Over the course of 20 years, Seattle band Kinski has released an ungodly amount of music, most recently 2015's excellent 7 (or 8) LP on Kill Rock Stars. During the year of their 20th anniversary as a band, Kinski will release a new album on October 12th, titled Accustomed to Your Face. In addition, they will reissue on vinyl 2000's Be Gentle With the Warm Turtle on November 23rd. Both of those will come out through Kill Rock Stars. They play this weekend at the Northwest Psych Festival on Saturday, September 1st.
Prior to their set at the 2018 Capitol Hill Block Party, Kinski spoke with KEXP about their process approaching unorthodox projects, musical collaborations, and interacting with their back catalog. The conversation started with a question about the band's new single, released on These Are Not Records, which features covers of Love as Laughter's "Old Gold," and David Kilgour project Stephen's "Loved By You."
KEXP: On the "Old Gold // Loved By You" single, you cover Olympia band Love as Laughter. What drew you to Love as Laughter's music?
Chris Martin [songwriter, guitar]: I didn’t know who Love as Laughter was, and I saw them do a performance at a record store that blew me away. They have an album on K Records called #1 USA that ["Old Gold"] is on. I saw them a bunch back then, and I really loved that record. Their other records are good, but there’s something about that record… someone suggested that we cover that song. We played it for about a year at shows, so we thought we’d record it.
Is there similar reasoning behind the choice of the David Kilgour song [Stephen's "Loved By You"]?
Lucy Atkinson [bass]: We’ve been a fan of [Kilgour's] for a long time.
CM: Yeah, we’re all huge fans of The Clean and [Stephen] is one of his side projects. We actually recorded a bunch of covers for the single, and we chose the two that came out the best.
How do you approach writing a setlist after 20 years of being a band?
Matthew Reid Schwartz [guitar, keyboard, flute]: Well, we have a lot to recycle from…
CM: We’ve always tried to play live the record that’s not yet recorded, so we tend to play 3-4 brand new songs that nobody knows. That’s always been part of it. Since it’s our 20th anniversary, we've tried to go through the back catalog and pull out a song or two that people know from older records.
For Sub Pop’s 30th’s Anniversary, as opposed to Kinski’s 20th anniversary, we’re doing a lot of coverage around Sub Pop's back catalog. How do you relate to your records that were released on Sub Pop? [Kinski released three full-length LPs, various EPs, and singles on the label].
Barrett Wilke [drums]: I’m not sure if I would consider [our Sub Pop albums] a different era, some of the records just happened to be released on Sub Pop. Do you guys feel like there are different eras? To me, it feels more constant.
CM: I think our last few records have been a lot poppier and more straightforward. It felt like we took the ambient-noise approach as far as we could go at that time, and we just wanted to write songs again. You haven’t heard the new record yet, but it feels like a combination of both styles.
I think the first Kill Rock Stars record [2013's Cozy Moments], while not forced, seemed quite a bit different than the Sub Pop records. We eventually settled into it better and figured out a way to effectively write songs with hooks and occasionally vocals. We've figured out how to better blend those elements.
Are you able to listen to any of your own albums?
CM: I never do. Once they’re done, I never listen to them. I don’t know about these guys, though.
MRS: I rarely do. For our 20th anniversary, we are all going back and listening to old material. It’s not exactly a pleasure, more motivated by necessity. While I did enjoy relistening to some of it, I never find myself reaching for a Kinski record.
Does it feel too self-congratulatory?
BW: It takes so long to put a record together, and by the time it’s done we’ve listened to it so closely… over and over and over again. At the point that the record actually comes out, we’ve been steeped in the material for so long that by then we’re working on new stuff.
CM: On a lot of the records, I hear what we could've either done better or differently. We’ve been listening to Be Gentle With the Warm Turtle a lot since it’s getting reissued on vinyl. So much time has gone past I can almost pretend it’s another band’s record. It’s been so long that it’s almost nice to hear.
Are there any current bands in the Pacific Northwest that have given you a different perspective on your music?
