Kithkin: The next step

by Brent Cole

Seattle’s Kithkin finds itself in transition this year. Four years after the quartet formed as young college students, the self professed “Tree Punks” now have jobs and as they move into the next phase of their collective lives, they are taking the band with them.

Initially started in 2011, Kithkin, which includes Alexander Barr (guitar, drums, chants), Bob Martin (keys, Theremin, drums, chants), Ian McCutcheon (vocals, drums), and Kelton Sears (vocals, bass, drums) quickly, won over local music fans after their resounding performance at Sound Off. The band, which where deeply inspired by the book Ishmael, began as a way for the members to fight against the world collapsing around them as well as dramatic changes in their personal lives from a recent and unexpected parental divorce to one of the members losing his sister to cancer. In the process, Kithkin created a world utilizing different drum rhythms as a way to bring the listener into their forest world. At first blush, the concept could appear overblown to the jaded, but for Kithkin and their fans, the music and the vision were very real and very necessary.

Last year, Kithkin released Rituals, Trances and Ecstasies for Humans in Face of The Collapse, the culmination of their vision, on Pesanta Urfolk records. An album full of chaotic rhythms, tribal sounds as well as emo, it was a release that not only won over critics, but showed those in the music community that unique sounds and dynamics are possible – you can create something that is your own if you dare to dig deep enough.

After the release (which included downloads and CDs, but not vinyl as it was held up by the label), the band performed with Washington Ensemble Theater. The performance was extravagant in its scope – interactive, and based on a myth from one of their songs, it was held under a bridge in an old growth forest in West Seattle. The grand event went so far as having their tickets made of bark and only available at select spots around town.

After the event, Kithkin realized it was the closing of a chapter. Now out of college and in “the real world,” the band was growing up and ready to take their sound and creation in a different direction. They’d still be Kithkin, and have the same influences, same pressures, same views, but they were no longer naive college students, instead working guys with new dynamics and understanding of life. “We did (the event) and decided they were done with Kithkin 1.0,” bass player Kelton Sears stated.

It was time for a change, but how to change wasn’t clear. Which leads us to the present – Kithkin 2.0, still in the works, but progressing in a sonically beautiful way, having primarily been in writing mode for the last nine months. A key element to Kithkin 2.0 has been the replacing of Sear’s tom and snare drum with a MPC (a sampler that has been instrumental in hip hop and dance for years).

“I can literally just upload me going “bum bum chh bum chish!” with my mouth from my iPhone and play it live. Some of our new songs are me just playing effected samples of myself breathing heavily, or the sound of a heartbeat. Some of it is me just shouting “eh!” in a bunch of different pitches. Some of it is the sound of a bird cawing layered with a cannon and a gun shot. A lot of it is weird stuff I’ve ripped off of cassette tapes I find in bargain bins. I like how abstract and free you can get with a sampler,” Sears said.

While the band has changed and grown up, their intense connection to regionalism has not diminished. “I’m just really inspired by the idea of ‘place.’ I really look up to Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie and bands like Wolves in the Throne Room who try to wrestle with what it means to be alive in the Northwest, and what it means to be one small part of a real, living, enormous ecosystem,” Sears said, adding “I think a lot of people in America feel rootless in 2015—we don’t have a distinct culture to be proud of because it’s all glommed into this homogenous blob that looks the same wherever you go. But I really believe that underneath this gross, destructive, homogenized American culture, there are lessons and ideas and concepts and spirits that are really unique to these regions that have been buried, and Kithkin is partially about that excavation.”

While the members of Kithkin originally hail from parts around the US – Seattle, New York, Virginia and Arizona, they’ve immersed themselves in the concept of Cascadia – our region that is uniquely Pacific Northwest – in sound, style, dynamic and life. And that doesn’t just come through in their music – their music is written with it in mind.

“Cascadia, to me, isn’t about seceding from the US or something—it’s more of a mind frame. It’s like a lens you can apply to things. “I’m from Cascadia, what does that mean? What does Cascadia look like? What could it look like?” Right now, Seattle looks like this rapidly developing tech center in the middle of a bunch of trees and mountains, so I want to make music that sounds like that.”

Kithkin will be taking 2.0 on the road in May, hitting the West Coast with new-ish songs in tow. “On tour we are excited to test out a lot of the new material I was talking about – we are a very ‘live’ band. I know lots of artists think of the recording as the truest version of a song, and for some bands that makes a lot of sense, but Kithkin has always been about playing live shows and letting the songs possess you until they finally manifest in their full form,” Sears stated.

What that final form will be, no one knows at this point as playing these songs live will be instrumental in the song’s form. “It’s this constant battle between chaos and form,” Sears said. “I’m excited to figure out that balance for these new songs out on tour and let them sort of reveal themselves to us.”

Published in the May 2015 issue of What’s Up! Magazine