Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Music like Driving in the Rain

May 1, 2007

Kingsbury: Music like Driving in the Rain

(Kingsbury.jpg, centered)

Two months ago, I reviewed Kingsbury’s latest release, The Great Compromise, and I was fortunate enough to interview Bruce Reed who plays guitars, keyboards and sings for the Vero Beach, Florida’s indie-experimental outfit. I couldn’t say enough about this trio, and what I couldn’t say, Reed explained in response to my questions.

When Kingsbury formed, they took the maiden-name of Bruce Reed’s grandmother; at the time, it was just Reed “as a solo project with just me and my four-track recorder,” but he soon added members, eventually reaching a high-water mark as a five-piece band. They played their first show in February of 2004 and released their first E.P., This Place is Coming Down, around the same time.

As with any band, Kingsbury has suffered their share of troubles, weathering what could have been a disastrous split just prior to the release of The Great Compromise; however, Reed comments that “{the split} actually brought T.J., Mark, and I into a greater focus. We knew what we wanted musically on this record, and having only three people making the decisions freed up the limitations we had with our original guitarist and pianist… it cleared the air.” Reed adds that although “Nick Sanders (guitar) and Riley Anderson (piano) are incredible musicians,” they “didn’t see eye to eye on how to best represent a song.”

Kingsbury’s formative influences include a laundry-list of south Florida-based bands: “Refused, Frodus, Inquisition, Avail, The Mercury Program, Hot Water Music, Converge.” But it was primarily their environment that fostered Reed’s involvement in music.

“That town {Vero Beach, Florida} and atmosphere shaped our musical world,” Reed states outright. He also notes that both his older brother and his brother-in-law had been in bands. That personal connection to music and a music scene was, in Reed’s words, “how I first became interested. It started with punk rock, and has since continually progressed into other forms of music.”

What it comes back to, for Reed, is how a small town like Vero Beach could bring in so many influential acts, and how they were willing to avoid the trappings of big-name music fame to play for “a really young, excited crowd,” of teenagers. It was that organic familiarity with music that drew him in; I can completely relate, rating the basement and house-shows I’ve witnessed or played as being some of my most inspiring and influential in-roads to music.

As to their current sound, Reed deferred to my description of Kingsbury’s classification, agreeing that their music:

“…straddles the darker side of indie-rock, infuses the enervated American psychedelic movement with fresh life and dabbles in both classic-rock and classical accompaniment. Bruce Reed seems intent on constructing each song spatially, as though he wants listeners to walk through them, inevitably emerging not completely certain of his or her surroundings,” (Avery).

It is this spatial feel to their music that I wanted more insight into, and from what Reed told me, it is closely related to how Kingsbury envisions the relationship between art and music. To me, this was Kingsbury’s most compelling musical endeavor on The Great Compromise. Reflecting on my inquiries into this, Reed comments on his favorite song from the new album, “The City and The Sea,” saying, “We approached that song by building all the musical parts based on the first melody, and it moves completely linearly, like a sonata. The introduction and conclusion are the same melody in a different key, and we used certain themes that show up throughout the song.” Throughout The Great Compromise, Reed builds the music around central themes “like rhythm, harmony and melody.” Explaining this further, he explained that “you take minimal musical ideas and build with or around them. Sometimes you make something incredibly simple, and other times it turns out much more complicated.” That balance of simplicity and complication produces, as I listen, a feeling of tension, and a sense of spatial existence within not just the songs, but the album as a whole. Kingsbury is careful, though, to maintain this delicate balance; “It’s important,” Reed related, “to recognize when to add and take away elements of a song. This gives music space, room to breathe, and attracts a listener to different elements.” I find this philosophy of music-construction, this attention to spatial-detail within music to be lacking today; I’m glad some bands still take the construction of their music so seriously.

