The Kamals Interview
Five-piece fuzz rock outfit the Kamals (minus guitarist/backup vocalist Brad Nance) dropped by the Bureau in January, following their rescheduled appearance at Opolis in Norman. Described as a blend of hard rock, stoner rock, heavy psych, fuzz rock and psychedelic rock styles, [Sidenote: Goodman, Bill. Introducing … the Kamals. The Soda Shop. 19 April 2012. Web. 11 February 2013.] with the ocassional foray into boogie rock and acoustic country-blues, the band’s sound is not of this era.
Indeed, it’s not of this century, as it draws heavily on the sounds of bands like the Allman Brothers, Captain Beyond, Little Feat, pre-Michael McDonald Doobie Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the ill-fated supergroup Rhinoceros. Their usual modus operandi is heavy, distorted guitar licks with lots of fuzz pedal, coupled with the naturally distorted sound of the Fender Rhodes electric piano (which blends acoustic mechanisms with electric pickups, not unlike an electric guitar). Top it all off with soulful harmony singing and the ocassional wail of a mouth harp and you’ve got something pretty groovy.
Bespectacled and sporting a neatly trimmed goatee and short dreadlocks, guitarist Zachary “Zak” Kaczka sings lead in a rich, warm baritone. Bassist Trey Allen provides backing vocals, while keyboardist Loren Williams ocassionally takes the lead vocal. Filling out the rhythm section is drummer River Myers, who remained mostly quiet during the interview, in contrast to his chosen instrument. River was accompanied by his girlfriendMadi. The group arrived at the cocktail hour, so after drinks [Sidenote: CYA: No alcohol was served to minors.] , we got down to business.
Mercury Photo BureauTell me about the band’s name.
Trey AllenYeah, it’s just kind of a thing we came up with. It happens to be an acronym of [our initials].
Mercury Photo BureauIs it pronounced /ˈkæ-məlz/ or /kə-ˈmɔ:lz/?
MPBPlease tell me your names, ages, and instruments — including you, Madi. [laughter]
River MyersAlright, I’m River Myers; I play drums and I’m 20.
MadiI’m Madi — River’s girlfriend. I’m 18.
Loren WilliamsI’m Loren Williams; I play keys, mainly a [Fender] Rhodes and an organ; I’m 23.
Zak KaczkaI’m Zak; I play guitar, and I’m 22.
MPBAnd you also sing. Loren sings too, right?
TreyI’m Trey; I’m 22; I play bass.
ZakYou also sing.
LorenTrey and Brad are the backups.
MadiBrad Nance; he’s the other guitar player.
MPBHow’d the band form?
RiverMe and Loren were in a band, Plaid Rabbit.
TreyPlus Brad, too; […] for 3 years […]. Before that, me, Zak and a couple of other friends of ours in high school had a band —
LorenWe never did name it, but we ended up calling it barn band stuff because we recorded a little bit and we needed something to call it. Back in high school, we had a [hangout] that our friend’s mom let us [use. It was a sheet metal barn].
TreyI think someone used to work on cars in it […].
LorenWe would hang out there after school and on weekends.
ZakI played in the barn band, and then after [that], when Plaid Rabbit formed, I was in a band with my friends, Matt and Bill, and we played in Vultures of Culture. We only played a few shows; then that fizzled away, and then 2 or 3 years passed, and we got a house, called
Old Dog. [Sidenote: Old Dog Records, a recording studio in Oklahoma City.] And then the Kamals formed, and it was f*ckin’ awesome.
TreyI played in a few bands, here and there, and I played by myself a lot. I played guitar, and then I picked up bass for the Kamals. I actually like playing bass.
MPBOkay, how did you actually meet these guys?
TreyAh, that was the barn.
LorenWe’ve all known each other, some of us, since middle school, some of us, since high school.
MPBWhen did you 1st pick up an instrument or become involved in music?
RiverI was 12 or 13, and right after I’d get out of school, they had all this musical equipment at the barn, so I’d go play Loren’s drums after school.
MPBAre you self-taught?
RiverYeah; I tried to take lessons, but [they didn’t take].
LorenMy dad, [Edmund,] played guitar since he was 16; [he] accumulated a lot of equipment, so it was always around. He was in a lot of cover bands […]. I just picked up a guitar 1 day […]; he saw that I was interested and […] he showed me a couple [of] things. And then when I wanted to get serious about it, he handed me a music theory book and a diagram of a C major scale, and said,
That’s all you need to know. […]
ZakI started right around when I was 13, and I was gonna get a bass for Christmas. I’ve got an older brother, and I was like,
Man, I can’t wait to get a bass for Christmas, and he was like,
I’m getting a bass for Christmas! and I was like,
Man, I’m getting a guitar. That’s how I wound up with a guitar.
MPBMost people would have just gone for the guitar in the 1st place.
ZakI don’t know what it is I like about the bass; I guess I just like the big clunkiness of it.
