Fergus Linacre and Alex Laska, singer and guitarist respectively for the rising Melbourne rock band Kingswood, played their first gig together in 1998, when they were 11-year-olds in grade six at primary school in Caulfield. Their band, Sweet Garlic, played three songs at the school fair: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama, Aeromsith’s I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing and an original entitled Living on the Edge.
The group lasted three weeks before their 12-year-old singer became their manager, just to complete the illusion that they were living inside a Wes Anderson film. But as the pair sit side by side in a Windsor cafe 16 years later, Linacre tidily groomed and Laska looking like the committed motorcycle rider he is, they credit their first fledgling outfit as being their greatest inspiration.
“We’re forever trapped in the world that revolves around exactly the same dream we had when we were 11 years old and it hasn’t changed or been tainted by anything,” says Laska. “We just want to play music for the rest of our lives. The magnetic quality that music has overpowers everything else. Why would you want to live in the real world when you can do this?”
In the past 18 months ‘'this’' has become decidedly more prominent for Kingswood. Having reconnected as musicians in 2010, adding bassist Jeremy Hunter and drummer Alex Debrincat, the group was tagged as rock'n'roll revivalists, thanks to cranked riffs and Linacre’s soulful wail. A 2012 debut EP, Change of Heart, was followed by 100 gigs in 2013, including festival slots and opening for their adolescent idol, Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler.
It’s been a decade since the last wave of celebratory rock'n'roll, led by Jet’s encapsulation of the 1970s, swept through Melbourne, and it would be straightforward for Kingswood to spearhead a repeat offering. But while the term rock'n'roll is often bandied about when the band is discussed, whether as a genre, an attitude or a sound, the quartet aren’t committed to being standard-bearers for bourbon, blues and biggish hair.
“The rock'n'roll philosophy is more of a life philosophy. I apply rock'n'roll as a musical philosophy,” says Laska, a livewire dreamer with a considered pitlook. “If you look at the way it’s progressed for them 1950s till now it was always about invention and creativity, taking something you admire that you’ve built your musical heritage on and progressing it for a modern era.”
That outlook is reflected on Kingswood’s debut album, Microscopic Wars, which was recorded in Nashville with producer Vance Powell, a freak for drum sounds whose previous credits include Jack White and Arctic Monkeys. Classic rock moments such as Ohio are offset by the Queens of the Stone Age-like grind of Sucker Punch, while the lean groove of I Can Feel That You Don’t Love Me spotlights a vintage Moog keyboard solo. The group have started to shed some of their orthodoxies.
“A year ago I would have been anti-synth and adamant [the Moog] wouldn’t have been on our first record,” admits Linacre. “But when the record comes out now a lot of our fans will be shocked by how non-rock'n'roll parts of it are.”
Kingswood’s many self-confessed Spinal Tap moments – arguments about their correct animal spirits, dramatic stage entrances that go laughably wrong – happen when they’re not playing music. The band wants to put their own modern spin on rock'n'roll while still having Steve Tyler and his leopard skin dressing gown visit their dressing room, and that makes sense in a country where rock'n'roll’s roots still run deep and conservative.
“You have to have an impulse or plant a seed of something that’s interesting,” Laska stresses. “It’s always about being modern and current and we apply that concept of rock'n'roll to our music, rather than talking about how much heroin we did last night.”
Kingswood play Howler, Brunswick, August 28 and 29; and Sydney's Newtown Social Club on August 26 and 27. Microscopic Wars is released today through Dew Process.