Formed at the end of the 1990s, Australian prog rock quintet Karnivool are quickly gaining revere within the genre, as well as an ever-growing fan base. With their debut EP and subsequent two LPs, 2005’s Themata and 2009’s Sound Awake, they are proving to be quite a powerhouse, and fans of Tool, Dream Theater and The Mars Volta should definitely check them out. DOA’s Jordan Blum recently spoke with guitarist Mark Hosking about the band.
First, let me thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. Sound Awake is quite an accomplishment and I wish I got to meet you guys at The Note in my home town of Philadelphia back on April 1st.
You just played SXSW back in March. How did that go? Were there any bands that you guys took notice of and were glad to share the bill with?
SXSW was an amazing experience. We’d heard so much about it over the years and had always wanted a chance to check it out. From the second we got there it was a fairly fast paced extravaganza! We all tried to get out and see as much as possible, but due to our pretty nutty schedule and the nature of the festival, this actually proved to be quite hard. We did get to see Muse, Stone Temple Pilots, and a bunch of other acts. We did one show with a band we all loved in Kashmir at a place called Antones which was great. It’s always awesome to meet musicians you really respect and their show was killer.
How does the audience in America compare with other countries, like Australia? Were there any standout moments or venues you played?
I think we are lucky in that the music we play draws a fairly varied audience, and yet they all seem to share a certain open mindedness and appreciation for music, which is great to witness. American audiences are definitely no exception; the tour was an amazing chance to speak with people who had approached us online and chat about music and other things. All the shows were great, but I have to say that for me personally, the New York show was a big stand out. Sold out show and just a night where everything felt and went right! But every show had something about it that was great to experience and be apart of.
Sound Awake brings Karnivool into a more psychedelic, progressive area (whereas Themata was a more heavy rock album, in my opinion). What are your thoughts on how the albums compare? Do they each make different statements?
They certainly do in my opinion. Both albums are completely different, which was certainly not an unexpected outcome for us. We always promised to never do the same album twice; we like to keep moving as people and as musicians, but at the same time we never say what that direction is or where we “need” to go. We just let the thoughts and ideas blend and take us where they need to go. It certainly wasn’t a conscious effort to become more progressive or emotive or anything, and we have no idea what direction the future holds for us. We know it will be challenging and different. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Which artists influenced you the most as you were growing up and what were you listening to when you recorded Sound Awake? What’s in your playlists now?
We have a great deal of influences from so many different styles of music. I’m currently sitting in a van driving across America and Steve’s iPod has control. Randomly, we’ve just heard Skindred, Donny Hathaway, Michael Jackson, NERD, Aretha Franklin, The Books, the Doors, Pantera, and Meshuggah. It’s one thing we have in common, I think; this open minded approach to music. I think it’s why we feel we’re not just progressive rock but something a bit different. Personally, I’m largely influenced by bands like Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Jeff Buckley, Peter Gabriel, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Queen, etc. But yeah, it’s a pretty big list for all of us.
If you could tour with any band(s), who would they be? Who did you enjoy touring with the most and when did you?
I would love to tour with Meshuggah. We’re not very suited but I love those guys and would never get sick of watching their live set. Our old friends Skindred we’d love to tour with again, and the two international tours we’ve done together have been big highlights for us. They are such an amazing live band and such a together bunch of cats off stage; it makes touring an absolute blast and a great deal of fun.
Themata ends with “Change, pt. 1” and Sound Awake ends with “Change.” Besides the title, how do these two songs connect? Why not call it “Change, pt 2?”
We discussed doing that. It almost happened but it just didn’t feel right. “Change” seemed to encompass what the song had become; it is in essence part two, but due to the reworking of part one into the introduction it’s more like a conglomeration of the two parts into a seamless song. That song is such a pleasure to play live because of its ebb and flow. To me, that song represents a big accomplishment in the career of the band. There were many times and moments when that song came close to falling apart; it came together over about twelve months and to me, it represents our greatest accomplishment to date.
I’m always interested in how different bands are grouped together. In magazines like Guitarist UK and Kerrang UK, you’ve been compared to Tool, Dream Theater and my personal favorite band, Porcupine Tree. Do you think these are accurate connections? If you guys had to say “Karnivool sounds like…,” who would it be?
To be compared to bands like that is humbling I guess; they are all great bands. I guess over the course of anyone’s musical career you certainly hope that you outgrow your influences and start to become your own sound and entity. It’s something you can’t consciously do; it just needs to happen. From an internal bands perspective I probably wouldn’t say those bands, but I can see how people would hear that. I definitely hear the old influences that gel us as a band and as people, bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Meshuggah, Stone Temple Pilots, Radiohead. All these bands are major influences on and helped us develop what we do as musicians. But I’ll take it all!!
Karnivool began over a decade ago playing parties in Perth, mixing original material with covers of acts like Carcass and Nirvana. Now more evolved and established, do you think your music still harkens back to those guys? Are there any covers you guys play live and which songs would you love to put a Karnivool spin on if possible?
We mess around with covers sometimes, although don’t like doing too much. Sometimes it feels a little odd. I don’t know, I really don’t look at the old Karnivool and the present Karnivool and see many connections. Bands in my opinion should evolve their sound and continue to change within themselves and the things that surround them. If music is not changing, it has the danger of becoming comfortable and not being the best that it can be. We used to throw wacky things in like dropping the middle section of “Lifelike” into a cover of “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak. Those two songs seemed to have a similar underlying theme and that worked quite well.
Drew once said that Sound Awake was produced to create a sense of space that listeners can view in 360º rather than just a mixture of instruments. How do you guys feel this has been accomplished?
