Interview: Gareth Liddiard ascends to WOMAD while the West ‘loses its shit’

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Interview: Gareth Liddiard ascends to WOMAD while the West ‘loses its shit’

Gareth Liddiard
Springtime's 'The Viaduct Love Suicide' video by Matt McGuigan
Words by Andrew Handley

Like much of Gareth Liddiard’s musical output, his voice is distorted through the phone as we make our introductions.

Something that isn’t uncommon when it rains “out in the country” at his home in Nagambie, he informs me. After shuffling across to WhatsApp, the conversation is relaxed and free flowing, with his Australian drawl dropping more “fucks” than a Scorsese film. His warm and effortless demeanour suggesting he’s spoken to the media many times since forming The Drones in 1997.

While The Drones haven’t released any music since going on hiatus in 2016, Liddiard hasn’t slowed down. In August, his noisy, arty punk band Tropical Fuck Storm (TFS) released their third album Deep States. Only a few months later his new project Springtime, with Jim White, drummer of the Dirty Three, and Chris Abrahams, pianist of legendary improvisational jazz band The Necks, released their self-titled debut album.

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Springtime was fortunate to come together as White was performing in another project in the county, and didn’t return to the US because of the worsening Covid-19 situation. “It was good timing,” he says. “Usually Jim’s just off over the northern hemisphere, so it’s hard to keep up with him.” Having worked with Abrahams on other projects, Liddiard enlisted him to round out the trio, describing him as “shit-hot, fully fledged piano play[ing] jazz maestro.”

The improvisational chops of the three came in particularly handy, completing the entire album in 15 days between lockdowns. “I find it a lot easier to make it up on the spot rather than have to rehearse a million times,” explains Liddiard. “I found it really freeing, and it made everything happen a lot faster.”

Though the music came together seamlessly, Liddiard enlisted the help of his uncle and poet, Ian Duhig, to help with the lyrics “because words take longer than most things musically,” he says. “I asked my uncle, and he does really trippy, wild poetry, but he also does stuff that you could easily strum a chord on an acoustic guitar, and it will roll out, in verse.”

“He trawled his collection and just sent a whole bunch of stuff that [I] could sing. It t was actually really easy, and I didn’t have to do much tweaking to them, I just kind of sang them my way and that was it. It’s good having a famous poet as an uncle,” he laughs.

With Springtime, it will mark the first time Liddiard will perform at WOMADelaide over the March long weekend. “I think it had to be a Chris and Jim thing to make me do it,” he says. “I kind of compare it in my mind to Bluesfest, but a more intelligent version.”

Liddiard says he will be “happy and comfy just shredding out” on the WOMAD stage with two improvisational titans of Australian music. “I’ve done gigs where it’s full improv, with Damo Suzuki from Can, where he sings and the band just noodle.”

“[With] things like The Drones and TFS live, there’s certain sections that are quite improvisational.  They’re not The Necks that are coming out of the blue yonder, but there’s definitely a lot more improvising in bands that I’m in than most other bands,” he says.

The recording of the Springtime album was contrasted by the difficulties faced when making TFS’s Deep States. “They were like night and day,” he continues.

“It was like pushing shit uphill because all the lockdowns, and every time we got a good start, everything got shut down. It was like trying to train for the Olympics, but every two weeks you have to sit inside and not do anything for two weeks. It was a real drag, and actually really frustrating,” he says.

The difficulties cannot be seen in the final product, a strange and brilliant album, with Liddiard’s lyrics as poignant as ever. He covers a range of topics that have been at the forefront of our lives for the last 18 months with his usual satire and wit. Conspiracy theories a littered throughout the album like a Reddit message board. Liddiard says the inspiration wasn’t hard to come by. “They’re just there,” he says. “It’s so obvious that everything’s gone to shit, or at least [in] the West.”

“The West is just losing its shit. It just got too comfortable. You can live in a society that’s just so comfortable, that you can think any stupid, fanciful bullshit. You can believe anything you want to believe, and you can then rail against that society with those beliefs, even though that society is giving you the freedom to believe that crap,” he says.

Liddiard is known for speaking his mind on stage as well as during interviews, with funny banter a trademark of his live shows. He says he’s not going to hold his tongue anytime soon, not too concerned about being taken out of context. “Sometimes I worry, but I don’t worry long, like, who really cares?”, he asks. “It’s not like I say anything fucking horribly offensive anyway.”

“I think we’re on the downward slide. We’re on the way out of all this completely moralising, over the top bullshit. I think it’s just a phase. I think that overly woke, hyper childish left-wing thing, I think it’s becoming a joke now. You can’t be critical of your own team, which is so stupid. I’m a left-winger, and you can’t even be critical of the left anymore, but that’s the whole point. If you’re in a basketball team, you should be critical of your own performance, that’s how you become a better basketball team, not just stop criticising it all together, for fear of being kicked out of it,” he says.

Liddiard says he’s not writing anything at the moment. “We’re finishing off a few things at the moment, just TFS stuff, [and then] having a bit of a break.” On top of the Springtime and TFS albums released in recent months, TFS also released Goody Goody Gumdrops in mid-December, which is part absurd musical documentary, part live album launch. Liddiard says the film took two months, and “was really hectic to make, we literally finished it the day before it came out.”

While taking a break from writing, Liddiard will be touring nationally with TFS from January to February, and then with Springtime from February to March 2022.

WOMADelaide’s 30th anniversary festival will be going down from March 11 – 14 in Adelaide’s Botanic Park. Check out the huge WOMADelaide lineup here.