Published on May 11th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
Mark from Kinematic
When music’s good, you don’t listen to it, it listens to you. It illuminates, gives weight and substance and meaning to what you’re feeling and preserves a version of yourself in time like an insect in amber. A rare and beautiful communion.
Just a few notes of cherished melody can transport you back in time, nose pressed against the glass, to peer in at a person you hardly recognize.
Really good music, though, is quicksilver. It refuses to be contained. It holds more than one answer to questions that grow and change as we do. Art of this kind does more than give flesh to emotion or preserve a memory; it has a personality, it’s a friend and travelling companion on life’s journey that nourishes and rewards with every listen.
Attempting to create art of this quality is why musicians labor, and fail, and brush off their dinted, scratched egos, and try again. Most dream of success, but seek it only for the freedom it grants to continue their work and to improve, closing the loop of artist and audience–not for any desire for celebrity.
Although, you know.
Melbourne’s Kinematic is one such band.
With each successive album, Kinematic comes a step closer to nailing it. The colour bleeding out of the late afternoon sky the day you realised it was over; the polaroid reflection of a pack of smokes in the windscreen as the powerlines swoop in the glass.
It’s in there, in the music, there’s a melancholy and sweetness and restlessness. There is something that demands to be let in, for you to listen to it, notice it, surrender to it, so it can listen to you.
Kinematic, in its 13-year career, have experienced the rush of nationwide radio airplay, sold-out gigs, and label interest, yet like the Melbourne climate, the weather changed. Drummer Mark Olszewski is confident the sun will break through the clouds and illuminate the band’s latest–and musically most accomplished–album Kinecism, and show a way forward for the band.
A glimpse of which, in the form of the demo song Splinters, BNU is proud to preview exclusively below. But first, let’s talk to Mark about why Kinematic is and isn’t “roots” music… whatever that is.
being the smallest and the only boy meant I got used to being up the back somewhere
BNU: I was a small boy with his first AM radio when I heard The Church sing Metropolis. That lick takes me back to that moment with amazing clarity. What was the first pop song that affected you as a kid, and what memories does it evoke?
Shit, that’s a difficult one as there’s so many and from a very young age.
I had parents and three older sisters who were all music-mad, so it’s hard to remember when music wasn’t being played—the old Technics record player was the center of our world, much more so than the television. And not all of it was pop.
My earliest obsessive musical memory is probably pretending the arm and back of one of my parent’s lounge chairs was a drum kit and drum miming to Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night. I couldn’t have been older than five or six.
That was so long ago, ’78 or ’79 I’m guessing (orange settee, striped velvet wallpaper)—and the memories kind of distant.
But the weird thing is my little girl is now that age and becoming obsessed in the same way, so it’s only recently been brought back. My partner and I laugh our arses of at her musical performances and how into it she is. It’s Frozen for her, but it was Crunchy Granola Suite on drums for me.
I have three older sisters too. There was a period of Risk Astley and Madonna. But also The Smiths, Elton John, Bowie.
I can thank all my sisters individually for an aspect of my musical background, and then collectively for my diverse tastes. The oldest gave me The Police and Springsteen, the second Prince and Tears for Fears, the closest in age The Cure and New Order.
But I had two older cousins, one from each of my Mum’s and my Dad’s side of the family, both of whom I idolised as a kid, that played drums. Maybe looking up to them and getting to bash their kits was the icing on the cake, but I really think the seed was planted earlier. Aside from loving the sound of the crowd and the big tom intro to that Diamond record, I think being the smallest and the only boy meant I got used to being up the back somewhere, but still making plenty of noise—that’s pretty much what drummers do isn’t it?
One of those cousins was in a Melbourne glam metal band called Axatak. He got me my first kit and probably introduced me to heavier music, which had stuck with me since.
You were into Rick Astley and Madonna?
Um… no comment. So, you’ve been in a few different bands before this, some of them looked ready to take flight, and then sadly disintegrated. Kinematic has been together for what, 10 years? Why has this band been able to hang together for longer than the ones you were in before?
