One of the feature acts at the MELBOURNE GUITAR SHOW will be KING OF THE NORTH. Greg Phillips caught up with singer, guitarist Andrew Higgs on the eve of their European showcase tour.
King of the North’s brash, energetic brand of rock taps into the spirit of the legendary Australian rockers who have gone before. Originally out of Adelaide and now Melbourne-based, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Higgs and drummer Danny Leo make an inordinate amount of noise for just two people. To some extent that’s due to their sheer energy and skill but also playing a substantial role in their massive sound is Andrew’s somewhat secret sound system, aka the 3 from 1 pedal! More than just a new idea for a guitar effects system, the 3 from 1 is the reason King of the North was actually formed. “King of the North is really the guinea pig for the idea,” says Andrew Higgs. “It’s a ground breaking idea and the band is where you can hear it facilitated.”
While King of the North seemingly came out of the blue with their acclaimed 2014 album ‘Sound The Underground’ and their massive ‘3 from 1’ sound, there is a bit of back-story, so let’s take a step back. Higgs and Leo first met on stage at a music college in Adelaide while backing a fellow student for his graded recital. “Our friend was having a bass recital and had to put a band together to get graded,” recalls Higgs. “Danny was the drummer and he got me in to be the singer and that’s where we met. I missed all of the rehearsals and rocked up for the soundcheck to run through it with them and that’s where I met him, on stage.”
Andrew Higgs had been playing solo and had his own band as well. Both Higgs and Leo grew up on a diet and admiration of classic 70s rock, so they clicked quite rapidly. The pair relocated to Melbourne in January 2012 and by April, had been asked to support Cold Chisel at Festival Hall. “We’d only been a band for a couple of months,” says Andrew of the Chisel gig. “That was like whoa! I think I said on stage at the time, this is the biggest pub we’ve ever played! We’d been cruising around trying to make a name doing a lot of Melbourne shows in pubs and to get the call to do that straight away was a bit of a leap.” In 2014 the duo released their debut album ‘Sound The Underground’ and their single, ‘Wanted’ was featured as the soundtrack to the BMW series 2 advertisement. The ad and song gained further notoriety when it was banned by the A.A.S.B (Australian Advertising Standards Board) for potentially inciting unsafe/ hoon driving.
Ok, so KOTN general history lesson covered, let’s return to the significance of the 3 from 1 pedal notion. “It’s the whole premise of King of the North and why we even started the band,” Higgs continues to explain. “I said to Danny, hey man I have this idea of how to make one guitar sound like 2 guitars and bass! With you playing drums and singing and me singing, if it works, we can make a two piece sound like a proper band.” Higgs had never intended to form a two piece band but once he put his 3 from 1 theory to test with Higgs one day, the decision made itself. Fortuitously, Higgs visited Leo at a studio where he was packing up gear from a session with the band he was recording with at the time. Higgs knew all of the gear components required to test his pedal system were available in that room. “I hooked it all up and said to Danny to jump on the kit,” explains Higgs. “We both sat there laughing going holy shit, that sounds monstrous. So that was when I first knew it would work. Really what it does is, it multiplies one guitar to make it sound like it’s through three amplifiers. With the pedals, it creates the bass sound and enables me to loop the guitars and play over the top. To make that happen I had to create a bunch of pedals, modify existing pedals and buy a couple of other pedals. It takes a whole group of pedals to make it happen. Now what I have done is put them all into one pedal and it’s called the three from one pedal. If you want to do what King of the North does, here you go!”
In Higgs’ 3 from1 press release, he summarises the system as follows:
The 3 main variations of the 3F1 sound allow the one guitar to be heard:
1. Simultaneously (so it sounds like 3 guitarist all riffing together)
2. Separately (so it sounds like lead playing over a rhythm guitar and a bass line)
3. Layered (so there are a multitude of parts being projected).
While two piece rock bands have recently become the style du jour, King of the North is adamant that their bigger, bassier sound is quite unique. Higgs however does acknowledge that other bands are beginning to strive for a greater two piece sound. “There a lot of two piece bands, even two piece bands which were around before we started, who are now running a bass rig with an octave pedal, all trying to get onto the same thing but nobody has cracked on to how it really is,” he says. “People have said, have you heard Royal Blood? They’re doing a similar thing to you. Our sound engineer is a big fan of them and he says the guy is playing a bass and makes his bass sound like a guitar but he is not doing the loops and not playing over the top and soloing, so it is still not the same. I want us to get noticed as trying to do something different. It doesn’t mean it is better and I am not saying you don’t need a bass player. People have said to me, do you hate bass players? Why don’t you have a bass player? I say to them the emphasis IS on the bass, we just didn’t like the sound of normal two piece bands. I was a fan of the Black Keys, I thought what they do is great but they secretly record little bass lines on their albums anyway. Bands like The White Stripes were as stripped back as you can get but it sounded empty to me.”
The final piece of the King of the North sonic puzzle is the guitar element. Andrew uses a standard black Gibson Les Paul and a Gibson 335, in order to achieve the classic rock humbucker sounds. “It’s Gibsons that I use for King of the North at the moment,” Andrew says. “We have talked about doing a Fender record with jangly, riff rockin’ blues guitars. Maybe a bit further down the track when we are more established.”
So successful has the King of the North sound been that they’ve just signed a deal with French label Bad Reputation, who will distribute the band’s music throughout Europe. This month the band heads over there to play some showcase gigs to the European music industry, ahead of a tour proper in September and October. They’ve also scored a slot at the prestigious Patrimonio guitar festival on the Mediterranean island of Corsica. “This guy, Eric from the Bad Reputation label has his finger on the pulse of Australian rock, ” says Andrew about the deal. “He contacted us and has released a number of Australian bands over there like Electric Mary and The Angels, The Poor and a bunch of other underground rock acts from Melbourne. There’s a real scene for it over there and he’s just an avid supporter of Australian rock. It’s sad that we see a band like Airbourne as too derivative of AC/DC and a knock off but over there, they just think it’s derivative of that genre and they go, well we love that genre, bring it on!”
Between the shorter showcase trip and the longer European tour, King of the North will be back in Australia to play at the Melbourne Guitar Show on Saturday the 8th of August at the Caulfield Racecourse. Higgs is not only looking forward to playing on stage but is also excited to be showcasing his 3 from1 pedal system. Higgs is the first to admit he’s no technical wizard and is keen to discuss a commercial arrangement with a company who has the technical and economical facilities to mass-produce his unit. “I just have YouTube and a soldering iron,” laughs Higgs. “I have had a lot of great people help out. I have a friend who is pretty techy, he builds amps and he’s helped me with a few things including the 3 from1 pedal but really I’m looking forward to talking to people at the guitar show who can deal with this on a larger scale.”
Andrew is not looking too far beyond the European tour and the Melbourne Guitar Show, both of which he sees as important events in the life of the band. He hopes that King of the North will record and release another album next year. As to the musical direction, there are many ideas floating around in his head. Apart from his jangle rock album he mentioned earlier, he’d also like to record a fuzz-based album too. “Instead of having my preamp, classic rock valve driven sound that I get from my amps, for my gain sound, I wouldn’t mind doing something with clean amps and fuzz pedals.” One thing is certain, Higgs is not short on energy nor ideas and that can only breed excitement.
See King of the North at the Melbourne Guitar Show August 8-9 Caulfield Racecourse