Aussie prog metal powerhouse Karnivool are heading back on the road in May after taking most of last year off from live performance. A few shows announced their return at the beginning of this year, culminating in a headlining slot at Unify Gathering. The Praxis Tour will see them once again in front of live crowds as they tour ahead of the release of their next album. Guitarist Mark “Hoss” Hosking called in to give us his thoughts on what the shape of that album might be and the band’s habit of working new songs out on live audiences.

How was that as a comeback for you?
It was really good. There was a short run of shows around then and Unify was the diamond at the end of it. It was really good, man. A show in the middle of nowhere in Victoria with a crowd that wasn’t totally ours, but it was great. We’ve known all the Unify guys for years, so it’s just a great party backstage and a great catch-up with a great bunch of dudes. It was fun.

Interesting that you said it wasn’t really your crowd, because I read a few reviews that suggested Karnivool were a bit out of place on that bill. That you weren’t as high-energy as a lot of bands who were there. Karnivool has never really been a “high-energy” band though.

[laughs] No, that was never going to be the case. At one point, Kenny talked about doing some jumps and some screaming to match the other bands, and doing some “Get the fuck-ups!” but we kind of pulled out of that at the end of the day and we’ll accept that low-energy tag and just do our own show. It’s a very specific genre of music that most of those other bands play that we’re not quite a part of, but in saying that we do have a lot of elements to our style that I think that genre encapsulates and I think that’s why we were on that line-up in the first place. We knew from the start it was going to be something different. We got a good response and it was a bit of fun.

I talked to him about Asymmetry just before those shows, and his exact words were that it was a “pretty fucked-up album”.

[laughs] That’s because we presented him with processes and music that he would otherwise not go down that path!

Is your new music going to be anything like that, or something completely different again?

I think it is going to be something completely different again, man. In hearing it, in hearing what we’ve got, there’s definitely aspirations of what we were in our heavier days. I think that’s a factor, but in saying that, mate, we never stick to a policy and because it’s been written over a long period of time like our other albums, you get all the wish-wash and all the bits and pieces and we pick what we think is the best part. Often that is music to challenge the listener, and often it is probably not what people expect or interpret as a direction that want us to go in. I don’t know whether it’s going to be what people want to hear or not, but I couldn’t give a fuck!

Karnivool’s never seemed to really care what others think. You’ve always marched to the best of your own eclectic drum, but whatever it is, I know there will be a lot of people anticipating whatever it is you’ll be giving us soon. Because it has been a while.

Well when I say we don’t give a fuck, that probably isn’t even true. We care about what sounds good live, and we can enjoy playing as well as something that will sound good on record. We do care, and do want people to enhjoy it. It’s not like we’re going to do an album of jazz classics or something completely left-of-field. It will definitely be Karnivool, and it will definitely have those elements. I think there’s some stuff on it already that people will think is akin more to the older stuff than the newer stuff. Otherwise there will be stuff that is quirky and weird, crazy and odd.

It wouldn’t be Karnivool if it didn’t have that! You’ve always managed to throw people a few curveballs. There’s something I’ve always liked about a band that can do that and get away with it. There are some bands that attempt it and fail, but Karnivool has been one to succeed.

Yeah, I think so! I think that comes down to the style of music and genre that we’re in. I think we’ve got a license to be idiots like that sometimes, because prog music and that kind of music does allow you to experiment and try things that other bands wouldn’t get with. And that’s kind of cool and certainly fits in with what we try and build as far as our music goes

You have more shows coming up too now, to blow out a few more cobwebs.

We get to roadtest some more new material and play some of the old stuff that we’ve semi-forgotten how to play [laughs]. Just have fun, man. We’ve always said that the studio is work and live is the fun, so it’s a chance to get around the country and catch up with some good humans. You talked to Steve Hughes recently, didn’t you? We obviously want to try and catch up with that cat.

It’s good to see you’re getting back out amongst it again. Do you think there’s been an upswing in interest in Australian music once again recently?

