Gareth Liddiard on Tropical Fuck Storm’s new record, trying anything in the songwriting process, and his unique relationship with his Fender Jaguar.
The iconic Aussie supergroup’s third release, Deep States, comes out of a year that none of us will soon forget, a year rife with anger, frustration, and pointlessness, a year that frontman Gareth Liddiard understandably found creatively empty.
“I just had that weird funk at the start that a lot of people had, everything felt pointless, I didn’t do anything.”
The construction of Deep States not only came together through “necessity,” but became a form of catharsis for Liddiard and co, when there was some semblance of light at the end of the tunnel.
“I never really thought of it as cathartic until the pandemic, then without doing gigs or making music, I got the heebie jeebies, I really realized I needed an outlet and a catharsis, getting back into it was really good for the mind and body.”
Read up on all the latest interviews, features and columns here.
Deep States follows Tropical Fuck Storm’s 2019 album Braindrops, a critically acclaimed release that’s not limited by a genre, a special mix of sounds coming together for a remarkable set of songs.
This approach being one that’s a constant through the respective music making careers of the supergroup, and assuredly carries through to Deep States.
“It’s a history of listening to all sorts of shit. Erica [Dunn, guitarist] was a DJ on PBS for years, her show was pretty eclectic, she knows all sorts of stuff from Pop music to Mexican Mariachi music to Jazz, so she’s really knowledgeable.”
With four members with vastly different tastes, the world’s never-ending supply of musical genres became a bottomless well for Tropical Fuck Storm to draw from in the creation of Deep States;
“It’s endless. If you run out of ideas in the moment, but then just write things like ‘Hungarian Folk Music’ into Spotify, all of a sudden, you’ve just got all this shit that’s come at you from an angle you never knew existed. You can come and use it, you can take from things and then recycle them into your stuff, it gives it more life.”
Not focusing too heavily on a genre definition bodes well for many of Liddiard’s musical ventures, where it could be considered that a love for many types of music keeps it timeless.
“We tried to make Deep States a win. It’s like a good book or a good film that you can keep coming back to, you’ll keep finding new layers each time, and as you change it changes, it’s got some sort of depth to it.”
Much alike the never-ending influences that seep into the songwriting, Tropical Fuck Storm’s limitless approach in the recording room is the special sauce that helps the group shine, and give them their distinct flare;
“We’ll try anything. I mean, on ‘G.A.F.F,’ most of those drums are Ham [Lauren Hammel] playing with a drum machine on her phone, doing it with her fingers too, rather than just letting it run on some sort of sequencer.
“Often I’ll have a chord progression, but sometimes we don’t have anything, the only rule of thumb is to try and make something a bit off kilter, a bit different. All bets are off, we’ll try anything” Gareth mentions.
Our conversation moves onto the world of instrumentation, an area clearly of interest to Liddiard, with him noting the ‘try anything’ idea is something that’s bled through years of music making, and follows through to the instrumentation of Deep States.
“Me and Rui [Pereira, The Drones Bassist] moved out after high school, and back in the day when gear was cheap, we accumulated a whole bunch of weird stuff, we were doing anything. But then we moved and had to sell all that stuff.”
Recent times have seen the weird instrument roster build back up, with a browse through an online store unearthing a bunch of cool instruments that Tropical Fuck Storm used on Deep States;
“We got on things like Etsy, where you buy shit people make, you can find some pretty odd musical inventions on there”
“They’re not expensive or anything, it’s things like little springs, welded on to the top of a tin with a contact mic in it, and you can put that through something like the Eventide Pitchfactor, it’s just wild, we’ll try anything” he adds with a laugh.
One constant piece of gear throughout Liddiard’s many musical ventures has been his Fender Jaguar, popping up on releases from The Drones and a number of other albums, with it also being a mainstay on his touring setup.
But as he puts it, it’s more of an SG or Les Paul as the Jag’s normal pickups have been canned for some PAF Humbuckers, giving Liddiard’s guitar its individual avant-garde rock vibe.
Besides a few uses of a Gibson 335, which Gareth laughs ‘is just the same fucking thing,’ Deep States continued the use of the Fender Jag, which Liddiard notes it helps him focus on the guitar playing, rather than the feel of the guitar;
“It’s nice having a guitar I’ve used since I was a teenager, because you just don’t think about it, it’s just an extension of your body.”
“I like to approach guitar sort of intellectually, when I get a new guitar, it’s like having a bionic arm, you’ve got to figure out how to use it. When you pick up a new guitar, you have to deal with all the bits and pieces you’re not accustomed to.”
“I like to think about what I’m going to do before I do it, so I don’t relapse into habits and stuff, it’s more of a mental process for me, and I don’t need to be thinking about the instrument,” he adds.
Gareth’s approach to guitar playing and songwriting on a broader scale has lauded him as one of the nation’s most well regarded songwriters. When combined with the musical prowess of Lauren Hummel, Erica Dunn and Fiona Kitschin, Tropical Fuck Storm’s Deep States is a masterclass in high quality songwriting.
Deep States is out now via TFS Records.