Thursday, February 5, 2015

Interview with James Tom of Krakatau

I pick up every record that Trouble in Mind puts out. It's just something that I do. Wanna know why? It's because Bill & Lisa Roe only put out slam dunks! Krakatau's Water Near a Bridge from last year falls into this category.

Krakatau is a three-piece (Dylan Lieberman, Danny Smith, & James Tom) Australian band in the vein of Popol Vuh or even Chicago's own Bitchin' Bajas- sort of psychedelic slow burn, sometimes as reminiscent of a transposed Gregorian chant as rock music. They're about to come to the United States to play Austin Psych Fest at the beginning of May and are priming the release of two separate records that they're hoping to finish by the end of that month (they detail these below).

This sportsfan cannot wait!

Jordan Reyes: You guys just released your debut LP on Trouble in Mind, US label, last year. I'm curious since you're from Australia - how did you guys get in touch with Bill and Lisa? Did you know each other (or know of each other) before?

James Tom: I was talking to my friend James Vinchi who plays drums in Total Control and at the time I lived with his girlfriend in a share house. Asked what he thought about Trouble In Min as a label: turned out he personally knew Bill and Lisa and sent our album to them. Literally an hour later they contacted me offering to put it out.

JR: That record "Water Near A Bridge" is made of three longer pieces. How much of those pieces is pre-written and how much is improvised?

JT: The first and last of the tracks are semi improvised pieces, we would perform these and at a glance or musical signifier, change to the next section within the piece. So lots of room for improvising with each of our individual parts within the pieces. The second piece on the album ‘All Water Near a  Bridge’ is  a posthumous track created in the studio with organ tape loops made from Riddells Creek, it sort of tied into a bigger idea I had for the record and I liked the duality of meaning in the title. The album signifies the end of an era in someway; our bass player was moving to Canada on exchange for a year, we were in the early stages of playing more complicated progressive material but wanted to catch what we had been up till this point. ‘Water Near a Bridge’ is a retrospective record even at the time of recording.

JR: Water as an element or theme appears in many of your song/movement titles for "Water Near A Bridge" like "Riddells Creek" and "Leviathan Theme." Is this a conscious decision? Was the idea of water important in the construction of the album?

JT:  The title ties mainly into what I talk about in the above paragraph; A metaphorical water (the band changing) passing under the bridge yet it hasn’t quite. Kind of playing with the ‘water under the bridge’ idiom. As for ‘Riddells Creek’ that’s the geographic location of where we recorded that tune and wrote the piece with that location in mind. The feeling of the record to me is a dark naturalism; water may be s key part of this feeling though!

JR: Similarly, the name Krakatau is the same as Krakatoa, a massive volcanic island. Seems like the theme of uncontrollable nature is important to you guys. Do you find that you guys function at all as conduits of the uncontrollable or perhaps the unfathomable?

JT: When we started we were 100% about improvisation (or semi-improvisation) it has always allowed an important performance aspect congruous to our sound and allowed us to become better musicians over a shorter period of time. So I guess in that sense there was a tie in to our name; unstable, improvisational etc. But melodic change and pattern has always been paramount to how I write songs with Krakatau. We don’t really rely on effects at all these days (though still use sparingly). I think we’ve progressed a lot since 2012 & Water Near a Bridge.

JR: One of the bands that comes to mind when I think of you all is Popol Vuh, who did a lot of Werner Herzog's movies. I can't help but think of your music as functioning in the realm of film. Do you guys have any interest in the film medium? Would you ever consider scoring film?

JT: We all love Popol Vuh and have for a long time; ‘In den Gärten Pharaos’ and ‘Hosianna Mantra’ are seminal records in my opinion. I actually studied film and have scored music for all of the shorts I’ve made. The crossover to me feels really natural and I would love the opportunity to do more film scoring. Also I should mention Goblin are another huge influence for Krakatau. 

JR: I saw on your facebook page you're trying to finish two records before May. Are these LP length records? Seems like a lot to do!

JT: Well yes, our last record was recorded in 2012 so we've pretty much been working on new material since. The first record we finish will be a 12” ‘single’ but I use this term lightly as both songs clock in around 10 minutes. This will also include possibly our most accessible tune to date, a slow synth driven jazz-funk slow burner. So I’m interested in how people respond.

JT: The other record contains material that we've literally been work shopping for years. It’s our most complex, arranged and progressive work to date. It has two almost side long tracks (one with vocals even!) and a third track that we’re not sure if it will fit on. This one will be released probably late 2015/early 2016 where the 12” will probably be out in a few months.

JR: How's the writing/recording process going? Where are you guys?

JT: As it stands we still need to record half the album so each weekend we have two days of rehearsal where we painstakingly go over different sections fine tuning rhythmic and melodic relationships between each of the parts in the song. It is close to being recorded.
JR: You guys are coming to the US to play for Austin Psych Fest. Are you going to tour at all around this appearance?

JT: Pending Visa approval yes, there will be a tour!

JR: Are there any artists you particularly want to see at APF?

JT: Fuzz and one or two others. Most of my favourite contemporary music these days is outside of the rock sphere. Sometimes I wish there were more artists blurring that divide between rock and electronic (techno, house, experimental).

JR: What all is in the future for Krakatau?

JT: These two records I’ve mentioned, a music video that ties in with the 12” single, a US tour and probably late 2015/early 2016 a third full length album. 

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