4/3/2017, By: J.G. Bennett. – Having come up in the very system that I often speak out against, I largely decline to interview musical groups that I deem to be sanctioned under the protective umbrella of ‘academia’. In these hallowed halls, many a special snowflake is encouraged/decieved by tenure hungry professors, when what they desperately need is the wise old sage to gently take the instrument from their trembling hands and politely suggest they search for another path in life. Perhaps auto mechanics. This world needs more skilled and honest auto mechanics. I’m looking at you art school majors. While myself a product of said collegiate music programs, I cite an old joke; The wife of an academic is twice removed from what is actually happening in the field of study. I can practically hear the P.C. Police siren screaming it’s way towards my door with Dopple effect inducing panic. You can send all hate mail to Snake@Slickstermagzine.com. We’ll be sure to publish the most hysterical, triggered responses we get.
Since we started Slickster Magazine in 2015, we now regularly receive dozens of requests for album reviews, band interviews, etc.. daily. Sadly, we can not accommodate them all. It is a willful decision to avoid certain genres of music. Yet, something about The Kraken Quartet tweaked my interest just enough to get me to click on their link to their single from their upcoming debut album, Separate | Migrate, Chance The Dog.
In their own words,
[The Kraken Quartet is…] A massive force of percussion and electronics, The Kraken Quartet is a genre-crossing group known for its highly energetic and engaging performances. Since their formation in 2012, the Austin-based group has been heralded for merging elements of math rock, minimalism, indie, post-rock, electronica, and the avant-garde.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, I had the opportunity to speak with the members of The Kraken Quartet as they made their way back to their home state of Texas. The result was insightful, heady and at times quite humorous.
First, is there anything about The Kraken Quartet that you’d like to set the record straight on?
Sean – I’ve got nothing so far. Our full time band history has been pretty short lived, so there’s not too much for anyone to have said.
Chris – There is one clarification that needs to be made. This album, Separate | Migrate, is going to be our debut album. Like a lot of bands, we used demos to book our first shows, but this will be our first album.
The Kraken Quartet is Chris Demetriou, Andrew Dobos, Taylor Eddinger, and Sean Harvey. Can you please tell us who plays what in the ensemble?
Chris – My primary instrument in the group is the vibraphone. The thing that makes mine unique, rather than say a Gary Burton vibraphone, is that, rather than resonators, I actually have a contact microphone on every single bar. They are wired together and sent to a 1/4″ out, so that I can send the signal to a pedal board. That allows us to do things like, totally change the sound, make loops, make drones, and all kinds of special effects. I also have a cymbal and a floor tom. We use that when have big band textures and lot of percussion.
Andrew – My main instrument is a marimba that also has pickups on it. That allows me to compliment the sounds with Chris, and even have a keyboard percussion texture sound. I also use an electronic piano for electric piano and organ sounds, and a few pieces of traditional percussion, which is a floor tom and brake drum.
Andrew, do you play the MIDI controller for the bass line on Chance The Dog?
Andrew – No, on that song it was Taylor. There are certain songs, depending on the number of hands that are free, where certain personnel will pick up spots. There is not a designated bass player in the band.
Taylor – Ok! So, I have a drum set at my station. I mostly play the secondary drum parts. Sean is the primary drummer and whenever we want a second drum set part, I add in. I have a glockenspiel for bright, high, metallic sounds. I have two analog synthesizers and I do cover a lot of the bass lines in the band. And I also play some of the leads with the synths.
Sean – Like Taylor said, I play most of the traditional drumming that holds the songs together. In terms of the drums I use, it’s a pretty standard kit with a kick. I use two sets of snare drums and two sets of high hats to get a big drum set sound or a little drum set sound. All of my cymbals are fuzzy and crunchy. I have an affinity for electronic music timbres and like my cymbals to have that sizzle, fuzzy, crunchy sound. I also have a table that I set up next to me on my left hand side. It’s full of small percussion instruments.
