Born out of the desolate basements holding Flint, MI., the Kinetic Stereokids predominately grace the streets of Chicago these days. Yet the road consistently haunts and next month the gritty, beat-heavy, sample-laden, lo-fi sonic act will be hugging foreign pillow cases as they tour the Eastern States in support of their sophomore effort 'Kid Moves'. Having donned stages at South by Southwest and Pop Montreal, and hauled their drum kit from New York to LA, the group is ever more persistently irritating its dirty motel rash. In anticipation of their forthcoming reunion avec Montreal at Le Divan Orange on March 8th, front man Justin Ford and drummer Tony Vu were plenty generous to borrow me some words.
How long you been playing together? How did you come up with the band name?
Justin Ford: This band of mangy ponies has been rolling along since high school, 98. We won a talent show in Flint with another group, Yello 5. Backstage we were playing this song 'Grapefruit' over and over and obsessively talking about a James Taylor/John Denver song with radio static & dangerous hip hop beats. The Kinetic Stereokids were thus born, and not much has changed from those ideals. The name is pretty much random, a sudden phrase used to sum up the aesthetic philosophy of a group of musicians/friends, like a motto. The 'kinetic' part was the main thing, to keep things moving no-matter-what. Kinetic art. Heinz Mack, premier kinetic artist said: "the restlessness of a line; it wants to be a plane. The restlessness of a plane; it wants to be space."
Granted this isn't presently a full-time gig, how you supporting yourselves?
Tony Vu: I just resigned from my job as a network admin and am contemplating shielding myself from the crappy economy back in school.
JF: We are all travelling salesmen in some respect. We sell things to other capitalists in The Great Wilderness of North America.
How did the recording of the sophomore effort come about? How long did the recording process take?
JF: 'Kid Moves' was originally conceived as being a project in which we would create these very delicate, almost baroque folk songs and alter them to the point of disfiguration. We tried to do Dark Side of the Moon with a Tascam cassette 4-track, and failed. It took us over 5 years to write, record, overdub, edit and mix it. You can hear the years in the songs, its like a real solid piece of hardened driftwood that's floated forever and is now unbreakable. Right under the surface you can hear the original songs, if you listen. Its got the Neil Young folk thing right there, but its smeared over by screams, laughs, samples, beats, Zeppelin guitars, chaos, preachers. It's a lo-fi adventure in sound, like 'How many times can we record TV static over this nice song before you don't see the forest for the trees?' It's a really fucked up collage.
How did the concept of your first music video come to fruition?
TV: It was the brainchild of a very talented lady named Kelly Brickner.
JF: She directed and conceived the idea of having us walk through an actual wilderness of our artwork. She used a book myself and Mike Steibel had made over the years of whacked out collages and paintings.
TV: From this, she created little worlds to animate and digitize us into. She then zapped us with the gun from Willy Wonka and we walked around and played in the screen.
JF:It turned out better than we could have ever imagined.
What is the moment/stage you bubbled about in your sleep growing up, when you would know you'd 'made it'? What is the dream gig or venue you are pining to play?
JF: There is no 'making it'. Mick Jagger still puts his pants on one leg at a time and pours his own cereal every morning. Maybe it's when you can actually quit your day job. Actually, I understand that Mr. Jagger was majoring in Business Administration when the Stones first started gigging. Maybe I'm totally wrong; maybe he has a person that puts on his pants for him every day. I think we'd all just like to be able to tour constantly, and play the British music festivals each year.
TV: I've always wanted to tour Europe. The thought of going to sleep and waking up in a different country each night still drives me. I'd love to play any of those big festivals like Reading or Glastonbury.
Have the dreams been diminished or tainted by the cold realities of the industry?
TV: Not really, we're fortunate enough to be on a great label that really believes in us and our music. We have a really good relationship with 'Overdraft' and we work side by side as we slice through the wackiness of the industry to forge our path.
JF: I don't think there were really any misunderstandings about how the music industry works at all. Even when we were 17-year-olds jamming out ideas in the basement, the TV would be on mute, and it would be Christina Aquilera or P Diddy or whatever on the screen, and immediately there was no connection with that whatsoever. Even if we had the ability to go to that place in the sky where Spinal Tap and P Duffy are, we'd still be a million miles from it. Not that its an excuse to be lazy-look at groups like Godspeed You Black Emperor or Do Make Say Think, they work their asses off at being the most unique and popular too. GYBE flattened pennies on the train tracks behind their studio and included them by hand in the first 500 copies of their debut album. That beats the industry. Flattened pennies.
If at all, how has your Flint roots affected/influenced your music?
