Globe trotting prog masterminds Karnivool tore up the Roundhouse, Camden recently, and we were lucky enough to grab guitarist Mark Hosking for a quick chat before their set. Their debut album Themata was released ten years ago, and we discussed their plans to commemorate the milestone, how they find touring on the other side of the world, and who’s the most Australian.
MOSH: So it’s the tenth anniversary of your debut album ‘Themata’. Can fans expect anything special from the tour to reflect this?
Mark Hosking: We’re doing that when we get back to Australia. That will be chronologically the entire Themata album from start to finish, and then we’re going to jump around and have some fun at the end. There’ll be some guests, there’ll be some randomness, there’ll be some fun, an element of seriousness, but it’s just gonna be a blast. It’s been ten years since we released that album, it’s been an amazing ten years, absolutely mind boggling. We can’t believe it’s been ten years, so it’s just a great chance for us to look back and not just appreciate the album, but also the ten years that we’ve spent touring it and playing songs from it.
MOSH: How would you say you’ve changed as a band since you put out that record? Do you think you sound has shifted at all?
MH: I think it definitely has. We’ve always said we’re not the band that’s going to stay the same, we’re a band that prides ourselves on the fact that we won’t do the same album twice, and we always push ourselves musically and we’re always trying to do something tangential or something a bit different. So we make conscious decisions at the end of album cycles to go and discover something or go and find something new and bring it back and try and write a bit differently. And that happened from Themata to Sound Awake, and that happened from Sound Awake to Asymmetry. Part of it’s conscious and part of it’s not. So it’s amazing to look back, and there’s certain things you see doing the circle, doing the full evolution of going back to the start, but there’s definitely always something new you get from a new sound or a new album. And they are at least three years, four years apart, so time alone makes them sound different.
MOSH: How does it feel to be playing the Roundhouse? Do you feel any particular pressures playing certain venues, or do you approach every show the same?
MH: Every show is different, even big venue shows and small venue shows, they’re always different beasts. It’s a personal pressure to perform, but we don’t feel any real pressure, we’re just here to have fun. We’re fifteen shows deep on this tour, we’re well practiced, well rehearsed, the shows have been going great, the tours’ been amazing fun. We’re gonna put on a spectacle, that’s for sure, but it’s gonna be a fun show. I think you need to keep that in mind when you’re playing music; if you’re not having a good time up there it comes across, and the crowd pick up on that.
MOSH: You’re set to release your entire back catalogue on vinyl. What motivated this decision? Are you guys vinyl collectors yourselves?
MH: Jon [Stockman, bass] is probably the only real vinyl collector. We all have a random collection of vinyl, but it was something we’ve wanted to do for a really long time, even back when Themata was first released. We always said we wanted to do it properly, we wanted to get it remastered and we wanted good artwork. We finally got all that together, so we felt it was a good time to do it, and what with the tenth anniversary it all kind of tied in and made sense. It’s exciting, I can’t wait. I’ve heard the test pressings but I can’t wait to hold a big piece of art like that, there’s something very cool about vinyl. All sound quality aside, it’s that physical presence which is really cool.
MOSH: Have you got any tips for up and coming bands in terms of longevity? It’s not every band that can keep going for almost 20 years.
MH: Longevity comes through friendship, you need to be good friends and you need to have a real good understanding of the people you’re playing with. So often people can let business get in the way of that relationship, and that’s right across the scale from bands that are playing in small pubs to bands that are playing internationally. You need to have a good respect for each other, and know you’re in a band that can be together for a long time. It’s a family at the end of the day, you’re in each other’s pockets all the time and it’s a very close, tight knit environment. So many great bands have broken up because people can’t see eye to eye or have let ego get in the way. I guess we’re lucky in that respect because we’re Australian: we have no egos”. *laughs*.
MOSH: Do you find being based in Australia causes you any issues? It must be a lot more of a hassle logistically and financially to tour and promote albums.
MH: You definitely feel like as an Australian band you’re ‘coming to it’, you’re not ‘leaving it’. I guess people in America, or even Europe, that when they come to Australia they feel like they’re leaving their normal touring, but we know we’re coming to a touring cycle when we’re coming over here. It’s different, and it’s difficult, it’s expensive for starters, expensive for us to bring our gear over here. So you’re instantly trying to find the best way to economise on everything. We love touring out here, it’s different to Australia because there the cities are so far apart you can’t do a bus tour, you fly everywhere. Once the logistics is done and sorted, everything else is the same. People are different, venues are different, but the principles of touring are the same.
MOSH: Who would you say the most typically ‘Aussie’ out of all of you is and why?
MK: I think we definitely all have definite ‘Australianisms’ about us. I don’t think any of us is that typical ‘Australian bloke’ but we definitely have characteristics, and at times that shines and at times that hides, it just depends where you are and what you’re doing. We’re lucky to have come from a country that is loved everywhere, so sometimes you use that, you put on the Australian accent to talk to people or whatever, and people do appreciate that which is cool. Drew [Goddard, Guitars] and Jon, if anybody. If I was putting forward the Aussies, I’d say those guys are probably more Aussie than the rest of us.
MOSH: As a ‘prog’ band do you find it difficult to replicate some more complex songs live to as high a standard as you’d like? Or do you purposefully try to write material you can recreate on stage?
MH: We don’t write for live, we write for the music. Often we’ve been found wanting to be able to play certain bits and pieces live, but there’s always a way. We’re probably not the band that directly tries to replicate the album live. We say hey, here’s the recorded version, here’s live, what’s the best way to make that sound better live. It’s almost like we’re trying to improve on what the recording was. We’re also a band that doesn’t like to sample too much, so we want it all to be as much a live experience as possible. So we’re not the band that has 20,000 tracks playing behind us to make it sound like the album. We want to make a live interpretation of the album that sounds the best that we can, but at the same time keeping it fresh, keeping it energetic. Some of it is a bit complex, there’s a certain amount of juggling going on stage between us to make some of those songs happen. It’s a challenge.
MOSH: Are you happy to have that label applied to your music?
MH: We’re happy with the prog label. We don’t class ourselves as anything, to be honest. We all listen to such ridiculously different styles of music. Drew and maybe Jon listen to a bit more prog than the rest of us, but I like old prog, I like King Crimson and bands like Pink Floyd ‘back then’, but these days we don’t listen to a lot of prog. But we are a very technical band, I think that’s where the prog label comes from. But we’ll take it, because as much as we don’t listen to it, we love progressive rock music and where it’s gone now and what people are doing with it. None of us like the labelling thing, but you accept it and you accept why people need to do it.
MOSH: What can we expect next from Karnivool? You’ve said in the past you find the album writing process something of a challenge.
MH: It’s convoluted for us because of the way we write; we’ll write half a song and then leave it and come back to it a year later sometimes. So that makes it very difficult for us to have a specific time frame for completing an album, and it makes our managers hate us. But it’s just the way we do it. But on that front we’re writing some of the best stuff for us that we’ve written in a long time, it’s starting to come thicker and faster. We’ve got like eight or nine tracks that are like 70%, and as much as we do like to take stuff that’s not completed out on the road and play it, it’s got to be up to a standard. The plan is to not tour too much for the rest of the year, and then try and lock down the studio time, and then probably record at the start of next year and make a plan to release some time next year.