Quite possibly. It’s weird how the whole thing ebbs and flows and turns. I’ve given up trying to predict it, to be honest. It feels right. I don’t think we’d be touring… not touring as many shows, obviously, but we wouldn’t be touring as much as we want to be if people couldn’t be bothered coming to see us. So it is nice that people still seem to care.

What do you think it’s like for the scene in metal and rock at the moment? I’ve seen the line-ups for both Splendour and Groovin’ the Moo, and there’s pretty much no rock on either of those festivals this year. Obviously Splendour has never really been a rock festival, but GtM used to be a lot of metalcore and punk bands and now it seems to be hip-hop and electronica, and dance music.

I haven’t seen the Groovin’ the Moo line-up, but I know that Splendour’s always been scarf-wearing bands and people who don’t wear black. I think it’s a shame, man. I think a festival should be, and again, I’m not a marketing guy or a guy who’s trying to make a profit at the end of the day, but a festival should be a massive cross-section of different types of music. A festival’s always been a preview of seeing what a band could do. A band’s never doing their best show at a festival. They don’t have their own production or stage-crew, sometimes it’s just a quick snippet of what a band can be, and they’re the festivals that i would go to. A massive cross-section of bands, some I haven’t heard of, some I’m looking forward to seeing. I think that would be shame if festivals are going down the clearly profit line. Especially something like Groovin’ the Moo, if they’re making the move away from heavy music. That would be a shame.

There’s certainly not much there that interests me as a rock fan, but maybe I’m just getting old!
[laughs] That could be it, mate. I don’t think either of us are the prime market they might be going for! In saying that, clearly the market is getting older. Again, I’m not a marketing guy, but every headline band probably has five albums under their belt and been around for 20+ years, so I think festivals do need to cater for an older market, but festivals are hard, aren’t they? Such long days!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve already played some of these new songs live, right?

Yeah we have, man. We’ve always been a band that roadtests music on shows and tours before they’re released. We did that all the way back to – well I guess we did it with Themata, but that was early days – but we definitely did that with Sound Awake. We enjoy it. As much as we say we’re selfish music writers, we get feedback from playing show live and appreciate people coming and telling us what they like and don’t like after a show. As much as that may not make an impact on the song, it probably will subconsciously and we’ll take that on board and wait til we get back home and get the chance to rework it in the studio. And we’ll play some songs that we have played before, but may not be played the way they were remembered the last time they were played. There may be some subtle changes. But it’s fun to play stuff that hasn’t been released. You get the people looking at you with blank faces or those who are trying to sing along but don’t have a clue what they’re singing. It’s a different beast, our new stuff.

Is it better for you as a band to be able to take that long to write songs? Or do you just wish you could hurry up and get them done sometimes?

It’s definitely better for us, but in saying that, it comes with its own frustrations I think. With Sound Awake and Asymmetry as well, there’s hard drives full of stuff of all the different versions of how those songs could have been – and still are, in our heads, if you know what I mean. A song gets packaged up and presented to the punter, but to us there’s still seven different versions going around in our heads, even when we’re playing it. That’s good and bad. We’d love for people to be able to hear those songs, not just the end product but the whole kit and kaboodle… the bits that didn’t make it. We want people to hear that, and we’ve tossed around the idea of different forms of releases and the rest of it, but it doesn’t really make sense at the moment. But trying to cut down two hours of music into a five minute piece can be quite difficult! [laughs] I don’t know if it’s a pro or a con to have more time to do, because it just leaves you with more variables, and more formulas you think are right.

Do you ever see a day when you can have a six-disc box set of all the different versions of Karnivool songs?

I’d love to mate. I don’t know who’d listen to it and we’d probably sell about three, but I’d love to know that people got a chance to hear it. There’s some great stuff, just long jams we’ve had… bits that didn’t make it, sound effects that didn’t make it – all that kind of stuff. It just didn’t have a place at the time, but I hope people get the chance to hear it all.