Are you one of those people who think anything labeled ‘folk’ music is comprised solely of Mumford & Sons-like bands and you’re not a fan? Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re sorely mistaken, and I have the perfect band for you. This next band categorizes themselves as ‘Experimental Indie Folk’ and they’ll change those preconceived notions of yours about anything categorized ‘folk’ seconds into any of their tracks. Badass Band 65 is KG Bird.
When KG Bird was brought to my attention I can’t say I didn’t hesitate at the word experimental. For me, that word is a double edged sword when a band calls themselves that, either they will be insanely unique and refreshing to the ear holes, or they are complete shit and call themselves that in an effort to cover up for their shittiness. I took a listen to KG Bird’s digital album ‘Morning Weather’ and after listening to the track ‘Burn‘ I knew KG Bird fell into the “insanely unique and refreshing to the ear holes” category. ‘Burn’ with its harp-like keys, mellow rhythms, roughly pleasing vocals and ghostly howls, had me entranced immediately. Then I moved on to songs ‘That’s Just The Way It Goes’, ‘Pull the Mask Off’, ‘Salvation’, etc., each tune being practically its own entity. The lyrics in each song tell stories, but in a quick, witty style that readily keeps your attention.
KG Bird was born out of another band called Cue the Moon, and is comprised of Chris James- Vocals/Guitar, Tim James- Drums/Guitar, Ryan Parmenter-Bass, Will Nicolls- Guitar, and Aya Kawaguchi- Keys. Really, KG Bird fits into the folk category because they are extremely vocally and lyrically focused. The story each song tells and Chris’ vocals expressing this are the true highlight of the song, in keeping with the true definition of ‘folk’. The instrumentals are an expertly crafted hodgepodge of interesting beats, keystrokes and rhythms to act as a mild vehicle to the showcase the vocals. You may be thinking that all bands do this, but when you hear KG Bird, you will understand what I’m talking about. The way KB Bird is ‘experimental’ is in the fact that the instrumentals in their tunes span all sorts of genres and time periods in music. You have some call and chant type songs, some 50’s era-ish sounds, at times you may even catch a nod to some metal. Like I mentioned earlier, they are refreshing to the ear holes.
Chris was rad enough to take some time to chat up BBB so scope the interview below to read the amazing story about how he got into music, what Batman has to do with their name, and why he would change nothing about the music industry.
You can catch KG Bird live next at our show ‘Badass Bands Blog Presents Ben Johnson, KG Bird, Barnaby Saints and The Get Down Boys’ at Silverlake Lounge February 27th at 9pm!
When and why did you start playing music?
That’s a tough one. I am 31 years old now, I’m an old man, so I have been playing music for a long time. I didn’t get started until I was a little bit older. I was actually involved in a pretty knarly accident in high school where I was burned over 40% of my body. I was 18 at the time and never played music before that. I was never into the arts or anything creative, but the injury was so significant that I was in a medically induced coma for a long time. I was in the hospital for 35 days and the only thing I could really do, I couldn’t talk or anything because I had swallowed some super heated air so my vocal chords and lungs were damaged. I could however, listen. I could listen to music in the hospital. Friends of mine brought music and stuff and once I got out of the hospital too I was kind of immobile. This is when I first started getting into music. I listened to The Beatles a lot back then, they are a huge influence on me. From there I got more and more interested. Growing up I had an uncle who is very close to me and he got me a guitar for my eighteenth birthday which I was really excited about even though I had no idea what I was doing. I slowly tinkered around with it and I love it. I felt a connection to it. I actually got myself a drum set, so my first real instrument, even though I was tinkering around with guitar, was actually the drums. I immediately was attached to drums because I thought, and it was a little bit of grandiosity, but I thought, “Man I can jump on the drums and play right away! This is great, I don’t need any lessons! I can play some rock n roll drums!” My brother, he was into the guitar so we formed a band. I was 19 or 20 at the time. It was just a garage band that slowly but surely kept spiraling out of control. We formed what eventually became Cue the Moon, an LA based rock band. I played drums for Cue the Moon for a long time, until I decided to go do something else. I stopped pursuing music and went to grad school. I decided to pursue mental health instead and kind of left music behind. I still tinkered on guitar a bit and then I started writing songs. I discovered a whole new side of myself. Playing drums with Cue the Moon was fun, but it was really intense prog rock music, and it was hard to keep up with the other guys in the band who were phenomenal instrumentally. I put a lot of pressure on myself, so it was nice to be kind of free from that. I like more melodic pop, folksy music. That is kind of how KG Bird started. I was tinkering around on guitars, Cue The Moon ended up discontinuing playing music and some of the old members of Cue the Moon were like ‘Hey Chris you’re playing guitar and writing some songs!’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, you want to come over and play some songs with me?” So they said, “Oh yeah, you really want to play with us?” and here I am, always amazed that they want to come over and play with me. I’m excited. I think, “No way, you guys don’t really want to play my songs do you?” Amazingly, it has snowballed from there.
