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INTERVIEW – Clifford Hoad, Kings Of The Sun – November 2013

INTERVIEW – Clifford Hoad, Kings Of The Sun – November 2013

By Shane Pinnegar

There was a time in the late 80’s and early 90’s when Kings Of The Sun – the band formed by Brisbane native Clifford Hoad in Sydney, and fronted by his younger brother Jeffrey – almost crossed over into the big league in America.

Kings Of The Sun - Clifford Hoad 02

They came very close – near hit singles Bottom Of My Heart, Serpentine, Drop the Gun and Black Leather (complete with raunchy video clip) all remain great examples of their unique style, combining U.S. arena hugeness with Aussie pub grit and in-your-facedness, and are still well loved and remembered.

After four albums, Kings Of The Sun realised the music industry was trending in a different direction, and the Hoad brothers let the band go, releasing three albums in the next few years as The Rich And Famous, exploring different musical styles but still rooted in their distinctive sibling chemistry and love of rock n’ roll.

Fast forward to 2013 and Kings Of The Sun are back – albeit in a modified form. Jeffrey has opted out of the music business altogether, but rock burns hot in Clifford Hoad’s heart, and after auditioning a stack of singers, he opted to take over the microphone himself whilst remaining on the drum stool.

While Clifford’s vocals don’t boast Jeffrey’s raw hair metal sexuality, they bring an authentic blues rock groove to the band, and the new album – Rock Til Ya Die – is a fantastic record which rocks hard from start to finish, and rated #4 on this writer’s end of year best albums list.

Hoad has relaunched Kings Of The Sun – the band whose famous logo was based on the Australian Army badge first used in 1902 – with the clarion call to ‘keep Aussie rock alive’, and it’s a phrase which he repeats a few times through our half hour interview, and a theme which runs strong within him.

For instance, a discussion about a recent Buffalo reunion show leads him to describe singer Dave Tice as “one of my favourite rock singers out there – keeping Aussie rock alive… [he has] the voice of a young man!”

And of the news that this interviewer’s six year old daughter was digging on the new tunes, “when you told me your little daughter was rocking to it, I thought I’d made the right move somewhere!”

This is Clifford Hoad 2013 – a man who is legitimately excited at being back in the driver’s seat of the band he loves, and is eager to take it to the world, even if the music industry and the way music is consumed by the fans has changed dramatically since his last record.

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Clifford Hoad’s Kings Of The Sun 2013

More on that later – first, we need to know if Clifford was mindful that the new Kings Of The Sun wasn’t going to be just a rehash of past glories.

“Oh absolutely,” he states emphatically. “I wanted to make an album that encumbered everything I’ve ever learnt over the years, including the little sojourn of the band Jeff & I were in called The Rich And Famous, where we took a departure from Kings Of The Sun and we were a little more alternative, a little more punky, a little more uptempo.

“After that,” he continues, “in the decision for this album, I wanted to make a classic rock album from my memory – like when I first heard [AC/DC’s] Highway To Hell. It took it’s time, it just sat in the corner and ROCKED, and you just went with it. That’s a magic that’s very hard to get to without boring people to tears, because it’s simplicity, but it also has something which draws you in.

“I think over the years, with the four albums we made with KOTS we hit the nail on the head a few times, and rather than repeat yourselves – like, you do your first album, then with your second album artists get scared to repeat the magic of the first, and then the third one comes along and it’s a confusion… unless you go triple platinum, and then you just follow the same method! But when your albums don’t do that great, you’re trying to find ways to find somewhere to go.

“But I always knew where to go with this album – I wanted to come back, and there was never a thought about whether it was gonna be successful or not, it was about what I wanted to hear, and what I wanted the band to sound like, and about the nature of the guys in the band – I knew how they played and I just wanted to put it all together in a great big, ahhh… soup, and have it murky and sounding like a live band on CD, without the rush and the anxiety of live – and I got that.

