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KIM SALMON-By The Drones’ Gareth Liddiard

KIM SALMON – By The Drones’ Gareth Liddiard
November 29, 2008 | Author: Gareth Liddiard

kimsalmonGARETH: I was asked an interesting question the other day about whether what The Drones do is always too dark or negative. The guy asked me to identify some light in what we do. I didn’t counter very well because it was early, and I’m a bit thick anyway! Now, having thought about it … I’d say as down as our thing can be, I think it’s kind of beautiful. It made me recall some idiot reviewing your self titled Surrealists record and saying it was too “hateful” among other uninsightful things. I gotta say I agree, but for me that’s a huge plus. I love hating shit. Who doesn’t? Since when has rock and roll been nice anyway? What do you think about all that? There’s not a whole lot of mean and evil music out there these days. Why not Kim?

KIM: It’s really not up to some writer to prescribe the correct amount of lightness and darkness for an artist to have in what they do. When they do that, and people listen, it starts to make the art about fashion and politics rather than the art. What I mean here is … it becomes a case of people trying to dictate what the politics of the art ought to be or what fashion it should follow. A writer really ought to concern themselves with looking critically at the work and expressing their own response to it. You mentioned David Messr’s scathing review of the self titled Surrealists album. What got everyone’s goat was his summing up of the album as ‘Ugly hateful music for ugly hateful people’.
At the risk of sounding like Catherine Tate, I wasn’t bothered! I was quite pleased actually. It’s not often what you do gets that strong a reaction! Better that than some poxy 3 star review, patronising you by saying you put in quite a good effort. I ended up using this quote in an ad and left it up to others to get worked up about it .. which they sure did. The guy actually wrote about me in one way or another a few times over the years and had always been kind. So it’s be ungracious to complain about his negative, and I’m sure quite genuine, response to one particular thing. You can’t have everything. I’ve learned not to get too worked up about how positive or negative what I do might be.

GARETH: I don’t know what you think, but for my money the album ‘Hey Believer’ is one of the best Australian records ever and one of the best ever in general … period. I’ll never get sick of it. The band was unbelievably good and I can remember standing in a crowd while you were playing the Leonard Cohen number “Suzanne” and people were crying because it was so nuts. You’ve later denied playing that but I don’t believe you. I have some questions about that band. What does STM stand for? I asked you guys back then but I never got any respect from you lot when I was a teenager.
I haven’t seen the recent Dirty Three documentary, but apparently you’re not in it. What’s with that?

KIM: OK then, STM did play ‘Suzanne’. There’s a recording of it somewhere on some comp or giveaway CD. ‘Hey Believer’ isn’t so much an STM album but my first proper solo album that featured a band on about half the tracks. The band was just hitting it’s stride when they came out on tour with me to promote the album. There was a fair bit of STM material, as opposed to my material with them playing on it, in our live set. I think ‘Treachery’ is one example of an actual STM song on ‘Hey Believer’. The band songs were generally a riff that Warren brought and I’d come up with a melody and words. I think there was an Andrew Entch number in there and perhaps a song or two where Jim would have gotten a credit. They were a strange amalgam of jazz, funk and folk (The folk element only because acoustic bass and violin will do that to most things). I used to get up with The Dirty Three and sing a song called ‘The Deadly Equation’ from time to time. That was an STM song. There’s a song called anticipation on the Business album ‘Record’. This song was an STM song. Unfortunately (for STM), The Dirty Three’s sudden rise put an end to STM and now we can only mythologise these long songs that are no longer around for scrutiny. And we will … they were fantastic!T he best stuff ever. No one will know how good this band was unless they were there etc, etc. As to the name of the band … I never told anyone, including Warren, Jim and Andrew and I’m not going to start blabbing now.

My non-inclusion in the Dirty Three doco has been remarked upon. That’s really one for the producers. However, I was asked to participate and said ‘yes, of course I’d be happy to’. But reality, ie the fact that I’m a muso with a day job and small children, kept on removing any time I had left that coincided with the film maker’s schedule. I had worked with the same people before on a Hoodoo Gurus doco, and assumed that they’d figure a way to make it happen. They chose not to and that’s their decision. I hadn’t given it much thought until now.

GARETH: Were you happy with the STM record?

