Crispian Mills, (seen here on the left), singer songwriter and front man of Kula Shaker chats with Kevin Cooper about the 20th anniversary of their iconic album K, seeing The Who at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the release of their latest album K2.0, and their forthcoming tour of the UK
Crispian Mills is an English singer-songwriter, guitarist, and film director. He is best known as the front man of the psychedelic indie rock band Kula Shaker which broke up in 1999, after the release of their album K. He remained with Columbia Records and toured with a set of session musicians under the name Pi, although no official studio recordings were ever released in full. In 2002 he fronted back to basics rock outfit The Jeevas, who disbanded in 2005 to make way for a reformed Kula Shaker.
In early 2016 Kula Shaker returned with their new album K 2.0; released to celebrate 20 years of the release of K.
Mills comes from a very famous family, being the son of actress Hayley Mills and director Roy Boulting, the grandson of Sir John Mills and nephew of Juliet Mills. He is also half brother to Jason Lawson. Having chosen a career in music he is also involved in the film industry. In 2012 he co-directed A Fantastic Fear Of Everything which starred Simon Pegg.
About to embark upon a tour of the UK, he took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Crispian how are you?
I’m very well thank you, and thankfully everything has finally settled down now for the time being (laughter).
That’s good to hear and before we go on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Not at all Kevin, it’s my pleasure.
And just how is life treating you?
Well, I have to say that Kula Shaker have had a very busy year so far, touring non-stop for the past ten months so far and you find me between a tour of the USA and a few festivals over in Germany. We are going to tour the album K before having a few weeks off at Christmas, and after that we are going to tour the album in Japan.
In February this year you released the album K2.0. Were you happy with how well it was received?
To be honest with you we were both surprised and thrilled pretty much on all fronts because it was a bit of a rush; a bit of a scramble to get the album together. We really did want to make it in order to mark the 20th anniversary of K. We realised that it was the 20th anniversary so late, time had just flown by, and somebody had tipped us off that it was going to be twenty years which left us with about six months in order to get it all together, write it and record it. That could very well have been a recipe for disaster but thank goodness, it really did all come together. It was a massive burst of energy, creativity, spontaneity, excitement and I have to say that it all turned out grand. I have to say that it is all down to luck and it is something that you can’t really predict.
A lot of your fans are already saying that it is your best piece of work to date. Would you agree with that?
Only time will be in a position to be able to answer that question but what I can say is that it certainly feels fresh and exciting. It certainly bridges the void between 1996 and 2016. It connects our previous work with what we are doing now. It certainly feels like we have come full circle.
On the subject of the past how are you all getting along now?
All is good at the moment and it certainly feels as if we have resolved a lot of the past issues. The present has now caught up with the past and the future. In a strange way it all makes sense now to us.
I have been playing the album for a few weeks now and I have to say that I think that it is a great body of work.
Thank you for saying that; it really is appreciated.
The two stand out tracks for me are Death Of Democracy and Infinite Sun. I think that they are fantastic.
That’s interesting as a lot of people who I speak to really do like Death Of Democracy. We really do need to put it into the set list. We have put a few of the new tracks into the set list but for some reason we overlooked Death Of Democracy.
Do you as an artist find it frustrating when you put in the time and effort into making an album which runs from A to Z only to find that people are merely cherry picking a couple of tracks off the album?
Yes I do, I really do. I don’t want to sound like Hancock’s Half Hour but that is really frustrating to any artist; iPod Shuffle seemed like a really great idea. However, it does play havoc with your sequencing (laughter). Unfortunately you cannot avoid it. The good thing is that kids are now seeing vinyl as a natural reaction to that. People can actually have their cake and eat it now.
I am a huge lover of vinyl and to be honest I never really took to the CD. I always found them to be cold and unappealing.
Well, the record industry went nuts over Dire Straits Brothers In Arms album. It was all to do with the look of that shiny steel guitar on the cover. Then the CD, the case, together with the clarity of Mark Knopfler’s guitar together with all of those synthesizer drums (laughter), people simply went mad. That was the moment wasn’t it when CD really defined MTV and everything else associated with music and unfortunately it has taken many years for people to get tired of digital sound. You can see the same happening with movies; people are getting tired of digital effects. There simply is not the same connection with waves and human interaction.
You have briefly mentioned K, can you really believe that it is the albums 20th anniversary?
