Nikolas (IV)

Kite Flying Robot Reunion Show & Interview

The Interview

The Interview

Kite Flying Robot sprang from the sin­gu­lar vision of Nikolas “Kite” Thompson. The band itself has seen a rotat­ing cast of play­ers over the years based on the exi­gen­cies of a nomadic lifestyle: there’s the California lineup (Thompson as solo artist), the Oklahoma lineup, and the lineup for South Korea. Thompson cur­rently resides and plays in Seoul.

Thompson returned to Oklahoma for a short time in mid-​February for a reunion con­cert at Oklahoma City’s Blue Note Lounge, fol­lowed by a sec­ond show at Tulsa’s Soundpony Lounge.

Mercury Photo BureauI under­stand that Kite Flying Robot started out as a one man DIY thing?

Nikolas “Kite” ThompsonI’ve played in rock bands my whole life, and I moved out to the [San Francisco] Bay [Area] after get­ting my B.A. in English. And I knew I wanted to be a writer, so I moved out there and kinda did a “home­less” thing for a while, and tried to [write]. I was […] pas­sion­ate about both music and writ­ing, but I […] fig­ured writ­ing [as a career] was more portable. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to [make] music again, and I wanted to do some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent [than I had been doing]. I started get­ting into elec­tronic music, [so] I got a really bad sequencer and some other equip­ment and I tried to do elec­tronic music with­out really know­ing any­thing about it.

Nikolas (V)
Nikolas (V) — Kite Flying Robot Reunion Show, Blue Note Lounge

MPBWhat was your pre­vi­ous musi­cal expe­ri­ence?

Nikolas[I was a] gui­tar player and [singer], and I sort of plateaued out as far as gui­tar skill. I’d say that even now, I only play slightly bet­ter than back in 2004 or when­ever that was. So I started [mak­ing] music at home, and I decided to do acoustic gui­tar with beats and sequences. I like verses and cho­ruses; I see some bands that just use a loop pedal and kinda do the same thing and build on it and build on it and build on it, and while that’s cool, I like to change chords from part to part and come up with bridges […].

So I got into sequenc­ing using this […] Korg Triton TR, which is not a ter­ri­ble machine, but for sequenc­ing is a pain in the butt. So I started doing that, but I did it with an acoustic gui­tar, because I knew I was going to be doing it by myself. Even though I still liked rock music and elec­tric gui­tar … I thought it would be cheesy if I was up their by myself with a drum machine and an elec­tric gui­tar. That prob­a­bly stemmed from pre­vi­ous acts I’d seen, with a guy with an elec­tric gui­tar with heavy dis­tor­tion, and it seemed cheesy, and it was like I was watch­ing some­body in their bed­room like, dick around on their gui­tar. So I did the acoustic thing with some beats.

And I sort of learned my way, and I made my first Kite Flying Robot album, and it was, uh, I don’t really release it now, because I don’t think it’s that great, but I think I learned a lot in the process.

MPBI saw that it was still avail­able on your Bandcamp page.

NikolasIt is. […] I think if some­one really wanted to go through it and find it, I fig­ure, well, what­ever. I don’t pro­mote it; I took it off iTunes, because it costs yearly money to put it on there. Even though it sold some­times, I just was like, eh. I just don’t even care, you know, and I’d rather — and I was work­ing on Solid gold, the songs that would become Solid Gold […] — and I’d rather that be [people’s] first lis­ten […].

MPBI was glad to hear you prac­tic­ing Red Phone Booth dur­ing rehearsal ear­lier. What’s the lyric about the filthy machine mean? Is it the answer­ing machine?

NikolasI guess that could be any­thing you want, but, uh, have you ever been in a phone booth before?

MPBOh yeah; they’re not clean.

NikolasWhat’s funny is, some­time I’ll write lyrics […] and I won’t really think about things; things’ll just come out; and I never […] meant filthy machine to mean red phone booth. But later on, I thought about it — this hap­pens with most of my songs — I thought about it and I real­ized what it meant to me on some sub­con­scious level […].

Blonde Bomb was like that. I just came up with all these ideas […] and later on […] the lyrics — it was basi­cally like a prophetic song; some­thing hap­pened to me that was exactly, uh, exactly those lyrics, but […] after the fact. Specific things, like On the Rhine, […], that had hap­pened before, but some of the other things, like the […] heart­break aspect of Blonde Bomb, hap­pened later.

Tanya (III)
Tanya (III) — Kite Flying Robot Reunion Show, Blue Note Lounge

MPBIf you live long enough, that’s gonna hap­pen. It’s like can­cer.

Nikolas[laughs] Yeah.

MPBIn the song Criminal Supervixen, you drop a few cul­tural ref­er­ences. Just lis­ten­ing to you rehearse it, I caught Jay-​Z, Disney, for a minute there I thought you were ref­er­enc­ing [Brian] Eno, but that was “801,” not “808,” so I have no idea what that one is —

Nikolas808 is a drum machine;The Roland TR-​808 Rhythm Composer was one of the first com­mer­cially avail­able pro­gram­ma­ble drum machines. 39 Steps is —

MPB— of course, that’s Hitchcock, so, how do those ref­er­ences fit into your lyri­cal intent?

