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Shine a Light: Kula Shaker Talk Positivity and 'Organised Chaos' Live Shows

Tuesday, 23 April 2024 Written by Jack Butler-Terry

Photo: Nicole Frobusch

When mystical ‘90s mob Kula Shaker reformed their original lineup for their latest album ‘Natural Magick’, it was a matter of the planets aligning. “There was a long period where we would only do an album every few years, then all go off to do other things,” says frontman Crispian Mills, dialling in from the band’s rehearsal space. “We've played in other bands and we all have kids. But now Jay [Darlington, keyboards] is back and we are all 100% focused on being prolific and productive.”

Prolific and productive is the perfect way to word it: Crispian spoke to Stereoboard just days before a UK tour in support of their latest album, which has already been followed up by a double A-Side single starring new songs Rational Man and Bringing it Back Home. There’s energy and a sense of rejuvenation about Kula Shaker, who once again sound like the band that took a Britpop saturated UK by storm with tracks such as Hey Dude and their rollicking cover of Deep Purple’s Hush.

“We’ve always maintained that you have to play every concert as if it’s your last show, every guitar solo as if your life depends on it,” Crispian says. “You have to feel like you are on a bit of a mission to play this kind of music. There’s a famous quote by Eric Burdon: ‘You don’t play rock and roll, you preach it.’”

He goes on to describe Kula Shaker concerts as “congregational get-togethers” and that “we are very much in our own universe and that’s why there’s a loyal audience. When you come to our show, you’re coming to a bubble of like-minded spiritual beings where things are a bit silly, a bit psychedelic.”

Kula Shaker formed in 1995 after Crispian travelled to India and embarked on a journey of self-discovery and connectivity. “All music is spiritual because all people are spiritual; even the people who say they are not, they are because they exist,” he says. “When you explore it and meditate on it and develop that side of your life, you nurture it like you would a garden. There’s always work, you dig up the weeds and there’s effort required but that’s the same with everything, but it leads to satisfaction and gives everything more meaning.”

The influence of Crispian’s own experiences extended to the pairing of sitars, tambouras and tablas with a driving guitar sound that called to mind The Beatles, The Doors and mod culture to create something truly unique. As for how that all materialises, well that depends on what they’re doing at the time. “The songwriting side of the band is a whole craft that we study and really have a very strict approach to how we work,” Crispian says.

“That follows on into the recording process and then what we do live is more like organised chaos. We let the live shows be a bit more spontaneous and dangerous. Once you’ve agreed on something on record, then you can let it loose. Every show we play has to feel like the best we’ve ever played. Maybe that’s unhealthy. But the new record feels great alongside our tried and tested favourites. It doesn’t feel like we have to work through the new stuff to get to the songs that our fans all already know.”

That ethos of spontaneity and seeing where the night take you will come to a head later this year — following their remaining UK shows in Bexhill-on-Sea, Wolverhampton, London, Newcastle, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Bristol and Bournemouth — at New York’s Brooklyn Bowl, which Crispian says will bring them much closer to what they always wanted to be. 

“It’s a good scene for jam bands and we’ve not really mixed with that scene yet, but anywhere bands can play and explore and where people are getting psychedelic is attractive to us,” he laughs. “I always wanted to be The Grateful Dead — not to sound like them, but they were a scene, an ethos, an aesthetic. In the UK, we never had the weather for that kind of thing. I guess we did have Hawkwind, who were like The Grateful Dead with colds, cheap speed and low grade acid, but I never got to see them. They both existed outside of the music scene though and I love that. Most of the creative people that I admire tend to exist in a very self-contained universe.”

And while that's always been their ambition, it seems that that level of escapism is becoming more and more appealing to Crispian: “Britain used to have an attitude that was infectious. When I think of Britpop, I think of Spice Girls as much as I think of Oasis or Blur because it was a whole energy. But I'm not sure we're selling anything other than bogus politics now. We’ve become the land of melancholy and spooky ghost stories and evil — it’s quite distressing.” 

As they approach three decades as a band, Crispian reflects a lot on how music has evolved across that time. While they rode a wave in the ‘90s with their own identifiable concoction of sounds and influences, the landscape now is completely different. “People say Kula Shaker is a legacy band now, but what’s the legacy? I’d say we are much more aligned with the new school which is independent — songwriting, journalism, media, all of it is more independent,” he observes. “People are writing and talking and playing music for the right reasons, not just to sell magazines. 

“It’s more like when pop music first kicked off with rock and roll. The business is driven more by publishers, but the press is run by fans and people who know what they’re talking about. When I do interviews now, I have to do lots more because there are so many sites for niche audiences. You’re talking to less newspapers, and more online and independent mags, like when it all started and bands were talking to fanzines. It’s great.”

When the news cycle seems to get more and more bleak with every passing day, it can be hard to power onward, but for Kula Shaker and Crispian Mills, it’s all about maintaining a positive outlook. “Where there’s great evil, there’s great power and it can be twisted and turned like the Force in Star Wars,” he says. “It can always be twisted to be positive.” 

Kula Shaker Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue April 23 2024 - BEXHILL ON SEA De La Warr Pavilion
Thu April 25 2024 - WOLVERHAMPTON University of Wolverhampton at the Wulfrun Hall
Fri April 26 2024 - LONDON Electric Ballroom
Sat April 27 2024 - LONDON Electric Ballroom
Mon April 29 2024 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Boiler Shop
Tue April 30 2024 - GLASGOW SWG3 TV Studio
Wed May 01 2024 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Fri May 03 2024 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Sat May 04 2024 - BRISTOL Marble Factory
Sun May 05 2024 - BOURNEMOUTH O2 Academy Bournemouth

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