Kula Shaker has finally emerged from the silence and mark their return with a new album a series of special live dates throughout the UK & Beyond. On 12 February 2016, the band will release their 5th studio album on the Strangefolk label. Titled ‘K 2.0’. Kula Shaker frontman Crispian Mills recently had a chat with Mark Millar to talk about it.
Hi, what have you been up to lately?
C.Mills: We are finalising the new record by sorting out the artwork and videos. We are taking a lot of pleasure in doing it. This album took us a bit by surprise because nobody realised it had been 20 years since we started. Somebody mentioned it to us and it was a bit of a shock. It seemed like the perfect time to do a record and we all felt like there had been a calling. There had been an awakening in the force, so we went for it. It was a bit of a mad dash but the songs turned out astonishingly well and the whole thing had a life of its own, which was a pleasure.
You have already released the track ‘Infinite Sun’ as a taster from the album; it’s a great opening track. Is it the kind of sound we can expect from the rest of the record?
C.Mills: We have always had quite a varied mix of sounds and styles on our records. There is other stuff there and some surprises. The basis of it is a band laying it down and I think that is always what defined the band, where the live shows, and it’s taken us 20 years to work out how to record that. It’s not easy. If you’re a good live band it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work on the record. We always struggled with that. A lot of musicians do, but we have found ways around it. ‘Infinite Sun’ is a good opener; that’s a track that we used to muck around with and jam and busk that when we were 19.
So it’s a really old song?
C.Mills: Yeah, it’s full circle for us. We used to play in festivals and anywhere that we could blag on a stage and that was one of the songs we used to play. I think we played it in some teepee gathering for the first time [laughs]. It’s a good one. It came back into my life because I started playing it for my kids, my little boys. They are my main audience now. I focus on all my songs to see if they like them or not.
It’s such a good song, why did it take all these years to record?
A lot of stuff ended up in the bottom drawer and you can’t find a way to do it. I had been playing it to my kids, so it started to evolve in my living room on an acoustic guitar. They used to sing it back to me. There’s the Old Grey Whistle Test, and then there’s the front room with toddlers test, and that also was quite effective.
Did it feel good getting back into the studio as Kula Shaker with the rest of the band?
C.Mills: It felt great. When you start off playing it’s quite a lot of pressure when you make your first record, and we always felt that and everybody was a bit neurotic and recording was quite a complicated process and now it’s a lot more fun. I think Paul sounds great on the record; his drumming has really taken centre stage. Guitarists always get off on a great drummer; There have been a lot of nice surprises.
You spoke before of using the Indian influence as an ingredient. Have you used it much with this album?
C.Mills: We always used to do Kirtan which is call and response, sacred songs and mantras and singing the Hare Krishna, we were always big into that and it was something that we did in our live set and we used to do it at home in the living room and at Green Gatherings, at teepee gatherings, wherever we where. That stayed in the sound and will always be there, but what’s interesting is that 20 years ago it was a bit of a novelty and people thought it was a bit quaint or whatever. Some people were a bit cynical about it, too. Now it’s become very mainstream. In a way, we were right on a crest of a wave in a way of what was about to become part of everyday life. That’s what is quite nice about making this record; it feels very much of its time than K which was a little bit ahead of its time.
Does the album sit along nicely with K or is it completely different?
C.Mills: It’s definitely K, it’s the sequel to K. We are going back to where we started and it can still be fresh, we have come full circle.
What themes do you explore in the songs this time around?
C.Mills: It’s all about the spiritual life and then there’s the material life and we are all trying to reconcile the two. We are trying to reconcile the fact that we have a higher nature and that’s really where our heart is and that’s where we come from that’s where we want to go to and yet we are stuck in this world of temporary struggle and suffering and how the hell do you reconcile that and work your way through it. They are co-existing and there are many dimensions to who we are. It’s exploring that and trying to explore it in a musical artistic way. It’s been a labour of love, the band means a lot to us it is a family and the band came out of a good place and a desire to do something colourful and a bit mad and trying to capture some sort of magic that we were all experiencing in our life and trying to communicate that with the band. I think it’s rubbed off the old magic is there with this record.
What was your songwriting process for this record?
C.Mills: It was a mad rush. I was sending Alonza demos singing to an acoustic into the computer and sending it out in an email. His studio is in the middle of nowhere in a wood in Belgium so he’s quite off the beaten track. Then we would get together and have a play in London and take away ideas from that and keep writing and then eventually we got together for the first session. We had a session at Metropolis Studios in Chiswick then we had another session in State of the Ark in Richmond which is a fantastic vintage boutique studio. It had EMI desks and old compressors and lovely mics and then we did a lot of work in Belgium as well. Alonza managed to come up with some great songs at the very last minute, but We did a lot of writing together. You know what it’s like with old mates you just slip into it.
