Ahead of their double headliner show at the Sydney Opera House on Monday 25 July, Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and The Drones’ Gareth Liddiard chat over the phone about blowing $800 on the pokies in Montana, the premiere of Gareth’s MK-Ultra, and how to play at the Opera House.
GL: Have you played the Opera House before?
BB: Hell no, dude! Hell no. But you have.
GL: Three times.
BB: So you … you did fuckin’ ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ with Patti Smith.
GL: Yeah, that was weird.
BB: Did you guys practice it?
GL: No, no! We didn’t practice it at all, it’s not the sort of song you have to practice. We didn’t do the Dave Grohl on drums version, we did a pretty mellow version. But it was weird. And I love that song, that was a big deal back in the day. I realised when we got to the chorus of the song that I didn’t know the fuckin’ words. I was just “buh buh buh buhh … buh buh buhhh buh”.
BB: Gazzy, no! Shit.
So anyways, when we met … you must’ve been touring Gala Mill in the States?
GL: 2007. When was the tour, the one we did – that was 2007?
BB: But that wasn’t your first time to the States, right?
GL: Nah, I think the first time we went was 2003.
BB: Was that the most extensive, or long, sustained road tour of the States y’all done?
GL: Pretty much.
BB: Fuckin’ A. Bananas as shit. Going to weird-ass Montana roadhouse-style places and fucking, I don’t know, seeing rednecks and shit. I mean real rednecks, real-ass American rednecks. I know we both got to witness some of that.
GL: I remember getting billed eight hundred bucks on the gambling machines. We call them pokie machines.
BB: Have you been rehearsing this new project? What’s going on?
GL: It’s going to be me and Steve [Hesketh – from the Drones] and we’re gonna do a bunch of Drones songs and do a bunch of my songs and maybe a cover. They’re going to be playing keyboards, there’s going to be a little weird drum machine as well and I’ll just play guitar. I don’t know, we’ll see what happens. But it’ll be really weird, you know ‘J.J. Cale from the future’ version
BB: God! I’m so excited!
GL: So I’ve not actually heard Why Are You OK yet.
BB: Same old shit. We just record it. Luckily we had a really good friend – you would love this dude, Jason Lytle, he’s in this band Grandaddy – great band. So we got to know him, he’s like one of us, man. He’s a tinkerer, and fucking spazzoid, and a control freak – all those good qualities wrapped into one. I think a lot of us have that. So he’s a good mentor, just to guide my bullshit chords but not over-sanitise them. He says, “Your weird-ass crap is kind of cool … we don’t have to put well-played chords on top of that any more or hide them, you know.”
GL: Well that’s good, that’s fucking cool. You’ve got to keep the weirdness.
BB: Your new record is fucking … God, it’s out of this damn world honestly! It’s from another planet. What the fuck? Where did you get all that gear? Why did that gear come in to your damn being?
GL: We’ve got a studio and we share it with a couple of friends, and one of the friends just buys vintage guitars, vintage rock’n’roll ’60s and ’70s stuff. He got over that, and then picked up where he left off. He started researching “What is the classic drum machine? What does Public Enemy use?” And then he was collecting all the classic hip hop gear basically: all the samplers, all the drum machines when big landmark albums were made, like Public Enemy or Wu-Tang Clan or whatever.
As a rock’n’roller you’re never surrounded by this kind of gear but if you are, you go “OK plug it in and let’s see what this does”. It’s weird, now I hear Public Enemy and all the hip hop stuff [and] I can hear what they’ve done. It’s like learning guitar when you learn about chord formations. Once you’ve done that, it gives you a new perspective.
So we just toured around with this gear and it informed the next thing we wanted to do. I just wanted to get away from playing the same old kinda major/minor-chord guitar piece.
BB: You want to shake it up. A fresh perspective.
I just can’t want to hear what you do in the Sydney Opera House. Will you tell me any fucking damn hints? Are they all going to sit down again?
GL: I don’t know. That’s a very important detail. The reader would think that’s kind of inane, that question. But it’s very important. Sitting or standing, you define the entire mood of the performance. If you want to change as a performer, you’ll find a whole new repertoire, a whole new way of doing it.
GL: I’ve thought more about that, “Am I going to sit or am I going to stand?”, than any other venue.
BB: For sure: how you’re going to do the set list; are you going to be prepared if it’s not the aggressive or enthusiastic vibe that you might like? How are you going to deal with that and still be enthused? Shit like that is crazy sometimes.
GL: We’re going to have a drum machine, so it’s not like we’re going to be able to change up the set that much if we want to. I don’t know.
BB: But it’s all so nice. A great damn honour to play. We got lucky to play Carnegie Hall one time, years ago. And, you know that hallowed ground, you’re going to work with the structure that you’re in here. You adhere to certain limitations in a way that present opportunities. And it’s how you respond to those dynamics through any show, whether it be a festival or a club, whatever the fuck. If you’re not dynamic in your abilities then you’re fucked.
GL: That’s it. That’s what touring teaches you, doesn’t it? It teaches you to show up and deal with many different situations.
BB: Fucking A.