Orchestral Coadunation Generators
People deal with heartache and breakups in their own particular ways; some cry, some drink, and some hit the dancefloor for a little hip action. Kabiria, however, insists you do it all, and they’ve got the music to make it happen.
When a blazing comet from British Columbia (Chris) collided with a runaway asteroid from Columbus, Ohio (Gretchen), Kabiria was born. Their tunes, forged in the celestial dust, and melodious radiation of Los Angeles are as delicious as they are infectious. Skip the sample platter, and dig in.
Your music is like a recipe with many different ingredients, it must take lots of practice and skill to keep each flavor from overwhelming the others.
Chris: I’m a producer and mix engineer by trade, and I tend to work mainly with groups or individuals whose songs I feel I can relate to. I like to get inside the music and assist the artists’ vision in coming to life. I work with many different types of genres, sometimes jumping between them daily, and have learned a lot about taking stand out elements from one style and applying it to the other. For example, understanding how to create and execute an exciting EDM kick, but applying that technique in a country song to ramp up the energy.
We live in a world where so many of us have shuffle on our Spotify or Google Play Music, so to me it only seems natural to merge all of these styles I hear every day.
As far as Kabiria is concerned, it was our goal to create music that was a fusion of things that interested us. Styles that may not have come together in the past. Coming from a hip hop and an alt rock background, I have a tendency to thicken up tracks to the point that it feels like a dump truck hitting you in the ear. Kabiria has been a great challenge in learning to leave some space for each sound, yet keep me interested with little layers that poke out with each listen.
When the two of you decided to work together, did either of you have any idea what it was you wanted to do?
Gretchen: When we first met, we had only been out of our previous bands for six months or so. We were both coming from moderately successful alt rock acts, but as the 00s closed and indie garage rock gave way to synthpop we felt ourselves changing our outlook on how we wanted to express ourselves. We were both into pop music, but never were able to explore it with our ex-bands. I was diving into Lana Del Rey, while Chris was all about Phantogram, and we both enjoyed the newly minted Chvrches. We also both enjoyed 80s electrofunk, 90s west coast hip hop, and the tight songwriting of the last thirty years of pop music.
It took the better part of eighteen months of experimentation to actually figure out how best to represent these styles within a cohesive and palatable song format. The swagger of the g-funk, the layers of the synth keys, and the snap of the drums. Lately we’ve been focusing on bringing some of our new wave/new romantics influence with our track “Crying For You”.
What was dissatisfying for you in your previous bands?
Gretchen: In a band setting with 5 members, it can be incredibly challenging in getting things done when you try to let everyone have equal input. There are so many different opinions on how things should be done and when they should be done. Often there is no clear path on the correct steps to take, and this can leave the band deadlocked in indecision about how to move forward.
For example, we would be rehearsing at our space and come up with a great idea for a track. It would unfold all very organically as we laid the song out, and it felt great. We walked away feeling excited for the songs and were 100% sold on completing it. However, the next day someone would start questioning the very things we loved about the track, which then led to each member starting to pick it apart. Eventually, the song we were previously sold on would be put on hold and ultimately fizzled out.
In Kabiria, the sound is always evolving so we do take the time to question our decisions, but thankfully we have learned to push through our nit-picking and get the job done.
Chris: I agree with Gretchen. However, instead of too many cooks in the kitchen, I came from a band that was simply too little action. We were signed to a management and record deal, yet my band mates had little drive to improve themselves and their musical abilities. I found myself doing most of the work and investment, which is great if you are a solo artist backed by hired musicians, but I enjoy the collaboration process.
With Gretchen, I feel we are both excited for Kabiria. We enjoy exploring different styles and constantly push each other to better our craft.
"Crying for You": The sad, break-up song, with a happy, hand-clapping, hip-swinging melody!
