Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Kinski Interview

with Chris Martin, Matthew Reid Schwartz, Lucy Atkinson & Barrett Wilke
@ Berbati's Pan (Portland, Oregon) September 2002
photo & text: Dan Cohoon
When I am asked to describe Kinski I say they are the west coast Bardo Pond--which, coming from me is a very high compliment. They are not derivative of Bardo, but they share the ability to alter your whole being through music alone. If you ever need your head cleared out, put on “Semaphoreoff their album Airs Above Your Station. After the six minutes pass, you can not help but be in a great mood. That is the song I feel in love with Kinski for much like I fell in love with Bardo Pond the first time I heard “Dragonfly Lying on the Floor”. Live is the best way to experience them. Chris says he tries to craft the sets like a roller coaster ride. It is quite an amazing ride. I sat down with them in the early fall of 2002 at Berbati's Pan. Besides making extremely nice music, they are extremely nice people as well. –Dan Cohoon (September 2002)

Kinski @ Berbati's Pan (Portland, Oregon) September 2002
Photo: Dan Cohoon Posted by Picasa
Dan Cohoon: When did Kinski start & what bands were you in before?
Chris Martin: We started in 1998. I was in a pop band in Seattle called the Deflowers which I don't mention much. I was in some college bands in Bozeman. This is Lucy's first band. Matthew the guitar player was in a couple power-pop type bands in the early 90's--one of them was called Sugarbuzz. Our old drummer was David Weeks and our new drummer is Barrett Wilke. He used to be a drummer for this band called This Busy Monster. We all come from a pop background.

DC: Who is Klaus Kinski?
CM: It was sort of a joke. I was and still am hugely into Krautrock stuff. My friend said we should call ourselves the Klaus Kinski after the actor. It was just a play on that. Someone just making fun of our German rock thing....

DC: Are you guys originally from Seattle?
CM: I am from Denver originally. Matthew is from New York City. Lucy is from Montana. Barrette is the only one originally from Seattle.

DC: How long have you lived in Seattle?
CM: He and I have lived there for twelve years. I got there right before Nirvana got signed and the whole grunge thing happened and I was kind of stuck.

Chris Martin @ Berbati's Pan (Portland, Oregon) September 2002
Photo: Dan Cohoon Posted by Picasa
DC: How did that affect your music or how did that affect you with all that going on around you?
CM: Seattle was a horrible place to be then musically, I think. Matthew might have a different opinion. It was the wrong place, wrong time for power pop stuff. There were other places in the country you could be but Seattle was the wrong place. Now it is sort of the right place for that sort of stuff. For me it was totally the wrong place at the time.
Matthew Reid Schwartz: I would agree to some extent. For me it was an exciting place to see music. Obviously there was a lot of music happening-- while it wasn't what I was into; there were a lot of bands coming through. There was sort of an exciting feeling. I was in a power pop band too, and it was more difficult then, not just because of everything else that was happening.

DC: I have noticed that a lot of the avant rock on the west coast is more jazz-influenced (especially here in Portland, Oregon) while you guys are much more rock-oriented. When I hear you guys I think more east-coast space-rock from, say, Boston or Philly. Who do you identify with sound wise?
CM: Definitely Bardo Pond. The three of us, I don't know about Barrett, are just big fans of what they do. The whole Japanese bent of things, Acid Mothers Temple, Fushitsusha, Mainliner & High Rise. We played with all those bands and toured with some of them. It is a huge influence on me. The space-rock thing there is not a lot of current stuff that we are listening to but all the obvious things like Spacemen 3.
MS-R: It is interesting, I think it is fairly accurate, your question. Thinking about bands like Jackie-o Motherfucker, I am thinking of influences in a more experimental vein whereas Kinski is very space rock. I think we have an element, not to say jazz, but more sort of ambient improv.
CM: When you say jazz I think sort of prog. There are bands that play in Seattle that are sort of out-rock but it’s got a real proggy tinge to it. Not sort of Neu! And Orb mixed with space rock, which is what we identify more with. I think there are definitely more interesting bands here in Portland.

DC: Terrastock was the first time I saw you guys. How did you meet up with those people and what were your impressions of the festival?
Lucy Atkinson: I thought it was great. We saw every band there actually. It was really fun.
CM: We were just kind of fans of the magazine. When are first record that we put out came out we just sent it to Phil (the main guy behind Terrascope). He immediately sent us a letter back saying that he liked it. He is amazing because he seems like such a huge music fan and also pretty accessible and he gets back to people. The festival I thought was amazing. Matthew missed a lot of it because he was sick.
LA: We wish there were more Seattle representatives not playing but in the audience. It was kind of disappointing.
CM: All these people from the east coast....
LA: flew in for it. There were not a lot of local people who knew anything really about it.

DC: I felt like I was at a show in Boston.
CM: We didn't know anyone there. We didn't know a lot of the bands. We knew Bardo Pond and a couple other people. We didn't play till Sunday. So we were not really talking to people too much. It was kind of strange being in Seattle & not knowing anyone there, which was actually kind of cool.
LA: We are going to go again in October to Boston

DC: You use a lot of pedals. Do you find pedals freeing or restrictive?
CM: Except for battery costs (laughs). It opened up a ton of ideas. I used to plug directly into the amp kind of thing. I think unless you are a really great player or super creative it’s hard.
LA: Even Nels Cline who is a really great player has lots of pedals.
CM: Have you seen him play?

