Interview with WILL DRUMMOND of BRITISH INDIA
British India is a band that needs no introduction. A band that has become a staple on the Aussie touring scene over the years. Their sixth studio album, Forgetting The Future, comes out THIS Friday and Karen Lowe spoke to Will Drummond ahead of the release about touring, The Stones and what happens at the Cherry Bar when a big star walks in.
You guys have finished recording your sixth studio album, Forgetting The Future. How did the recording process go and are you happy with how it sounds?
I’m very happy with how it sounds. The recording process was a lot of fun, we were writing and recording in the same studio. We’ve been writing in the one studio for close to a year. Towards the end, our friend Oscar Dawson came in and produced the first track My Love and it worked really well.
We were really happy with the sonics and the ideas that he brought to the table. Then there was a label, management and everyone and within three weeks, we were in there recording the rest of the songs that we had and writing some more so that was pretty good.
Who is the main song writer or do you all contribute? And do you come up with the lyrics first or the riff?
We’re all contributors. Generally we come up with the music first. It’s very rare that we come up with purely lyrics first.
In saying that, you’re always sketching ideas down and when you come up with or come across a phrase that you are really happy with, you jot it down.
When you start writing a song, you might have a sound in your head that you really want to put across. You look back over your notes and you remember that phrase that you heard, your friends said that it was really funny or really poignant so you equate it to that sound and that song.
With some bands, they end up playing a different instrument than what they originally started with. Has that happened with you guys? And did you ever wish to play a different instrument?
When we first started, for probably six months it was just Nic, Dec and I. We weren’t playing with a drummer. It was just the three of us and we were swapping instruments all the time between bass, piano and guitar, that was all we had lying around and we were just banging around with them.
I just kept picking up the bass. I didn’t become the bass player because they were like “you’re not good enough at guitar” or anything. I just enjoyed playing it.
And even on this album, when we recorded Precious, we were still writing it while we were recording it. It started off with a guitar riff that isn’t even in the song. I was playing guitar because I had written that riff and the song completely changed before our eyes. Nic was playing bass. He plays bass on the record, and I play guitar on it (on Precious). It just happened that way.
There’s times on the album where I might play guitar or Nic will play the keys, Matt sings and there are different parts here and there. So predominately on stage, we pretty much stick to our instruments. I’m not gonna bring out a bassoon or a theremin any time soon.
Within a band, there are always different personalities and inevitable clashes. How do you guys deal with this?
We were friends before we were in a band together. We’ve known each other since some of us were 12 or 13. Matt and Nic knew each other since they were 6 so we’re pretty lucky that we know each other’s quirks or problems, so we know when you have to give a guy space if they’re worked up, or down and depressed and you know when to put your arm around them and say “are you alright?” and take them out for a drink.
A lot of those problems that arise in bands, we don’t generally feel. Also, a lot of things that a lot of bands fight over; our song writing royalties are split four ways. No one says “I came up with this part of the song so I should get more.” We don’t fight over money – we all earn the same amount, all those things and also having prolonged success helps.
As a band, what has been your biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?
I think the biggest challenge is always writing the next good song. Sometimes that is the hardest part. What’s the next idea? What’s the next thing that’s gonna turn us on? What’s the next step? So I think for us, that’s probably the biggest challenge. Keeping it so that it doesn’t feel like you’re spinning the wheel and doing the same thing over and over again. Keeping yourself entertained and keeping yourself excited and also keeping the audience excited. The moment you stop exciting yourself, you’re definitely not going to excite the audience. That’s probably our biggest challenge.
Does it start to get harder writing the songs after so long? Or does it get easier?
It’s just as hard. The naivety aspect is gone, because when you first start writing and you first start playing you just pick up your guitar and you put your hand in different spots, it makes weird noises. You naturally just find those weird noises without even trying but as you start learning more about your instrument and how chords and riffs and things work, you start to notice how easy or how simple something you thought was so weird and tricky was, and it plays with you a little bit.
It’s still as hard but sometimes you write and you sit there and a song will come out, a tenth as long as it takes to play the actual song. You long for those moments when it’s not happening. You want those moments where it just pours out of you. You just never know when it’s gonna happen.
You’ve gotta put yourself in weird situations, listen to or read and watch strange things or things that you once liked and that has always helped me. Just listening to how other people do it and trying to equate it to how you do it.
You guys are about to head out on a massive tour. What places are you looking forward to the most? And why so many shows in Perth? (not that we are complaining of course!)
(laughs) We’re looking forward to playing a heap of new songs. In rehearsal everything has come together really quickly and really well, so we’re going to be playing a lot of new songs and that’s always the most exciting part of it. No matter where we go that will always be the most exciting thing.
The reason why we’re playing so many shows in Perth, it’s a long way to get there from Melbourne, there’s so many places to play and so many people come.
When we first started coming over to Perth, we used to do two weeks and go down south, play suburban areas and people came. People still do, so why not keep doing it?
Perth still has a great music culture and people still love going to gigs there whereas sometimes, in the bigger capital cities, it’s probably not as much in their culture. Perth has a great Sunday session vibe, so many musicians live in Perth and people have grown up playing in blues bands or cover bands, their dads were musicians so everyone pretty much knows how to play guitar or instruments or have been to a thousand gigs by the time they were 18.
You guys would have seen so much while being on tour. What are some of the more disgusting things that you have seen? And have there been any special moments that stand out in your mind?