Chris – One thing that needs to be highlighted; Something that we always, always do… All of our set ups have at least one floor tom. It’s a staple of what we do. We absolutely love the sound of simultaneous floor toms. There will be tunes where we’re playing rhythms together on the floor toms… using the rims or the heads… and there’s also tunes, like in Chance The Dog, where we use all of the floor toms around the band as kind of a melodic instrument, where we pass the line back and forth to one another.
You mention a floor tom as a melodic instrument, which is somewhat contradictory. Is there any truth to the urban legend that drummers are inherently awful composers? For example, Billy Cobham wrote the awesome tune Stratus, but he also wrote many less inspired pieces as well. Chano Pozo conceived the three note riff motif for Manteca, but it was really trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie who made it into the well known masterpiece. Thoughts?
Chris – That’s a really interesting question. Not to deflect the question, but something that comes up in our compositions within the band…. as I mentioned earlier, we all went to music school to study percussion in general. None of us were drum set majors. We all have a strong background in melodic performance. We all play vibraphone or marimba. We all played in orchestra and wind ensemble. I suppose the flip side to that is, we have a lot of interest in the melodic possibilities of unpitched sounds. Perhaps that kind of stems from that training, where we took a lot of time when we were students, playing John Cage, John Luther Adams, Micheal Gordon… All of these great composers that use percussion in very interesting and musical ways.
Andrew – Just to piggy back off what Chris said, being percussionists, there are so many sounds and different timbres that we are interested in pursuing as the nature of our instrument family. That lends itself really well to to coming up with more avenues of creativity, as what Chris alluded to, is less material to work with. It gives us more at our disposal.
Chris – You brought up a lot of great examples of drummers we love, but we’ve always listened to percussionists as well as drummers. Maybe the strongest example of a drummer/percussionist who influenced us is Steve Reich. He is well known as a composer, but really percussion was his primary instrument. His sense of melody and harmony have really, REALLY worked it’s way into our music.
Sean – I will definitely say that we all have an affinity for and have listened to, and just generally as musicians love and and been inspired by some of the melodic percussionists that you are speaking of in the jazz idiom. I think we all enjoy a lot of Gary Burton, Lionel Hampton, Stefan Harris. I would say that, compositionally as it directly influences the band, really composers like Steve Reich, as Chris mentioned before, is one who inspires us for how we use the marimba. In Chance the Dog you’ll hear some textures that Chris and Andrew will make, where the marimba and the vibraphone are playing a whole bunch of stuff together to make a really rhythmically dense, harmonically rich sound by playing a lot of the same notes with different rhythms. That type of aesthetic comes from minimalist compositions that we studied in college.
Chris – We definitely love those performers you mentioned, but there is a different ‘school of composition’ that we also consider what you would call ‘the modern masters’ of pitched percussion that certainly makes it’s way into our music. It’s worth noting that we all met at Ithaca College. At the time were all in the studio of marimbist Gordon Stout. In that whole realm of classically trained marimba players, who, rather than pull on jazz traditions, pull more on contemporary music traditions. I think, maybe, that style of marimba playing shows up in our music a little more.
Taylor – I think aside from all of the percussionist composers, we also borrow a lot of our melodic and harmonic vernacular from guitar bands, and I guess post-rock bands. I think we all find a lot of influence from that genre and that style of music. So, even though we are using pitched percussion as our primary melodic instruments, we are also borrowing a lot of ideas from post-rock bands.
Chris – To tie this all together, there is one tune on our album called, “Giant Battle Robot’s Day Out” that goes section to section with all these different influences. One of the first sections of the tune, after Taylor’s synth intro, there’s vibraphone and marimba panning back and forth and playing totally different rhythms. That section was heavily inspired by the composer Micheal Gordon. Based in New York, he has this piece called ‘XY’ (1997), that we are all fascinated with. Then the next section, which is kind of a pre-chorus or chorus, has this really big epic rock sound to the melody, and then it jumps right away to something that would totally fit right in with a Steve Reich Mallet Quartet or Six Marimbas, or something!
What does the phase, “Release the Kraken” mean to you?
