Live Eye Tv recently caught up with percussion-based band The Kraken Quartet to discuss their upcoming LP Separate | Migrate. Featuring members on various drum sets, vibraphone, marimba and electronics, the band’s line-up includes Chris Demetriou, Andrew Dobos, Taylor Eddinger, and Sean Harvey. Corresponding via email, the Austin-based band took time to answer questions about their early days at Ithaca College, the song-writing process for their new album, as well as the group’s diverse sonic influences. The Kraken Quartet’s Separate | Migrate LP is due out April 28th, and the self-released effort is available for pre-order via their Bandcamp.
LETV: Hey guys, thanks for taking some time to answer questions about the group and your new LP Separate | Migrate. Before we talk about the new record, let’s discuss how the band came together. I know you guys met at Ithaca College, but what was the creative impetus for starting a project that focused on percussion? Also, I’m curious, did you guys all come out of Ithaca’s music program? Does everyone specifically have a background in drumming and percussion-based instruments?
TKQ: We met at Ithaca College, where all four of us were members of the percussion studio. Part of the program was playing in school-run groups including percussion ensemble, and that was where we first started to connect. We were drawn together, sharing musical interests and aspirations. Soon we started finding more reasons to play together, and eventually solidified as a group. Those percussion ensemble roots were key early on, and we spent many hours rehearsing and performing music written by a variety of composers. We started to experiment, writing our own music pulling from this lineage. Our other musical interests also gave us inspiration – math-rock, indie, electronic music, post-rock, etc. As these different worlds blended more and more, we started to solidify our instrumentation and what the project would become.
LETV: The songs on the upcoming record seem to draw influences from a variety of musical sources and there’s an effortless and nuanced quality to them. What can you tell us about your compositional methods? Is songwriting a group activity or is someone in the band more responsible for the writing? Can you take us through a track or two on Separate | Migrate for some insights into your process?
TKQ: Our songwriting process is definitely collaborative. Each tune takes shape in its own way, but the best jumping off point for us is when one member brings in a few ideas to get us started. It might be a framework for the entire song with a few melodic fragments, or one finished verse and a bass line for the next section. From there we approach writing by posing questions and trying to find what musical answers are available. For example, we might ask, “the last time we had this melody the meter was very clear, what can we do to mask it in the return?” We rewrite sections dozens of times, often trying several entirely different ideas. Lately, we have been exploring the method of asking multiple members to write their own version of a section. It is always interesting to hear how we each approach the same part in different ways, and it is a great spark to get us thinking and experimenting.
The opening track of the album, “Chance the Dog (the song)“, pretty clearly demonstrates this process. Sean brought in two musical ideas. One was a driving drum set groove (which starts the tune), and the other was a simple melodic line (heard early on in the vibraphone part). The goal was to have a relentless, almost machine-like rhythm from the onset. The first question we asked was, “how can we maintain the momentum of this groove, but make the meter feel less straight-ahead?” Experimenting led to Taylor’s drum part, which is equally driving but moves between a larger range of sounds and is felt in a different metric grouping. We wanted a way to present a rhythmic hook that kept the same character, but was less active. The floor tom groove, which floats somewhere between the two meters, was the answer. Next, we worked on bringing this rhythmic sense to the melodic line. The marimba and vibraphone each pair with one of the drum sets to create a pre-chorus filled with clashing rhythmic groupings. This shifts in the chorus where the two team up for a unison melodic line. After all of this carefully planned material, we started asking questions about how we could create the exact opposite effect. The middle section was born, which features rhythmically free bell parts, a gently pulsating drone, a brand new key, and a new version of the old floor tom hook split between four drums. There are plenty of steps that happen in between, but this is generally how we work. Someone poses a question, we come up with a variety of possible answers, and then start moving forward from there.
LETV: What can you tell us about the recording of the upcoming record? Was it self-produced? How long did the recording take?
