‘It’s very important to understand about K-X-P, honestly, we’re trying to create the best band there is in the world at the moment‘. Ian Maleney speaks with Timo Kaukolampi of Finnish pop-psych masters, K-X-P.
Sitting in his Berlin apartment on the eve of his band’s biggest ever European tour, Timo Kaukolampi is eagerly awaiting the delivery of brand new band t-shirts. His band, K-X-P, have just released their second album II, and are set to take their crazy, dark, fun-time, psychedelic krautrock to a bigger audience than ever before. Their music is hard to pin down, at once straddling the darker edges of Teutonic motorik and blissful Europop, all headed up by the cathartic, passionate vocal performances of Kaukolampi, who marries dark lyricism with an intensely physical, vital presence.
As a band, they sometimes hint at the sounds of fellow Finns, Circle and Pharoah Overlord, unsurprising when you realise that drummer Tomi Leppänen is a regular performer in all three bands. While the records can sometimes be tough to fathom, it all makes perfect sense in the loud, blurry blast of adrenaline that is a K-X-P live show.
Has it been difficult to transfer the new songs from the studio to the stage? It’s been a little bit tough but I think what’s been making it tough is that I have sampler called an Akai MPC1000 that I’ve been using since the beginning of 2000 or 2001 and now I’ve gone away from this MPC world. I’ve gone to another hardware sampler called an Octatrack, it’s a Swedish one. So basically this has been a big problem. I was taking four months programming it! Really early I noticed that adapting the live sound is so difficult and you have to be thinking about so many things. The adaption from MPC to Octatrack was difficult but it had the new album, the new songs, on top of it. So it’s been a bit of a technical thing. Now we did an eight-day US tour, we did SXSW and four other shows, and now it’s really tight already. I’m doing all the programming so there’s been an overwhelming amount of work in that. I’m saying now that if you have to change your technical things, it’ll take a year. Now we’re already on the better side, so I’m really happy with how the things are going now. The machine is becoming an extension of my mind rather than it controlling me, which I think is very good.
What are the benefits of using the Octatrack over the MPC? It has a low-pass filter which I can use to take away all the music with just one button, which is really great. It’s teaching me how to keep things a little bit more minimalistic because I’m really bad with minimalism, I just fill everything up with information. So if you already have bass and drums, it’s lots of information and I wanted to have one button that would take away all the music. It’s pretty interesting that it works that way. Less options is better in my opinion. I always get lost in too many things and then you stop playing and freaking out, thinking “I could do this thing or this thing or this thing”.
I wouldn’t really say the new album is a very “minimal” album at all. Is the recording reflective of where you will take the live shows? Will you be switching it up a lot? I have to say that, always, the records we are making, because it’s such a long process of making one, they are always following two years behind what we are about sound-wise. The first record was very much like the starting point of K-X-P, how it was in the very beginning, it was very monotonic, very static. Then we started to develop as a band and it’s like a big journey we were taking. I got involved in a lot of writing, pop music and that kind of stuff. I feel that on this record, you can hear that echo from the pop world really clearly. When I was starting to make this record, I realised this was the direction the music was going because I had lots and lots of demos I was playing around with. I thought, honestly, if the music sounds like this, then it’s going to sound like this. It’s very important to understand about K-X-P, honestly, we’re trying to create the best band there is in the world at the moment. If the band sounds like this this time, then that’s what the record is going to sound like. It’s very transparent, the process.
The next record will sound very different because we are almost finished it. There are lots of demos so we know how we are going to do the next record and the next record will sound different again. It’s very free, the next record. I have to say also, on this record, number two, the main writing was done by me. In the future it’s going to be more spread around the whole K-X-P crew. I’ve always been encouraging people to write more music, because if I’m writing all the music it will always sound the same. I just want all different kinds of music written and then it will sound very full and very rich. I think on the next record we will get into this kind of world where it’s starting to sound more like some kind of K-X-P entity rather than my songwriting.
You moved to Berlin before recording this album, right? Why did you move? How was it? I went to Berlin to finish it and do the final writing. I think it felt like a good idea in the moment but it was maybe not the best idea. I was too isolated I think. It felt really lonely at some points. I was sending loads of files to Finland and the guys were programming on top of it so it was very interactive. The worst part of it was I was doing it with this amazing studio called Trick Studio. So when I was finishing one song, I’d always give it to Klaus and Tim, the father and son of this Trick studio, and they started to mix it. So I’m in the other room and I hear them mixing this song and I’m like “Shit, I have to finish another one!” just so I’d have something to do. In a way it was a race against time. I think it was very funny but I don’t want to do records in that way because I feel that records are ready when they are ready and you can’t really speed up the program. It will take as long as it will take, then it’s ready. With this record, we went back in the studio a few months after and finished some things, and added things like ‘In The Valley’, that was the last song that was added to the record. The ‘Dark Satellite’ track, the last track, that kind of sound is kind of the new K-X-P sound. In a way we are sonically going in that direction, a little more minimalistic and dark, this kind of thing.
Do you like the city? I like this city because it’s very peaceful. I’m just eating out and having a cup of tea in a corner of a cafe and then coming back home to sleep. So it’s very mellow living here. Lots of people come here to party but I rarely go out. I just stay home and do yoga and eat good food. I’m really happy how things are going now. It’s a really interesting time I think.
I read that you went through a tough time emotionally making the record, that there was a lot of grief involved? Yeah, I think it’s very honest to say that. When the first record came out, almost immediately after that, my mother died. Then when I was here, my father died. It was pretty crazy, death. My oldest brother died and all sorts of crazy things. So I think I spent one year extra of doing things and thinking of things. I also found all this death made me think about life in a very different way than I had been before. If I’m thinking of my own parents, subconsciously I know that they are dying but when they actually die, it kind of creates a different kind of mindset. You understand that, ‘What the fuck?! Life is ending at some point’ and you have to do something. This is what happened to me, I started to be very aware of time and the movement of time.
There are lots of these themes on the record like ‘Staring At The Moon’ and ‘In The Valley’ and things like that. ‘In The Valley’ is about all the people on this journey and everyone is kind of on a different part of the journey but in the end everyone is going to the one, same place and that is death. ‘Staring At The Moon’ is about creation of life on a very atomical and metaphysical level and speculation on that. There is this undercurrent of thinking about life on this record and in the words and everything.
Is it hard to be so open with your lyrics, to be speaking about yourself and your family? I think it’s like, if I would not be open with my music, then it would be much more difficult. Then I would always have to be telling stories that are not true. If I’m singing about real things, there’s nothing anyone can say about it. Either they like it or don’t. If I am hiding somewhere, they can be like, ‘that dude is not real’ or something and then people can actually hurt me more I think. With my logic, if I’m just saying ‘This is what it’s all about’, then it’s either the listener who says ‘I don’t like this, fuck this dude’ or then ‘Whoah, this is amazing, this is some epic stuff’. But there’s nothing in between, there’s nothing hidden under, it’s very open and raw. I feel that, for me, it’s the easier choice rather than hiding somewhere and singing about something I don’t know anything about.
K-X-P play Whelan’s on Thursday 25th April with Twinkranes & the Crane Lane Theatre in Cork on Friday 26th.