“So that was the first thing in my mind, to take my time with it all. As a drummer, I sat down with it and when we were rehearsing I rehearsed with a metronome – an old fashioned pendulum one. And I put a glass blender over the top of it, and I would just hook it up and watch it. Eddie Kramer, who did Zeppelin and Hendrix taught me that. Because I don’t like click tracks, which modern drummers usually follow recording digitally, and if you get out with the click track all hell breaks loose. So I wanted that consistent feeling but I also wanted it to be sort of swaying – and that’s what the metronome gave me, ‘cos I played a lot of metronome when I was a kid. So I actually played to the metronome, just watching it and remembering the words, as the band played – that was my guide, they didn’t really know it was on, but that was my guide, that pulled me through and gave the album it’s stability and its old fashioned feeling.”

Yes, Clifford has a lot to say – but rest assured he is never short of fascinating, and has the experience under his belt to justify any name dropping and that self confidence which some may misinterpret as arrogance.

Kings Of The Sun - Clifford Hoad 06

I love an album that’s a grower – one which burrows inside upon repeated listens rather than something superfluous which loses your interest after a handful of listens. As Cliff has stated, he wanted to make an album which held the attention, and “took it’s time.” In the modern world of disposable downloads and instant gratification, it’s an old fashioned conceit to think you can make an album which listeners could assimilate with over time – but that he has succeeded is the real triumph of Rock til Ya Die.

On first listen Rock Til Ya Die sounds pretty good. Then second day you’ve got Rockpile and Switchblade Knife and Geronimo all spinning through your head – they have hooks that burrow deep. Who doesn’t love a record that can really build on your initial listen!

“Yep, I’m the same Shane,” says Hoad, “I’ve got two thousand albums and there’s certain albums I put on and keep going back to, and you wonder ‘what is the magic that’s holding you there?’ And really, it is just magic – it’s not necessarily something you can put into words – it’s either there or it isn’t. Everyone goes into making a record thinking it’s going to be great, but so many things can go wrong or right.

“So, I think I really went back into KOTS and got the best parts of it all and brought it back into today, and with all that I’ve learnt and all that I know now, and put it together as only someone with a lot of years of experience could do. ‘Cos when you’re young, you know, you’re in a bit of a rush, and you’re impressionable and you have other people around you telling you this and telling you that, but I actually had the luxury of the years of waiting around doing nothing, just dabbling with this and dabbling with that, to know what’s good – no different to, say, a doctor or a mechanic, who later in life just knows what to do. That’s the thing with rock music, well, any kind of music, really.”

Surprisingly, Hoad didn’t realise that his Kings Of The Sun comeback coincided with the 30th anniversary of the band’s formation.

“I had no idea – even until today.” He remarked. “You just enlightened me. Is that what it was?”

Kings Of The Sun - The Hoad Brothers 1989

The Hoad Brothers, circa 1989

Yeah, Wikipedia says you formed the band in 1983…

“Yeah, wow – I didn’t know it was that time signature! It’s strange… my Mum’s into numerology and she’s made me aware of numbers and how they reoccur in your life…”

Track 2 on the album, Rockpile, is about bands that fall by the wayside, give up or get forgotten. Was the ‘Master Drummer’ afraid at any point in the past ten or fifteen years, that that might happen – or had happened – to KOTS?

“Well after we did our stint in America,” Hoad breathes deeply, “which went for 6 years on and off, and then we came home and played around a little bit and did a thing with Barnesy and here n’ there, and we felt like, because we hadn’t gone gold over there, and music had changed so much, we felt like we couldn’t continue with it…”

There’s a pause before he continues. “No, it had to stop where it stopped… and I’m kinda glad it did, because I was exhausted with it all.”

With that six years in the States, focussing on the much bigger American market, KOTS remained a cult band here at home rather than, perhaps, elevating to the level of a Jimmy Barnes or Noiseworks or something along those lines. In hindsight has that worked against the band as far as this regeneration is concerned?

“Mmmm…” he ponders a moment. “No, our decision to go to the States wasn’t made by us, we went to where we had interest. We had an English guy come out here and saw a couple of our last shows we were doing in Sydney, and he basically said ‘I wanna take you to The States’ and of course, we didn’t have much of a future out here. At the time we were playing music that was very, very different – you had bands like Eurogliders, bands were very reminiscent of new wave.

