Twenty years ago, Kula Shaker were one of the biggest bands in Britain, fresh after the success of debut album ‘K’, a heady brew of Indian mysticism, Brit-pop and 60’s sounds; one which spawned classic songs such as ‘Hey Dude’, ‘Govinda’ and ‘Tattva’.
Fast forward two decades and the band are currently four dates into an extensive worldwide tour in support of their fifth studio album, K.20. And after the band arrived in Scotland for a date at Edinburgh’s Liquid Rooms, charismatic frontman Crispian Mills spoke to me about longevity, Neil Young, eastern influences and Glasgow ballroom floors.
“The whole thing is a strange sort of whirlwind of nostalgia and also with playing new songs as well it’s been quite an interesting mix,” says Crispian.
“The thing about the band is that we were never like a sort of U2 size band we were not just a little pop band either, we are sort of in a strange Kula Shaker with its own strange sort of beast and its very familiar. It’s always surprising to us you go round the world people have heard of us and come to our gigs”, he adds.
Crispian admits that the band had been caught unawares with the attention received since K.20’s release, with the band’s live dates more than anything else a chance for them to get out and just do what they love most – playing concerts.
Well you know you when you get into the pop business you can get very precious about your career and that’s completely understandable but there’s some fun in just playing for shits and giggles. It’s nice to be spontaneous about where you play and how you make records and I think that the crowds have responded to that.”
He also considers that, further to this, it’s both the bands wide arrange of influences musically and focus on honing a sound geared towards the live setting has contributed towards their longevity and resonated most with their loyal fan base.
“By some kind of miracle blessing or some kind of higher force we’ve never lost our ‘mojo’. We were always a live band and that’s how we built our reputation and that’s how we won fans. Our songs have always been a mixture of sort of classic old school song writing with choruses and romance like the Beatles and folks songs you know, and this kind of love of Prog and psychedelic bands.”
“I don’t think you really get the whole picture till you see it live and we don’t either. We don’t understand the songs properly until we’ve played them through and then they take on a whole other life of their own.”
With regards to influences, Neil Young’s name pops into the conversation in reference to the song ‘High Noon’ off the new album, one that could have easily come from the icon’s own repertoire.
“We once played Glastonbury twice in one year and we headlined on the Saturday night and it was like the apex of our pop career and then Neil Young cut his finger making a ham sandwich the next day. There was no one else to come on and we went on in his place on the Sunday afternoon after Michael Eavis asked us to play,” he reveals.
“At first there was a bit of resentment from the crowd at first and we slaughtered one of his songs, ‘Out On The Weekend’ (from the album Harvest). It was a gallant attempt and I think the audience warmed to us after that. It was a great gig the Sunday afternoon was even better than the Saturday night.”
The band are no doubt best known for their interest in traditional Indian music, culture and traditions, alongside their use of instruments such as the sitar to give their music a sound that sets them far apart from other bands that became popular during the Britpop era.
“I don’t think people think of us as a British band in that typical kind of way, I think Kula Shaker is a kind of a bit of a pop anomaly and we are very proud of that, we are the misfits. And the whole spiritual, psychedelic, Krishna thing has always been the defining element,” says Crispian.
Before he adds, “It’s a universal spiritual identity and that is always going to be something that’s fun to express sin music and in arts and in cooking and I think everybody gets it. There’s a saying that ‘The sun rises in the East, does that make it an Eastern sun? When you get into the essence of any old culture you realize we all come from the same place and we all have the same ancestors.”
And, spiritual beliefs aside, while the band got ready to play in front of their Scottish fans in the capital; Crispian admitted that it was Glasgow that holds a special place in the band’s heart – for a number of reasons.
“Glasgow was always a very key date for us and one of the tipping points in our careers was selling out the Barrowlands. One of the most memorable gigs in Glasgow was in some ballroom I don’t know if it’s still going, they had a bouncy floor and it was packed and the whole crowd was jumping up and down and the crew were trying to trying to hold the whole of the sound rig up because they thought it was going to collapse and we all thought we were going to die. And, eh, that’s just a normal night in Glasgow.”