Thursday, April 23, 2009


k, singer/songwriter for her band kgmr, gives us some background on her latest project This Happened.

This Happened is something of a variety show. Songs were written by Bob, David, or myself, or we co-wrote songs. Jon Mendez is playing drums to our guitars and Rhodes piano. It is also something of a clearinghouse of songs that were on the recorder that didn't fit the themes of Migrate to Carnivora or the Half Ass Family Band's self-titled album. There are instrumental songs and songs with words, songs with samples of other random things like tapes of vintage film strip narration, heavy guitars and noise sometimes and sometimes a very clean sparse sound. It just kind of happened and was big fun in the making.

Mall Song started out as a song with words, and it was very catchy to jump around to. I decided the words got in the way of that and took them out. But the lyrics were about hating the mall, essentially, and had lines like
they like the lipstick Ripe Cherry Pinprick.

According to Wikipedia, slowcore is a subgenre of "alternative rock that developed from the downbeat melodies and slower tempos of late 1980s indie rock." The subgenre can also be referred to as sadcore, which is known particularly for songs with melancholy lyrics that are based on minor keys. In a review of the album Long Division by the band Low, the reviewer referred to slowcore music when stating that each sound reminds you of the silence it replaces. For example, that statement could refer to the extra space between notes in the melody, which could also be a function of the tempo, I suppose.

Your album Migrate to Carnivora could be categorized as slowcore music by the presence of negative sonic space. As a classically trained pianist, you have gained a composer's sense of sonic space. Considering how musically dense classical music compositions can become, did you go through a process of musical deconstruction for the development of kgmr's minimalized compositions? What steps led to the development of your current sound?

When I was a young kid I wrote soundtracks for imaginary horror movies on my portable Magnus organ and Casio keyboard. I was into minor keys and dissonance even then. I also had a lot of strict, intense Classical training. More recently, in the late nineties, I acquired a Fender Rhodes piano. It basically presented itself to me, and I had no idea what I was going to do with it. The Rhodes, because it's a mechanical instrument, naturally deconstructed things. Playing the Rhodes opened up a whole new sound and new techniques, which I explored on my previous album, instant confidante. That album is mostly instrumental, except for two songs, creepy and strange and monsters and robots. Those were the first two songs I ever sang in my life, and Migrate to Carnivora evolved out of those songs, basically. Because of the lyrical content and singing on this album, I wanted it to sound washed out, spaced out, and somewhat surreal. So this album is not nearly as minimalist as instant confidante.

In terms of the idea of sonic space, for me, a single chord can go a long way. I tend to play chords that I have to later figure out what kind of chords they are, because they're not your straight up C or G chord. Although I do play simple chords too. But the more muddy chords can sound very dense and complex, which makes their sound go a long way and forces space to follow. Just like in a conversation, if you're not saying much, you can babble on indefinitely, but if you really have something to say, something that's going to hang there, it takes sonic space.

Slowcore is well represented by bands such as Low, Codeine and Red House Painters. Are there any particular slowcore artists who may have influenced your sound? Are there any such bands that you like?

Oh no! I have to admit now that I've never listened to any of those bands. I probably need to now, right? Lyrically I've been influenced by Ed Vedder. Getting back to chord structure and space in the melody, Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk have been influential. I can't think of any particular rock bands that I've been influenced by. Some things in rotation at my house these days are Mum, Deerhoof, Cleo Brown, Trans Am, The Sea and Cake, and one of my all-time favorite albums called, Moorish Music of Mauritania.

Has any particular classical music influenced your sound? Who is your favorite classical period composer?

I like the 20th century composers, particularly Bartok, Satie, Debussy. I would say a lot of Chopin[mp3: Prelude No.4] is Classical sadcore! He wrote a lot of his music while he was sick, and that definitely comes through in his sound.

The musical style of Migrate to Carnivora could also be categorized as minimalist - a category that can extend beyond music, to art in general. Current minimalist music clearly breaks down the complexity of today's popular music by default. Did you decide to develop a minimalist style of composition as a statement against popular music complexity?