“So we were rocking, there was us and Heaven, a couple of other bands like Choirboys, The Angels. There were only a couple of heavy bands – we were kinda looked on as dinosaurs back then – it’s quite funny! So when the opportunity came up to go to The States, we couldn’t get on the plane fast enough! Not to turn our backs on Australia, but when someone says ‘we’re gonna make a record’, we’re gonna go wherever we have to, to make that record, and it just so happened to be the USA.”

Kings Of The Sun - 03

Kings Of The Sun 1988

Clifford wrote all the lyrics and songs on the album, and did a great job too, successfully continuing the sound that the band was originally reknowned for. Back in those days, though, writing was far more collaborative.

“Of course Jeffrey was part of that,” says Hoad, “we wrote the songs, it was a 50-50 thing. This time I had to write the lot. I always helped Jeffrey with the lyrics – he might say ‘what do you think of this?’, and then I might come up with a guitar riff, we’d arrange things together – it was very Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, it was a very 50-50 thing down the road.

“We BOTH wrote the songs – there was no ‘I wrote this’ or ‘I wrote that’, or ‘I’m bringing in a song you might not like’ – every song was written together and we all had our fair share of interplay into each tune. That’s all of the KOTS albums, and all of the R&TF albums.

“I had some songs for this album, and I hadn’t made the decision I was actually gonna sing – I was still looking around for a singer. Which was very difficult for me, ‘cos I thought ‘how am I gonna replace my brother’s voice as the sound of KOTS?’, and I realised I’m gonna have to do it myself because I just couldn’t see anybody singing the lyrics I’d written, with any conviction. You’ve almost gotta write them yourself to get any conviction out of them, otherwise you sound a bit, I dunno, not real. Even though there’s plenty of people out there who sang covers, Elvis [for starters], but from where I was coming from, I didn’t really want to hand a whole bunch of lyrics over to someone who might interpret them differently…”

Hoad is right, of course – the likes of finding a Roger Daltrey or Glenn Hughes who can take someone else’s song and still deliver the emotion accurately and powerfully is highly unlikely.

“Well that’s why Elvis was so incredible,” he continues, “he used to be able to immerse himself in the emotion of every song, and you bought every single one no matter how corny it was. And me sounding similar to my brother – siblings sound the same – and all those years I’d sung harmonies on everything.

“If you listen back to KOTS, you’ll hear a lot of the time two voices – I’m up high in the background, ‘cos we love The Everly Brothers… so part of the old sound was me in the background singing, but nobody took any notice ‘cos I was up the back drumming. But when they finally heard my voice now, it’s slightly familiar to people but it’s actually singing the lead vocal.”

I suggest that it must have been weird for the first time in a 30 year career to sit down to write songs without his brother there to bounce ideas back n’ forth with.

“Oh it was,” he agrees, “I started out in music as a kid, I’ve been drumming since I was ten, and I started out playing music alone, and then Jeff picked up the guitar a bit later. I’d been going eight years, ten years and then he picked up the guitar in his teens, but he’d always been more-so a bit of a singer and entertainer. So to go back into my music on my own wasn’t a great shock… I can’t say I was looking forward to it, but it brought something out in me that I never knew I had, which is to dig deep, pull those riffs out, pull those words out, express myself musically in another arena which wasn’t just on the drums playing the songs he and I wrote.

“It’s fresh and new for me,” he continues excitedly. “I’m a new act in a sense – no-one’s heard me sing until now. I’m not jaded, I’m not sick of trying, I’m committed, and what people I think are hearing in the music is my enthusiasm for it to work, and that’s something you usually only have when you’re young – it’s strange coming from an older guy! If anything, I wanna give that impression that when you do get on, if you don’t give up on yourself you can still keep doing the things you did, when you’re older – you just have to have them mindset to do that. Once we get older we have all these distractions for why we can’t do this or do that, and they’re usually good reasons.

