Sharing name with the increasingly cool Auckland city-edge suburb, Kingsland fuses rock and blues with a splash of soul, creating a sound niche unoccupied by many others in indie-crazed Tāmaki Makaurau. Vocalist Will Giles and bass player Eliot Witters gave Jean Bell the low-down on the band’s “unapologetically uncool” vibe, how a car crash changed everything and the importance of community in the music scene.
When it comes to explaining the genesis of the group, Will Giles sums up his ‘rock, soul, blues’ band Kingsland as an amalgamation of unlikely beings.
“We’re a group of very different people coming to one place on a complete off chance.”
The randomness started in 2016 when Will happened to see bassist Eliot Witters play a solo set at an Echo Children gig in Auckland. Fate wasn’t going to let them get away with just that and the pair soon bumped into each other again at a mutual friend’s party. Over the cacophony of voices and music Will mentioned that he was starting a band with lead guitarist Jared Gullett and drummer Josh Smith. Will said he needed a bass player and in a moment of intoxicated bravado, Eliot slipped the little white lie that set things in motion.
“I was drunk enough to say, ‘Yes, I play bass,’” Eliot laughs. “I got the text the next morning saying, ‘Sweet bro, our rehearsal space is here. Come through on Thursday and bring your bass.’”
Eliot didn’t own a bass at that point and the inevitability of having to front up quickly became clear. Panic set in. He rushed to get a bass and learn some basic chords before heading along poker-faced to the band practice.
“It’s been two years and they’re too humble to kick me out,” he laughs. “We all had the ‘fake it till we make it’ attitude going on.”
Each hold down pressured full-time jobs in the big smoke and the Kingsland project offers them a way to let their hair down and get up to some harmless antics outside of their 9-5 schedules.
“It’s a bloody good outlet for us,” Will summerises.
Not concerned with emitting any impenetrable ‘cool’ vibe, they’re here to have a good time and that’s that.
“We are unapologetically uncool, and we have no qualms with that,” says Eliot. “We’re like if all your dads got together in their 20s and tried to make a band!”
Lyrics reflect their carefree yet non-whimsical attitude, Will finding lyrical inspiration from Lou Reed, “…the man’s a poet.” The words he writes are firmly set in reality.
“It’s not stories that are made up about surfing and drinking beer,” Will explains. “It’s more about the mundane and less exciting things – those things in life are pretty good and we want people to feel good.”
By now the group has played numerous gigs in Auckland and Wellington, and materialised their music in the form of a first EP, ‘Running From The Apex’, released in 2017.
Looking back, the boys admit they would have changed quite a bit about how they approached the EP.
“We released it with no thought. We were clueless before with the booking and the organising… it’s quite a lot of work,” Will says.
“I think we were quite panicked and we didn’t have a clear path set,” Eliot adds. “We just had our hearts thrown into it for the sake of having released something.”
They also admit to being a little lost sound-wise after the release of the EP. They dabbled with a synth but quickly found it led to their sound erring to far to the side of pop. This time around, they feel more at ease recording their work. Aside from holding a clearer vision for what they want out of their time in the studio, their gigs are tighter, the music more slick and the nerves less consuming.
“We know what we’re doing,” Eliot says.
That means deciding to record a couple of singles to a high stands, rather than rushing to compile a full album.
“We thought, ‘Let’s do a handful and let’s do them well,’” explains Will.
Kingsland’s most recent offering, The Motto, was one result of this theory. Ironically Will wrote the happy-go-lucky lyrics just two weeks before he was involved in a serious car crash – so serious that it left him with brain damage and lucky to be alive.
“I wrote the lyrics when I was feeling real good about life – I had just had an amazing experience in Australia with my best friend, we saw The Kooks and Liam Gallagher…”
The crash slammed these good vibes to a shuddering stop. Perhaps by some cruel twist of fate, the only Kingsland song Will had to listen to while he was in hospital was a rough cut of what would become The Motto.
“The song has a deeper meaning to me now, like I sing that now and it feels way more powerful. It was very haunting in some ways to be able to listen to myself sing when I couldn’t talk, and listening to the lyrics.”
He recalls telling his speech and language therapist about the band during his rehabilitation.
“I mumbled to her that I sung and I remember the expression on her face was distraught. I played her some of our tracks and her face was like, ‘This is tragic. He can’t string a sentence together and he wants to sing again.’”
Will had to learn his ABCs again. He felt like a toddler when he tried to speak and he didn’t even know if he would recover. Rehabilitation was a long, tedious process.
“You feel like a downgraded version of yourself… My voice wasn’t working properly, my legs weren’t working, I wasn’t a proper human. It was more robotic.”
His therapist got him to sing the alphabet every day and he spent many hours at home learning to sing again through trial and error. When he was finally ready to get stuck back in, the band was right there to pick things back up again after a long hiatus and Kingsland played their first gig back on Will’s birthday.
“Full credit to the boys, they stuck by me.”
This May tour will be the first time the band head out on a national main-centre tour. They’ll be sharing the stage with a range of other acts, including Egovalve, Piss Goblin, Black Boy Peaches, Merlinco, Harry Parsons, Bay Street Band and Magnolia.
“I think it’s important to reach out to other bands who want to perform for the sheer passion of it, not to get their 10 minutes of fame,” says Will of their choices.
“They’re the people we love to perform with and we dig deep to reach out and to perform with them.”
Christchurch-based Egovalve to be their co-headliner on the national tour.
“We’re grateful to be playing with them. We’re not even mad if there’s not a huge crowd. It’s all about that community,” Will says.
At the heart of it, it’s this community that is at the centre of their approach.
“The music scene is only something that organically grows if people are willing to help each other out and be a family and develop it together,” says Eliot philosophically.