Another of Reed’s comments that floored me was in response to my request to describe what he “sees” when he hears, plays, and writes Kingsbury’s music. “I feel what we are doing more than I ‘see’ it. It’s been described by other people as the feeling you get when you’re driving in the rain, or lying awake when you should be sleeping.” That kind of a visceral connection to music must, it seemed to me, comes in part from their early relationship to music, to local shows where community and connection were a higher premium than panache and glam. “It’s a surreal place,” Reed relates, concerning how he connects to the music while he’s playing, “That’s where I like to be when we play or write.” I asked Reed to further clarify his thoughts on the spatial aspects of Kingsbury’s music. Beneath this visually encompassing, experiential relationship to music, their arrangements are grounded in a top-down mode of musical thought. “The song itself always dictates the way we approach the arrangement,” Reed notes. “We typically start off with too much arrangement and start peeling layers away.” As you listen to The Great Compromise, you get the feeling that the excesses have been peeled away; their form of minimalism, unlike many “minimalist” rock bands, breathes of phantom layers whose traces remain in melodies and fleeting themes, yet the musical remnants are a richness: a condensation rather than a void. “At the core,” though, Reed explained, “our songs are still just rock/pop songs. They just have a certain mood.” Peeling those layers away is what allows Kingsbury’s mood to swell over the listener; it is what makes their form of minimalism work.

Kingsbury seamlessly straddles the line between indie-rock and artistic expression, and this is due, in part, to their commitment to fusing music and art. “To me,” Reed comments, “there isn’t a line between music and artistic expression, and in fact they are the same thing. Kingsbury is an artistic expression, and I’m a musician.” But beyond their ideals, these guys are grounded in making music that matters. “Music is becoming so common, cheap, and easy to make that anybody can do it, so people are over-saturated.” When I asked of his thoughts on the internet’s particular influence on music today, Reed replies that “the proliferation of music is a great thing, but it does degrade its importance to people.” Considering music as art in a technological age, I see where he’s coming from; it’s difficult to make a significant album in a time of overwhelming sameness and over-stimulation. Reed expresses his thoughts on walking this line, saying that in order to stay true to Kingsbury’s artistic ideals in an uber-commercialized, pop-culture, “we just can’t do anything that makes us feel uncomfortable in our own skins… I want our music to be readily available to everyone without compromising our integrity.” Summarizing this thought, Reed says straight-up: “we just want to make records that we think are great.”

In a way, any artist who wants to stay true to his or her ideals must become something of an island in the commercial sea. Isolation and focus are aspects of introspection our society severely downplays, if it doesn’t write-off outright. I think Kingsbury’s search for this balance is simultaneously something of a novelty and a lesson to bands seeking to fuse art and music while presenting their work to a commercialized populace. I like what Tom Gable, the lyrical genius behind Against Me!, has to say about this: “I’m an anarchist musician living and writing within a capitalist country.” While Gable was writing about his balance of social ideology with pop-culture, I think that same diamond of truth shines through Bruce Reed’s thoughts on art as music in our cultural climate. Objectivity requires distance: a consequential disconnect that is as generative as it is elusive.

My final questions for Reed have to do with Kingsbury’s relationship to their audience. When I ask who their listeners are, Reed replies honestly: “We haven’t figured that out yet.” Kingsbury isn’t concerned with marketing to a particular audience; they’re about making good music. “I hope it blows their minds,” Reed states, “because we worked hard on it.” Rather than screening for an audience or looking to fill a niche, Kingsbury banks on their inward-turned crafting and honing of sound to produce music which engages people who are looking for something more than mere surface. I, for one, feel this philosophy is in line with their general thoughts on music creation and dissemination, and while it’s a way of seeing music that not many are accustomed to, it is certainly one worth pondering.

I have nothing but many thanks for Bruce Reed and Kingsbury for the chance to pick their brains and hear their thoughts on art and music. If you would like to check out their songs or catch a live show, visit Kingsbury’s Myspace site for information.

Timothy C. Avery

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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