With music that speaks of dark places, cloudy atmospheres and the dirty underbelly of life, there is nothing lightweight and easily dismissed about The Kill Devil Hills. With rich vocals and deeply textured music they are a band which captivate listeners and provide a genuine story telling experience. Always intense, often reflective and sometimes deeply introspective these six musicians are about more than just music; they offer musical experiences. With a new album currently doing the rounds and not being the type to rest quietly on their laurels, the boys from The Kill Devil Hills are set to hit the road again for some more live performances that are sure to cement their reputation as brilliant live musicians. Speaking recently with band member Alex Archer, he spoke of their approach to the latest album, their creative inspiration and plans for the future.
Released in October 2006, The Drought is the follow up to their debut album Heathen Songs. With this release coming about 18 months after the release of their first album, I wondered whether the creation and release of this album differed from the process followed the first time around. ‘Well, for a start, The Drought was recorded in the cool comforts of winter in a sleepy little south west town, while Heathen Songs was recorded in the angry throes of summer in the bowels of an intercity sweat box two doors down from the sun. Secondly, we spent about eight months on The Drought, which was substantially longer than what we spent on Heathen Songs. Thirdly, there has been a slight line-up change, we lost our pianist and gained a mandolinist, so inherently that changes the dynamics within the band.’
Their lyrics and music are firmly grounded in reality in that they are dark, heavy and gritty just like life can often be. This honest, rough and ready sound imbues their music with a genuine feel, though perhaps not necessarily taken from real life experiences. ‘Lochee is in his second year apprenticeship with the boneyard rider (he’s always showing up to rehearsals with saddle rashes and smelling of graveyard soil). Brendon is currently serving a 6-year prison term because he shot a man who stole his boat, and Steve of course is a card-carrying member of the WWHSU (World Wide Heathen Society Union). So yes, the song writing is a definite reflection of everyone’s personal life.’ And what of the different musical tastes that each band member brings into the mix? ‘The musical tastes range from Slayer to Leon Redbone, so somewhere hidden in the middle we’ve accidentally stumbled onto a genre to which scientists haven’t a name for yet.’
The Kill Devil Hills are a wonderful conglomeration of styles, covering everything from echoes of country to alternative rock and soulful blues. This diversity is no doubt due to the styles, interests and inspirations which each member brings to the band. ‘I’d have to say that there is such a vast spectrum in everyone’s musical taste (some hideous and some impeccable) that it would be hard to pin-point exactly what influences the band as a whole.’ Whatever the individual influences may be, The Kill Devil Hills are a truly collaborative band, with everyone contributing to the mix. ‘Everyone in the band writes. Brendon at the moment has the most little golden stars on the song writing board. The general procedure is: someone brings a beautiful, well written song to a rehearsal, then its everyone else’s duty to dismantle the piece, strip it of it’s integrity, then rebuild it into a strange Frankensteinish score, clobber it with distorted violin and guitar antics, then baptise it on stage.’
Unlike some bands that have to try hard to create something different, with The Kill Devil Hills ‘all in’ approach and already distinctive sound, each musical release is bound to take on a unique life of its own. ‘There is never a definitive aim to create an ‘all new sound’ for ourselves or for our albums. The changes from one album to the next are indicative of line-up changes, different recording environments, longer beards and of course having another year under our belts of playing together and refining our sound.’
In the years that they’ve been together, the guys certainly have grown both professionally and artistically, but would they call themselves perfectionists? ‘In the beginning, it wasn’t even a concern if we didn’t know how to play the instruments that we were holding. Now we do spend a little more time trying to get things right. I wouldn’t go as far as saying obsequious perfectionism, but we are trying to find an agreeable medium between playing a rowdy Melbourne pub and an album that you can enjoy listening to on your own in a comfy chair.’
Seeing as the album release wasn’t all that long ago and that touring never seems far from their minds, I asked what was next for The Kill Devil Hills. ‘More touring, then some more, then just a little bit more around Australia a few more times and then Europe in a year or so. Writing? Well we all want to get back into the studio already.’ Whatever they get up to and wherever they end up it’s nice to see that their sense of humour and goal setting ambitions are alive and well. ‘We won’t rest until we are the backing band for Cindy Lauper’.
I originally wrote this article for ‘The Dwarf‘.