Music

Sound Check

Kinski's Cosy Moments and Pure Volume

Sound Check

Shane Williams

KINSKI Lookin’ at some tiles?

Some people cleanse with juice fasts. Some people go to church. The Ayurvedic cleanse is an Indian mind/body detox with phases, but it's pretty involved. Why not just wander out into the desert for a couple weeks, with lots of juice? Or stand in front of the speakers at a Kinski show? That's a cleanse. The heavy cycles of their mostly instrumental rock pave and pump through your aorta and valves. Let's move back to the middle of the room, though, to less deafness. Kinski are a loud band. Taking in the pure levels of volume from this beloved Seattle four-piece is restorative. Mind/body, check. Desert, that depends. Chris Martin (guitarist), Matthew Reid-Schwartz (guitar/keyboards/flute), Lucy Atkinson (bass), and Barrett Wilke (drums) deliver distortion with intricacies. Harmonics bleed through, and riffs modulate. Kinski are always driving, putting the weight of their chassis in motion. Their sixth album, Cosy Moments, was released this past April on Kill Rock Stars and was produced by Seattle necromancer Randall Dunn from Master Musicians of Bukkake. Martin spoke. An all-around nice guy, he is.

On "Conflict Free Diamonds," you sing, "I forget, it wasn't important, don't worry about it now." What is it that wasn't important? That song is sort of about having a long-term relationship, of years and years, and then breaking up, and feeling like there's no light at the end of the tunnel. When you're feeling super depressed from the breakup. Then, after a while, you meet someone else, and you see that you can start all over again, and try it all again.

Things that seemed so epic during the breakup, but aren't really that epic? Yeah [laughs]. How could you think it was so bleak and so miserable? The record is sort of about a breakup. The song that opens the record is about the same thing. We never broke up or anything, but the band was sort of on hold. We had a big break in between our last release on Sub Pop and this one—five years or so. Everyone was rethinking everything. Sort of a bummer time. That's one reason we put the picture of us on the back of the album that we all liked, from the Comet, because that's when we started really doing shows again. That's what the title Cosy Moments refers to. Tongue in cheek. We'd all gone through this pretty hard time, and it was like, "We're gonna keep doing this. Fuck it. We're continuing."

With Kinski, you know it's going to be good, and it's going to be loud. You all seem like you're just about the music. Thank you. That's what we started for in 1998. We kind of got lost thinking, "Wow, maybe we'll have a hit," in the Sub Pop days. And who knows what'll happen if that happens, but when we originally started, we didn't even play shows for like a year and a half. We were only doing it to make the music for ourselves. We were really surprised when it turned out that people were into it [laughs]. We felt like we had to get back to that whole feeling, and that's what the last few years have been like, I think.

The cover for Cosy Moments is a car getting massive air. So good. How did you all decide on this as the cover image? We had a couple images that were okay, but we weren't very psyched about 'em. So I spent a couple nights looking at tons of random images on art sites online and stumbled across that one. We really liked it. And I guess there's some Google thing you can do to search where an image comes from. Anyway, we were able to get in touch with the guy and ask him if we could use it and how much it would cost. And it turned out that he was a Kinski fan, and his girlfriend had done a dance piece with us in New York. He ended up just letting us use it. It was this amazing coincidence.

A car getting big air, coming off a hill. The afternoon light. The telephone poles, power lines. What about the image resonated for you? That had to have been a rough landing. We didn't want it to be too maudlin, because the album was about this emotional stuff, and I wanted the title to be a little goofy. Somehow I thought it fit. It was so sideways, with that image, to call it Cosy Moments. But we're still a rock band who do driving music. It was to get away from the heavy emotional aspect. If it had a fimpy cover, I think it would have been a bit too much. It's hard to choose that stuff, I think. Especially when you've done a few records. We finish a record and we're like, "Oh shit, we have to come up with titles, and the cover, and all that." After a few albums, you can run out of your initial ideas.

Did you say "fimpy"? What's fimpy? [Laughs] I meant to say pussy, but I work at a radio station, so I'm used to toning down the language over the air. Fimpy, isn't that a word?

It sounds like a real word to me. An adjective meaning weak, or pussy. Yes.

