The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact is a different breed of ambient/drone altogether. With a strangely humorous name that many either love or hate, this quartet of soundscapers is one of the most interesting and unique projects out there right now. Based in Denver, CO (which is known for a variety of musical scenes, but not particularly for its ambient artists) the foursome are creating sounds that remind one of William Bassinski’s sublime compositions which seem to be ever-unfolding, even long after the initial listening experience. This is music best served with a high gravity brew and a smoke-filled room of your closest friends. The number of members isn’t the only thing that sets this group apart. Few bands playing music of this style are interesting to watch when they perform live. The KCSP seems to have a knack for keeping the attention of their audiences. The form the band takes on stage is especially strange. It reminds one of a magic circle; they seem to be consciously concentrating energy inward, and driving sounds upward and outward. The four members, which include Nathan Wright, Peter Goodwin, and brothers Carson and Tyler Pelo, first met up at the University of Colorado at Boulder a few years back. Since then, the band has released some standout material, including an amazing cassette release titled Decay, and a number of digital albums on their band camp. All the while, the KCSP has been busy playing a long list of shows, to include two sets which I had the pleasure of seeing at this year’s inaugural GOLDRUSH music festival (you can read reviews of each of their sets here and here). On the brink of their upcoming LP Standstill, you can now preview the album via streaming here, watch a video for a track from the album here, and pre-order a copy here. I recently exchanged a few emails with the guys to talk about their musical backgrounds and tastes, and what its like to be in a four-piece drone band in Denver. Here is what followed:
1. I’ve seen Nathan quoted as saying “Sketch comedy is the best way to describe it.” Does this description fit the band name, the band’s approach to making music, or both? How much do you rely on improvisation as the basis for your soundscapes?
N: In reference to the quote, I see a connection between our work and something like Sketch comedy because of the improvisational nature inherent in the music. We usually begin with some sort of structure, direction, or theme, but the finished product is always outside of our control, even though we are the ones controlling the sounds.
P: We all have pretty similar senses of humor and have a pretty hard time offending each other. We have phrases or colloquiums that we pass throughout our circle of friends that end up as song titles or even band names. Its kind of a never ending game of telephone that we hope becomes more awkward as it goes along
C: I wouldn’t say that we rely on improv for the basis of it, but more of what we choose to add to the roots of our music. We might have a melody, idea, loop, whatever and after we get that down, like Nate said, whatever happens after that is almost out of our control.
2. What’s the musical background of each member of the band like? Any formal music training, or are you self-taught?
P: I was in band during middle school. I was the rhythm section. Started playing guitar when I got into high school. Been mediocre, at best, since.
T: Carson and I did everything together in some form or another. He started on alto saxophone, I played trombone. We both did choir in high school and went to all-state our senior years, ironic now that we play in a primarily instrumental band. We picked up guitar, bass, drums and the rest of the parts necessary for a garage band and thought we were cool.
N: My dad gave me his Stratocaster when I was about six, and I basically haven’t put it down since. I know BASIC theory as a result of a combination of things, but the only formal training I had was when playing guitar for my high school jazz band and needed someone to teach me how to actually read music.
3. I’ve read that you were each in bands with different styles of music (Ska, Punk, Post Rock, Country-western) before meeting and forming the KCSP. Does this varying background of influences make it easier or harder to work together as musicians?
T: We’ve all played in/gotten sick of/written with/developed in/absorbed so many different kinds of music it’s hard to not say what has or hasn’t had a lasting effect on the music we make now.
4. I’ve seen two of your sets live. From what I can tell you’re live performances sound almost identical to your recordings. Do you take the same approach to performing as you do when recording? Or are there different processes involved in each?
P: We start in many of the same ways both live and in studio (garage). Although there really isn’t one single way a song gets written, recorded, or performed live. We work around loops that serve as the themes to many of the tracks, and improv a bit around the rest.
T: Lately we’ve been trying to record with as few overdubs as possible. Capturing it all on the first take keeps it spontaneous and ‘live.’
