The Kelps show a flair for the theatrical on stage and on their latest album, Head Like a Mouse
If you have ever watched or listened to The Kelps and thought they were unlike any other band you have seen or heard before, then the band has succeeded in being exactly the kind of act lead vocalist/guitarist Cory Barringer wants it to be.
Just over two weeks ago, the Lincoln, Calif.-based band released their debut album, Head Like a Mouse, on Soundcloud, a site that allows sound-sharing. The band received so much positive feedback on the album after streaming it online for just a few days, they made it available for free download over a three-day period in early September, during which hungry listeners snatched up almost 400 free copies.
The album, which has since returned to stream-only status, was recorded within a six- to seven-month frame at Shattered Records in Citrus Heights by producer Jack O’Donnell. The Kelps are hoping for an official album release around Oct. 30, 2011.
Meanwhile the band has been nominated for a Sammie award for the second year in a row, this time as best rock band.
The Kelps is Barringer, Cameron Betts and Tony Reyes, all a mere 19 to 21 years old. Online they have classified themselves as alternative, indie rock, southern Goth and blues punk. This was really just for the sake of providing information, Barringer explained, as the band doesn’t care much for labeling their sound.
“We should sound like The Kelps,” Barringer said.
Labeling can put a band at a disadvantage, particularly being lumped into the blues genre, he said, because comparisons are quickly drawn to traditional blues bands.
“I have been pulled aside by countless old men who have informed me that we are not a blues band.”
Some of their musical influences are more evident than others: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Bright Eyes, David Byrne, Dr. Dog and Roger Waters.
If there is a genre the band is striving to fit into, it is something completely new and different from anything that has already been put out there by other musicians.
“Even if [listeners are] freaked out, I want to have an effect, whatever that effect might be,” Barringer said.
By freaked out, Barringer is referring to the sometimes taken-aback looks he sees on the faces of an audience during one of their live shows, a reaction he associates with seeing something new or different. “And to me, that’s the whole point of creating anything is just bringing something new into the world,” he said. “Even if they hate it, it’s new.”
What immediately stands out about this band is its distinctly eerie lyrics and fiery vocals. Within the nine sonically crisp tracks of Head Like a Mouse, some entwined with poetry, Barringer and Betts cogently howl tales of getting locked up and tainting the innocent over gnashing guitar riffs. It is cryptic rock ‘n’ roll bearing dark elements comparable to the Murder City Devils or The Misfits. Not enough bands rock this hard.
Watching The Kelps live, you’ll notice the crazed facial expressions, the finger twitching, hands grabbing for the sky. A dramatic performance. This is not a coincidence. Prior to starting The Kelps officially in the summer of 2009, the three were in theater together at school back in Sheridan, Calif., where they first discovered that they clicked creatively.
After watching so many live shows, Barringer concluded that although there is a lot of talent out there musically, live performances are lacking energy these days.
“I quickly realized that if I was going to do anything up there, it would have to be something that people would want to talk about. Something more. Give them their money’s worth, don’t just stand there and play,” Barringer explained.
While they are unmistakably dark in both their songwriting and performance, in person these guys are anything but anguished or depressing, which Submerge quickly realized during an interview outside the Naked Coffee Lounge with Barringer and Reyes. The following is an excerpt of the conversation.
My observation is that your lyrics tend to be pretty dark. Is this reflective of your guys’ personalities at all?
Tony Reyes: Nope! I wouldn’t say so.
Cory Barringer: I’d say that it’s reflective of a part of us all if that doesn’t sound too hokey. What it is is just everyone has a bit of that dark side and we’re fools to deny it. I consider myself an overall fairly happy person. But there is that dark side and for me it’s the music that can kind of exorcise the demons, especially in the performance, the live performance. That’s how I can get it all out of my head for a while at least, and then it crawls back. Yeah, I’d say that one of the reasons that the lyrics tend to sway to the dark side–wow, that sounds like Star Wars, doesn’t it–is just I find that the most emotive ways of writing are often the sad, twisted things. Those come easier to me. It’s not like I force either side of it, I have written happy songs before. They weren’t very good but I’ve written them. To me it’s the idea of no matter what I do, I try to be sincere so whatever comes out comes out.
And I imagine that this kind of allows you guys to put your theatric experience into use.
CB: It definitely does, yeah.
TR: As far as performance goes, I’ve always felt like I’ve never had a choice. Because like Cory was saying earlier I did spend a lot of time in theater. And I don’t want to say I really know anything about drums, but there was a point where I was uncomfortable playing on a drum kit and [then] there was a moment in time I became comfortable. And after that point I felt like I didn’t have a choice about how I acted back there. And I didn’t realize I was putting on a show until someone said, “Dude, your face is crazy when you’re back there screaming.”
How or why did you recruit Reggie Ginn [for “Blood Poem” on Head Like a Mouse]?
CB: It was partly just because we knew we needed a woman’s voice. We also liked her a great deal. We had done a bunch of stuff with her. It all just kind of worked out perfect, because she’s also recording her album at Shattered Records with Jack so she was already kind of in and out of there. And I kind of liked the idea of having the poem set behind a piano piece and none of us can really play the piano quite so well. I really wrote it on the guitar but with the piano in mind. And I also just really liked her voice.
We had no idea if she could do it because if you’ve heard it there are different portions. There is the beginning where she is doing the poem but then it gets darker and darker and she’s just screaming and we had no idea if she could scream, because she has a great voice, a great, powerful voice, but it’s a different beast altogether when you’re giving an emotive performance of screaming and being dragged away. She nailed it.
And it was just so cool to watch someone so out of their element.
During your June show earlier this year at the Naked Lounge you had introduced “Grimoire” as a bit of an anthem “for everyone different like us.” I don’t know if you remember saying that…
CB: Yeah, I did say that.
So, I wanted to ask you…
TR: Cory, did you just get quoted?
CB: Yeah, I did. I didn’t think anyone was listening. It’s not technically about that but that’s the neat thing about our songs because we all kind of have different interpretations of our own stuff. And even though there’s a different story that goes along with that song that nobody will ever get because the lyrics are just that cryptic, we wrote them that way, it was intentional, so no one knows what they’re about. But I kind of took it as what could be an anthem for being different. Again, I’ll go back to when we started as a band, I wanted to be a band for other people like me. And by that I mean the band nerds, the theater geeks, the kind of social outcasts that kind of feel they don’t really belong with a lot of people.