Make that 13 years… 10 since our debut album. And I’ve been playing with Michael Owen, one of Kinematic’s main songwriters, for 22 years as we also played in Aspirin together. Scary shit, really.
The other two in Kinematic are the Clarke brothers, Gordon and Michael, who’ve obviously always played together, but most notably in band Snorkel, punk/funk rockers who had a cult following in Melbourne in the ’90s. Michael Clarke also played in Aspirin for a while, so you can see how Kinematic came together.
So yeah, both Aspirin and Snorkel had a taste of success—packed houses across Melbourne, touring nationally, local and national airplay, promised record deals etc., etc., but it all fell to shit, the same story you hear from bands all the time. So Kinematic was formed with only one thing in mind: our music, our way, and importantly, we learn to do everything ourselves.
I think the low expectations on anything but the music is what has kept us going. This is both a good and bad thing. It means we can play whatever we want. It means it’s all about the songs, it means we’ve learnt—with the help of others like our co-producer and more or less Kinematic’s fifth member, Michael “Stiffy” Stifter—to produce records ourselves. We’ve definitely got better at that stuff over the years.
But it also means we don’t put as much time into the other things that independent bands should probably do, like organising and playing shows or tours, promotion and media, making videos, that kind of peripheral stuff. Our low profile after 13 years and four records indicates we’re super shit at it.
Maybe if we put more time and money into that stuff we’d have a higher profile and we wouldn’t still be paying to play. But it’s usually that stuff that breaks up bands, be it indirectly or indirectly. For us, the process of making music seems to be enough.
What’s the difference between when you’re in a room together writing new stuff as opposed to rehearsing for a show? Do you load up on drugs, do you talk about what you’re going to do, or do you just start playing and see what happens?
Being in a room making noise together is probably the best thing about being in a band—that point of conception and putting it together as a unit is what it’s all about. But when you get into producing your own music, that process is extended, which is both a good and a bad thing.
It’s great seeing the process through, taking up the challenge of making a song sound exactly as you imagined it in your head. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes the process changes everything and sometimes that process destroys the magic of that moment it first came together, rips the cock out if it, so to speak.
We’re currently trying to set up our own permanent studio at our bass player’s place, so we’re always recording and catching those moments when they do come along. It’s our second attempt to do this—we had a permanent space for part of the pre-production for Kinecism, and we were in music heaven there for a while, experimenting and recording whenever we liked.
Some bands want record deals and world tours—and we wouldn’t complain if we had either of those—but for us the zenith is having that creative space to write, play and record whenever we want. Hopefully the studio will be ready by the end of the year.
So in what ways has the music you make changed over the years?
While all our records are predominantly pop records, I think the two most recent records are more indicative of our range of influences. But who knows? We’ve proved pretty bad at describing or comparing ourselves.
We had to go and educate ourselves as to what the fuck “roots” was.
The first two records were a little more raw and indie and sort of had this alt-country thing going on. But unlike other indie bands, particularly in the Melbourne mould, we always wanted big production and this is where the two more recent records are different: bigger, deeper, louder, more diverse sounds, dabbling with effects, loops and samples—that kind of thing.
The weird thing is our latest record has been pigeonholed by the music media as a roots record, which was initially complete news to us. We had to go and educate ourselves as to what the fuck “roots” was. I did a search on the net, looking up lists of roots bands to see how people came to this conclusion.
One band kept coming up: Wilco. Admittedly, they would have to be the single biggest influence on Kinecism, so it all started to make sense. Wilco is one of very few bands that all of us like.
Funnily enough, I remember a conversation with Mike years ago in the wake of the Aussie roots explosion where we made a pledge to never be a roots band. Shows how self-aware we are.
I think the other thing that’s evident on the latest records is having a little more confidence in our skills as musicians, and maybe we’re a little more prepared to wear our influences on our sleeves. Maybe it’s a Melbourne indie thing, but we’d never have put some of the guitar solos that are on Kinecism on our earlier records. Maybe it’s the influence of Wilco’s Nels Cline, but Gordo’s really come into his own as a lead guitarist on Kinecism. Some amazing work.