Well, I now have two sons, one eight years old and one five years old and I am now just coming to a point where I can see that it was another time, another era and we have all been through one hell of a journey as a band and as people. But it is frightening and something that you have to experience, something that you can’t quite measure. We have experienced a lot, the band has been through a lot and by some peculiar, unexplainable outcome the band is now sounding amazing. I have to say that the band is on fire and nobody was quite expecting that. We have made a couple of albums over the past ten years, and we have got our own record company, but K2.0 really marked a sort of a bit of a rebirth of Kula Shaker as a rock and roll band, and especially as a live band and as I have said, that was totally unexpected.
What was the rationale behind K2.0?
To be honest with you myself and the rest of the band felt that it was a special occasion and that really injected the proceedings with a sense of anticipation and energy. I think that it was this idea of creating a companion piece to K that really fed in to the whole writing and recording of the album. However, when we were all plugged into the idea, so to speak, we were all just smiling and staring at each other (laughter). We hadn’t played together for five years and we sounded as though we were all bouncing off the walls (laughter). Who knows exactly what happened but it all worked out fine in the end.
Looking back, twenty years ago when you recorded K did you realise that it was something special?
With K we all felt that we had a unique opportunity to make an album for Columbia Records and we had spent three years as teenagers writing and honing our sound. We were filled with ambition and a sense of ‘let’s get this thing right’. That in itself created enormous pressure and at one point it almost got in the way of us enjoying the process. However, despite there being so many great moments in the studio, I personally feel that the excitement was in the writing of the music more than the recording of it. With songs like 303, Govinda and Tattva we always knew that they had a certain magic and a particular specialness so when we came to record the album, the pressure was for us not to mess it up (laughter).
In 1997 you had chart success with your version of Hush. Did you ever receive any feedback from Deep purple?
Actually we did because Alonza (Bevan) the bass player with Kula Shaker had a family friend who was connected to the Deep Purple family. You have to remember that Deep Purple come from the golden age of stadium rock gods and I think that they take it for granted that everyone thinks that they are amazing (laughter). They seem to live in this world in which they have laid down the rules of heavy rock and everybody comes along to pay them respect. They were really cool about it and we all went to see them play in Los Angeles where we got to hang out with them back stage together with Tony Iommi, the Lord of Darkness, and I have to say that it was a proper British rock moment (laughter).
It was great to see the wonderful Jon Lord before he sadly passed away. I remember that Jon had to play a digital Hammond organ that night. He simply said that it wasn’t fit for a grown man to play (laughter). I would put Jon right at the top of the pile along with Georgie Fame.
Kula Shaker split back in 1999. Looking back was it the right time?
Well, the whole thing about pop music is that at some stage it goes pop. My first ever job as a professional guitarist for which I got paid for playing, was when I was seventeen years old and I played for Poly Styrene and X-Ray Spex. She told me that she had called herself Poly Styrene because it was a cheap, man-made, disposable material. And to me that is what pop music is all about; you hold it up, you celebrate it, and then you chuck it away. So I think that there is something to do with pop music where if you embrace the pop aesthetic you know that you are going to have to hang up your spurs at some time. We were so young and our music was so based in being young, innocent and joyful that the pressures of us being a big band meant that we simply were not up for it.
We were not capable of surviving in the music industry so it was the right thing to do, simply because we have managed to get to where we are now. We are still a band and we are still making music. I admire people like Chris Martin and Coldplay because I don’t quite know how they manage to do it. I think that they must be a little bit mad to be able to survive for so long in such a mad business (laughter). They must be mad or very clever (laughter).
You mention pressure, for you personally coming from such a talented family, did you feel any added pressure to succeed?
I guess that I did subconsciously but that came from me and not from my family. I was just very young and slightly delinquent. It was strange for me to have retired at twenty-five years old but I soon got back into it. Having said that, I really did need that break.
What was it that made you decide upon a career in music rather than a career in movies?
If you grow up and your parents work in a store then you are familiar with that store and you are familiar with the goods that they make and sell. The shop that I grew up in was the theatre and movies. That was what was familiar and what I understood and even when I was very young I did actually start writing music. I think that it was me subconsciously feeling that I had to rebel against that business and try to be myself. Let’s not forget that the movies and theatre were the business that my dad did, my mum did, my grandpa did, but strangely enough I ended up going into that business anyway (laughter). I still work in the movie business and write for other people. I simply couldn’t avoid my destiny.
