I had the pleasure of sitting down with the gentlemen of Orange County’s Kiev shortly after the release of their debut full length, Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth, where we discussed their formation, the aforementioned album, their inspirations and much, much more. The band members present are listed below.
Robert Brinkerhoff: Vocals, Guitar
Brandon Corn: Drums, Percussion
Derek Poulsen: Bass, Computers
How long have you been playing together?
Robert: We say that we were “fully realized” in 2009 but Brandon and I have been playing together for longer – 7 or 8 years. It seems as if we added a band member each year and…
Brandon: Proceeded to do nothing for that year. We just hibernated.
Robert: Well, in the public space. We would find a guy and ask “what cool things can you do” then share our ideas.
unEARTH Music Hub: I know I’ve heard the name bouncing around Orange County for quite a while.
Robert: We had so many chances to change the name but never did.
unEARTH: I like that you stuck with the name. I remember speaking with Nathan, who used to front Aushua, a few years back. He said they chose the name because when you said it, it was only associated with the band rather than dozens of other things.
Robert: It depends where you’re from. If you’re from the Ukraine…[laughs] We get a lot of accidental fans from the Ukraine saying [in Ukrainian (?) accent] “I love the music, why the name? Tell me. now!” We’re not Ukrainian, sorry. But we still hope you like it.
What kind of formal training, if any, do the band members have?
Derek: I think everyone has varying degrees of training. I have a composition degree from Cal State Fullerton. Then I’ve played guitar and drums kind of casually through family productions.
Robert: What was that final piece we got to play on…
Derek: Yeah, my senior recital. Bob played clarinet, and Brandon played on it. It was a noisy, ruckus-y, modular piece that musicians could just go off into their own little world from simple markings that I notated. I also had an actor speaking a monologue over it.
unEARTH: Wow, that sounds really rad.
Robert: The other two members not present [Andy Stavas (piano, keyboards, saxophone) & Alex Wright (piano, keyboards, guitar)] are probably the most formally trained. Alex is a fantastic classical pianist and Andy is one of those rare kids that got into… [asking Derek] what were his jazz influences when he was, like, 5?
Derek: Charlie Parker.
Robert: Charlie Parker and someone else. Anyway, Andy has been playing saxophone [for a long time]. I mean, at the time that we were getting into Nirvana and getting moved by testosterone music, he was getting into deep cuts by Miles Davis. We have this piece of staff paper called “Fast Dood” on our wall in the warehouse – it even looks like it was written by a five year old because there’s a letter backwards – that he wrote for saxophone when he was five.
Is that how saxophone came in to play?
Robert: The guy that we were subleasing The Warehouse, our practice space, from knew we were trying to reform the band and he told us about “this kid that moved in from Nebraska who played sax in a gospel church.” I thought to myself, oh my god, I’ve gotta meet this guy. So I went to a show, an Aushua show actually, to meet him. When he showed up for practice, the first thing that resonated with us was, besides being a keyboardist, hearing a brass instrument. We had spent so much time fooling around with a typical rock band setup. We wanted to get into new voicings – and he was an insanely good improviser which was something we were exploring a lot at the time.
Prior to your recently released full length, you had released two EPs: Ain’t No Scary Folks in on Around Here & Be Gone Dull Cage. They seem to be two opposite sides of a coin; was that a planned change in sound?
Brandon: The songs generally come in batches so [Be Gone] was just the next batch.
Robert: The first EP was our demos and we hadn’t actually fully formed our lineup. Some of those songs were partially written before Andy [joined] and most were recorded before we met Alex. The second EP was when the band was fully realized and had time to marinate as a group. I think that is why not only the voice changed but we also were more integrated and the structure got looser. There was a transition where we were writing within that… early millennium indie-wave when we came up. By the time we got to the second EP we had a whole new group of guys and a new area where we wanted to go. It finally started to reflect in the music.
Derek: People’s voices started to come out more too. By the time Be Gone came around, it was even more of a collaboration than it was before.
