The Struggling Kings, comprising three brothers, Luke, Mark and Daniel Riches, from One Arm Point in the Kimberley region have rapidly become a must-see live act in venues and at festivals across Western Australia. Their performance with THE Johnny Young at the 2019 WA Music Industry Awards, where they picked up the gong for Best Indigenous Act, was one for the ages. These three brothers are currently hot property!
When do we come together? We always come together.
Known for using their Indigenous roots for to draw out new creative blends of indie rock, new single, ‘Baanigaar’, released in late September, takes the band’s music in a new direction. ‘Baanigaar’ is a soaring slice of pop that sees The Struggling Kings maturing musically and displaying the sort of narrative nous that will inevitably propel them forward in their career. The chorus is sung in the brothers’ Bardi language and has the double meaning, “When do we come together? We always come together.”
‘Baanigaar’ is a song of hope.
Around The Sound’s Christian Mechler spoke to The Struggling Kings’ Dan Riches about the new single and what’s going on with the band right now.
Where are you right now? Are you up in the Kimberly?
Been out fishing up in One Arm Point I’m staying with my grandmother out here at the moment.
Were you born up there?
Born in Derby with my brothers, but yeah we grew up in One Arm Point. When highschooling happened we all had to move down to Perth.
What’s it like growing up in One Arm Point?
It’s a lot of freedom, we’re related to everybody and everybody looks after each other. We’d be out on the water everyday fishing, swimming, hunting – that kind of stuff. By seven or eight we were rolling around with our own spears catching lunch [laughs].
So the perfect day in One Arm Point… what does that look like?
Wake up. Have your coffee. The boat’s ready to go. Take it down to Point Beach and head out to go visit some islands and do some fishing. Then come home with an Esky full of food, cook it up on the fire, and go to bed early ready to do it all again.
Ayy that’s the dream. Honestly, that’s epic.
So what first got you into music?
Our parents were country gospel singers. They used to tour around Australia in a van, so we kind of always had a guitar at home and mum and dad always sung. One of our biggest influences are the Pigram Brothers. So up here, everybody knows the Pigram brothers and we always wanted to be one of those guys.
So how’d you guys meet?
We got three brothers in the band… so I’ve known them for a while [laughs]. Met the drummer when I used to work at Abmusic Indigenous Music School in Perth. Our drummer came with the Violet Femmes on tour from Tennant Creek, NT and he had the qualifications and got a job there. So he was teaching for a while and a few days in I said, “Mate what you doing this weekend?” And linked up for a jam. From there we became good mates, but we’re mates before band members which makes it so much easier.
Who’s a few of your favourite artists?
That’s actually how we got the band name. When we started out we were doing a lot of Kings Of Leon’s covers and so we were The Struggling Kings because we were trying to do their covers and we were pretty bad at it. Now we can’t change the name because people kind of know us and we’ve gotten a little bit better [laughs].
Nice I love it! I can see a deeper meaning in the name too.
Yeah that’s the other thing. There’s that deeper meaning that indigenous people used to be rulers.
Who inspires you to make music?
I think it’s our family. Our upbringing, you know? We’re surrounded by music and community, and we’ve always had music. There’s always the traditional singing and dancing, and growing up with Dad as a pastor, he’d make us play in church so we’d always be playing for family and community.
We started out just wanting to play for ourselves and having a good time. It’s so much fun to just play. You know when you get in that groove with your band members? There’s not many better feelings. We always get a thrill going to smaller towns on tour and playing for people that don’t get to see bands too often. We get to come along and have a bit of fun. I always like having a joke and a yarn so we have people coming up and know our stories and you have to try and figure out where you met them.
I saw you guys first at Fairbridge Festival in the big tent and was blown away by your performance, it was one of my favourite sets of the festival. I loved how you’re a real storyteller and explained every song’s meaning. You’ve played SOTA Festival and Nannup Festival but also a lot of shows in smaller towns. What has been your favourite gig you’ve ever played? Does one come to mind?
That Fairbridge gig was actually a lot of fun it was really stripped back. It had that intimate feel and everyone was really into what was being performed. it was a really cool vibe. SOTA had a massive stage it was really cool to be on a huge stage. We were up early so there wasn’t that many people there, but you know it was pretty wicked. Sometimes it’s the smaller gigs you get more out of.
My favourite gig ever is when we made it back out to One Arm Point. We took all our PA system and lights and hooked it up with another [production] organisation. Everyone had a traditional community BBQ going. That was the first time we played while we had music out and so everyone sort of knew our songs because we’re all related. It was the biggest Rockstar moment coz they’re all singing our songs. We saved the one song for last which was our Ardyaloon song. You could tell that the crowd just wanted that one song. Everyone came out to the front and had their phones out and were singing, recording it. Your hairs are sticking up and they start screaming for an encore and they’re asking for the same song to be sung again.
I love the song, and the music video. I love that it’s got the lyrics on there too so I try to sing along.
[Laughs] That’s good.
What does Ardyaloon mean?
Ardyaloon is the name of the community at One Arm Point. That song has probably been our biggest song because everyone in the Kimberly has that connection to it. At that gig, I was thinking if we’re doing the same song again how do I make it better. If we’re going to do the song again and I saw some of the elders who were our teachers and taught the language to the kids. So I asked all the elders to come and join us and stand with us on stage as we sung the song. One of the elders was a great grandmother who had to get lifted on stage but she just really wanted to be up there with us and she taught the language to us when I was a kid in school. I was looking around and trying to keep it together. It was such an emotional experience -people were crying in the crowd.