“And if it’s not you [being distracted by life], then its someone else that you know, you get caught up in their problems and their life – there’s always something there. But when you’re younger, you don’t care, you’ve just got those three or four guys around you who wanna be in a band and you can all live together and live out of a suitcase, and there’d [only] be a mars bar and a frozen meat pie in the fridge and no-one cares!”

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Stepping from behind a drumkit to centre stage is pretty scary for anyone, but Clifford has handled it in his stride and seems gregariously confident during our time talking. Jeffrey’s long blonde haired rock god persona through the 80’s and 90’s will be well remembered by any who saw them, so perhaps there is a confidence and extroversion that runs through the whole Hoad family? Clifford is not so confident, suddenly.

“The family?” laughs Hoad quietly, “Ummm, haha… I think the opposite to extroverted is shy, and for me to see the family as being extroverted – that side of us…

“My sister’s similar, it comes from my Mum. She’s very, very flamboyant and that side of us comes from there, but my father is very, very quiet and to himself – and we have that side to us as well, where we’re almost, like, reluctant [to do anything]

“There’s times when you have to go out on stage,” he finally confesses, “and you really don’t feel like it, and you’d go ‘Oh my God – we’ve gotta go out there!’ and Jeff and I would look at each other and we’d go ‘Ahhh… fuck it – we’re on’,” he laughs again, “and the other side would kick in. But that’s rock n’ roll – I think that’s for a lot of performers, you know.”

Clifford Hoad's Kings Of The Sun 2013 02

Hoad has surrounded himself with tried and tested players for the Rock Til Ya Die album. There’s Govinda Doyle who produced the last Roch & The Famous record and reprises that role here as well as playing bass. Lead guitarist Quentin Elliot played in the last incarnation of Kings Of The Sun. Rhythm guitarist Dave Talon is another Brisbane native well known for several albums with Rollerball. Despite these connections, Hoad says they were all chosen for their sound rather than any friendly allegiance.

“It wasn’t so much people that I could rely on,” he explains, “I wasn’t so sure I was relying on myself at the time! But I knew that they had the organic sound that I was after. They weren’t caught up in fashion so much, as a lot of guitar players that I knew.

“Dave, who I’d always admired through his work with Rollerball, he just had this rambling freedom in his playing that was similar to my brother’s.

“Quentin is such an unusual guitar player and his lead had never been heard – he’d never been recorded, and it got to the stage where I felt like I had to step in and say ‘man, you gotta get recorded – I’ve got just the songs for you to be showcased on. Come up, I’m gonna play ’em to you, and see what you think.’ And he came up here and visited his Dad’s – ‘cos he lives in Melbourne – and he came round and I showed him basically what was going on on acoustic guiutar and he’s just got the touch… he almost sounds, I told him on the phone just before, ‘you remind me almost of a new Angus’ – he’s got lots of other elements in his playing too, but his touch and his sound, he just reminds me of Angus, even though he doesn’t really try to be like him. He’s a different player altogether, but I just hear his bends like Angus, and he just goes for [it], takes it to the edge and pulls it back a bit.”

Which brings us to the elephants in the room – firstly, with the record sounding so huge and cohesive, the songs so worthy to stand next to the band’s back catalogue, will Kings Of The Sun play live? They have since announced a Melbourne date – 22nd February at Cherry Bar – but Clifford at this stage was less committal and instead drifted headlong into the second elephant… his brother’s absence not only from the band but also the music business.

“I can only think positive things [about how the songs will sound live] from the overwhelming reception that we’ve had. When Dave went back to Switzerland – ‘cos he lives over there, and we had a two week window to record the album – I said ‘man, I’ll see you when I see you, ‘cos I don’t know what’s gonna happen here, people are either gonna love it or they’re gonna hate it!’

Kings Of The Sun - Clifford Hoad 07

“Because [KOTS] isn’t what in people’s memory it should be. But it could never be that – because that was twenty years ago. Different people, different relationships. Jeff & myself – parting of the ways. Things happen, like Lennon & McCartney – it just happens to people. You spend so much of your life pushing for a certain ideal, and then when it doesn’t happen as you expected it to happen, you share each other’s disappointment. It gets to the point where you’re looking at each other going ‘God, let’s see how we go on our own’. And that’s what happened to me.

