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INTERVIEW – Alex Laska, Kingswood – July 2014

| 6 August 2014 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Alex Laska, Kingswood – July 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

Melbourne rockers Kingswood are about to surprise many with their debut long player, Microscopic Wars, an eclectic album recorded in the States with Jack White & Arctic Monkeys producer Vance Powell, and an Australian tour that brings them to WA in October. Guitarist Alex Laska tells SHANE PINNEGAR that Powell knew how to coax the best out of the four piece.

Kingswood Alex Laska 01

Joking down the line from their home town that the Hi-NRG dance tunes in the background were to get “my mind in a calm place” before admitting that in actual fact “Nah that’s not true – I’m at the gym… I have to listen to this shit,” Laska doesn’t let me get a question in before asking my thoughts on the album. He’s pleased I think it’s eclectic, doubly pleased that I think it still sounds like a band effort despite the diversity on offer. Having forged a reputation for powerful indie rock n’ roll over their first four singles, some listeners will be surprised as the album jumps from rootsy Americana to grungey powerchords, taking in some poppier and quirkier moments along the way.

“Everything that you’re hearing on the album is within the musical realm of Kingswood and always has been,” the guitarist explains. “If you listen to a lot of our demos and stuff that isn’t released, you’d just be like, ‘what the fuck is going on here?’ Some of that stuff is so far removed. In a sense, we’ve always had that diversity. We love rock and roll: that, in a way, is our signature. I think rock and roll can definitely extend to interesting and varied corners. So the great thing about that though, the great thing about working with [Powell and engineer Richard Dodd, an alumni of Rick Rubin] is not so much to extend our creativity in the sense of musical diversity, but definitely extending our creativity in the way we approach it.

“To make it a little more clear,” Laska elaborates, “we had all these songs, all these harmonic and melodic ideas and vibes and all that sort of thing. Then he’d say ‘you’ve kind of gone down this road, what can you do in this realm that I find impressive?’ He kind of takes you where you’ve gone but pushes your creativity and makes you think bigger. You know what I mean? That’s how he pushes you creatively.

“Every once in a while he’ll say, ‘okay, great. You’ve done all this. What about if you just do something like this.’ He won’t specifically say, ‘I think it should go here harmonically’ or ‘I think you should play these notes and the drums should do this.’ He’s more like, ‘go away for two hours, come back, let’s see what you got.’ He’s a great producer in the way that he makes you work [for it]… he uses your own creative means to get good results.”

Kingswood 02

Broadening the band’s musical palate was a natural progression, Laska says.

“It definitely is a natural thing. If it isn’t a natural thing, people will smell it from a mile away. By the same token, I think our first four singles are quite diverse… you go from Yeah Go Die to Ohio. But if you’re going to release a rock and roll song and then put a ballad out straight away it would just be ‘what the fuck is this?’ You know what I mean?

“I think once you have a platform,” he continues, “in a way, just to express yourself musically, you sort of gain the confidence… I don’t even know if it’s confidence, I think it’s just, you have to just write music that moves you at a particular time, whatever that is. Then, somehow, just put your DNA or your signature on it so it makes sense and it’s relative to what you have done.

“Obviously, by the time you get to the end of your life and look back on your musical work, it’s going to be hugely different from the start to the end, in the same way that you write your signature your whole life and it changes from day one to day end, but it’s always your signature. Do you know what I mean?”

In case you haven’t worked it out yet, Laska and his bandmates are not only passionate about what they do, but their band is more than a fun thing for them. Their music is their art.

“Totally, man,” he says with a sigh of relief that I GET IT. “Yeah. I don’t understand what else we would do. I mean, like I said before, if it wasn’t natural or if it wasn’t honest, first and foremost to ourselves, I think people would smell it. Particularly in rock and roll, it’s so evident. It’s like, ‘well this is what rock and roll sounds like, so that’s why we have to play this.’ No: rock and roll has always been about emotion and what’s happening at the time. It’s always been current. That’s the thing people forget about it. At the times that it was most successful, it was current to the time. I think that’s a big mistake that gets made when you’re like, ‘Well, that’s what rock and roll is. It sounds like that.’ It sounds like that because it was reflecting what was happening. Rock and roll is like a philosophy!

“Fuck, I sound like the biggest wanker!” he laughs, before deflecting any parallels with the fictional Stillwater band in the movie Almost Famous. “But my point here is, rock and roll is a musical philosophy. I’m not saying it’s a way of life, man – chicks and grass and all that shit – I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying it’s a creative philosophy. It’s always been. Look at the rock and roll of the ’50s – did the rock and roll of the ’70s sound like that? They got it. They were like, ‘no, it’s a reflection.’ Whereas nowadays everyone goes, ‘rock and roll sounds like the ’70s.’ It doesn’t! It can be as current as anything.

