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Kinski: Exploding Vans and Figuring Out What's Next

Kinski pic #1
Kinski are a rocking drone-rock four-piece from Seattle. They are sonic sculptors who shape textures on an epic scale, but never forget to bring it all back home. Their latest album, the excellent Alpine Static, is out now on Sub Pop Records. On January 11, 2006, I chatted with Kinski guitar player and mastermind Chris Martin about life, music, and exploding vans.


SCR: So I guess to start with, give a brief history of who's in the band, and how the band formed.
Chris: It started six or seven years ago with Lucy [Atkinson, bassist] and myself, just playing at her house, and we were just kinda goofing around, we took it really slowly. Then we met our first drummer Dave [Atkinson] at a bar; he was bartending, and then just started talking. We just jammed with him for six or seven months and started writing and putting stuff together. So it was a long time before we played out. We did our first record as a three piece, recorded it at our rehearsal space. Then Matthew [Reid-Schwartz] joined on guitar, after that, and we recorded our second record with him. After our third record, Dave left and we got a new drummer, Barrett [Wilke].
Why did Dave leave?
Oh, a few different reasons. We weren't all getting along with each other, and he wanted to do more of a straight-ahead rock thing. He's in a band now called The Cops, here in town, that are doing pretty well. It's kinda like The Clash, or you know; just more straightforward. He wanted to go more that direction, and we wanted to go the other way, I think.
Where is everybody in the band from?
Matthew's from New York City, Barrett's from here, Lucy's sort of from all over -- she went to high school in Montana, but lived all over the country -- and I'm from Denver.
When did you move to Seattle?
Oh I think like '90, so I've been here a long time.
Did you go to school in Seattle, or did you just pick up one day and be like, "I'm gonna move to Seattle"?
I was studying film at the time, and I was debating whether to go to L.A. and do film, or do music, and I just decided to come to Seattle. It was kinda like right before the whole grunge thing kicked in when I came. I wouldn't have come here if that had already happened, I don't think, because it was kind-of a horrible place to be at that time for music. Yeah, I just ended up here.
What do you think of Seattle now? Is there much of a scene going on?
It's pretty good, there's all kinds of different styles of bands that are doing well, which I think is really good. There's country bands, and light pop stuff, and there's starting to be this metal post-rock kind of thing, which I think is happening everywhere. It seems like a really good place. Audiences are pretty supportive. Yeah, it seems to be pretty good right now.
Are there any other bands such as yourselves around there, do you think, or are you basically doing your own thing but still getting supportive audiences?
Feel's like we're sort of alone in what we're doing, in a way. There's a lot of bands that we tend to used to get lumped into; sort of Mogwai type of instrumental... I guess you'd call it space-rock or something, but we don't feel like we're part of that scene at all anymore. But there's quite a few of those kind of bands here, but we don't feel a part of any particular scene exactly. Lately we've preferred to play with punk garage bands, we feel more of an affinity with that kind of thing and that's who we've been playing shows with here in town.
How often do you guys play in town?
Not very often, probably like once every two months. It felt like we were playing too much here a few years ago, and seemed like we should just play sort of as much as you play any town, a couple times a year. But since we live here, we play a little more often.
How often do you guys go on tour?
We're not able to tour that much, because everyone's kinda got regular jobs. This last year we toured about two months; it's generally about two months a year that we're touring.
-- Kinski record cover
(Music courtesy of Sub Pop Records and Kinski.)

Yeah, I wanted to ask what the economics of rock are, or whatever. I guess you guys all have to have day jobs still, and all that kinda stuff?
Yeah, we haven't really made any money. You really only make money when you're touring, and we're not able to go out for six or eight months of the year, so we haven't really made too much money yet.
What do you guys do for work?
I'm just working part time now; a delivery driver job. Barrett's just got an office job, and Lucy's a kindergarten teacher.
So is it possible to tour much with that, or how do you arrange that? Are the jobs pretty cool about it, or do you have to quit and then find a new thing?
