Friday, October 24, 2014

A Simpler Sugar - Karate Bikini

St. Louis' own Karate Bikini has just released their second full-length album, A Simpler Sugar, which is currently number two on the KDHX charts. I got to talk to frontman Tim McAvin about the band and the new album. The Karate Bikini's CD Release Show is at Off Broadway on November 15th.

AF: It’s been two years since “Sauce of the Apple Horse.” So what’s new? Any major changes?

Tim McAvin: A lot has changed. The newest thing being A Simpler Sugar. We're all really excited about it. There's also our upcoming show at Off Broadway, Nov 15th. Woo hoo!!. Letter to Memphis and Soma Jet Set will be playing with us. Musically there have been some changes as well. A big change is we added Adam Frick on French horn. He's been a great addition to our sound. Besides the coolness of it being a French Horn, and the instruments beautiful tone, having two horns allows us to get into a different way of thinking about arrangements. Adam and Michelle are really good at coming up with parts. 

I also took over bass duties when Mike Martin was taking a break for school. I love it! I feel like playing bass has really done great things for my personal musicianship. I also like the position of singer and bass player. Strategically, It gives me a lot of control over focusing the melodies and harmonies. 

Another pretty big change is that we've been introducing a lot of slower tempo acoustic songs. I've always loved all kinds of music including folk and country and jazz, but I didn't bring them to Karate Bikini until relatively recently. Not sure why. I just didn't. I'm glad I am now. We're having a great time working on them and they give our shows way more dynamics. 

AF: What were the biggest influences on this album?

TM: I think the title of the album, A Simpler Sugar, sort of gets at that. I think in general this album is more accessible than the last. We tried to focus on simplifying some things and organizing things better. One of the things about Karate Bikini is that there is no shortage of ideas, and we can all play our instruments pretty well. But sometimes that meant everybody wailing and every idea coming at you all at the same time. We're getting better at keeping that down, picking our spots, and highlighting our better ideas. I think that is the biggest influence on this album. 

AF: Karate Bikini has released four music videos in the past year, and I’ve heard there are more on the way. What’s that experience been like?

TM: Making the videos is fun. For me, there's a bit of surrender involved. For our video Pen A Letter, I was told to get right up in the camera and sing the song. I felt intimidated by that, but just told myself to surrender and do it. Just do it. There are a bunch of different ideas for videos coming up. It's fun. I'm looking forward to that. We don't have lots of money, so we're doing most things sort of on the cheap, and it's a blast. It's also another way for folks to hear the songs. 

AF: This is the third Karate Bikini release and the first one with no Asian girl on the cover. What's up with that?

TM: Yeah... that... Well, we had some Asian Girl ideas and just decided to do something different. There's something campy about Karate Bikini, and that's (at least in my head) sort of what the Asian girl was about for me. But the truth is, our music is becoming less and less campy, so the pictures drawn by my kids kind of get at the idea of simplicity, and they look good, so we went with it. 

AF: So what's next for the band?

TM: A 16 track CD, more videos and shows. There are some bands in town I'd like to play with,  and there are a few new places I'd like to play. One thing I would like to see happen for us this coming summer is to get out of town a little. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Beck, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger @ The Pageant

Photo courtesy of John Ottenlips
After a six year album gap, Beck is on tour again. I was fortunate enough to experience the show at The Pageant in St. Louis this past wednesday.

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is the creative outlet of Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl. I felt that the opening band sounded a lot like their name. Their songs were psychedelic and heavy, mystical and fierce. Lennon was an unexpectedly good soloist.

Beck and his six-piece band opened with "Devil's Haircut," dancing and smiling around the stage like a little kid who gets to play rockstar. They toured the entire Beck catalog with a stunning twenty-four song set.

It was obvious that the entire band was having even more fun than the audience. I think that's one of the key elements of a great concert. Playing the harmonica on "One Foot in the Grave" to the beat of the audience clapping is another one. And "E-Pro," which had the pit thrashing and pumping their arms, ended with the band members murdering each other while Beck put up crime scene tape across the stage.

The defining characteristic of a Beck concert is the way the genre seems to change seamlessly. The show went from hip hop ("Novacane") to folk ("One Foot in the Grave,") dance ("New Pollution,") country ("Blue Moon,") psychedelic ("Chemtrails,") punk ("Minus,") and even weird soul ("Debra.") Beck shows that good song-writing transcends genre.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

WHY? @ The Demo

Phone-quality photo courtesy of Stefanie Cook
Three friends and I drove four hours from Iowa City to spend one night in the St. Louis area and see the band WHY?. Was it ridiculous? Illogical? Awesome? Yes to all.

Google maps guided us from my home in St. Charles to the Grove neighborhood downtown. The show was at The Demo, a small club that usually hosts local shows. On this night, it was packed with music fans, approximately half of whom had septum piercings. The opener was a well-known local act called Bo and the Locomotive. They were missing something like 40% of their band. On this night, the group consisted of two guitars, bass, and vocals. The guitar-fest made their songs sound similar, but they had promise. I'd like to see them as a full band.

WHY? is currently a six member group. A rhodes piano, bass, glockenspiel, sometimes guitar, and two drummers with various percussion instruments including xylophone. Then there's Jonathan "Yoni" Wolf, the rapper at the core of the group. On stage, the combination of his curly hair and mustache empowers a weird and alluring swagger. His lyrics are simultaneously personal (in one of the many places you're not, I am / hiding from my friends in the bathroom at Thrift Town to write this tune down) and abstract (good god, what the hell, what the fuck / a white dove on the hood of a two-ton truck.) While the band provides angelic background vocals, everything unifies into a groovy, rhythmic chaos.

The show was strange and danceable. Despite having to pause for a technical problem half-way through the set, the audience did not waver and even encouraged a brief encore. Anyone willing to stick around had the opportunity to meet the band members hanging out in the venue and working the merch table. They were all friendly and grateful for the praise.

Here's their music video for "Strawberries."