We’re forever hearing stories about bands travelling to some far-off place to record an album. Other than being an expensive way to fill a press release, the constructive outcome of these adventures is somewhat debatable.
Melbourne’s hardy rock’n’roll men Kingswood will release their debut long player Microscopic Wars on Friday August 22. To record the album, the hirsute four-piece nestled in at Nashville’s Blackbird Studio, which has previously captured noise from the likes of Beck, Kings Of Leon and Jack White. Those are some prestigious names, but did the trip overseas have any substantial impact on the recorded output?
“One of the benefits of going to Nashville is you just end up in this complete bubble of creativity – especially with creative people around you – and the means to investigate any idea you want to the nth degree,” says Kingswood guitarist Alex Laska. “[That] was so pure to what our vibe was at the time. There’s no distortion or influence, apart from our own, which is perfect.”
Escaping their regular distractions to focus exclusively on music seems a permissible justification. But why did they choose Nashville? Well, thanks to its rich musical resources, the Tennessee capital is luring in musicians of all orientations. Nashville might be widely known as the home of tacky country music, but Laska says there’s far more to it.
“There’s this top layer of clichОd country – cowboy boots and big hats and big silver gunslinger belt buckles and honky-tonks and everyone playing Johnny Cash covers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. But peel back that layer and it’s just amazing. There’s so many different little cultures and things happening in and around Nashville. Going out, you get to experience it a lot. You go down Broadway any night of the week from 6pm until 3am, there’s at least 50 or so venues having live bands all night, every night.”
For individuals, travelling overseas often sheds light on the overwhelming number of people coexisting on this planet. Plying in the music industry – a flippantly selective arena – the smallness of one’s band can be despair-inducing. So, did witnessing the scope of Nashville’s musical community alarm Kingswood? Hardly.
“A philosophy we’ve had and always will have is we want to be the best that we can be,” says Laska. “Otherwise, why would you even bother? It’s like being a sprinter and going, ‘I’m cool with coming fifth,’ when you’re training for the Olympics. It’s fine if you’ve gone as hard as you can and come fifth. That’s completely different to going, ‘I’m aiming for fifth.’ We’ve always had that aesthetic of working really hard or trying to be really objective about things.”
If you’re looking for concrete evidence of the band’s inherent determination, then Microscopic Wars ought to suffice. As you might expect from Kingswood, the 13-track sequence comprises plenty of heavy riffing, wailing vocals and impressive lead guitar flourishes. Additionally, it includes the slow-burning sensuality of ‘I Can Feel That You Don’t Love Me’, ready-made arena anthem ‘Tremor’ and the piano-laden tenderness of ‘Eye Of The Storm’.
“I think this album is pretty diverse, and it was designed to be an album,” says Laska, the group’s key songwriter. “It’s not designed to be a bunch of cool singles. If you listen to it from the start to the end, it makes sense. If you shuffle it, it might not make that much sense. You listen to it like you’d read a book – start at the start and finish at the end.
“Internally, the way we perceive ourselves is being musically diverse and interesting,” he continues. “I think interest is something that often is missed these days in music. Not to say that I don’t find other music interesting. But in the realm of rock’n’roll and the perceptions and expectations that should accompany those words, sometimes I don’t think it’s that interesting.”
Microscopic Wars is certainly a hotly anticipated release, courtesy of a lengthy journey that led Kingswood to this level. After slogging away in the Melbourne pub scene for a couple of years, the band was selected by triple j to open 2012’s Splendour In The Grass. They haven’t left the limelight since, issuing a two-year succession of high-rotation singles and steadily improving as songwriters all the while.
Since day one, Kingswood’s hard-hitting sound has incited comparisons to rock titans such as Queens of the Stone Age and Led Zeppelin. Indeed, the mark of these two acts is evident throughout Microscopic Wars, but the foundational objective was to display what it is that makes Kingswood distinct.
“There’s no doubt that they’re huge influences on our band,” Laska says, “but this [album] is actually our view, musically, on what sort of directions we want to go in. Not to say that we hide away from [those comparisons] at all. I think it’s a huge compliment – they’re arguably two of the greatest rock’n’roll bands of all time.
“If you put on our older stuff, which thank God we never released,” he adds, “you would put that on and it would sound like Led Zeppelin, but just a really shit version of it. Obviously there’s teething problems. You’ve got to try to find what is yours and sometimes that is really obvious and evident and sometimes it’s not.”
An integral component that’s assisted with the band’s considerable creative progression is its receptivity to criticism. Paying heed to honest feedback, be it praiseworthy or disapproving, is essential in allowing for constructive advancement.
“If there’s an ounce of credit or merit to something that someone says that may be critical, whether it’s good criticism or bad criticism, then we’ll definitely investigate it. You can’t be the band that goes out and goes, ‘Fuck everyone. Everything that we do is the best thing in the world and everyone’s wrong.’ That’s the dumbest thing you could possibly do. We try to be super-critical before we put things out.”
As Laska has mentioned, Microscopic Wars is intended to play as a continuous piece, rather than a compilation of unrelated songs. Thanks to the group’s internal critique mechanism, it was able to get the track sequencing just right.
“We would just make playlists and listen to them for a week and then someone would make one change and then we’d sit on that for a couple of days. It’s so much about the arcs and the lulls in how it makes you feel. I think that we’ve got it right – but what’s right and wrong?”
Well, ultimately that judgement isn’t up to the band. Once the record enters the public domain, in many ways it’s no longer theirs. Not surprisingly, the resolutely chipper guitarist isn’t daunted by this prospect.
“We’re very interested to see how it may change the perception of the band. Whether that be positive or negative is sort of irrelevant. I think change is good.
“This first album is sort of like an official statement saying, ‘This is what we sound like and this is the direction we have going musically.’ This is something we’ve been working on, we’re really proud of and excited about – I wonder what will happen.”
Microscopic Wars out Friday August 22 through Dew Process. Catch Kingswood at Newtown Social Club on Wednesday August 27, tickets here. Also appearing at the Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle on Thursday September 18 and the Collector Hotel, Parramatta on Saturday September 20.