Seattle rock mainstays Kinski started up in 1998. Their new album, 7 (or 8), released on June 2 via Kill Rock Stars, represents the culmination of a catalog that started in deep space (see past albums SpaceLaunch for Frenchie, Be Gentle with the Warm Turtle, and Airs Above Your Station) before gradually descending closer to terra firma. They've been muscling up the riffs, getting more linear with their songwriting, and veering away from their astral and jammy inclinations.
One of their most concise full-lengths, 7 (or 8) gets to the fucking point, with Chris Martin and Matthew Reid-Schwartz's guitars and Lucy Atkinson rocking the bass with exceptional girth and velocity. Barrett Wilke's drums power the tracks with metronomic punchiness. And while most of the album's seven songs are vocal-free, their surges and swerves contain memorable contours, guitars and bass merging into dazzling blurs of comet trail. Kinski don't need no stinkin' choruses.
Chris Martin talked with The Stranger about the new record, the ups and downs of Kinski's long career, and opening for Tool.
I count eight or nine albums in your catalog. Were you drunk when you named the record?
We had a bunch of titles. The cover is so strong and evocative of itself that whatever titles we put on seemed to comment on the cover too much. A title didn't work. We were going to call it Kinski, because we've never had an eponymous title, but it seemed like a cop-out. So we said, "Let's just call it, Led Zeppelin–style, like seven or eight." And we all disagreed on how many records we have. Some are improv... I just count the official rock records.
What were the advantages of working with Phil Manley on the new album?
He was in [Brooklyn psych-rock band] Oneida for a year or two. When we toured with Oneida a long time ago, we just hit it off. He's a real fun, casual guy, and he'd just opened this studio in San Francisco [El Studio]. We produced this ourselves, in a way. We did some demo-ing here in town. We just thought it would be fun to go to San Francisco and try out Phil's new space. We knew we were on the same wavelength taste-wise. So we spent nine days there.
Do you think Manley made a difference, compared to your other records, or were you so in control that it didn't really matter who was producing?
This one sounds more like us, in a way. Phil didn't color the record a lot. It was sort of Albini-style, capturing the way the band was sounding. We didn't even bring our amps down. He had the gear arranged for us. We knew the material pretty well. We've worked with Randall Dunn on a bunch of records, and he's great, obviously, but he has a certain sound. He always gets his fingers in there quite a bit. Sometimes you want that, sometimes you don't.
Describe your song-titling process. You have some of the best in the business: "Daydream Intonation," "Drink Up and Be Somebody," "All Your Kids Have Turned to Static," "Argentina Turner," "Punching Good-bye Out Front."
It used to be just going out to bars and shooting the shit with friends. Somebody would say something, or I or [bassist] Lucy [Atkinson] would say a funny phrase, and I would write it down on a napkin, or a matchbook, and throw it in an envelope until we needed titles. As we've gotten older, we all go out way less to bars and stuff. So whenever I hear some phrase, I write it in the phone. Normally, there are 50 to 75 to work from, and I listen to the songs and think which fits what musically—even though it's pretty esoteric.
Kinski opened for Tool in 2007. Do you consider that a career highlight?
Not exactly, because that was the height of our personal problems within the band, literally in those couple of months. We had a week to decide whether we were going to do that. Emotionally, that was kind of a weird time. That was never anybody's goal—to go on a tour with Tool. I didn't even really know Tool at all at the time. How do you say no to playing to 15,000 to 20,000 people a night? That was for a month. Those guys are awesome. The crew and everyone treated us great. But it was a total mindfuck. On the positive side, I don't think we'll ever get seriously nervous about anything again, because you can't get more nervous than that. To go out to a hostile audience that has no idea that there's even an opener... The tickets would say eight o'clock, and the places were full at eight o'clock. Fifteen thousand people expecting Tool. But it went a lot better than expected. We sort of won 'em over every night, but it was a battle. We got this weird confidence from that.
How do you view the last 10 years of the band, in a nutshell? Do you feel like you had one shot at stardom while on Sub Pop, and it didn't happen? Do you regret anything?
We never thought we had a shot at stardom. Well, maybe we did, but I don't know how much Sub Pop did. We were an instrumental band for the most part, but there were a couple of songs per album with vocals. People always pigeonholed us. "They're primarily an instrumental band." Yeah, except for the three songs with vocals. We set some goals for what we wanted to do musically. I see three records as accomplishing that. One was Be Gentle with the Warm Turtle, which was sort of to see if we could do the drone-rock thing. Alpine Static was our riff-y record. And now it's about writing pop songs. I put up 7 (or 8) as one of my favorites. It would've been nice to have more success, but I can't complain.
What motivates you now to keep grindin' in the studio and on the live circuit after 17 years? Do you feel like you have the same fire in your bellies as when you were starting out?
I feel like we got it back. We really struggled for a while with some personal issues about six or seven years ago. It was unclear whether we could keep going. We kind of powered through that stuff, and we're having as much fun or more now playing shows than we ever have. We stopped worrying about a career and trying to get ahead. We need to get on this tour; we need to place a song on a TV show. It got to the point where we said, "Fuck it." We've been doing this so long it's either going to happen or it's not. Let's just have fun. Once that [attitude] kicked in, everything got a lot more relaxed and the band became a lot more fun.