Well, my job's cool, because I only work part time. Barry and Lucy have more of a hassle, but she gets the summers off, so we try to do a tour then. And she takes a couple weeks off during the school year. It's pretty tight, they kinda give her a hassle, but we try to do as much as we can around it.
So you guys just went to Japan, is that right?
Yeah, just got back a little bit ago.
So how long were you there?
The tour was only like a week. I think it was only four shows; we were there like six or seven days. We've been there a couple times. It was great; it's always super-fun. We toured with that band Mono. They have a label called Human Highway over there that puts our records out, so we were touring behind that. It was really great.
So are you big in Japan? Have people heard of you?
Yeah, there's people that have definitely heard of us. There's people from the last few times we were there. This one was definitely the most successful, audience-wise, tour that we've had over there. So it gets better every time.
How many times have you been over there?
That was the third time. We pretty much go whenever the newest record comes out, so we've gone behind the last three records.
Have you toured Europe?
Yeah, we just went in November. It was supposed to be a longer tour, but there was a bunch of outside problems, so we had to shorten it. So that was only like eight or ten days. We did like four dates in the U.K., and then France and Amsterdam and Germany. So that was really good. We've been there a couple times too, and this one went really well.
So I saw on your MySpace blog that Lucy was going to try to sell a bass over in Japan?
Yeah, she and I traveled in Southeast Asia right after the tour, so we were going to have to have one of the guys bring her guitar back with him, or sell it. She had two of the same sort of basses, and one that she liked way more than the other. So she brought the one she didn't like very well, and actually just sold it in Japan to a music store there. It worked out good.
So you went to Southeast Asia after that? How was that?
It was great. We went to Bangkok for a couple days, and then went to Laos. Then I went to Vietnam for a week. Yeah, it was really good.
What is Vietnam like now?
Sort of a mix of a big city and sort of a more traditional Asian kind of culture. So there's motorcycles everywhere, but people are still kind of cooking on the street. It's sort of a mix of all kinds of things. It's pretty crazy, actually.
So when you guys tour, normally do you just bring your guitars and then use people's amps and drum sets, or how does that work out?
Yeah, it's different; in Europe, you pretty much have to rent a backline and then rent a van, and tour around like you would in the U.S. In Japan, you can do it in a couple ways. A lot of the clubs have whole backlines, and you just show up with your guitars. But this tour, we just used Mono's equipment, so just had to bring our guitars.
So when is the next tour planned?
I don't know. We're meeting this week to see. We have no plans right now. I think everybody's not burned out, but just... this record's sort of run it's course I think, so we're just trying to figure out what the plan is next. I think we're just gonna play in town once a while and just start writing material for the next record. So it'll probably be a while before we go tour. We're doing Terrastock in April in Rhode Island. Might do a show in New York, and couple things around that time, but that's probably about it.
Yeah, I wanted to ask about Terrastock. I saw you guys in Seattle the one time. How many times have you done Terrastock, and how has it been?
This'll be the third one, coming up. Seattle was the first one, and then we did Boston a couple years ago, so this'll be the third one.
Have you heard, is it gonna be more annual from this point out?
I don't think so. Phil, the guy sort of in charge, said it pretty much just comes together when someone in a city wants to go to the effort of setting it up. So it really only happens when someone approaches him and says, "yeah, I'd like to try to organize one". Because he does some of the organizing, but it's pretty much up to whoever's in the city to do the bulk of the work, so I think that's why they're kind of more sporadic.
So do you get to hang out with a lot of the other bands at Terrastock, usually?
Yeah, they're super fun. The first one, we didn't know really any of those bands except Bardo Pond, in Seattle. So we just kind of hung out and watched the whole thing, but weren't really hanging out with people. And after the first one, we got to be friends and toured with a quite a few of those bands, so the one in Boston was a blast. You know, just basically seeing old friends. So this one, it's a lot of the same people playing this time, as well, so it should be really fun, as well.
So how did that Acid Mothers Temple split come about? Was that just as a result of touring with them?
