The third album is a notoriously difficult record for many bands. While on a first album they might start to find their own musical path and then on a second album to build on it, the third album often throws up the question of whether they should continue to carry on making music in the same vein or to try something with an different focus.

The Canadian band Kepler took the latter course with their third album ‘Attic Salt’. It was a move which in an extraordinary chain of events that included label troubles, line-up changes and money problems lead to the group nearly breaking up, and that a year and half on, which has just seen ‘Attic Salt’ finally released in both North America and Europe after much delay, Kepler are only just beginning to recover from.

“I think that it was a fairly deliberate thing” says Samir Khan, Kepler’s bassist and vocalist, talking to Pennyblackmusic and about the band’s change in direction “It came about as a matter of frustration. I have always been happy with the things that we have done in the past, but in terms of things that we were listening to and beginning to aspire to we all wanted to try and do something a little bit different. We also had got better at playing our instruments and wanted to do something a little more challenging.”

Kepler, which originally consisted as well as Khan of guitarists Jon Georgekish-Watt and Jeremy Gara and drummer Michael Sheridan, formed in Ottawa in early 1997. They began by playing a windswept form of post rock that earned them a support slot in 2002 touring Europe with fellow Canadians Godspeed You Black Emperor, and which extended across a five song EP ‘This Heart is Painted On’ (1999, Spectra Sonic Sound Records) and over their first two albums, ‘Fuck Fight Fail’ (2000) and ‘Missionless Days’ (2002, both Troubleman Unlimited/ Resonant).

Michael Sheridan left the group shortly after the tour with Godspeed You Black Emperor, and his place on drums was taken by multi-instrumentalist Gara who also continued to play guitar in the group.

In contrast to its predecessors, ‘Attic Salt’ (also Troubleman Unlimited/Resonant) incorporates together elements of country blues, New Wave and Motown-inspired soul.

“Our first two albums were basically concept records” Khan recalls.“We tried to fuck with that a little on ‘Attic Salt.’ We were mostly a quiet band on those first two albums and most of the songs on ‘Attic Salt’ are again also slow and quiet, but I wanted to have something where you could listen to each song and think that it was like its own little thing and, unlike the songs on ‘Fight Fuck Fail’ and ‘Missionless Days’, wasn’t something which was there to necessarily fit in with something else. Both Jeremy and I in particular had tons of ideas. We felt really very liberated throwing them around.”

“Attic Salt’ is lyrically very dark. The protagonist of the deceptively breezy jangle rocker ‘Throughbred Gin’ is a rich businessman and has on the surface done very well for himself, but, emotionally crippled, drinks himself into oblivion in cheap karaoke bars to quell his surging feelings of discomfort and anxiety. The mournful funk blues of ‘My Other’ tells of a couple who have stayed with each other long after they should have broken up, while bleak orchestral ballad ‘The Bedside Manner’ is about a failed death bed reconciliation between an estranged father and his son.

There are, however, though moments of humour too. The art-loving narrator of surging New Wave/Motown number ‘The National Epithet’ doesn’t know whether he likes the “dirty paintings” he goes to look at in art galleries because he admires the way in which they have been painted or just because he finds them erotic. The elegiac feedback-soaked and piano-led opener ‘Broken Bottles Blackened Hearts’ meanwhile finds Khan looking back on his punk days with both dewy-eyed sentiment and absolute horror.

It was that humour which Kepler decided to focus on when choosing a title for the album. They first came across the phrase ‘Attic Salt’ after Khan’s girlfriend discovered it while surfing on the internet.

“It is an antiquated term meaning ‘delicate wit’” Khan says. “We have always had a terrible time choosing titles, and we thought “Okay, we like to think we are delicately witty. We’ll go for that.”

“The attic thing ended up being kind of apt for almost what happened to this record” he adds with a wry laugh. “It almost became this thing which sat and became dusty in the middle of nowhere.”

Even before the album was completed in April of 2004, Kepler found themselves running into problems with both Troubleman Unlimited, their New Jersey-based American label, and Resonant, which is London-based and their European label.

“There were some issues with Troubleman Unlimited” Khan says. “They went through a rough patch and it took nearly a year and a half to sort that out. With Renascent I sent them the rough mixes of the record and, while they were interested, they liked our older stuff more. There was a spell, as with Troubleman United, in which it looked like they were not going to release it, but then when I sent them the final thing they decided that they wanted to put it out and to give it a proper release outside America. That again though took a long time before it was sorted out.”

