North Idaho’s most creative and energetic fab four KITE have returned to action recently following some time off last year while lead guitarist Scott Clarkson played X-box and recovered from a successful back surgery. KITE, who along with Clarkson includes drummer/lyricist Michael Koep, lead singer/guitarist Monte Thompson, and bassist Mark Rakes, have booked a smattering of gigs for February, including not just one but two shows for today, February 9. The whole family can catch their set as part of “Winter Fest” at Kootenai County Fairgrounds at 3 o’clock this afternoon. Later tonight at 9, they’ll be performing alongside Spokane’s Flying in a Tin Can at the Grail Nightclub on Seltice Way, where the over-21 crowd is likely to get quite a bit saucier.
I was recently able to ask most of KITE a few questions about their ten-year history together and grill them a bit about recording the follow up to 2006’s incredible Sleeping in Thunder album, which they’ve promised to drop at some point this spring.
1. Discuss some of your all time-favorite records that inspired you to do what it is you do.
Mike: When my older brother put the needle down on Rush’s 2112 back when I was eleven years old, something rattled my view of the future. Of the thousands of records that have inspired me, that one in particular seemed to embody something magical. What I thought of as magical at the time quickly developed into an understanding of the ingredients of musical magic: good writing, focused performance and creativity. The album’s theme was based on a novel by Ayn Rand—a futuristic, sci-fi tale of the individual against the collective, and those ideas mingled with the hard rock approach in the telling of that tale, to this day, still suspends me.
The record also proves to me that the medium of rock music is indeed a valuable art form—not to mention exhibiting just what an artist can “get away with” in terms of creative approach. Getting into 2112 was the first time I recall wanting to create magic by making records that can entertain an audience on many different levels.
Other records of mention:
The Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall
The Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
And of course, a thousand others. If only there was time.
Mark: Rush's Moving Pictures, the album that was played constantly by my best friend Clay's older brother when I was 8-ish. Kind of set the path, I think. I grew up in a house where my dad's record collection included the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, ELP, Spencer Davis Group, and so much more, so don't think I could have avoided it.
Radiohead‘s OK Computer was a musical revelation for me. It showed me there was so much more that could be done with "rock" than I'd ever imagined. These guys amaze me still. (Get In Rainbows!)
Scott: Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. First off, the writing is amazing. They created a feeling throughout the album and never forgot it. It’s a wonderful theme album. Also, OK Computer by Radiohead; the arrangement and instrumentation is what turned me on. The music totally compliments the lyrics and vocals. The guitar work is moody and melodic.
2. Describe some of the absolutely greatest and perhaps regretfully disastrous KITE gigs that stand out in your memory.
Mike: We’ve been quite lucky in regard to performances (is there some wood to rap upon near by?), and I can’t necessarily point to a “disaster.” We’ve played a few venues that may not have suited our particular slant of music, but I think we have always been able to win an audience’s appreciation because of our focus and intent on performing our very best every time we play. Obviously we’ve had
shows that didn’t pan out as we’d like. We have off nights (probably more than we’d like to admit), and we’re pretty hard on ourselves as players-- so I suppose our disasters happen when we, for whatever reason, can’t seem to measure up to the standards we’ve set for ourselves as performers.
One particularly “fantastic” show took place on the night that Mark Rakes joined the band. It was KITE’s first time in front of an audience in two years, and it was a joy to know that we could only get better from that moment on. Half way through the show we gave Mark his own key to our studio—I guess that meant were going to “go steady.”
Mark: The Gravity 10th Anniversary Party was a blast. So many people came out to the show, and so many people expressed to the boys how much their material has meant for the past 10 years. I was just glad to be able to help make it happen (I'm still the new guy...only been in the band now for 18 months or so...). We might regret doing an outdoor show in early February, but I hope not.
Scott: There are good days, and there are great days. If I have a bad gig, I try to learn from it and make it better the next time. We always have a wonderful audience. Making new friends and fans, that’s a fantastic gig. Every show is memorable for me.
3. How did you entertain yourselves during your break when Scott was recovering from back surgery?
Mike: Scott’s back surgery was both bad and good. Bad because Scott was hurting and was confined to little or no movement for a few months. Good because the surgery would once and for all eliminate the back problems he’d had for several years prior to the rupturing of the disc. Mark, Monte and myself resolved not to lose a bit of ground during that time—so while Scott was aching, playing video games and hallucinating from the prescribed pain killers, the three of us began writing the new album, we remodeled our recording studio and then planned a “Welcome Back” surprise party for Scott. By the way, we were able to remodel the studio without him knowing, so when he arrived for what he thought was to be his first time back at rehearsal, he walked in to an entirely new and colorful working environment—complete with thirty or so of his closest friends. He was very surprised— more than elated to get back to work.
Mark: I did a side project band called Sky Like Static with a guy from Scotland, Andi Watson, along with Ron Greene, Jae Choi, and Jim Bruce (from Black Happy, now playing with Ron Greene). We did a major remodel of our studio/rehearsal space. Most importantly, my wife and I had a beautiful little girl.
Scott: A lot of lying on my back… and not in a good way (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Rehab, X-Box (thanks T), thinking about getting BACK in the studio.
4. Talk a bit about the new album you’re currently in the process of creating. Is KITE heading in any wild new directions? Should we expect some Swedish electronic death-rap, perhaps?
Mike: All of KITE’s records to date have been themed in some way, and our latest effort seems to be no exception. Something that I’ve been loosely discussing with Monte, Scott and Mark has been this idea of living in the present moment, living in the now. Somehow, when it comes time to write, an overarching theme seems to rear its head and it becomes a bit of an obsession. This “Now” concept has been lacing itself within the lyrics so far, but I hesitate to actually mutter a potential title yet.
