"Donovan came to my flat for a songwriting session. He brought a Tupperware box full of hash cakes": Catching up with Kula Shaker's Crispian Mills

Kula Shaker publicity shot
(Image credit: Nicole Frobusch)

Named after a holy Asian emperor, Kula Shaker formed in London in the early 90s, influenced by 60s psychedelia and Indian culture, and quickly racked up hit singles including Tattva and a cover of Joe South’s Hush. The band broke up after their second album, Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts

They re-formed in 2004, and their seventh album, Natural Magick, is out now. Original keyboard player Jay Darlington, who had spells with Oasis then proggers Magic Bus, has also now returned. We caught up with frontman Crispian Mills.


Your influences are slightly different from the regularly cited Kiss, Aerosmith and AC/DC

I’m a singer, a songwriter and a guitarist, but if you peel away on the layers of the onion you’ll end up with somebody who got really heavily into Ritchie Blackmore. He was my hero, and there was something about his West Country eccentricity as well. 

Where did your interest in Asian culture and mysticism come from? 

I grew up in Norwood Green, between Southall and Hounslow. That was Britain for me, amid the Asian community. I was around images of Krishna and Bollywood, as well as the smell of incense and spices. But the spiritual calling came from falling in love with a girl when I was thirteen or fourteen who was out of my league, but she was into philosophy. I connected that with music and art, and that’s how the Kula Shaker universe began – and we hoped to be a gateway for others. 

Just as The Beatles and Donovan were gateways in the sixties. 

In 1999 Donovan came to my flat in Highgate for a songwriting session with Alonza [Bevan, bass]. He brought a Tupperware box full of hash cakes made by his wife, the lovely Linda. We ate the cakes, and I can’t remember anything apart from this line: ‘One English summer, stupid twats with cricket bats.

It’s a hit! So tell us about Kula Shaker’s new album, Natural Magick. 

It’s lightning in a bottle. When we first started, every gig was like a fight, trying to win new fans over. We had to get our message across in a short space of time, so the songs became really punchy. Having Jay back with us has reminded us of those times. We wrote while we were playing live and testing songs out on audiences. There was an electricity, a chemistry that we wanted to capture – the natural magic. 

There’s also much about peace and unity in the lyrics. 

We’re living in a time when anything can be whipped up into an argument, but we all want to get along. Some of the songs are cheekier than others in that message, like F Bombs. We have a problem with taking things seriously. Such as the song on our last album, inspired by the Marx brothers, Whatever It Is, I’m Against It

One of the songs on the new album is called Whistle And I’ll Come To You, a Western-style ballad. 

I’m a frustrated filmmaker, and many of my songs are cinematic. I love those whistling songs! My mother [actress Hayley Mills] was in the film Whistle Down The Wind [1961]. She went back to Clitheroe, where that was filmed, and brought back some ‘Whistle’ chocolate. I was waiting to unwrap that when I finished the song.

Natural Magick is out now via Strange F.O.L.K

Jo Kendall

Jo is a journalist, podcaster, event host and music industry lecturer with 23 years in music magazines since joining Kerrang! as office manager in 1999. But before that Jo had 10 years as a London-based gig promoter and DJ, also working in various vintage record shops and for the UK arm of the Sub Pop label as a warehouse and press assistant. Jo's had tea with Robert Fripp, touched Ian Anderson's favourite flute (!), asked Suzi Quatro what one wears under a leather catsuit, and invented several ridiculous editorial ideas such as the regular celebrity cooking column for Prog, Supper's Ready. After being Deputy Editor for Prog for five years and Managing Editor of Classic Rock for three, Jo is now Associate Editor of Prog, where she's been since its inception in 2009, and a regular contributor to Classic Rock. She continues to spread the experimental and psychedelic music-based word amid unsuspecting students at BIMM Institute London, hoping to inspire the next gen of rock, metal, prog and indie creators and appreciators.