My style is what it is, for better or worse. Most popular music is boring to me, and actually hurts my ears the way noise and dissonance hurt some people's ears. I love noise and dissonance. I don't really think much about what my music will sound like, or what it should sound like. But if I succeed at making some music that isn't boring, I will have reacted to popular music in a way that I would like to.

In the lyrics to the song titled Joy, on your latest album, the chorus repeats the line "deep disturbing joy". In a sense, there is a dissonance between the connotations of "joy" and what might be considered "deeply disturbing". As a result, that line feels like a stronger hook. Was that the effect you originally intended to achieve? Could you explain the general meaning of the song, and the chorus? What does Migrate to Carnivora mean?

The chorus from Joy comes from a poem by Colorado poet/environmentalist/eccentricist Rita Clagett. The poem goes like this:
Subtle Things

Some such subtle things
 can't be captured
Anything on sagebrush -
 drops of melted snow before they drop to snow,
 morning shadow of a cat, grey on silver green,
  purring, chin rolling in my shadow hand
And others -
 mountains making clouds,
 the deep disturbing joy of owning all my troubles.
"Deep disturbing joy" is definitely dissonant for me, but like most dissonance, it sounds good and true to me. Most of my songs are amalgamations of many things, and they usually also come together musically in pieces, too. But the song is basically about knowing and accepting yourself, "owning your troubles", and realizing that you may be the only person in your lifetime who truly understands you. Depending on how deep your troubles run, finding joy in that can seem disturbing to some.

As for the album's title, at first I was going to name the album Carnivora, but then I found out a metal band from Norway has an album with that name. Migrate is the first song and Carnivora is that last song, so the album is that journey from beginning to end. Carnivora is a scientific term referring to a certain grouping of animals that eat meat, like lions and bears. The song Carnivora has a lot of meat references and analogies. But I first came across the word in Out of Africa, where Isak Dinesen used it to glowingly refer to the young native women at a dance on her farm. I can't do justice to Dinesen's words, but she's expressing a lot of power, freedom, and beauty. And I mean the word in that way, too. For an album about love and loss, Carnivora in Dinesen's usage is especially meaningful to me.

Regarding its history, and how it mechanically produces sound, The Rhodes piano is interesting - certainly a different breed of piano. Along with your Rhodes piano, what other musical instruments do you use to flesh out your sound? Are there any particular electronic effects that you like to use? guitar pedals?

Most of the songs on this album started at the acoustic piano. I start some things on the Fender Rhodes, and I also have a Kurzweil keyboard. I'd like to write some songs in the future starting on my bass. I'm definitely not scared to use effects, both on the piano sounds and on the vocals. Especially for this album, when I wanted the whole thing to feel thick, dreamy, and foggy. The guitar was a huge part of accomplishing that. I can't say enough about Bob Read's guitar style and how intuitive and multi-talented he is at helping to achieve the sounds I want. This is what he has to say about his guitar effects:
All the guitar effects were recorded real time, and were created by a Gretsch Super Axe run through a RAT pedal, crybaby, volume and DOD dual delay that after twenty years has begun to give up the ghost. The amp is a Fender Quad Reverb.

At some point, the singer-songwriter decided to replace her band name with an anagram based on the four initials of her full name - kgmr. You may also refer to her as k. She impressed the brevity of her band name.
All four names are important to me, but to use all of them would be way too long.
I also asked k if the existing URI hyperlink referenced the correct Cleo Brown.
Yes, that's her. I used to live in Colorado and I wish I had known of Cleo Brown then. I would have figured out what church she played organ for and sat in the back of the church to listen to her. I doubt she's around anymore.


This Happened

1. Xyron Boggs Homemade Motorcycle 02:58
2. TheProcess 02:29
3. Mall Song 01:02
4. Xyron Boggs 02:03
5. Now I'm Flying High Like a Birdie 00:43
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