Robert: With [Falling Bough] it was even a step even further. We had a meeting earlier today and one of the questions was “who’s the principal songwriter.” Really though, the transition, or development, from the first EP to the album is crazy. On the first EP you can really point to an idea and say it came from this person to where now there probably isn’t one song on the new record where you can say there is a principal songwriter. Not only was it very collaborative but everyone played a lot of different roles. It has been a very natural progression of the band coming together.
unEARTH: I’ve always felt that’s how the best music comes about; collaborating within roles and not just writing.
Robert: If you spend enough time with a group of guys, it will end up sounding cohesive as opposed to some artists who have multiple songwriters. You can hear it jump around. I know I’ve lost my own voice in the group. When I hear the record, I don’t myself. I hear us.
The album seems to have been quite a long process. When did the writing for Falling Bough begin?
Robert: It was right around the time of the Be Gone EP. We were writing a record at the time we met an engineer/producer [Darrell Thorp] that we admired and said he wanted to work out with us. We decided to experiment together and it turned out to be an EP. We decided to make [the record] on our own after scraping some money together to hire him again. Right around that time the label that ended up putting out the record approached us. We had to step back and decide what to do. Ultimately, we saw it as catching the tail-end of an old model where labels are actually throwing a decent amount of money at records. We felt we should take advantage of this because it is definitely going in the direction where everyone is doing everything independently. It morphed from “we’re going to do a record in a month” and turned into a full year. We foresaw a plan unfolding as doing the record ourselves and [then] go out on tour but there were deviations from that which we hope were positive ones. We wanted to take advantage of these resources.
How far along in the writing process were you before the label approached you?
Brandon: I think almost all of the songs were written.
Robert: We had already tracked live drums for a majority of it.
Brandon: After that, we continued writing because it isn’t done until…
Robert: We’re still writing those songs [laughs].
Brandon: Then it was just interpreting those songs which is the next chapter.
Both “Be Gone Dull Cage” & “3rnd” ended up on both the EP as well as the full length. How did they play into the theme of the record?
Brandon: “3rnd” is a bonus on the record so it doesn’t tie in as tightly thematically. Those tunes were around while Bob was writing the theme of the record which was organized over time.
Can you expand on the overall theme of the record?
Robert: A good place to start is the cover art. The album is a two-part reference; one of the references is “Falling Bough,” a painting by Walton Ford which is on the cover. That painting is a depiction of a species of extinct bird called the passenger pigeon. It looks like a murmuration; this chaotic flock of birds but really what it is, it’s all these birds attached to this branch that is going to bust under their weight.
When we saw that painting, we felt this beautiful and yet haunting feel. As artists, we always admired that painting. We also had it on the desktop [computer]. As we were writing and the natural themes were developing, we were noticing a lot of the themes had to do with immediacy and intentionality. By immediacy, I mean that while we were writing at the end of 2012 and there was this talk of “this is supposed to be end of the world” but there’s also the day-to-day life. With the role technology plays, it’s a lot of harder to be present and intentional; to be aware of everything that makes up our daily existence; at least ours personally in this part of the world. We saw a parallel in that painting of that struggle and reflected what’s going on with humanity. That’s what we thought Walton was going towards although I don’t want to put words in for him.
We used that as a context to tell this personal story of trying to wake up and trying to be immediate while existing. Rather than making a record which could have easily been politically or socially tart, we tried to make it a more emotional, personal story. The growth, struggle, and pain that comes with trying to wake up and the wisdom teeth is a symbol of that. That’s where the title came from and the whole album has a chronological feel starting from questioning to implementing what you’ve learned from that kind of experience. If you look at the lyrics, there’s a lot of questions marks and that is the sentiment behind the album.
We need to find a way to condense [that answer]. I think there is a way…
unEARTH: I’m sure just going through the process of repetition…
Brandon: That or we have to get to talking faster!
Robert: A lot faster.
