Kula Shaker Interview

It’s been 20 years since Kula Shaker dropped ‘K’ back in 1996, an album that was tuned into the britpop zeitgeist, selling 2 million copies. Something that is referenced in the title of their fifth album, ‘K2.0′, something which Kula Shaker front man Crispian Mills describes as a highlights of the various styles they have done to date, from the psychedelic sound of ‘K’, to the folksier elements of their last album 2010′s ‘Pilgrims Progress’. Over our 20 minute conversation with Crispian, who was then suffering with a bad cold, in addition to chatting about the new album, we touched on his preference for analog equipment and why he thinks it would be more interesting of successful bands should took more risks.

Why did you decide to call the record ‘K2.0′?

Crispian Mills: Well because it’s 20 years since ‘K’, and ‘K’ was our first album and our career defining album, and I think 20 years is a good time to look back and see where you’ve come and where you’re going. It’s actually sprung out of an joke where we were thinking of calling an album ‘K2′ , and putting the mountain on the front of the album cover, K2 is on the album cover now, in illustrated form on the back. But ‘K2.0′ looks like K20 and seems to make sense in this age of software updates and built in obsolescence.

I haven’t heard the album yet, but what you’ve released so far seems a bit less stripped back compared to your previous album. How would you describe the sound of the record?

Crispian Mills: 2010′s ‘Pilgrims Progress’ was an album we’re very proud of, and it was a great pleasure to make, and we felt like we were finally in control of the recording process. Recording a rock band is not easy, its difficult thing to get right, it’s very hard to capture energy and atmosphere and it takes a lot of experience and we have had some good results in the past, but on the whole we always felt like we were still learning, and still wrestling with the medium. So ‘Pilgrims Progress’ came together with the sounds, and the music led the way. And it was much more folksy, and the songs had a lot more focus. I think on this album ‘K2.0′, its highlights of what we have done to date, so there are elements of ‘Pilgrims Progress’, but there is highlights from ‘K’ and other albums we have made like ‘Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts’, and things like that.

On your Facebook page you have posted up pictures of analogue mixing desks, do you have a preference for analog over digital?

Crispian Mills: Yes I do, a lot of people who have a lot of experience in a studio, have said rock n roll sounds better when it goes through valves and analog gears. I’m not entirely sure why it does, but it’s one of those mysteries of nature, and if you can get your hands on a nice pre amp, and things like that, it can help the sound of your band. There are a lot of people who say they don’t know the difference between digital plug ins and pre-amps, but when you put it together and the different layers of sound, the end result is better.

Yeah I’ve been reading John Fogerty’s autobiography, in it he describes how analog tape is preferable because saturates better than digital.

Crispian Mills: Yes exactly, this the thing with saturation, and the sound breaking up is very attractive, and this is the sound of rock n roll, it’s the sound of being right on the edge. You can do it with digital, but you have to do it afterwards as an effect, and you have to cheat, and its became something of a cosmetic contrivance. There are bands out there are using Pro Tools and Logic and doing great things with it, but even people like Mark Ronson, or whatever. They chop their beats on the computer, but you bet your ass he’s got a lot of valve gear, so his band and instruments, his vocals are all sounding like they’ve got that saturation, they’ve got that warmth.

I can remember chatting with a musician who reckoned the best thing they ever heard was vinyl through tube amps.

Crispian Mills: There’s a fantastic mastering facility in Taunton, one of the best ears in the business, John Dent who used to be based in London, but now he’s got his own studio in Taunton. Sometimes to really rub salt in the wound, he’ll play an album he mastered, like Bob Marley or something, on vinyl through his valve gear, and you’ll just hear that space and sound, and then he’ll play what it sounds like on digital, and you’ll just want to walk outside and shoot yourself, it’s just another universe. We’ve lost a lot and you can understand why people like Neil Young were complaining when they brought CD’s in, because we’ve lost some of the sonic range now, but hey, were coping.

Is that the guy who runs Loud Mastering?

Crispian Mills: Yeah that it.

He’s mastered PJ Harvey’s last record and those King Crimson reissues.

Crispian Mills: He’s a legend, especially a west country legend, so anybody working west of Swindon knows John Dent.

You recently dabbled in film making (2010′s ‘A Fantastic Fear of Everything’), is that something you have wanted to pursue further.

