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Reaching maximum potential with KINGSWOOD

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Just over a month out from their national headlining tour, appropriately named the Maximus tour, lead singer for Melbourne’s Kingswood, Fergus Linacre says the band is already pumped up and raring to go.

“It’s gonna be the best!” he enthused. “I’m sitting here now helpless in Melbourne while the other guys are away, and I don’t know what to do with myself (laughs). We need to go on tour again. That’s when I come back to life.”

When pressed as to why the tour is being dubbed ‘Maximus’, Linacre responds with a smile.

“Because there are nine people on stage and it’s the Maximus version of the band,” he said. “We have a horn section, back up singers and a fifth musician now – which we need to play all the new parts – but now we’re incorporating those guys and writing arrangements for the old stuff as well. It’s gonna be great.”

Nine members are more than doubling the usual stage presence of Kingswood and Linacre admits it will be hard to scale back after the experience.

“I think so,” he replied when asked if the new members could be a permanent addition on the road. “I mean, it’s gonna be hard to go back, right? The last tour, we did a bunch of shows with this setup and… I can’t… horns are amazing! Having a horn section just changes the sound so much it’s gonna be hard to do shows without them.”

With the musical direction of Kingswood’s sophomore album, After Hours, Close to Dawn changing markedly from the harder edge debut, Microscopic Wars, Linacre admits combining the two albums into a cohesive set list was a difficult assignment.

“It was certainly challenging picking a set list,” he nodded, “but I think the reason we embraced that change when we were recording the second album, and we weren’t concerned with it being different is we had this mentality of going with the flow of what we were doing. We’ve put the heavier songs back with, the softer songs back-to-back and things like that because there’s no hiding from it. You don’t wanna blend in that it’s a diverse sound, so we’re just throwing it in peoples faces and saying this is who we are.”

After attaining significant success with Microscopic Wars, earning themselves a nomination for Best Rock Album during the 2014 ARIA Music Awards in the process, Kingswood adopted a more rock/blues formula for the follow-up, potentially running the risk of alienating existing fans and losing the hype and support they had generated. It was a brave move, and certainly a gamble, but Linacre points out it was not something which was spoken about in the lead up to the recording process.

“It’s hard to have an answer as to why, we didn’t really try to do anything,” he shrugged. “It just sort of happened. We were aware of it when we were in the early stages of pre-production, and we were certainly aware that it was a different sound. There would have been a short discussion on is this what we wanna do or should we stick to the original sound, and it was pretty… we didn’t do anything that we didn’t wanna do, and we don’t try and please other people as such. I think if you’re doing that as an artist then you’re set to fail. You’ve just gotta do what comes out of you and then embrace it, and we just took every song that we had and tried to make the best version of that song – whether it had horns or violins or anything – and just try to make the best version of that song that we could.”

Even in the early stages of the band, Linacre says that there was no set plan to diversify their releases, it was more a case of allowing the music to breathe and just follow its flight path.

“I think that the singles off the first record were pretty, I suppose, heavy but if you listen to that album all the way through it is quite diverse as well. There’s one song where Alex (Laska – lead guitar/vocals) plays the banjo, and there’s a synth line over the top of it, so it was a weird album as well. I just think the singles were all sort of big loud rock songs that people didn’t realise but now that this one is out it is far more sonically diverse as well… people think we’ve changed, but we have always been a diverse band. We had a show where we gave out an acoustic four track CD that just had some acoustic songs that we’d written – this was many years ago – so we’ve never been straight down the line rock and roll band.”

Such was the leap in sound even the people at the higher end of the marketing scale for Kingswood had reservations.

“Yeah, we certainly did get resistance,” Linacre laughed. “People from the label, our booking agent and all kinds of people started poking their heads in. They would come into the studio and listen to what was going on and even when we played them the finished record they were all concerned that we were gonna lose all our fans or we were gonna polarise people too much. They got on board eventually once they had a few listens but the first reaction – because they had their business heads on – the first reaction was definitely concerned (laughs).”

Kingswood got their defining break after winning a competition to perform at Splendour in the Grass, and even though that was five years ago, Linacre still feels that it was a turning point in the band’s career.

“It did a lot for us,” he agreed. “Playing on a big stage like that to a lot of people takes you to the next level, and when bands do that all the time… it made us a lot closer and put it in our grasp: like hang on, we can do this. When you’re just starting out and playing for your friends and a few punters in pubs around the country, you never think that you can be one of those bands. We won that comp and people didn’t know who we were – that was the whole point of the comp (laughs). But, we weren’t there because we’d earned our spot on the bill, it was because we’d won this comp but being up there and playing made us want it a lot more and made us wanna come back and do it again to our right, and we just played Splendour for the third time this year! We love it, and it’s a good leg up for any band winning that competition.”

Winning is one thing, but maintaining that momentum and building on it are essential in the aftermath and Linacre admits capitalizing on that start can be difficult.

“I don’t know…” he mused. “You see bands dropping off all the time. Bands that we used to play with ending the band and that type of thing, and I think as much as the music is important you have to keep the group together, and you have to be friends, and you have to be understanding and look after each other. A lot goes on – as with any working group or friendship – and I think we’ve got a really strong bond the three of us and the extended members of the band as well. We’ve been through everything together so… you’ve gotta have that good bond with the other guys in the band.”

While winning the Splendour opportunity gave Kingswood the chance to impress and sell themselves to a large audience, Linacre says the seeds of future success were sewn through confidence in their ability earlier on when the members were playing the local circuit.

“I’m not sure what made us stand out,” he pondered, “but I feel like we had a bigger ego then than we do now (laughs). I remember doing things like… I used to have a microphone stand with a Steven Tyler scarf hanging off it. I also remember Alex – I don’t know if he ever actually did it – but he wanted to start a show with a radio pack on his guitar at the Esplanade Hotel in Melbourne, just doing a guitar solo and walking down the steps onto the stage. We were all up for doing it but I would never in a million years dream of doing it now or I would never have a scarf hanging from my microphone stand now (laughs). I think maybe we were just fearless and arrogant and just thinking like we were gonna take over the world and be the best band ever and… I dunno (laughs). Maybe that just gave us a leg up to keep going.”

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