Life, Death, and Devotion

The Killingtons on the Verge of a Verge

Photo by Jack Gould It ain't easy being the Killingtons. For proof—or at least a pretty funny, fictionalized account—try tracking down a copy of a video they made a couple of years ago for their song "Belly Dancer." In it, the band is onstage, about to play to a smallish gathering of blank-eyed, slack-jawed statues (also known as "The Audience"). An oafish, cowboy-hatted MC cheesily introduces the band to the crowd:

"Here's the cause for your applause, the Killington!"

Guitarist James Killington Thompson (JK, if you would) starts a jingly-jangly riff and then achingly moans the first line: "Slow down, sloooow down." Michél Bravine, the drummer, starts a quiet roll that quickly slams into Chris Muench's tumbling bass lines. The whole band erupts. The music is driving, pulsating, fierce to you and me, but not to these indifferent, assembled-for-the-cameras folks—all they do is stand there, grim-faced and unmoved. A few leave, then a few more, until by the end of the three-minute tune, only one guy is left watching —and then he cuts out, too. Meanwhile, the MC has fallen asleep, and the soundman has passed out atop his mixing board. JK steps back to the mic and says, "Thanks, we're the Killingtons," his voice oozing with contempt and defeat, the hum of the room's air conditioners their only applause.

It's a joke, of course, an exaggerated depiction of how some audiences over the years have reacted to the Killingtons. When they formed in 1995, the OC music scene was more polarized than it is now—a glut of punk and ska bills reigned, and the Killingtons' brand of evocative, melody-saturated, non-bar-band rock & roll was not happening. They wound up taking slots on those same punk/ska bills anyway, just so they could play somewhere. Neither tribe really "got" the band, though, nor what they were trying to do —hence the thousand-yard stares depicted in the "Belly Dancer" video, crowd expressions that scream, "If we all just stand here and look bored and jaded, maybe they'll go away."

Fastforward five years, a time that finds the Killingtons in a better, clearer headspace. They have respectable turnouts at their shows (gigs in which, unlike those in their earlier years, they're paired with bands whose music is a bit more complementary). They have supportive, protective management (Vince Pileggi, who watches over Reel Big Fish, among others). They've sold 2,000 copies of a five-song cassette and 1,500 copies of American Made, a three-song EP. They've had tracks on nationally distributed compilations like The Buddy List, and they've played the Warped Tour and This Ain't No Picnic. They've added a new guitarist, Mitchell Townsend (of now-defunct Red 5). They've had interest from several major labels (but are smart and savvy enough not to have signed with any of them—yet).

They've also had frustrations, disappointments, even deaths. But all that matters right now, as the four Killingtons spread out across the cigarette-singed floor of their Orange rehearsal space, is the shiny little plastic disc JK is currently twirling with his fingers. It's a copy of their full-length, self-titled debut CD—probably not a huge deal to most in this age of DIY-at-home CD burners, but it has taken a long time for the band to get to this moment.

They're all happy with the way The Killingtons has turned out, yet not exactly doing back flips, probably out of a sense of general exhaustion. Maybe also because they know this isn't really the end of this particular project. Now comes the hard part: getting their music out there. By being cautious and going the indie route for this first album instead of carelessly signing to the first offer made to them (and there have been several, they say), the Killingtons have been able to create a piece of art entirely their way, without any meddling from ever-watchful corporate A&R departments looking to market the next faceless two-hit-wonder pop band (the CD is being released on MEG, a new indie formed by Pileggi and Vegas Records founder Jon Halperin; both have pretty much sat back and let the band do what they do).

They're careful, in other words. They know too much too well and have heard firsthand horror stories from too many friends of theirs, about what can happen when you turn your work over to people whose job it is not to promote creativity but to mass market "product."

"We did whatever the hell we wanted," JK forcefully pronounces. "If we were on Interscope, they'd do to us what they did to No Doubt, tell us that it's not 'radio friendly' enough, then have us make a whole other album."

"A lot of labels don't want to take an artist and develop them," Muench says, "especially with all the consolidation in the music industry that's been going on for the past couple of years. Everybody wants their quick hit. That's why this CD took so long. We knew it would be better for us to go and develop our own selves."

Townsend chimes in: "If we ever get to the point where we want to go to a big label, we'll tell them that we have to be a priority when it comes to promotion and creativity because we can say we already sold this many copies alone without them. Like Green Day did: the only reason A&R people went to go see Green Day was because they were selling out the Palladium without a label. The majors were asking, 'What's going on here?'"

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