Gareth Liddiard: A Not-So Strange Tourist

Pacing, with phone in hand, it's a nervous wait for Gareth Liddiard to call in for our interview. After a decade as front man for Australian rockers The Drones, and with a critically acclaimed solo album Strange Tourist now under his belt, Liddiard's career is both impressive and deservedly long-standing. By comparison, the training wheels are still on in my career as a music journalist.


Muttering the mantra – "Gareth Liddiard is just a person"- the phone rings. I consider not answering. Liddiard has done countless interviews. Surely he could interview himself, via a message left on my voicemail?


"Hello Gareth. Hi, Gareth. How would you describe your music, Gareth? It's amazing," and so forth, until his interview ends with a ‘beeeeeeep'.


Reality checks in. I have to answer the call. The voice that greets me is calm and friendly. It's also the trademark ocker drawl that can be found sliding and slurring across the tracks on his album. "Gareth here. How are you?"


I ramble at him that I've got, on my pin-board at work, something he was once quoted as saying: "Words are like a spare dick at an orgy if they're shit. Why have them if they're shit?"


Liddiard laughs, though I'm concerned he now thinks I'm capable of an orgy. Not of the sexual kind (get your mind out of the gutter, people), but a ‘word orgy' - an interview ripe with witty repartee and lightening-speed banter. Liddiard, I'm sure, can deliver that. Fearing that I can't and facing what could be my career's death, I see a light - Liddiard's music bio flashes before my eyes.


Alongside visions of his dark haunting gaze, the bio-mind-flash went like this: Gareth Liddiard is the driving creative force behind The Drones, and has penned a long string of rock classics including ' I Don't Ever Want To Change' and ' Shark-Fin Blues', which was voted the greatest Australian song in a poll undertaken by songwriters organised by Triple J. His well-documented interests in history, folklore and politics have stayed with him during his detour from front man to solo artist. His compelling debut album Strange Tourist was recorded in a mansion near Yass, with Burke Reid (The Drones' Havilah) producing. The result is 64 minutes of Liddiard's brand of folk-rock storytelling. After a sold-out tour in 2010, Liddiard is preparing to give the album a second outing, touring nationally, supported by long time cohort Dan Kelly.


Mind-flash over, I make note of some of the press that I've been reading about his solo album - that it's somehow indicative that Liddiard has matured as a musician. I crudely suggest that it "sounds kind of bullshit" in that it diminishes what he's done, or could still do with The Drones.


"I just do it because I haven't done it," he says. Blunt, succinct, and without dressing; I'm soon to discover that's precisely his charm. "They've got low standards in rock 'n' roll, so if you can actually sit down by yourself and generate more, it amazes them. If you sit in Spain, in a flamenco bar, and a guy sat down with a guitar and just played the most amazing shit, no one would bat an eyelid, you know, because that's what you're meant to do."


Considering the positive reviews he's received for Strange Tourist, I ask him if that's just smoke being blown up his arse by critics (with their low-standards, and all)? "They're writing rock ‘n' roll reviews. They're not critics. If I was a painter, I'd have more critics than reviews," he says, before insisting he does get bad press. "My dad gets what I do, but I don't think he likes it. He gets it and he's happy I do it. The rest of the world wouldn't like what I do. If someone does slag it, it's not that bad if they're critical in an intelligent way. There are huge faults in the things that I do. I make huge mistakes."


Of those ‘huge mistakes' on Strange Tourist, he admits there were "heaps" and that "sometimes, you know, the structure's a bit vague – the story structure. If you can learn one thing, it's how to be objective about it all. Pull your head out of your arse. You kind of got to pretend someone else wrote it, and treat it like that. Then you'll start seeing the weak spots - the teenage poetry bullshit - then you get rid of that."


From the controversial 16 minute epic The Radicalisation Of D (inspired by the incarceration of David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay) to Blondin Makes an Omelette (which references a French tightrope walker who crossed Niagara Falls and sat down half-way to cook and eat an omelette), Strange Tourist is a collection of obscure tales; each far from being ‘teenage poetry'. Liddiard knows how to tell a damn good story.


"Writing gets you in the door and once you're there, you have to tell interesting stories. Just because you talk, doesn't mean you've got to say something. I always like shit that's weird, or action packed. Stories where someone gets shot or something weird happens. You wouldn't sit down to a fucking movie about everyone being happy and that's just it. That's just boring. You want someone to get killed."


It's an interesting point, considering the current fascination with singer-songwriters to spend entire albums pondering the one theme or one emotion (and often the one chord structure), without any instinct for storytelling.


On his upcoming tour, Liddiard harps back to his time playing with Dan Kelly and the Alpha males, good humouredly insisting that he has always been the alpha male to Dan Kelly, and will continue to be that during the tour. On a more serious note, he says, "After the record has been released, we do ok, but it's not like we're front page news. Things happen small for us, so we tend to get more people to come to second round. If we didn't do that, we'd miss half our audience."


The other half of the "we" he refers to is The Drones band mate and girlfriend Fiona Kitschin, who manages Liddiard's solo career.


At my suggestion that the use of ‘we' goes against the ‘me, me, me' attitude I'd expect of someone with so much smoke up their arse, Liddiard laughs, confessing that's why he says it.


When I offer to further reverse the offending smoke by getting him to dish some dirt, Liddiard's dry and laconic humour has him oblige and, after an admission that Guns n Roses and the Eurythmics would've been on his mix tape at the age of 13, we find ourselves as close to a ‘word orgy' as we're ever going to get.


"Have you ever been arrested?" I ask.


"A bunch of times- drunk and disorderly... umm... and for lighting a fire" he says. "I was about 12."


"Just burning down the school, then?" I laugh.


"No, it... it got out of hand," he laughs.


"That's what all pyromaniacs say. That's their defence!"


"That was my excuse."


I then ask if he's "ever been a Strange Tourist" and "done anything strange overseas."


"Stealing letter boxes in central Sweden one night. One of those things you do when you're bored."


"So, you're a letter-box stealing pyromaniac?"


"Yeah," he admits.


The dirt now in print, let's consider some of that smoke to be reversed.

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