South Wales is steeped in the history of heavy rock. Indeed, in some ways it has become a burden around some people’s necks, increasingly dissapearing down the rabbit holes towards the black empty cliched pit of trying to ‘relive the past’ or worse still plugging into the post-hardcore-pop band wagon that has hit the buffers in the last few years. But then there are always mavericks in in South Wales and the Valleys who are willing to subvert the cliches and twist the knife into complacency. Over the course of their last few albums, South Wales three-piece Kyshera led by their mastermind James Kennedy have increasingly experimented with the ‘alternative rock’ sound destroying the straight jacket of preconceptions of verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus-verse, crafting what can be called genuinely engaging, dizzyingly hard hitting prog-rock with an undercurrent influenced by the cutting edge electronic music and classical that James consumes on a daily basis. Their most recent album ‘Made in China’ is an example of this dizzying array of at its core are political themes that shed light on a crumbling capitalist apocalypse riddled with conspiracy and the lies that try to control you. Sonically one could perhaps pitch it somewhere between the schizoid prog-metal of System of a Down or The Mars Volta and the twitching warped experimental interludes of Aphex Twin. But then comparisons are mostly useless when James and his co conspirators have 100s of tracks layered into a sound that will certainly challenge your ears and your mind! I caught up with James to discuss a recent court case involving Kyshera, who are suing Rising Records’ head Mark Daghorn after they claim that he ‘ran off’ with many thousands of pounds of their money and that of many other bands on the label. We also try and get to the heart of what inspires his work with Kyshera and as a solo artist…
Hi James, how are you today?
I’m good! How are you?!
What’s been ‘going down’ for you musical of late? Your last release was your solo album right? How does that differ in approach from a Kyshera record?
Well, since we last spoke, I’ve actually done 2 solo albums alongside the last Kyshera album ‘Made in China’. The 1st one was an Experimental Electronic album called ‘Nine i.P.’ which is probably the strangest music I’ve written so far! It’s got Musique Concrete, pieces made entirely of speech rhythms, microtonal orchestral thingys and all sorts of family friendly delights, ha ha. The 2nd solo album is called ‘The National Health Service’ and is the polar opposite to that – it’s a pile of very simple acoustic songs that are totally stripped down and based around the song format. As for ‘Made in China’, I would say that it’s probably somewhere between the 2. In terms of my approach to the records, it’s the same every time – I do entirely what I want without external consideration.
I’m interested in this phrase ‘Konic’ that you use to describe not just your music but a lifestyle, what does it stand for/mean? Also do you believe it’s important for bands to step beyond just music in terms of influences?
Well I made the term up, completely randomly, as that is the spirit of the meaning behind it. It’s a word thats designed to describe those things that the existing terms don’t quite explain properly. I never really felt that terms like Rock or Metal or Alternative or whatever properly described Kyshera’s music, so I invented my own, ha ha. The definition is ‘Anything that is otherwise indefinable’ – and I like it because it frees me from having to commit to a genre from the outset. Once you’re in a pigeonhole, you meet a lot of resistance if you do something outside of that – my whole premise from the start is “Don’t expect the new record to sound like the last one and don’t expect it not to either’, ha ha. Konic is like an umbrella term that hopefully will add some kind of categorisory validity to all those things that don’t perfectly fit an existing shape and don’t want to. It kind of fits in with my general outlook on life as well, which is why I promote it as such. I’m not completely left wing or right wing, I’m not completely alternative or mainstream, I’m not completely logical or wondering – I’m a just human being and I take the things I agree with from all of these different areas without feeling any allegiance to some supposed club or other. Konic also gives you the right to completely change your mind and disown the things you believed yesterday as new information comes in. I think that’s healthy. So I promote just being a human being and not a label – we’re all fallible and I think humility is a good thing. In terms of where other bands get their influences from, I don’t think its important for bands to look beyond the musical but most of the bands that influenced me greatly did. But there’s nothing wrong with artists that just put out amazing albums that are all about the music and nothing more!
What was the concept behind ‘Made in China’ as a album, and how do you think you’ve progressed sonically over the past few albums? Made in China I presume is a comment upon western goods consumption?
‘Made in China’ is about the state of the world today, whats wrong with it and hopefully what we can do about it! Each song deals with a different subject whether it’s politics, religion, prejudice, consumerism, secrecy etc and on the last song ‘Ants’, I try to end on a positive by saying that all of these things are products of ourselves and can therefore be changed. It’s done with a kind of conspiracy theme with spoken word narrative from JFK, Obama and various so-called ‘conspiracy theorists’ throughout. The album also has no gaps and all of the songs run into each other so the albums plays as one entity. Sonically its a massive jump from ‘Paradigm’, which was much more of a stripped down ‘band’ sounding album. This one’s got everything and the kitchen sink thrown in, ha ha. The song ‘Made in China’ is about social engineering and how all societies are designed to suit a purpose in much the same way as the products those societies make in their factories – so I’m saying that WE are factory made as disposable tools of production and consumption.
