Walker Kong return with Phazes Of Light, perform Saturday at Bryant Lake Bowl
What I love more than anything about the Twin Cities music scene are the various, and seemingly endless, aspects of permanence that forever radiates from both sides of the radio dial as well as our own turntables. The people who listen, love and perform never stop connecting. It's an infinite line into life and loving it, and it's easy to see who has made music a big part of their life. Case in point, Walker Kong, a group who have perfected not only their individual sound and artistic approach, but their own distinct brand of loving life.
Like life, friends come and go, and as the band has dropped in and out of consistently performing live, they've maintained friendships that have cemented a willingness to carry on and continue to beautify their own musical legacies. The songs from Walker Kong's latest, Phazes of Light, do so brilliantly and bolster more melodic and thoughtful energy than the band has ever managed thus far. As Walker Kong individually have gone on to raise families and even lost a former band mate (keyboardist Sara Vargas died in a motorcycle accident in 2009 in Mexico), the core spirit of the band has held fast, making a new record from them all the more invigorating.
I got hold of lead singer and songwriter for Walker Kong, Jeremy Ackerman, from the band's AOL account to catch up a bit and find out about some of the feelings and ideas about the new record, his own artistic philosophies, and a look into what has made Phazes of Light so rewarding for him and the band.
So the new record is Phazes of Light. To me that implies something futuristic, but Walker Kong has stayed kind of old school new wave in sound. There's a lot of dreamlike sounds and positivity. What's the overriding inspiration on the record?
Jeremy Ackerman: Yeah...I had been listening to a lot more electronic music during the making of this record and I initially planned something more radical in sound. The reality is that we're always defined by our limitations. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because it keeps the project honest. Our group was built on severe technical limitations and I think that's something that has defined our sound over the years. We haven't taken the Ramones route, but rather a Talking Heads approach. We've always been open to various styles of music but when we incorporate these things into our sound they are put through a limitation filter. I'd like to think it keeps the music true to form yet always evolving.
What are some of the band's favorite moments on the new record? Are there things you hadn't tried before that came about and proved rewarding on Phazes of Light?
The use of keyboard beds really made this record gel. We've always used orchestration to fill up space but this time around we wanted to simplify the overall arrangements and let the songs speak more for themselves. Some of the lyrics are less obtuse on Phazes than on the other records. We wanted to be more direct and I think we achieved that on a number of levels.
Though it's been a while, I think we all think of Sara Vargas quite a bit. Ya know, she just always brought that burst of enthusiasm whenever she was around that was ultimately infectious and was a big part of the band before she moved to Mexico. How has the band as a family entity carried on some of that spirit, and how does it show in the songs?
It was Sara's early philosophy that has defined the band over all these years. She once said that the band had to enjoy all other aspects of life together and if that happened the music would have a real purpose. I'm paraphrasing...I think her actual statement was more along the lines of "As a band we should eat lot's of cookie dough and watch movies together." We've always been a band of friends over a band of musicians and I think that's why Walker Kong has endured for all of these years. That said, I've always had high standards for the music and I can't push aside perfectionism. The rest of the band has played an important role in maintaining the balance so it can truly be a labor of love rather than one mans quest to be a total control freak.
Walker Kong really has remained an extension of your creative diversions. It's somewhat a character that is consistent with your visual work as a living conceptual piece, so to speak. Has it become what you originally set out for it to be, or where and when did it take on a life of it's own?
Initially it was born out of a respect for groups like the Shaggs, Beat Happening, Galaxie 500 and Jonathan Richman who relied more on spirit than the quickness of fingers. I also loved the Fluxus movement, who ultimately questioned the establishment through relentless mockery, wild fun and pointless games. Outsider artists were also an important point of reference early on in both spirit and execution. Although I've matured over the years as a creative person, I still embrace the energy of those early influences and recognize their importance. Honestly speaking, the quest to maintain creativity as a priority is the greatest roadblock for most artist/musicians.
Even though I have continued to create work well into my thirties I still have expectations that go way beyond what I'm able to physically produce. There are people out there who are walking incarnates of the creative spirit and this is where I would like to arrive someday. Michael Gaughan (aka Ice Rod) is about as close as you can get to that spirit. We went through the masters program at the U of M together, and he was the most hyper creative person I had ever met. His drawings, sculptures and performances celebrate life more than most, and he's relentless. This has happened to me, but not on a level where I feel satisfied. I expect more of myself.
Dude, don't be so hard on yourself. I think playing music in essence is a folk art for a lot of musicians and people that play music. I mean ultimately, this is just something we do. And, like any personal form of expression, you've been able to maintain a certain style and focus outside of typical expectations. Creatively what else can people look forward to from yourself and the band?
Jeremy Ackerman: So many ideas and so little time. Walker Kong is going to do a bike tour/show/conceptual art piece later this summer and that should be pretty all encompassing.
Nice! As far as pop music, what do you find your kids gravitating towards that makes you a proud pop?
We have some old friends from Minneapolis who just put together a project called the Learning Fairies that sounds like British punk rock for children- the kids are down with it. They have a far away look when listening which means they are processing it. Oddly, both kids have gravitated more towards visual art but I expect their interest in music to rise in the coming years. How can it not?