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THE DRONES-By The Gin Club’s Ben Salter

THE DRONES
November 29, 2008 | Author: The Gin Club’s Ben Salter

The Gin Club’s Ben Salter takes on The Drones.

benanddronesBen Salter (Gin Club) So you were saying Dan, you used to work at a prison?

Dan Luscombe I worked in customer relations. Basically I worked in the gift shop, when it closed down. There was still a division that was operable, the psychiatric division, but every morning I used to walk through H Division.
When was this?

D Around 2000, when the Drones first came to Melbourne.

Gareth Liddiard Nice segue.

So the title of the album, Havilah … is that the name of the property you live in?

G The valley. We’re not quite at the level of naming stuff yet!

I googled it and there’s obviously some biblical connotations there.
Fiona Kitschin Well yeah, it was a big gold mining area, so it kind of means place of gold or land of gold.

My favourite song on the new album is probably “Luck in Odd Numbers”, I just think it’s a cracker. Do you have a favourite song to play?

G Probably that one actually.

F Yeah, it’s one of them.

Mike Noga It’s fun to play live.

For me it sums up all the things about the band that I kind of enjoy, although I couldn’t really follow the narrative – half way through it sort of switches.

G Well you’re not really meant to. The first half is good luck and the second half is bad luck. It’s actually a Pythagorean theory, luck in odd numbers. I mean Pythagoras was a pretty smart guy, up until this theory.

Go on, elucidate. What exactly is the theory?

G Well it’s just that there’s luck in odd numbers, really. I don’t know how you apply that to anything. Pythagoras made a lot of sense most of his life but then he got to that theory and kind of dropped the ball.. it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

D  I think he relates it to cosmic stuff like the number of planets and things like that. I hated Pythagoras at school. All those theorems and stuff.

Actually Conor just bought me a book by David Foster Wallace about Pi.

G What is it a cook book?

Zing. Actually he just hung himself.

D  While we were in America I think.

G Why did he do that?

I don’t know. Maybe he heard too many Drones albums. Anyway back to the questions – So this whole rock and roll caper. Do you ever feel like you’re stuck being at 15 years old? I mean you’re all obviously intelligent people. Some bands, you feel like 15 is the perfect age for them to be stuck at. This isn’t to demean rock and roll, I love rock and roll, I think it’s a valid art form and awesome but how do you feel about it all as a job, do you ever feel juvenile?

D There are times when I wake up in my current abode which my brother and his wife are so good to let me live in, and I don’t have enough money to get breakfast, where I think it’s a pretty stupid job. But that’s about the only time. Mind you that happens most mornings.

G  When you do have money you forget your pin number.

D  Well that’s right. But it is a weird job, probably one of the weirdest jobs I could name. But then again it’s the only one I’ve done.

Do you find that as you get older you dismiss a lot of stuff or just don’t bother with it cause you feel like you’ve kind of heard it all?

G Yeah, I mean, you hear (The Stooges’) Funhouse and it’s like that’s it, it’s time to move on.

I mean what was the last album you heard that you went … ‘Jesus’? That Scott Walker album, The Drift that we were talking about earlier?

G  Yeah that, or just stuff that’s not rock n’ roll.I mean that’s all I listen to any more is kind of stuff that’s not rock n roll. Classical or black metal!

M Yeah, all I listen to during the day is classical. I find it quite soothing.

G Yeah, Spanish music, lots of that lately

I’m glad you mentioned that cause in “Luck in Odd Numbers” there’s such a bolero kind of feel, that bass line.. who even wrote that, Ravel?

D Yes, it was Ravel.

I guess that’s why I love that song, everything about it, the interplay between the slide guitar and Gareth’s guitar, the bass line, I guess it’s kind of like the Drones’ Marquee Moon or something?

G Yeah, well we were kind of going for that a bit.

D I think it’s like Gaz saying he listens to lots of flamenco, and we all listen to lots of different types of music, but there’s a common thread running through
it all.

It seems to me you guys are the latest in a long line of Australian guitar bands, all the way from Birthday Party and Venom P. Stinger

G Great band

… and stuff through Silbersher’s stuff – Gus (from Gin Club) was playing me some of that Tendrils stuff the other day and you can definitely hear something distinctive developing, you just don’t hear it in bands from any other country.

G There’s definitely an Australian guitar sound.

And I guess you guys have added to the canon of it a lot.

D I think by and large my favourite guitar players are Australian, I mean guys like Rowland S Howard and Kim Salmon and Danny Rumour, Spencer P Jones..

Who’s that guy from Lubricated Goat?

D Stu Spasm?

They’ve definitely got that kind of nastiness going on also.

D Yeah. I mean I’m a big fan of Marc Ribot and Tom Verlaine, but I think generally my favourite guitar players have always been Australians and I don’t know why that is. I guess I can relate to the sound?

M  Well, you kind of grew up with it, it’s in-built in your system

‘Cause I grew up listening to grunge and Pearl Jam and that kind of stuff when
I was a kid, but now as I get older and older, I get drawn to this Australian stuff that’s so evocative of the landscape, Midnight Oil and even stuff like Icehouse, just cause of that space.

D  With Rowland … I lived in St Kilda …

I mean around the time that it turned bad, or turned good, depending on how you look at it. But Rowland S. Howard’s guitar playing kind of evokes the landscape of Fitzroy Street, or you know, and Danny Rumour has that wide open Australian space sound.

Gaz and Fi, has it made a big difference moving out to the country?