“The bands that get it, look how well they’re doing. Like Arctic Monkeys, they’re a rock and roll band through and through, in my eyes. Do they sound like a band from the ’70s? No, but they sound fucking great. I think it’s also important to keep in mind homage versus history. History’s important, but at the same time, writing music that reflects our current state of mind is what makes sense to me.”

Kingswood 03

Leading the charge of this new broader musical palate it the mellower new single, I Can Feel You Don’t Love Me. Not only is it a ballad, but Laska took lead vocals for the first time on record.

“I demo the songs that I write,” the guitarist starts to explain, “I would have sung the whole demo with the idea that Fergus [Linacre, Kingswood’s singer] would eventually be singing it. We have a really, really good relationship. We’ve known each other for so long. I know that he will get the emotional aspect of what I’m trying to say and put his own version on it. Some people are like, ‘how do you write lyrics for someone else to sing?’ It’s like he and I are so close on things and how we think about things. We sort of think creatively in the same way, which is great.

“With this one, I brought it in and everyone was like, ‘man, that vibe is definitely your voice.’ I was like, ‘yeah, I don’t know.’ Then it was just, ‘well why not?’ It’s kind of bold. How often does that happen – where bands are like, ‘this is our sound,’ and then the next single it’s a new singer, a new vibe, but still feels like Kingswood, you know?

“Also, we have like a musical democracy,” he laughs, “where, if you get voted out, you just have to cop it. That’s the other side of the story. That’s my first [excuse], like the real creative one, ‘yeah, yeah, it’s awesome,’ and the second one is, ‘they told me to do it!’”

Kingswood - Medusa cover

Laska credits Powell with the crystal sound of Microscopic Wars, and reveals the band were excited to work with the guy after his stints with Jack White and Arctic Monkeys, to name but two.

“He’s a wizard when it comes to making things sound good. There’s a reason we picked him. We really got into Blunderbuss by Jack White, particularly on vinyl and the way that sounded, and it was all sort of serendipitous. [Powell’s] name came up and it was like, this is the guy that made this record that we all love the sound of and obviously the music, so when the opportunity arises where you get that person to make your record you’re like, ‘fucking hell! Let’s do this by any means necessary!’

“He’s been mixing American bands for over 20 years. He mixed B.B. King and Ray Charles. So, you know, the guy’s got a set of ears!”

Laska doesn’t hesitate to agree that that rootsy ‘Jack White’ feel is all over their last single, Ohio. Likewise, he totally concurs that there’s a very special freedom for a musician to be able to let go and try different directions and explore tangential soundscapes.

“Yeah, totally. It is, it’s awesome. The way I describe it is, on any given day you go through a range of emotions and on some days you’re a slightly different person from the way you’re going to be and the way you were. That’s kind of what music is. It’s a reflection of how you’re feeling at the time and [it’s] something that happens to you. It’s always different. It’s only natural for me to have diversity in music, otherwise you’re basically… I’m not trying to be rude, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily accurate, but I would think that would be boring if you just made the same shit over and over again.

“Yeah some people do it, and if it works for you, it works for you. I’m not saying anything’s right or wrong, I’m just saying for me personally, that’s how I make sense of things. Like you said, our diversity has definitely expanded on this album, and that’s more of a reflection of 1) who we are as people, and 2) the things we’re now experiencing, which are completely different to things we were experiencing like a year ago.”

Kingswood celebrate the release of Microscopic Wars with an extremely thorough national tour taking in just about every corner of our sunburnt country from late August right through October. Laska says the band are pretty active on the road and do as much as they can when travelling.

“It’s alright because we get antsy when we’re not on tour – we get a little bit of cabin fever. We absolutely love it. You get to experience amazing places that you would never have thought to go. You get to see amazing things and meet all these cool people. We’re very much an activities band and we strive on the essence of meeting people and extending all these relationships and what that leads to. There’s this lovely guy in Adelaide who owns a restaurant and we go out. When we go to Adelaide, there’s always new activities like paintballing or road racing cars, or this and that and the other. There’s all sorts of stuff that we do. Obviously, meeting all the people and all the parties are great, I’m not going to lie. It’s awesome. At the end of the day, we love playing music. We’ve been playing music since we were kids. Imagine you get to travel around and do it every day – it’s just the best thing in the whole world.”

Laska may be the guitarist and second string singer in Kingswood, but his musical gifts extend to piano, drums and more. In the words of Linacre, “he’s one of those guys who can pick up an instrument and play it better than you even though you’ve been playing it all your life – he’s an arsehole!”

