karmacoda: evidence of Something Special
Remember electro clash, the mini-hyped "New New Wave" of three years ago? That fertile potential was barely realized, as punk metal guitars and hip hop continue to rule the airwaves. Outside of New York, Germany, Paris and London, this movement barely existed. Now, however, from San Francisco, America's capital of odd ball cultural revolution, comes karmacoda (www.karmacoda.com). The group, featuring the dual vocals of Heather Pierce and B, bassist Brian Templeton and turntable meister Rafael Acevedo, brings to mechanical electro clash and terminally dark trip hop a cloudy/sunny California cool, at once laid back and romantic, earthy and glamorous.
Like the city, their songs have a breezy airiness and Boho funkiness. Musically they blend early Mazzy Starr-ish trippy beat music with Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark styled Goth-tinged, grimy club sound. On their new record evidence, karmacoda creates love songs that are the modern, electro pop versions of Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell's soul duets from the great, sixty's Motown era.
RealAudio: "Front of My Room"
"All That Depth" starts off the record with a cautionary note. Though they say that the song is about the commercialization of spirituality, it could also mirror the fears one has about love.
"I'm deep in meditation / and I'm give until I take some / why is there hesitation? / Lies stay until they make one / I'm left without a home all that depth / it's so wretched / All that depth now you're wrecked and you know it's gonna take you down / It'll make you sad now you know you're goin' down"
This shows off their improvisational, left brain approach to writing at its best. There's stuff there that they may not have intended, such as the above lyrics capturing dating in N.Y. The ubiquitous B (Brett Crocket), who produced and arranged the music, states that "On evidence I think we were subconsciously creating an emotional and narrative arc with the songs and lyrics, taking the listener on an emotional relationship love and sex path." They will mix and match lyrics that Heather or B spontaneously improvise or that they write for each other. This reminds me of things said and written about the fertile Motown recording scene.
RealAudio: "All That Depth"
Other cuts deal directly with love. "Front of My Room" is a breezy slice of cool pop. The shimmery keyboards and the male/female back and forth vocals are a modern American version of the famous Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg duet "Bonny and Clyde." Everyday moments of love never sounded so good. Finally a good reason to get married.
"...in the front of my room I am whole again / the time I spend you... / I don't know what I would do / I believe in you and me the make-believe what we could be together the time I spend with you"
The mellow trip hop beat glides like a cruise down Highway #1. With just a beat and some shimmering acoustic guitars and electric piano, karmacoda creates a lush groove, that like love and loving moments, can go on forever. "When I'm with you I feel like me and it feels good I'm home again and I don't know what I'd do without you."
What and who are your musical influences?
[B] I love just about everything that's emotionally compelling to me. Miles Davis and in particular his Kind of Blue album has been a major influence. When I started writing the music that became the first karmacoda album, I wanted to employ some of the composition ideas from Kind of Blue, in particular modal composition which involves intertwining melodic lines through a single or simple chord structure.
RealAudio: "Where You Sleep"
How did the band come about? How did you meet each other?
[B] I'd been playing music in San Francisco for a little while, mostly alternative rock and pop, and it had grown stale and uninspired for me. I just didn't see where it could be taken that was fresh and new. karmacoda started as a music only project where I was going to write some music, only for myself, using some cool new computer recording tools I had gotten through an artist endorsement from Intel, confident that no one in the world would hear it or like it.
Around that time I met Heather, we have the same vocal coach, and we started talking about electronic music and I told her about the music I was writing. Suddenly my experiment became a musical project with Heather, then a record, then we brought in my friend Brian and Rafael. Suddenly karmacoda was a group. Our name was first giving props to the Massive Attack song, "Karmacoma," but it also derived from how naturally we met, "karma," and our use of looped music elements, "coda."
Is there a scene for this kind of music in California, home of Dr. Dre and skate punk?
[B] I wondered the same thing when we started getting going. When we began, we were just creating the music that was inside our hearts. Early on, I thought no one would "get" our music but it was exactly the opposite. It didn't seem to matter if people liked rap or punk, they liked what we're doing for some reason. I think people are just naturally drawn to music that has real, genuine emotions and a vibe to it.
[Heather] San Francisco in particular, has a great, thriving electronic music scene. People go out to clubs they dance, they pay attention to artists and there are actually some who do care about the quality of what they are listening to.
"Where You Sleep" is another laconic love song. Reinventing electro lounge pop they tone down the electronics to do what they do best - add atmosphere. Here Heather's vocals are at there most soulful, with emotion that supercedes electro and trip hop which eschews any feelings, save for melancholy and paralysis.
"What I want to be is the one who knows where you sleep, oh yeah... I want to find I want to see how... day to day you and I might be."
That say is all, eh?
At the other end of the scale is the tune "Tragic" which Heather describes as a song that describes a place we've all been, trapped in a relationship that ain't happenin'.
"... you're fast or too slow / bottom line you don't feel my tempo / tragic / I'm stuck in this fabric... without foundation there's nothing we can do... the air is gone from our room and I'm dreaming"
This song, a solo for Heather, features her voice to best effect.
Heather, your vocals are breathy and ethereal, but also have a touch of raw earthiness in them. Who are your favorite singers and how did you come to create your vocal style?
[Heather] I don't think I consciously set out to create a style of singing for myself. I just try to build on what is inherently there by continuing to study voice and experimenting. Kate Bush and Tori Amos have always inspired me greatly. They are both so fluid and insanely brilliant both as singers and musicians. I sang a lot of jazz in high school and college, so Sarah Vaughan, Julie London, Astrid Gilberto, and especially the truthful sadness of Chet Baker stays with me.
What is your musical and artistic vision?
[Heather] I just wanna rock! Ha! It feels great to write a song and get that part of myself out of myself. Then there's room for something new to start bubbling.
[B] I want to create emotionally compelling music using musical instruments and sounds and techniques that are new and fresh. Many times we use natural sounds or environmental sounds and process them to make them something completely different and unique. For example, everyone's heard a tambourine a gazillion times and it's old. But if you take that tambourine and shift it down two octaves it's a whole new thing - that's where I try to go all the time: "how can I mess up this sound to make it cool". And then intertwined and over top of this, I want to put the most beautiful and emotional vocals that we possibly can to really make the connection with the listener. We strive to have the music and vocals and lyrics create a visual experience as well as audio experience for the listener. Almost like a soundtrack for life.
karmacoda is not limited to music as we know it. Thanks to a grant from computer giant Intel they have cutting edge digital equipment that allows them to realize their vision. B states, "With computer recording and composition it was like a light switched on and I was suddenly able to create the music and sounds that were in my head, on my own. I quickly realized that the same computer that I used to write and record could do amazing things with video media and graphics and the Internet. Since karmacoda's music was very visual to me, very early on I wanted to incorporate a VJ into our live performances."
With their music being in the MTV series Real World / Road Rules Challenge, and a new remix contest with Peace Love Productions for their remix record, karmacoda is on the move in and around the music industry. Check out their way cool website www.karmacoda.com for more information.