Robert: I feel like since we are all so involved in the writing process we try to talk about the themes because a lot of people will focus on the lyrics. I feel like with our earlier work, lyrics were intentionally made a little bit harder to understand; more cryptic or vague. We’ve made the conscious decision to communicate a little clearer. It’s an interesting thing because while we’re talking about trying to condense the meaning, it also takes practice being comfortable talking about something that means so much to us.
unEARTH: I can imagine that creating something with such an emotional attachment would, by definition, make it harder to let go of.
Robert: Absolutely. I feel like if it was easy to express these things in conversation, you wouldn’t be making the art. It’s a funny duality – being a musician, you’ve learned to express these things in this way but also for you to be able to articulate them in conversation. We thought about not naming the record or making it self-titled because the title will clearly make people ask “what does that mean” and if you want to give them a straight answer, then there’s a lot behind that. That can be difficult with how quickly people consume entertainment and information, it’s not conducive to trying to share something important.
unEARTH: But that’s great because, I feel, so much music being released today is trying to be immediate and grab your attention. If you’re going to put that much intention behind something though, you may not gather a large audience immediately but can grow a stronger fanbase that will connect to it and over time, stay with it longer.
Derek: That is the challenge; to make something that requires that kind of patience.
Brandon: You’ve got to have faith in people.
Robert: When we said we were going to make a full-length, we were asked “why are you making a full length? It’s all about singles! Just make an EP.” We really wanted to make a body of work and convey something about patience, the virtue of trying to be immediate and mindful. It doesn’t correlate with the message.
unEARTH: I was talking with another great local band, The Color Turning, a few years ago when their album came out which began it with a 7 minute song. He basically said they chose to put that first as a challenge for the listener. That decision created a stronger connection to that album for me because I was in it for the long haul.
Brandon: I think we’re probably the last generation that has those connection to records because we listened to them in their entirety. These days, people just don’t do that. Even people that are our age, they just don’t do that. There has been a paradigm shift in the way people listen to music.
unEARTH: Our generation definitely has that divide between the “iTunes singles-only” listener and enjoy music in a deeper fashion.
Brandon: Dim down the lights, light a candle [laughs].
unEARTH: As cliche as it may sound, I have fond memories switching on my black light and listening to Led Zeppelin’s IV. It sounds horrible to say aloud but it is that connection of memories with music.
Brandon: Don’t be ashamed, that’s fucking awesome!
Following that, what artistic inspirations do you have; whether it is influences from or even outside of music?
Brandon: I think performance in general. We like group participation. Jamming and get people involved. Not even jamming musically but jamming in trying to gather a whole bunch of people to move a rock.
Robert: Spontaneous human interaction is what we call jamming. Or “getting big speed.” When you’re jamming good with people we call it “getting big speed.”
Brandon [speaking to Robert & Derek]: You guys recently got a chance to see Einstein on the Beach, right? A massive, massive opera.
Derek: It’s a Philip Glass opera and it’s another type of performance that’s not necessarily just music because the visuals are so insane.
Robert: That’s a great example of a bunch of traditional mediums coming together. For all intents-and-purposes it’s called an opera but…
Derek: It’s four hours long but the same idea of longevity and sustaining through the ups and downs until you reach the end.
unEARTH: Philip Glass also did Koyaanisqatsi, correct?
Robert: There are a lot of things that came out of that era. A lot of art that we could talk about. Steve Reich did this piece called Music for 18 Musicians which is an hour long meditative piece repetitious parts of music.
[Tape cuts out]
Editors’ Note: The conversation continued for roughly another 10 minutes discussing alternative forms of art and growing up in and around the Orange County music scene. When asked how they were influenced by the local music scene in the late 90’s and early 00’s, they came to the conclusion that they felt detached from the scene as a whole and influences came much more organically rather than forced from external surroundings.
I want to thank Robert, Derek, and Brandon for offering such an immense portion of their time to converse about their music and the variety of other subjects touched upon. Please take a moment to check the band out at KievBand.com and be sure to check out their live show and debut full length Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth available now via Suspended Sunrise Recordings.