G Yeah, yeah, well touring is just being surrounded by people, and no privacy so it’s good to get out of civilisation.It’s good to get out on the land.

D Fiona gets to hone her cooking chops.

What’s your favourite dish at the moment, Fi?

F  I don’t have a favourite … at the moment I’m going through a big dumpling phase. We went to China for a few days after the last European tour, spent 8 days in Shanghai, so that was awesome.

You recently did a US tour with indie legends Built to Spill and the Meat Puppets – how was that?

D It was just great. The guys from Built to Spill, and there were six of them on the tour, were just lovely to a man, very generous and giving.

M I don’t know if you can smoke that much pot and not be lovely. I don’t think it’s possible.

D The Meat Puppets guys are kind of pretty wild, one of them was on probation to go on the tour after serving three years in prison – I mean you kind of feel a little bit tame compared to those guys. But they were nice enough. I mean they’re kind of like the missing link between the Grateful Dead and contemporary bands…they’re in their own world. Amazing band though.

So where are you guys at now? Is it hard to make a living doing what you do?

D I think for most people the music we make is pretty hard to swallow. It’s a funny thing ‘cause we’ve made a record that we’re all incredibly proud of. I mean you do your job as a musician, and you hope that it strikes a chord with all the people that are into music out there. But it’s a funny band, because it’s also quite a challenge to a lot of people. Generally the reaction we have had to this record is that, well it took me a few listens to finally get it.. and then..

G Well, that’s happened with all the records

D Yeah, I suppose.

Well I mean, some of my favourite albums are the ones I didn’t get into straight away.

D It’s a tricky position to be in in Australia because a lot of the successful bands, and when I say successful I mean financially successful, in this country aren’t of that nature. Mostly it’s just the instant appeal thing, that gets bands in this country fame.

It’s hard, ‘cause I guess you guys are the kind of band where you just do what you do and hope that someone out there likes it, not the other way where you think of what people like and then try to do it.

D  I mean, who knows what people like?

G Well, that’s just touring and marketing, you know. Getting the music out there to people who might want to hear it.

D We’re always trying to figure out what a band like us can do to continue as far as ‘up’.

Is that an imperative, to keep doing what you can to survive?

D Well it’s an imperative for every person on the planet

F Well I don’t think it’s an imperative musically to keep doing stuff, that kind of takes care of itself…

Just a matter of what can you do to keep yourself afloat.
D Yeah, just to keep the business afloat.

It must just do your head in, trying to figure out how to sell yourself  to people?
D We were sitting around in the hotel room this afternoon watching a music cable channel with these two goons talking about what the next hot thing to listen to is in Australia and we were just thinking … we are never gonna be on a segment like this. So what do you do? What’s your plan B?

G Do what you want! You just have to keep doing things to keep yourself interested.

D You do run out of options pretty quickly in Australia if you are our type of group, which is why I guess we keep heading overseas. It’s like the last uncharted territory. I guess there are still people in Australia who haven’t heard us who might like it.

For me, being in a band, I guess half of it is getting to make the music you want to make, but the other half is that lifestyle, you get to travel and do stuff that people with proper jobs do except you go and get drunk and have adventures and stuff.

F Yeah, well people save up for years to go on a big holiday and we get to do it every year or so.

That’s the big three reasons that I’m in a band I guess – making music, meeting other people in bands and traveling. I just don’t know that I could do anything else. Have you ever had a back up or ever thought that there was something that you could have done apart from music?

G No, just music.

I mean I meet some people who do this stuff, who are in bands, and I just think “You could have done anything.”

G Yeah, but they’re never as good, and I mean people with a safety net are never as good either. Don’t study law just in case. Just do the music and it’ll be better without a safety net.

I was gonna ask, do you ever listen to your own stuff?

G Um, yeah, once in a while. Once a year maybe. But once you’ve done it you’ve heard it so much.

When you get blind occasionally you whack it on?

G  Yeah, it’s fun to hear it. I mean the thing is you make the music you want to hear, but then you hear it so much when you’re making it you don’t want to hear it anymore. But yeah, when you’re drunk once in a while it’s fun.

I should ask you about Burke Reid (album producer), cause he’s done a really awesome and subtle production on Havilah. What was he like to work with?

D He was amazing. Really transparent.

F  You’d never see him.

D  I’d just bump into the guy

M  He was always encouraging us to try new things, but in a very gentle way.

D  He was like Socrates, he was always asking you questions.

G  He wasn’t a producer so much, just like an extra dude in the band.

D  He put mikes everywhere. I mean he loved the sound of the house. He just opened the room right up.

G  When we did this thing with Burke the main thing from his end what we talked about was like Andy Johns’ production on Marquee Moon by Television, somewhere between that and his work on the Led Zeppelin albums, and that was just the bass and drums, and we just sort of went from there. That was the leaping off point.

D  I think he put just the right amount of technology between the band and the end product, just enough to open it up when it needed it. Plus he’s a gear nerd, which is what you want in a producer. But we’re very happy with the results.

Well, thanks guys. Sorry about my crap non-questions and constant interjection. I should take this opportunity while I’m on the record to say
I reckon Havilah is one of the best albums by an Australian band, or any band for that matter, in recent memory, and you should all be really proud.

G  Thanks mate.

‘Havilah’ by The Drones is out now. www.myspace.com/thedronesthedrones
‘Junk’ by The Gin Club is also available now. www.theginclub.com.au

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