Friday, October 21, 2011

Kevin Carnes Interview

Presence. For Disaster Amnesiac, that one word describes Kevin Carnes quite effectively. The few times I've spoken with him, he's been quietly humorous and eloquent. He doesn't say much, but, one invariably knows that he's in the room. When he's behind a drum kit, his presence makes itself known in a much more audible way. His funk-fueled poly rhythms have been blowing Disaster Amnesiac away for two decades. Kevin can drive any kind of band to musical heights.
Kevin has been a present, drumming in the S.F. Bay Area musical scene for close to thirty years, but he doesn't seem to get the in-depth treatment that so many others have received. I've lamented that for some time, and humbly offered my services to him, by way of this interview. Dig in, and enjoy the wit and wisdom (and there is PLENTY of both) of Kevin Carnes!

You've been making music out of the S.F. Bay Area for quite some time. Are you a native Californian, or were you born and raised in some other locales? 
 I was born in Florida, my parents were part of the “migration” north in the 60’s to Detroit, that’s where I spent my early youth until I graduated from high school.
From there, I went to Las Cruces, New Mexico on a Track and Field scholarship  which is where I met Adam Shurborne (Consolidated, Until December).  I joined his band (the Usuals) and relocated to Houston, Texas.
After a year of being called nigger and told to go back to Africa, the band moved to San Francisco, and aside from about 10 months in LA in the early 90’s, I’ve been in the Bay Area ever since.

What were some formative sounds or musical experiences for you?

Seeing Isaac Hayes in Detroit in 1970, and Prince on the Dirty Mind tour were 2 of the most important experiences on my musical journey.  Taking drum lessons with my father every Saturday for about 7 years and listening to his massive record collection also played a major roll.
As far as sounds go, I’ve never felt bound to any particular genre, so I’ve always been open to all styles of music, which has exposed me to all sorts of sounds, textures, and ideas about what music is or could be.
2 other moments stand out as well.  The first was a recording session that I did with George Clinton.  I won’t go into the long version of this story but he directed me through over-dubbing drums on a song and I learned more about “dynamics” with him than ever before.  The second moment I have to mention was seeing Max Roach do a solo performance at The Palace Of Fine Art.  Max played drums and sang songs for about 55 minutes and it was the most beautiful thing… The elderly woman sitting next to me cried like a baby, she was so moved by it.

 At what point in your life did you begin to actively play the drums? Did you play in school or church bands? How about garage bands?

 I started to study drums at the age of 5 but didn’t become serious about it until I played in my first band at age 12. 
 I played in school from first grade through high school, orchestra, marching band, not much in church, but once I played with my first band, I was hooked.

Were there any formal instructors in your early development as a drummer? How about other instruments? Did you have any early mentoring in your musical development? 

I had a drum teacher when I first started playing music, he taught me “In the Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream for my first lesson.  He also taught me how to read music, and that was his greatest contribution to my world.  I also studied guitar and viola but I had no support on the viola and after my first guitar instructor, who was awesome, I had a really crappy teacher who was so grumpy that I quit studying with him.

You were a founding member of the Beatnigs. I never saw them play, but have heard clips. Beatnigs' sound comes across as a mashup of various Post-Punk musical elements. Please tell how this group came about, its aesthetic concept, and its development.

I was a DJ at a small mission night spot in the early 80’s and had the run of the place on Sunday nights.  I hosted many events there, fashion shows, dance performances, film nights, it was more of a salon than anything, very experimental and I would spin everything from Public Enemy and The Sex Pistols to Sylvester and Dean Martin over Dub tracks.

Gradually, certain people became regulars in the scene and on the stage.  One was Andre who introduced me to Michael Franti and brought him into the fold and soon had him on stage reading poetry and dancing in some of our performances
Rono Tse joined the circle with a very creative fire and a truck.
We did some pretty “out” stuff but continued to develop ideas and try them out to the point where we started to need “rehearsal” and a space to work out.
 Henri Flood was a friend from another band that I was playing with and he began to play percussion with us and was really into the idea of being more than just a conventional percussionist.
That became the nucleus of the band and Michael came up with the name.  There was a manifesto, of sorts, one that was about what you could do and not what you couldn’t.  We were very political in that Punk Rock, Black Militant, Artist  kind of way (very Afro Punk).

Broun Fellinis have been playing for over twenty years. Please talk a bit about the conception of this band, early development, and the nascent scene around it.

David Boyce and I had a bunch of conversations about art, music, history, politics, girls, general bullshit that we felt like expressing as musicians.  We also did not want to sound like anyone in particular but everyone at the same time while also carving out our own space in the continuum.
David came up with the name during a rant about “surrealism” and how to convey that in our music.  And, along with a lot of other folks, we both love Fellini and his films.
Broun Fellinis have a very solid, identifiable sound, along with fascinating conceptual world all your own. Can you address these two elements of the band?

Feeling is first, and we rarely use the word “style” when we share our musical ideas with one another.  That’s all I can really say about our “sound”.  I Think that everyone lives in their own internal “conceptual world”, we’ve just chosen to live our conceptual world in our actual world and it’s made it a lot better to be here.

