GARETH LIDDIARD meets ADALITA
DECEMBER 1, 2011 | Author: Greg Phillips
It’s been quite a year for The Drones’ lead singer Gareth Liddiard. His debut solo album, the raw and often intense Strange Tourist was met with much critical acclaim. More recently, The Drones released A Thousand Mistakes, a live DVD which entered the ARIA DVD chart at #22. In our special meet and greet issue it made a lot of sense that we paired Gareth together with Adalita, who was supporting The Drones for their three sold out gigs at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel in October. Both front respected Australian rock bands, are talented singer songwriter guitarists and have also both released quality solo albums this year. In Adalita’s AIR award acceptance speech in October for album of the year, she paid tribute to Magic Dirt co-founder and bass player Dean Turner who died in August 2009. It seems that Turner’s loss is really hitting home. He’d been a driving force for Adalita to record her debut album and now with the accolades forthcoming, sadly he’s not around to share in the moment. His name came up frequently when Adalita and Gareth Liddiard, sat down backstage at The Corner with Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips for a chat.
Your solo albums both have a great sense of space compared to much of your band material. Was it important to have that point of difference musically, and why the spatial approach?
A: I guess it just happened naturally that there was so much space. It’s kind of like a glorified demo, well it is … I like to think!
G: Any album is a glorified demo
A: Yeah, a beefed up demo, because the way I write is just me alone in a room with my 4 track. I always have the 4 track. I have to because I have no memory. I’m worse than a goldfish. I don’t actually have a memory. It’s like I am living for the first time every day! It’s like, what did you do yesterday Adalita? I have no fucking idea (laughs). Yes, so I always have that going and I usually find that the first take of a demo is the one. So I approached the album that way and Dean (Turner) was really instrumental in laying down the law for that. He was like, OK, you’re going to do a solo record and it’s just going to be you and guitar! I said, yes, I’d like to do that.
G: It’s good to have limits. Better than boundless possibilities.
Gareth, your album is quite stark. Was there a bit of wanting to get away from the noise you create with The Drones?
G: Yeah, that’s part of it. There are lots of reasons. One reason was just to be playing by myself. I just wanted it to be a guitar and a guy. That’s why it’s a solo album, because of that sound, not because I wanted a solo album, you know what I mean? It’s all the same. The songs start out the same anyway, it’s just whether you get a band or not.
A: I had the same feelings, it’s not because I wanted an album to put out for myself so much as wanting to do those songs which didn’t work for Magic Dirt.
G: Yeah, it’s not like I’m going solo, here comes my solo career and album number one. It’s not that. People ask if I’m going to do another one and it’s a bit like asking if I am going to write more love songs. I don’t know, I did it to play more music that’s all… and something else to do.
What about your cut off valves? Gareth, your songs go way past the length of traditional acoustic songs.
G: Yeah, I don’t have a cut off valve!
Is that the case or or do you just need that time to tell the story?
G: I just hate rules. I have always been allergic to rules. If someone says a song has to be three and a half minutes long, I will do the opposite. Plus … just do it until it’s finished. It’s a western invention anyway. It’s one side of a 45, three and a half minutes! That’s why. If you listen to stuff from other countries that aren’t western super powers, their songs are anywhere between a minute and twenty minutes or more. It’s an American and English thing.
A: Yeah I never thought of it that way … wow!
G: Look at all of that old jazz stuff, Charlie Parker and that. On record it might have gone for three and a half minutes, but live it would go for ten or more. They’d bust out, so it was all about the recording length and the technology at the time.
What about you Adalita? Do find it hard to know when a song is finished?
A: I don’t think so, I’m a bit like Gaz. You tell the story or you let the song dictate the way it’s going to be and yes, it’s different live. I enjoy improvisation, particularly with my background in improvisational theatre.
G: Really? Acting?
A: Yeah … well … I did a lot of dance and drama.
G: Like Jim Morrison!
A: I love what Gareth was saying about rules and Dean was the same. There shouldn’t be any rules, just make it up as you go along.
G: You guys had big jam spots in Magic Dirt and that’s what we do.
A: I think I am not a very good song arranger. I always tend to have more rather than less when I am writing. Someone like Dean was really good at editing and culling but I find it difficult.
What about the headspace of performing solo compared to with your bands?
G: It’s more physical with a band. There’s your headspace. Lactic acid!
G: Yeah, it’s all in your head.
A: Do you get nervous? I can’t imagine that you do.
G: No. I was really arrogant and never got nervous. By the time the arrogance went away, I’d done so many shows ..
A: When did the arrogance go away?
G: What do you mean? What sort of question is that?
A: Ha, ha no I mean, do you think it had something to do with getting older?