Pretty much, yeah. We'd met [Mokoto] Kawabata. Our very first tour was with the band Mainliner, which he was in. So we just hit it off with him, and toured the U.S. a few times with Acid Mothers, and they brought us over the first time we went to Japan. That split kind of came about of jamming at one of their houses one night, when we were in Japan. I just approached Sub Pop to see if they wanted to do a once-off with Acid Mothers, and Sub Pop said, "Why don't you guys do a split?", and we actually already had the stuff recorded, so that was how it came about. And actually, we just finished a split with the band Oneida, that Oneida's gonna put out on their label. So those kind of things are pretty fun. It's not us jamming with them, it's just one side's our's, and one side's Oneida's, but those kind of projects are pretty fun.
So how did you guys hook up with Sub Pop?
Oh, I think it was just being in Seattle. We'd put the first record out ourselves, and the second one out on this small label here in town, and we were in the process of recording our third record, Airs Above Your Station. Sub Pop called while we were in the middle of making that record, and asked if we were interested in working with them. We said, "We're just gonna finish this record ourselves and pay for it ourselves, and we'll send you guys a copy when we're done and just see what you think, and we'll just take it from there", so that's kinda what happened with that.
Kinski pic #2
So what's it like being on Sub Pop? Are they pretty good about promotion and all that kind of stuff?
That's the best thing about them, is that the record gets... you know, it's available everywhere, and it gets to all the writers. You know, whoever wants to write about it, can. And you need to kinda know that all that kind of stuff is taken care of. So that was the main reason we decided we did want to do it and work with them, is that they could get it around a lot more than we every could ourselves. It's been really good. It's pretty hands-off. We can deal with them as much or as little as we want, really.
So is it an understanding you're gonna keep giving them your records, and they're gonna keep putting them out, or do you have a contract, or how does that work?
Our contract's over. I just talked to them last month, though, and our guy there said they want to do another record, so I think it's just gonna be record by record now, if we all feel like it's still working well. So we're pretty much committed to doing the next record with them. We have a thing in our contract that we can put out like this Oneida thing, or just whatever side things we want to put out, we can do, and then our official regular records go out through them.
So do you guys have any idea how many records you're selling, or whatever, and has it gone up since you've gone on Sub Pop, I assume?
Yeah, I think this record's done better than any of them. I don't really read reviews or look at figures, or that kind of thing. It just kind of bums me out to even deal with that stuff. Lucy looks at that stuff, so she would have a better idea. I don't know exactly what it's selling, but I think it's done better than any of the other ones, so far.
What was it like being on the indie label before? Were they able to any promotion, or was it they just kinda put it out, or?
Oh, you mean the second record?
It was alright. Nobody really knew who we were then, so it was good. He had distribution; it was just a one man label. He didn't really do a lot of promotion or anything, but the record did get reviewed in a lot of regular publications and stuff, so it was sort of the the next step that you'd take. I think it worked out alright. It was probably better than us putting it out ourselves. It got around more, and got a little more attention.
Those first two records are going to be re-released? Well, I guess the first one already is.
Yeah, they both were, actually, at the same time in July, right when Alpine Static came out. Lucy and I started a label called "Intellectual Drunks", and they came out then. We got distribution through a label called Strange Attractors Audio House, so it's pretty easy for stores to find and get it. We didn't really do any promotion or anything, they're sort of just out there. Since they're reissues, they're kinda just available basically.
So I have the first reissue, but I have the original of the second record. I'm wondering, on the reissue of the second record, are there any bonus features or anything like that?
No, we wanted to keep the second one just the way it was. Actually, the UK version of the second record that came out, when it originally came out had a secret bonus track, but I kinda like the record the way it is originally on the US version, so we just kept that. But I'm hoping some day we'll put out a singles and B-sides collection. It'll have that UK bonus track, and the Japanese records have had extra tracks too, so hopefully all that stuff will come out on one thing some day.
So it's the original audio, it hasn't been remastered or anything like that?
No, it was taken straight from the original.
So, "Intellectual Drunks", is that label going to be putting out other stuff?