The name of the song "We Think She's a Nurse" seems juxtaposed against the psychedelic, desert-caravan feel of the music. Some of your music is dark, and could be a soundtrack for the mind of a demented killer. But you give it this quirky, almost slaphappy title. Somehow it works. I write down phrases when I think of them or see them. I have a bunch of them. When we're looking for titles, I'll take them out and look to see what fits each song. I thought it fit in this weird, obtuse way. It's not about anything in particular.

You guys dial in the subconscious connections. Things that shouldn't relate to one another do somehow. Like a weird symbiosis. Especially on the early records too, where there weren't any vocals. Or just one or two tracks with vocals. Writers would always pick on the titles. We got slammed for a title on our second record, "Daydream Intonation." Writers just picked it apart, thinking it was this Sonic Youth thing. Any sort of verbiage, the writers focused on it. I always like for titles not to be too direct.

Now you're singing all over the place. You're like Pavarotti. Why more singing now? I guess I felt like I had stuff to say. Going through a breakup, that kind of thing. We actually threw out lots of songs. I wrote a bunch of songs with vocals, at least another record's worth. We were rehearsing them and did a tour with Acid Mothers Temple where we tried them live. And they weren't going over at all, so we scrapped them. I don't know, I just felt like singing some more. I was a little bored and wanted to do something different. I felt like we'd painted ourselves into something of a corner with instrumental rock. The record before this one had some vocals, too. I like to mix it up.

I stumbled on this woman's review on Amazon. I never look at our press or anything. It was right when Cosy Moments came out, and this one woman hated it. She said, "I used to love these guys, now there's this singing, and what a bunch of shit!" [Laughs] It's true, I don't have the greatest voice in the world, but man, that's why I don't read press. I used to sing in pop bands years ago, and it took me a while to remember how to do it. A lot of the female backing vocals on this album are from Kimberly Morrison from the Dutchess and the Duke.

Speaking of juxtapositions, your bassist Lucy Atkinson teaches kindergarten and first grade, I believe. Could you go in tomorrow and substitute for her? No, not at all. She and I were a couple for a long time, but aren't anymore. So I've heard some teaching stories. Our guitarist/keyboardist Matthew Schwartz is a teacher as well, preschool. So we have two teachers in the band.

Is it hard for them to transition from a loud rock band to teaching children? Lucy was actually teaching before we started the band. She teaches in Wallingford, so most of the parents are with it. And when we've played Bumbershoot before, kids have seen her and cheered. It would be cool to see your kindergarten teacher onstage, I think [laughs]. One of the things she was most stressed out about was from The Stranger when we started. It was this quick Q and A, and the question was: "Heroin or cocaine?" It was tied to a Velvet Underground night we were playing, and she answered with this funny answer, but then she was worried because of parents who might read it.

The album is called Cosy Moments. Are we talking nontraditional cozy there? Like a dump truck dumping its trash close to another dump truck? Why the S instead a of Z for cosy? That's the English spelling. I think the S looks better, and this is really pretentious, but it's tied to a P.G. Wodehouse novel from the '30s. There was a communist paper, and there was a phrase that said, "Cosy moments can not be muzzled." Then I heard Christopher Hitchens talk about it in another context. He had a plaque on his desk. It just stuck with me. It's tongue-in-cheek, but related to our situation.

Randall Dunn produced Cosy Moments. He's a sonic god. He's produced your last three albums. What's it like working with a producer for three albums? He's great. I think of it as a trilogy. The songs on Cosy Moments are different and poppier. He was good to keep working with because he knew where we were coming from. He kept the tones and sounds heavy within a pop structure and context. He's so good with guitar sounds, and he has such excellent ideas for overdub texture stuff.

What brought about those elements of pop? I'm not exactly sure. Pop music was sounding good to me again. We all grew up in different places, listening to things you listen to when you're 15. We started the band in our late 20s and were ready to go somewhere else with it. I think it's just us revisiting things we used to love, like the Pretenders, the Vapors, the Feelies, and the whole New Zealand Flying Nuns thing with the Bats, the Clean, and the Chills. The Bats played Neumos last year, and it was totally fantastic.

You have a song called "Last Day on Earth." What would you do with your last day on earth? Besides sex? I was going to say probably sex. And have a bunch of whiskey.

Explain "Skim MILF." That's just watching all our friends, including us, get older. Cool women who are still hot, who are MILFs.

And "Hot Stenographer." You know, like the cliché with the hot librarian. They take off their glasses and throw their hair around. It's such a Neanderthal rock riff that it seemed like it needed a different title.

