Kool Magazine: Issue 15, July 1999

Interview By Nick South

The last year must have been a stressful one for Kula Shaker. I won’t harp on about it, but Crispian opened his mouth wider than even Geri Halliwell’s and popped both feet in – without even touching the sides.

The subsequent music press backlash – led by the NME – has been harsh. After all, no-one in their right mind likes Nazis, and flirting with Nazi imagery is a dangerous game.

Just ask Morrissey. We can only presume that Crispian has been trussed up with a sock in his mouth, as we we’re not allowed to speak to him. We did chat with ‘Shaker bassist Alonza though.

He’s a laid back agreeable chap, and talked to us prior to the recent dates, and the release of ‘Peasants Pigs and Astronauts’ to mixed reviews. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, we thought we’d better find out just what’s been going on in the blissed out Kula Shaker world…

K: Hi, We finally get to talk. So how’s it all going for Kula Shaker – I hear you’ve got some dates coming up.
A: We’re just doing a little promo tour at the moment, just a few little clubs in Britain and around Europe.

K: The first time I saw you was with 125,000 people at Knebworth supporting Oasis. That must have been a bit of a shock.

A: Yeah, that was a bit weird wasn’t it! Up until then our biggest was the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town to two men & a guitar case I think.

K: I hear Noel personally asked you to play – how did that happen?

A: I’m not sure. I know he’d heard us, and seen us do a gig at the 100 Club – which we’re playing again soon. It’s a grand little place.

K: Were you nervous at Knebworth?

A: Kind of. We had done some big gigs before though, but certainly not that big. To the edge of the stage is about twenty feet from where you are, and then there’s the press pit, then beyond that the guest area that went up to the mixing desk, and then there’s the audience, who are all little dots by that point.

K: So how did Kula Shaker come together?

A: I met Crispian at college, and we played in a band together. Paul joined that band later, and then it fell apart. We all got together again later on, and started again. We learned songs, played a few gigs and got going. It was a tough apprenticeship though.

K: Did Crispians heritage, shall we say, open any doors?

A: None at all! I mean, Crispian’s mum still does a lot of acting, mainly theatre now, but the two worlds couldn’t be further apart.

K: Everyone remembers those old Hayley Mills films though. My boss told me today when I said I was interviewing you ‘I used to fancy her!’

A: Yeah, she was in some good old films, old British Lion films. K: Does she ever come to your gigs? A: Yeah, although we haven’t played a big gig here for a while, she often pops along. We’ve got obsessive mothers – they’re all quite mad.

K: How long did it take to record the album? You seem to have been off the scene for quite a time.

A: I don’t know what happened. I only found out the other day that we had to do another one. It was in the contract apparently. Ok, I thought, we’ll do that, fine…I suppose it has been a long time since ‘K’. We toured for a year and a half after that came out – anywhere anyone might listen. We were all quite fried, quite knackered. After that, We went off and took India to Paul, well took Paul to India. He’s our drummer, and he’d never been before. We had some mad adventures over there, and met up with Crispian later. We came back, and then after xmas we started work in earnest really on the new album. We went out to LA to hook up with Rick Rubin.

K: Was that your choice?

A: Yeah, we really wanted to work with different people and try out some different things.

K: Rick’s worked with a lot of big guitar bands hasn’t he?

A: Yeah, and he did all the Def Jam stuff too. He’s just a really interesting character, and George Drakoulias, who’s got nothing in common with Rick apart from being big and hairy, worked with us too. Rick does his meditation and he’s a vegan, but looks like a hard biker! George on the hand is a burger eating New Yorker, so it was quite an interesting dynamic there!

K: So did it all work out well?

A: It did – we recorded ‘Sound Of Drums’ with them, and then met up with Bob Ezrin, and started playing with ideas with him. He was great, he’s Canadian – although he’d lived in England for a bit – and he knows all the Monty Python lot, and is into that kind of humour. He’s excellent, a really musical guy as well. He’s worked with Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd, and loads of others.

K: A little bird told me you got attacked by leeches in India

A: We got fucking covered in them! It just all went terribly wrong. We were in a reserve in the middle of the jungle in Southern India. I’d never been down South before, and we’d escaped this boatman that was showing us round. We were sick of his diesel engine, and wanted to walk around the jungle. We faked that we had the shits, which is quite believable there, and just legged it off in search of adventure. We were at the top of this hill just as an electrical storm started, and of course we were at the highest point. It was easy to run fast, and we went through all this really tall grass. Then we went down a stream and got really wet through.

K: It sounds a bit like one of those old Monkees videos,

A: Yeah! But then Paul keeps complaining that he’s got leeches on his ankles, and we’re going, ‘fucking hell, just carry on…’. He’d thrown a bag for me to catch as we were climbing down this waterfall. It went ten feet over my head. It had all our money, passports, stash, you know! We were running down these rapids, and found it lodged at the bottom about three feet underwater. Then I looked down, and I was covered in blood. I thought ‘what the fucks happened there, I don’t remember cutting myself’, and then I lifted up my shirt and there’s all these fucking little leeches hanging off my belly! Apparently they go for the groin. We were lucky, we didn’t get any down there, but everywhere else there were loads of these fucking things.

