Some singers hone their performances with hot beverage concoctions, for others it’s yoga, breathing exercises, or necking a few shots pre-show. For John Drake, powerhouse vocalist with rock’n’roll four-piece The Dust Coda, it’s boxing.
“I’ve been doing it for about seven months,” he says. “It’s very similar, for me, to performing on stage, because you have to think about what you’re doing with your hands, playing the guitar, your feet, your focus…”
Right from the beginning, with their no-bullshit debut in 2017, The Dust Coda have punched consistently high. New album Mojo Skyline is a case in point. Songs kick, sway and swagger in all the right places without being formulaic, while hat-tips to Guns N’ Roses and Soundgarden (softer moments and shitkickers) feel like extra spicing, not crutches.
This isn’t any of the members’ first band.
After moving to London from Brisbane, Drake started out playing low-key “Ryan Adams-y, Dylan-y” acoustic solo gigs all over Soho. “Which in London at the time was a pretty fucking miserable experience,” he says with a laugh. Meeting guitarist Adam Mackie in a rehearsal studio was the turning point.
At the time, Mackie had fallen into the electro-pop world with Maxfield, enjoying mega-shows with first-class players but missing rock’n’roll. “I was like, I’ve got a Les Paul and a Marshall stack. I didn’t buy that stuff to play dance music!” Bassist/classical veteran Tony Ho and seasoned covers band drummer Scott Miller completed the line-up.
They spent the first lockdown negotiating a record deal.
Unlike most of their peers, instead of cancelling tours The Dust Coda were cutting a deal with Earache, whose interest they’d piqued at the label’s New Wave Of Rock And Roll event. Back then, in early 2020, Mojo Skyline was already all but finished. And the subsequent COVID-induced delay hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm for it.
“We cannot wait to bring it to people,” Drake enthuses. “That’s quite exciting, sitting on an album for a year and then going: actually, it still kicks arse!”
AC/DC is what unites all four members.
“You’re gonna love AC/DC if you have any interest in rock’n’roll whatsoever, aren’t you?” Miller says of the band that has influenced the meaty brightness of their own tunes. “AC/DC have that danceability as well.”
“It puts us in a happy place,” Mackie says. “I think of AC/DC when I think of The Dust Coda because we play it so much together.”
They rock hard, but find softer songs easier to write.
If you’ve heard only TDC’s singles, you’ll likely have them pegged as a balls-out, all-rocking environment. On Mojo Skyline, conversely, the prettier, plaintive likes of Bourbon Pouring and Dream Alight bring to mind The Temperance Movement and GN’R’s balladic moments.
“Between us we can bosh out lovely melodic numbers,” Mackie says. “When you’re a musician you spend most of your time playing stuff that sits nicely to play on your own. But we really work hard on the louder stuff, and making it good enough to sit on a TDC album.”
Their roots include GN’R cassette tapes in Australia
Growing up in Queensland in the 80s, Drake was crawling all over motorcycles in his father’s store (“I still ride them when I go back”). A cassette of Appetite For Destruction, handed to him on the school bus, pushed rock’n’roll to the top of the agenda: “I went home, put it on the tape machine and… that was it!”
Around this time another, rarer GN’R tape fell into his lap: “My brother had a cassette of Axl Rose at some bar in LA, doing an impromptu performance of November Rain. This was before Use Your Illusion I and II came out. I had this cassette for three years and I fucking lost it!”
…and classical concerts in North Korea.
In the UK their shows have taken them to a superfan’s house in Yorkshire and the Brewdog brewery AGM at Aberdeen AECC (“I’d never seen ten thousand people hammered in a room before,” Mackie recalls). For bassist Tony – who played upright bass with ensembles and orchestras back home in Moldova – these really weren’t his first tastes of unusual gigs.
“He’s played in North Korea,” Miller says. “Tony’s very critical of himself, because he’s an incredible musician,” John adds. “So [after shows] he’ll be going: ‘Oh the third chorus, I really screwed that up…’ and I’ll be like: ‘Tony! Let’s get drunk! I screwed up all night. Forget about it!’”