TreyI used to skate and [be] really active. When I was 13, I cut my kneecap open, and, on my birthday, I asked for a guitar, because I was kind of laid up. I took 1 lesson, and that didn’t really work out, so I just [looked up guitar] tabs on the internet and kind of jammed around. I didn’t really get good […] until I got to the barn, when I was 15. And then I picked up bass […].
MPBDoes anyone have a favorite instrument? [Sidenote: The question was meant to elicit an answer about a specific favorite instrument, e.g.,
a hollow body Gretsch named ‘Daisy’ that I pried from a dead man’s fingers, but Loren misconstrued.]
LorenDrums. They’re really primal; you don’t need no music theory, although it helps as far as rhythmic patterns. You learn your 8 beats, 16 beats, stuff like that. It’s very easy to pick up and it’s a full body expression.
MPBHow did you wind up being a keyboard player, then?
LorenWell, I played guitar in Plaid Rabbit […], [and I had] played piano at my grandma’s house when I was a little kid, so I had a basic understanding, and then, at the barn, there was a little piano there that I used to mess around with […]. [When we formed the Kamals after Vultures of Culture broke up,] they were assigning instruments, and I got piano.
MPBYou got the short straw.
ZakBullsh*t! That Rhodes is f*ckin’ awesome!.
LorenIt’s awesome; it’s really sweet, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it. But I knew I could work something out with it, so it was like,
Oh, yeah, that’s fine.
MPBTell me about the Fender Rhodes. It’s not an instrument you hear much anymore; its heyday was in the late ’60s through the mid-’80s, mostly in the middle of the period. It’s got a really distinctive sound, but it’s big and heavy; it’s like carrying a Hammond B3 [organ] to shows. What gives it that sound, and how’d you wind up with it?
LorenThe Rhodes is Zak’s.
ZakI’m a gearhead; I like buying sh*t. It’s bad.
LorenEver since [high school,] like, he had a custom cab, like a sh*tty amp sort of — I don’t know, the custom wasn’t that bad —
ZakIt was terrible; that’s why I got a [Fender] Bassman.
LorenSo he always sold his stuff to get better things, and saved up his money […]. So anyway, [he got] the Rhodes, and we were all deciding what we were going to play […], and I was like,
What am I going to play? and he was like,
I’ve got this Rhodes; you wanna play piano?
Yeah, sure, I’ll play that.
It’s kind of like electric guitar, a little bit, you know, you can distort the amp. And there’s guys like, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, who make the Rhodes have a certain style, like how [Jimi Hendrix does with a Fender or like Dick Dale does with a Stratocaster].
MPBOn the opening track from your EP, Tell Me, you’ve got what sounds like a Moog synth break. It reminds me of the intro to Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle. What is that?
LorenThat’s Brad’s flanger pedal.
ZakMad scientist Brad.
TreyThat’s a custom pedal he had made. He got it from 1 of his brother’s friends who made pedals; he was [having him test them out] and he eventually just let Brad keep ’em […].
MPBLet’s talk about Hands in the Water. It’s over 15 minutes long; it’s made up of 2 acoustic vocal numbers bookending 2 acoustic instrumentals with long silences separating them.
ZakThat probably would have worked better if we’d had a vinyl release, because on the track listing, we could have just had Hands in the Water, but then the record would have kept spinning […].
MPBSo, you were thinking bonus tracks; it’s not meant as a suite?
LorenI mean, we had the songs, we kind of — the last 1, Zak recorded that song shortly before the Kamals.
MPBThe 1 with the dog chained in the yard?
LorenYeah, and then the other 2, we recorded kind of fast and on the spot because we wanted to put them on [the EP]; we’re really huge fans of hidden tracks.
MPBThe reason I was confused is because, usually when you have a hidden track, it’s at the end of the album and it’s only a single track.
LorenOn the [physical] CD listing, it is at the end.
ZakWe kind of moved them around [for the digital download].
LorenWe do a lot of digital downloads, and it kept getting skipped [, so we rearranged them so people would download it. But the preferred running order is the 1 from the CD].
MPBHands in the Water seems to be about repentence, making amends for a transgression?
LorenLittle bit. Just trying to forgive yourself for something you did in the past, that I turned into a story about a convict.
MPBSo, you actually had a pretty concrete story for the lyric?
LorenI’m not really good at telling stories, and that song took a long time to get together […].
MPBWho writes the lyrics?
ZakWe both do. [gestures at Loren]
MPBWhat about the musical composition?
Loren[It varies]. Whoever has a good idea; I mean, someone’s good idea might get trumped by somenone’s better idea and no one gets upset about it.
MPBI thought that Hands in the Water sounded a lot like early Doobie Brothers. Are they an influence?
LorenYeah, I like them before Michael McDonald.
MPBDescribe the band’s sound in 30 seconds: the classic elevator pitch to an A&R man (or woman).
ZakOtis Redding meets Black Sabbath meets Pink Floyd meets Jimi Hendrix. Done!
heavy soul was being [tossed around] for a while. Not just because of the Black Keys song. It felt good, sayin’ it.