K: That wouldn’t have made you too popular with the ladies…

A: No! No! Hey, dig my leech bites…Anyway, we eventually got down to the lake and they were just laughing at us. We’d had to walk about ten miles across this lake to get back to the other side. They thought we were stupid.

K: How important is the Indian culture to you? You seem to be highly immersed in it.

A: Yeah. When we were all living together, and even before then, it was always around. It was something we were always interested in. Older friends of ours who had travelled out there or lived out there would turn up with mad stories of magicians doing this music that was just quality Indian classical music. It was amazing. It gets under your skin, you see. There’s all different influences coming in with us though.

K: What music did you grow up with yourself then?

A: I was a teenager in the eighties, so I was into that Mod revival. There was the Who, The Jam. There weren’t that many good bands in the eighties, rocking bands, you know! We look back to some of those classic rock bands too…

K: Is that why you chose Hush as a cover?

A:No, we had been playing that round the pubs even! We had it in the live set when we toured, and we always used to get into it when we toured ‘K’. It was good fun. We meant to release it just in Britain, but it ended up getting released in Europe and America and everywhere. We only meant it to be a little thing for the people in Britain that had supported us. It got on the soundtrack of a film, and got a little bit bigger than we planned. It all went terribly right! K: How serious are you about the Indian thing? Are you ever going to do a Cat Stevens… A: (laughs) It depends on how bad it gets over here I guess. It’s great to go back there, there’s this bit of magic and tradition that we just don’t have over here.

K: How long did it take to record. It seems a long while since ‘K’.

A: Yeah, it does. The bulk of it was done between March and October last year. We took little breaks for the tour in April, but it was pretty much solid apart form that. We did a short film as well, Wonderwall by John Matthau. It was a 50 minute short film with very little dialogue, and we could do pretty much what we wanted. Rade Rade, from the new album, that came from those sessions.

K: Is SOS a rant about the world, and dare I say it, journalists?

A: Yeah, that’s a rant about everything, but having a laugh with your tongue firmly lodged in your cheek. Cont…

K: Of course Crispian went through all that crap with the NME. Does he regret it now? It’s a nasty thing to be accused of…

A: Hmmm….yeah, it’s a VERY nasty thing to be accused of, especially after what we’d been saying previous to it. It made a good headline…

K: They got him didn’t they?

A: They certainly did! We were pretty cynical to begin with, and I think we’re just that little bit more cynical now, a little more cautious with the press. It was our first album too, and we’d never had to deal with the press before.

K: What next now you’ve just played some smaller dates.

A: Yeah, we’ve just finished that little tour, and next we’re playing the 100 Club in the first week of March. It’ll be good to go back there again. We’ve enjoyed playing these smaller clubs. I think we’ve got a recording session for Radio 1 and a TFI Friday appearance coming up.

K: Are Kula Shaker in private the same as the public image, or is some of it built up?

A: No, certainly not that side of things. We rarely get time out of Kula Shaker, and I dunno, we’re just wandering around, trying to play our rock and roll music, losing ourselves, whatever that may be!

K: Great Hosanna, opening track on the album, reminds me so much of Jesus Christ Superstar. Is that deliberate?

A: Certainly, we’d had a good chuckle and we’d watched Jesus Christ Superstar before recording the album. It was just catching that bit of theatre, with it being the opening song and a bit of a narrative. Drama, why not! It was certainly in mind when we wrote it.

K: How does your songwriting process work. Who does what?

A: There’s all different ways. A lot of the stuff is Crispian’s, and we’ll rush through it as a band and knock it into shape. I’’ve come up with stuff on loops before, and we’ll get ideas from that, like Timeworm. Sound Of Drums started off as a little fucked-up loop . Other times we just jam through tunes, and something will come.

K: Will you be using any of the Indian instruments on stage?

A: Difficult, as we use a lot of samples. If they were real instruments you’d have to stop the show for half an hour for them to tune up! We had the chance on this album to work with some Indian musicians.

K: What about George Harrison – have your paths ever crossed?

A: No – we need to!

K: He’s on your vibe isn’t he?

A: Yeah, and we’d love to meet him, that would be great. He keeps himself to himself a lot these days.

K: Are you into Krishna?

A: Hmm, yeah, well we’re into a lot of old Indian philosophy. Not necessarily Hare Krishna, but the Indian culture, yeah. I don’t like to be too specific, as it’s kind of personal, that side of things – at least we’re trying to keep it that way.

K: If you sold six copies of your next album, would that still be the music you’d be happy doing?

A: That’s the best bit about this job. There’s a lot of bullshit you have to go through, and we try not to complain, because the most important thing is the music, and I know it’s an old cliché, but it’s always been that way for us.

So there you have it. If potted Indian mysticism with a seventies throwback feel is your bag, give the new album a listen. you might just be surprised. And Crispian, yoo-hoo, you can come out now. The dictaphone’s off…

© Copyright Koolmag.com 2000