The band that could easily be described as Australia's best-kept secret is quickly becoming a household name in the States a particularly satisfying feat for a band formed back in the late 1990's. Karnivool, whose blend of progressive rock/metal has already garnered a bevy of honors including five West Australian Music Industry Awards, has once again proven on its latest record that it's not afraid to venture into creatively daring territory. Incorporating unusual effects and an assortment of time signatures, Sound Awake is a must-hear to anyone who appreciates a diversion from the usual songwriting format.
Karnivool guitarist Andrew "Drew" Goddard explained to Ultimate-Guitar that his band's new record was a direct result of collaborative songwriting. In the past, Goddard and vocalist Ian Kenny handled the bulk of the material, but Sound Awake's complex, multifaceted sound indicates that something very unique occurred when a few more sources of inspiration were thrown into the mix. The songwriting and recording processes were certainly more laborious for Goddard, but the fruits of those sessions have earned rave reviews and a nomination for Album of the Year by Australia's J Awards. When Goddard recently talked with Ultimate-Guitar, the musician discussed the obstacles encountered during Sound Awake's making, the oft-made comparisons to Tool, and his recent stop at SXSW 2010.
UG: There has been a lot of talk about the musical departure that you took during the making of Sound Awake. How did the songwriting process change this time around?
Drew: Themata, our previous record, was mainly a collaboration between myself and Ian Kenny. Mark, our other guitarist, joined three-quarters of the way through the process. Our drummer Steve came on board after it was finished. I actually played the drums on that record. Just thinking about the collaboration between me and Kenny, our records have changed over the years. I think the main thing that happened was we just became a band, and that was the first opportunity we had to write as a unit with all five members showing their own inventions for the collective part. There was a lot of jamming and experimenting in the room together. So many things happened, feeding off of each other's energy in the room. We just pieced together the jams.
Who were some of your personal musical influences that might have changed the way you approached songwriting?
There was lots of stuff. As a band, our influences are really broad. There are all sorts of stuff. If you were to spend a week with us in our tour van, you probably would be pretty surprised and shocked. We try to shock each other in our diversity! Personally, I listened to as much new music as I could handle. Sometimes you need to be in a certain space and a certain environment. A band like Pink Floyd I've always kind of liked, but I've really just now become in the right place and in the right state of mind. I listen to it and say, I really get this now. That had a big influence on some of the more ambient, jammy kind of sounds. With Themata, we grew up on the whole grunge thing in the 90's and jammed out to Nirvana. There was also a lot of metal stuff that played into that. Kenny was a big Carcass fan. Then there was a pop sensibility that kind of creeped into Karnivool at the right time. Our drummer loves soul and old blues. There's a bit of everything.
There is definitely a lush, ambient sound throughout Sound Awake. Were you experimenting with quite a bit of new equipment during the recording to perfect those sounds?
On Sound Awake we really wanted to make it a lot more three-dimensional. We wanted to make something that you could crawl inside of and look around from different angles. I think the best way we could do that was to create layers and space, in which effects play a big part in. Themata was very in your face and everything was close-miked. There were stuff like delays and reverbs. There was a space and a third dimension. When you start adding delay, there's a space you create and can swing around in. The main thing is that delay is not a normal thing for the human ear. It's an uncommon thing to hear something echoing back at you, so it immediately puts you in a strange environment and a natural crawl space. Forrester (Savell), who produced the record, he would sit in front of the monitors. He would literally get into that space and was sneaky about where he would place every guitar. He could sort of see that three-dimensional jamscape that we were aiming for. It's all visualization and placing in the right spot.
The creative choices you made in terms of time signatures come up time and again when discussing your music. Were those results of piecing together different jam sessions over a long period of time?
Sometimes we would change direction in the middle of a jam. I think what we try to do is that it really comes from a seed. We want to make sure that the seed and the original idea grows into something that's as interesting as possible, whether it's a drum beat or a riff or a lyric or a melody. A lot of times it does start with an interesting rhythm because Steve has a very unconventional way that he approaches the rhythm. Often he'll just start playing something that has a strange time signature. A lot of people ask if it's a conscious thing. We don't sit around and calculate it like, This is going to be 7/8 or 7/4.
Were there any songs that you wrote for Sound Awake that were at one time halted by a creative roadblock?
Probably all of them! A song like Goliath, that was a song that came together the quickest. A lot of the songs take a lot of twists and turns. That was just a result of having so many ideas and combining them together. It was quite painstaking a lot of the times and confusing. But a song like Goliath, it has the same rhythm the whole way through. It inspired whole song and it flowed out really quickly. The rest of the tracks wereyeah. We had our struggles! But that kind of made the songs what they were because we were banging our heads against the wall. I think you can kind of hear the desperation in the songs. It was sometimes pretty desperate piecing them together. That was just part of the learning curve for us. This was the first album that we've written as a unit, and we learned a lot about each other and our roles in the band. I'm kind of looking forward to the next one.
For those players who want to recreate the sounds or tones heard on the single Set Fire To The Hive, what would you advise them to use?
For that buzzing riff, I've got one of my favorite bits of equipment in that riff actually. They're from Fuzz Factory, which make crazy little pedals. In that case, you kind of ramp up the gate and the compressor. It makes a nasal sound that kind of sounds like a buzzing insect almost. It's a combination of the hammer-ons and the pull-offs the guitar, which created that swarm of angry bees kind of effect. It's more about imagination and gear comes second. You choose your gear to fit your imagination.
When you transition to your live show, it is difficult to recreate any of the moments on Sound Awake?
Yes and no. It's always going to be a lot more raw at a live show. We do our best to keep a polished, high aspect that essentially is Karnivool. Things are always going to get roughed up a bit, but that's part of the live environment.
"On Sound Awake we really wanted to make it a lot more three-dimensional. We wanted to make something that you could crawl inside of and look around from different angles."
One topic that often pops up on Karnivool's message boards is the debate on whether or not you sound like Tool. Is that something that bothers you or do you take it as a compliment?
I'm cool with Tool because they're an amazing band. Apart from their latest album, they have a good sound. With an album like Aenima, they've been a big influence on me. I do think there are a lot of differences between ourselves and Tool. I think there are also similarities. We both write dark, exploratory music that doesn't stay in a verse-chorus-verse structure. I think there are differences, too, but yeah. I'm cool with it. At the same time, I don't want to be in their shadow. I don't want to be in the shadow of any band. If it keeps coming up, obviously we are going to do our best to try and shake it. The comparison, as much as I respect what they do, I would like to be a different band. I know we're going to get Tool comparisons. It could be worse!
You recently played the SXSW Festival. How was that experience?
It went great. SXSW is incredible. That was our first time there. It was great just walking out on the streets and soaking up everything that was going on. You can just walk into a bar and there's a big-name act playing on an intimate stage. We've been on the road for about two weeks, and we've got two weeks to go. So far the crowds have been unbelievable.
I know you'll likely be supporting Sound Awake for awhile. Can we expect another lengthy tour in the coming months?
We want to play as much as possible. We're looking into going back during your summertime or a little bit after. In the meantime, we're heading back home. We're going to shack up in the studio and start getting into writing again for the next record. That's sort of our main focus at the moment. It's just to keep moving there. We want to play for new ears and come back over here as much as possible. I can't wait to come back, as it's just been unbelievable so far.
Interview by Amy Kelly
"I think the main thing that happened was we just became a band, and that was the first opportunity we had to write as a unit."