NikolasI guess I just thought it was funny, but […] it’s also part of what I enjoy in life; I just sort of like, 101, 808, I mean, I just — I thought it was funny, and I did used to use 808 sam­ples, and I’m a huge [Alfred] Hitchcock fan; he’s prob­a­bly my favorite direc­tor. Not par­tic­u­larly a fan of 101 Dalmations, but I do like some of those older, darker Disney films. They had a huge impact on me when I was grow­ing up. And then Jay-​Z is just cool. And I just thought it was funny to ref­er­ence, because the first line is, I got 99 prob­lems, and peo­ple imme­di­ately think, Jay-​Z, and then the next line being 101 Dalmations is just funny.

Christi (I)
Christi (I) — Kite Flying Robot Reunion Show, Blue Note Lounge

MPBYou say Disney movies were kind of a big influ­ence, so, how old are you and when was your child­hood?

NikolasI wouldn’t say they were a big influ­ence, but [children’s] movies they make now aren’t nearly as dark as they were back then. I was born in 1980, so I got to see The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail —

MPBMovies where there was a real sense of dan­ger for the child pro­tag­o­nists —

Nikolas— and like that early Disney stuff, like Robin Hood, Lady and the Tramp —

MPBDumbo’s my favorite.

NikolasYeah, Dumbo, Pinocchio, those are dark as hell.

MPBThat pink ele­phant scene, oh man …

NikolasSpeaking of the pink ele­phant scene, this is [funny]; when you get home, take your copy of Solid Gold, put in the song Solid Gold and go to YouTube and look up that pink ele­phant scene and [play them together with the video sound muted]No need to do that, as we’ve com­bined them for you here. […] It’s weird how it lines up.

Kite Flying Robot vs. the Pink Elephants (Solid Gold)

MPBKinda got a Dark Side of the Moon thing goin’ on there. How did you fig­ure that out?

NikolasI don’t know. [pauses to think] I’m not sure. How did I fig­ure that out? I think I down­loaded Dumbo when I moved to Korea, 10 months ago. ’cause I had all this time, and I down­loaded all these movies I hadn’t seen in for­ever, and I was just watch­ing, and I was like, Oh! This is that scene I remem­ber watch­ing as a kid, with all the pink ele­phants! And it had this kind of BOM! Bom! BOM! Bom! tempo to it, that was just spot on […].

BOM! Bom! BOM! Bom!

MPBYou moved to Korea 10 months ago, so what’s the story on that?

Nikolas[…] Sometimes the arrows of life point you through a door, and —

MPBThat’s pretty vague …

NikolasThere are some things that I can’t artic­u­late, but what I can [say] is there were some debts com­ing to a head; I was hav­ing a hard time sav­ing money in Tulsa — I had 2 jobs; I worked almost 60 hours a week and I was not happy, because I was not get­ting any time for music. I was work­ing and being exhausted and I wasn’t able to pay much [of my debt] even though I was work­ing that much […]. I’ve left Oklahoma before, and I just kinda needed to do it again.

Todd
Todd — Kite Flying Robot Reunion Show, Blue Note Lounge

MPBAre you orig­i­nally from Oklahoma?

NikolasYeah.

MPBSo, things are work­ing out for you in Korea? Are you teach­ing ESL?

NikolasYes. I re-​signed for a part-​time job, ’cause now my debts are pretty much […] paid off. […] I paid [almost] all that back in 4 months […]. The new [job] is part-​time [so I can devote more time to music].

MPBDo you find that, with the extra time, you put the work in on music, or is there a temp­ta­tion to just go, say, sit in the park instead?

NikolasI […] get really depressed if I’m not [being] pro­lific, so there’s always a dri­ving force […].

MPBSince you were born in the 80s, you actu­ally missed disco, but I hear a lot of disco vamps in your music. There was a gui­tar riff that Alex [Larrea] played dur­ing rehearsal that sounded like pre-Beegees disco, prob­a­bly by way of James Brown. Have you lis­tened to a lot of disco?

NikolasNo, but the 80s had Italo disco,An early form of elec­tronic dance music asso­ci­ated with the ZYX record label. Drum machines and syn­the­siz­ers were preva­lent in the genre’s sound, with lyrics usu­ally sung in English. Its most notable prac­ti­tioner may be com­poser Giorgio Moroder. pio­neered by Giorgio Moroder […]. In the United States, peo­ple were very anti-​disco once that, in 1979 —

MPBRight; there was that infa­mous record burn­ing at Wrigley Field.

NikolasSo, you lis­ten to even the stuff that Giorgio Moroder pro­duced after that, like Call Me by Blondie, um —

Tanya FelterThe last of the disco era [shifted] into the 80s —

NikolasBut, I mean, he’s European, so — Italo disco was alive and well at dis­cothèques in Europe in the 80s. [Later,] I […] dis­cov­ered it, some­how, and I’d, like, never heard of it before, and I liked the tim­bres […] of the vin­tage ana­log synths more than — as much as I like — I liked some disco songs […] from the 70s, but, you know, I like some­thing about [Italo disco’s] synth bass […], and 808 claps; it’s just […] really cool.