There are other moments on the record where he sounds like he’s channeling Bryan May. If he’d done that during the Time and Place sessions we’d probably have thrown him out if the band—same goes with tapping on Sanitation Department—but that sort of stuff feels right on this record.
Still don’t think that makes it a roots record, though—how many roots records have guitar tapping on the second track?
Yeah, I know. I thought roots was Ben Harper, John Butler, Jack Johnson, Ash Grunwald and the like. I didn’t mind Ben Harper. I met John Butler a couple of times and he was a lovely bloke, but never thought much of his music. The rest I hate.
But apparently Creedence is roots. I love Creedence, but didn’t realise they were roots. Apparently Calexico is roots—a great band—but who knew? It crosses over with Americana, which it what I thought Wilco was despite their Beatlesque melodies. Conclusion: I don’t know and I don’t think I care. More to the point, do you reckon any of the roots shows around the country played us? Of course not, because as much as I like bands like Calexico, Wilco and Creedence, we’re not fucking roots!
So was there a concept for Kinecism musically? Did you write everything from scratch, or were you polishing songs you’ve been sitting on for a while? Was there any band or sound that influenced how it was written/performed/produced?
There was no musical concept as such for Kinecism, although the title is conceptual.
Kinecism was adapted from the word kynicism, which is a literary term that creates a positive from the negative: cynicism. Cynicism says to the powers that be, fuck you, you’re a cunt, and you’re making my life miserable. Cynicism is nihilist, defeatist, devoid of hope. Kynicism still says to the powers that be, fuck you, you’re a cunt, but I’m not going to let you make me miserable. Instead, I am going to fuck your wife and shit on your lunch. I am going to create something, cause a stir, and laugh in the face of adversity. Seemed like a good concept for an album title to me.
like all families, things occasionally boil over
Creating Kinecism was different in that there was this kind of overlap, a type of continuity, in making the first three records, but this really felt like starting from scratch. That may have just been in our heads. The first two records seemed like a buildup to something and think we were a bit bummed that the reaction to Kites seemed muted compared to first two: Time and Place did really well with next to no promotion, then a push with 38th got us played all over the place.
Kites, what we thought was our best record at that point, saw that momentum stop. Whatever—Kinecism was getting back on the bike in a sense. For the first time in our existence, we didn’t have any songs in the bank, so it felt like starting again. Again. I think that feeling comes through on the album. It feels fresh (even four years after we started working on it) and like a different Kinematic to the ones on the first three records.
Do you feel like the best music is created when there is tension and you’re way out of your comfort zone, or do you think trust of band mates and comfort helps you open up to doing interesting work?
Creative tension is a healthy and probably a necessity in this type of band—a band with no captain calling the shots, but it can also be destructive if it isn’t managed—another thing that has broken up many bands.
I think Kinematic has somehow managed to find the right balance otherwise we wouldn’t have kept on creating together for so long. A sense of humour helps. By now we’re all so aware of each other’s foibles, we can criticise or take the piss out of each other without any hard feelings, like a family, really.
But like all families, things occasionally boil over. As I intimated before, there were two incidents during the recording of Kites where fisticuffs were looking likely, one between Mike and I and another between the brothers Clarke.
There may have been a few too many beers and spliffs consumed during that 18-hour day, but we were all fine the next day.
EXCLUSIVE! DEMO “SPLINTERS” FROM THE KINECISM SESSIONS
What makes a good pop song?
A good pop song is something that sounds familiar even when it’s brand new. It pops into your head when you least expect it. It’s infectious without being annoying. It’s irreplaceable and it never gets old.
So what’s coming up next for Kinematic?
We’re working on an acoustic (roots) album, but we also have an EP on the go—playing with some electronica again, and playing with some old Aspirin songs.
The second half of the year is all about celebrating the 10th anniversary of Time and Place. We’ll be doing a special show in October, performing the album from start to finish.