“I possibly needed it a little more than my bro,” he admits, a tinge of sadness in his voice. Sadness for his brother perhaps, or for having to plough ahead alone, but he’s not about to dwell on the past for long and his voice peps up again almost instantly, “even though I don’t like speaking for him. I needed to get out there and quench this insatiable desire to play again, and I had so much more to say as a musician, and the album was the only way I could say it.

“And I’ve obviously touched a lot of people who had the same sentiment, saying ‘where’s that great old sound gone that we all know and love?’ It’s such a sound that I think [only] us Australians really, really know – however I think people overseas are starting to get it now. Not overdone, not oversaturated, it’s just the sound that this country produces, and I wanted to really get that down. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I wanted an album that – as you were saying – lured you in, rather than an album that came in and busts your ear drums apart and you got sick of it after the fourth listen.”

Not wanting to labour the point, but I would be remiss if I didn’t ask Cliff why, in his opinion, Jeffrey no longer wants to be involved in music.

“Ahh Shane,” he sighs, a glimmer of that sadness showing through the cracks briefly, “as I said to the guys, it’s too… ahhhh… it’s too complicated and too long a story for me to tell. He’s his own man and he has his own reasons for stopping at this point, but ummm… he loves his music and… I’m sure he will revisit it, and his own talent and ability, it’s just… [it will have to be] when he wants to. I don’t know.

“As I said to the lads from Triple R the other night, that’s something I cannot answer, and… ahhhhh… I can just hope he doesn’t completely turn his back on his own talent and ability – because he is such a talent. And I decided – look at the lyrics in Rockpile – never to do that.

“Even though I screwed round for a lot of years, not knowing what I wanted to do, but I ALWAYS had my drums, I always stayed in this dream world of rock. You know, I taught myself the saxophone for a few years and I was in a band playing hand drums – I kept it going in different arenas, but I always longed for getting the big kit back out. The NEW kit… that’s the old kit, the KOTS kit, the one on the cover of Rock Til You Die – I bought that in America. And I repainted it all by hand, to have it re-come back to life. I dunno how I hung onto it for all those years but it’s been in cases for twenty years – I pulled it out, repainted it all by hand, gave it a new feeling and recorded it properly with the ingenuity of Govinda Doyle, who loves classic old Ludwig drums – the Bonham sound, Carmine Appice… all the old classic recordings had Ludwigs on ’em. And he recorded them really hollow and loose, like they should be sounding – there was no dampening – he’s got his techniques… and to top it off he’s just the most sensational bass player.

“Govinda, he just locked into my – because he plays drums as well – he just locked into my feel and just glued the whole thing together and what you hear is what you hear: it’s fat! I was so sick and tired of not hearing any bottom end, and now there’s plenty of it on there. It’s a matter of getting the bottom end right with the bass drum, if you’re gonna have a dampened sort of clicky bass drum, you’ve gotta have the bass below that. But on my album the bass drum’s below and the bass is above that, sort of like a layer cake.” He chuckles at his allusion, “a layer cake, yeah!”

Is the door open for Jeffrey Hoad to rejoin Kings Of The Sun if he wanted to?

“Ummm, well, what’s the point now? What’s the point? I’m not gonna say… For me, I would say that we’ve done our time. More so, from his point of view – I think he has to go make his own statement [in another band], I really do. I think our time of being… I never say never, but I feel he has to go and discover himself, and not have me there going ‘do this and do that’, and ‘maybe we should and maybe we shouldn’t’. He needs to have his independence, and whether he pursues that, I don’t know – I can’t even think in those terms now, this is all so new for me. It’s not as if I’m going ‘oh, sounding great’… I don’t know how… it’s too early days for me to answer that properly Shane…”

There’s obviously a lot of love between the brothers Hoad, and while Clifford doesn’t appear to be avoiding these questions deliberately, he simply doesn’t feel he can answer for them. In fact the next day he contacted me to say that the answer to this last question “actually should have been NO. I just don’t want anybody getting any false hopes either! I’m very happy with my present band & it’s accomplishments & want to move forward into the future with all due respect for the past & the old band & it’s great history.”

