“I get survivor’s guilt sometimes,” The Drones’ frontman Gareth Liddiard says. “Because I know there were a million other bands around at the time that no one can even remember, yet we somehow crossed no man’s land and lived.”
It’s pretty typical of Liddiard to resort to a level of self-mockery regarding his band’s longevity and sustained acclaim as one of Australia’s best bands. The album that opened the door and first brought them this broader recognition was their second record, 2005’s Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By.
The title summons up a sense of the sinister. Of mythological tales of murderous intent, of past injustices and a fateful dread for the things that are beyond one’s control.
And there are many tales of eye-opening, heartbreaking and deeply troubling events that songwriter Gareth Liddiard reveals seeped into the menace and simmering rage that lies not too far beneath the surface of the songs on this album. Many of them stem from a time long before his band was even formed.
Liddiard was once a lighting and sound guy for a Perth events company. This involved being out on the road, driving long stretches from Port Hedland, to the Pilbara, to Western Australia’s wheat belt and everywhere in between.
Some of those gigs included visiting and setting up for events in Indigenous communities. What he witnessed is seared in his memory.
“I’d see blackfellas literally chained up out the front of police station lockups, because they couldn’t handle being indoors,” he recalls. “And I’d see petrol bowsers with cages around them because black kids used to sniff petrol. This is all pre-internet times, so you get exposed to things you wouldn’t see on the news. So, I spent a lot of time doing that kind of stuff and it had an effect.”
He was also rattled hearing stories of ruinous vendettas in the WA outback.
“I was up like 2,000km above Perth and a guy, a farmer, had bulldozed an ochre mine. It was literally the oldest mine on the planet and he’d got angry at some Indigenous mob and just taken a bulldozer and ruined this mine and no one gave a fuck, even though it was the oldest mine in human history. But it was an Aboriginal thing, so why does that matter?
“Things like that were shocking. It’s older than any shit in Rome or Egypt and it’s a mine that’s been used until white occupation. Those things were very shocking and Western Australia was full of that kind of stuff.”
On album track ‘Locust’ you can hear the anguish in the intense instrumental climax and the disgust in the self-serving pigheadedness that can motivate people to act so recklessly.
Lyrics such as, 'They made the blacks live outside of town, the weekend come they’d tear the whole place down, the Chinese came without weekends at all, And the whites complained the pay was better shooting them in the war' lets us see through Liddiard's unforgiving eyes.
His exposure to Western Australia’s vast expanses also worked its way onto the album. On those long drives, either to or returning from gigs, he had schoolmate and former Drones guitarist Rui Pereira along for company.
“We’d have a couple of tabs of acid, and just drive through the night after a gig. It was just like flying a spaceship, a little 3-tonne truck just bouncing a highway in the middle of the desert. You know, crazy stuff like that. That space just rubs off [on you], it kinda just does.”
There were other challenges and unexpected tragedies that left their mark on the album too.
“The point in time when we’d made that record, we’d moved from Perth, we didn’t know anyone in Melbourne,” he says. “We were just living in a little bubble, and it was one of those times when it was a low point.
“My mum had just died, before that it hadn’t been long since my girlfriend previous to Fi [Kitschin, The Drones’ bassist and now Liddiard’s wife] had died, and that had been rough. We were struggling to make money… So that record is us as a pissed off little band. It [all] seemed to culminate in that album somehow.”
One thing he was consciously trying to do differently to the band’s first record was to open up, both sonically and emotionally.
“You couldn’t get an angrier album,” he says of their debut Here Come The Lies. “You couldn’t go any further. It had to chill out a bit.
“I remember thinking with Wait Long… that I was gonna write a bit more melody. Because, without shooting myself on stage, I don’t think I could get more shat off. I just needed everybody to know how I felt. Here Come The Lies was just white hot rage, but after that it became a bit more philosophical.
“That is the point of the melody on Wait Long… To let people in, rather than just slam the door in their face.”
Liddiard is rightly proud of all of his band’s albums, but 12 years on he understands that there’s something about Wait Long… that’s made it especially meaningful to many. He has, as is his nature, a simple explanation.
“It doesn’t pull punches,” he says. “It’s not trying to be anybody else, it certainly harks back to music that came before it – there’s a bit of Rowland S. Howard or Neil Young in there – but it doesn’t just slavishly rip them off. It goes further and it goes hard. It’s a good punk rock album, that’s what I would say.”