kimono - Three's Company
kimono is an experimental rock trio hailing from Reykjavik, Iceland and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Their sound mixes the darkness of the Icelandic winters with the energy of its summers and like the place of their birth they exude contrast.
Made up of Gylfi Blöndal (guitar/baritone guitar), Alex MacNeil (guitar and vocals) and Kjartan Bragi Bjarnason (drums), the band has released three full-length albums: their debut in 2003 (”Mineur Aggressif”), the critically acclaimed “Arctic Death Ship” in 2005 and the experimental “All Music Recorded” in 2007, the last one in collaboration with Icelandic producer Curver (of Ghostigital fame).
kimono have now released their fourth LP, "Easy Music for Difficult People", which will be out early in 2010. The radio-singles “Wire” and “Black” have been hits on numerous Icelandic radio stations.
Interview of Iceland Music Export with the 3 kimono members:
You have a pretty diverse set of members for an Icelandic band – what’s the genesis of you all coming together?
Gylfi: Well, the band was formed from the remains of another band called Kaktus (where Gylfi and Dóri came from, along with now-Hudson Wayne singer Þráinn) and at the same time Alex joined. Kjartan joined a year later and the foundation of kimono was born. Alex answered an ad on a wall in the late Hljómalind Record Shop and Kjartan was recruited when Gylfi met him at a job that Kjartan was leaving and Gylfi was taking over. Two days prior Þráinn, our then-drummer, had announced he was leaving the band. Gylfi and Kjartan met and started talking, like people do. It turned out Kjartan is a drummer and his ambition matched the one of the band, and the deal was done. A total fluke if you ask me! A miracle!
Alex: I moved here in 1999 and spent a lot of time doing home recording projects. Then I went out to look for a band. Before striking gold with kimono, I tried to join Egill S’ early band and actually played in a very early version of Jeff Who?
Did you have a particular musical vision from the outset or was it a case of jamming and seeing what happened?
Gylfi: Well, Alex and I were really interested in inter-weaving our guitar playing and I think that‘s something that set the tone pretty early. But the rest came fluidly while jamming.
Alex: We have a fair amount of overlap in the guitar stuff we've listened to, but ultimately our sound comes from not trying to make anything that sounds like anything. That way it always sounds like us. "Us" just happens to be awesome.
How was the Icelandic music scene at that point in time? Who were the main bands “doing it” and what were the prevailing sounds and styles?
Gylfi: I remember Úlpa and Fídel being pretty hot at the time, Singapore Sling were also starting out. We didn‘t really fit in, and I think we still don‘t. But that‘s probably why we have prevailed for so long, we chose to take our own path and follow it no matter what the trends were at the time.
Alex: I was a big fan, I still am, of the bands on Grandmother's Records, Graveslime and Sofandi. And then of course Skátar and I Adapt, possibly the best Icelandic bands ever (IMHO). Indie and hardcore. Aggressive people playing easy-going music and vice versa.
You were all based in Berlin for a while: what prompted that move and how were those “Berlin years” for you?
Gylfi: We moved the entire band to Berlin for a year in 2005. This was just two weeks after "Arctic Death Ship" was released in Iceland. We knew we had to get ourselves to where we needed to be, we were ready for an adventure and to see what the band was capable of. I think Alex was the one that initially suggested it and encouraged us to consider it. We toured our asses off while there, took in the mood of the city. In a way it was a turbulent time for the members, but a good one.
Kjartan: It was a good test to see what we were made of. When we started to talk about moving, I never thought we would actually do it. But somehow we all got there and had a blast of a time.
Did Berlin have any particular influence on your sound or attitude as musicians?
Gylfi: Not really. Our sound was pretty much sculpted by the time we got there but the time spent there opened our eyes to possibilities for the band. It also stress-tested the "chain“ between the members, it was important to see if we'd beak under stressful circumstances. In the end, three of us prevailed and we had one casualty.
Alex: I don't really connect Berlin with Dóri leaving particularly. But my riffs from the second half of "Black" (from "Easy Music for Difficult People") are the only ones that I wrote in Berlin so far. Most of my sketches from that time are archived.
Your bassist moved to Seabear after that: in retrospect how did that affect the band positively and negatively?
Gylfi: It was a difficult shift for us as Dóri had always been an important part of the chain and played a significant role in the arrangement of songs. His background in fine arts helped a lot with that and his influence is still there even though he‘s moved on. But all things considered, it was the only way out for us, the only way to move forward instead of standing still. It‘s complicated to be in a four-piece and maintain a democracy, but a trio functions really well like that. After becoming a trio, we started working faster and getting quicker results.
