BLUES SPECIAL – THE DRONES

 

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Shark Fin Blues (G Liddiard/R Pereira) -The Drones 2005

 

The Drones were formed by frontman Gareth Liddiard and bass guitarist Ru Pereira in Perth in 1997, and after gigging in the West, Liddiard and Pereira relocated to Melbourne in 2000 and recruited new band members, ultimately settling on a lineup of Liddiard (lead guitar and vocals), Pereira (guitar), Fiona Kitschin (bass guitar, vocals) and Christian Strybosch (drums).

They were quickly embraced as alternarock indie favorites, eschewing chart success for a working class brand of rock that was more confronting and visceral, they came to notice in 2005 when their second album, recorded at the Atlantis Studios in Melbourne with local producer Loki Lockwood, Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By, (a quote by Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu (544BC-496BC)), came second to Wolfmother, in Triple J’s inaugural Australian Music Prize.

 

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Shark Fin Blues was released as a single to great acclaim from critics who noted the influences of the Birthday Party, the Scientists, X, and the Gun Club, but the Drones were an acquired taste.

The song was very much a songwriter’s song, ultimately topping the list of best Australian songs as nominated by more than 70 fellow artists in a poll in 2009, neither the single nor the album from which it was lifted charted, but the Drones never courted popular opinion nor commodification of their music.

Shark Fin Blues was written when Garth Liddiard was living in Collingwood (Melb) and grieving the death of his mother, he was mourning and depressed, feeling adrift in a sea of despair, the angry sharks of melancholy, self-doubt and psychic disintegration were circling his sinking ship of sanity, “like slicks of ink”.

Liddiard sought survival, began to write his lyrics over the top of a banjo song called Same Old Man by Karen Dalton, the song begins with fuzzy, distorted guitars over restrained percussion, a riff inspired by a Townes Van Zandt song builds gradually through the stanzas on the back of writhing, wailing guitars and an infectious chorus of na,na,nas.

Liddiard’s vocals are bitter, brutal, declamatory, there is no cosy coda of salvation at the outro, which was improvised by Pereira on guitar. The pessimism is persistent, but it was anthemic and intimately introspective at the same time, jarring and uniquely disquieting as well, Liddiard once said of Shark Fin Blues “This song is reliable like a good dog. When we, or our audience, suck, we can play this and it’s like a reset button.”

 

Their next album, Gala Mill, was so impressive that it was included at #21 in the “100 Best Australian Albums of All Time” (John O’Donnell/Toby Creswell/Craig Mathison) about which the authors commented “It’s raw power is incandescent.”

 

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The Drones took both the albums I See Seaweed (2013) and Feelin’ Kinda Free ( 2016) into the top twenty but went into hiatus soon after, Gareth Liddiard and his partner of sixteen years, bassist Fiona Kitschin subsequently recruited Erica Dunn (guitar) and Lauren Hammond (drums) to form the imaginatively-named Tropical F–k Storm in 2016.

 

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