Lucy Atkinson @ Berbati's Pan (Portland, Oregon) September 2002
Photo: Dan Cohoon Posted by Picasa
DC: Yeah.
CM: He is so amazing. I am all for pedals. How about you?
MR-S: I am all for pedals. I am less involved with them than Chris. I guess I sometimes see my role… I guess there are two things--the opportunity is there to explore that. I think sometimes I want to step back to add a little bit less effected sound. It is such a learning curve as well because you have so many options. It is easy to get lost in it. I think it is a real challenge to work with it until you find something good.
CM: I think it is the song. I think the goal is to have the casual listener not know anything has changed. People in bands will notice it sonically. Do you play?

DC: Yeah I play prepared guitar. Sometimes when I use pedals I feel like I am cheating.
LA: I don't think so though. It is all about just experimenting with sound. If you are in a power pop band you don't really need all that. If you are in a band that wants to experiment with sound to see what it can do then pedals help to do that, to make it more interesting. You have a wider palette of sound to choose from.
MR-S: Some times I see bands that use pedals to over-saturate a sound. That doesn't particularly appeal to me if it is just a barrage of that process.
CM: Some one like Keiji Haino uses tons of pedals to get the full thing with one big roar which is interesting.
MR-S: I agree, I guess I am talking more about when it is used to an effect that doesn't distinguish itself. It is potentially something that is easy to use that doesn't distinguish your sound; it just creates another sound that is just flat.

DC: I have only seen you guys live. Tell me: how does your sound on records differ from when you play out?
CM With the records we spend a lot of time on making the records in the traditional studio sense. A lot of people told us that Be Gentle with the Warm Turtle did not capture our live sound at all. We see it as two different things. We want to make a really beautiful record.
LA: That you would want to listen to at your house.
CM: That kind of flows. We try and do that with our sets but we want them to be a big powerful rock thing. The new record is kind of a trajectory and is planned out. The recorded and live thing is pretty different. We are trying to get it so both live and the record is the same sort of thing.
DC: When I see you guys live it is very cathartic. I feel really great after your set. Is that intentional? Are you trying to affect the mood of people?
CM: It is intentional in the sense that we structure sets so they are not boring. If there are mellow things it is like a roller coaster. Some shows it feels like we are on a roller coaster with no brakes. It is awesome to hear that from you--that it is a cathartic thing. I don't know how we can plan that exactly.
LA: We could say that we plan it (laughs).
MR-S: It is in a book we once read.

DC: How to rawk out.
MR-S: I would like to think that at are best when we play live--it is cathartic for us as well. We all have the ability to really get into the music, which is hopefully what bands do all the time. Not to say they don't. Like Chris said it is very gratifying to hear that. It can also be really gratifying to be playing that.
CM: When we first started playing (before Matthew joined us) people would give us shit “Oh you don't talk to the audience. You are building this wall between you and the audience.” We don't do the typical, "Hey how is everyone doing tonight? We got t-shirts out there." Nobody gives a shit about that. Everyone’s been to rock shows to know how it all works.

DC: How do you go about constructing a song?
CM Can you take that one? I am going to get another beer.
LA: Me? Well I come up with all the ideas (laughs). We have two different ways we go about it. With some songs they start out as just sort of jamming (making it up as we go along). We tape as we play. We go back & listen to it and hear what we like. It is kind of a group writing process. Most songs, Chris gets some sort of idea and he brings it to us. We all play around with that idea. We tape it & talk about where we want it to go or how it is doing & structure it that way. We tape everything then Chris will take it back again & play around with all the ideas we generated. He then brings it back and we finish it off.

DC: Your songs are very structured but you have improvised parts. How do you go about balancing the two?
CM: I think that there is less improvisation than what it seems; at least that was the case a year ago. Now we are trying to work that in. Tonight there is a section where everyone can do whatever. We have been doing this alter ego thing called Herzog. This is all of us playing improv at separate shows. We are trying to develop that. Right now that is pretty much separate from Kinski. Hopefully that will interweave more. I don't think we have that much improv.
LA: We have a little.
MS-R: In some respects more with Lucy and me. Maybe it is not quite improv, parts where we are making sounds. I think there are a couple of very gratifying moments playing off each other. We know how we are approaching it; we are not necessarily changing technique. Like you said the songs are very structured so there is a set time when this stuff is happening.

Kinski @ Berbati's Pan (Portland, Oregon) September 2002
Photo: Dan Cohoon Posted by Picasa
DC: There are sections of the songs where there is, maybe not random stuff but not really tight stuff either.
CM: You might be talking about the parts that we want to be super tight but are playing really, really poorly (every one laughs).

DC: You were talking about melding the improv with the rock. Is there anything else you are looking to do?
CM: I use a Big Muff distortion pedal and on the last two records it was all over them. I want to get away from that. Maybe have things a little quieter occasionally, not always having to rock.
LA: Except the two new songs there is a lot of rocking.
CM: Yeah… We can never seem to plan it. Barrett has been with us only a month. Things have already changed. The new material is going in a different direction, and I am not even sure what that direction is yet.

DC: (to Barrett) You are the new addition to the band. How are things going?
Barrett Wilke: I started a few months ago. Things are going really good. I was struck by how things seem unplanned but are very planned out and secondly the use of space. It is very different—sometimes the best effect we are using is space--at other times it is a lot of notes clustered together. It is fun to do really heavy stuff and really stretch it out. I like when we talk we don’t say how many phrases or bars but how many minutes it is going to go on for. I like the extended structure that struck me right away.
MS-R: Sometimes we talk about how many cycles of the sun for particularly extended pieces.