Photography: Nicole Frobuschc
With the legendary Kula Shaker due to release their seventh studio album and their first with the original line up since 1998, we caught up with frontman Crispian Mills to find out what to expect…
So first things first, you’ve got a new album coming out ‘Natural Magik’. Can you tell us a bit about the album and what we can expect?
It’s the first record we’ve made with the original lineup (with Jay Darlington) since ‘Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts’ and it’s been a very wonderful, and strange experience to see the band become reborn. We were touring the double album ‘1st Congregational Church and Free Hugs’, which I can say quite quickly now, and our keyboard player, Henry couldn’t do a tour in North America – and there was just nobody really that we could imagine playing. There was only one man and we kind of lost him to Oasis and to the Gallagher’s and because when we started playing again in 2006 he was off on tour with them. It was like he’d kind of gone off with another woman so to speak and we didn’t demand him come back! He was having another life and so it was just not the right time. It just so happened that when we called up Jay this time around he was free and it was an interesting time in his life – he told us that he’d been receiving messages from the universe that this was coming so he was ready and waiting for us. Like Gandalf, a wizard arrives exactly when he’s meant to.
So we started playing and all of that magic and all of that chemistry just picked up where we left off in 1999 and the music just sounded great. So we thought “let’s make a record quick. Let’s do it. Let’s get this, let’s get lightning in a bottle”. We could have called the album that I guess.
So 1999 was the last time you were put an album together collectively, how did you find doing it again in 2023?
It’s a completely different planet. It’s funny because when the band started playing again after our break, the music business was falling like the Twin Towers in terms of it was over and streaming had arrived and nobody knew what the hell was going on. Record companies were being swallowed up by corporations, the smaller labels and independent labels were all just being gobbled up and everything was in free fall. And now we’ve ended up with this landscape built around the internet and people, it’s not just music, the whole of the culture has become more fractured. So as a band, well you can’t get on TV, I mean who’s watching TV? So it’s up to you to define yourself now and you have to have faith that your people are out there, but it is not enough to just write a song and play music. You’ve got the find a way to communicate beyond the music itself. And that’s a challenge for a lot of musicians because they’re quite introvert.
Have you got any particular favourite tracks on the album, or is that you or is that picking a favourite child type of a question?
Yeah, it is a bit like favourite child. You can’t really do it. But I love ‘Natural Magik’ because it’s a little bit fresh, a little bit different. That track started by accident, I was listening to Can and one of the tracks I just looped the beginning of the track, , and I got a four five second loop and it was that and it just sounded like that groove. And so if you listen back to now, it doesn’t quite sound like that, but it was an interesting starting point for the song. And I love ‘Happy Birthday’.
We had a version of that where it’s just the Hari Krishna mantra and somebody said, can you sing in English? I said, no, it doesn’t really translate, but in terms of what is it communicating, then there’s an English equivalent I guess, which is just a sort of jumble of words that mean something similar and take you and press those buttons and it gives you a suggestion. It’s all about life affirming it’s like it’s a positive thing – It’s going to be all right people.
And with the release of the album, will it be looking at any more live shows around that?
Yes, it’s going to be announced shortly. There is a tour coming and I think that’ll be announced in the new year.
You’re still doing really good size venues, you must really be happy with how you’ve maintained that hardcore fan base over the years…
I think the fans kept us going without a doubt. And the gigs themselves take on a life of their own, it’s more than just a band. It’s a spirit of something, it’s a lifestyle thing, it’s a coming together. I don’t think it’s just about one thing, whether it’s rock and roll or Indian stuff or nineties nostalgia. It’s got a life of its own and we play the gigs and we are conscious that there’s something else going on. It’s sort of a happening.
How do you look back on the 90s when you arrived and grouped in with ‘Britpop’. Do you look back on it with fondness and happy to been part of it or do you think you didn’t fit in?
I think we were smuggled into the music scene in a box of Britpop but when you opened it up, the customs officials realized that this needed to be locked up! I think when something has a label like that, it sort becomes an orthodoxy and you have to think a certain way and act a certain way and fit into a fixed idea of what a Britpop artist was. And we totally didn’t fit. And so I think that part of the tensions that we had in terms of whether we fitted in or not was for exactly those reasons. But now that’s our strength now because we’re very much doing our own thing.
Where do you see the journey going from here, no plans for retirement or anything, just yet?
Well, I don’t think we’re thinking that far ahead, but this record was made because something happened that was unexpected, which was Jay. And that excitement that came from us all playing together was like, “we’ve got to do this and we’ve got to do it now”. So I think that you can plan to a certain extent with music but there also has to be an aspect of seizing the occasion and sometimes the way forward appears to you and that’s when inspiration strikes. We’re still enjoying play music and people are still enjoying listening to it. So obviously that is the main factor.
What sort of stuff are you listening to yourself at the moment?
Well, I’ve got to that point in my life where so much of the music that I have going on around me is coming from my kids because they’re the noisiest people in my life. I’ve got two boys, 12 and 15, and they listen to music all the time. They’re really into their music and they’re really into their films. And so I get to hear all sorts of stuff through the decades because their playlists are so eclectic. They’ll listen to Tyler The Creator, and then they’ll listen to The Monkeys, their playlists and bonkers. So I’m just really a passenger on a 15-year old’s playlist at the moment. And it’s amazing how music has shaken off its generational limitations. Music is music and everybody’s accessing just what they love. For a long time, we were really concerned that the streaming thing was the end and it was definitely the end in terms of money, in terms of musicians being able to do it for a living without touring. But in terms of the listening and the audiences, I think it’s opened up the world of music again in a way that people couldn’t have anticipated.
‘Natural Magik’ is released 2nd February on Strange Folk records
You can see the band live at the following venues:
22/04/2024 Cardiff ,Tramshed
23/04/2024 Bexhill, De La Warr Pavilion
25/04/2024 Wolverhampton, The Wulfren
26/04/2025 London, Electric Ballroom
29/04/2024 Newcastle, Boiler Shop
30/04/2024 Glasgow, SWG3 TV Studio
01/05/2024 Leeds, O2 Academy
03/05/2024 Manchester, O2 Ritz
04/05/2024 Bristol, Marble Factory
05/05/2024 Bournemouth, O2 Academy
Tickets go on general sale Friday 2nd February at 10:30am