A Sight for Sore Eyes: An Interview with Klum

musician Klum

Below the radar, Monrovia, California’s Klum have just self-released one of the most exciting releases of 2009, We Carelessly Turned Amazingly Into Nothing. A follow-up to their 2006 debut Victory All My Life, which paired moments of explosive indie choruses with careful, tinkering xylophones, this second effort is even more dynamic and lovingly crafted. With three of the band’s members taking turns at the helm of each song, the album morphs from track to track, with a series of strong vocal personalities and shifted genres. The result is an album that lures the listener to play it all the way through, and love every minute of it.

How did the founding members of Klum come together and start making music? What sensibilities did you have in common coming in?

Brock Flores: It all began with my brother Eddie dating Joe’s sister when we were young. If it hadn’t been for that, this would never have happened. Eddie started a sketch comedy crew called The Tricksters and brought Joe and me in as actors. Aaron was a fan of our weekly running show and he hit me up to try him out for it. The guy was fantastic and the four of us were bonded from that point on. Eddie, Joe, and I wrote music together for a while, and later I started Klum with Aaron. Then Joe joined Klum and later continued making music with Eddie under the name Simontronic. Joe gets to be in all of the cool bands!

We all have a strong love for comedy and a kind of dye-our-hair-black emo appreciation for sadness… It seems to work out really well for us. That emo part, I was joking about. No offense, Tickle Me Emos.

Your music is so collaborative — where songs have lyrics written by multiple band members, and vocals performed by two or three of you. Can you talk about the challenges and advantages of this sort of collaboration, and how you make it work?

Brock: Well, it seems to work out for us because we all try to do different things with our voices all of the time anyway. I assume people don’t really know who is singing what because sometimes we don’t even remember who sings certain parts that are on the record. The most important thing to us is just that it’s good.

As far as lyrics go, whoever comes up with the melody writes the lyrics. We just try our best to make all the lyrics consistent with each other. We feel lucky to have the option of using different voices to get the part right and still retain our sound. You don’t really see that used all too much today. The Beatles and Pink Floyd did that beautifully.

How is the structure and line-up of your band different from when you released Victory All My Life?

Joe Fraley: Since Victory All My Life, we’ve had two line up changes and an additional member added. Brock, Aaron, and I are still here and we added Andrew Zuber on drums and Kenny Wood, who plays just about everything. They both really helped evolve our sound and gave us new life we really needed. The overall band structure during Victory All My Life was also more formulaic than it is now. Everyone had more of a set role and generally used the same instrument and style in each song. During We Carelessly Turned Amazingly Into Nothing, we started to go outside of our box. We began implementing more organic instruments, trying out different writing tactics and song structures. Aaron, Kenny, and I started singing a lot as well. Most of the changes came from us wanting to challenge each other. When someone really does something great in a song, it ups the ante and makes everyone step up their game. Impressing your fellow band members, trading instruments off, and picking up things we’ve never played before to create our parts. We had this habit of bringing in new musical toys to play with each day. We had a lot of fun recording this record.

How much of WCTAIN was recorded at home and how much in the studio?

Brock: The drums, pianos, and a couple of guitars were done in the studio. Everything else was done at home. Ben Eggehorn was our studio engineer and he did a beautiful job on the drums and pianos.

The guitars from the studio weren’t all usable because sometimes you can’t get your tone perfect under time constraints. That stuff really takes a while and it’s just too expensive to try and work that out on studio time. We recorded the entire album back and forth between Joe’s house and my own with our two rigs. The room tones that our homes had to offer were very different from one another so it gave us a lot of options. Joe has a giant tile living room with echo to amplify our horns and bigger sounding instruments. I have a small house with wood floors which gave us all of our smaller, warmer tones. I recommend recording where the tone is right and not just where your computer resides.

The structures of your songs are untraditional and rarely return for a second verse… Do members of the band generally bring started or finished songs to the rest of the band, or are they born in a collaborative setting?

Joe: Usually songs are almost finished when they are brought in. But a lot of sections were born in a collaborative setting. For instance, the last section of “Give em Something To Die To” was just something we all started playing after the song had already finished and we just kept going. Most of our songs start with someone bringing in a rhythm and vocal melody to practice. We’ll all play to it for a very long time, seeing what we can come up with. Once we get an overall feel of what we are doing, we’ll start refining the different parts and structuring whatever else needs structure. Also, a lot of arranging happens during the recording process. When you record a song and listen to it you get a totally different perspective of the song, as opposed to when you are hearing it blazingly loud at practice while singing out of key and wailing on a guitar. It gives us a chance to step back and find out what we really want to achieve with the song.

Do you appoint different band members to produce each track, or do you always work collaboratively?

Joe: Brock and I were lucky enough to have our hands on the recordings the entire time, so we produced a good chunk of the album. We made our homes into small studios and worked around the clock recording and editing. We mostly worked together while recording for reassurance, but there were also times when we both worked simultaneously at separate houses.

Aaron is endlessly creative so he had a big say-so in the songs. Kenny was a major player, too. He helped transpose parts and transcribe the horn parts, and he and I directed the horn players. If it weren’t for Kenny and Aaron we’d probably still be recording the album.

