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Then and Now: The Drones’ Christian Strybosch on ten years of ‘Wait Long By The River’

Perhaps not underrated, but certainly under-appreciated, The Drones have long been my favourite Australian band. Fronted by the wild-eyed madman that is Gareth Liddiard, they’ve been hailed as one of Australia’s best. Certainly their 2005 album Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By has been considered one of the most important releases in the history of Australian rock. Not only did it win the Australian Music Prize in 2006, but Shark Fin Blues went on to be voted the best Australian song of ALL time by a panel of some 70 odd songwriters and artists.

Skip forward to 2015. The Drones are going stronger than ever – their most recent album, 2013’s I See Seaweed was again lauded as one of the best releases that year. It’s now a full decade since Wait Long By The River… was released, and to celebrate, the band performed the album in its entirety as part of this year’s Vivid Sydney festival. Well received by critics and fans (myself included), the band are now taking the show on the road. They’ll be performing the full album, as well as a few newer tracks across eight nights, starting in Darwin and wrapping up in Castlemaine.

I recently had the chance to speak with Drones drummer Christian Strybosch. Strybosch, interestingly, was The Drones’ drummer at the time that Wait Long… was recorded, but he left the band before getting the chance to tour the album, or any subsequent releases. Coming full circle, he’s back in the fold, replacing Mike Noga. We discussed the difference between the band then and now, what it’s like to rehearse a decade-old album, the story behind rejoining the band, and the fact that they’ve got an entire new album, ready to be released.

I saw you guys playing at the Sydney Opera House for Vivid Live (which was the debut of the Wait Long By The River… ten-year anniversary performances). How was that experience for the band – was it particularly significant to play there?

Absolutely, I think it’s the third time the band have played there, but the first time since I’ve rejoined, so it’s really special. We’re walking around backstage and there’s a grand piano in our dressing room, you know, it’s just an amazing space. I don’t think I’d ever been to the Opera House before that, so it’s a pretty good induction into Australian architecture and music venues. It sounded so great. Didn’t get to meet Morrissey, unfortunately!

You’ve got the ten-year anniversary tour coming up. Is it weird to be rehearsing this album to perform in full, ten years later? What’s that like for you and the band?

Weird is a good word, that’s a good way to describe it. For me, I basically left the band when that album was released. So it’s really weird for me, I’ve sort of picked up where I left off. It’s awesome to have the chance to finally tour the album, because I didn’t get the chance ten years ago. It’s strange, very strange, but I’m loving it. It’s weird – in a good way.

Weird it is then. Do you think it’s more or less weird for the rest of the band who have been there throughout the decade?

Well I can’t speak for them but I think having me coming back into the band reinvigorated it all a bit. I know that sounds wanky, but it would probably be less weird now that I’m back in the band. We’ve always been really good mates, so to now be back in the band, playing these songs that we were playing ten years ago, all together, totally different circumstances and much smaller venues, but we were having a ball back then. Doing it again now in bigger venues, people still seem to be loving it, it’s awesome.

So what’s the story of you rejoining The Drones? I saw The Drones at Golden Plains festival last year, and you were drumming then too. So funnily enough you were behind the kit the last two times I saw them, and that’s the only times you’ve played with them in ten years.

That was it – Golden Plains was the first one back, that was also weird, haha. My last gig before I left the Drones was at The Tote, to maybe a couple hundred people. Then to play at Golden Plains at around nine o’clock, everyone’s starting to ping away, and there’s ten thousand people or whatever there. It was great to be invited there. So, they had the gig booked, and at the time they were deciding which way to go, where are we, and should we do the show or not. They just gave me a call – I was actually at work, it was a Monday morning or something, really early. Fi (Fiona Kitschin, bassist) just rang me, she didn’t need to say anything, I knew from the tone of her voice what she was gonna ask me. I knew what she was talking about and I just said ‘yes!’ It was so exciting, the hairs on the back of my neck sort of pricked up. I’d been hanging for one of them to call me – pretty much as soon as I left the band, I regretted it. So we did it, it was great! And that was about 18 months ago now, and we just thought, let’s keep it going. We’re going to Europe later this year, we’ve got a new album in the can – we’ve been recording since October, and now it’s all ready to go.