I don't know, we don't have a lot of excess money, and we've haven't really been working it as far as approaching bands or asking people to send demos or anything. I think if something came along that we really liked that it was somebody, you know, that nobody else was wanting to put it out, we would be into releasing stuff. But I don't know, she and I haven't really talked about it much. It's not like it's this real driven label right now.
Do you guys have a website and all that?
We bought the domain name, but then never did anything with it. There's a link on the Kinski page, but it doesn't go anywhere. We were so tied up touring behind the record, and trying to get this Europe thing together that I think we're finally gonna regroup in the next month or two and try to get some of that stuff taken care of.
So what would you say are your influences, as far as the band goes and also, I'm curious, as far as your guitar playing goes, who have you been most influenced by, do you think?
Oh, I mean I think the main influences would be all the sorts of things that everybody has, like the Beatles and just stuff that you hear as a kid. And then it's kinda drastically been changing over the years. I got really into the whole Krautrock revival, and so I think our first record sorta shows some of that kinda vibe. Lately I've been getting into '60s psych rock from Mexico and Argentina, and just a lot of bands like that, so I think that's been influencing our newer material. But I think the basis is always... melodic pop-rock is the fundamental basis, and then experimental noise guitar stuff on top. I think we've always tried to combine those two things. That kinda gives us our sound that we do have, just because it's kind of these two disparate worlds coming together. As far as guitar players, Robert Quine is always a huge hero of mine. He played with Richard Hell and on some Lou Reed records and stuff. And Richard Lloyd from Television; people like that. Lee and Thurston are always influences as well. I think Nels Cline is one of the great guitar players playing right now.
What bands that are active now do you feel like you're compatriots with?
I think Oneida. We're really close, we've all become really good friends, and I think their mindset is the closest to ours of anybody right now, at least that we've toured with. We've kind of gone out of our way to try to tour with bands that we really like, so I'd say Comets on Fire, Bardo Pond, Acid Mothers Temple, Mono, and all those groups. As far as brand new bands, I haven't been paying too much attention lately to really new stuff. I asked my friends that buy tons of records, and nobody's been too excited about anything recently. I've been buying, like I say, all these psych reissues, and so I haven't heard too much new stuff.
What was it like playing with, speaking of old bands, Mission of Burma?
Oh, it was amazing. They kinda came out of the blue. We didn't really know them personally or anything. I'd seen the first reunion show here in Seattle, and it was amazing. Somebody just emailed us from their management or something, and asked if we wanted to do the west coast tour. We totally said yes immediately, and it was amazing, they were super-nice, super-generous guys. It was really fun. It was just five shows down the west coast. They were incredible. They played like they had just gotten together, like there wasn't a break of 20 years or whatever, so it was pretty inspiring, really.
Are there plans for any future tours by them, do you know?
Yeah, I think they're gonna keep doing it. They're not able to tour much, but I think they're working on a new record, and yeah, I imagine that they'll be doing another tour.
So I have to ask, one time I tried to go see you guys -- I think it was in 2001, maybe. I was trying to go see you at Bottom of the Hill, in San Francisco. On the way to the venue, I got pulled over by the cops for no reason; four cops jumped out of this unmarked car, and it was very traumatic. Anyway, they finally let me go, and so I get to the venue and there's a sign saying that you canceled because your van broke down or something like that?
Yeah, we were in Oregon, on Grant's Pass with a blown-up van. We tried to rent a van and we weren't able; we were basically just stuck. The tour was just San Francisco and L.A., so we couldn't have made the San Francisco show since we were broke down, so that's why that happened.
So what happened, did you have to wait there and get it fixed?
Yeah, it was some computer thing in the van, and the radiator blew up, and they didn't have the right [part]. When it blew up it was like three o'clock in the afternoon, and it was another six or seven hours to San Francisco, and they weren't able to fix the van that day, they fixed it the next morning. And so we had to cancel both shows, and then turn around and come home.
Oh man.
Yeah, it sucked.
Bummer. So I'm curious, your page on the All Music Guide, with reference to forming the band, has a story about, you guys were in a bar debating digital versus analog. Is that true?
