Music interview: Crispian Mills on Kula Shaker's 20th anniversary

Kula Shaker are celebrating 20 years since their first album with a tour, including a date in Leeds. Duncan Seaman reports.

Kula Shaker

Having recently toured America for the first time in 17 years with his band Kula Shaker, Crispian Mills sounds like a musician who’s enjoying some hard-won independence.

“It’s taken us a long time where we can do this sort of thing,” says the 43-year-old singer and guitarist whose group were million sellers in the 1990s.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Having split up after their second album for a major label they then had to do things under their own steam when they reformed a decade ago and have had to acclimatise to substantial changes in the music industry.

“When we started to make records again after our very long lost weekend, which was 2006, the music business was in free fall, downloading was like the apocalypse and it was just a bad time to be getting a new record deal with anyone. It was a culture of fear and panic so we started our own label and really it was a bit like starting again.

“It’s a long haul to rebuild. We had a huge headstart because we’ve got quite a hardcore loyal fan base which has stuck with us and that got us through.”

This month Kula Shaker are undertaking a UK tour to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, K. The record, which fused psychedelic rock with Indian mysticism and spawned the hits Tattva, Govinda and Hey Dude, is duly being given the deluxe reissue treatment to coincide with the shows. “It’s remarkable to see 20 years have passed because in some respects it feels like last week but it’s actually another lifetime,” says Mills, the son of actress Hayley Mills and director Roy Boulting, and grandson of Sir John Mills.

“We were kids and there was a magic which happened on our first record. The magic is what happens on the album but also how people receive it and their connection that they make with the music that you’re doing. It’s a really strange and wonderful business.” Mills feels the songs have developed when played live over the course of the last two decades. “K is like a starting point and we’ve played them for 20 years and they’ve taken on a life of their own,” he says. “Kula Shaker always was first and foremost a live band and people often needed to see us live before they understood what the band was really all about.”

Earlier this year the band released a belated sequel to their first album – K 2.0. Mills admits it feels like they have come full circle. “We have used that phrase a lot,” he says. “I think time does tend to move in circles, like the seasons, you do end up back where you started and it feels like spring has come again in a sense.It’s a very healthy time to think about things and to celebrate. It’s not all bad.”

Reflecting on the course of the band’s career, Mills suggests the period before they became successful had been the most enjoyable, and when they hit it big things became a “nightmare”. “It’s just the same old story, you hear it from everybody who experiences massive success, especially sudden massive success,” he says. “It’s a joke, really. If you want to find the most miserable creature on Earth find a celebrity at the top of their game – so be careful what you wish for.

“It’s the pressure of being young and utterly exposed in the adult world – which is not full of adults, that’s the surprise that you get. It’s full of people with real problems and strange pathologies and insecurities and it’s a very inhospitable place. You have pressures that you work for The Man but you’ve also got the struggle to become an adult – and to do it fully on display is a nightmare.

“It’s just the way it works, unfortunately. It does happen a lot when you’re young because you’re like a new, shiny product, but it’s a rite of passage and you come out the other side wiser and covered in blood.”

Alongside music Mills has developed a secondary career as a screenwriter. In 2012 he also co-directed the horror comedy film A Fantastic Fear of Everything, starring Simon Pegg. Mills says he had to “reconcile a whole part of my psyche that was a film person because of how I grew up” with being a musician.

“I think there was a lot of frustrated film making going on with the albums too – they’re very visual albums to listen to,” he reckons. “At least they’re intended to be like that. You’re supposed to see the songs as well as just hear them.”

Having worked as a screenwriter on “bits and bobs, mostly for hire” for 15 years, he says it’s been “interesting”.

“Films are also very frustrating to work on because they take a long time to make, so you can work on a film and it disappears off for ten years before it ever gets made.”

Given his family’s rich history of acting and directing, Mills admits he naturally gravitated towards film. “You end up discovering who you are,” he says. “You make all this effort to not follow in your parents’ footsteps but you end up realising you’ve got so much in common. My dad was a film maker and a writer” – whose credits included Brighton Rock, Private’s Progress, Lucky Jim and I’m All Right Jack – “and then I discovered later on that he also wrote a lot of songs for other people and for films, which I didn’t know about. He was a sort of mixture of music and film as well.”

Kula Shaker play at O2 Academy Leeds on December 17.