I love the story behind "For Sale: a New Life." Can you talk about what inspired it?

Brock: The title itself comes from signage that was used to sell the first suburban homes in Levittown, New York during World War II. That sign always said so much more to me, it’s kind of sad really. I’m sure as far back as grade school you start wishing you could start over. We fuck up right from the get go.

The song was written about a really sickening moment in Vegas. I had just arrived with my girlfriend at the time to the casino/hotel. As soon as I was nearing the elevator I was stopped by a man crying hysterically. He pulled his wedding ring off and asked me with the saddest face to give him a hundred dollars for it, that he had lost everything his family had and he could win it back again if I could just help him. I had to decline and watch him explain to a manager what had happened while still on his knees… It was a pretty sad sight. I guess it’s a song about never really getting a second chance at anything, but only getting to make the best of what’s left.

klum

"People’s expectations of albums from beginning to end must have really declined for them to assume they won’t listen to things straight through anymore." -Brock Flores

The tracks on the album seem very carefully ordered. Do you know, even as you’re going into the studio, that certain songs are going to be opening or closing the album?

Joe: When we were writing, I always envisioned “Our Monster’s End” and “It’s Curtains Old Man” to be the last two songs. Like the climax of a film and then its ending credits. While we were figuring the order out, it didn’t sound quite right going straight into “It’s Curtains” from “Our Monster’s End” and it wasn’t until right before we went into mastering that we put in the intro to "It’s Curtains" ("Windmills"). It was never our intention to include that on the album but it segued the two songs together perfectly.

With “Bashing for the Kids," we had assumed that it would be the first song from the very beginning. Other than those three songs, the rest were assembled together after we had mixed. We tried listening to the tracks in every possible order. We ended up cutting one song and it became a long process because the feel varied so much from song to song. The order we used seemed to have the most continuity.

How important is the presentation of your album to you (as downloads are becoming more prevalent than the physical format) — the artwork, the ordering of tracks, etc…

Brock: This actually came up a few times while we were discussing the artwork and packaging. As much as some people don’t think they need a visual to go with their music, they also have no idea how much they are being influenced by it when it is there. Kid A is a prime example of creating a world for people to go to when listening. It showed us how much you can further influence the listener by giving them “the full package." New ideas of selling albums are great, but having a CD or LP is classic. Things that are classic just can’t fail! Like America’s economy.

Some say track order doesn’t matter much now either because people download individual songs, listen to things on shuffle or just listen to different songs as they please. Well, the way we first present our art to people matters to us and hopefully our album is good enough for people to want to listen to it all the way through. People’s expectations of albums from beginning to end must have really declined for them to assume they won’t listen to things straight through anymore.

What vocal or instrumental performance on the album was the most difficult to get the way you wanted it?

Brock: The vocals to “O’ Sails You’ve Failed.” I had screwed up a million times over. Even in the end I never got what I wanted… at least recording-wise. I ended up singing through a tube as an experiment and it really fucked things up for mixing. After some plane tickets back and forth and heartache we got it right! There is more to that story but I won’t get into it cause the story makes me look like a perfectionist weirdo. All that matters is that we are really proud of how the song turned out!

Joe: I had a really hard time recording the vocals for "It’s Curtains Old Man." I did countless takes during the entire duration of our recording and didn’t like what I was getting. A couple of days before we left to mix, at 4 in the morning, I decided to take one more stab at it. I ran my vocals through a Rocktron Compressor Pedal, did a couple runs through and loved what I did. We ended up doubling the tracks I recorded that night. I also re-tracked the vocals for "Floats On Fire," just for fun. And, sure enough, we ended up using most of those, too. So a lot of my vocal tracking was done in a few hours. Which is rather discouraging when I think about how many takes I did throughout the months of recording. It’s almost like I needed the pressure in order to get it right.

What music did you grow up listening to? How much have your tastes changed?

Joe: We all grew up listening to different music. Brock grew up with R&B, I listened to classic rock, Andrew listened to pop, Kenny listened to movie soundtracks, and Aaron didn’t listen to anything. Interestingly enough we now have similar taste… except for Aaron, he still doesn’t listen to music.

Outside of music, what art forms do you find inspiring to your songwriting? What else inspires you?

Brock: We all have so many different things. If they don’t mind me speaking for them… Joe is really into film, Aaron is a painter, Andrew flies planes, Kenny seems like he feeds off the everyday sound and rhythm of life, just a very busy guy. And myself, reading. And though it’s nothing Aaron and I have a hand in personally, we find the world’s space and science endeavors to be our greatest inspiration.

Love, the spirit, and death are big deals for our entire band, too. Common, but everyone sees it differently.

A lot of our collective inspiration comes from each other’s creativity and being blown away by one another.

What are three things that you hate?

Brock:

1. Losing to a heartless computer in chess

2. Job interviews

3. People who get in my way

Joe: Sex, drugs, and rock & roll

What are three things that you love?

Brock:

1. The smell of opening a brand new Nintendo

2. People who are positive

3. NASA

Joe: Sex, drugs, and rock & roll

What are you listening to lately?

Brock: Portishead, The Good the Bad and the Queen, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Joe: Cocorosie – The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn

Photos by Travis Simpson and Brock Flores

Visit Klum on MySpace.

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