An Encounter with One of the Greats: Tahlia Interviews Gareth Liddiard of the Drones

I’m going to throw it out there- Gareth Liddiard is easily the best song writer that Australia has ever seen. Yep. Easy. Listen to The Drones’ “Gala Mill”, if you haven’t before reading this sentence, and you’ll understand why I made that call. Do it. Do it now. And if you are familiar with this seminal Australian band, you’ll at least have had some inkling that Gareth is embarking on a solo tour this month, to promote his latest solo album “Strange Tourist”, and will be gracing Fremantle with his vocal/guitar presence this weekend. I had the opportunity to pose him with some questions, and I’m pretty smitten with the results. I think I love this man, if not for the intense live show and all round great of the band he founded, then definitely for the Einsturzende Neubauten tattoo he’s got on his forearm, I respect any co-respect for that band, I wish I had asked him about that…

T: What is your song-writing process, and how does it differ between writing for the band and for your solo work?

G: It doesn’t really. Except that it’s all finished sooner when you’re on your own ‘cause you don’t need to show anyone how to play anything. Otherwise it’s the usual approach, which is starting a song and keep going until it’s finished. “Finished” actually means “not shit”. All I do is anything and everything that’ll prevent the song from sucking.

T: How influenced are you by your surroundings when you’re writing? Has touring affected the way you create music?

G: I’m influenced by my surrounds as far as being on tour is too distracting and being alone and uninterrupted is where it’s at. It doesn’t hurt being in nice surrounds but it doesn’t help that much unless it’s quiet. It’s too hard to write on tour. Bob Dylan used speed to do that. Anyone else who say’s they write on tour writes dumb American type shit about freight trains, rivers, hotels, jesus, being at the crossroads etc. You can’t write on tour like you can’t tour at home.

T: When did you first pick up a guitar, and what made you keep going?

G: At high school. We’d smoke pot and drink beer and there’d be cheap nylon string guitars laying around. Then I started playing bass then moved up to electric guitar and I just kept doing it. I just did it because I liked it I guess, and cause guitars were available. They were just there. Had I been doing cocaine in cathedrals I would have played church organs. The first time I actually did anything serious about playing was when I was 24 and I left Perth for Melbourne to try and make a living out of it. I was a late bloomer. But before that I did it for fun only.

T: What is your biggest literary influence?

G: Guys like Vonnegut, Flann O’Brien, Celine, Dylan Thomas, Joyce, Bukowski, Nelson Algren. Lots of stuff. Mostly prose writers but poets too like Les Murray, Ian Duhig, Yeats. Just whatever is good. I generally prefer stuff by people who seem likable. I dig Dostoevsky and Shakespeare and their ilk but being crushingly good isn’t the be all and end all. Being nice to be around is.

T: What would your ideal time- in terms of the history of life on earth- to live and why?

G: Before the internet. It’s a bit overrated I think. All it is is more. More info, more garbage, more advertising, more noise, more work, more ignorance, more assholes who never lived without it saying it’s the best thing ever. Now everyone’s getting stupid and everyone in entertainment except the purveyors of that stupidity are going broke. For what? For more nothing, faster, now.

T: What are you listening to the most at the moment?

G: Not Rock n Roll. And not Western White Middleclass music. I’m sick to death of that shit.

T: Favourite Australian band of the last 12 months?

G: Don’t have one. I live in the mountains and never see any shows.

T: How do you think Australian music is perceived by the rest of the world?

G: Mostly, if they think about us at all, the rest of the world wonders why we sing in American accents. Imagine if some Japanese dude came out and sang Russian folk music and took himself seriously. You’d thing he was an idiot. People from “overseas” generally don’t give a shit about Australian music. Not because they’re nasty. But because they’re mostly not colonies and they therefore have high self esteem and back themselves. We don’t. We try to be the US or the UK in every way except the way the US or the UK are being themselves. It’s really bad. Other colonies do it too, except the one above Mexico that used violence to eject it’s colonizer. And strangely enough that x-colony has the highest esteem of any country in the world.

T: I love “Sixteen Straws”. That song breaks my heart every time, and the way you sing “through his heart” never fails to send shivers down my spine. It’s such a brutal Australian story, and the pain, helplessness and anger you capture within it must resound through every Australian who hears it. Where does a song like this come from?

G: One day I read the first verse from that old Morton Bay song then turned the page and the rest was missing. I’m always looking for a good start to a song and that’s what this was. Doesn’t matter that I hadn’t written it. So I finished it off myself.

T: Where do tunes like that come from?

G: I think if you write anything you need to be pretty good with your empathy. If you have it then it’s not as hard as it looks. Empathy gives you the fuel to write and it seems to give other people the fuel to absorb whatever it is you’ve made up. It is a weird thing. I don’t look into it that hard. People have been doing it forever, it’s biological and sort of irrational but you are what you are. May as well just write and listen to tunes.

Gareth will be playing at the Fremantle Arts Centre on Friday 12th November and at Mojo’s Bar in North Fremantle on Saturday 13th November.