Kyshera’s sound definetly seems to have progressed over the years, I hear you layer up your albums with 100s of tracks, are you trying to push yourself and your sound somewhere different? Who would you say are your main musical influences lately I hear things as diverse as Aphex Twin and System of a Down in your sound…?
Ha ha, yeah ‘Made in China’ was a minimum of 120 tracks per song. Again, I don’t really try to ‘push myself’ so to speak, I just do what I want. On the last album I wanted to go for a more conventional album (if you can call it that, ha ha) and on this one I just wanted to go all out. I have a very broad range of influences which includes really simple music as well as really technical music, so both those sides get represented in what I write I guess. My main influences – the ones that consistently influence me – would be Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, Squarepusher, Eric Dolphy, Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden, Melt Banana, Stravinsky, Beatles, Debussy, White Noise, Schoenberg, Allan Holdsworth, Manic Street Preachers, Dave Brubeck etc. I basically aim to write the music that I want to hear – so I love the energy and power of Rock and Metal but not the limitations of the genre in terms of its structure etc – I love the wide colourful sound palette of Stravinsky but miss the power you get from Rage – I love the ‘outside-ness’ of Allan Holdsworth and Eric Dolphy but miss the melodic-ness that you get from, say, the Beatles – so I basically try to tick all those boxes with Kyshera.
Do you think having a slightly schizophrenic sound can actually harm you when it comes to things like radio play etc?
Definitely. But then again – listen to what they DO play on the radio and who wants that, ha ha 😉
Do you feel it’s important to have a message with your music? Your last album seemed to revel in conspiracies and sci-fi futurism, while songs like ‘Germ’ ‘Mannequins’ and the title track seem almost post-apocalyptic foreboding warnings for a crumbling present of politicians screwing us and the planet...
For me it’s important. The song ‘Mannequins’ is all about people using whatever platform they’ve got to speak for those that don’t have a platform and that’s what I try to do with Kyshera. The way I see it, there is a war for your mind being waged by the political and business elite because knowledge is power and all change for the better can only start with awareness. So I try to do my bit by using my music to get out certain information or certain viewpoints that are contrary to the mainstream monopoly – even if its just to show that there IS an alternative viewpoint.
You’re currently suing your old label Rising records. Can you talk us through the reasons why, and the licensing agreement you had with them ? Also, what advice would you give other bands who are signing similar agreements?
Ha ha, yeah! We put out all of our releases through Konic Records but on ‘Made in China’ we wanted to outsource distribution and promotion to another label for a percentage of sales. We’re not prone to making totally stupid decisions where our music or money is concerned but, on this one, we screwed up! We signed a deal whereby we financed certain parts of it ourselves so that we didn’t have to lose any of the rights to the recording etc, however, it turns out that the company we used turned into a major scandal in the music industry literally a couple of months after we signed. They siphoned off money from their whole roster of bands as well as most of the major music magazines, PR companies, festivals, bookers etc and left the country with it all! Luckily for us, we had our contract completely re-written before we signed it, which protected us against the loss – a move that turned out to be our saving grace with regards to the court case – and our potential loss is nowhere near the amount of their other victims. We came out relatively ok financially and still owning all of our recordings. My advice to other bands signing any agreement is – it isn’t what’s on the contract that’s important, it’s what’s left off. Most of the contracts I’ve ever seen aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on because they don’t really say anything. Make sure that every eventuality is covered in the contract and keep getting it amended until you’re confident. And really don’t be fooled by nice words about your music, honest smiles and massive promises. Anyone looking for more specific advice is welcome to contact me.
Is it a relief to actually play shows or write music at the moment what with the ongoing court cases etc?
Totally! There is SO much paperwork in a court case and suing someone is a lot of pressure. There have been times when its been really frustrating but then doing a show reminds you what it’s all about. We’ve got a couple of tours in the pipeline at the moment and I’m looking forward to this case (of nearly a year!) being over now so I can trek off in our swanky new tour bus without that hanging over me. I’ve also started writing the next Kyshera album, which is going to be totally different again – the complete opposite of ‘Made in China’ – and I’ve also got songs for the 4th album demo’ed too, so I’ve had nice distractions amongst the bureaucratic headaches.
When can Kyshera fans expect the next show?
Well we’re still in the booking stage at the moment but we’ve got agents working on UK and EU dates for 2013 and we’re hoping to visit most of the major cities at some point. We’re having a brand new website built at the moment so all dates will posted there in full when they come in but I urge everyone to join our Facebook and Twitter pages as well. We put all of our stuff there like free songs, videos, new pictures, blogs, thoughts, links etc. We’ve got a blinding show prepared with live electronics etc and we can’t wait to see everyone this year!
We’ve just released a brand new, FREE song (not on any of our albums) called ‘Vote with a Bullet’ which is about the Gun Control issue – it can be heard on Youtube & downloaded for free there.
Kyshera’s troubled ‘Made in China’ album is out now in all stores.