CM: We always want to play with new bands, so we can get that different point of view. There’s a band called Blood Drugs from Seattle that we like a lot, and a band from Portland called Máscaras who are really great. They’re playing the Northwest Psych Fest this year [on August 31]. We played with the band Dreamdecay a while back, and I think they’re quite interesting. They just played with My Bloody Valentine at The Paramount.
Do you stay in touch with bands that you’ve previously collaborated with, for instance, Acid Mothers Temple? After you spend a lot of time working with another band, is there a way to maintain a creative relationship?
CM: It’s funny you mention that because we’re actually going to Japan to tour with Acid Mothers Temple this upcoming February. We’re still good friends with Kawabata [Makoto, Acid Mothers Temple founder]. Their lineup is a little different, he’s changed out a few members, but we know the newer guys as well.
LA: We are still pretty tight with all the bands that we’ve worked with, like Bardo Pond and Oneida.
CM: We’re touring the West Coast this October with >Feral Ohms, which has members of Comets on Fire and Trans Am. So we still play with a lot of those people.
Have you ever interacted with or performed with [pioneering Japanese noise collective] Boredoms? Your music seems congruous in some ways.
CM: We played with OOIOO [the project of Boredoms drummer Yoshimi P-We] at Chop Suey, which was a great show. Master Musicians of Bukkake, Climax Golden Twins, and Kinski all got asked to open the show. We all said yes, but they ended up picking Kinski. We’re friends with all those guys, so we decided to just play together. There were maybe 20 of us playing at Chop Suey, 8 people on the floor and 10 people on stage. It was a lot of fun.
LA: I don’t know if the audience felt that way, but we certainly had a great time. There were maybe eight guitarists...
CM: I heard people walked in and were overwhelmed because there was so much sound coming off the stage. I hope Yoshimi got a kick out of that because Boredoms are always doing crazy performances with a bunch of musicians.
Is there an official Kinski Sonic Youth album?
LA: Yes. The answer is yes.
CM: I love a couple of the later ones, like [2004's] Sonic Nurse. That had some really interesting songs on it. I wish they had kept going, because I think they were making really interesting records towards the end, combining all of their different elements. The Rather Ripped record [from 2006] I like a lot too.
How did recording a fragment of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake come about? [Kinski was part of the Waywards and Meansigns project, which has set the entirety of Finnegan's Wake to music]. I had no idea what to make of that project.
CM: Yeah, we didn’t either. There are hundreds of entries. It’s very weird.
LA: We did another James Joyce piece [as part of Fire Records’ James Joyce’s Chamber Music compilation] and [Derek Byle of Waywards and Meansigns] found us through that. There are a lot of projects that we get asked to do, and we try to just do them even if we have no idea how to. If someone is really looking for us to participate in something, then, of course, we'll try to figure something out.
CM: Those kinds of projects don't seem to happen as much now, or at least we don’t get asked as much.
LA: We did live sound for a German silent movie at SIFF [in 2007] called Berlin: Symphony of a Big City. It was from the late 1920's.
MRS: That was similar to when we worked with the New York dancers robbinschild. They approached us, and we talked for years about how to collaborate with them. They had dance and film components to the project. We did a run in New York and it ended up being really fun. It was interesting to figure out what kind of material to put together for the performances, some of it improvised and some of it using material that we had already made.
LA: The difficulty of those collaborations is I think why we agree to work on them. Otherwise, we’re just doing the same thing as a band.
Do these projects end up informing album material?
CM: It’s the other way around, I think. We take a piece that we’re already working on, and try to adapt it to what the situation requires. With the James Joyce project though, we had to write something from scratch.
What made your James Joyce interpretation a success?
LA: Just that we did it!
CM: Yeah, I think so. Just doing it. Putting it out there.
LA: Yeah, it's very hard to push yourself to a place where you don’t even know what you’re doing.
Kinski will play the Northwest Psych Festival on Saturday, September 1st. The band's new album Accustomed to Your Face on October 12th via Kill Rock Stars. A vinyl reissue of Be Gentle with the Warm Turtle will be released on November 23rd. The "Old Gold // Loved by You" 7" single is available now from These Are Not Records. For more information, visit Kinski's website.
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