Left-field Aussie outfit is back under its own steam, writes Scott Kara
When the Drones did a series of shows with Neil Young earlier this year - including at Vector Arena - the Australian band started to take their support slot for granted.
Sure, they relished the opportunity to play with the music legend, especially since Young is a key influence on the Drones' own dark noisy blues-rock. "But we started getting used to it," says head Drone Gareth Liddiard in his lackadaisical Aussie accent. "We did six or seven shows, and so we'd finish, pack up, and Neil would be playing, and it's like, 'Oh, are you going to go and check Neil out?' And it's like, 'Oh, yeah, I might have a few beers and then maybe I'll go and watch'. So we got pretty casual about the whole thing," he laughs.
But, says Liddiard more seriously, it is also the "coolest thing" the long-running Melbourne-based band have done since he formed the group in Perth in 1997. "He's a top-tier legend. It was weird, we met him a few times, and it's just weird because this is a guy who was friends with Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. So that's pretty intense. And we got to play in arenas, which was fun, because we'd never done that before. So we lost our arena virginity."
They're back in New Zealand for a headlining tour in support of seventh album I See Seaweed. It's a typically thrilling, challenging and intense set of songs and recalls everything from Neil Young and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds through to the rawness of the Birthday Party, post punk swamp rock fiends the Scientists and grunge icons Nirvana.
"Those were our high school [years]," says the 30-something Liddiard of the influence Nirvana had. "And the older I get, the more I realise just how the point of view of that era and that epoch and what it stood for, is hard to shake. So if I see Kanye West, and people go, 'Kanye you're amazing' - yeah, but he's rich, he's going out with Kim Kardashian, his records do sound incredible but that's because he's paying people who are very talented a lot of money to help him make his record. And that's all good if you can do it, but I'm more old school."
Liddiard is also a keen and seemingly effortless storyteller, with his lyrics often coming across as if the songs are improvised. Though he reckons he doesn't have a great command of the English language.
"I guess I'm a frustrated narrator, or speaker," he says. "And I have to have a hundred drinks to try and loosen up my brain and my language, but it never works. So being able to sit down with a song and going over it a million times is actually good therapy for me because I get to work out what I actually want to say. It doesn't happen overnight that's for sure."
The current line-up of the Drones is the most solid it has been, with earlier incarnations going through a number of line-up changes. Liddiard puts it down to the fact they're all in their 30s and more serious about making a living out of music.
"Things happen through your 20s. People have babies, people could be doing heroin or want to stay drunk all the time. Now though, we're just more grown up," he says with a chuckle. "Everyone behaves themselves. I mean, you can do whatever you want, but if you make it hard for everyone else to get on with touring ... and in a really boring sense we are running a small business together. And so if someone's drunk all the time or being a prick, then what the f*** are they doing here. So we've sorted all that stuff out."
Who: The Drones
What: Noisy Australian avant rockers who were last here supporting Neil Young
Where & when: Kings Arms, Auckland, October 4
New album: I See Seaweed, out now