Chris: I absolutely love the romanticized idea of the 1950s teenager. It was the start of the care-free youth, where teenagers became an actual market and a culture was created for them. They weren’t trying to be adults, they wore more provocative clothes, had their own slang, and they loved music that their parents feared. So many of those songs have that great quality of innocence - of exploring something new. Songs like Santos and Johnny’s “Sleepwalker” or the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” just tug at the heartstrings melodically like very few other songs do. And the sound of the music is so gritty and lofi, adding that real depth and character we love so much. “Be My Baby” really set the tone for the foundation of “Crying for You”.
Whilst capturing the “making out at the drive-in” feel with “Crying For You”, I wanted to keep with our signature “collage of genres” and infuse it with an 80s vibe that reflected that 50s sound. I think that’s where I looked at a New Wave/New Romantics band called Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark. I feel many of their songs captured that 50s teenage innocence. Maybe it’s because OMD started at another point of inception, as they were one of the first bands to use the new technology of synthesizers so predominantly in their music. Songs like “Telegraph” and “Dreaming” really helped to shape the digital part of “Crying for You”: we borrowed ideas like the arps and pads, and of course the CR-78 drum machine.
Finally, perhaps it’s all that exposure from growing up on great 90s music whose lyrics were always so sad but music was upbeat. A band like Garbage comes to mind. Shirley Mansons’ lyrics are usually very dark, but Butch Vig created a good contrast with exciting and driving rhythms.
Speaking of "Crying for You", whose idea was it for that video? You've managed funny, sad, and cute all rolled into one.
Gretchen: That was my idea!
To create our little collage animations, I sketch out some rough ideas in a notebook first, then figure out how to photograph and animate them with Photoshop and finish them in After Effects. With “Crying For You”, I didn't want to do anything too serious. I just figured if I had an ugly cry it would express the emotion of the song while remaining playful.
Keeping with the teenage hyper sense of emotions, I knew I wanted more than just a few tears. The screen had to completely fill up, and I love how it ends up feeling like a fish bowl. Which is why I added the fish (wink).
On the right hand of the screen is a nod to the song’s influences… The geometric shapes represent the 80s new wave, and the 50s are shown by Chris’ static on the vintage television.
What have you been up to lately, anything planned for the near future at all?
Chris: We’ve been working with a couple collaborators on some tracks that are quite different to what we normally release. We had a great experience this past spring working with a very talented artist named Simon Chartier AKA Noisepop from Montreal Canada. Simon completed the upbeat future pop track and sent us the rough demo. Because of the digital/plastic feel of the music, we experimented a lot with Autotune (which we have stayed far away from in the past) when writing and recording the vocals. We cranked up the effect and came out with a very robotic sound which we feel perfectly suited the track.
Gretchen: We all thought an Asian rapper would be great during the bridge, and luckily we were able to grab Sean Rhee AKA Osean here in LA to lay down a quick 8 bars before heading off to compete in “Show Me The Money 6” in Korea. We’re still not 100% sure what he’s saying but it sounds great (laughter). Chris mixed it at the Cycadelic Records studio in Universal City and it was released in late May. The result is a great future pop song that sounds like shopping at a Japanese grocery store.
Currently we are in the midst of finishing a cover of a great artist on the DFA label and ramping up for a mid-July release of a brand new Kabiria track which takes us out into deeper creative waters. It’s an epic song with three pieces within itself, and was heavily influenced by Pink Floyd, Massive Attack, and Portishead. We even called in one of Chris’ old bandmates to play guitar on it. We are finishing up our first music video for the piece which will be a combination of our signature looped animation, and some collaged video and film. Very excited for this, and interested to see how our fans react to this brief departure from our more pop songs.
Chris: From there we have a hard drive full of songs that we are looking to finish up and release by the end of the year. Fans have been asking us to play across the States and Europe, so perhaps that will also come to fruition this fall/winter.
Stream Kabiria at SoundCloud, Apple Music, or Spotify. For updates, follow their exploits at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.