TKQ: The record was self-produced with help from one of our good friends, Austin pianist Charlie Magnone. He teamed up with Sean to serve as the tracking engineers for the project. We recorded at our homes in Austin between October and November, 2016. Editing, mixing, and mastering took place in December and January, with help from a few other personal friends. Mike Caporizzo mixed the record up at Pyramid Sound in Ithaca, NY, and Gabe Millman worked on mastering at Georgetown Studios in Nashville, TN. Both were buddies from our time living in NY, and it was a blast working with them through the whole process.
LETV: The album’s title seems to carry some important and timely social/political implications. Am I reading too far into things, or was this intended? What can you tell us about the title Separate | Migrate and how it frames this collection of songs?
TKQ: This is a really interesting interpretation of the album title, but actually wasn’t what we had in mind…
We mark 2012 as the official start of our group, back when we were all living and performing in Ithaca. When we finished college, we each wanted to continue studying and exploring music, and ended up attending graduate programs at four different institutions. Although we were spread out across the country, we dedicated ourselves to keeping the group alive. This was tricky for a few years. We would come together whenever possible to write and tour, sometimes even for just a few days at a time. But when we did, we were reminded of how important the band was to us. Deciding to commit ourselves fully to the group, we came together and found a new home in Austin, TX. Separate | Migrate is a celebration of this journey. Many of the titles relate to our story; they are named after people, places, and events that were important to us over the last several years.
LETV: Genre-wise, a lot of different things come to mind listening to the upcoming record…Milt Jackson and the Modern Jazz Quartet seems fairly obvious, but it also conjures up the rhythmic preoccupations of early techno–Derrick May’s “Strings of Life” keeps coming to mind for some reason–as well as more ambient-leaning pop like The Album Leaf’s 2016 LP Between Waves. While specific reference points like that are often very subjective, how would you characterize the group’s sonic influences? For instance, is there any desire to re-contextualize rhythmically-based electronic music into a setting that involves acoustic instrumentation or a desire to bring jazz into a more “indie” rock fold?
TKQ: Our roots in percussion ensemble and contemporary music definitely still influence our composition. We find a lot of inspiration in the music of Steve Reich. All four of us have some story about how his work impacted us, and his rhythmic and harmonic sense (especially in pieces like “Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ“) is always in the back of our minds when writing for marimba and vibes. There are plenty of other composers working in contemporary styles who’s sounds and voices inspire us: David Lang, Andy Akiho, Julia Wolfe, Jason Treuting, Elliot Cole, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, and Robert Honstein to name a few of our favorites. On the other side of the coin, we draw a lot of inspiration from math-rock and post-rock groups. The clean guitar licks of bands like TTNG, American Football, and Giraffes? Giraffes! are in our ears a lot when writing mallet instrument riffs and fast lines, and we often think of bands like Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You when filling out some of our more massive sections. As a band of four drummers, we definitely pay close attention to groove, and find inspiration in a variety of styles.
In terms of overarching influence, we strive to move between these sound worlds as fluidly as possible. We don’t necessarily want people to listen to the record and say “ok, track 1 is a rock tune, the next one pulls from minimalism…” Instead, we want these different styles we love to blur together in a way that feels natural. Imagine sitting at a work bench, and having in front of you a wide variety of tools. You might use a handful of them for one project, a few different ones for the next, grabbing whatever works best at that moment. This is how we approach writing music. One tool might be a mathy guitar line, the next a beat that sounds like it’s off a Baths‘ track, and another could be a texture that feels like a John Luther Adams piece. Although these tools each serve an important purpose, the finished product isn’t tied to any one in particular.
LETV: With the new record coming out this April, what’s next for The Kraken Quartet. I know you guys are finishing up some live dates on the East coast this month, but do you have more tour dates planned for this year? Any new recordings coming up?
To celebrate the new album, we will be having a release show here in Austin on May 4. It will be at one of our favorite local spots, Cheer Up Charlies, and some really amazing Austin bands will be performing with us. We are planning shows for the Summer and Fall, and will start releasing more info about those soon. After spending the last few months focusing on the record, we are looking forward to taking time to write new material and work on a few special projects. We feel so excited by the support for Separate | Migrate that we cannot wait to share what’s coming next!