Kes Band – Power to the Voiceless

September 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Rhythms, October 2009.

The expansive second instalment from Kes Band sees the enigmatic Karl E. Scullin and his band take vocals out of the frame. By Dan Rule

Having made a name exploring the outer reaches of offbeat folk-pop, prolific Melbourne artist Kes turned the tables with his first Kes Band release in 2008. Channelling early electric era Dylan, the record saw the group – which includes Laura Jean, Biddy Connor, Lehmann Smith and Julian Patterson – lend a rambling folk-rock clatter to Kes’s unusual compositions and impish vocal tones.

Only a year later and Kes and his band have shifted direction again with the arcane, nonetheless beautiful instrumental meanderings of follow-up Kes Band II. We caught up with Kes to chat about losing his voice.

You’ve managed to do away with traditional song structure on this record. I’d love to hear a little about that disengagement.

Well, I think after doing the Kes Band record, I was really happy with it, but as soon as I finish something I always tend to become really disillusioned with it. In this case, I became really disillusioned with lyrics and songs. I obviously still wanted to keep doing music, but the only really clear idea we had was that we wanted to do an instrumental album with no human voice, and all the arrangements and the experiments with song structure came pretty naturally after that. It was very much a straightforward collaboration. Like, I knew that the five-piece that Kes Band was at that time wasn’t going to last forever, so I really wanted to get as much out of everyone as I could because everyone was such a good musician. I wanted to take a bit of a backseat myself. This may sound weird because I’m obviously Kes and the front-person, but representing myself as the lead singer was always a bit weird for me. It wasn’t really the idea as such.

Beyond the instrumental aspect, what led you towards working in less conventional forms?

I guess I’m kind of leaning more towards experimentation and experimental music in some way. I feel like I’ve had a good crack at writing pop songs… I think it’s kind of quite a common Melbourne thing in a way. I’ve been talking to a lot of people recently, and a lot of Melbourne musicians are really starting to think about that stuff. Like, the experimental scene at the moment is pretty, well, it’s not big, but it’s really thriving.

I remember seeing you play solo at the Northcote Uniting Church, supporting Beach House and that was the first time I’d seen you work in a really experimental context. You were kind of working with ambient and noise-based guitar drones and so on. Was that material something of an impetus of what happened on this Kes Band record?

It was definitely illustrative. I wouldn’t say that that gig was the impetus, but around that time, after releasing the first Kes Band album, I was definitely trying as much different stuff as I could. Like, I‘ve got a few different things on the go at the moment. I’m working on an acoustic album kind of like my first album The Jelly’s in the Pot, but I’m trying to make it quite intense and very experimental within that format – just acoustic guitar and vocals – but trying to do some really interesting arrangements. So I haven’t totally thrown out the baby with the bath water in reference to singing, like, I still have a crack at it. But it was definitely illustrative of where my mindset was.

I think the thing with Kes Band II is very much that I wasn’t the sole songwriter. Half of the songs are mine, but the other half are from everyone else. So I think it definitely has the spirit of that, and I was very open-minded about it as well. It is what it is.  I wasn’t trying to create a certain atmosphere or sound; it was just the five players really experimenting with song structures and arrangements.

What interested me so much about the record was that, in terms of instrumentation, it was still very folk-rock.

With a lot of the experimental musicians I’ve seen, the intensity of the sound becomes the focus, whereas with this record it was very much the arrangements that were creating any sense of tension or focus and I still think that’s a really good idea. Fucking with the arrangements is a really good idea. Someone like Ennio Morricone is an amazing arranger and the arrangements are arty in themselves without the individual sounds and instruments necessarily having to be that different to the norm.

Is arranging and composing in this way quite a different process to song writing?

Yeah, I guess so. I think it has just becoming part of my working process. It is about being quite open-minded about listening for those different sorts of things. I guess none of my stuff has been strictly verse-chorus-verse-chorus. Like I’ve always tried to fuck with it a bit and this was just a natural extension of that… With me taking the vocals out, I was curious to see what would happen, what the sound of the record would be. I’m probably not going to do another record with the five-piece like that and it is kind of like a swansong in a way. It is very sort of melancholy.

Kes Band II is out through Mistletone/Inertia


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