You are going back out on the road here in the UK to tour the K album. Do you still get a buzz out of touring?
Yes, and I have to say that Kula Shaker is first and foremost a live band and K is an album that we are all proud of. A lot of people simply didn’t get the album until they saw us live and then they understood just what the band was all about. A lot of the excitement around the band was based on our live performances. The band does really come alive when we are out there on stage. We are all looking forward to going out with a bang this year all the way up to Christmas.
You will be playing here in Nottingham at Rock City on the 3rd December, what can we expect?
It will be a mix of eclectic material but mainly we are going to play K in sequence because it was designed to be heard like that (laughter). We were in two minds about doing it but we had quite a few requests to do it and I think K is an album which really works as a sequence. We have never played it like that before so it will be a first. However, we will be mashing it up with a few tiny changes here and there (laughter). There will certainly be some surprises.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
For me it is ever fresh because we recently played in Los Angeles and before that we hadn’t played in America for over fifteen years. We turned up and the room was full and it was just a really exciting evening. It was one of those moments where you don’t know what to expect and then you suddenly think ‘people are still pleased to see us and think that we are still good’ (laughter). I still can’t say that headlining Glastonbury was the greatest experience of my life simply because I can’t remember it as much as I can remember things we did a couple of weeks ago and that feeling of still being in the moment and things still being electric.
Who has musically inspired you?
I have to say that there are simply too many to mention. I think that the first person who really inspired me had to be Richie Blackmore and I have never quite recovered from that. I have always played a Fender Stratocaster ever since. George Harrison was a really inspirational figure as far as song writing and having such an obvious and amazing spiritual ideas infused into his music. George was a really cool guy as well. He has been there from the beginning too.
What was the first record that you bought?
The first 7” single that I bought would have been Stand And Deliver by Adam Ant and the first album that I bought was Deep Purple In Rock. I went into the record shop in Kingston, Surrey which just so happened to be a real record collectors store and I bought the album simply because I liked the cover (laughter). I went up to the counter and this old rocker was there at the till, he looked up and he saw this twelve year old kid unwittingly buying this seminal piece of heavy British rock history and he gave me a look that said “from this moment on your life is going to change kid” (laughter). You no longer get those formative experiences from downloading; you need to get out there and connect.
I have always been out of touch with whatever was happening in popular mainstream music. I have always been listening to stuff that isn’t on the radio. I don’t know at what point I am going to realise that I am an old fart because even back when I was eleven or twelve years old I was complaining that pop music was crap in those days (laughter).
Who did you first see playing live in concert?
My mum took me along to see Queen at Wembley Stadium and I was very young, about eleven years old, but I do remember that they were just fantastic. I remember that Dhani Harrison, George’s son was also there because it was a friends of friends sort of gig. It was amazing; Queen were astonishing. That was a huge early impression on me. However, I think that the greatest gig that I ever saw was The Who playing at Shepherd’s Bush Empire before John Entwistle had died, in a warm up show before a tour. I don’t hang out with celebrities or anything but Liam Gallagher was there together with quite a few muso’s who had heard about this secret gig.
I had never seen The Who before and I was absolutely blown away. I had gone to the gig expecting a load of old buggers on stage and I have to say that Pete Townshend was channelling lightning. The whole evening was just astonishing. For me to be able to hear those iconic songs live; to see the rock gods in action, well it really did blow me away. I have seen so many bands from touring and playing festivals, and Pete Townshend blew them all away. He blew the kids away, he blew the older rockers away, and after that I really do have faith that you can still play music as you get older. I now believe that you can still be dangerous as you get older.
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
Oh dear, that is a great question actually. I think that would have been a piece of Indian classical music actually. I can’t actually remember what it was called but it reminded me of a time when I was with some friends in India and that is the thing about music, it’s like the smell of cut grass; it is one of the senses, it connects you to another time.
The new album K2.0 is doing well, and you are about to tour K, so I have to ask what next for Crispian Mills?
I think that Kula Shaker will be playing a few of the festivals next summer so we will have to see just where that takes us. At the moment I am concentrating on getting to the end of this year which is going to be extremely busy for us. We will all hopefully enjoy this expedition and then sit down and take stock of exactly where we are.
On that note Crispian let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been a pleasure and good luck with the tour.
Thank you very much Kevin. I am so pleased that we were able to get together in the end and I look forward to seeing you up there in Nottingham. Bye for now.