The disgusting things we’ve seen have been when we stay in a small country town and there are fifteen blokes staying behind us. I can’t go into specifics because it’s too foul but let’s just say they involve genitals. Things like that are disgusting. You know, toilets in nightclubs where you play, there’s always blood and vomit and horrible things like that.
One of the more special moments that will always stay in my mind is when we played with The Rolling Stones. That in itself was just amazing that we got to support them. When we got there, we were just walking around and then we walked out the front to where the stage is and just sat in chairs. The Stones walked out onto the stage and started doing sound-check and all of the security guards just turned around and faced away from the stage and there was just the six of us sitting in our seats; no one else around and all the security guards facing the wrong way and they were playing Dead Flowers and we’ve got our own private concert. You can’t beat you know.
That would have been amazing
It was. We were just sitting ten metres away from The Stones. It was incredible.
Do you have any horror stories on being on tour?
Yeah we’ve got a few. Once we flew over to England and we didn’t have the correct Visa to get in to play shows. We got put in a holding cell for 10 hours and then flown straight back to Australia.
We had done 60 hours of travel and then within two days, our visa was corrected and we were back on a plane and flew back to England to play shows. We were over there for a week and a bit. We had done about 80 hours worth of travel in that time and it was during my brother’s wedding so I missed his wedding. I was best man too so that made it even worse.
As a fan, it’s often quite hard to go up to your idols and say hello for fear of being turned away or fear of seizing up and sounding like an idiot. As a musician, how do you go at meeting your idols? Have you ever gone to speak to someone and just seized up?
When we were 18 we did our first Big Day Out, I was kinda young and stupid so I able to just talk to people and it never really bothered me, who they were. You would have a chat to someone and they are just another person, so I never seized up with anyone but yeah, you still find yourself stuttering and have a few little chit-chat’s.
When we got to meet The Stones, that was just surreal and it was like “hey, what’s going on?” But you can’t understand what Keith Richards says. He just sort of mumbles and then he puts his arm around you and you’re like “I have no idea what you just said but I’m sure it was insightful” (laughs). I’ve never really had any horror stories about anyone particularly famous who has been extremely rude, they have all been quite lovely and accommodating. No one has ever told me to step-off or anything.
The worst one that we’ve experienced was when we were at the Cherry Bar and Axl Rose came into the back room and we were in there and they said “alright, everyone needs to leave” but then his security guard was like “he can stay, he can stay, she can stay.” and then they kicked a bunch of people out so we were left in there.
I can’t remember what song came on the jukebox but Axl pointed at the jukebox and said ‘turn that shit off’. One of his big bodyguards went and ripped the electricity out of the back of the jukebox instead of just changing the song. It would have been Motley Crue or something. I thought “what world am I living in?” It was so bizarre. Yeah he’s a strange cat.
Have you guys encountered many strange/crazy fans while touring?
Well, people connect with the music and connect with songs and lyrics in a way that you just can’t anticipate. Sometimes, all of us have heard songs when massive things have happened in their lives and they listen to a song that takes them to a time and a place. So when you meet your idols and meet the people that wrote that and helped you through the darkest days or the happiest days of your life, you are going to be in awe and be a little bit star struck, or overwhelmed, I guess because it means so much to you.
And it means so much to us that that happens because we don’t plan for that. The only reason we play music is because we were friends who wanted to pick up instruments and learn how to play. We had no grand plan plan to be a band in 2017 still. It was more about four friends getting together and sneaking beers out of Nick’s dad’s fridge. Those moments when people say that song helped me through this or helped me through this, it’s just as overwhelming for me as it is the person.
Even though you have played many times now, do you ever get nervous before a show?
The other three do. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never gotten nervous before a show. I think it’s twisted within my DNA that I just love getting up on stage for a show. It doesn’t phase me at all. The other guys are nervous wrecks, they pace around and they freak out. It’s great because that nervous energy helps them whereas I, it doesn’t bother me too much. I’m confident that if we’ve practiced enough, that we’ve been playing a lot of these songs for long enough that hopefully our technical ability will get us through the show. I think their nervousness comes from a fear of stuffing up.
Especially with singers. A lot of singers get nervous before gigs because they’ve got such a hard job. They’re using a muscle in their body to perform where I just play the bass but if I hit a bum note I can just go to the next bar. It doesn’t matter whereas if a singer stuffs up you can hear it in their voice and they’re in a lot more strife so I can understand why singers get nervous.
What was the best advice that you were given when you first started out? And what advice would you give to someone who was starting out now?
One of the best pieces of advice was given to us by the lead singer of Goanna on a plane. It was just after our first album came out and he sat down and said “what band are you boys in?” and we said British India and he said “Make hay while the sun shines lads.” and it was like, yeah just keep working hard,. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t rest on your laurels I guess he was trying to tell us.
My advice for anyone who is starting is just write songs. Write as many songs as you can. Listen to other people’s songs and think to yourself why do I like this song? How can I make it into my own?
Save up money. It doesn’t cost that much to have your own little studio in your bedroom these days. If you’ve got a couple of grand you can have your own studio and start learning how different sounds work and you can put down your ideas pretty quickly and build on them from there.
If you wanna play music for a long time and play music for a lot of people, you’ve gotta be able to criticize yourself. So listening back to your songs that you write from an early age; to an early part of your career is very important. It’s important to just keep writing, even when you’re writing bad songs and you know they’re not particularly good. At some point you’ll make a a little breakthrough like “ok that’s a cool little interesting sound”, “that’s a cool little thing I did there” and that will help you write the next batch of songs and it will help shape your sound and what your music sale is.