A few days ago, Kiev–made up of Robert Brinkerhoff (vocals, guitar), Brandon Corn (drums), Derek Poulsen (bass), Alex Wright (keys), and Andy Stavas (keys, saxophone)–caught up with us to talk about how much things have progressed since OC Weekly last interviewed them, and how the OC Music Awards helped them connect with Menomena for their upcoming show at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, inside the Samueli Theater.
Brinkeroff: I think the most pertinent thing is the show at Samueli. It's a pretty huge step for us. We're going to be playing some brand new songs that we haven't played, so that's where our heads are at, because we still realize we are writing an album. But more immediately, we're going to be sharing new music, and for the first time with visuals.
As crazy as it is, we're doing it in 3-D, mainly because people in my family, some filmmakers, and some animators we're working with from our circle of friends have been playing around with 3-D stuff in their own work. They're like, 'Well, we have this gear, and I know you guys want to do projections. Why don't we just take it a step further, get ridiculous with it, and make a 3-D show.'
As funny as that sounds, it's actually something that's been on our minds–not necessarily 3-D, but adding that next step with visuals. We actually had a personal goal, by this late spring, we wanted to do a show in a warehouse, with visuals, and invite people into our workspace. We didn't really think there was a venue that could we do it at. We can't set up at Detroit Bar, can't just book a show at House of Blues and have the control to oversee that and have a proper sound-check.
How did you get connected with Menomena, and the people at Samueli Theater for this event?
It was actually Ashley from the Orange County Music Awards, and the ACE Agency Group. They hit us up to open the show for Menomena. They'll be doing a series of shows. I've never seen the theater, but Derek, Brandon, and I, coincidentally, have done some music work in collaboration with visuals for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. We were lucky to be able to work on an event in the past there.
We were part of a group of musicians who supplied music to this experimental alias torque dance thing. So we had a relationship with the theater, and then we were coincidentally asked to open the show. They offered a sound-check, and we were panting like dogs, 'cause we never get sound-checks, and sound is so important to us. And then they were like, 'Yeah, and it's at Segerstrom Center, in the Samueli Theater.' So instead of doing visuals in our warehouse, we decided, let's see if the theater would be cool with it, since they already know who we are. We asked them, and they thought it would be really cool.
How do you feel about a bigger show like this coming into our realm, and in an art theater, rather than a venue?
Brandon Corn: It's a nicer place to experience music, as opposed to just seeing it in the same hole that we're all used to. We all know how it sounds, we all know it's going to be predictable.
Brinkerhoff: Not only will the theater sound nicer, but it will be a cooler environment. They are catering to another level of engagement. It's nice being able to do something different than we're used to. We've played in Orange County kind of recently at House of Blues, and before that, at the Orange County Music Awards series, but we really haven't been playing around here that much. It's just really refreshing thinking about, at least for us anyway, treating it with the high standard we'd like to hold ourselves to.
Yeah, it's a $20 show, but we're putting in the effort to do something really special. Not just to make up for the dollar that comes out of the fan's pockets, but just to incite the idea that, if you want to bring better and cooler shows to Orange County, then I think local bands, at least some of us, would love to step up and contribute back to that–so it's not just us doing the same thing, playing the same bars. I think a lot of bands, including ours, have bigger aspirations. Might as well start doing stuff at home first.
The opportunity is there when Ashley Eckenweiler and Luke Allen provide new chances for local musicians to succeed, with things like the OC Music Awards.
Brinkerhoff: When I was just starting out, I was Luke's first tenant in his studio rental space, Gemini Studios. He's awesome, because he's always been supporting it one way or another. And now it has been much more hands on with him and Ashley. It's a way larger scale. Going to the Awards, as you're taking it in, you realize, there's no real reason for them to do this, other than that they're supporting it, and they actually believe in the value of music and a music community. I guess we were all hoping that all the bands felt that way, 'cause you can get really cheeky with it. I think of it as exposure, the chance to put everyone in the same room and introduce people to other people, as well as giving recognition to people that try really hard.
Corn: I think that's the end goal behind it, is to honor specific people, but give exposure to everyone that participates. That sense of community is the most important thing that they have brought to the table.
Brinkerhoff: You make those connections with people you've been living next to the whole time. The music community hasn't always been as vibrant and receptive to being more of a communal thing until lately.
Corn: It's nice to know who your peers are. And also it will inspire friendly…I don't want to say the word…competition, but in a positive way. Not head-to-head, but more of an inspiration. Another example for us is Railroad to Alaska. We had met them through that, playing the Best Live Band show.
Brinkerhoff: That show is designed, in a nice way, to be a competition. It was an introduction to a band that's doing something totally different than us, but seems to be really like-minded in their integrity. It makes you feel better. There are not too many things to be comforted by when you're a musician these days, so when you meet other people that are driven by the same things, and are as genuine and passionate about music, it makes you feel like, 'Oh wait, maybe Orange County is not such a bad spot.' There's definitely a stigma with this area, about it having cliques, and being a little bit more competitive. When you actually get to meet, you realize that a lot of the people that we connect with are kind of longing for the same thing. They would rather have a community and support system. We have so much music here that we can actually have an awards show, so that says something.