TV: It's given us our voice. There's literally nothing to do in Flint except get in various forms of trouble. We used to joke that we had a coping club, where we'd get together and hang out and cope with our existence. This pure boredom mixed with the depressing state of the city, combined to create a storm of anger, resentment, and pure bewilderment. When we were younger we would literally lock ourselves in our parents' basements and play music day and night. This kind of shielded us from the outside world and allowed us the room and freedom to mold our sound.
JF: Flint has made us who we are. Living here, we have become pretty hard and learned not to take shit. Not to say that you end up jaded or calloused, but people from here do grow an extra thick layer of skin. It's just so bleak, desperate nothingness. So there is that choice: do you go down the road of desolation and join the madness, or do you fight it with art and words and music? For the most part, we've chosen the latter. While all those murders outside turned into wowing statistics for the rest of the nation to see, we were in our basement spray painting a bunch of homemade CD's to hand out downtown—of some diseased folk song made in the sump pump. A lot of musicians came out of this area, and I think the really good ones became that way because they learned that music is a defense, a weapon, a thing to occupy your hands, as well as being a nice thing to listen to.
Can you fill the blank on the present music scene in Chicago?
TV: There's a huge hip, ghetto tech, 808, party til the break of dawn scene here. It looks funny, kinda like hip homeless people from the 80's with diagonal haircuts. I'm not really too into this scene but it is prevalent and the party don't stop. For me, the gem in the Chicago scene would have to be the free jazz scene here. It's absolutely amazing, purely energetic art. These are very talented, world class musicians that constantly push the boundaries of music. There are a handful of venues that host gatherings throughout the week and there's kind of a rotating cast of players that group up in random configurations. Everyone is in bed with each other and it's a wonderful experience seeing them create. Sitting through one of these sessions will force you to redefine what your outlook on music is.
JF: A lot of DJ's. You could write a thesis paper on the entire culture of re-mixing. It's pretty insular and has a food chain, just like any other big city. I've seen a lot of great musicians playing to only 5 people, and some really whack ones playing packed houses. If you look past the popularity contest it's a breeding ground for anything new. People move from all over the Midwest to Chicago to start something interesting, and kids drive from God-Knows-Where, Wisconsin, to see some band they heard because their friend burned a copy of something from them.
Clearly, you've been influenced in artists having shaped your music what it is, curious whether the influence carries over to the live show, are you further inspired in the way you perform or present your music?
TV:Absolutely. Much of our show is based on improvisation and a lot of what each of us bring to the table at the moment is influenced by what we're listening to at the time. By the nature of the beast, this lends to us inspiring each other in the moment with what we play. We've also gone to emulating the work ethic of other bands as well. 'Can' is a major influence on our sound and I heard that they would literally jam for hours upon hours. So I took to this and instilled a jam til you puke ethic to some of our practices, where I'd lock Justin and Matt in my basement and not let them out until we had played for at least 2 hours straight. We'd get so exhausted that we'd resort to X-files sounding ambient jams at the end but I think that completing the process was a win in itself.
JF: Our real influences are sometimes audible on the recordings, but not as much live. The method we use to record the initial songs is much different than the method we use to come up with a live show. The tedious chopping and layering is difficult to recreate onstage, and long ago we had to just learn to be more immediate up there. So it tends to be louder, faster, heavier, longer. Which, in turn, creates new songs. We've always had a joke about us live being a 'Kinetic Stereokids' cover band, as it's frustrating at first to learn the meticulously recorded material.
How do you inwardly field being compared to well staged artists/names?
TV: I like hearing how people interpret our sound. Usually the easiest way to describe a band or sound is to bring up other bands as a frame of reference. The best are the off the wall ones, we've been compared to Rush and Kid Rock before.
Why is there a need to have others hear your music? What is the message which needs to be heard from you?
TV: I think there is a need to hear our music because the message was recorded seven years ago and it now seems more pertinent then ever. Greed and excess have run a muck and it's apparent on every newspaper and magazine cover you pick up today. When this album was being crafted, we took these ideas from books and films, ideas that had been around for years. Much of the angst against corporate greed on the album was derived from what was seen in between the lines at the time. From the bubble gum pop of the late 90's to the post 9/11 state of shock that we were herded into, at a time when it seemed like no one knew any better, we felt we did. We wanted to get across that this world is at once, sick, silly, and beautiful, as our good friend Luke so eloquently puts it. All of this was molded into the album.
JF: There is no other option, either someone else hears the music or you explode. Even if you just hand off a demo to a random person, it's a release. I hope people can find their own message, tailor what they want from the music.
With the stigma that an artists music diversifies and grows as time logs on, peering into the review mirror where has your music seen significant progression or change from the past?
TV: It kind of grows with both you and the world around you. As our lives change and we go through certain experiences, we gain different things to express. I like to look at music as language, and as we grow older, we simply have more to talk about.
JF: We've gotten wiser, and the music has a little bit of meaning now. It's just as exciting as when we began, and we're all even closer friends.