Rooting For the Big League: An interview with Kingfisha

Tour demons, roots/reggae aficionados, sartorial choices (read: twisted beards and yellowed teeth) that entirely belie their laid-back nature and relentless comparisons to legends like The Black Seeds and Fat Freddy’s Drop had me intrigued by Kingfisha well before I’d packed my bags for Reunion Islands. “We’re sort of over the comparison though” says Anthony Forrest, lead singer and guitarist, when I ask if its helped in legitimising their otherwise underground name further. “I mean, they’re definitely some of our favourite bands but we’re at a stage when we want to be known off our own accord, for our own sound.”

His answer interests me because this seems to be a struggle so many alternative, live bands all over the world are experiencing today – the need to stay relevant. It’s also what sets the tone for a refreshingly straightforward interview with both Anthony and Drew while the rest of the band recovers from some serious jet lag. No minced words here, just pure, unadulterated glimpses into Australia’s alternative gig circuit and the unified mindset of this sextet, which shows no signs of impeded progress anytime soon.

kingfisha2Mandovi: To begin with, break down the band’s members and tell us what each one does.
Anthony: Ok Dave Bell’s the drummer, Jason Leck’s on keyboards (he was actually a dub guitarist in a band called Honkatonk but we stole him to play keyboards!), Drew here is on guitar and synths, Michael Haz is our live sound engineer who does live dubs for us and I’m the vocalist but I play guitar as well. Shannon Green plays bass and just annoys the shit out of everyone all the time! [both laugh]

Mandovi: Big lineup. What were the initial stages like, was it difficult getting six musicians together on an ambitious project like this one?
Drew: In many ways, yes. Myself, Andrew and Shannon went to school together and we played in many different bands together for a while. When our last band finished up, we decided to start playing Reggae. It began as purely a studio project and somehow got morphed into a live act along the way. We always had it planned but we had a lot of difficulty finding a drummer initially so we just got started by having fun with the writing in itself.

Anthony: It also gave us the opportunity to really take out time with developing our sound without having to adhere to expectations of audiences, press of being onstage etc. so it sort of worked itself out.

Mandovi: How long has Kingfisha been playing now?
Anthony: About 5 years. We spent a few in the studio stuffing around, working out exactly what we were trying to sound like because we didn’t want to jump the gun too fast. Shannon and Anthony had just come out of another band that had been together quite a while so when they got out we realised that we really wanted to have a very clear path, a unified vision.

Mandovi: So how much effort goes into preparing the live show now?
Drew: I’m not sure how to answer that question actually I’ll let Anthony take it! [laughs]

Anthony: We rehearse a lot when we’ve got large shows and we definitely put a fair bit of time into making each show pretty unique whether it’s for us or for a different audience. It’s all about making it different and more interesting.

Mandovi: Is there a good tour circuit for you’ll in Australia?
Anthony: Yeah it’s especially strong in the East coast but we’re from Brisbane where there’s an especially strong roots interest. It’s not as vibrant in the West but it’s pretty positive on the whole.

Mandovi: What are you favourite places to play?
Anthony: One of the last shows we did was in Ellis springs. A desert festival called Wide Open Spaces. It’s absolutely insane, a really good festival. It was a more regional, community-oriented festival so that was probably one of my favourite shows. A little more out of the way, a little more unique.

Mandovi: Any other great Australian festivals you’d recommend?
Drew: Island vibe. It’s right on the beach with great bands. A lot of hipster reggae and soul, quite open to families, it’s got a beautiful vibe. Some of those festivals reach out to about 80000 people because of resources and space but they’re not super huge. Just really great for a community environment.

kingfisha1Mandovi: Sounds great. Could you take us through the evolution of Brisbane’s independent music scene? There’s been an astonishing number of great bands coming out of Australia off late and we’re wondering what’s going on!
Drew: [Laughs] That’s probably true. I reckon Brisbane’s unique insofar as it’s a small town compared to Melbourne and Sydney but since it’s small people could sort of network more easily. When we were growing up we could actually go check out the local bands who were making what I consider to be world class music a good 15 years ago. We actually grew up listening to that so we realised that if we can go out and do that…play at the local pubs and train ourselves to be good at what we do then that’s pretty amazing. So yeah, it was really inspiring for us, good environment to be a musician definitely.

Anthony: Very community though, almost incestuous. You have to know the right people, most things develop like that.

Mandovi: So would you say you can make a living out of being an independent musician?
Anthony: Well you can but we don’t! (laughs) Got out fingers in many pies to stay afloat..I do some bookings, we produce some bands, Drew is a youth worker…we both have families so that also keeps us well, entertained!

Mandovi: But it is this same scene that got you guys got into roots in the first place?
Anthony: Well, we were just listening to a lot of reggae in our early 20s. I remember we had this King Tully CD and we just embraced it, it came easily. Reggae came into the picture a little bit later and I love songs which incorporate that sound. We’ve got a really diverse CD collection as a band though. We rarely listen to reggae to be honest but when we’re on tour I think a lot of us are coming from that roots, bass background which is definitely where our heart lies. We’re also really into the songwriting aspect of it you know, trying to do justice to the instrumentation.

Mandovi: Which brings me to my next questions. What’s your songwriting process like?
Anthony: We’ve got a few different mechanisms. I write the lyrics. Sometimes I bring a tune in, other times we all work on it in the rehearsal room. Yeah it works to mix it up.

Drew: I think we’re changing our songwriting style all the time. I think Anthony sort of got the ball rolling by bringing in a sort of sound, writing a few songs and now slowly we’re all starting to take part in that process in our own way, it’s becoming more collaborative as we go along.

kingfisha4Mandovi: Any good local bands you’d recommend?
Drew: KOOII – they pay afro reggae jazz, beautiful songs, great musicianship. There’s another instrumental dub band called One Dragon Two Dragon – really tasty stuff. Submarine’s an electronic band, they’ve got a high energy live show and they actually played at Reunion last year! Then there’s Clairie Brown and the Banging Rickets. They’re not really reggae, it’s more soul, nusoul but it’s extremely well done. And of course there’s Hiatus Kaiyote. We played with them at a festival last year and I reckon they’re probably one of the best bands here, just not sure they have the sound that Australians like though.

Mandovi: On another note, this is your first international tour with performances at IOMMA and Sakifo. Has that always been one of the major goals?
Drew: Yes, definitely a huge goal for us to get on a more international platform, wherever it is but we’d really love to come to India.

Mandovi: If that were to happen, are there any Indian artists you’d be interested in collaborating with?
Anthony: Oh man, Talvin Singh. He’s a legend! Such a huge inspiration for the both of us it’s ridiculous!

Mandovi: Fingers crossed for that one! So we’re down to the last question which is standard as always – what’s next?
Anthony: Well, this is our last show for 4 months because I’m going to Europe for a few months with the family. When I get back, we’re going to release a single and then go back on tour again, do the festival circuit in Australia again.

Of course, we’ll keep working on stuff and share files of what we’re doing in the studio with Anthony while he’s overseas.

Get to know Kingfisha and their sound better by clicking any of the following:
Live performance of Worn out your Welcome, a single of their first album
Triple J Unearthed

An exclusive by

Mandovi Menon

Mandovi Menon has worked as a journalist with Times Of India Internet Limited, Mid-day and Digit9.0. and on film scripts for production houses such as Pritish Nandy Communications, Full Circle Productions, NuMobster and Visual Narrator. She frequently contributes to some of India's more reputed Indie/Alternative music blogs such as The Wildcity and Border Movement and also freelances for IndiEarth. She has also garnered interviews with eminent artists from Dub FX and Koan Sound to Shaa'ir + Func and Sandunes.

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