The Drones

Monday, 04 December 2006

Australia’s The Drones made a splash with last year’s Wait Long By the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By. The album—which won an Australian Music Prize—garnered a lot of attention for the Melbourne-based band, making them critical darlings in the European and American indie press for its jagged stabs of guitar, densely-layered harmonies and haunting tales of drunkenness, suicide, despair and the occasional prospect of being devoured by shark.

Founded five years ago by lead singer and guitarist Gareth Liddard and guitarist Rui Pereira, The Drones migrated from Perth, on Australia’s western end, far, far away from anything and everything.

“It’s really isolated over there, just one city and then desert,” says drummer Mike Noga, who joined the band—which also includes Perth transplant Fiona Kitschin on bass—two years ago. “You have to drive for three days to get to the other side. It’s as big as America, but there’s only 26 million people in Australia. The whole middle is empty.”

The emptiness translates into a particular style that has often characterized Aussie music as being very regional, and not often able to escape the continent.

“You’ve got cities in the west like Perth and Hobart in the south and Melbourne where it’s quite isolated, so you get lots of bands where it doesn’t even come into consideration that this could be a career. You end up making music just for yourself and your friends, not trying to write pop hits.”

With the success of Wait Long… propelling the band upward in the musical pecking order, the Drones have spent much of the past two years away from their homeland, slinging guitars like gunmen for hire. “We’ve been touring literally non-stop,” says Noga. “Every time we go home, we whip around Australia a couple times, and then we’re back over here [in America].”

Early this year, during a short breather from the constant tour, the group spent a week recording in a mill on an old farm on Tasmania, crafting their follow-up album, the aptly named Gala Mill. “There was this convict-built mill, built in like 1830,” says Noga. “It was red brick, three stories, sitting on this hill with the most spooky looking voodoo we’ve ever seen, and this beautiful farm with a river next to it. All the convicts’ thumbprints were still in the bricks.”

“Most of the songs weren’t finished when we got there,” he continues, “so we wrote a lot of it there, and we used a lot of room mics. You can hear the mill, you can hear birds. We had a week, and it was quick and easy. We slept in the convict cottages and made lots of food and got drunk and took drugs and spent a week swimming in the river and playing music. It was the most easy album we could ever, ever record. It makes you never ever want to go back to a studio again.”

Taking cues from classic Aussie garage bands like Beasts of Bourbon, Scientists and The Birthday Party, the band screams and howls and thrashes their instruments, all complimented by lyrics straight out of some twisted history text. Gala Mill’s stories include the haunting “Words from the Executioner to Alexander Pearce” about a prisoner who escaped one of the island penal colonies twice, and both times ate his fellow escapees. “Sixteen Straws” spends almost ten minutes chronicling another prison tale, this time of Catholic prisoners who drew straws in order to decide which of them to murder so they could all take the blame and be strung up on the gallows, thus avoiding suicide and the eternal damnation it would bring.

“Australia has a short, but dark history,” says Noga. “We’ve only been there 200 odd years. It’s a pretty young country, but it was a prison. I’m from Tasmania, an island in the south. That was literally a prison. So it’s got that whole kind of history to it, and I reckon that comes out.”

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