Well I can’t speak for Drew, but we have discussed things like this a lot as a band. I’m not sure how listeners can “view,” but I think I know what he meant. Sound Awake was created with the intention of opening people’s minds to new things. Converting things like memes into audible experiences becomes a challenge. We don’t like telling people what to do in music so we need to present the idea as a possibility, not an instruction. Music has a power by itself to lead people into directions and thoughts (sometimes immorally). It’s a powerful tool to incorporate these things into the construction of music so that when people listen to it, they are not just listening to a bunch of musicians playing instruments; it’s a collective vision that began before the music was even created with the hope that when people hear the music, they are taken to that place. That is what we are talking about.
Themata was written mostly by Drew, whereas Sound Awake was a more collaborative effort. How was the music affect by this? For example, did having multiple perspectives bring new genres and styles into the mix?
Oh absolutely. That happened on Themata to a lesser degree as well with songs like “Synops” and others. But yes, with Sound Awake we were finally able (as a band) to approach an album as a blueprint that we could look at and, like any good architect, appreciate mistakes and see the bigger picture. We could knock down a wall if its useless or breaking up the overall aesthetic and so forth. Multiple perspectives can be dangerous if not kept concise, and it’s easy to wander. It’s been an amazing thing to watch songs be pulled completely apart by this and then just as amazingly be reconstructed into far better songs with the added influence of multiple inputs. Plus we all really back each other as musicians and songwriters so it’s a great feeling to see the final product appear after going thru so many metamorphisms.
How does Karnivool replicate their studio sound for live performances? Do certain elements have to be cut (like things that were overdubbed in the studio) or do you use software to fill in the ambient textures and such?
We cut things for sure. Some of the records have over 100 tracks recorded, and presenting that live is impossible. Some bands do try to replicate the album perfectly live and I mean no disrespect to that philosophy. We just want a more ‘live’ sound live. By that I mean we try to make sure that everything live is being played by something or launched by someone, so that it can interact with the audience and the room and always be an individual moment in time as opposed to a recorded song replicated. That’s very important to us. Obviously there are some things that you simply cannot replicate with only five musicians on a stage, and it’s always a tough line to say “that’s a necessary sample” or that needs to be cut because it’s just not feasible. But the live performance needs to be kept as just that; live, honest and fresh.
So what can you tell me about the future of Karnivool? Anything on a new album or upcoming tour?
Much touring. We’re presently here in the states touring for five weeks, after that we go back to Australia and get some time in the studio to record some more demos for album #3. Then back to the UK and Europe for more touring and festivals over the Australian Summer period. Next year we intend to tour around writing and recording the album. The next album has a great feel to it already and again, it’s a departure from Sound Awake whilst still holding all the principles that make for a Karnivool album. Stay tuned on that one! But from what we have so far and where we feel it is going, we’re very excited to say the least!!!!
Feel free to not answer this, but are there any plans for side projects? If so, what genres and what will be the focus? How will it differ from Karnivool?
Oh, I think there will definitely be more side projects. Karnivool is a loved collection of what we do together as people and musicians, but we all have different loves in music and we couldn’t stay away from them if we tried. Plus we all push for people to do things outside the band; for us, music is too strong a thing to bracket in just one project. It’s so close to our hearts that it always takes up most of our time, but to not express yourself in other ways, learn from it, and bring it back to the band to take our music further would be very strange. There’s nothing really to speak of at the moment, but I’m sure myself and the other guys will be popping something out at some point.
As with all prog bands I interview, I have to wonder what your opinions are of the almost inevitable “concept album?” What are some of your favorites? Any plans to do a no holds barred story album? If so, what are the ideas so far?
We talk about concept albums but the idea doesn’t usually sit for long. Whether it’s because we can’t concentrate for that long on one subject or something else, I’m not sure!! [Laughs] but we do love them. My favorite at the moment would have to be Mastodon’s latest album [Crack the Skye] and the concept behind that. Check it out if your not familiar with it; it’s amazing and awesome!!
When not playing and writing, what are your hobbies?
I personally tour manage other bands. I do a lot of reading and recording of other music; there’s just so many areas of music that I appreciate and get a kick out of. I’m also a bit of a fan of Poker and chess… good clean fun games!!! [Laughs].
Obviously being artistically focused and commercially successful is the ultimate goal, but how do you feel about the idea of compromising artistic vision to sell records and become more famous? It’s a sad trend that has happened to many progressive rock/metal artists (an obvious example is Genesis).
Are you sure that’s what Genesis did? I guess so. I guess you have to analyze what you want out of music. If you’re doing it to be popular or to get rich, then do yourself a favor (and the rest of humanity) and get out of the gene pool right now. Go kill yourself. No honestly, do it. Music these days has too many people who become the extension of the marketing wing. To me, it’s a vehicle to express emotion and to feel the collective conscious, or sometimes, it’s just a great way to have fun! This obviously “sells units” in the industry vernacular, but if you find yourself thinking about this while you’re writing, then have a stiff drink and laugh at yourself because you’re in a clear danger of disappearing up your own arse [laughs]. Write for a purpose by all means, but the old adage, “with great power comes great responsibility,” stands true with music. People buy your albums because the music you create makes them feel something and you shouldn’t abuse that.
Any final words for readers and fans?
Don’t believe anything I’ve written above. Question everything! But above both these things, buy our album! [Laughs].
Well I’d like to thank you once again for this fantastic opportunity. Karnivool are quickly becoming a prominent force in the prog scene and I wish you guys only the best from here on out. I can’t wait to hear what’s next.
*All photos courtesy of the official Karnivool homepage.