CONSISTENCY AS VIRTUE David Kilgour

On a new excursion
with backing band The Heavy Eights, the beloved Kiwi guitarist heads south –
far, far south.

 

BY MAX BLAU

 

For over 30 years, David Kilgour has been a musician’s
musician. Between his work with The Clean, The Great Unwashed, The Heavy Eights
and his own solo efforts, the New
Zealand songwriting legend and cult figure
of sorts has consistently churned out pop song after pop song for no one but
himself, for no reason but to create compelling works of music. No matter what
project he’s currently immersed in at the moment, one thing is certain about
Kilgour — his sonic immersions have always been the end in itself, and never a
means to some other objective such as money, fame or the countless other perks
that coincide with being a professional rocker.

 

In an industry where being a musical purist rarely gets you
anywhere fast compared to those concerned with the marketing of their music and
the business of their own brands, David Kilgour has refused to waver at the
temptations of sacrificing his creative process. “I’ve never really been a
careerist, a ladder-climbing type of musician,” he explains. “I just like to
make music and tell people it’s out, go and play live, do what musicians do I
suppose.”

 

By no means, however, should his highly concerted musical
focus be mistaken for naivety or obliviousness to playing the game. Kilgour
just never felt that it matter as much as it did many of his other peers,
continually opting to remain devoted to his craft for its own sake rather than
attempting to turn his love into anything more than that. “I’ve never really
had any great plans ahead of me, much to the frustration of the people around
me,” he says. “That’s the way I’ve always worked I guess.”

 

As a songwriter with numerous different projects at hand,
Kilgour approaches whatever musical ideas come into his head without a specific
act of his in mind. It’s more of an exercise than an assignment for a
particular project, whereby he will create first and determine which of his
acts will suit the specific framework later. In doing so, it allows him to not
feel pigeonholed by the need to cast his most recent work into a particular
mold.  

 

While Kilgour doesn’t particularly look at music beyond the
notes at hand, an entire generation of followers has taken note of his work and
the ‘Dunedin Sound’ he has long curated. As one of the legendary founding
members of kiwi-pop act The Clean, he became an underground legend in the New Zealand
rock circuit. Since their heyday, bands including but not limited to Pavement, Superchunk, Elf Power and Cat Power have all cited his influence in some regard, exemplifying
the reach of his inspiration. Although he only plays with The Clean
occasionally these days, as each member now primarily focuses on their own
respective musical projects, his musical output as a solo artist as well as
with his longtime supporting band The Heavy Eights nevertheless remains a
sonically rich and compelling one.

 

For his latest record, Left
By Soft
, Kilgour partnered up with The Heavy Eights for the first time
since 2007’s The Far Now. Along with
his group — Taane Tokona (drums), Tony de Raad (guitar, keyboards) and Thomas
Bell (bass, keyboards) — he went down to record the album in an old lodge
located in The Catlins — an isolated coastal area about two hours South of his
hometown of Dunedin, New Zealand. “It’s an incredibly beautiful part of the
Southern coast of New
Zealand, really underpopulated,” he
describes. “There’s no one down there. Unseen to the world really.”

 

In choosing this location, Kilgour set the stage for his
band to leave the outside world behind and truly focus on the music at hand. “To me, it sounds like the
band on a good night, warts and all,” he says. “It’s probably the first real “band” LP I’ve made
since Frozen Orange or the David
Kilgour and the Heavy Eights LP from the mid ’90s.” Left By Soft offers up another batch of the group’s lush laidback
guitars layers and excellent psych-infused indie pop that almost seems
effortless at times.

 

Left By Soft,
which derives its name from a collection of prose Kilgour penned as a teenager
(he intends to keep the specific origins of the title mysterious), includes a
variety of both new songs as well as tracks which date back to the ‘90s.
“Autumn Sun” slowly burns in a looping manner, while “Way Down Here” is a
fierce throwback to their homeland. The record’s standout number, however, is
“Diamond Mine” — an ambling six-minute guitar haze that was co-written with de
Raad about the experiences of living in a capitalist society. “This thing has
been around for a while. I’ve always been trying to get a good take of that
song…I suppose it’s a swipe at capitalism really, perhaps the way capitalism
might end up really.”

 

While the songs are pulled together from different periods
of Kilgour’s catalog, they seamlessly flow together in a manner that makes it
all too easy to get lost in his electric layers of strung-out warmth. The
beautiful thing with this New Zealander is that his old and new compositions go
hand in hand with seemingly no drop off in quality — a rare level of consistency
for someone with such a lengthy career. Often by the time most musicians hit
the thirty-year marks in their careers, they appear to have hit a writing block
or experience a noticeable stall in creativity, reverting to a regurgitation of
previous ideas and create lesser, derivative works of what they once released.

 

That’s not the case with Kilgour, who instead continues to
find himself amidst one of the best songwriting stretches ever. Part of his
success is his refusal to press himself to schedule his releases, allowing
himself to work at his own pace. “I have no plans,” he simply replies. “I think
I might just kick back for a year or two. I’m in no rush to make music anyway.”
But for someone who has been as prolific as he has over the past three decades,
our money is on another great Kilgour LP dropping sooner than we think.

 

[Photo Credit: Puffefish Photography]

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