“That’s ridiculous,” he laughs self-deprecatingly, “but it’s a very kind thing to say… even though it ends with, ‘he’s an asshole.’”

Kingswood 04

His musical awakening came “at a very, very early age.

“I think I was like 12, playing drums in a band,” he remembers. “I used to play guitar and sing. My parents were really awesome in that they got my sister and I playing music from a very young age – I think I started playing piano when I was 9 and other instruments like clarinet and stuff like that. So music’s always been in my life from a very early age and I was always hugely attracted to it. Then I went on to study music at Uni and stuff, so I’ve kind of seen it through.

“There’s been a couple of ‘light bulb’ moments. I got into rock and roll of the ’70s at a late age because I though Led Zeppelin was a heavy metal band. I was really into jazz when I was in my teens. I played saxophone and clarinet and piano and going, ‘anything that isn’t from the ’60s sucks.’ It was just the worst thing to think. Then someone gave me a Hendrix record when I was 16 and it was Electric Ladyland. When I got to Voodoo Chile, I didn’t know what a Wah Pedal was, and I didn’t know that that was a guitar, and I thought I’d made the greatest musical discovery in the whole world! I was running around to everyone playing the introduction of it going, ‘have you heard this? Do you know what this is? It’s fucking amazing!’ Everyone was just like, ‘who is this person?’ Like, what a loser. And then I started playing guitar.”

With a reputation for energetic and explosive live shows, I wonder if that has resulted in any on-stage collisions or mishaps.

“Oh yeah,” the guitarist laughs. “All sorts of stuff. I do this thing where I have so much adrenaline and that gets sort of destructive… I never used to understand why people would smash guitars and now I totally get it. When you’re so charged with energy you just need to release it some way. I’ve never smashed my guitars, but I used to dive through the drum kit. I would dive through the kit with my guitar on me, which is really not cool. I took a huge chunk out of the neckboard and I was like, ‘fuck, I’ve got to stop doing this. It’s so dumb.’ Luckily we haven’t completely broken anything yet.”

No broken bones thankfully?

“I’ve done some pretty bad things to my body,” he elaborates. “I jumped off the kit once last year and completely fucked my back and the next 2 weeks I was playing shows on a stool – it was really bad!”

Having first played with Linacre aged 12, and been in bands with the other guys on and off over the past decade, perhaps the most surprising thing is that the foursome have come together with a united vision for what they want in a band.

“Yeah, it’s really weird,” Laska agrees. “I don’t know if you believe in this – I don’t even know if I do, but it’s meant to have happened because it is pretty miraculous. I used to play in bands with Mango when I was like 14, 15, 16, and we played acid jazz like Herbie Hancock stuff. Then he left and went and worked in a factory for years then went away overseas, and then became an environmental manager, and this and that and the other. I literally hadn’t spoken to him since we were about 14, and I was like, ‘hey Mango, you want to be in a band?’ He was like, ‘fuck yeah!’ And then Kingswood happened! It was just so easy. Jay and Ferg played in a punk band all their teenage years at school. It’s just weird. Everyone’s always been around each other musically, in a way. So there you go.”
Microscopic Wars is out August 22nd through Dew Process. Kingswood’s Australian tour dates are:

Wed 20 Aug Pirie & Co Social Club Adelaide SA
Thu 21 Aug Prince of Wales Bunbury WA
Fri 22 Aug The Capital Perth WA
Sat 23 Aug North West Festival Port Hedland WA
Wed 26 Aug Newtown Social Club Sydney NSW
Fri 29 Aug Howler Melbourne VIC
Wed 3 Sept Kooroora Hotel Mt Buller VIC
Thu 4 Sept Swindlers Bar Mt Hotham VIC
Fri 5 Sept The Union Club Hotel Wagga Wagga NSW
Sat 6 Sept The Armidale Club Armidale NSW
Fri 12 Sept Ric’s Big Backyard Ric’s Bar Brisbane QLD
Sat 13 Sept Originals Music Festival Noosa QLD
Wed 17 Sept Hoey Moey Coffs Harbour NSW
Thu 18 Sept Cambridge Hotel Newcastle NSW
Fri 19 Sept Waves Wollongong NSW
Sat 20 Sept Collector Hotel Parramatta NSW
Thu 25 Sept ANU Bar Canberra ACT
Fri 26 Sept Area Hotel Griffith NSW
Fri 17 Oct The Karova Lounge Ballarat VIC
Sat 18 Oct Torquay Hotel Torquay VIC
Thu 23 Oct The Loft Warrnambool VIC
Fri 24 Oct Unibar Adelaide SA


Category: Interviews

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