Alex (I)
Alex (I) — Kite Flying Robot Reunion Show, Blue Note Lounge

MPBI notice you’re using a lot of gated per­cus­sion sounds — pretty typ­i­cal of 80s pro­duc­tion.

NikolasYeah.

MPBTanya, since you’re here, you wanna tell me how you met this bloke?

TanyaWell I was play­ing in a band called Ghosts of Monkshood. They were together [for] 2 years before I joined them, and then I was with them for the last […] 4 years. We were always look­ing for peo­ple to play with, and some­one had men­tioned Kite Flying Robot and that my friend Krista was in it. And I thought, Oh, that’s cool.

NikolasThe first offi­cial other mem­ber — when I moved back to Oklahoma, I wanted to expand [Kite Flying Robot] — and I met this girl named Krista, and she was really nice, and a great vocal­ist, and we hit it off. And we became best friends, so she joined the band.

More Tambourine
More Tambourine — Kite Flying Robot Reunion Show, Blue Note Lounge

TanyaSo, we were always look­ing for peo­ple to play with […]; I def­i­nitely liked what I heard [from Kite Flying Robot], so we played a show together at the HiLo [Lounge]. And that’s how we met.

And then, years later, Ghosts of Monkshood was falling apart, and I’m actu­ally at a CD release party for another band, Brother Gruesome, and Nikolas is there, and there’s karaoke after­wards. So I got up and sang some Siouxsie and the Banshees and Nikolas is like, Hey, we should sing a song together! So we sang a song by The Human League. And like, 2 days later, we were like, Hey, do you wanna —

NikolasI rememem­ber 2 things hap­pen­ing. There was that time, and the time we were hangin’ out at Cookie’s. […] We con­nected on both those nights. I remem­ber when were at Cookie’s; we talked about Blondie that night.

MPBThe band mem­ber­ship is kind of fluid; I think I read some­where that in some iter­a­tions there are as many as 13 peo­ple?

Tanya[laughs]

NikolasI haven’t added it up, but it’s prob­a­bly — oh, you mean at one time? No, it’s never been more than 5. The most peo­ple on one song — I have […] a new song com­ing out that has a 30 piece choir on it. Actually, it’s dou­bled, so 15 piece choir and maybe, 4 other musi­cians […].

TanyaThere’ve just been a lot of peo­ple in and out.

NikolasFor one rea­son or another […]. I don’t think I’ve ever really kicked any­one out […].

MPBHave you tried any long dis­tance col­lab­o­ra­tion, as far as try­ing to lay down tracks and such?

NikolasYeah, I have. In Korea, the ver­sion of Airplane Nosebleed was dif­fer­ent than what’s on the album, so I had Tanya [lay down] some vocals and viola at her friend’s house. And then, Mike [Rodriguez], who used to play drums for us, lives in L. A. now — he does some pro­duc­ing, so he’s actu­ally on bass and drums on the song I just men­tioned, with the choir. […]

MPBYou’re play­ing with­out a bass gui­tar tonight. Do you some­times have a bass on stage?

NikolasNope. Every song has synth bass. Like, a good friend of mine who’s a really good bass player sort of hinted that he wanted to be in the band, and I was like, Well, if we do that, we’re not gonna have that [synth] sound. If I was gonna have a bass player […], I’d totally have you, but it would […] take away from that sound.

MPBI ask pretty much every musi­cian I inter­view to redeem a song; that is, tell us about a song that doesn’t get much respect, but that you really like, and tell us what’s so great about it.

Nikolas[…] Donna Summer’s I Feel Love […]. A lot of peo­ple, when you say the “D” word, they get all freaked out. That’s another Giorgio Moroder-​produced song. That’s, like, the one that maybe made [his rep­u­ta­tion].

I saw in a doc­u­men­tary that when that song came out, peo­ple were just […] blown away; they didn’t know what to make of the sound. There was this arpeg­giated synth bass under­neath —

TanyaSynth and angels —

Nikolas[laughs] I’d say I like — not every­thing Moroder’s done, because he’s done some cheesy stuff […].

Nikolas (VII)
Nikolas (VII) — Kite Flying Robot Reunion Show, Blue Note Lounge

MPBWhat are your future plans for Kite Flying Robot?

NikolasI don’t know, because I ride by the seat of my pants, and I take oppor­tu­ni­ties when I find them. People are ask­ing me how long I’m gonna stay in Korea, and I’m like, Well, I dunno. I thought I was gonna go for a year, and here I am going back. […]

I do play as Kite Flying Robot in Korea; I have a gui­tarist […]; he’s Canadian —

MPB— or does he just say that?

Nikolas[exas­per­ated chuckle] He’s Canadian. But I mean, uh, like Criminal Supervixen and Fire with Me and some of those songs don’t really go well with a full band, so I’m gonna release an EP with some kinda new stuff and all sequenced drums […].

MPBThank you very much, Nikolas Kite.

— Chris J. Zähller

Gallery: Rehearsal

Gallery: The Rehearsal

Gallery: The Show

Gallery: The Reunion Show

About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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