the end.

Ryan: It’s like two full-time jobs.

Steve: I remember one point when we were all working full time and rehearsing and gigging an awful lot. It was hard for a long time, but we do it cause we love it. It’s the yin and yang of balancing the work and music.

Do you miss your daily routines while touring? How difficult is it to adjust?

Steve: Well I think that we all miss clean clothes. And simple things too.

Brendon: What’s really cool, when you’re working and playing shows you’re changing hats, which takes a certain amount of energy. And what I’ve always loved about touring is that your job is simply to go from place A to place B to place C and play shows. You stay in contact with people, you do some business or e-mail people, but your responsibilities are only that. I find that strangely relaxing. You give up the control over to the road itself.

You all are involved with a number of side projects. One would get the feeling that the Western Australia's music seen is pretty lively?

Brendon: We joke about Western Australia because it's relatively small and isolated, that there's about a thousand bands and thirty musicians playing in them.

Steve: I think Alex, our fiddle player, was in six bands at one point.

Brendon: We've played a lot in each other's work, and of other friends that we've known for a long time. I think that's pretty normal and it's actually cool when you jump in on someone's project to do a bit of recording to it. Steve and I used to play in a band called The Gutterville Splendor Six. That was a band that kind of spawned KDH. Working with The Drones was important for my musical passage and it really changed the way I saw music.

That brings us to the question how KDH got together at all?

Brendon: I had a girlfriend who was born on August the 7th. We broke up, but she knew Steve who was also born on August the 7th . So I kind of swapped him for my girlfriend. It was an astrological swicheroo (laughs)

Steve: She suggested to Brendon and to me that we should get together, cause we'd like each other's songs. And we did. I don't really know if we had any intention, or any idea of where we'd go or what would happen... But we made ourselves an area to play the songs that we'd both probably play at home on our verandas after gigs with other bands. The really honest music.

Brendon: When we started this we said “Ok; we both played in bands for years, carrying heavy shit around - amplifiers, drums, base boxes, so let just keep this really simple - two acoustic guitars and that's it”. We failed that experiment, but that's the intention we started with - just to keep it really simple and gentle... I think there's still that element in our music, but we kind of got a bit bored of the acoustic sound. That became a limit rather than freedom. You sort of start chasing your own tail.

Steve: The way band came was pretty organic too. We both had known our drummer, Gibbo (Steve Gibson, regular drummer for KDH, but absent on the European tour), not really well, but we had a similar idea what we wanted of drums - which was hand drums. So Gibbo came along. We did a show one night, and one guy (Justin Castley, former bass player) approached us and basically just said “Do you want an upright bass player?”. So he came along too. And then Alex rang me one night and said “I heard that you fuckers are playing in Hyde park. I'm comin' and I'm bringing a violin”. He's been at a band ever since *laughter*.

The way Alex plays his violin is really stunning.

Actually he didn’t play violin before he met us. I had to kind of pressure him to join the band. One night after we met him, we played some songs in his shed and he pulled out a violin and just started playing. I said “That was great. Love it. You’re in the band”, and he was like “I can’t fuckin’ play that thing!”. I kept calling him every few months, then I gave him our demo, and he actually taught himself to play. “6=5” was the first song he learned to play on a violin. He created his own style of playing that came specifically from the songs that we are playing. He also plays piano, guitar, clarinet... He’s an amazing musician.

It was hard for you to imagine that you'll end up playing in the Balkans. Now you're here, what are your impressions of Belgrade?

Steve: We love it. Honestly, this is my favorite city of all that we've been to. Hands down.

Brendon: It's actually hard to explain why, but we feel really comfortable here. I think that we haven't had any expectations - I read about it a bit through years, and have friends that are from here, but I couldn’t make any guesses

Steve: Maybe it's because it's not so touristy, like other big cities. Good food too, and the women... Belgrade is number 1 place we've been to for beautiful women. And the rain is nice, cause we don't get a lot of it at home.

And the club and the crowd? Though Zica is a small place, the atmosphere was great. You saw that everyone's was singing along to Drinking Too Much.

Steve: Realizing while you're playing that people are actually singing the songs is a great surprise! And I think that all of us prefer that dingy, smokey type of space. It's more intimate.

Brendon: We usually prefer smaller environments, rather than being removed from the crowd. It's better playing in a small space that's full rather than in a big one that's empty. So I think it suits us at this moment.

You really put on an amazing performance - no person left the club cold-hearted. It's like your songs unravel themselves live and often get a different final shape...

Steve: There's a difference between us live and recorded, definitely. The songs are not so rigid and we allow them to move and change. Stuff we made five years ago and play live now - it sounds different. Sometimes you wish you could record them again.

But your experimenting is not pretentious - it just flows naturally. And the people feel it and that's why they react so well.

Steve: I think it comes from us being together for a long time. For example, “Brown Skin” we played last night, I don't think we played that song in I recon, six years. Something new always happens.

Brendon: We're aware that it's a long way; It's a different culture, it's a different type of music. So we've been really surprised by reactions in Spain, France and finally in Serbia... People know our stuff and actually care about it. We feel really privileged.

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