5. I was particularly alarmed by the amount and variety of gear (one set featured a record player, and I can’t even begin to count how many pedals). What types of instruments and electronics do you typically use? Is it an ever-changing palette, or is there a certain set-up you use each time?
P: We have a pedal bank of sorts that we all draw what we want out of. Delays, loops, reverbs, mixers, modulation and oscillation effects. Whatever we have laying around.
C: We all play guitar and/or bass, so they naturally work their way into the music. Everything else, whether it’s melodica, drums, vinyl, reel-to-reel, 16mm film, computer, etc., usually gets added on to a loop or melody, unless it’s the general basis of the track. Generally, we try and stick to a particular sound for each release and sometimes stray from the instrumentation.
6. When the KCSP plays live, rather than facing the audience, you all face inwards towards one another, with a mound of gear in the center. Is this also how you practice? Is there a reason for this type of set-up?
T: We practice in the same way we play live, with all of our gear in the center spread between us all. It helps us connect, being able to face one another while we play. I’d hate to say it was intentional, but our live set-up now has an almost Brechtian nature to it, alienating the audience and thrusting the focus on the music being performed, not how we perform it.
7. Denver seems like more of an up-beat music scene. How does an ambient band fit into this? Do you think the KCSP is more successful due to your 4-piece band set-up, rather than a solo or duo would be?
C: I don’t think that we can say that we would really thrive in any particular scene of any city. Denver has been generally receptive of us, and we love what we’ve done here, but yeah, there’s usually not a huge ambient or drone scene in any given place. I do think that our need to change what we’re accomplishing and there being more than just one person performing it, might make it slightly more intriguing to watch live.
8. I’ve heard talk of a band called Fellow Citizens being the pre-curser to the KCSP. Can you tell me a little more about Fellow Citizens, and the progression from that project to the KSCP today?
P: I wouldn’t call Fellow Citizens a precursor to the KCSP, because we were trying to achieve different things through different means with that project. We worked in a collaborative effort to write and record music together, but the ideas behind the music were very different and executed differently. We were an indie pop act, of sorts. In terms of a timeline though, yes, Fellow Citizens was the project we were working on before the KCSP.
T: There was a lot more singing and people in FC. KCSP started on a FC holiday when all the pedals were still lying around. KCSP has always been more about sound experimentation over pop structure or art-rock, which was more of an FC thing.
9. I think it’s appropriate to say that your music induces meditative states in some listeners. Is this something you intentionally aim for, or does it evolve naturally on its own?
all: Yes, both.
10. I know you’ve released some cassettes. Will Standstill be your first LP as the KCSP? What can you tell us about this upcoming album? How does it differ from your cassette releases so far?
P: We are super excited about the upcoming release of Standstill. We recorded the album about a year ago and have been hoping that it would be released on vinyl specifically. We have sort of held onto this album for awhile until we had the means of releasing it the way that we wanted to.
T: Endweekend, our first release, was built on bass loops being cross-faded and effected. After making that album I had been compiling loops for another release, but wanted a different approach to it. Standstill became that idea with all of us playing the same source tone and compiling all of our own effects of the same loop live back into one. Limitations and rules about how the loops were to be effected and played were set at the beginning of the recordings and we effectively spread a one person process to the larger ensemble of the group.
C: Standstill basically became it’s own entity. It was an album based off of loops, that none of us played on, if you consider the conventional terms. It basically marked a point of us not caring about what the instrumentation on the album was, but what the overall aesthetic is.
N: In it’s approach, I think it’s krauty.
11. What’s in store for the KCSP in the future?
P: We have a ton of recordings coming close to a finish. We recently did some recording with Chris Rhem of Caddywhompus for a little split coming out (hopefully) very soon. We also have a recently finished album that we don’t know what to do with yet. We’ll see what happens with that, but we’re very excited for the future.
12. If each band member could pick their two biggest musical influences of all time, who would they be?
Tyler: 1. John Cassavetes, 2. Morton Feldman
Peter: 1. George Winston 2.The Wire
Carson: 1. Black Dice 2. Erik Satie
Nathan: 1. Walter Benjamin 2. Women