After playing a large show with Avi Buffalo at the Art Theatre of Long Beach, and with this upcoming collaboration with Menomena, do you feel the need to continue the trend with a tour, or will you choose to wait?
Corn: It's hard, because you can book a tour on your own, but you're almost guaranteed to lose money on the first couple dates. I think touring is definitely on the horizon, that's for sure. But I think it's also important to make sure that it's done well and done right. When we were kids and we were going out and touring, to me it felt like a totally different thing because gas was so cheap…
Brinkerhoff: …and no Myspace, Facebook, Souncloud, or Bandcamp.
Corn: And we still had the huge map and the book of CD's in the car. It costs a lot more nowadays to fill up the tank and things like that. So logistically, it's more difficult to tour these days I think. With that being said, we want to, very much so.
How do you get connected with record companies when they seem to be in as much trouble as everyone else?
Brinkerhoff: You gotta get connected with the bands, and that's why we're grateful to get some of these bigger shows. Just to be able to brush shoulders with some bands that are touring acts. We spend a lot of time with Orange County and Los Angeles bands, but not really bands from out of town. We seem to be a little less focused on touring with what we have right now.
Like all bands, we are going to be continuously developing the music… For us to put our newest stuff out as quickly as we can, intelligently, and as cool as we can onto some recorded medium so it matches what the band is doing will be best. I think at that point, that's when you feel most ready to take a risk on a tour. It's like, 'Here, we're most proud of this music,' and it's the music people haven't heard yet. I know that's always the case with bands, but I think it's particularly true with us right now.
Being that you guys are so calculated in your composing, how does that tie in with the philosophy of your music?
Derek Poulsen: I think Brandon's nature of knowing rhythms inside and out, and being able to break down rhythms to certain durations and subdivisions is pretty much the foundation of a tune. His abilities with drums and percussions are always a good place for starting.
Corn: That's what gets us all moving too, the rhythm of it. It doesn't necessarily start with me, but it definitely starts with a beat. Out of the batch of tunes that we've made, there were only a few that didn't start with some sort of rhythm. For us, the placement of the rhythm, and the repetition of it in the writing process is part of it as well.
Brinkerhoff: I think we are very meticulous and disciplined people, but on the opposite side of the spectrum, we spend a lot of time as individuals and as a group, trying to be as meticulous, disciplined, and trained. We practice almost in preparation for these really organic moments when divine intervention comes through, so that we know how to interpret it quickly as it happens.
So you cover all the little details, practice all the rudiments, you know your scales and such, so that when the eventual moment of musical creation occurs, you're all on the same page and ready?
Brinkerhoff: It's just when the breeze comes through town. The thing I'm most grateful for about playing with these guys–'cause currently I'm the only one who is not a trained musician– is that when you have inspiration striking you, you have this tiny little pinhole to try and force out gallons of energy. You explode, and that's when you turn into a prematurely grey, freaked out, shaky person. When the discipline is there more, the moment is able to be translated quickly. So when we have improv jams, it actually isn't just us throwing paint at the walls for an abstract feel. It actually comes from an earned, educated place. It doesn't make it any less improvised or genuine, it just that you learn you can speak without words. 'Cause that's exactly what music is, is a translation of all these thoughts, emotions, and feelings that don't necessarily translate into words.
Explain a little more about what you have in mind for the 3-D visuals for the concert at Samueli Theater, and will the audience need 3-D glasses?
Brinkerhoff: Yeah they will need to wear the glasses, and the band will bring them. We have 400 pairs. We are going to bring in a huge screen, and it takes two projectors to do the kind of 3-D we're planning. It's not like we made a 3-D film and the music is a score to it.
It's basically visualized music, that is custom created media arranged in 3-D space to each one of our songs. Since we have computers incorporated into the band, we're actually able to drive the projectors, keeping it in line with what images we want at certain points of the song.
There's been confusion about the idea like, 'Oh you made a 3-D film,' but we didn't take 3-D camera, which consists of two lenses, and go film things. Instead, we have software and hardware connected to our musical software, that can remember and place 2-D images, or any sort of animation, in a 3-D space. So it's multiple layers of things that can move and react to our music. We're a little bummed on it though, 'cause our backs are going to be to it during the show, and we won't get to see it. We won't be projecting it on ourselves, but we went through a bunch of different concepts before settling on anything.
Secretly I fantasize about doing it at the Yost Theater, 'cause I think there will be people who don't know Menomena, or can't afford a ticket, and I'd love for them to see it too. But it does take about 10 people to run the show, so we can't really speak for the other five people that have to work on it. But they're really excited about it too. We flirted with the idea of 3-D because of all the multi-layers in our music –that was the greatest way to actually visualize multiple layers of images as they react to the many layers of the music.
And ultimately, the whole point is to get lost in the music?
Brinkerhoff: Right. And some people are more visual than others. A lot of people talk about things they kind of feel like they 'see' or imagine when they listen to, not only our music, but other forms of music as well. Hopefully we're able to help those who can't see it as clear-synesthesia I believe it's called–that's when you see the color of music.
What: Menomena with Kiev
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, inside the Samueli Theater
When: 8pm, May 24, 2011
Tickets: $20 and $40