No safety net
Kinski brings its live sonic experiments to Chico
“When you see a band forgetting the defenses of playing live … losing control, people losing it in the moment…” That’s what separates the merely good from the incredible in the realm of live music, says vocalist/guitarist Chris Martin of Seattle’s instrumental architects Kinski.
His band arguably deserves to be called “incredible” as well. The group time and time again forgoes any sort of safety net live, taking risks in a world of popular music that has long since become far too predictable.
Visiting Seattle a few years ago, I had the pleasure of hanging out with Martin, as well as bassist Lucy Atkinson. I’d hardly entered his home before the shaggy-haired Martin was excitedly sharing his music collection, running off band after band that we had to hear. It was refreshing to see that, despite the relative success of Kinski, Martin was not at all jaded and remained as obsessive and as passionate about music as the record-collecting fans who are drawn to his band.
The next day, the couple took our group to breakfast at a cafà called Linda’s. There was a jukebox mere steps from our table, and it was impossible to resist feeding it what money remained in my wallet. Selections included Television’s twin guitar monster “Marquee Moon” and Mötley Crüe’s straightforward yet irrepressible “Looks That Kill.”
In retrospect, I realize that if you were to combine the adventurous guitar music with the heavy pop of those tunes you’d get something close to Kinski’s wondrously loud rock album Alpine Static, released this week on Sub Pop Records.
Anyone who has seen the band knows that live performance is Kinski’s natural element, and Alpine Static successfully brings the energy from the stage to the studio. Recorded by Randall Dunn, (Master Musicians of Bukkake) Alpine is more direct than anything the band has attempted, a natural departure from the blissed-out sonic wanderlust of its predecessor, Airs Above Your Station. Alpine Static reaches and attains the imagined heights suggested by its title.
This time out the band opts for a greater use of dry tones, reflective of a “'70s psyche sound,” as Martin puts it. The band captured its live feel by recording the disc live, with the band members playing together in the same room during each take. “It’s a statement, a culmination,” says Martin when discussing recording as compared to Kinski’s live shows, whose nature he confesses is “ephemeral, disappearing,” sometimes blurring one night into the next.
When not recording or touring, Martin disc-jockeys at a Seattle radio station, where he floods the airwaves with bands one might expect would be influential to Kinski: the likes of Krautrockers Ash Ra Temple, Agitation Free and Japan’s Mainliner and High Rise. Maybe surprising is Martin’s unabated love of sweet pop music (the band has even covered Crazy Elephant’s obscure bubblegum nugget “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'").
“The early Bee Gees albums are really great, really orchestrated and really bleak,” Martin continues, expressing a fondness for everything from the pristine pop of New Zealand’s The Clean to the songcraft of The Beach Boys.
“Sometimes we feel we’re not the hippest band around,” says Martin, adding, “Some people think [our music] is too melodic in the underground noise crowd.” Having toured with friends Comets on Fire, Acid Mothers Temple and Bardo Pond, Kinski—it could be argued—is actually the accessible one.
Although no one in the band wears a fashionable white leather belt, someone seems to think Kinski is pretty damn hip. Revered indie label Sub Pop signed the group to its roster and released Airs Above Your Station and the new Alpine Static, and the band was even paired with underground legends Mission of Burma ("A thrill for us,” confesses Martin) for a West Coast jaunt last summer.