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Kingswood’s Fergus Linacre talks Nashville, stress and stolen guitars

Fergus Linacre is a lead vocalist and key contributing songwriter of ARIA-nominated alternative rock outfit Kingswood. After a couple of failed recording attempts, the Australian rockers are finally poised to release their third studio album Juveniles on Friday 13th March.

Alex Laska (guitar, vocals) stated in a prior interview that you played your first gig as a band called Lip Service in 2009 at Melbourne’s Ding Dong Lounge. After selling out that first gig and amassing a lot of hype, once the novelty wore off you played to much smaller audiences for a period of time. Reflecting on it now, what helped you get through those moments of adversity to end up where you are?
Yeah, we started out a while ago as Lip Service, which was the name my mum didn’t choose for her rock ‘n’ roll band when she was younger (they ended up going with The Cut Glass Band). And then we went through a bunch of different names which were all terrible. And I don’t even know how we settled on Kingswood, I think we just decided it sounded cool. But I’d say a lot of peoples’ first bands and first gigs are pretty well supported. You have all your family and all these friends come and everyone’s hanging out, having a good time. And these were moments where we’d play every week, you’d just start taking gigs everywhere you could take them and maybe that was where we had a bit of a lull but then we started releasing music properly and getting on the radio and it started to grow and grow as it has ever since.

Do you or the band struggle with any sources of anxiety even now as an established outfit?
We certainly do. As we’ve grown and reached goals and set new ones, I think it’s always gonna be an ongoing battle to deal with that as best you can. I don’t think anyone’s immune to it and I don’t think success solves it. I imagine Chris Martin in Coldplay is as stressed about how the release of the new album is gonna go as he ever has been. I don’t think anyone rests on their laurels and start going “oh, we’ve made it now so we don’t need to worry about how well this is gonna do”. And if you do start doing that, then you’re probably gonna slip up and not produce things that are as good as what you hope. But it can be stressful and a bit debilitating at times and you’ve gotta make sure you put your head down, worry about what you can control and not so much about what you can’t. We start thinking that we’ve played Splendour [in the Grass] four times now and we’re releasing an album and we hope we can play it again which is almost more stressful wondering if we’ll be able to tour and play festivals and international stuff that we’ve done in the past but make it better. It’s almost more stressful than when you were starting out because you’re so amped to take any opportunity that you can get.

It’s almost more stressful than when you were starting out because you’re so amped to take any opportunity that you can get.

Your debut record was stacked with memorable alt-rock singles before After Hours, Close to Dawn (2017) changed things up with straighter blues and soul influences and lots more keys. What was the stimulus for the change?
I think we were making the first record for a long time and it was very derivative of the bands we were listening to, like QOTSA and other heavy stuff. Then, as we grew as musicians, we wanted to shock people more with the second album. When our label and agents started hearing songs that we were recording they’d be like, “I don’t know what you guys are doing” and “rock ‘n’ roll heads aren’t gonna like it”. That stuff drove us to be more diverse. And that album was a very diverse, experimental record that we’re super proud of. We don’t wanna be a band that does the same thing every time. We wanna keep pushing and changing and when we came to this record it was a blessing and a curse because we’re musicians that don’t do one thing or love one kind of music. Alex is producing hip-hop and country artists and he can sit and play jazz piano for 3 hours straight. We’re not just rock ‘n’ roll heads, so when it comes to making a Kingswood record, we have to focus on what we want it to sound like, because if we do what’s coming out naturally it could sound like anything. We made two albums before this one that were going to be our third one and decided it was going to be the wrong direction. It’s been a very well thought out and focused record.

We don’t wanna be a band that does the same thing every time.

The differences between your debut and sophomore were quite substantial. What caused you to rework this current record after two tries having already shaken things up between those first two records?
With the first attempt at our third record, we were recording in France and it was really different. It wasn’t so much that we reneged on it, we felt like we were trying to convert the music we were making to make it sound like Kingswood and those songs were suffering because they were being put in a world where they didn’t belong. So we decided that that album is its own beast that we may put out somehow down the track but we decided it wasn’t what we wanted the third Kingswood record to be. It was just so different. Then we started making music that you might see in the fourth album that was just this really tremendously bombastic music that we really loved and then we found what was to become the rock of Juveniles which was “Say You Remember”. When you find a song that you can build an album around – I think, because we’d been making music for so long and all over the world in Germany and France and America and England, everything sounded so different because we really immersed ourselves in where we were and those moments we had. We really needed to have a single focus, so we went to Nashville and put our heads down and finished a record that feels like a family of songs and feels like it was made as a record rather than years of travelling around the world in bits and pieces.

Was there any sense of apprehension for what your fanbase would think regarding these choices?
I think it does come into your head, it’s just whether you listen to it or not. Whenever you have a song you get excited and you wonder what the fans are gonna think. I would guide anyone to try and put that out of their heads as best you can. It can hurt the music if you try and make music for other people. Our decision to change it up and move on, try different paths, wasn’t to try and find something that fans would like. It was that the album was turning out to be a big mess of a whole bunch of different styles that didn’t feel like one thing. Trying to convert old music to a particular sound or a particular energy detriments the songs in the form that they are. Once we found “Say You Remember”, we built the album around that sort of sound.

It can hurt the music if you try and make music for other people.

