The Big Issue : Edition 508
34 THE BIG ISSUE 29 MARCH – 7 APRIL 2016 FEELIN KINDA FREE, the seventh studio album from The Drones, opens with a summation of intent. “The best songs are like bad dreams,” vocalist Gareth Liddiard rasps over a lurching, carnival- esque riff. In the background, a strangled electronic signal burbles and screams, like an amp tossed into a wood chipper. “All the guitars are gone,” Liddiard tells me over the phone. More accurately, they’ve been disguised: warped into bestial moans and blasts of artificial noise. It is, at times, difficult to discern which sounds derive from wood and steel and which are pure algorithm. As he explained in another interview: “We wanted our guitars to sound like unnameable instruments.” It’s a sharp diversion for a band that, for almost 20 years, has built its reputation on blistering swamp rock, taking cues from the blues-based excursions of artists like The Scientists and The Gun Club. “The last album just kind of wrapped up that standard four-piece thing,” says Liddiard. He’s referring to the band’s furious 2013 record, I See Seaweed, which has been celebrated by critics as their best. When they broke through more than a decade ago with Wait Long By the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By (2005), The Drones sounded like a shot in the arm. To an indie audience in the midst of a folk and chamber pop resurgence, the anarchic guitar play, along with Liddiard’s ragged vocals and scouring poetry, felt hot-blooded and wild. For the band itself, though, that music was an act of significant self-restraint. The Drones formed in Perth in 1997, as part of the city’s experimental underground. According to Liddiard – the band’s only original member – their music was initially “...just really, really quite strange. We would use drum machines and all kinds of synths and keyboards, really crazy guitars. It was whacked out.” At the turn of the century the band moved east, towards the hub of the local music industry. “We weren’t ever going to stop making music,” he recalls, “so we thought, ‘Fuck it – let’s make a living out of it.’” To do that, they had to curb their more abrasive tendencies. “We did that standard four-piece thing because when we came to Melbourne we needed to get gigs. So, in a weird way, we kind of compromised. We came here to earn a living – that was the deal – so we were prepared to compromise a bit.” It seems bizarre, and more than a little unfair, to characterise The Drones’ MORE THAN A DECADE SINCE THEIR BREAKTHROUGH ALBUM, THE DRONES ARE FINALLY BEING THEMSELVES. Drone Strike Drone Strike GARETH LIDDIARD (FAR RIGHT) HAS ENCOURAGED THE DRONES TO WEIRD OUT.