Your album title Be Gentle with the Warm Turtle. Is that code for weed? Or testicles? No [laughs]. I think someone from The Stranger called that an "unfortunate title." The warm turtle was a small, warm turtle lamp that a kid was told not to touch.

There's a transition in "Semaphore" after four and half minutes. It seems to arise. What's the rudder there? How do Kinski know where to take transitions? We used to rehearse a lot. Three-plus times a week, which I can't imagine doing now. I think it comes from us just playing and playing, and trying to make it not sound labored over. We'd listen to our rehearsals to hear what worked. Sometimes a song would come in and out of practice for a year or two before it was finished. That's another reason we like to try stuff out live. On tours, we'll do at least four or five brand-new songs, and it's a really good gauge as to whether the songs are working or not. "Semaphore" was the one everyone used to want to hear, so we played it a ton. I OD'd on it.

You and Lucy were a couple, and now you're not. As a Kinski fan, thank you for keeping the band alive. Have you been asked a bunch about the breakup? Not so much. I've alluded to it here and there. We've always kept it separate, that we were even a couple. People in town might have known, just seeing us out or whatever. That's one reason we took so long in between albums. To take some time, and decompress from it, and work through some things. Now when we play and tour, which isn't a ton, we're having a lot of fun. We haven't had this much fun since we started. We've removed a lot of the pressures that we were putting on ourselves six or eight years ago. I guess going through what we went through all ties in.

You all toured with Tool. Can I get a Tool story? What's Maynard like? Did y'all hang out? Does he do avant things like talk to moss? Maynard was always cracking jokes. He mostly kept to himself. We got to know the other three guys. They were always in our room, and around, and goofing off. Maynard had his own tour bus towing a car behind him, and his own vibe. He would just take off. We were on the tour for a month—the shows were huge, they were in arenas. People love Tool so much, even though their music isn't so catchy, or hook-y. Tickets said start time was 8 p.m., and I don't think they had our name on there. So there would be 16,000 people just ready at 8 p.m.

And when you guys would come out, would people think you were Tool? Every night. Their stage is really sparse. Our gear was up there with theirs, but you couldn't quite tell there was more gear coming. The lights would go down, and there would be this huge roar from 16,000 people, and then we would plug in, the lights would go on, and as soon as everybody realized it wasn't Tool, it would go to silence [laughs]. Which is really a surreal feeling. The first show we walked out, and someone from the crowd yelled, "Oh great, 45 minutes of bullshit." We had a friend filling in for that show, and he yelled back, "No, we're only doing 30 minutes."

Sometimes I laugh to myself thinking about Tool preshow, listening to Widespread Panic and doing hacky sack. Because I bet those guys can hack the shit out of a hacky sack. Hacky sacking and riding their mountain bikes around. The bass player was the one that got us on the tour. He's English, and his brother worked at a record label in England and had heard the Airs Above Your Station album. He liked it, and Tool needed somebody for a month, and they asked us. It was really simple. They made one call and said, "Can you do it in a week?" And we said, "Yeah." Tool is pretty cool with their opening bands. We just toured with Melt-Banana. And they were the band that came on with Tool after us. Every month they ask someone. Big Business has done it, and Melvins, too.

Where would Maynard zoom off to in his car? It was like a police cruiser that had been stripped down. But it still looked like a police car. I couldn't believe that they all had their own tour buses. Or I think for four of them, there were three tour buses, just for them, not counting the rigs of gear.

Maynard would cruise around following people and act like he was going to pull them over. I think so, yeah [laughs]. They've been doing it so much that they all have their separate trips for sure. They sell so many tickets. They had played the A-list cities on that tour before we joined and had circled the whole US. Then they were doing the B-list places like New Mexico, and that's the tour we did. They sell out every show. Then they were going to do the C-list places, like Nebraska. They're so huge. The main thing we got out of doing that tour is that I don't think we will ever be really nervous again. Because you can't get more nervous than going out in front of sold-out arenas with no crew. It was just us. We didn't even have a sound person. We used one of theirs. It was pretty nerve-racking.

Do you know who is going to produce your next album? Nothing's confirmed, but we've been talking to Phil Manley from Trans Am. He has a studio in San Francisco. He also does a solo thing called Life Coach. He was playing in Oneida when we toured with them, and we've been friends with him since. We're going to record again this summer, I think. The next record will have a better balance between the pop thing and what we used to do. I think we went maybe too far pop with Cosy Moments? recommended

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