Does it feel like a sacrifice to be so passionate about different styles but reigning it in to create an album that fits the style of the band and that particular song you selected?
We’ve really grown as a band and as individuals. I think all of those other songs will find the light of day eventually. The first record we made, we toured a lot of it through Europe and played three or four of those songs but when we were in Germany we played more rock ‘n’ roll songs and I think it was feeling the energy of that crowd which shifted things for us. We were making this cool dancey, electronic stuff and that’s great if that’s what people are going to see but when we were playing the rock ‘n’ roll songs to a rock ‘n’ roll crowd, we kinda fell back in love with the energy and power of that kind of music. You can certainly be clever when making music but having music that’s written to play live and make people dance and get involved, when we played those other songs we realised what we wanted to do and fell back in love with rock ‘n’ roll music. That’s what drove us to make the rock ‘n’ roll record. It can be hard letting songs that don’t make it onto Kingswood records go. It’s tough but that’s a part of it. I was listening to a podcast talking to a director and halfway through the movie they realised the supporting character was really the hero of the movie. Rather than just finish it as it was, they stopped production, rewrote it and came back to film it a year later. I think that’s putting the art first. It would’ve been very easy for us to say we’ve been making a record for so long, let’s just put this out. But we wanna make the best record we can and be proud of it. If it takes more time, more money, more shitty side jobs to make it happen, we’re willing to do that.

We wanna make the best record we can and be proud of it. If it takes more time, more money, more shitty side jobs to make it happen, we’re willing to do that.

There’s a song on the new record called “Marilyn” which adds a layer of funk to your repertoire and seems to stand apart from the rest stylistically. Is this reflective of the material you saved for a later date?
You nailed it there. I’m not gonna lie. That was one of the ones we’d been writing that did make it onto the record. We worked it a bit. We had so many different versions, one with another whole section, there were a few different remixes but we couldn’t let it go. The energy, the moment it kicks in. It did reflect the music direction and leads more into the future than perhaps the other tracks.

The new record feels like it exists within a sweet spot between the different styles of the first two. Was that the intention when recording?
I think what we managed to do is have the songwriting of the second album with the energy of the first album. The way we write songs when we’re together is that we start with a vocal lyric and melody. We’ll have either nothing or an unplugged electric guitar for tonal reference and the song needs to work like that with nothing around it. If you start a song with an arpeggiated synth thing and add drums and write over the top of it, I think you can end up with a product where the music is the hero and the lyrics and the melody aren’t. That’s fine if that’s the intention but we want to write great songs that you can stand up and sing without any accompaniment as they are and once we had that down we built everything else to elevate that as best we could.

Speaking of the lyrics, as diverse as the soundscapes have been, the themes and lyrics regarding love and relationships have underpinned a lot of your music. Why is that such a prominent part of what you write about?
We spend so much time together. Al and I always talk about what’s going on in our lives and we do draw heavily, if not completely, from situations in our life. It can be a family member or partner or people who have passed. I do sit back and think that we don’t write political songs or anything like that, we do just write about relationships or introspective things about how we feel about life and love and I think that’s ok. It’s not a big focus of ours, it’s just what comes out when we sit down and write. Everything comes from something in our songs. We don’t like sitting down and saying, “let’s come up with a song out of nowhere that doesn’t have a meaning”. That’s some people’s job and in some parts of our life that’s something that needs to happen but with Kingswood we don’t rush it, we wait until the song comes to us and then we work on it.

Before After Hours, Close to Dawn your former bassist Jeremy “Mango” Hunter moved on and prior to recording this record you had both recordings and instruments stolen. Which of those hurdles was harder to handle?
“Mango” moving on was pretty tough. It was all amicable, no bad blood, but having a member depart the band is super tough. But it opens new opportunities and “Braido” (Braiden Michetti) has done an amazing job and is an absolute legend. The other thing that happened with that second album was that Al broke his finger and couldn’t play guitar for a lot of it when writing which I think played into how we sort of learnt this new way of writing music. If you start with a riff, like I was saying before, it puts you in a box so that’s why the second album isn’t as guitar driven. A lot of those songs were written in Al’s head. As well, with this record we had our studio broken into and a whole bunch of stuff stolen. It was tough; Al lost a lot of guitars, two still missing, and a whole bunch of music we had to re-record but that led us to pack up and go back to Nashville to record the record. So, you never know in life, when some things are negative it can often be a blessing. You also don’t have a choice. You’ve gotta see the silver lining. This awful moment in the band’s life happened but it led to the shaping of the record.

You’ve recorded a lot in Nashville. What does that city offer you that Melbourne doesn’t?
I think the most important thing isn’t what Melbourne can’t offer, it’s what Nashville takes us away from. Over there we can focus and you don’t have things to distract you. We usually go for a walk around the lake, cook breakfast and talk about songs, drive to the studio and listen to music and then go for drinks and talk more about music. It’s a very high level of focus and allows you to be completely involved in the record the whole time we’re in Nashville.

You have a huge tour ready to go to support the album. How does it feel now compared to when you started? Does it ever feel like a job at all or do you still have the enthusiasm from when you first stepped on the stage at Ding Dong?
When we’re about to start playing new songs, it’s exciting. It never feels like a job, even the other night we played a show, a private thing that wasn’t advertised, and I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t really know what it was gonna be like. The moment we stepped on stage, you’re with your mates and you’re playing music… I was filled with so much energy after being so flat just before it. It never feels like work, but the most exciting part for us now is playing new songs and writing new set lists and rehearsing. Even when we gave “Bittersweet” a spin and we had a whole bunch of people singing this song back to us, a brand new song, it makes you feel so great. I can’t wait to put the record out and have everyone sing it back to us.

If you could collaborate with any artist in any medium, who would it be, and what would you create?
I think I’d love to work with Paul McCartney. Just write beautiful little songs on a nylon string acoustic with him. I think that would be really nice. Nothing too crazy, just beautiful little love songs.