Crispian Mills: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve always been involved in film in one way or another, ‘Fantastic Fear’ was the first film that I got made, but I’ve been writing films for years and years and years, films in development they say, which kind of like is like they’ve been chained in up in a dungeon. Films take a long, long time, I’m sure I’ll make another film at some point , and It’ll get released from the dungeon.

I think the downside with working in film is the whole politics surrounding the business.

Crispian Mills: Yes absolutely, script development takes a long time. The first draft of the script is the first step on a long road to what you end up shooting, but raising money for a film is horrific. If you’re raising money independently, you have to create a patchwork quilt of different investment, it takes a lot of time and people let you down, people waste your time as well, and you need to find a road through the jungle. It’s a miracle any film gets made, and it’s a miracle that the film is any good at the end of it. There’s so many twists and turns and the pressure to compromise.

Douglas Adams once described the film making process as like trying to cook a burger on a barbecue with two people blowing on it.

Crispian Mills: (laughs) Yeah, I know it. Especially of your a writer and you’re used to writing alone and you’re creating a whole universe, you know where you’re in charge and you’re a part of a team, and there’s more than two people blowing on the burger, there’s hundreds, from the weather, to the amount of time you’ve got left, the amount of time you get, to interference from executives. Some people work well in a team and take the best of that environment, but it takes a long time. I think that was Stanley Kubrick’s only real regret about his career, is that he wished they didn’t take so bloody long to make.

Do you have any regrets when it comes to your career in music?

Crispian Mills: Never really played it like a career, I’ve just been a little too idealistic, maybe even naïve to exploit music in that way. Music is very close to my heart and I always wanted to make music for the right reasons, and I always didn’t like people who were focussed on their career that they never put a foot wrong, it’s so calculated. People like Madonna, for instance, you can appreciate they are good and respect them for that, but I didn’t like this calculated approach to a career in the arts. I prefer people who do it for slightly pure reasons, the reason I left the band in late 1999 because I was losing my soul, and the reason is I wasn’t happy, or feeling the love or the joy and I wanted to give it a break. Through the ten years in Kula Shaker, we have taken back that power and being master of your own fate.

I know success can destroy bands and things get expected of them, and they forget the whole purpose of why they doing it.

Crispian Mills: What you talking about is easy, because it happens to very young people, who don’t know who they are yet. And they don’t have the experience, and they’ve it happens to be people that have never been through that before, your being exploited. You’re going into a high pressure business, if you’re insecure (and most artists are insecure) then the success makes you more insecure, ironically it doesn’t give you a sense of being grounded, it makes you think “why is this happening, I don’t understand why this is happening.” It all gets a bit neurotic, you just need to take some time out, and not worry about your career too much and have a life.

Your second album ‘Peasant Pigs and Astronauts’ had quite a troubled genesis, wasn’t there quite a lot of scrapped recordings?

Crispian Mills: There wasn’t lots of scrapped records, it just went on a long time, and we got sued by our manager in the middle of it, and somebody else was ripping us off, and we couldn’t find the right producer, and it goes on like that. It turned out really good, it wasn’t very commercial, it was like a psychedelic magnum opus, a grandiose, rock opera, I think more pop bands should do outrageous follow ups when they have a big hit, the world would be a bit more interesting. It was a very long process, and a very expensive process, no one would tell us how much it cost until the very end when we fell off our chair. I think I did fall off my chair.

Some bands I’ve encountered have said when they got money from labels, they thought it was a fluke, and just took the money and run.

Crispian Mills: We always said that most bands spend their money on cars and drugs and living the good life, and we just spent it on our album, and we spent all our money and we got something out of it and we also gave something to our fans. It wasn’t the commercial success at the same level of ‘K’, it sold about 300,000, which was considered a bit of a failure after ‘K’s 2million, in the UK. The truth is that the album created the real hardcore fan base that has stayed with us for years, and even more so than ‘K’.

One last question, you’re going on tour soon, what’s the thing you like best about touring?

Crispian Mills: That’s what we are as a live band, before we are recording artist and people who make albums. Even before song writing, we are a live band. Playing live it’s the consummation of the writing and the recording. The process isn’t complete until you’ve played it live.

Words by Matthew Shearn.

K2.0 is out the 12th of Febuary via Strange Folk

Kula Shaker are playing the following dates this month.

Feb 13th Pavillion theatre, Worthing
Feb 15th O2 ABC, Glasgow
Feb 16th O2 Ritz Manchester
Feb 17th Roundhouse,London

via Kula Shaker Interview – Figure8Magazine


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