KIM: Yes, I was very happy with ‘Hey Believer’. It was all put down live in this great orchestral studio the ABC had in Caulfield. We’d run through until we felt we had it, then commit it to tape and pick the best take. Recording this way is wonderful for bringing a band together. Having that experience recorded makes a record very special. Also the material is where I was really at in that period. The Surrealists were becoming increasingly frustrating, because Tony Pola (drummer) was going errant at this time and we could never do anything. We had to sack him in the end. Also I was finding that The Surrealists would completely stomp all over and wreck any of the subtler, more jazzy or Rn’B stuff I was writing then. I was doing a lot of shows in this period and STM was a band that evolved at a residency I had at The Great Britain Hotel. I’d start playing various songs at Surrealist’s rehearsals and observe how they were treated. Usually what happened … if it wasn’t a straight out ‘ four on the floor’ rocker … was that I’d never play it to them again and give it to STM, who tended to know what to do with them. The Surrealists weren’t interested enough to remember. Neither of them said ‘hey what happened to that soft number you played the other day?’. People often site ‘Sin Factory’ as my best. The thing with it is, if you look and listen really hard, the cracks are starting to show. This line up of the band had run it’s course by this stage. For the most part, the album is cooking but ‘Underworld’ for instance, just doesn’t fit (to my ears). Fortunately, most of these ‘cracks’ only appear on the singles and EPs associated with the album. That’s right, bonus tracks or to be blunt, out takes. The US version of the album is weaker for the inclusion of these bonus tracks. I say all of this to highlight the fact that Hey Believer’, which followed hot on Sin Factory’s heels, doesn’t suffer from this at all. ‘Hey Believer’ is really the natural progression from ‘Sin Factory’ in my career. The self-titled Surrealists album that followed, was more of a dead end tangent.

GARETH: The Surrealists can be funky or really demented. It’s a crazy band. We hear there may be a new record on the way. You told me you might work on ideas that’ve been brewing since the Human Jukebox days. Will it therefore be more demented? Who’s going to be in the band? Stu and who?

KIM: The Surrealists’ line up is Stu Thomas on bass and Phil Collings on drums.  The thing with The Surrealists is, to quote someone else, they never actually broke up. So this isn’t a reunion. The Surrealists evolved into the less demented band ‘The Business’, which evolved back into me and this version of The Surrealists. Salmon and the Darling Downs and The Zeitgeist have all conspired to push The Surrealists out of the picture for the last few years. Eventually someone waved enough dosh and we thought … why not! When we played, it felt so darn good that I wanted to get the band recorded again.
A whole lot of music theories and threads that had been relegated to my id, suddenly began to surface. Things are really falling into place after all this time. It’s been all simmering away for decades now and it’s ready to explode! I really couldn’t say if it’s demented or not. Some of the songs have atonal dimensions and some of the rhythms are deliberately ambiguous. There are some unusual ideas with the way some of the music is generated and constructed.

GARETH: Are you still going to do more Scientists stuff now?

KIM: I’m happy to play shows with The Scientists. I enjoy it immensely. I can’t see however, how we could produce new music. We ran our course and the things that made us work as a creative entity back then, have all decayed beyond the level where we could work in that way anymore. Who knows though, someone might be mad enough to persuade us to want to have a go at doing a new record. I’ve got grave doubts about it and it’s purely hypothetical. People keep asking me that question though.

GARETH: What do you listen to outside of rock n roll?

KIM: Rock and roll covers a lot, like heavy rock, prog, glam, art rock, punk. I like all of that but outside of that, I like funk, soul, classical, bluegrass, experimental and particularly jazz. When i say jazz, I’m talking about stuff like Miles Davis ‘On The Corner’, various free jazz agents like Mingus, Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Sharrock, Albert Ayler, James Blood Ulmer.

GARETH: You’ve done tonnes of stuff with lots of bands. What did you enjoy doing the most? Where do you think you got the best results?

