The sound of mod­ern life

The wildly eclec­tic Rain­bow Kit­ten Sur­prise aims to make a sound­track for the the­atre of the times

The Georgia Straight - - Music - BY MIKE USINGER

Rain­bow Kit­ten Sur­prise’s charm­ingly laid-back singer, Sam Melo, ad­mits that things are hap­pen­ing fast when he’s reached on his cell in Salt Lake City. In some ways, his up­com­ing tour stop in Van­cou­ver is a mi­cro­cosm of the group’s cur­rent ca­reer tra­jec­tory. Rain­bow Kit­ten Sur­prise was sup­posed to play the Im­pe­rial for its in­au­gu­ral Lo­tus­land ap­pear­ance. Due to over­whelm­ing de­mand, the show was moved to the larger (and promptly sold-out) Vogue.

Rain­bow Kit­ten Sur­prise has got­ten used to out­grow­ing rooms across North Amer­ica. The group started out as a bed­room project and promptly blew up into a jug­ger­naut buzz band. While there were days pay­ing dues in grimy bars ev­ery­where from Toad Suck, Ar­kan­sas, to Roach­town, Illi­nois, it never felt like the band was spin­ning its wheels.

“For the past cou­ple of years we have never re­ally played the same place twice,” Melo says, speak­ing with a soft North Carolina twang. “Ev­ery­thing has changed ev­ery time we go on tour. It’s been wild, the dra­matic dif­fer­ence be­tween now and when we started. In the be­gin­ning you have to try and make bar­rooms work. That’s when you’re sort of tak­ing the band out of the garage and into the real world. You go in and set up know­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween club shows and bar shows is that, first of all, no­body cares that you’re there at a bar un­til you start play­ing and win them over. Back then, we had no idea what this life would be like, and we weren’t even sure we would get here.”

For Rain­bow Kit­ten Sur­prise’s just-re­leased third al­bum, How to: Friend, Love, Freefall, Melo and his band­mates—gui­tarists Dar­rick Keller and Ethan Good­paster, drum­mer Jess Haney, and bassist Char­lie Holt—went into the writ­ing process know­ing some­thing big might hap­pen. Start­ing out as a bed­room project of Keller and Melo’s, the band fol­lowed an ap­pear­ance on the VH1 re­al­ity show Make a Band Fa­mous with well­re­ceived sin­gles such as “Devil Like Me” and “Co­caine Je­sus”.

That early flush of suc­cess raised the stakes. Things got tricky dur­ing the writ­ing of How to: Friend, Love, Freefall when the band re­al­ized the mu­sic busi­ness is a game with a thou­sand losers for ev­ery win­ner. That in­formed “Mis­sion to Mars” lyrics like “Fad­ing, faded, we never made it” and “Blow enough smoke to punch a hole in the ozone/ And all you say is ‘we should’ve stayed home.’”

“We were gain­ing a fair bit of mo­men­tum,” Melo says, “but even as we were mak­ing the record we were tak­ing breaks to do fes­ti­val sets, then go­ing back to the stu­dio. That kept us grounded. But there was also this feel­ing, es­pe­cially in ref­er­ence to ‘Mis­sion to Mars’, that things were im­plod­ing in our per­sonal lives back at home. As far as the band dy­nam­ics went, things weren’t work­ing out great. It seemed like things would get to where we are now if we could just keep it to­gether. But it also didn’t seem like we would be able to.

“We ba­si­cally weren’t sure how, fi­nan­cially, this would pay off,” he con­tin­ues. “Ev­ery­one had one foot in the band, and one foot out the door if things went sour. Even now, there are still bills and con­cerns for the fu­ture. That’s where the ten­sion came from.”

When How to: Friend, Love, Freefall was done, Rain­bow Kit­ten Sur­prise had an al­bum that achieved the goal of cap­tur­ing the times we live in. The days of pledg­ing al­le­giance to a sin­gle genre—whether it be crusty gut­ter punk, Nor­we­gian black metal, or made-in-comp­ton hiphop—are long gone.

After tak­ing a soul-jacked ap­proach to in­die folk, Rain­bow Kit­ten Sur­prise stretched out on How to: Friend, Love, Freefall. Lis­ten for traces of muggy Afrobeat in “Pa­cific Love” and throw­back prog in “When It Lands”. Tow­er­ing postrock gui­tars give “It’s Called: Freefall” and “Mis­sion to Mars” a hyp­not­i­cally med­i­ta­tive vibe, and Melo isn’t shy about un­leash­ing his in­ner Ken­drick La­mar on the reg­gae-dipped “Fever Pitch”.

“I think we’ve al­ways looked to make mu­sic that’s what I call the­atre of the times,” Melo says. “Hope­fully, what we’re do­ing sounds rel­e­vant to what’s be­ing done else­where right now. When I hear some­thing that I re­ally like, the first thing I won­der is ‘What year was this made in?’ That time con­text makes all the dif­fer­ence to me. I think it’s be­cause there’s a slightly com­pet­i­tive na­ture to song­writ­ing where you try to de­con­struct an ex­ist­ing pop­u­lar sound.”

If that sounds con­fus­ing, con­sider the other think­ing that went into How to: Friend, Love, Freefall. A good rea­son for the quick rise of Rain­bow Kit­ten Sur­prise has been a live show that’s re­port­edly noth­ing less than cathar­tic. For a primer, check out the band’s bril­liant video for “Hide”; most of the clip’s six-and-a-half min­utes are devoted, beau­ti­fully, to sto­ries of drag queens com­ing out to their fam­i­lies in the Amer­i­can South. In the brief time RKS is shown on-screen, per­form­ing in a church, the band is mag­netic.

That might ex­plain why the group has quickly out­grown venues in al­most ev­ery city it’s played in.

“Pretty early on, I think it was our third show, we were play­ing with this lo­cal North Carolina band called Jonas Sees in Color,” Melo says. “We opened. I re­mem­ber go­ing out for a cig, and then com­ing back in and see­ing the singer stand­ing in the mid­dle of the au­di­ence. He went to the bar,

or­dered a shot, took it, and then gets up on the bar, not stop­ping the per­for­mance at all. He’s walk­ing along the bar, some­how nav­i­gat­ing his mike and his cord, the crowd help­ing him ev­ery step of the way. I was like, ‘Man, that’s how you gotta en­gage peo­ple—you gotta be all-in.’ There were prob­a­bly only 30 or 40 peo­ple in the room. But what that taught me is that you re­ally have to give peo­ple a me­morable ex­pe­ri­ence. And that means go­ing balls to the wall.”

Rain­bow Kit­ten Sur­prise plays the Vogue The­atre on Fri­day (May 4).

From soul-jacked in­die folk and muggy Afrobeat to throw­back prog and tow­er­ing postrock, Rain­bow Kit­ten Sur­prise in­cor­po­rates a wide range of in­flu­ences.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.