INTERVIEW: Crispian Mills “We are going to ceremonially put the kettle on”

The leaves are falling, the sky bleeds grey and I’m silently shivering in my cold home as I wait for Kula Shaker frontman Crispian Mills to answer the phone. Nervous, I open talks by declaring I’m currently in bed, not the most professional move but thank fuck Mr. Mills is in accommodating mood, otherwise I may turn into a corpse.

It’s been 20 years since Kula Shaker broke records with a wondrous blend of Britpop, Asian and psychedelic music, via their critically acclaimed album K (Columbia). I was only 1 when it came out, and in response to the proceeding question he laughs, “Do you mean, do we ever forget how old we are?” Well, that was the bulk of my question yes, in regards to whether or not he gets transported to a past life when playing songs like ‘Hey Dude’ and ‘Tattva’. “Yeah you do, of course you do. The spirit is eternally youthful, that’s why getting old is such a weird, alien experience.”

With this is mind, I ask why they decided to call their latest release K 2.0 (Strangefolk Records) – is it an attempt to recapture a moment or successful part of their career? The simple answer, no. “Well we’re kinda taking the piss to be honest. Everything is an upgrade now, an update and a reboot and you get your phone and its obsolete and all your apps and all your software is useless within like 18 months, because everything is designed to have to be repurchased, so we’re kinda making fun of that. Pop music is quite disposable in that respect.”

I’m nodding violently in agreement, still shivering, but warmed by the voice of Mills. His views on life in general delight and intrigue, comments about how Kula Shaker have changed as people and as a band make this tour more palatable by the second. “You have to embrace change, because it’s a part of life and so is death. You gotta keep dying and reinventing and reincarnating, you don’t have to wait until you leave your body to reincarnate, you can do it every day if you want to.” 

Rather than cashing in on past endeavours, KS transpire to have more integrity it seems, thinking long and hard before jumping on a bandwagon and harping back to better years, “To play the whole of K is proper nostalgia and we had some reservations, but we saw Carole King was doing Tapestry and we thought well, if Carole King is doing it then Kula Shaker should do it to.”

When K came out it seemed to buck the trend of “classic” Britpop. Definitely, Maybe (Oasis) and Elastica’s debut the following year were the two fastest selling albums ever until the London four piece burst onto the scene. We all know how successful the Gallagher’s went on to be, but looking back it feels like a mini victory for the kids wearing flares and tie dye blouses. Their sound takes on mystical and spiritual traits, borrowing aspects of Asian music, in particular the use of traditional Indian instruments. Rather than on the nose guitar anthems for the lads of ’90s Britain to drink warm cans of lager to, Kula Shaker are diverse and K is one of the best examples of a single record that displays many different sounds and influences. “We’ve got an ongoing love affair with Krishna and the adventure of the east, it’s just been very natural. We never made a decision one day, let’s get the Indian instruments out full stop, we just had ‘em lying around… Somebody left a tambura, which is an amazing droned instrument,  and I think we started using that in jams and it all started from there.”

When asked about how the shows in December are going to work, in particular the Liverpool date on the 14th, he gives me an answer once again dripping in distain for elements of modern technology. “The December tour is K as it was intended to be listened to. K is a pop album but it’s also a loose concept album, and it was meant to be listened to from beginning to end with a little tea break between side A and Side B, for vinyl listeners. Now that you’ve got shuffle happening on your phone, it’s kind of trashed that art. The lost art of the sequence. So it’ll be great to play it as it was intended to be heard, and we’ve never done that before.” 

From this I gather it will be a slightly different listing live, however, Mills suggests that it’s not the track listing that will change, but the manner in which they transition from songs ‘Into The Deep’ (ends side A) and ‘Sleeping Jiva’ (begins side B). “We are gonna ceremonially put the kettle on in the middle of the show, or something like that”. 

At this point I do question whether it’ll be a similar situation to Ride’s recent shows, where they play an hour of songs taken from other albums, then play the whole of Nowhere (1990). Despite how great that album is, it was a slightly disjointed and fragmented experience. However, it’s an exciting prospect to go to a show, and not know exactly what’s going to happen. Which again, adds a further element of freshness and worth to the general idea of a 20th anniversary tour. Mills himself has similar feelings on one of his favourite bands The Who, “I went to see the Who play about ten years ago and didn’t expect much to be honest, and I was absolutely blown away. I mean, Pete Townsend was conducting lightning and I never saw anybody blow an audience away like he can; no young band that even comes close, so it’s all about what’s inside.”

Kula Shaker have maintained a strong following since those glory days, Mills admitting that starting again after the disbandment of his other project The Jeevas, was a healthy decision. “Well they became a sort of devoted, hardcore following because we weren’t in the mainstream anymore. We’ve been very lucky to have these hardcore fans. But when we started making records again in 2007, we almost started again as far as careers go, we made our own record label and we almost started from scratch and just built it up again. So it’s been satisfying to take this really unorthodox approach to music first, it’s not easy I tell you it’s really tough.” He laughs and jokes about how he should have married a super model and made some headlines to help the process, but then admits to already doing so! Crispian is of course married to model Josephine Mills.

As the interview comes to a close with the ringing of another phone in the background on Mills’ end, I wrap up our conversation and sit here, not cold anymore, listening to the silence around me. The enigmatic frontman has, if I’m honest, left me in a giddy mood. And that’s not because I’m a fanboy, it’s because it’s fucking great to hear a musician so passionate about wanting to breathe new life into an album.

Connor Ryan