No words necessary
Seattle’s instrumental indie rockers Kinski come to the Riff Raff
The best things in life aren’t always planned out.
For example, take the music of Kinski, a quartet based in Seattle that specializes in instrumental rock music. The band’s signature sound is a guitar-heavy aural brew that draws heavily from Krautrock, freeform psychedelia and bits of improv jazz. The result is post-millennial prog rock, if such a thing can exist. Yet the impetus behind the band’s decision to compose and perform music without vocals was never mapped out in great detail. It just kind of happened.
“It was never a planned thing,” says guitarist Chris Martin (the rest of the group is comprised of bassist Lucy Atkinson, drummer Barrett Wilke and second guitarist Matthew Reid-Schwartz). “Our first record, which we put out ourselves in 1999, is a full-length, but it’s only got six songs, three of which had vocals. With our new record, Airs Above Your Station, we’d look at each other as we were working on the songs and say, ‘Man, I don’t hear any vocals here at all.’ It just didn’t seem like there was a place for them anywhere on the album. We tried a couple of things, just sort of hummed some melodies to see if they were gonna work, and it just never did. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the next record had a song or two with vocals. It’s just sort of like if they fit or not. Most of the music I listen to is instrumental. I don’t really listen to a lot of singer-songwriter kind of stuff. So it’s sort of just not the vein that we’re in right now, I guess. But it was never really deliberate.”
The same thing goes for lyrics (or, in Kinski’s case, the lack thereof). “I’ve been the guy who’s written the lyrics when we had them in the past,” says Martin with a chuckle. “But the thing is, I don’t have anything to say. So it’s like, why write lyrics? Why sing?”
While the members of Kinski may eschew the use of lyrics, they don’t mince words when it comes to choosing titles for their songs. For example, song titles on the new album range from “Schedule for Using Pillows and Beanbags” to “Your Lights Are Out or Burning Badly.”
“We really try to find the right titles for songs now,” remarks Martin. “With our last record we got nailed by reviewers for some of the titles making references to things. [On that album] there’s a song called “Day Dream Intonation,” you know, a little nod to Sonic Youth. Sure, we’ve been influenced by Sonic Youth, but that song doesn’t really sound like them. Yet in review after review people just latched on to that as their little hook. So we were like, ‘Man, let’s not do that again; [let’s not] give people these easy things to jump on.’ Now we just try to come up with titles that fit the songs, but [at the same time] are also sort of esoteric. With this album we tried to make sure that the titles were interesting because, since there are really no lyrics, the title is the only thing that people do have verbally to latch on to.”
As for any significance to the band’s cryptic-sounding album titles (their previous album was called Be Gentle With the Warm Turtle, the one before that SpaceLaunch for Frenchie), Martin laughs at the insinuation. “There’s no heavy significance or anything. It’s just sort of phrases we thought sounded good and kind of fit the record or would evoke a mood or whatever. But there’s no real story behind things.”
While the song and album titles may not have any concrete back-stories to them, the band’s unique name most assuredly does. "It’s just sort of a nod to the ‘70s German stuff that we were into so much musically—I shouldn’t speak for the whole band, but that I was heavily into and still am. It’s sort of just a joke," laughs Martin about their rather cryptic sounding name. "A friend of ours—who wasn’t into the Krautrock thing or the prog thing at all—when we were looking for band names just sort of threw that out there. He said ‘Why don’t you call yourselves the Klaus Kinskis [after the famous German actor]?' We were like, ‘Hmmm, that’s not bad.' And when we wrote ‘Kinski’ down, it kind of looked good on paper. So we were kind of like, ‘Yeah, let’s go with that.'"