Zep, Booze, And The Drones: The Down-Under Combo Rumbles Into Cafe Du Nord


O what sweet, fierce music the Drones make -- children of the night, dark denizens of the valley. The Australian group fielded much acclaim for its 2006 album, Gala Mill, and now the band, led by vocalist and guitarist Gareth Liddiard and partner and bassist Fiona Kitschin, are back by the Bay. In hand is a new fourth Drones full-length, Havilah (ATP Recordings) -- a disc spilling over with spaghetti western guitar, moody musical textures, loping and stumbling rhythms and a distinctly Oz-based stark poetry. I caught up with the droll Liddiard via email this week, on the brink of the Drones’ Friday, Sept. 18, turn at Cafe du Nord.

Q: How did Havilah unfold?

Gareth Liddiard: We recorded it at me and Fiona's house in a valley in the mountains of Victoria. We always just do what Led Zeppelin nearly always did, which was grab a stack of recording gear and set up in a big, old house in the country.

It doesn't sound like an original idea, but not many people copy that side of Led Zep -- which is completely retarded considering how much people crap on about their drum sounds and how they were the kings of the studio. So that was our plan: pretend we're Zep.

Q: What does Havilah mean to you?

GL: Havilah is the name of the valley I live in. This is the second album we've named after the place it was recorded. Again, not very original, but a shitload more original than the names of the first four Zeppelin albums. Zeppelin sucked like that.

Q: There's a very Western-soundtrack, Dead Man feel to the recording -- with hints of Nick Cave and the Dirty Three. Was that an inspiration or a starting point? And what do you find appealing about that breed of music-making?

GL: The Nick thing and the Dirty Three thing is there ‘cause that was what we all listened to in high school. It’s hard to escape your high school shit.

The Neil Young thing is just what happens when you mix humbuckers with whammy bars. I sounded like him before I knew who he was. Some sounds are just so elemental that it’s hard to escape -- like the Sonic Youth thing.

All the great ideas are annoyingly simple and hard to avoid once someone shines a light on them for the first time. Who cares about originality though -- it can be cool, but it’s overrated. 9/11 was original, and I don't recall anyone being impressed with that. We just play for fun, and what happens happens.

Q: Any particular lyrical themes make their way into the songs?

GL: Being not dead.

Q: Minotaurs, drifting housewives, and “supercargo” pop up in Havilah -- how would you describe your preoccupations?

GL: It’s kind of morbid, but in a weird and absurd way.

I don't like writing about normal stuff. That’s boring. The world doesn't need any more love songs. How are you going to top Dylan or anything like that when it comes to love songs? There is so much other cool stuff to write about. The world is a stupid place, and it’s stupid to write about it, which is cool.

Q: One song is titled "Cold and Sober." Is sobriety important or a detriment when it comes to listening to the Drones?

GL: It’s all horses for courses. Either works. But booze certainly helps things along. I can't imagine music being what it is if no one ever got drunk. Flamenco sober? It wouldn't get invented, along with whatever folks started doing 100,000 years ago.

Music was invented by somebody who was off their face on something.

The Drones play Friday, Sept. 18, 9:30 p.m., at Café du Nord, 2170 Market St., S.F. Model/Actress, the Spyrals, and DJ Duke of Windsor open. $10. (415) 861-5016, www.cafedunord.com

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