Speaking on the recently released Piecework, the guitarist and singer of Kowloon Walled City, Scott Evans admits: “We never stopped being a band." Their previous effort, Grievances, came out in 2015. Almost right after the release the Oakland-based band had started developing new ideas. Now it seems like Kowloon is a perfect example of those kinds of artists who can’t just stop working.
Since Grievances, Kowloon Walled City worked on the road, recorded new material, and released several split releases. Despite their hard work ethic, according to Scott, finishing Piecework took much longer than band had expected.
“There’s rarely any 'sparkle' in this band," notices Evans. “We’re all friends and we like being around each other, but writing is always too slow and a little grueling. This record was no different. It generally felt like we were doing good work, at least when we’d write things worth keeping.”
Ian Miller, the bass-player of Kowloon Walled City, agrees admitting that the general writing process isn't all that fun. "We end up breaking songs down to their molecular levels and re-assembling them over and over until the bonds are unbreakable," says Miller. "We may not be good, but at least we’re stubborn."
A recent change that happened in Kowloon Walled City went down when co-founding drummer Jeff Fagundes left the band. Dan Sneddon took Jeff’s seat, finding his own ways to bridge the group's past and present.
“At first I leaned pretty heavily into wanting to honor the previous records in terms of the way the drums were played," comments Sneddon. It seems to me like his task became the hardest one to replicate. To lean the style and strip down the DNA of the band to come up with a distinctive vision of rhythmical structures and coloring, adding elements and strategies from his own toolbox.
The interplay between Sneddon and Miller is a major factor in creating the sound of Piecework. Referring to the recording process, the bassist stresses, that it helped the band to record everything as a unit live in the studio. “There are a few fixes here and there but what you’re hearing on the record is essentially what we played together in the room.”
The rhythm section seems to be like two obsessive runners coming from different angles and hitting each other at some point. Pauses and the usage of space enhance heavier parts. They reach almost psychedelic effect operating with soul-crushing dynamics, space and acoustics.
“This band started out relentlessly heavy, but pretty early on we realized that space is beautiful when you make it work," notices Evans. Even though, Piecework starts with heavy chords attacking you, at the same time you also feel an equal amount of tension. Kowloon don’t tend to drive their songs to the point of reaching any sort of extreme-ness. Tension, melody, and space are the primary drivers of their writing process.
“'Space' doesn’t have to mean quiet sections or long pauses, it’s also about writing parts that get out of the way when they should," adds Evans. "Playing fewer notes, playing with intention.” Despite the compositional role, the vocalist/guitarist also stresses the role of pauses in the writing process as the fundamentals for his lyrical sketches.
“I spend a lot of time on phrasing, trying to make words land right.” In his notebook, Evans draws diagrams and rhythmic figures, working out how syllables interleave through them. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. For Scott, it always gets to a point of questioning.
“Do these words sit well with this song? If not—they have to change. But beyond that, I’m not sure of the answer. If I write fun, lighthearted songs, I don’t bring those to this band. I know the same goes for [Kowloon Walled City guitarist] Jon [Howell]."
Piecework is out now via Neurot Records/Gilead Media.
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