What musicians do you admire?
I admire a lot of musicians. Most notably, Jim Putnam of Radar Brothers more than anyone else. He is a beautiful songwriter and has some amazing things recorded. He has really dark beautiful music. I also like David Bourbon, and Stephen Roth, I like the stream of consciousness type writing. When I started KG Bird, I know I can’t play guitar very well, but one thing I liked was coming up with lyrics so I admire David and Steven because they have this way of writing lyrics that are funny, poignant, and keep you guessing. You never know what they are going to say next, that’s what I like so much about writing songs, coming up with something spontaneous. Sometimes I write something without even thinking about it and then think to myself, “Whoa, I just wrote that.” and then I come back to it later and think, “Why the hell did I write that, that’s really fucked up.” You have to have the ability to keep yourself on your toes and not filter yourself at all. I try to carry this over to our live shows. Sometimes I’ll make up lyrics to songs. For the listener its more exciting that way. One more that I really have been into lately is Townes Van Zandt. He’s an old, folksy, kind of country western singer. He has just really amazing cowboy lyrics, totally genuine. There is nobody like him. I can listen to ‘Our Mother The Mountain’ over and over again and find something new about it.
Why the name KG Bird?
We get asked this a lot, people think we’re affiliated with the USSR or something like that because of the KGB reference. I totally didn’t even get that. Really, its from an old 1960’s Adam West Era Batman episode where the Penguin is trying to take over the world and he has a secret warehouse that Batman somehow finds out about. All he does is go to this public directory of business listings and Robin and he are going through all the listings and Robin says, “KG Bird, Batman do you think this could be it?” and sure enough KG Bird is the secret warehouse where the Penguin is coming up with his plot to take over the world. I just thought it was funny, it was totally just a joke, I never thought that KG Bird would become anything. Now that it has its kind of funny that it’s the name that stuck.
Describe your show visually and musically for someone who has never been.
Visually expect a lot of gyrations and energy. I really want to do more visually on stage, I think that is going to come, lots of colors and projections. We used to do that. Visually, it’s always exciting, we have a lot of energy and I have a lot of passion when I play. Musically, we always play a really good mix of songs with a lot of different rhythms and layers. We pride ourselves in getting a really good sound live. It’s a lot of fun. I try to be engaging and get the audience involved. I love to play music, I can’t stop smiling when I am on stage so expect to see me smiling a lot. I can’t believe I am up there, I just like to have fun with the audience.
How does your creative process typically work?
I guess its pretty traditional. I write songs on acoustic guitar and more or less I don’t bring them to the band until they are completely done. Typically, if I am writing something on guitar or whatever it is, I usually record some crappy version and tinker with them for months. I scrutinize every chord and every line and version. Then I usually bring it to the band and they hate it, so I start over. No, just kidding. When I bring it to the band, I love the guys I play with they are so fun and talented, but they just instantly get it. I am horrible about describing what I want but they just pick it up right away. Ryan will totally come up with some bass line for some groovy tune or Will, a relatively new guitar player, will know to pick up the slide and know exactly the sound I want. We recently added Aya, she is our keyboard player. She is lovely and amazingly talented. She can play like full classical pieces on keyboard but I have her playing simple chords. But she gets it right away and has a great sound. I am so humbled to play with them unless I think, “Alright, this one you’re going to like, this one is gonna be good.” I am constantly writing songs, I probably have 100 songs to pull from, and 90% of them are not good but I like to keep writing and see what comes up.