KIM: Well I enjoy it all these days because I just don’t play stuff I don’t enjoy. I love doing The Darling Downs with Ron because we just do it and get transported to some other spiritual place that neither of us would have any access to in our normal day to day lives. We’re not really spiritual people. I enjoy Salmon, because it’s like putting on an event every time we do it. It’s more like working with a theatre company than a band, and we’re all best friends, which makes it an absolute party every time we play. Doing The Scientists and The Surrealists recently however, has reminded me of a path that  was on back in the 80s. I was far more single minded back then and I think the albums ‘Blood Red River’, ‘Human Jukebox’ and The Surrealists debut ‘Hit Me With The Surreal Feel’ really created a different feel, ambience, vibe. I’m searching for the right word here, to describe what was around. I think they are my favourite works.

GARETH: ‘Murderess in a Purple Dress’ is about a woman I used to know when I was just out of school. My girlfriend used to babysit for her in Hilton WA. She showed us pictures of you both in London years ago. As heavy as London types like to think their music is/was, I just don’t see it … aside from PIL. Plus, they’re not fond of folks from the colonies when it comes to seeing them appropriate the same shit they appropriated from the US. It’s fine to appropriate a political system from the greeks but … put it this way … AC/DC are from Scotland. If you ask a pom, and Scotland is a part of the UK. Everyone in AC/CD has a broader Australian accent than me, and I have a broader Australian accent than most because I got bashed for having an English accent (because I was brought up in London, even though I was born in Australia). How did London work for you then? Expound your experiences more than I have just now on my own… otherwise i’ll look like a …

KIM: London was a hell of an experience for me. I grew to love the place, which I still do. I always enjoy being back there. It’s ridiculously expensive. It could be dangerous. Most folk I knew got mugged one time or another, me and my fifteen year old son included. It could be cold and miserable and it could take forever to get from one place to another. However, in some ways it felt like the centre of the universe.
If something new is breaking in the world, most of the time it’s not in Berlin, Paris, New York, but London. The Scientists decided to move there and cut themselves off from Australia. We thought we needed to succeed on London’s terms rather than just rely on expats to fill our audience. It’s debatable whether we did, but as you would’ve seen Gaz, a couple of years back, we did have a full house at The Spitz- two years running and there was hardly an Aussie there.

GARETH: You’re a Suicide fan. They’re unique but in theory, they’re not. At the end of the day you can break their shit down and they are as derivative as most other bands. But most importantly, they are authentic. They own their space. I reckon that’s all you can be. You nailed that from the get go with your music. What do you reckon about being authentic over everything else? What’s it worth, and why? Not just in your case.

KIM: To be perfectly honest, I don’t really understand the idea of being authentic. You can either do your best, or not. Sometimes you can be doing something that is not what you’d choose to do, but it can lead you down a different path. For a lot of my music, I’ve just had a ‘concept’ given to me and I’ve run with it. I think there are people who produce stuff that ‘doesn’t wash’, ie it is unconvincing. That is because it’s not very good, not thought through properly or executed by untalented people. I think you can create material that says the exact opposite of what you really believe and be just as genuine … as if you’re telling the truth. This is because if you put all your resources into carrying it off, it is that performance, that art, that effort that people will respond to. Suicide were a very confronting band. They weren’t just scary and dynamic. Like … The Birthday Party. They were playing with some very uncomfortable ideas with the way they presented themselves. It was performance art. Their music was basic on the surface, but highly complex on a deeper level. The way the music was structured forced the listener to focus, consciously or subconsciously, on nuances which opened up whole worlds of counter rhythm and melody, or did for me at any rate.

GARETH: You’ve done so much different stuff with different bands. Is there a particular kind of thread running through it all or is is just a Kim thing?

KIM: There are some threads running through it all. There was a conceptual art aspect to the Scientists and the early (and present) Surrealists, that is clearly in evidence in Salmon and E(A)rnest. The rawness and simplicity of The Scientists is a big part of the Darling Downs. There are threads for sure, but as you say, it’s all very different too. I’ve never been able to just keep doing the same stuff. This is probably why my career hasn’t had the trajectory of others I could name. There are folk who keep trotting out the same stuff but make miniscule shifts in presentation and continually get lauded as geniuses, who keep pulling new stuff out of the hat. If you keep changing too much, people can’t get a handle on it and revert to the best known thing you did … which in my case is The Scientists, and then fail to recognise the different things you did. But I’m not bovvered! So to answer your question, it must be just a Kim thing, or as I prefer to say, a ‘Salmon’ thing.

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