Woah, there’s a whole new album coming out? I know you played a new one at the Opera House but I didn’t realise the whole album was ready. That’s exciting! The track was really dark, I can’t wait to hear the rest.

Yep, ‘dark’ is a good description of Gaz’s songwriting. He’s a dark man, haha. Nah, it’s the total opposite actually. His songs are obviously very dark, but he’s one of the funniest guys I know, all the guys in the band are so funny. We just have fun times. We had rehearsal a couple of days ago, it was ridiculous. We just started playing crazy shit, doing covers. I think if people saw this version of The Drones, well… we can’t show people this!

Okay, I have to ask, which songs do The Drones cover?

It’s sort of mucking around doing the worst that we could do. It wasn’t particular songs, when we wanna play a song that’ll make us all laugh, we tend to play really loud blues riffs. We’re probably not as technical as other bands, so we just try to be musos, which we definitely aren’t.

I don’t know if I agree that you’re not a technical band! But regardless, for me, what I’ve always loved about The Drones is how dramatic it is – as opposed to, say, the technical proficiency. And that takes me to my next question: As a listener I can hear how the musical dynamics have changed over ten years. Comparing Here Come The Lies and Wait Long By The River to I See Seaweed, the chaos and drama is obviously still there, but now it’s kind of organised chaos, like it’s got an aim, a direction. From the band’s perspective – especially you, who has just come back into the fold – what are the big changes in dynamics throughout those years?

Yeah, I totally agree with you – I think it’s more of a controlled chaos. That was the main thing when I joined The Drones – it was so interesting to me. I was playing around in a few bands, playing rock ‘n roll, clichéd stuff. It was all good fun, but then I answered this ad that said ‘we’re looking for a drummer – influences include The Gun Club, The Stooges, all this weird stuff. And then in my first rehearsal I just remember thinking, fucking hell, I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t think anyone knows what we were doing, but that was the great thing about it.

Back when we recorded this album and before that, a large part of the chaos was the dynamics between the band at the time. We had Rui (Rui Pereira, guitarist, replaced by Dan Luscombe in 2006) in the band back then, a chaotic man and an awesome, awesome guitarist. He brought something really special to the band. Playing with Rui, the way he played, shit, I mean he wasn’t even playing his part, just making these crazy, awesome noises. And you had Gaz, and, well, you know what he’s like on stage. I really fed off that energy. Fi and I would be trying to keep it together, but then I’d run off. Back then, we were trying to just push it, see what we were doing. We didn’t know what we were capable off, so we’d just get fucking crazy. A lot of the times it worked, sometimes it just didn’t and it was a mess, but we were trying to find that balance. I think now, the band’s been together for so long, there’s a lot of records under our belt, so you can look back now and see what that things is – the Drones thing. I think we still don’t know, but we have a better idea. Being on the road for so long and doing my shows, they’ve got it really down. It’s definitely more controlled, but we still get pretty crazy.

I’m looking forward to hearing what’s next on the new album!

Yeah, it’s still so interesting for us all, we’re a band who just can’t keep doing the same thing. It’s probably what you’ll hear on the new record – it’s a bit of a departure from what The Drones have ever sounded like. A large part of it is Gaz’s songwriting, it’s pretty original, not a long of other songwriters like him. It’s so interesting to play with – crazy, unorthodox. It’s not verse, chorus, verse, that’s for sure.

THE DRONES: Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Float By
Tour Dates

Thursday August 20: Darwin Festival, Darwin NT
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Saturday August 22: Rosemount Hotel, Perth WA
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Thursday August 27: The Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW
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Friday August 28: Small Ballroom, Newcastle NSW
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Saturday August 29: The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
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Friday September 4: The Gov, Adelaide SA
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Saturday September 5: The Forum Theatre, Melbourne VIC
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Sunday September 6L Theatre Royal, Castlemaine VIC
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