We are hoping to release the record in the spring of 2008 and we also hope to tour through the summer. Much of the projected timeline depends upon the time and money equation. An equation I’m still hoping someone will solve.
Mark: Hopefully we'll be done in late spring. We've got two songs mostly done: "The Proposal" and
"The Old In", and are currently working a third called "Leaves on Stones". I know there are finished lyrics floating around for at least 2 more songs, which I hope we'll be arranging very soon, and then recording as well. Lather, rinse, repeat.
It's been great fun. Perhaps a little bit of a departure from previous records, but in a good way, and still Kite. It's not a conscious direction change, more of an evolutionary process, and very much based on where everybody is right now lyrically and musically. That said, we're only about half done, so who knows where the "now’s” will take us.
It's a fun process to come into the studio after some drum tracks are put down, or a rhythm guitar part, and realize that the whole song has taken a left turn from where you thought it was going, and that the left turn leads somewhere WAAAAY better than what you had in mind. A true collaborative effort and a great experience.
Scott: The new album is going to be great. We are always pushing ourselves to explore. We are working for a spring release, with touring to support it. Starting regionally, and spreading out from there.
5. Share some thoughts about the local music scene. What other local artists are worth checking out?
Mike: Cristopher Lucas, Ron Greene, the Half Racks, Lucid, The Johnny Forest. I think the local music scene is better than it has been in years. More and more people are coming out to shows and putting that electrical feel back into live music.
Mark: Cris Lucas, our wonderful friend and a man with many musical talents. He does so many styles so well. Ron Greene, whose new CD "Sketches" is out now, and available at the Long Ear and Hastings. Glenn Case is a great songwriter in the Jonathan Coulton style that I can't believe isn't an internet celebrity. The Johnny Forest, a great, fun, inventive band from Spokane. We've been friends with Gator for years, and his new band, 33, sounds great. I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch.
Scott: The “scene” is always there; it just changes a bit from day to day. There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s up to the music listeners to keep a “scene” going. More people in the clubs supporting original music, means more quality music in the clubs. There are tons of talented musicians out playing. Cris Lucas is inspiring, Ron Greene is doing some great music, Gator and 33 are awesome. The list goes on and on.
6. What are your thoughts on being content as a North Idaho band versus leaving to seek potential fame and fortune in a more booming metropolis like so many local bands often end up doing?
Mike: Certainly, KITE seeks fame and fortune—or maybe just fortune, we could do with out the fame, really. But ultimately we want to create well crafted records and entertaining performances before all else. That probably sounds a bit cliché, but that has truly been the focus of our endeavor for the last eleven years (by the way, we’re not yet rich and famous yet). We believe that our work ethic and our creativity will attract our fortune. And by fortune I mean people who enjoy what we do, and are willing to support our next creative effort. That is the real fortune.
We believe in this day and age it doesn’t matter where you live—and we grew up here in North Idaho. This is our home and we attribute much our inspiration to this place.
Mark: Fame and fortune are funny things: in the end they're nothing like you dreamed they would be
when you were 16, in a garage band. We've had several friends that have "made it"—been signed to major-label contracts, and in the end all that meant is they gave up control of their art to marketing departments and accountants for a few years, and in the end get disillusioned and leave "the biz". If we can do our thing, on our terms, and get to live here, then there's no reason to move anywhere. Our families are here. Our houses are here. Our inspiration is here. All living in Seattle gets you is a HUGE mortgage/rent payment, and traffic. We'll still play concerts over in Seattle and Portland this year, we
just get to come home when the shows are over :)
Plus, the internet is a powerful thing. We have fans all over the planet. We've sold CD's to folks in England, Brazil, Italy, all over. We've been on radio shows in Poland, Canada, and who knows where.
Our MySpace friend list spans the country and the globe. I guess success, fame, and fortune can be
defined a lot of ways.
Scott: In the words of a wise man, “If I can find it here, I can find it anywhere”.
7. What's your favorite local eating establishment and why? Do a mini-review.
Mark: Hard to list one...I'll split into categories :)
Fine: Syringa. Viljo is brilliant. His passion for food and his creativity just blow me away (and I don't
even like fish! :). It's still hard to believe he turned our humble (shared) beginnings at Denny's into
this well-deserved success. I'm proud of him.
Casual: Moon Time. They have something for everybody, something good, inventive combinations, great prices, genius kids menu.
Fast: Mexican Food Factory - Danny and co. treat you right. Good food, spicy salsa, nice people, and 3
blocks from my house! :)
Scott: Syringa. Best Sushi you can get. Viljo has created a very hip atmosphere. The staff is cool and they keep the Sake flowing. The fish is always fresh; I’ve never had a bad experience. Make reservations, it fills up fast.
8. Name a couple of your favorite all time KITE songs and why.
Mark: Wow, this kind of changes from day to day, but since we've been working up our current live show, these are some that I'm excited about playing. "The Right Regret" - live, this song is kind of taking on a life of its own, and from show to show, we don't really know where it'll lead. That can be a lot of fun. "The Proposal” its fun to go out and play a new, amazing song that nobody's heard before. I can't wait to share it with people.
Scott: “Skywater” is kind of our song to each other. I love playing “The Right Regret”. It has a lot of energy. I can feel it from the crowd.
9. Other than your obvious musical roles within the band, describe the roles of each of your co-band members in terms of general personality. (For example the Beatles - John was the "smart, writing Beatle", Paul was the "cute Beatle" etc.)
Scott - the strong, silent (and funny) type
Monte - tall, dark, and handsome
Mike - Renaissance man
Scott: We’re all the Walrus.