Man that would have to be the best gig by far. Hometown anthem in your hometown. That’s next level having all the elders on stage with you. That kind of leads me into my next question: I saw you at the WAM awards last year where you took out the best Indigenous act for 2019 where you were on stage with Johnny Young. Who would be the dream act you’d like to collaborate or get on stage with?
Probably Archie Roach. I’ve seen him play to thousands and have them in the palm of his hands. If I could ever play a show with him it would be wild. We played before him at Nannup, he’s such a story teller.
I think I gather it might be Ardyaloon but what is your favourite song from the oceans project?
Yeah I’d probably say Ardyaloon.
We didn’t know how it was going to go down. The lyrics are about me and my brother and our connection with Ardyaloon. Guligool and Joordah. I’m Guligool that’s my Bardi name and Joordah. That’s Luke’s Bardi name so it was more of a personal song that we wanted to put out and we didn’t know it would go down how it has in the Kimberley.
I have to say congratulations on the new single. As soon as it starts you’re hooked and along for the whole ride. What was the inspiration for Baanigarr.
The story behind it is about the Indigenous diggers that fought in the wars and they were fighting for Australia. When they were there they were equal with their fellow diggers and soldiers, but when they came back some of them lost their land to their mates. They were the kings of their own land, fought for their country, were equal in war but weren’t equal when they came home. So it has a real deep message that we really wanted to sing about but it’s also about us now coming together and move forward as one people. Banigaar has three meanings. It means “when” and “always” but it also means “today”. So “banigaar barlub joogarra” means “today we always come together”.
I think the world needs a song like this right now. So thanks for making it. Sometimes those songs where you say “nah this is something that’s important to me and the world needs to hear it” are the best. People tend to gravitate towards a powerful message.
I’m glad you like it.
The synths at the start are very cool, it sounds like you’ve levelled up on this new one. Can you take me through the process from the initial idea to the finished song?
Yeah so, we bought a bass synth and were having a muck around having a bit of a jam. You see a lot of stuff on TV and everything’s real negative at the moment, so we turned it off had a jam. Mark was playing around on the synth. Came up with a little riff, I was walking to get a coffee or something, heard it and I was like hang on “I reckon that’s something there, keep playing that on repeat for a bit”. Then he recorded it on his phone and locked it in. Luke comes in and I was like, “Can you jump on guitar there and play something a bit higher up the neck, a kinda soft thing to add to that.” Then we started piecing together little bits and pieces of the song trying to see how far we could get it. This was just before the Nannup Festival so we were like “there’s something there, let’s try get a song out of this so we can play it at Nannup”. Then we got the drummer in for a rehearsal and I had some lyrics ready. We wanted to go in with something that’s a little bit more synth sounding… a bit more modern. To be honest we were listening to a bit of Gang Of Youths at the time. It’s quite a simple progression but we wanted to focus on the feel rather than something too complex.
So we recorded it with James Newhouse down at Lamb Chop Studios in Bunbury because we know that he really knows his stuff. We went in pretty open to his input, and we took the whole song apart and put it back together. It’s the first song we recorded as a 4-piece and we’re really happy with how it turned out.
I love your music videos too. Can we expect a video for Baanigarr?
Yeah it’s with the editor now. We shot it a few weeks ago actually. We sat down with some elders and got some nice shots there. And being up in One Arm Point the landscapes do all the work for you. You take a drone up or a camera with you and it’s going to look good anyway. So in the next couple weeks we’ll have a video.
I heard a rumour that you are working on a documentary for NITV can you tell us a little bit about that?
My brother Luke and I are actually filmmakers as well. We made a comedy called KGB which actually went on ABC. It’s a comedy about Indigenous cops and putting them in awkward situations. We also made another documentary looking for some lost diamonds up in the Kimberley. So we thought, “We love our music and love making films and that, can we try to put filmmaking and music together and do them both at once?” We had the idea that our great grandfather – he’s a singer of dreamtime songs – and one of our uncles came up to us at a gig at Cape Leveque. They said “You guys need to write some songs that get these young people in the community here more connected with their language and culture.” So we’re going up in a month’s time and were gonna work on a few songs with some of the elders and put some of those ancient dream time songs with some modern music. There’s a lot of singers up there too, so we’re really looking forward to having that mixture of new and old music. NITV have commissioned it so it’s gonna be on TV next year sometime.
I think it’s so important that you keep writing songs in Bardi. Your songs are filled with so much emotion and feeling that, even though I don’t speak Bardi and understand what’s being said, I still catch the vibe and I feel like I know what you’re singing about. You are carrying the torch and inspiring the next generation to keep the language alive.
I want to ask, what’s the best advice you have been given? And What would you say to someone just starting out who’s wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Best advice I’ve been given is to do what I wanna do. Tell my story. When you’re writing songs and creating stuff you’re wondering what people are thinking. Are they gonna like this song? Will they understand what’s being said? Singing in Bardi, a lot of people don’t know what’s being sung. But we picked up that a lot of people are actually into those songs. It was an eye opener for us to see that people are connecting with it just through our connection with the song, and my advice to give someone else would be to keep plucking away. There’s gonna be times when you’re up high with festivals and shows and there’s gonna be times where its really quiet, so just make sure that you’re always in a good headspace.
With song writing a lot of people say you’ve got to write a few rubbish ones to get a good one. So do your thing and write a few rubbish ones and you’ll get a good one.
The Struggling Kings are playing RTRFM’s In The Pines Music Festival on Sunday 18 October alongside a huge array of talented Perth artists. Make sure you check them out.