Yeah, that's where we first met Dave, our first drummer. I don't know why that keeps getting repeated so much. I think we only told that to one or two people, but somehow All Music Guide latched onto it. I was debating on buying a hard disk recorder, or a eight track tape half inch machine, so we just started talking to Dave, our future drummer, about that, and so that's basically that's what all that was.
So which one did you end up buying?
I got the half inch; and that's what we recorded our first record on. And then I ended up getting a ProTools setup too, so we have kinda both things. We record our records analog still, on two inch tape, and then do some overdubs in ProTools and stuff, so now we kinda mix both worlds.
Yeah, I'm curious, how has it progressed as far as the recording aspect? Are you going into studios now, or are you recording in your practice space and having somebody record you, or how does that work?
All the records, except the fourth one, Don't Climb on and Take the Holy Water was all sort of live or done in the space, but all the other records besides the first one have been done in regular studios, on two inch tape. Airs [Above Your Station] and Be Gentle [with the Warm Turtle], we worked with this guy Kip Beelman. We've kinda been doing co-producing stuff, where we co-produce it with the engineer. And then this latest record was with a guy here in Seattle called Randall Dunn, who did a super-great job, I think. That was mostly in a big studio, too. Then we'd go do overdubs in his little basement studio. So since the second record, it's been pretty much the same way of working.
So when do you think they'll be a next record? Have you guys made any new material for it yet, and how long does it typically take?
Yeah, we have one new song that we know, that's actually really good, and we're psyched about this new song. We played it in Japan the whole time. I have like ten or twelve bits and pieces that I haven't really brought to the band yet. It normally takes us a long time to get stuff worked out, but I have a feeling this one's gonna be quicker than they have in the past. So I think we're hoping to be in the studio eight months from now or so. The finished product will probably be about a year from now. But we're doing this Oneida split, and then there's also a piece that's gonna come out on this label called Three Lobed, and they're doing a subscription series of CDs. Bardo Pond's doing one, and Kim and Thurston are doing one under a project name I can't remember, and like six other bands, and we're doing one of those. I think that's gonna end up being this forty minute drone piece that we've already recorded. So there's gonna be a few things coming out, but the next record probably will be about a year from now.
So when you guys come up with songs, I'm curious how that process works. Does one of you typically bring in a framework for a song, or do you just kinda all jam together until somethings out of it?
It's pretty much I write pieces at home, either full songs or like riffs and sketches, and then bring them into the band, and we all start playing around with them, and then we'll do cassette recordings of the jams around the songs. Then I take the cassettes home and listen to them, and see what's working and what's not, and then we just keep kinda refixing it from there. Sometimes it takes a couple weeks of rehearsal to get a song together, and sometimes it takes months of putting a song aside, and picking it up six months later. So they're either done super-fast or super-slow, but there's not really much in between.
So I'm curious since you're mostly instrumental, how much use of vocals have you done? I know there's at least one song I can remember where there's at least speaking.
Yeah, the first record has like three vocal pieces, and the second record has one, and Airs has one. Yeah, it's not really any deliberate thing, it's just, for the most part, vocals haven't really fit. There's so much of the melodies are taken up with the guitar. There hasn't been any deliberate, like "we want to be an instrumental band", it's just kinda the way it's been. The split I've been talking about with Oneida is all vocals, it's like cover songs.
Wow, who are you covering?
A bunch of different bands. One of them's the Ramones.
Kinski pic #3
Wow, I've gotta hear this.
Yeah, I don't know if people will be surprised by it or not, but it's definitely a different thing for us.
Since it's mostly instrumental, how do you come up with these titles?
Oh, we used to have a folder with just ideas we'd come up with in a bar or something on a matchbook or a napkin or something, just throw them in this little bin and then just pull from them when we needed titles. This last record, Alpine Static, there wasn't anything in the bin, so we basically had a week before the artwork was due, so we just sat and shouted ideas at each other for about a week, and just wrote stuff down and just basically came up with them that way.
And then do you try to match the song to the name, I guess, or is it more arbitrary?
Yeah, we think of whatever song we need a title for, and just sort of think about that piece, and try to... Some of them sorta fit, and some have been just kinda arbitrary, so it's kinda been a bit of both.
