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By Nate Jackson
During a My Bloody Valentine show at the El Rey in LA last year, Mitch Townsend glanced over and thought he spied J.K. Thompson, his former band mate from Long Beach’s the Killingtons, just 10 feet away. That’s how out of touch the two had become after they parted ways in 2001.
“Wasn’t me,” Thompson says now.
Maybe Townsend was just disoriented. My Bloody Valentine have that effect on people. But that moment foreshadowed the pair getting back together for real.
At their peak, the Killingtons played alongside Sonic Youth, Get Up Kids, Phantom Planet and other indie bands who went on to great heights. Then the shit hit the fan, just as they were about to break big.
Nearly a decade later, Townsend, Thompson and bassist Christopher Muench assembled in Townsend’s Huntington Beach kitchen in March to talk with one another—and the Weekly—about reuniting. This meeting was the first time the trio had been in the same room in years.
What started as three friends—originally Thompson, Muench and drummer Daniel Hennessy—at Los Alamitos High School in 1995 turned into a tightly wound, loud-as-fuck band who blew through sets of inspired rock that dared anyone to label them emo.
The band were riding high by 1999, releasing their first EP. The stellar three-song American Made featured pulsating drum rolls, plunging bass lines and rumbling guitars mixed with melodies and lyrics that felt like freefalling into love.
Despite the burgeoning success, Hennessy chose art school over the skins. With Mike (Michél) Bravine now on drums, the Killingtons recorded their self-titled full-length on MEG Records in 2000, adding former Red 5 bassist Townsend as the fourth member and second guitarist.
Major labels started sniffing around. The band rode that momentum relentlessly, setting out on a national tour. But the tour turned to crap. The guys rolled up to supposed gigs that weren’t booked. Promoters refused to pay. Bad directions led them to Sleepy Hollow-like locales.
Once they returned to Long Beach and their humbling day jobs in November 2000, the band slowly imploded.
The Jealous Sound offered Bravine a significant chunk of change to go on tour as their drummer, which Thompson took as him quitting. “He didn’t really leave the band,” Thompson says, looking back. “That was just me being a jerk.”
Muench couldn’t continue. “The day we tried out a new drummer, I felt dirty, like we were cheating on Mike,” Muench says. “That night, I decided to quit.” He didn’t get a chance; Thompson heard Muench was considering joining another band and asked Muench to leave the lineup.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. Just as they were falling apart, the band were offered a slot at South By Southwest. Townsend and Thompson auditioned new members.
“But it’s like when you break up with someone after 10 years and start dating,” Thompson says. “It just doesn’t feel right.” It wasn’t long before Townsend left, too. Thompson carried on with new members, even securing an artist-development deal with Clear Channel.
Success was bittersweet. No more cramped van. Thompson was finally recording in the cushy recording studio he and his former band mates dreamed of. And there was a third Killingtons recording, California Life (2003). But Clear Channel dropped them in 2004, and Thompson pulled the plug.
“I saw that version of the band,” Muench says. “It was pretty much a different band.”
Thompson formed a new band, Secret 6, and continued playing live shows. Meanwhile, Muench joined Redlight Halo, which also broke up. He took two years off from music to study graphic design but was lured back by Mike Vavak, whom he played with for a while before starting Tijuana Knife Fight with Alex Hernandez, owner of Alex’s Bar.
Townsend filled his time doing A&R for Nitro Records until 2004, when Tom Dumont of No Doubt asked him to play on some recordings he was producing for Matt Costa. He left Costa in September 2009 and has since worked as a studio musician. Bravine relocated to Chicago and plays drums for Jai-Alai Savant.
“Now we can look back and say, ‘What was that all about?’” says Townsend about the infighting. “I was always extremely optimistic about how the second album would have turned out. It’s sad it never happened.”
Could it? “We’ll see,” Townsend says.
The Killingtons perform with Valley Arena at Alex’s Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292; www.alexsbar.com. April 23, 9 p.m. $10. 21+; and with Teen Heroes, Jeff Caudill (of Gameface) and Michael Rosas (of Smile) at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3389; www.theglasshouse.us. April 25, 7 p.m. $10. All ages.