There has been quite a break from your last album Pilgrims Progress.
C.Mills: The thing is no one has been watching us and paying attention. We have been an indie band again and we have been making records ourselves. If we don’t want to make a record then we won’t make a record. We have other ways of making money, I have been writing scripts and Alonza has been running a studio and Paul has been playing with other people. The band came back together for the right reasons and came together for love [laughs] and that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes money is a great incentive too, and you have got to pay your bills but you got to have the love there. Love has to be the foundation.
Do you get the same enjoyment making films as you do making music with Kula Shaker?
C.Mills: It’s a very similar process. There are a lot of similarities between editing music and editing film and writing scripts and writing songs and dealing with record companies and dealing with financiers in film. There are a whole lot of the same headaches. Film moves at a glacial pace. It takes years and years to get films made and making music is a much more spontaneous process and it’s completely different. Music is a big part of how I watch films and I like the storytelling element and the visual element of writing and recording music as well.
The band is going back on the road in February. Are you looking forward to it?
C.Mills: Yeah, it’s going to be fantastic. That’s where it really all comes together. I remember back in the day going out and working and doing promotion and gigs and running into the Spice Girls. They were just doing promo all the time and gigs we just something they had to do, it wasn’t really about the gigs for them. For some bands, everything is pointing towards was the concerts. Even the record is pointing towards the live show. It’s doesn’t really come together until you do it on stage.
When you are writing the record do you visualise what it will sound like when it’s played live?
C.Mills: Yeah, you have a sense of what kind of a track it is and how and how it’s gonna play and you start to tailor it accordingly with that in mind. Especially if you think that it’s going to work really well.
Between 1995-1999 Kula Shaker had huge success do you have a moment that stands out?
C.Mills: The really good time was just before we got massive and we were on tour with a band called The Presidents of the United States of America and we were touring around Europe with them and we had our own tour bus and nobody gave a shit. Before we had to do lots of promo and the only interviews we did were with indie mags. That was really cool and we really enjoyed it but once you have a hit, then suddenly you are making money for everybody and you get the pressure to make them more money and then you have people who don’t like seeing you being successful who have got it in for you and suddenly you’ve got all these people making your life shit [laughs] and ruining your musical experience.
It was really good fun before we hit big and then it became a nightmare. I heard George Harrison say that being in the Beatles was a nightmare and he couldn’t understand how being in the Beatles could be a nightmare and they were at the top level so it was like the ultimate nightmare. Your life is fucking broken! [Laughs] and everybody is having a great time at your expense.
We headlined Glastonbury in 1997 both Saturday and Sunday because Neil Young hurt his finger and we went on because there was nobody to fill his slot. We went on and we played some Neil Young songs. It was a big moment but it was also terrifying. I remember going on TFI Friday in 1999 with Arthur Brown the great psychedelic warlord and he set fire to his head while we were singing ‘Mystical Machine Gun’ and he told everyone “not to panic and it was the end of the world, it would be alright if we just keep chanting”. We were doing it on live TV and I was thinking, “At least someone is using their fame to do something constructive” [laughs]. It was moments like that that made it worthwhile.
Was it all becoming too much is that why the band split after the second album?
C.Mills: We all felt that we weren’t enjoying it. The pressure was just making us all hate each other and when the millennium eclipse happened right at the end of 1999, I thought it was a cosmic moment to just shut down and It was nice to tie in the end if the band with the eclipse. Interestingly enough we released the first music from this album on the eclipse earlier in 2015, so we are getting back on where we left off.
K will be 20 years old this year, are you planning to celebrate in any way?
C.Mills: Yeah, just by going out and playing, absolutely!
Will you be adding more dates to the tour?
C.Mills: Oh yeah! We are doing the first lot and then we will keep on all year.
Hopefully, you will come to Ireland.
C.Mills: Funnily enough playing at the Ulster Hall was a high moment for us. That gig was absolutely fucking mental! It was one of the noisiest gigs I’ve ever played; it was brilliant, it was a really great night. Most gigs you don’t remember very much, most gigs you only remember a few frames of film and I do remember that room and the amount of noise in it and it was very exciting. We got very excited and we tired ourselves out. By the 5th number, we had shot our load [laughs] and we needed to play slower ones.