Selling out shows throughout Europe, mixing heavy blues, stoner and psych rock, there’s something quite Australian about Palace Of The King. Could it be the car they inspire, or which inspired them, I ask singer Tim Henwood.
Tim Henwood is on the road from Torquay, where he lives, and unafraid as I am of clichés I ask if he – full-throated front man for a power drive rock band, Palace Of The King, which could put a hairy chest on a brick wall - is in fact driving a panel van.
He laughs but must deny it, though he confesses he once had an HR wagon which cost him an arm and most of a leg in petrol each time he drove to Melbourne. That had to end, but even then, it was rust, not cost/sense, which ended that vehicular relationship.
It is a shame of course because if any band could be said to epitomise exactly what a panel van driver - or at least those of us who aspired to panel vans in the days when a shag pile rug in the back really was for a pile of shags and a boy in western Sydney (or in the case of Henwood, western Melbourne) thought he might just surf a wave one day – is meant to listen to, it would be Palace Of The King.
Across two albums and two EPs before their fresh release this week, these songs come hard but swinging, like a bag of lead whisked around with rhythm; featuring a voice that eschews death metal’s guttural growling for lashings of high, Viking assault singing; regularly full bore in sound and tone so that the drop into quiet can be startling; sometimes psychedelic and even (whisper it) regularly melodic so that prog comparisons are easily made; and pairing muscular guitar with granular organ.
“I’ll tell you right now,” Henwood says enthusiastically. “If I could be driving a panel van right now, if it was practical, I would be.”
Heavens, even the Palace Of The King artwork – especially the artwork – looks like it was made for the side of those shaggin wagons with its highly stylised, science fiction worlds that probably have someone wielding a sword or at least a jar of rare spice sand just another shot.
This is a band with an interest in the visual and not just the powerful, their aesthetic reflected by Melbourne artist, and tattooist, Kristian Kimonides who has been with them since their first EP.
“The [aesthetic] is very much part of it,” Henwood says. “There are even hidden messages in the artwork.”
It’s just another indication of how this Melbourne group just play and work a bit smarter, a bit deeper than the kind of rock clichés usually attributed to a band playing this hard.
Not that any of that thinking is intended to subvert the opinions of those who might hear a POTK riff, or one those pummelling drum moments, and think ‘yeah, boneheads’. Frankly, Henwood, keyboardist/guitarist Sean Johnston, bass player Anthony Licciardi Garcia and drummer Travis Dragani, could care less about those opinions.
“I think that’s a trap thinking you have to prove something to your critics. Ultimately, we are just as much Rose Tattoo and AC/DC as we are Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin,” says Henwood. “It’s in us, and without necessarily intending to, this album has some deeper layers that we’ve had in the past. That’s probably because we had a bit more time.”
The album, Get Right With Your Maker, was begun before its predecessor, Valles Marineris (yes, named after the Martian canyon system; yes, the cover could be from a 1950s pulp magazine image) was even released in 2016 so there was plenty of time for it “stew on the stove” as Henwood puts it, and let some emotional and musical complexities rise to the surface.
“Ironically, we got to the end of this album and thought we don’t have a bonehead song on it,” he laughs again. “We better write a couple of bonehead songs, because that’s part of who we are as well. That’s when [the album’s first single] It’s Been A Long Time Coming, happened, a straight up rocker.”
As much is the time, it is the intense touring and time together in mid-size vans and countless dressing rooms throughout Europe and the USA over the past three years, which has shaped the expansion in POTK songs. Listening to Henwood talk about the way confidence in the band has seen their songwriting grow and grow - “I’m just enjoying watching the band growing as an entity and I feel excited by that” – is almost like hearing a proud dad.
That said, while there’s an age gap between the older Henwood and the rest of the band for whom this is their first major experience – keyboardist Johnston only 18 when he joined the band - there’s a singularity of purpose.
“The most important thing was following those instincts and trust in that to guide you, rather than plotting what sort of album we’re going to make,” says Henwood, before taking the metaphor nautical as he talks about the growing influence and force in the songwriting of someone like Johnston.
“You need to let the currents take you where they are taking you, and perhaps put your oar in the water occasionally to guide it a little bit to the left or a little bit to the right.”
And those currents are taking them back to Europe for all of April, headlining their biggest shows yet from Barcelona to Bratislava, in what Henwood happily describes as “a boyhood dream, day after day”.
“The first time [we toured there] I had to keep reminding the other boys, as we got up in the morning in France or Germany, sitting the lobby with our suitcases around us, ‘we’re actually doing this boys. Don’t be thinking one day I might; this is it.
“People from all around the world know who we are and they filled that theatre last night to see us.”
It’s the kind of dream you might have seen painted on the side of a panel van.
Get Right With Your Maker is released on Friday, March 23.