Broun Fellinis have held steadfast to an independent stance within the music industry. Please address the issue of independent artistic control, especially as it applies to your music.

We’re not a “major label” band.  We’re not even an “indy” band, and we’re not really interested in designing something that fits into those little boxes.  The last 20 years have provided artists, of all disciplines, the opportunity to create, market and display their art independently and be very successful and we’ve found that there is also a great deal of satisfaction in knowing how manage a mailing list… just joking!  This shit is hard work and I’m sick of doing it but if a label or manager, or publicist or girlfriend doesn’t do the things necessary to get on stage, make records, or pay bills, who will?

A friend recently attended a Broun Fellinis show in Berkeley, and he marveled at just how psychedelic the music has become.  It seems to me that this has always been the case. What are your thoughts on psychedelic elements within music? How important are psychedelic or space elements to you and your band mates?   

Playing this music is very meditative for me.  It’s my medicine, my religion, my food, and a positive thing that I can share with the world.
I don’t really think of it as “psychedelic” before arriving to the band stand or in the studio. We just try to open ourselves up to the possibilities of the cosmos, or our own inner feelings or whatever kind of hippy shit that sounds like.
Music, story telling, the creative process, is about transportation and a little delay or flanging goes a long way.

I have seen and heard your drumming in other bands besides Broun Fellinis. Please talk about some of the projects in which you've participated. Which ones have you enjoyed the most?

The short answer is Eric McFadden Trio (with James Whiton on bass), Storm And Her Dirty Mouth (later Storm Inc.), and IZM (the best rock band you’ve never heard of), and Consolidated/Adam Shurborne. 
There are many other bands, artists, jam sessions and events that I could talk about for hours, but the one that I have to mention are the times that I’ve played with Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic – Talking Heads).  He is the most intelligent, funky, creative, versatile, musician that I’ve had the blessing of making music with and I would commit major crimes for the chance to play with him again.

What type of drum gear are you currently using? What types of gear do you love to use? 
I have a set of Slingerlands from the late 60’s that I absolutely love, a 13"[tom], a 16” floor tom and a 22” bass drum.  I have a wooden snare that Sam Adato designed and my Black Beauty copy was stolen so I need a good metal snare.  I use Zildjian cymbals and I have a set of Vistalites that need refurbishing.  I don’t really care for “new” drums, they all sound the same, but if you gave me some I would play the hell out of them for you, then probably trade them for something old with a little more character.

How involved are you with engineering and mixing of Broun Fellinis recordings? 

You know, it varies from project to project but I tend to be very hands on with our recording session.  As I get better and better at doing it though, the less I want to be in that mode .  I’d much rather work with a good engineer so I don’t have to think about it.  I would really like to produce more, both with the band, produce the other members’ projects, and other artists outside of the band as well.

Along with drumming in Broun Fellinis, you also add electronic sound. Do you produce a lot of electronic music as a solo artist as well? Any links to these types of productions? 

I’m finishing a project now, U.A.F., which will be done around the end of the year, and some other things are in the works – HEADBOLT, Black Quarterback, a Broun Fellinis remix project which will happen in the spring and hopefully include releasing some vinyl.

Many creative people have well springs of inspiration from which they draw. What are some things that give you the spark needed to continue on your creative path?

I just open my eyes, open my mind, breath deeply then strike the first note and see what happens.  I think that every moment in one’s life is an opportunity, a story, a melody or a rhythm and it’s on me to address whatever I feel and try to document it. 

Please give your thoughts on San Francisco, particularly your impressions of the city over the years that you have lived there. 

San Francisco is one of those “special” cities and I love living here.  Whenever I think about relocating I end up with a very short list of places because so few places offer up what the San Francisco and the Bay Area provide for me.  It’s a very inspiring and stimulating place to be an artist, though it has become more difficult in light of the gross inflation of property, I’ve seen my cost of living more than double since moving here and it’s largely due to housing and rehearsal space rental fees.
I’ve been here since ’84 and have seen many changes, both good and bad, in the Bay Area.  There seem to be a lot more people who are part of the consumer culture and fewer of those who contribute to it, more trend followers and fewer trend setters.  Don’t get me wrong though, the folks who are here creating are doing some amazing work, the ratio just feels wrong and I have to do a lot more investigating to find cool shit.  I also feel that SF has priced out a lot of the creatives and they’ve relocated to the East Bay and that’s causing a renaissance of sorts that’s been happening for a number of years now, and it’s beautiful… Make BART run 24 hours please! (amen to that!-ed.) 

Going forward, what are some projects that you're involved with? What is in store for your music? 

What is in store for my music?  To get it into the stores!!!
To also see if I can cut another 20 year slice of life out of this Fellini cake, continue rockin’ stages all over the globe, and inspire others to make some kind of positive action.  As far as projects to look for: U.A.F., Black Quarterback, HEADBOLT, Reverser, and Broun Fellinis are the things that I’m most passionate about, and there are a few others that either don’t have names yet or I am keeping them secret until it’s time to share them with you.

No comments: