Alonza Bevan of Britpop stalwarts Kula Shaker revisits the K days with Mike Brooks
Kula Shaker were impressively visible throughout the mid-90s thanks to the ‘flying off the shelves’ success of their 1996 debut album, K, although with interest in Britpop dwindling thereafter in favour of mainstream pop and dance music, the band found themselves on something of a sticky wicket which led to them disbanding. Having now released five albums, including last year’s K 2.0 and a 20th anniversary release of K, the Kula Shaker train is firmly back on track. We recently caught up with Alonza Bevan to get the lowdown on where the K train is heading…
How has the band progressed since the 1990s, Alonza?
I’d like to think our playing has come on a bit – but rock’n’roll has never been about technical ability. Sometimes the best thing to do on bass is bang out eighths on the root note, something I would never have entertained 20 years ago. Over the last 20 years, we’ve produced an album every four years, which is a pretty relaxed schedule when you think about it. Our audience are very patient and loyal; we see some familiar faces but also some new ones. They’re still the usual bunch of misfits and crazies who are always much appreciated. Back in the 90s, Sony pushed us as a pop act – so a lot of young fans were too young to see us live.
Last year saw performances around the world. How did it feel getting back in the saddle?
It’s quite an energetic show, and I started to realise the design faults of the human knee! Mentally, the hardest thing is being away from your family, and staying sane on long-haul flights isn’t easy. The music is the best bit: for one and a half hours a day, it all seems to make sense. It was quite a challenge trying to relearn songs that we wrote over 20 years ago, some of which we’d never played live. Despite a fair amount of pre-production, it wasn’t until we’d been on the road for several months that things really started to work and the fairy dust started to sprinkle.
Why did the band split in 1999?
I think the main reason was that it stopped being fun. We had success on our first album, so when your second album ‘only’ sells half a million copies, that’s seen as a failure – how times have changed! There was a lot of pressure, and we were young and naive. It didn’t help our career, but I don’t think we’d be playing together now if we hadn’t split when we did.
Does modern technology make it easier to keep the band running?
I hate what it has done to a lot of modern recorded music, but we couldn’t make records without it. It has allowed us to build a studio, which would have been unaffordable 20 years ago, and to share ideas and work when we’re living in different countries. I love writing and producing music, but when it comes to playing live music in a band, I’m a bass player and proud of it. In terms of how that affects my writing and ideas, I try to make sure everything grooves, swings and moves, whatever you want to call it: I think that’s hugely important in every kind of music.
You were always seen with 70s Fender Jazz basses back in your heyday.
I love my Fender Jazz, but after long service in the field, she’s been retired to the studio. I played a Moulon Jazz bass on the last tour, they’re really great handmade instruments with an obsessive attention to detail harking back to the pre-CBS days. I use a hollowbody Mosrite with flatwounds for some Carol Kaye-style character. I also have a double bass, which has another level of low end and is a lot of fun in the studio or with the local folk band. I still use a Matchless Thunderchief, which is a fantastic amp reminiscent of an old Hiwatt. I don’t use many effects, occasionally a fuzz for a bit of nastiness. I like a pure sound; a nice guitar into a nice amp and let the fingers do the rest.
Any abiding memories of the success you enjoyed first time round?
It’s all a bit jumbled and blurry but I remember Sting coming into our dressing room at the El Rey in Los Angeles. He pointed at me and said ‘bass player’ which was an obvious highlight!