Louis XIV - The Best Little Secret Is Back
Californian retro rockers Louis XIV are the real deal, making authentic rock on analogue equipment and bringing back an old-fashioned sexiness to music. 3D’s Carlisle Rogers speaks to frontman Jason Hill ahead of their V Fest set.
Louis XIV are headed to Australia for the V Festival alongside tour-mates The Killers this month, and singer/guitarist/producer Jason Hill says the set list is going to be full of new music.
A year ago the band released its third album, Slick Dogs and Ponies, a rollicking trip through Jason’s mind that takes in sprawling string sections, gutsy guitars and impassioned intonations. The ability to couch all of that in an essentially modern record that sounds like the tapes were shipped back to 1972 for mastering is what sets these kids apart from every other west coast drug-music purveyor wannabes. The fact that they can do it over and over again on tape separates them from most of the bands that have released albums in the last eight years, and the fact that their music videos usually feature half-clad girls can’t hurt things.
“Last year we toured with a string section,” Jason laughs, “which is great but gruelling. We’re doing the Killers tour now, including the V Festival dates in Australia. We spent a month off the road and recorded a lot of songs, and we’ve been recording other people’s music for a while. I’ve been working on a solo record too, which is me and a bunch of horn players and I’m playing every other instrument. All that adds up to a few new songs on this tour, and we have a new rhythm section. Probably half the set will be new songs on this tour. I’m sick of playing some of the old stuff. A lot of this set will be songs that, if they aren’t new, they are songs we never put in our sets before.”
Jason says that he engineers and produces everything the band does, a habit that goes back to the very roots of his musical trajectory. “We have a studio of our own here in San Diego. It’s all old gear, like the console is from the BBC, literally. It is one they used to use for broadcasting. We have all sorts of old weird crazy gear. If you walk into my house, it looks like a studio too. Sometimes I’ll spend a week without leaving the house, just recording things there. I started buying gear when I was young, when I first started getting into music. The first time I learned three chords, A, E and D, I went to Radio Shack and bought a little mono tape machine recorder. I learned the power of recording within days of that. My friend and I used to sit in the backyard and he’d sing and I would play guitar and we would tape them on this little recorder. We would keep recording over the tape again and again, and after a while these ghost tapes would be in the background, adding crazy overtones. We loved it. I remember one day the batteries started going dead in the recorder, and that makes it slow down and speed up, which made our voices sound super high and a little better. To me, it was magical, like angels came through that tape.
“It taught me that recorded music doesn’t have to sound mundane, you can tweak things. That started my love affair, and from then on I started buying four-tracks, then eight-tracks. The first time I stepped foot into a studio was an expensive experience. And it bothered me when engineers said they couldn’t do something. Or I’d reference an album and they couldn’t do it. One thing that was important to me, here I was 14 years old, was making the vocals sound like a Joe Cocker record. I couldn’t figure out how he made those vocals sound like they were right in your ear. I learned it was all good engineering, all mics, but we couldn’t get it then. That began the pursuit to learn how to get my music sounding as good as the records I was hearing.
“When you hear records today, they all sound the same, they all have this ProTools sound, this dullness. There is a lot of junk. There’s a time period, up until about 1973, when the recordings were fantastic from one band to the next. The drum sounds I get, I’m usually trying to emulate that era.”
WHO: Louis XIV
WHAT: Play V Festival, Centennial Parklands
WHEN: Saturday 28 March