Released here in the US in 2010, Sound Awake by Australia's Karnivool will undoubtedly make the year-end lists of those in progressive, hard rock circles. I gave Sound Awake a rare 10 rating in my review, and it's an album that I find myself drawn to again and again. Any fan of modern progressive rock needs to have this album. They toured the States with Fair To Midland earlier this year, and their show at The Rock in Maplewood reinforced my convictions that Karnivool is one of the best bands out there (I reviewed the show here). I had the opportunity to sit down and have a beer with guitarist Drew Goddard and drummer Steve Judd before the show, and we discussed many aspects of the new record, its recording, and motivations. The band and crew were some of the nicest people in the business, and everyone took the time to make me feel welcome. Karnivool returns to the area with a headlining show this Friday, September 4 at Station 4 in St. Paul. Anyone who has seen Karnivool will tell you that you do not want to this miss this show! My special thanks go out to Nicole at Sideways Media for making this happen. Enjoy the interview, and make your plans to catch Karnivool this Friday if you have not already done so.
Twin Cities Metal (TCM): I’ve described your new record, Sound Awake, as one that “Blends the complex meanderings of ELP and King Crimson, the vocal play and melodies of Yes, the songwriting craftsmanship of Porcupine Tree, and the technology and emotiveness of Radiohead and The Pineapple Thief.” Are these fair comparisons?
Drew: That’s pretty cool, those are all great bands. I have not actually heard The Pineapple Thief before, but from what I’ve heard they’re a great band. Radiohead, especially, is one band that most of us really dig on.
Steve: That’s quite a lot of bands listed there as well, and none of them were Tool! Which is quite different, because that’s the generic description we hear a lot.
Drew: Those bands, they’re not really big influences on us, but I think parts of Yes, Rush, and Pink Floyd are. I’m a big Floyd fan. King Crimson, possibly, digs on those guys since there’s bits and pieces that we like. We just listen to a really broad spectrum of music, all sorts of stuff. Steve listens to hip-hop.
Steve: Yeah, and everyone hates me for it (laughs). We like to freak each other with the various songs on our iPods.
TCM: You mentioned Tool, and I can understand the comparison, but it think it’s a really superficial description of your music.
Drew: Yeah, it’s just a really generic description often used for us. They’re a prog band that sings, they don’t scream like a lot of bands today.
TCM: Tell me about your experience at South By Southwest this year – you played a few shows there, didn’t you?
Drew: Yeah, we had six shows in four or five days, including some acoustic shows. It was great.
Steve: We did a show at Emo’s, that was killer. We did a couple at Maggie May’s that were good.
Drew: We even did a show at midday, we haven’t done many shows in the afternoon before! They were all in big rooms, so it was fun.
TCM: You mentioned the acoustic shows. Are there any plans for recording an acoustic performance, or releasing an acoustic-based EP or album?
Drew: Not yet. We like to do the acoustic shows because it’s a challenge. We strip everything back to its naked form. You don’t have a wall of distortion to hide behind. It’s just you and the guitar. It’s a fun thing that we really like doing, but we have no plans at the moment for this type of recording.
TCM: What do you think makes a song a good candidate for reinterpreting acoustically?
Drew: It’s kind of odd to reinterpret some of the stuff. There’s a couple of songs, “Umber” and “All I Know”, off Sound Awake that lend themselves well to the acoustic thing. It was a bit iffy when we doing the acoustic stuff, but once you give it a go it’s fun. You lose all the frilly stuff that’s on the record but it makes it what it is in the end. For anything that’s workable as an acoustic song, I love to change the structure and reinterpret it. There’s a couple of songs from Themata that we do acoustically, too.
TCM: The latest record took you a long time to record. With bands more reliant on touring, do you see being able to have this luxury of time when recording future records? Do think you think you’ll need to record more quickly to get back out on tour?
Drew: Yeah, we’re not that amazing at writing on the road, but it’s something we’re going to have to do. We did have this luxury for the last record. It took approximately four years to make, which is quite a long stretch of time.
TCM: Do you think you could have come out with the record you did if you were on a more compressed time schedule?
Drew: I don’t think so, no. The time factor had a lot to do with the way the songs progressed and came together. We’d write a section of a song and then sort of leave it. There were times when we hit a brick wall or something else interested us and we’d go on to a new project and come back to it later. When you listen to it again after a year, six months, or even a day, you hear it in a different light and new ideas come flooding in and that can take you in a new direction. I’m glad we took four years. Our tastes changed over those four years when we went through what each of us went through, and the album tells the story of those four years of our lives.
TCM: Back to writing on the road – has anything been written for the next album?
Drew: Yeah, bits and pieces, just ideas that we’ve been throwing around. We write a lot at soundchecks, but on some tours we don’t get to soundcheck.
Steve: New technology is a big advantage when you’re writing on the road.
TCM: What bands do you look up to in terms of their career path or their development over time?
Drew: Radiohead is a prime example for me. I love what that band has done, and I like the story of that band. They came out with a massive single, and then progressively pushed their own boundaries and everyone followed. They managed to kick that essence of writing pop songs. There’s lots of bands whose careers I admire. The Beatles, what they did was incredible, in actually affecting humanity (laughs). They influenced an entire culture. Bands like Tool I really love, especially Pink Floyd. They appeal to a wider audience, but they really challenge people as well. There’s that really fine balance that these bands have that appeals to me.
TCM: The new album is a big leap from Themata. Where you ever worried about the fans coming along with you on this challenging journey?
Drew: I wasn’t, personally.
Steve: No, our fan base is quite loyal. After waiting for four years, I think most of the fans did and we’re grateful for that.
Drew: Most people that come to our shows seem open-minded. With some people it took a while for them to get into Sound Awake, but that’s what we’re going for. We don’t necessarily want that immediate wow factor to hit people, but we want to challenge them and leave room for the album to grow. Those types of albums are my favorites, so that’s what we’re going for and it think it worked well.
TCM: Describe the challenges that the band faces due to having different levels of success in different parts of the world.
Steve: Living in Australia doesn’t help (laughs)!
Drew: Yeah, money and the travel become challenges. Being home from loved ones is a big part of it. With the overseas markets we’re just going to have to play it by ear. We’ll keep an eye on the way things are going and try to respond and get to those areas as soon as possible. Working in the right areas at the time is important. Who knows what’s going to happen?
TCM: How do you define success for the band, and what satisfies you the most?
Drew: At the end of the day we write to please ourselves. That’s the fundamental reason that we do this. I think I speak for the whole band in saying that this is a life-force for us. The idea of success, for me, is to really proud of the records that we make. If we put everything that we can into it, then we’re confident that that will resonate with other people. We first want to make sure that we’re pleasing ourselves with what we do.
TCM: How challenging are the songs from Sound Awake to play live?
Steve: I think the biggest challenge is making sure that the bloody technology works on stage (laughs)! It’s not quite fail-safe yet.
Drew: Absolutely. Our 002 unit is called Brian – we’ve given him a name so that we have a way to focus our abuse on the equipment (laughs). Brian’s fired after this tour (laughs)! We’ve been playing these songs so much that we’ve gotten used to it, but when we first started playing them, it was easy to lose concentration and focus. It definitely requires our full attention for the majority of the set.
Karnivool performs this Friday, September 3 at Station 4 in St. Paul. Support will come from Tides Of Man.