Kyp Malone’s anticipated solo project Rain Machine is more experimental than anything his band TV on the Radio have put out. It’s an album that is personal and raw; it’s Malone at his most exposed. Gone is the sonic fuzz, leaving space for more melodic instrumentation and allowing more focus on his lyrical content. Lush, Astral Weeks-eqsue orchestration, stripped-down, bluesy acoustic guitar/banjo strums, tribal drum beats, and soulful gospel breakdowns are all tied together by Malone’s soulful croak. After catching his tour kick-off at Bell House earlier this week, we got together with Malone to learn a little more about the project.
Flavorpill: What was the most invigorating part about the process of recording Rain Machine?
Kyp Malone: Probably just having access to the studio and people with the skills. The chance to be in a studio with a producer who is there to facilitate and help get what I need to create my album makes a big difference. It’s such an inspiring environment to be in.
FP: What would you say was the hardest song to get right in the studio?
KM: Well there wasn’t really much time while recording to second-guess anything. There were some clearly suck it up moments in the process of mixing and thinking about how it should sound. “Smiling Black Faces” [download MP3] was a big problem because we became frustrated at points in the mixing process. The producer wanted to fix what was wrong with it musically; the melody is kind of lopsided. It went through a lot of different mixes and was actually one of the last songs to get finished. By the end of it, I just scrapped all the mixes and went back to how the song sounded at the beginning. That is pretty much how it sounds on the record.
FP: Did you play all of the instruments on the record?
KM: Yeah, besides one high hat at the end of “Hold You Holy.” I played all of the other instruments. My friends Heidi and Caroline played and sang back up on some tracks.
FP: How did it feel to record songs that you wrote almost a decade ago?
KM: Well because they were older songs that I wrote doesn’t mean that they haven’t been performed over the years. I have been performing them live for sometime now. They just seem to change over time. Rhythm speeds and melodic changes all seem to progress the more I play the songs. The versions that are on the record right now are just contemporary versions. They’re not static they are going to change again if I keep playing them. They are in the process of changing right now so that they can be played live with a band.
FP: You recorded a part of this album in Berkeley. Was there a distinctive sound that you feel was created from recording in California?
KM: I am extremely comfortable with the Bay Area culture. I like the pace of things. I like the politics (relatively speaking) of that part of the world. I feel that the music is only informed by the space within a few songs. Very specifically it is prevalent on one track called “Driftwood Heart,” which has field recordings in it. The opening sequence is a shruti box and guitar played through a tunnel in Golden Gate Park. There is another recording of the Pacific Ocean lapping against the walls of a cave off the coast of San Francisco. They are two places I spent a lot of time when I lived out there.
So there was some regionalism specific to the Bay Area, but at the same time, I feel like the music is available to anyone so they can find a quiet place in themselves to listen and hear it. Music actually exists around us at all times. I didn’t have to go to California to record this album, but I was glad to have the opportunity to go back there. I was glad to have the change in the environment.
FP: In “Give Blood” [download MP3] you seem to be taking a jab at the music business. Would you be able to elaborate more on what this song is about?
KM: The book I was reading at the time was called Abraham’s Curse, Roots of Violence in Judaism by Bruce Chilton. In the book, he talked about the story of Abraham being asked by his God to sacrifice his son. His son, it became known, was given as a gift by that same God to Abraham. Abraham had to take the thing he valued the most and offer it to God as a blood sacrifice to prove his loyalty, devotion, and blind following. In the Bible story God stops Abraham from the sacrifice, but he only does that once he is convinced that Abraham was going to go through with it.
In a lot of other texts there are alternate versions of the story where he actually does sacrifice his son. It is a story that is pretty central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It offers a foreshadowing of divine sacrifice. It shows a mindset and the broader culture of the three big ones in faith and religion, and how they direct a lot of what is going on in the world today.
So I was thinking about that, and I was also thinking about why people feel like they need that love of religion in their life, and how that has been championed by the media into the celebrity culture. You see people lionized by the media and by the fans. It’s almost like they build them up so they can delight in their falling down, at least sometimes. There is a very familiar arc within that that seems to happen over and over again. There is something really interesting about that, but it’s not like I am writing a thesis on it, I am just writing a pop song about it. You know?
FP: On Rain Machine you played the banjo on a few tracks. Do you think you will be incorporating banjo in to the next TV On The Radio album?
KM: There is a lot of instrumentation and ideas that are on this record that are not explored by TV On The Radio as a band, which is what I have been putting most of my time and energy into over the past few years. In TV On The Radio there seems to be more of a reliance on contemporary types of technology and that has not always been super appealing to me. It works for me sometimes, but it’s just something to ride on.
I really like more organic sounds. I am playing the banjo, not in the traditional way; I am kind of bastardizing it. I tend to do this because I am not really being delicate in the disciplines of the idioms of the music. I like to take a little bit from this and that. I wouldn’t consider myself a banjo player because I wouldn’t want to insult people that actually put in the time to master that tradition, but I love the instrument. It’s actually one of my favorite instruments to play, but I don’t imagine it will be in TV On The Radio anytime soon.
FP: Are you looking forward to touring?
KM: I am really excited. We actually have a lot of work to do. I am actually walking to the rehearsal space right now because we are going to practice all night, but it has been really fun and rewarding playing with new people. A lot of them are old friends who I have never played together with before. So yeah, I am really looking forward to the road.
Tour dates: 09/25 – Echo Park, CA @ The Echo 09/26 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Getty Center 09/28 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent 09/30 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge 10/01 – Seattle, WA @ Neumos 10/02 – Vancouver, BC @ The Biltmore 10/09 – Birmingham, AL @ Bottle Tree 10/10 – New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks 10/12 – Athens, GA @ 40 Watt Club 10/13 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl 10/15 – Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon 10/16 – Minneapoli,s MN @ 7th Street Entry 10/17 – Chicag,o IL @ Double Door 10/18 – Detroit, MI @ Small’s 10/19 – Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace 10/20 – Montreal, QC @ Il Motore 10/22 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Upstairs 10/23 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s