All – (LAUGHS)
Sean – We’ve heard that a lot! Our name doesn’t necessarily directly draw from anything other than we liked the sound of it. Everyone has their own pun-based thing that they like to say about our name. We’re fine with that. In terms of, ‘Release The Kraken‘, I’ll say that we play with a lot of energy and hype on stage. We let it all out when we’re on stage.
Separate | Migrate is an instrumental album. Have you ever discussed among the quartet the idea of adding vocals? Not nessicarlity lyrics, but perhaps a human voice treated more as instrument, similar to the way Pat Metheny used on First Circle.
Taylor – We haven’t really gotten to the point as a band that we’ve discussed adding vocals in any sort to our original compositions. But, we are often searching to seek out collaborators to compose with us and maybe someday we’ll find room for vocals. As of now, there isn’t any discussion on this.
Andrew – I like that you made the distinction as an aesthetic, not necessarily using song lyrics that tell a story, because the story that we tell is within the music. Obviously, we’re an instrumental band and that’s what we decided to be when we were piecing this all together. But, I would say that if we were to experiment with vocals, and this would be in the future potentially, that the use of vocals would be in that percussive texture aesthetic. I use ‘percussive’ not in timbre, but in style where percussion is all expanding, all encompassing and all allowing of tone. I think the voice would be used in an experimental way as an added layer or added texture, intentionally not involving words. That would be the way we would incorporate vocals if we were to decide to expand our sound palette in that direction.
Chris – We’re definitely inspired by vocal lines and melodies when we’re writing our own melodic material. A group I really love is the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble. As part of the horn section, they have a vocalist who runs his voice through some pedals and really blends into the balance. I remember listening to their records and seeing them live and being inspired by how we can take the idea of what would be comfortable for the human voice and translating it to other instruments.
One of the upcoming tracks on Separate | Migrate caught my attention. That was Track 5, “Ox”. There is some great usage of odd time signatures. Can you throughly breakdown how you personally subdivide and count through these odd meter passages?
Taylor – Could you be a little more specific? Are you talking more compositionally or how we actually count them?
How you actually count them. For example, if you’re in a passage of 7/8, you may subdivide the passage 1,2+1,2+1,2,3 or you might choose 1,2,3 + 1,2,3,4. This can produce a very different feel in the passage based on the accents. So, is there a certain way that, when you go through these complicated tracks like Ox…. How do approach that? How do you think you about it?
Taylor – I think its very situational in which groupings we use. For instance, you can feel five as 3+2 or 2+3… or other ways if you really wanted to. But, I think the important thing for us is that we are all on the same page with how we feel things. We consciously decide as a group how we’re going to feel and how we’re going to subdivide a certain passage. Because of that, it makes a more cohesive style. We’re able to interpret things as a unit.
Sean – One section in the middle of the tune Ox… there’s a electric sound, big electric keyboard bass, vibes, and all of a sudden it becomes quiet. Then this really high marimba and vibraphone sound that is like, a reverse synth thing enters. In that section, on drums, I am playing three bars of five and one bar of six [5/8 + 5/8 + 5/8 + 6/8 = 3+2, 3+2, 3+2, 3+3]. Then, Andrew and Chris are playing marimba and vibraphone…
Chris – …. So, while Sean is counting that on the drum set, Andrew and I are keeping the eight cells going, but the whole first phrase; We’re counting that in five. Like, little groups of five. You know (counting), ‘1,2 + 1,2,3, 1,2 + 1,2,3 ‘. Then, in the second half, we totally shift and do big groups of six (counting), ‘1,2,3 + 1,2,3, 1,2,3 + 1,2,3‘. Even though we are locking in with what Sean is laying down, we are consciously thinking in a completely different meter than him. There is an effect where there is a groove, and you can follow the groove, but not everything quite feels right….
Sean – …If you listen to that section, and you listen to the pattern of the vibraphone and the marimba – What, to you, sounds like the downbeat? It just feels really cyclical in this way where it never actually lines up with what I’m playing because we’re in two different time signatures.