LorenMainly because of the Otis Redding and Black Sabbath thing.
MPBCare to name any other influences?
TreyQueens of the Stone Age, […] Led Zeppelin.
ZakFor me, it changes from month to month. I’m on a big ZZ Top kick. Even ’though I don’t really listen to that much ZZ Top, I’ve got this idea of what [they] would do, you know,
Da da da da da da da da. [plays air guitar version of riff from La Grange.]
ZakOld blues, for sure. I guess it’s the stacatto, straight-and-to-the-point guitar. I like that a lot; I like psychedelic music —
MPBAnd by that, you mean 1960s to early ’70s psychedelic, not Flaming Lips psychedelic.
ZakYeah, I mean, they don’t influence my writing, but I don’t dislike the Flaming Lips. Then [I like] soul music — anything from Stax Records; I [also like] Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Skip James, Robert Johnson. And I like some new stuff, like Zero 7; spacey, electronic music; […] Air is cool; Portishead; the Gorrilaz. I like a lot of different types of music.
LorenI like very creative chord progressions, as well as old Leadbelly, Charlie Patton, “Blind” Willie McTell; things like that. My dad was all into the New Jack [Swing] and stuff like that, Boyz 2 Men; if you can get over the whole “boy band” thing, the writers behind it wrote really cool chord progressions. Even Seal was a big influence [on me].
Say, you’ve got 2 sections of a song that don’t fit together at all, there’s always some weird bridge that transitions really well, and [that’s] always been really prominent to [the way I hear].
MPBThere’s a pretty audible 60 Hz hum on Between the Tides; was that deliberate, or did it just happen in the studio?
ZakIt just happened. We’re not shooting for perfection; we just want to get the point across.
MPBA couple of the songs felt like demos, production-wise. I’m thinking of the 2 acoustic bonus tracks; you’ve got some studio chatter in there.
TreyWe’re big on analogue, too; it’s kinda nice, having a big, healthy hum on there.
MPBAnything in the works?
ZakWe’ve got a new album coming out. It’s gonna be so awesome, I’m really excited. It’s called Dwellers; it’s a full length [album]. [We’ve got] 8 [tracks] so far; then if we can scrounge up another 1, there’ll be 9, but 8 for sure. Hopefully we can finish all the mixing and the tracking by Wednesday.
MPBAre they all pop single length, or do you have any epic-length pieces on the album?
LorenWe’ve got some surprises in store.
ZakThere’s some epic-ness.
MPBHow often do you perform?
ZakWe play at least 2 shows a month on average, but it ranges from no shows to 7 shows a month.
TreyRecently, we played in my buddy’s field; we set up some generators [and just had a party]. […] Soon as we get this album out, it’s gonna be full-on again.
MPBAny tour plans?
TreyWe’d love too. [But,] we’re all really blue collar — we all work together, actually, at the same warehouse, so it’s kind of hard for us to just […] take off like that. We’re really gonna need some rocket fuel to get there. […] We’ve all worked for everything we have.
MPBRedeem a song: pick a song that you like, a
guilty pleasure, and tell me why it’s actually great and why I should like it.
TreyPretty much, the whole Eagles catalogue. [But] I really like Lyin’ Eyes. […] Anything Don Henley influenced. But, uh, probably New York Minute; my dad used to sing that song all the time […]. He really loves the Eagles; [they’re not a guilty pleasure] for him, but they are for me […].
LorenI’m not really embarrassed by what I listen to.
TreyWhat about something you wouldn’t want anyone to hear you singin’ in the shower?
LorenWell, like, Brian McNight? — or Seal: Kiss from a Rose. Certain songs evoke emotions, and, I think, in music, that’s where it gets […] where people have their own opinions […]; the Strokes or Linkin Park might bring out certain emotions […] that I wouldn’t feel; I can’t expect everybody to feel a Seal song.
ZakArctic Monkeys, Brianstorm. It’s not Brainstorm; it’s Brianstorm. It starts out, it’s just like, toms, crazy tom rolls, 2 or 3 bars; and then […] it stops, and then there’s just a single guitar line, really fast; the whole song’s really fast. It’s got really cool breaks in it; the guy [Sidenote: Zak is referring to Alex Turner] can sing really well[; he’s] a really great lyricist. They’ve got cool changes; it’s not necessarily what you’d expect, but when they do go to those changes, it makes you feel good […].
MPBSince Brad couldn’t make the interview, could you tell me about him?
TreyBrad’s a righteous dude.
LorenBrad is a good soul. In fact, he’s such a good soul, [the reason] he couldn’t make this interview [was so he could] spend time with his dad.
TreyHe’s a really good guitarist, too.
ZakHe would’ve made this interview 10 times better.
MPBWhat’s in the Kamals’s future?
LorenTouring; writing more; we really want to make this our life’s work. This is our passion; this is what we all love […], and there’s no reason not to go full-on with this […].