Kjartan: It took some time for me, as a drummer, to get used to not having a bass player. We tried out some guys but it didn’t work out. Nice guys but didn’t fit in the music somehow. So we decided to stop looking for a bass player and Gylfi went to playing the baritone guitar, which is guitar with some bass elements. I would not put it in a positive or negative category, it was just strange, unfamiliar not to have a bass player. To be honest, I didn’t think we would make it as a three-piece. When we were trying to make some songs I was not convinced. But we kept on going and when we finished writing our first song I thought it was great. I was convinced. It was “Get Ready (for Some Pain to Have)”.
Alex: When Dóri left, we became a three-piece but it took some time for us to realize it. It was kind of like starting to learn to walk again. For a while, I made my computer the collective memory of the band. I recorded everything and chopped it down to the parts that made my spine tingle. For a while, I wanted to call the album GDR, after the way Quincy Jones described the sessions he did for Thriller. He said he could feel God's divining rod (a tool used by witches for finding water in the desert) in his spine. That's how I knew it was going to be okay. I still get that from playing with just three of us in the band.
Are you all based in Iceland these days?
Gylfi: Yes, we are all based here now.
Kjartan: I think it would not work out if we would not live in the same place. Not in a very good way at least. We practice a lot so it would be a problem.
Alex: Twice a week on normal weeks.
What are the common musical influences of the band members – and what are the wilder differences in terms of your individual tastes?
Gylfi: We all come from quite different background even though we share alot of the interest for the same bands. I‘ll let the guys answer for themselves, but I think that my admiration for bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Big Star and Fleetwood Mac is a wild one.
Kjartan: I was listening to Smashing Pumpkins a lot before I met the guys, but they were not. Or maybe Alex a bit. Alex introduced me to Can and I started to listen to that a lot, sinking into the krautrock. I like good German pop music, I guess that’s a wild difference from the guys.
Alex: I usually rely on people to tell me about things and I'm pretty good at knowing people who want to advocate good music. Because of the way I have played guitar in various bands at various times, people have suggested that I listen to Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Polvo, Slint, Fugazi, Shellac and Television. Each of these suggestions ended up being very good for me at the time. It's been quite a while since I've listened to a band as a whole like I did then, though. There's too much music. I consume in periods now.
Where does the title from your latest record come from?
Alex: It's the English translation of the title of a compilation I bought when I lived in southern France in 1998. The compilation had excellent tracks by Trans Am, Tortoise, Gastr Del Sol and Mogwai. Everything you need to survive a year in a place with no music scene to speak of. I did meet a vampire once, though.
This is a much more “assertive” album from the previous one. Was it a plan to turn up the heat or did it just come out like that?
Gylfi: We never plan things like that. It‘s a creative process that cannot be interrupted with plans or goals.
It’s short too, at just over 30 minutes – is that a statement of some kind?
Gylfi: Well, it‘s important not to go all crazy over 65 minutes when immediacy and urgency are key factors on an album. We actually cut quite a bit down in the recording and mixing sessions. But the album just ended up feeling right like this.
Kjartan: It was not discussed to have it extra short.
Alex: Ladies and gentlemen, the kimono paradox: The plan is there is no plan.
The way it was recorded sounds pretty distinctive: live multi-tracking, no dividers, all in one weekend etc…this must have had an effect on the overall sound and aura of the record…?
Kjartan: I think the good thing about this album is the fact that this is how we sound like when you put the three of us in a room together for one weekend. The quality of the album is purely based on the performance. All the amps and the drumset were in the same room so if someone fucked up there was no way to fix it later. We then had to do the whole song again until everything was perfect. I think that describes the album. We were putting everything into each take and that power comes through in my opinion.
Where do you think EM4DP fits into the broader international landscape?
Alex: How about the missing link between Ege Bamyesi-era Can, White Light White Heat-era VU, Chairs Missing-era Wire, Experimental Jet Set and No Star-era Sonic Youth with a dash of minimalist contemporary music and 1980's Canadian power metal.
Ha! Will you try to release the record internationally – and are there any tours or gigs planned for this year?
Alex: Kimi Records is working on the international release. It's excellent to work with Baldvin and his crew. They're extremely enthusiastic about the music they release and they work hard for their bands. I believe that we will respond in kind and work hard on this album with their help. We won't tour internationally until the fall, so until then we're sticking around Reykjavik. We'll be playing a big release gig for this album on the 11th of March, which we hope will raise the bar for Icelandic indie bands in terms of what we're going to do - lights, stage sets, orchestrations, all kinds of crazy stuff. And we want to do more all-ages shows. There isn't enough of that going on for the Icelandic kids too young to go to the bars.
Read another interview that Haukur of Grapevine Magazine did with 2 kimono members Alex & Gylfi
"Tomorrow" @ Airwaves by KEXP Radio, Seattle
Kimono @ MySpace