G: Yeah, for sure. But I couldn’t bear to do it if I got nervous. Do you get nervous?
A: Yeah, I almost can’t do it.
G: Wow, I just wouldn’t do it if I was like that.
A: Yeah, there’s always a big question mark.
G: Do you vomit?
A: No I don’t but I feel very disassociated from my body.
G: Yeah, I get that too but it’s not butterflies or frightening or anything. I close in.
A: That’s good though. I can see that you do that. When you go in, everyone goes with you.
G: It’s not that. It’s more like my senses shrink. It’s a defence. It’s not my head going up my arse in an artistic sense. It’s a defensive thing, more like my world gets smaller.
A: A bit like survival, you know, you become an animal.
G: Yeah, yeah. You’re right. It’s a weird thing.
A: Dean was really surprised by me. I did some solo shows and I was really frightened. I was really traumatised by it. It was like 2008. I did a residency at The Retreat and I was shaking.
G: It’s full on, the first solo gig.
A: So Dean came to one of those shows. Then a little while later he said something to me and when Dean ever said anything it meant a lot to me because he was very measured in what he said. He said, Ad, ‘i didn’t think you were going to keep going with it’. He was really surprised. It was really that hard those gigs. When JP is on stage with me, he plays guitar and violin. When someone else is up there with me it is heaps easier. It is getting easier but it is still hard. At any moment I could just go ‘I can’t do this’. it’s really hard for me. I am out of my depth, a fish out of water. Even this week playing with The Drones, I sometimes think, oh fuck, I could lose it at any moment, but I am getting better.
Is it the in-between song stage patter that is worse?
A: It’s everything
G: It’s a weird thing because if you think about it too much before a show, you think I’m going to go out there … you’re by yourself, and there are people sitting out there waiting for you. That’s weird. With the band, it’s different, you can hide in the band. For me, that’s why I am always talking bullshit and just being stupid because the whole thing is just ludicrous. Imagine doing 20 songs and just going ‘thank you, this next song is about … Imagine taking yourself seriously … you’d just be a wanker.
A: You’re so good at that though. You are such a natural. It’s so unreal to watch Gaz. I sit there and go, I wish I could do that banter, but I can’t…and I don’t. I just shut up.
G: I’m on the spot. I did it at school. I was such a smart arse.
A: Yes but you’re so eloquent.
G: I’m amazed that anyone would think that.
A: You don’t see yourself from the outside.
G: It’s all a muddle of confusion upstairs from my point of view, it’s horrible … a blur. Dan Kelly said a great thing about that between song shit, and he’s really good at, and he says it’s just surfing on their minds! You get better at picking up where the crowd is at with your little antenna. You go off on a tangent and say the first thing that comes into your head, which can be scary because you might say something really inappropriate. Someone like Bill Hicks is a master of that. The reason you love him is because he is saying all of that inappropriate shit. You know, you’re not allowed to say the truth.
A: But everybody thinks it!
G: That’s right. So you just open your mouth because you need to fill the space … because you have to tune your guitar! So you start and you have to wait for this arc to return. Somehow you can talk the most stupid shit then eventually you come around and you’ve gone full circle.
Sounds like jazz!
G: Yeah, yeah it is! Then you just have to go, this next song is called blah, blah, blah and people think, that was clever, and you’re just like…phew!
The Drones have just released A Thousand Mistakes, which is an interesting compilation of live performances. Adalita, I think the closest you ever came to a compilation was when you combined a couple of albums for American release… but you’ve both avoided the best of type album …
G: Well it’s a bit of a full stop, the old best off, but it would be fun to do. People do it themselves anyway with their iPods. You’ve never had a best of?
A: No. I reckon it is due .. due now!
It’s something The Drones would consider then?
G: I don’t know. In this day and age you can just make your own mix tape in ten seconds flat.
What about with your guitar parts … Gareth I know you and Dan intertwine quite a bit. How do you work out who is going to play what?
G: You just kind of do it until it doesn’t suck!
A: I reckon when you have a band as good as The Drones and I will say my band is pretty fucking good (laughs all round) … When you have bands like that, the alchemy is there from the start. You really don’t have to say anything. You get in a room and you jam and it’s like a miracle really. We start out just jamming and eventually it gets to a point where it’s all fitting in, but for that to happen, I reckon you have to have the band of your dreams and it all flows from there. We’ve played ten billion shows and that’s a huge part of it. It’s automatic, you don’t plan anything. It either sounds good or shit and then you can add something weird, within the confines of the song and that will be it. There’s not a lot to it except that if it sounds shit, you’re not finished yet.
Are there any bands that you admire for the way their guitar parts fit together?
G: Television … Jimi Hendrix… Jimmy Page when he was in the studio. It’s all a sense of space. The thing you learn is how not to play over something. People will say, oh that Led Zeppelin recording sounds amazing. Well, the recording is probably a bit shit, but is arranged so well, by the musicians rather than the sound engineer, you can hear everything because everything is jumping out of the way. Things come forward at the right time from the back and the drums aren’t overdoing it. You don’t play that much. It’s a trick … smoke and mirrors.
A: Less is more. You can’t let any of the band’s egos get in the way. You all just have to play your parts and everybody knows their place.
G: Yeah and if someone is doing something that is sounding good, it is probably because someone is backing them up. A melody might be sounding good but it’s also because the other guitar player is holding back.
A: Yeah that sense of backing each other up. Sonic Youth and Swervedriver are bands that I like who do their guitar parts really well. There are huge walls of sound but if you break it down, you’d be surprised by what they are doing and how it all fits in.
G: I remember almost having a physical reaction. I was in punk bands playing barre chords really fast. Then the first real band I joined with an older guy and he was always telling me not to play so much … just don’t fucking play. It was physically hard to not play. I remember having to hold back and it was so hard. It was one of the biggest lessons. It was like, what should I play here. Nothing he’d say, just shut the fuck up! Then if you play one thing, that will sound amazing, compared to if you did it six times in a row.
A: Yes, pick your time. That’s the magic, the alchemy of a really good band I was talking about before.
G: The drummer might do something great, but it’s not that spectacular. The band just sets him up for it … gets the fuck out of his way.
A: It’s so true.
And they still take the credit though!
A: Ha yes.
G: Drummers always do. (laughs)
Do you consider yourselves pedal freaks? Is too many never enough?
G: Yes! They are so available these days it’s like music on the web. Once upon a time, to get an original Big Muff, one of the silver ones or finding an original Ibanez Tube Screamer…
A: Yes, it’s like you’ve found the Holy Grail!
Do you get used to a set of pedals for a while or do you change them around a bit?
G: You get fixed on a few things.
A: I haven’t changed mine for a while. I kind of just took my pedals from Magic Dirt and took them over to my solo thing.
G: You can over-think pedals. Ultimately you’ve got to learn your instrument.
A: It’s a taste thing, just things you like. I got this pedal the other day. It’s this Toadworks vibrato thing, but the volume drops, so I’ve either got to take it back or get an equaliser pedal to boost it.
G: Blue Boxes do that, from MXR but you can cut a capacitor out of them and suddenly they’re loud again.
A: I want to get a pedal for my vocals, like a delay thing. It’s good fun. Gibby Haynes man, when I saw Gibby at the Old Greek Theatre … Butthole Surfers was a really huge influence on Magic Dirt
G: I like that weird Meat Puppets and Buttholes and the weirder side of things. Sonic Youth were weird once!
A: Their early albums were great, but you introduced me to Suicide and I bought that record with the splattery red cover. I love it. It is so weird. It makes me feel so physically uneasy but in such a great way. It makes me laugh out loud. It’s great music but he is so passionate.
G: It’ so rock n roll too. Rock n roll should be fucked up and weird… rebellious. That’s what Chuck Berry was. He didn’t sound like anything else. You’ve got to use your imagination and fuck with people’s minds.
A: I was reading something that you said in an interview once, that the musician, the artist has to be more out there than anybody.
G: You have to be able to pervert the form. That’s why rock n roll is so great, you can have jazz in it or whatever. You get all the weird shit like John Cage and you put it into rock n roll and pervert the shit out of it… pervert the original intention. You can’t do that with many other things. Well you can, say with classical music but it is not going to make you anything but obscure, but rock n roll rewards it.
A: And the audiences are hungry for it.
G: Yeah they actually like it. Everyone gets conservative and thinks the audience will clam up, but the audience likes Hendrix smashing his guitar and likes Kurt Cobain smashing his. They like wild shit.
A: Yes because everyone has the wild spot. We come from chaos.
G: Imagine going to the circus and a dude comes out with a dog and throws a stick .. I mean … come on!
Have you got a favourite noise you’re making on stage at the moment?
G: Noise? Ha … I do have one. If you hold a note, it’s like a pitch shifter but it steps through notes… and you can choose the scale. It’s on a big Boss multi effects thing. It’s a cool pedal and has about 200 things in it, but 15 are really awesome. With this one, it makes it sound like a weird saxophone running up and down the scales weirdly, doesn’t sound natural. What about you? What’s that weird delay thing you have?
A: That’s the Line 6. Lots of people have that one. You just turn up the rate and you pull it back. I really like the Boss DD5. I put it on a short delay setting but turn the feedback right up and when I play this song Perfection, I hit the strings and there’s this te te te te te, infinite repeats and I like that it is a little bit abrasive.