Kings Of The Sun - Black Leather video clip still

Kings Of The Sun – Black Leather music video still 1988

For whatever reason, Clifford Hoad is Kings Of The Sun now, and Jeffrey – who was given a 12 month suspended sentence in the Brisbane Supreme Court in October 2011 for growing marijuana in his Gold Coast home – is no longer part of the equation.

Moving on, it’s time to discuss the inspiration for the magnificent and uniquely Australian cover art for Rock Til Ya Die.

“Well, I have to say that a lot of things inspired that.” He says effusively, “The artist, Dean Freeze who created [the cover], [took] our love of vinyl, and those old Seventies albums that you could fold out and as you listened to the music you could just lose yourself in the cover… all those great Roger Dean album covers for bands like Yes – you could go on forever! So I wanted something like that, and I told him my ideas, I had the drums, and the idea of the band being on the cover, and then I said ‘The Australian outback – make it look like a fantasy’, and he just came up with all of that in his own mind, and he just blew me out!

“He knew how to sell it to me – he made up a record cover… [then] went to my albums and pulled out five or six records and hid it at the back, and said ‘just go through your records’. So I went blink-blink-blink-blink-blink – and there he had it at the back, in record size, and that was it. I just went ‘this is it, that’s unreal!’”

Famously, in 1988 KOTS supported Guns n’ Roses – a show which ended with the band’s set cut short and Axl Rose having them evicted from the Sydney Entertainment Centre and then bagging the band out from the stage. I can’t resist asking what happened to prompt all that going down.

“Nothing happened backstage, so much.” Hoad shrugs, “It was what was suggested – or presented to them a day before. We had done an on-the-street interview, and I had come back saying they owed a lot to Rose Tattoo in their image and blah blah blah blah, and they should be more forward in saying [that] and giving praise to the guys that had inspired them. I didn’t think that was coming through, and I basically said something like, uh, they should mention that they got a lot of their image from Rose Tattoo – I basically said it to an Australian interviewer ‘cos I was upset with the Australians loving [G’n’R] and having the real thing out here [being ignored].

“You know, I love Angry, and I love Peter Wells, and all those guys – at the time I just felt terrible that we were revering a band that had come from The States when we basically had our own, REAL Rose Tattoo here, and they were being neglected. That’s what that was all about – I basically just said he should be basically ashamed at himself for not mentioning them, and it was too close to the bone, and he went crazy…

“Even at that time he had his own wardrobe and backstage area, the band was separate from him, [he was throwing] temper tantrums and all that. So I think we got four tracks in [to our set], he heard what had happened and he came out and had a guy pull the plug. I think it was [during] Drop The Gun from Full Frontal Attack, and we were halfway through that and all of a sudden it all went.. all the amps stopped and it all went quiet – all I could hear was the acoustic sound of my drums, it was really quite bizarre. It went from this thundering PA down to [makes quiet drum noises].

“I thought, I’d better just keep playing – I think that the guitars had all dropped out, and someone will fix the problem – but it never came back in, a roadie came up and said ‘you’re off, you’re off’… and we got backstage and he’d organised us to be escorted out to the back of the car, kicked out of the Entertainment Centre. And the rest is just history!”

Kings Of The Sun - Clifford Hoad 04

We wrap up our long talk with a few tantalising hints for where 2014 might take Kings Of The Sun – a collaboration with Perth’s own Badpiper (“something like Long Way To The Top, with the bagpipes”) has been discussed. A national tour might eventuate. It all rests on how the album performs, and with reviews being consistently great – #4 album of 2013 in my opinion – it is definitely one every hard rock fan should have in their collection.

ROCK TIL YA DIE album review

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INTERVIEW - Clifford Hoad, Kings Of The Sun – November 2013

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