The Melbourne rockers enter the next phase of their path to greatness
Melbourne four-piece Kingswood are not the same band as they used to be, and they want you to know about it. “We’ve become known as the young Queens of the Stone Age, but that was just a couple of songs on our EP,” says guitarist Alex Laska. “We’re not that.” Weeks out from releasing their debut album Microscopic Wars, Laska and vocalist Fergus Linacre are ready to set the record straight. “We used to sound like Led Zeppelin, but everyone’s heard that shit a million times,” says Laska. “If I wanted to listen to that, I’d put on Led Zeppelin.”
The songwriting duo might be ready to move on from their earlier stuff, but it was Linacre’s soulful growl and falsetto wail on the single ‘Medusa’ and Laska’s face-melting solo on ‘Yeah Go Die’ from their self-released Change of Heart EP in 2012 that got them the opening spot at Splendour, impressive airplay and support slots for Aerosmith and Grinspoon. In the last 12 months, they’ve done over 100 shows to their ever-increasing cult of fans. “Surely you’re sick of it,” says Linacre, jokingly. “Why are you at three gigs in a row? Why do you have a tattoo of our band on you?” For some artists, success like this could feel like reaching the highest peak. But for Linacre and Laska – whose musical partnership began in primary school – standing still has never been an option.
Call it egotism or just rock-solid self-belief, but when it came to creating their debut album, the guys believed their sound was worthy of a world-class producer. “I think we have a high opinion of our musical credibility,” says Laska. “So we said, ‘If we’re going to give what we do to someone else, he has to have won five Grammys, and he has to have worked with Jack White.’”
Enter Vance Powell: long-time collaborator with the Detroit rocker and the Arctic Monkeys. As if to cement their world-stage credibility, Kingswood recorded the album in Nashville’s Blackbird Studios: also the place where fellow Melburnian Dan Sultan’s recent Blackbird record was born.
If the dreaded word ‘derivative’ was whispered by a few critics in wake of Kingswood’s earlier singles, Microscopic Wars attacks the accusation head-on. Older tracks like ‘She’s My Baby’, and ‘All Too Much’ still hit hard with Linacre’s high-octane vocals, Laska’s unapologetic, air-tight guitar solos and Justin Debrincat’s furious drumming, but it’s the drawling southern rock refrain of ‘Ohio’ and the carefully restrained ‘Piece by Piece’ that suggest a wider pool of influences. The single ‘I Can Feel That You Don’t Love Me’ burns with a slower, moodier intensity to the other tracks, and it helps that guitarist Laska takes lead vocal for the first time – his brooding lower baritone adding darkness and depth. The other notable change is the swirling synth all over the album. “If you interviewed us two years and said there’s going to be synthesizer on our first album, we’d be like, ‘No way, what are we, some kind of DJ band? Losers!’” says Laska. As Linacre croons in ‘Micro Wars’: ‘I may be insecure, but at least I’ve got the guts to be bold’.
Under Powell’s guidance, the record is cohesive – especially when you listen to the whole thing from start to finish, which is all part of the plan. “We’re trying to bring back the album experience,” says Laska. “If you don’t listen to it all, [the album] kinda doesn’t make sense.”
Watching Kingswood’s extended videos clips, like the Kill Bill-style short film accompanying ‘Ohio’, feels like catching a glimpse into the scope of their highly ambitious – yet, we suspect, fully intended – plans. The guys promise that their next one will be even more epic. “I got shivers just from Alex explaining his ideas to me!” says Linacre. “There’s going to be motorbikes.”
Motorbikes – along with long hair, beards and leather jackets – might just be the only predictable things from this band on a mission for greatness. Anything else is possible.