Crispian Mills: Big mouth strikes again

Ten years ago, Kula Shaker's Crispian Mills revealed an admiration for the swastika, and the band imploded. Now they're back, and the lead singer is as outspoken as ever, finds Tim Cooper

Crispian Mills is doing his very best to ignore the elephant in the room. We both know it's there but so far neither of us has had the nerve to mention it. So we make small talk about the trendy Hoxton restaurant we're in and the impending launch of Kula Shaker's comeback album. Mills, a self-confessed "zero-tolerance vegetarian", decides to give lunch a miss after spotting devilled lamb's kidneys on the menu.

The return of Kula Shaker seemed unlikely a decade ago when, with his band at the top of their game (a million-selling debut album, K, a string of hit singles and a newly won Brit Award), Mills, aged just 24, committed career suicide.

In April 1997, The Independent on Sunday drew attention on its front page to remarks that he had made in two music-paper interviews. His assertion to Melody Maker that "we know that democracy doesn't work" was barely contentious (hadn't Churchill said something similar?), but his subsequent suggestion that we should introduce "a non-elected body that set the right standards" seemed somewhat extreme. And when he told the NME his thoughts about the

swastika being "a brilliant image" (albeit in the context of his interest in Indian mysticism, where the symbol originated), it began to look as if he might have some unsavoury political views.

Further circumstantial evidence began to emerge: Mills's former band, Objects of Desire, had used the motto "England will rise again" and played at a dubious rally, and their singer, Marcus Maclaine (at the time, the boyfriend of Mills' mother, Hayley Mills), had, in his teens, been a member of the National Front. Case closed; credibility in tatters; career in ruins.

It was little surprise when the second Kula Shaker album, Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts, failed to match its chart-topping predecessor, only just creeping into the Top 10, and the band broke up in 1999 without recording a third one. Looking back today, Mills says he did not have the inspiration to continue, even without the controversy.

"We took off like a rocket," he reflects, "and it made us all feel sick, to be honest. The pressure of travelling very fast..." He sips from a cup of tea and shoots his cuffs, showing off a pair of gold cuff links that complement the signet ring on his left hand. "When you start finding yourself in that intense high pressure business environment, making a lot of money for a lot of other people, it can be very destructive to the chemistry of a band. You can weather all the problems that you have with your label or your managers, or even being sued and having a nightmare with the press, so long as you have a passion for your music. I just lost sight of what we were supposed to do musically and without that you haven't got your lifeline to the next chapter."

Mills is skilfully skirting around the issue of his own self-destruction. Perhaps this would be a good moment to offer him the opportunity to set the record straight. "It was exceedingly unpleasant," he concedes, "but it was a stupid story." Curiously, it seems that he doesn't see the controversy as being responsible for the band's eventual demise. "Our second album didn't sell that badly," he insists, "it just didn't play the game: the first single was seven minutes long and quite slow."

So the fact that Mills was cast in the public mind as a toff with fascist tendencies had nothing to do with it? "It just fits for some people," he sighs. "If people want to see it that way then they can, and they do, and there's nothing I can do to change that."

His principal regret is that he chose the NME ("a comic") as the outlet for his views. "That was the only thing that was stupid about it. It's all about the context: we were talking about King Arthur, fairy tales and the Mahabharat and what happens when you have kings and the idea that people were happier when they had kings than they are with Tony Blair... and these are conversations that are actually quite interesting, but maybe you shouldn't have them with NME."

Surely, then, he must have been angry at the way he was portrayed? "At first it made me laugh," he replies. "I just thought: 'Wow, how mad!' And then it became the device that got used to beat us over the head. Everybody gets built up and torn down, that's the process." Yet when I invite Mills to redress the situation he declines politely, on the grounds that he has already responded: at the time, he issued a statement blaming his comments on his own "naiveté and insensitivity" and his long-standing interest in Indian culture. "I apologise to those who have been offended by my comments," he added, "and humbly ask that they accept that I am completely against the Nazis, their crimes and any other form of totalitarianism."

Any lingering doubts would certainly be allayed by a listen to Kula Shaker's comeback album Strange Folk, which takes lyrical swipes at war in Iraq in general, and George W Bush in particular. But reading message boards responding to news of Kula Shaker's return, it becomes clear that he still generates a degree of hostility, not so much for what he said, but simply for having had a privileged upbringing – famous family, public school and so forth.

Mills, who is 34 and lives in Bath with his wife Jo, thinks the antipathy against him back in the Britpop era was simply because he was talking about ideas and spirituality to people who were more interested in Loaded and Oasis and having it large. "I was very confrontational and with Oasis ruling the roost it created a massive class-based inverted snobbery. I just didn't take it seriously. I think anybody who sticks their neck out and exhibits some kind of intelligence and has an opinion in Britain is going to be for the chop."

In their heyday, Kula Shaker were signed to Columbia; today they release their third album on their own Strangefolk label. The budget may be lower but the trademark retro-rock sound is back in place, the psychedelic guitar wig-outs, the Hammond organ runs, the strong melodies, the anthemic hooks.

The Indian influence is a little more underplayed, and the lyrics are a little more direct, most notably in the case of "Die For Love", in which Mills puts forward the the proposition that "You don't have to pray for the death of your enemies, we'll defeat them with a song". Perhaps, in these fragile post-September 11 times, he might be opening himself up to more mockery? Mills looks quite put out at my suggestion that he's unlikely to deter the next suicide bomber with a song. "Well, bombs don't defeat people," he snaps.

He takes issue, too, with the suggestion that the hippies failed to change much. "Culturally, we're all feeding off the scraps from the table of the Sixties," he argues. "Our so-called cultural freedoms are all as a result of that massive explosion of ideas and everything – civil rights to sexual politics, to drug culture to the music." He changes tack abruptly. "I'm more into St Francis than I am into some kind of cynical sneer, or the idea that you have to drop bombs on people to get them to comply.

"I'm not a pacifist," he adds. "The problem is, everybody's guilty, nobody's innocent, and we live in a country that's up to its balls in blood and guts and dead babies. And we have this messed-up situation where we're trying to create some sort of moral justification for our actions and you've got this so-called new threat of the extremists, the fanatic who believes in Allah or believes in some spiritual emancipation, and on the other side, the rational politicians who are just trying to get on with everyday life and it's all bullshit, because they're just flip sides of each other. "

The problem, says Mills, is that the post-September 11 landscape has imposed a black-and-white view on us all: "You're either a rational, scientifically minded pragmatist or a loony... It all goes back to Copernicus, see?" He's joking, but only slightly.

As we part company he shakes hands and I get to see his signet ring up close. It belonged to Sir John Mills and it shows a pair of intertwined actors' masks – tragedy and comedy – with a motto from Shakespeare. Mills, just like his grandfather, seemsto have taken it to heart: "To thine own self be true."

'Strange Folk' is out now on Strangefolk; Kula Shaker tour the UK from tomorrow to 10 October (

Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower