Music interview: Crispian Mills on the 20th anniversary of Kula Shaker

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Having recently toured America for the first time in 17 years with his band Kula Shaker, Crispian Mills sounds like a musician who’s enjoying some hard-won independence.

“It’s taken us a long time where we can do this sort of thing,” says the 43-year-old singer and guitarist whose group were million sellers in the 1990s.

Having split up after their second album for a major label then had to do things under their own steam when they reformed a decade ago, they’ve had to acclimatise to substantial changes in the music industry.

“When we started to make records again after our very long lost weekend, which was 2006, the music business was in free fall, downloading was like the apocalypse and it was just a bad time to be getting a new record deal with anyone. It was a culture of fear, panic and everyone’s office seemed to be on fire so we started our own label and really it was a bit like starting again.

“It’s a long haul to rebuild. We had a huge headstart because we’ve got quite a hardcore loyal fan base which has stuck with us and that got us through. But it’s very rewarding to be able to be independent, you can’t take it for granted.”

This month Kula Shaker are undertaking a UK tour to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, K. The record, which fused psychedelic rock with Indian mysticism and spawned the hits Tattva, Govinda and Hey Dude, is duly being given the deluxe reissue treatment to coincide with the shows.

Crispian Mills of Kula Shaker. Picture: Michele Piazza

Crispian Mills of Kula Shaker. Picture: Michele Piazza

“It’s remarkable to look back and see 20 years have passed because in some respects it feels like last week but it’s actually another lifetime,” says Mills, the son of actress Hayley Mills and director Roy Boulting, and grandson of Sir John Mills.

“We were kids and there was a magic which happened on our first record. The magic is what happens on the album but also how people receive it and their connection that they make with the music that you’re doing. It’s a really strange and wonderful business.”

Mills feels the songs have developed when played live over the course of the last two decades. “K is like a starting point and we’ve played them for 20 years and they’ve taken on a life of their own,” he says.

“Kula Shaker always was first and foremost a live band and people often needed to see us live before they understood what the band was really all about.

Our first album was great and it had a lot of success but even people who heard the album didn’t see the whole picture ’til they saw us live.

Crispian Mills

“Our first album was great and it had a lot of success but even people who heard the album didn’t see the whole picture ’til they saw us live and that’s how it should be, I think, with this sort of music – rock ’n’ roll.”

Earlier this year the band released a belated sequel to their first album – K 2.0. Mills admits it feels like they have come full circle. “We have used that phrase a lot,” he says. “I think time does tend to move in circles, like the seasons, you do end up back where you started and it feels like spring has come again in a sense.

“You’re re-living a new understanding of where you were as a kid. Twenty years is an anniversary and nostalgia is OK in an anniversary, it’s a natural part of looking back, seeing where you’ve come from, how you got to where you are now and where you’re going. It’s a very healthy time to think about things and to celebrate. It’s not all bad.

“But K 2.0 was a bit of a joke we were having with the world as it is now with reboots and updates and culture being obsolete within 18 months of it being released – or sooner.”

The album includes a song – Infinite Sun – which actually dates back 20 years. “It was an early jam which we played at a free festival which was an early gig that we managed to get – we’d play just about anywhere at that time, the most important thing is to play when you’re starting off. There were a lot of people in teepees so we were doing this Native American Indian chanting and it really worked but we never developed it into a song until now,” says Mills.“It was great to start with a track from the beginning.”

Kula Shaker play at O2 Academy Leeds on December 17. www.kulashaker.co.uk

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