G: Delays are cool. They never get old. They can invent all kinds of weird fandangled shit, but simple echo is so spatial … just space and time. That Suicide record we were talking about from 1976 or something is covered in it but it sounds super modern. Echoes have been around since the thirties.
Adalita, you’re mostly known for playing your crimson Gibson SG and Gareth, your red Fender Jag … had you both played around with different guitars before you got comfortable with those?
A: I recently bought a blue JazzBlaster, the Lee Renaldo custom Fender. Sometimes I crave a different sound. I saw it in a shop and wasn’t looking to buy a new guitar. I started playing it and totally connected with it and thought, oh, there are songs in this guitar.
G: I like the sound of Gibsons but just like Fenders. I dropped a Gibson once and the head came off. I like Fenders because you can fuck ’em up. You can throw them at a wall and they still play but I love a Les Paul sound. All the guts of my Jag is a 52′ Les Paul. With the Jaguar, because I use the wammy, it sounded like Roland Howard too much so I stuck a humbucker in and it now sounds like Neil Young. I like having the same thing too because you don’t have to think about it. That’s what puts me off with a new guitar because suddenly I am thinking about it. I’d rather not know it is there.
You have the tone of your guitars and colour the music with the pedals. What about your amps. Do you use them as part of the sonic equation or just to amplify sound?
A: I use the reverb on mine
G: Yeah that’s all I use.
A: I’ve always played through a Jazz Chorus amp.
G: That’s cool, you’re a solid state girl.
A: I just got the Fender recently and had never had a valve amp. I didn’t even know how to work the thing. Standby? What is it that? The Roland Jazz is just on. It has a high and low channel, so now I have to wait! But yeah now I have a Fender Hotrod. I’ve smoked a few Jazz Chorus’s … literally with smoke coming out of them.
G: It’s hard to blow a Fender. They are so stupidly over-powered. If you blew a Fender twin, you’d be deaf before it happened. We did a tour through Europe with Dinosaur Jr and J Mascis is totally deaf. At first I just thought he was a snob but you just have to speak up. It’s like talking to your grand dad. His amps are so loud. He has three Marshall stacks cranked a hundred percent and also a Fender Twin cranked and it’s like 3 metres from his head at head height and it’s brutal. It’s like, you’re going to kill yourself. On this same tour we played with Motorhead and they were saying Mascis was too loud. I said, no this is Motorhead. You watch… so we made a bet. Sure enough Dinosaur Jr was heaps louder than Motorhead. People were just handing him pedals from the front row. They accumulate in front of the stage. He throws them into a big road case. I’d be wanting a Big Muff or something and he’d say yeah, just look in the thing, you’ll find what you want … help yourself. His wife came to a gig and was trying to tell him something important about his kids and he’s just there doing this drum roll, blanking it. You could see it was just glory in his head.
What about amp feedback, do you enjoy using it as a tool?
G: Yeah feedback is the shedizzle!
A: Yeah (laughs) feedback is my career! Ha, I hardly play any guitar!
Does it ever go wrong?
G: When feedback goes wrong! Yeah like when you step on a distortion pedal. Yeah, the electric guitar is a genius thing. It can play itself almost. Everyone used to say Hendrix could just conjure feedback out of thin air. The reality is that he’s suppressing it most of the time. If he took his hands off the guitar it would just go BBRRRR!
Because you are both vocalist/guitarists, do you ever get frustrated that you don’t get to play enough guitar?
A: Yeah, I’d love to just play guitar.
G: It would be so easy.
A: Oh god, I would love to do that. I would love someone to say, hey join our band and just play guitar.
G: Same here but nobody ever asks. I hate it when guitarists whinge. You know, oh I am tired .. all you’ve got to do is stand there and noodle away! I have to act interested.
What have you been listening to?
A: I love that new Kurt Vile record and The Laurels, the Sydney band and Neko Case I listen to a lot of. That Suicide album I love and classical music.
G: I have discovered the brutalist school of Russian classical music
A: What the fuck have you been listening to?
G: I already knew about those dudes like Shostakovich, popular Stalin era dudes but there’s this futurism thing, this guy Alexander Mosolov. It’s mind fucking. .. sounds like a factory or a communist regime. It sounds like a million people being crushed by horrible jack boots … it’s really cool. I’m also mad about Edgar Varese, (Giacinto) Scelsi and Maria Callas. I could go on all day.
What’s happening from summer onwards?
A: Songwriting. Writing for the next album, the difficult second album ha! That’s what I will be doing, bunkering down.
G: Yeah, I’ll be doing a bit of that too, just at home over summer.