Andrew – I think this is a perfect example of how this all ties together. Chris and I are on the same wavelength of mental approach, laying down more of a texture. You can listen to our parts and dissect our accent patterns if you wanted to do, but I think a bigger goal for the two of us in that section is to play more of a texture that is interesting and not so straight ahead or immediately accessible. There’s something interesting and angular about that, and then Taylor has a very slow moving and interesting synthesizer melody on top of that. This may or may not draw the listener’s attention out of that section, but there is the counterbalance to what amounts to a lot of rhythmic complexity. I think that’s what makes a section like that unique on the ears.
Shed The Music is a great site for young musicians to learn and practice new skills. They often discuss the importance of transcribing (learning music by ear) music to build musical competence. Can you testify to this, and how do you approach this often tedious, yet rewarding process?
Sean – In my earlier years, especially high school, I transcribed non stop! When I was a junior or senior high school, all of my older friends had graduated, so I didn’t have as many friends. I would sit at home and listen to lots and LOTS of records and transcribe the music. I was really in prog metal, like Dream Theater. I always transcribed Mike Portnoy recordings. I transcribed the entire record, Scenes from a Memory, and especially the song Dance of Eternity. That was my first entrance in odd time signatures and intense drumming vernacular. Later on, I backed away from prog and went more towards straight rock and roll. I transcribed a lot of Keith Moon, and then eventually I got into jazz drummers. Whenever I transcribe something, I am able to look and find patterns and discover a language that each drummer has their own vocabulary. If you listen to Keith Moon, he does a lot of triplet based things around the toms, and then there a lot of moments where he’ll play a fast fill and keep the kick drum going underneath it. Every drummer has a language that they like to speak, and a vocabulary of fills that they play, that makes their sound uniquely their own. So, through the process of transcribing, I’ve learned what my heroes of drumming do, and I’ve been able to pick and choose from that and create my own identity as a drummer.
Chris – We (The Kraken Quartet) draw heavily from guitar bands. Lately, what I’ve been really interested in is transcribing those guitar licks and trying to play them on vibraphone. What I’m realizing is, some things fit comfortably, some things don’t fit comfortably, and some things don’t fit at all! So, I’m learning the language, but I’m also learning what tools on the vibraphone are unique. A band we really all enjoy is TTNG, and they do this really cool thing, where they release books along with their records for all the guitar parts. An upcoming project for me is to write out those parts on vibraphone.
The Kraken Quartet will be touring to support your new album, but you call Austin, TX home. Can you describe to someone who doesn’t live there the state of music in this legendary town? How are things going down there?
Sean – I’ve lived there longest of anyone in the band, but still a relatively short time at three and half years. Austin, TX has a very thriving music community with a lot of people playing a lot of different styles of music. Styles that are popular in Austin are straight up rock and roll and country music. Those are the ‘buzzword’ usual association with Austin. Aside from that, there is definatly a very healthy scene that we relate to more, like indie rock and post rock. There’s also a pretty great community of experimental musicians. You know, people experimenting in the avant gardé, with unusual instrumentation and different types of noise music and things like that. Overall, there is a healthy music scene here that you can pull inspiration from no matter which style you’re in to.
Taylor – I think what’s great about Austin is the sheer amount of venues. There are all these different events going on all year. We’re able to catch any sort of act at any time year round. If you go anywhere downtown, there’s likely to be something that is unique or different or even familiar! We can learn from these or just enjoy them. The other side of that is, because there are so many venues and so many opportunities to play out, we can really experiment ourselves and be able to try new things for different audiences. We can fit in with a bunch of different scenes. We’ve played a bunch of experimental shows in Austin, but we’ve also played a lot of rock clubs with a wide variety of bands.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with Slickster Magazine and good luck with your music. Any last thoughts, comments, shout outs, promotions, thank you’s that you’d like to give?
Chris – Seperate | Migrate is our debut, full length album. It comes out April 28th, preorders are available now on Bandcamp. We are doing digital downloads, CD’s, and we also printed it on 180 gram vinyl. Check us out on the usual social media. We want to give a big shout out to Vic Firth, they provided all the sticks and mallets we used on the album, and Grover Pro Percussion.
Sean – Our album release show will be May 4th at Cheer Up Charlies in Austin, TX.