What do you think your greatest opportunity has been so far as a band?
Every single time I get to open my guitar case and turn on my amp and get to play with the guys in the band, its amazing. Every single time we practice, play a live show, put a mic in front of an instrument, is the greatest opportunity. We are in a honeymoon stage with the band right now. The opportunity to play is really the life affirming adventure while we are still trying to get established here in LA. It’s like asking a parent, “Which kid is your favorite?” you can say, but clearly you like the kid that is better at sports.
What are you working on now, and what can we expect from KG Bird this year?
Put on your happy face because 2013 is gonna be the year of the bird. We are currently working on our second release, which should be coming out in April. We will be having an album release show. We are just continuing to grow as a band.
Why should people listen to your band? If your band had a slogan what would it be?
People should listen to our music because its fun and happy and inspired. Hopefully they will get something out of it. The only thing I think when I am writing songs is, “Would this move me?” I like to sing with a lot of passion. It will make people happy and think of certain things maybe they haven’t thought of in a really long time. They should listen to us because there is really nothing else to listen to. Literally there are no other good bands out there, except the bands on Badass bands Blog.
Our slogan is “Sounds good with beef tacos”.
If you had the opportunity to change something about the music industry what would it be?
I wouldn’t’ change anything actually. I kind of like how it is now. I think ultimately it evolved into this thing where bands are kind of having to promote and be responsible for themselves and it has this industry element to it. Things are able to happen organically, of course there is still a lot of manufactured crap but for the most part I don’t think its long lasting or meaningful. I love that people have Ipods and have hundreds and hundreds of bands that they like. It’s refreshing. For a while there, for whatever reason, TV or whatever, music became this thing that was way more interesting than what it actually is and it took itself too seriously. I like the fact that I can play music and generate some money and whatever from that, and have a nice fun, creative outlet where I work with other people that do stuff for us that are my friends too. Everyone is just interested in getting the band going, but there isn’t this pressure anymore. When I was younger, like ten years ago, when I was playing with Cue the Moon there was this constant thing like, “Oh we have to get signed.” and we had to be on a label for the music to mean something. It dawned on me that I like the fact that it is something we can do ourselves and take the reins on.
One song you never get tired of.
‘Seabird’ -Allesi Brothers
Best live show you have ever gone to.
The most fun I have ever had at a show, I went to go see this band called The Advantage, they are an LA based band. They did all Nintendo cover songs in like a heavy metal rock style. They were incredibly good. It was at The Echo. They were really playing amazingly well and it was great because I knew all the songs. It was infectious.
The best show I have ever gone to though, was back in probably 2002, this was when I was about 21. I went to see The White Stripes right after White Blood Cells came out. It was right at the time when the music scene was changing and this new band came up and they had a crazy, awesome dynamic. I have never been to a show where I saw an audience that captivated, which is hard in LA. I remember distinctly hearing Jack’s guitar and all his feedback coming in and a giant American Flag coming down and ‘Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground’ started playing. I was like, “Okay, I wasn’t sure if I loved you guys but now I do.”
Favorite things to do NOT musically related.
I love the outdoors, hiking, skiing, going to lakes, and traveling. I think the most important thing that I do in my life though is the volunteer work I do with the burn community. I am pretty heavily involved and go visit other patients in the burn hospital all the time, I work with USC County Hospital, Grossman Burn Center, and the Council of Burn Survivors. Recently, we did a little retreat where I taught burn survivors and their families how to ski. After my accident it was difficult to put life in perspective and there were a lot of questions and I went through some dark times. It wasn’t until I started volunteering and getting involved in the burn community gave my life meaning. What is more beautiful that a musician with meaning? I think that’s I what makes me so much more excited to play music these days, I appreciate it much more.
If you could be a fictional character, who would you be?
I would like to be a sad robot, like a homeless robot, more like a nomad per say. I would just wander the world as a robot.
If you ran Badass Bands Blog, what are some bands you would feature?
FIND KG BIRD HERE: