Mark Hosking, guitarist with the band Karnivool, chats with Kevin Cooper about his love of touring, performing in India, the release of their back catalogue on vinyl and their current Divergence Tour.
Mark Hosking is the guitarist in the five piece Australian Progressive Rock band, Karnivool. Formed in Perth in 1997, they have released three albums, Themata in 2005, Sound Awake in 2009 and their latest offering, Asymmetry in 2013. Having extensively toured the world, their biggest surprise was their popularity in India.
Currently touring the UK, Mark took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Mark how are you?
I’m smashing man thanks.
How are you finding Scotland today?
Well Kevin, I’m here in Glasgow as we have a show here tonight and its bloody cold (laughter).
It may be cold but are you enjoying it?
I am watching people walking around half-naked in this weather which freaks me out (laughter). I think that they must be cold but I think that this is warm to them. I’m trying to join them by wearing a t-shirt and shivering, but it’s not quite working (laughter).
So other than being cold, how is life treating you?
Everything is fantastic Kevin. We are two weeks into this tour which is only a three and a half week tour which is quite short compared to most of the international tours that we do. It’s been fantastic Kevin, numbers are up, people are enjoying the show, and we are playing a fairly different set to the one which we have played over here before. So, it’s all guns blazing mate and it’s great.
So the tour is going well?
Yes it’s fantastic Kevin. It’s been about eight months since we were last over here in the UK and we have definitely seen growth over here as we are now playing larger venues, which is great. When you tour without an album to promote, it is great because you find yourself playing to new people who are seeing you for the first time and that is all down to word of mouth. The show is fantastic and we are getting some great emails from people all around the place asking us to play here and play there. We don’t obviously get the chance to play everywhere that we would like to play, so people are tending to travel a fair way in order to see us which we really appreciate. We have had people from Poland and Italy come to see us on this tour which is fantastic. We really do wish that we could play everywhere but unfortunately we can’t.
Did it surprise you just how big the band are in India?
We were very surprised Kevin, yes. The very first time that we played there, which is a few years ago now, we went there thinking that we would be playing at a small college festival but we found ourselves playing in this giant outdoor auditorium. Everyone who came was singing along; they knew all of the words but we are still not sure how (laughter). India is a fantastic market for us, and we are still scratching our heads wondering just how that happened. It is really amazing over there.
Mark, I have to ask you before we go any further; Karnivool, where does the name come from?
(Laughter) man, we don’t even know. The name was there even before this band sort of became the band that it is. The person who invented the name is no longer in the band. It first came about around thirteen years ago when the guys were a high school band. It is self admittedly a horrible name (laughter) but it is one that has stuck with us through the years. We did think about changing it at one point but when you get comfortable with something, it becomes like an old pair of shoes, they are easy to slip on and they still feel great. You may not necessarily think that they look that great, but they do their job and that’s how we feel about the band name.
As the old adage goes, if it’s not broken then don’t fix it.
Yes totally, totally. It’s a childish name; it’s an old-school name, but it has stuck and we are happy to roll with it (laughter).
And the main thing is that once people have heard the name, they remember it.
Well that’s it Kevin, that is exactly right. It has become what it has become and people do recognise it, and associate it with the sound which is totally cool by us.
You joined the band in 2003, how did that come about?
I joined the band quite a long time ago now (laughter). The core line-up of what the band is now has been together for around ten years. I used to live in Melbourne and would come over to Perth and jam in hotel rooms with these guys, get crazy drunk and almost miss flights (laughter). And then one day they told me that they were looking for a second guitarist and that was the moment that I joined the band and it’s all been happy days ever since. I moved over to Perth and we set up a little studio there where we finished off writing the first album, Themata, and we have now released an album every four years. We call it our Olympic period (laughter). We are a band that likes to take our time to write new material, but hopefully that is portrayed in the music when we release it.
So you release an album every four years. Does that mean that we now have to wait until 2017 for the release of the next one?
(Laughter) I really do hope not Kevin but I won’t say no (laughter). I won’t say no because you just don’t know Kevin. I have said that before and it has taken four years so I won’t jump the gun and say that it is going to be quicker. I do hope that it is sooner because it gives us an excuse to get back out on the road and to come back to these wonderful parts of the world.
You are about to release your back catalogue on vinyl. Was that a decision that was taken by the band?
Yes it was and we have actually been really pushing this for a really long time, but we wanted to do it right; we wanted to get the albums re-mastered and we wanted to get it printed by the right people. We wanted it to be a proper release rather than just putting out our cds on vinyl. We have finally found the right people to do it for us, and I finally heard the test pressing just before we came overseas and it sounds enormous. It is a totally different sound and it picks up all of the bits that you would hope that a vinyl pressing would pick up. I am really excited about it (laughter).
I have always said that the sound that you get from a vinyl album is far superior to that of a cd and I am so pleased that people are finally beginning to realise that to be true.
I totally agree with you about that Kevin although the jury is still out as to whether or not that is correct as they keep changing their minds (laughter). I just think that there is something romantic about putting on a vinyl album although you have to be careful as you might just have a cheap, shitty turntable (laughter). But it is so nice to have a romantic evening to yourself sometimes and listen to some good music.
You are playing the Rescue Rooms on Wednesday, and the last time that you were here you played Rock City. How do you find Nottingham, and please don’t say down the M1.
(Hysterical laughter) well Kevin that’s the factual way on how you find Nottingham (laughter). We really do love Nottingham. Every gig that we have ever played there has been great. We always get a solid core of people that keep coming back that remember us and we know them. It is almost like a family gathering. Rock City is a great place to play and it is a stalwart within the English live venues and it was great for us to get to play there. Nottingham is just fantastic; there are good people there, great crowds and it’s just a pleasure to be able to play in the city.
But just how do you cope with the warm beer?
(Hysterical laughter) we don’t (laughter). We try to but being Australian we tend to like our drinks sub-zero so it’s usually a case of getting to the venue, putting ice in and then waiting (laughter).
I love Australia and I try to get out there as much as I can and in particular Perth, which I think is a fantastic place.
You’ve been to Perth?
Yes I have.
Perth is a very isolated city and you feel that sometimes. In Europe there are hundreds of different cities close to each other, but with Perth it is so isolated because you can’t just get on a bus and within an hour be in a different city. So that creates a very different kind of environment, and I think that isolation is what helps this band write sometimes.
Yes I agree, but what shocked and surprised me when I first visited Perth was just how clean the place is.
You’re right, it is a very clean city; it’s like a city that is coming soon (laughter). It’s still clean and fresh.
Well I have relatives all down the east coast, Sydney, Brisbane, and they are all teachers and lecturers and that usually means that I qualify for a cheap holiday (laughter); it’s nice, and that’s why I don’t upset them (laughter).
(Laughter) That’s a good way of looking at it.
Now I’ve got to ask you, in England we like to pigeon-hole music, and you have to accept that unfortunately. I have heard you described as heavy progressive rock. Is that how you would describe the band?
We try not to describe the band but certainly that is a great bracket to describe what we do, and there are some awesome bands in that field that we have learned from. But if you listen to our current album from start to finish there are a bunch of different genres. We are all into different things, as individuals as well as a band, so it is nice to jump around and look at different areas.
How is the music scene over in Australia, is it growing; is it getting stronger?
I think it is man, Perth has a vibrant music community. In Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane it is growing and it is very good. They are very supportive in Australia, and everybody seems to know everyone so it’s like a big growing community over there, and they are big music lovers. I think that one of the major things we love about touring is that the community music love that you find when you go to a place and you start talking about bands that you like, and bands that other people like, and discover the local bands that are performing that we have never heard of, is all eye opening if nothing else.
We are still a bit blinkered over here so you will have to forgive us. You mention Australia to a lot of people and its AC/DC or Inxs, they simply haven’t moved on from there.
(Laughter) well that’s ok man, if those two bands that you have referred to are what people think about when you mention Australia, well that’s pretty good man, because they are two really good bands.
Well I try to move on. When I am there I am down at the record shops buying vinyl and just experimenting and exploring really. That’s how I stumbled across Jimmy Barnes.
Ah yes the great man. He’s a part of the great Australian institution I think (laughter)
Well we are catching up, slowly but surely, but we are getting there.
Yes well that’s the thing about Australia, you have open minded people and then you have the other side that stick to the music that they know and love and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s just good to open your minds sometimes and find something new and exciting and something that you wouldn’t otherwise listen to, and that does wonders for your brain.
Yes, well on that point, who have been your musical influences along the way?
Ah there have been lots. The band was brought up, or at least conceived together, as a unit with bands like Nirvana, Sound Garden and Tools. They are what brought us together musically and what got us started, but we look at every possible spectrum. Everyone in the band has a different love.
Now a couple of quick questions for you to answer and I am going to try to embarrass you the best I can.
(Laughter) please, please don’t.
What was the first single that you ever bought?
The first single, Jesus, I think it was Robert Palmer. Yes, the two albums that I had on vinyl were Robert Palmer that had Simply Irresistible on it, and Motley Crew’s Dr Feelgood, both slightly embarrassing to say the least (laughter).
And who did you first see live in concert?
Wow, my first memory of me listening to live music was listening to Queen playing at The Festival Hall in Melbourne, Australia, from the car park because I was too young to go inside (laughter). But I remember hearing Freddie Mercury’s voice all over the car park so it felt that I was actually in there. After that I saw Dire Straits but again it was a long, long time ago. But then it was simply a case of me seeing band after band because I just loved going to see live music.
Well I was fortunate because I was over there in Sydney many, many years ago and it cost me 12 dollars to see Inxs playing in Sydney. There was only about 20 of us in there.
Oh fantastic, you’re a lucky guy man. I never got to see them live but I bet that was an experience.
It was, it was in the Sydney Life Savers and it was empty. It was superb, absolutely fantastic. But moving on, what has been the highlight of your career so far?
Oh, I don’t know. There have been a lot of highlights I think. Finishing an album is always a highlight (laughter), because it takes so long to write it. It’s quite a highlight to get a mixed and mastered album back. But there has been a lot man, a lot of amazing gigs around the world like Donnington and some amazing Festivals in America and around Australia as well, and doing some great club shows around the world in places like New York. We did a gig in Paris a few nights ago, and it was great. We haven’t played a large room like that in Paris before and it was quite a spectacle.
But I like the little random shows where people really intensely get involved in the show, because that really surprises you Kevin. It’s not the big spectacles but the little club shows where you really feel a connection with the crowd and it gives you a little warm fuzzy feeling in your heart which you take away for a few years; so yes really there have been lots of highlights.
Any embarrassing moments that you can tell us about?
(Hysterical laughter) what, that I can tell you about (laughter). Well when you are in a band there are a few random drunken stories, but as far as a collective unit goes we are a pretty good together (laughter), so let’s just leave it there (laughter).
You mentioned writing, do all five of you write, do you all contribute?
Yes we do man, we do. We do in different ways for sure. Whether it’s someone bringing a piece to a room or something done by two people together. We often find that writing in smaller groups is easier too than the five of us sitting in a room jamming because that’s rare if it actually creates anything that’s worthwhile, although some sections of songs do come from us jamming, but mostly it is someone with an idea that’s been added to or expanded upon by the group. So yes we all contribute in different respects, certainly.
And who were you listening too when you were growing up, back as a youngster?
Oh man, lots of different stuff. There were lots of musicians because we owned a music store in Australia and I used to go there and teach the youngsters even back then. But I was into the likes of BB King, Sam Cooke and lots of world music, like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. But I grew up with bands like Queen and a lot of English bands really. But then it just expanded from there to lots of progressive stuff. That’s when King Crimson, Radiohead and a bunch of music like that appealed, but that’s when all my friends were listening to much heavier music and I was shocked and surprised to know how much I loved that kind of music and I was drawn into the heavier side of music I think. But I always kept creeping back to a whole bunch of other stuff.
Mark. It has been fantastic. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
It’s been a pleasure man, a real pleasure.
I want to wish you all the best with the tour.
Thank you very much. The tour is basically done. It was a short tour but it’s been fun. Thanks man.
It’s been fantastic. You take care.
Same to you. Thanks.