So, how many wives did Artie Shaw have?
He had eight.
Eight? Wow. Okay.
Yeah, he was married to Ava Gardner and Lana Turner, and... he was just a super weird guy.
Huh, I had no idea. So, just wondering about some kind of guitar geek sort of stuff, like what kind of guitars and amps and so forth do you guys use?
I play a Fender Thinline, which has two humbuckers, from the '70s. And I use a Park amp, which is basically Jim Marshall of Marshall Amps designed this amp, Park, in the '70s for a couple years. And Matthew has a HiWatt from the '60s, an old one, and plays a G&L guitar. Lucy plays a Gibson EB-3 bass through an Ampeg solid state head, and Barrett has, I think it's a Ludwig, it's like an old '60s kit.
And what kind of effects do you guys use?
We all have tons of pedals. But we've been using them less and less though, actually. A lot of it's for all the older material. My favorite pedal's probably the Electro-Harmonix MicroSynth. I have one of the old ones, which people say sound different from the reissues, but I think the reissues are cool, too. And I have a Big Muff, and another one of my favorites is this cheap DigiTech pedal called the Multiplay, which has a second of sample and hold, and some cheap analog delay, and some cheap phase, which you can get really really fucked up sounds with. So, other than that, I think we have pretty much the same pedals anyone has, besides those things.
Are there any that you're using more these days?
I have this really crappy wah. A couple of songs lately have had a lot of wah, so I need to go get a decent wah, but other than that's it's mostly just distortion, the Electro-Harmonix and the Big Muff, pretty much the main things.
So, since this interview is for a Houston zine, I'm curious what your experiences have been touring Houston? Where have you played, or have you played there, and how has it been?
Yeah, we've only played Houston once. I guess we did the South twice. We've done Austin a bunch for South by Southwest, but we were only able to go to Texas once, besides Austin, where we played Houston and we didn't do Dallas. It was a really weird show. I can't remember the club. It was downtown, and it was in a basement. We had to load in down this huge flight of stairs. But I've told people from Houston about it, and they didn't seem to recall what the club was. [A Google search seems to indicate it was Metropol.] It was kind of a weird show. Houston seemed really deserted when we were downtown, at least that night. I think it was a weekend. It was okay, it wasn't that many people. It was a long time ago, it was probably when we were touring behind Be Gentle, I think, so it was a long time ago.
Do you remember who you guys played with on the bill?
We were doing a few dates with this band Primordial Undermind, and that was one of them, and I think it was just a local Houston band, but I can't remember who it was, that opened the show.
So what does the future hold for Kinski? I guess you're planning on more recording, another tour eventually. How do you see it, going into the future? Do you think you guys will continue, a la Sonic Youth, into old age?
I don't know. I think we're kind of at this crossroads, where we feel like we've kinda achieved all the stuff that we set out to. We're happy with the last record, and felt kinda satisfied with that, and toured Europe and Japan a few times. So now I think we're trying to get our second wind, and we're not quite sure which direction to go next, and what's gonna happen. I think everyone wants to keep going and keep playing, but we don't really have any set plans, whereas for the last six years or so, we've had this kinda set idea of what we wanted to do and accomplish, and now we've kinda done that, so we're sort of trying to figure out what's next. Other than the little releases and recording that I told you about, I'm not really sure what's coming up next.
Are you guys in any side projects, or anything like that?
Yeah, I put out a record called Ampbuzz a few years ago. I've been working on a second album of that, which is the stuff I do at home, sort of more ambient stuff. Lucy and I are in a band called Liverburst, with this guy Jeffrey Taylor, who was in a band called Climax Golden Twins, here in town, and also this guy Andrew, who's playing drums, who's in a band called Girth here. It's sort of an improv thing, but we've haven't played out yet. And I might join another band. These guys used to be in a band called Master Musicians of Bukkake here in town, who were really great. They have a new project that I might play guitar in. It's all this stuff that hasn't really come together yet, as far as playing out, but hopefully in the next year they'll be some stuff. END