It was to get worse still…

In August of that year Gara announced that he was quitting.’Attic Salt’ had been recorded over the course of a year as and when Kepler who were working to a tiny budget could afford studio time, and Gara, the only full-time musician in the group, had spent much of that period both playing with other bands and touring. When he was offered a full-time place with the Montreal-based chamber pop act the Arcade Fire he decided to leave. It was, given the phenomenal American and European success that the Arcade Fire’s critically acclaimed debut album ‘Funeral’ has met with since it was released at the beginning of last year, the correct decision. Yet for Khan and Georgekish-Watt, now Kepler’s only two surviving members, it was another harsh blow.

“Initially when Jeremy first told us, his plan was that he was still going to somehow play with Kepler” Khan reflects. “Some of the Arcade Fire guys had lived in Ottawa. We knew that they were going to take off and it quickly became apparent that it just wasn’t going to work with Jeremy. Things were awkward for a while after that between Jeremy and us, not really for any rational reason, but everything is fine again now. Jeremy is one of our best friends and best supporters and comes along to whatever shows that he can make. He is always really encouraging and tries to help us out however he can.”

After having lived in Ottawa for 10 years, Khan had also moved to Toronto that summer for work reasons. With Georgekish-Watt now a five hour drive away, both their record labels faltering over whether to release ‘Attic Salt’ and Gara gone, it looked like Kepler were a spent force. In all likelihood they would have been, except for the intervention of two other musicians, Mike Feuerstack and Mike Dubue, both of whom offered their help to Khan and Georgekish-Watt.

Feuerstack, who is a guitarist and a lap steel player, is Montreal-based and has his own acoustic guitar solo project Snailhouse. Both Khan and Gara had played on Snailhouse’s album ‘The Silence Show’ (Scratch Records, 2005). Dubue, who plays guitar, keyboards and percussion, comes from Ottawa and fronts his own group the Hilotrons. Both of them had made guest appearances on ‘Attic Salt’. Feuerstack had also played on ‘Fuck Fight Fail’.

“There really was no band to speak of for a while” Khan says. “We were really proud of ‘Attic Salt’, but we just didn’t think that it would be possible to ever get it out. Mike and Mike, however, came to us and said ‘Listen. It’s a good record. We’d like to be a part of it. We’ll play for you’ and so we were able to start up again.”

“We try to get together once a month” he continues. “We do a two or three day practice that is usually very intensive. Both Mikes have their own bands which they are very passionate about also. It is a matter of fitting everything in, but Jon and I are delighted that these people have volunteered to devote time from their already busy schedules and to play with us simply because they like what we were doing.”

Kepler have run into further difficulties since then. A proposed North American tour was largely cancelled due to a lack of funds last summer and was restricted to just three dates in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Gara’s successor on drums, Jordy Walker, also moved to the remote Canadian city of Winnipeg in September after a year of playing drums for Kepler and had to be replaced by Robin Buckley, who also plays the drums in another local Ottawa group the Ben Gunning Band.

Things, however, are at last beginning to look up for Kepler ‘Attic Salt’ was finally released in North America last July, and is due out in Europe on February 6th. The realigned group has also been back in the studio working on new material.

“It is different again now” says Khan about it. “I can’t really describe it yet because we haven’t fully fleshed it out. The addition of the new members has, however, meant that the songwriting has changed again now from ‘Attic Salt’. It is a little bit more aggressive and vocally centered.”

Even after everything that has happened to Kepler during the course of the last two years, Khan has lost none of his enthusiasm and energy for making music.

“It was like what the hell else was I going to do” he says in conclusion. “The very very heart of me thinks ‘Forget all this business stuff or all this personnel stuff’. I had frankly not signed up for any of that. The actual playing of music and making music with people I enjoy working with is still a really satisfying and great thing. I really enjoy making music for its own sake. I don’t think that is ever going to change.”

‘Attic Salt’ is an album that both Kepler’s past and present members remain immensely proud of.

In rock music as with everything else, the future, of course, remains unpredictable. One, however, hopes that the making of their fourth album will prove to be a far less traumatic event for Kepler.


The photographs that accompany this article of Kepler were taken by Pennyblackmusic Andrew Carver at the release gig for 'Attic Salt' in Ottawa in July 2005 and orignally appeared on his own photographic website wee.natcaprock.blogspot.com

















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