When it comes up that the principal members of New York City’s The Kin are brothers, one will probably expect there to be a Oasis-esque dynamic at work. One of sibling rivalry, debauchery and bitter fighting that, as the brothers Gallagher have recently proven, leads to one brother quitting the band.
This could not be further from the truth for Issac and Thorry Koren, Australian transplants who have been doing everything they possibly can to make people hear their heavily emotional pop/rock since the band’s inception in 2003. Their relationship seems based more on wonder- a sort of “Hey, look what I just figured out how to do!” excitement that permeates each of their songs and marks each of the brothers’ frequent blog posts.
In a small, cramped back office at Berklee’s Cafe 939, Issac Koren sat down with Blast to talk about the touring life, New York scene politics, and The Kin’s new album TheUPside. He even provided water bottles. What a gentleman.
Blast: First off, how are you doing?
Issac Koren: I’m doing good. Rolled out of bed in New York today and for the first time there was no traffic coming into Boston. We’re really happy, this venue is really awesome and they treat you well.
Blast: You recently got off tour with Rod Stewart. How was that?
IK: We were spoiled. We played arenas and we ate his catering and our gear was delivered on stage every night. It was incredible, what can I say? Such a great experience. His audience was very appreciative. He doesn’t usually take an opener, and his audience was all there by the time we played.
Blast: Were you and your brother fans of Rod Stewart beforehand, when you were growing up?
IK: Our parents listened to him, and I definitely liked his earlier stuff the most. When he went into disco, he kind of lost us a bit.
Blast: That tends to happen whenever disco is introduced.
IK: He seemed to gain the most fans then, I guess he found his pop audience. I think when he was a working class hero writing for The Faces, I think he was a very cutting edge artist. He had a lot to say. “Handbags and Glad Rags” is a great working class ditty that you can apply to today with the girls walking around with their Prada bags that their grandfathers swept to buy. He’s an amazing artist and the fact that he’s still doing it at 65 is very inspiring.
IK: We also just finished up touring with Rusted Root, and musically that really inspired us to open up our sound and jam in sections a bit more, because that’s kind of where we started and over time we made our songs a bit shorter and structured. Recently we were like, let’s open them up.
Blast: You and your brother came from different musical backgrounds from what you’re doing now anyway.
IK: (Thorry) came from jazz, solos every song. I was doing this Mahavishnu Orchestra style experimental rock type band- both very different to what we’re doing now. For some reason what come out between us is different from what comes out of us separately.
Blast: You came up the same way a lot of American bands do. You moved to New York, and you started touring in a van non-stop. Why did you make a conscious decision to start the band in New York instead of Australia?
IK: We moved here to finish school. Thorry finished high school in New York, and I finished college here in Boston. I did my last six months at Northeastern. When we got together in New York, a family friend was like “I have a friend that records bands, if you guys can write some songs, I’ll pay for the demo, but you only have three weeks.” We wrote four songs in three weeks, did a demo with a bass player, and it came out pretty good. We then did over 100 gigs locally in New York over two years. Now we’ve been touring nationally since 2007, and we haven’t gone home.
Blast: Well how do you feel about that, are there any times you want to go home?
IK: There are times where I’m homesick for New York, but funnily enough, we don’t get homesick for Australia until about December, when it’s really cold and we want to be like “Surf’s up, everyone is on the beach, it’s time to go home.” So we go home and play the festivals for a month, do a tour, sit on the beach, see family. Touring has been great, I’ve managed to see every state except Alaska at least three times now, and we’ve played in 36 or 37 of them. A lot of bands make a regional footprint and get a little more traction going, but we’ve spread ourselves out around the country.
Blast: It’s good if you’re coming out of New York though, because as a very music intensive city, it’s sort of a super-accelerated scene. You could base most of your early career out of NY and then be able to make the jump to the national stage pretty seamlessly. Coming from somewhere like the Midwest, it’d be a lot harder.
IK: Yeah, but there’s no competition there, as opposed to New York, where it’s nothing but competition. I guess the old saying is true, that “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.” If you make some noise in Ohio, you might be one of the only bands to make it out of there. There are a lot of bands that come out of cities like Portland, who have actual scenes. New York is so big that the scene has been lost a bit, or there are little pockets.
Blast: Let’s talk about the new album a bit. How did the recording process compare to Rise and Fall?
IK: It was great, we had an old 70’s recording room, got in there with Jack Douglas, who did a ton of records in the 70s. For two weeks straight we brought in songs, and fleshed out about 22 of them. We wanted to jam them out, not be over-rehearsed. In the morning we would come in, do about two songs per day and just jam them out until we couldn’t figure out what to do with them anymore, at which point Jack would stop us and say, “OK, I’m going to hit record.” We would get three to four versions of each song. We took it San Francisco and opened everything up even more, grabbing the experimental instruments. We had a base to work with with this one, as opposed to the last album, which was nothing but chaos. We tried to make chaos come around to our vision, whereas with this one we started with experimentation, but we got it so there was a groove, then we took the groove and experimented over that. Then the vocals were put on and experimented with as well. We had more of a vision of where we were going, and the help of a producer.
Blast: You say you cull most of your lyrics from conversations that you have rather than from personal experiences. Now that you’ve been blogging so much, have you found yourself taking lyrics from your blog?
IK: Interestingly enough, the process of blogging, and the process of conversations with our fans has helped us out a bunch. Our songs are collages of things they say to us and conversations we have and things that happened. For example, our grandmother once was telling us about Mark Twain, and how he got his name. She was telling us he would go down to the docks and hear all the workers yelling “Mark time! Mark time!” when the ships were coming in, which means “Look out, watch your step,” because there’s moving ropes, equipment, danger. You have to stay alert. We used that as the basis of our song “Waterbreaks.” One day I was having a conversation with Thorry, and I was telling him about my dreams, since I’ve been having these recurring tidal wave dreams. That got thrown in as well. It’s all a collage, the story our grandmother told us and the things I talked about with Thorry. It wasn’t conscious, more of just what was in our minds, it just came out. Sometimes it’s nonsensical, like the song “Photograph,”
Blast: That song has no real words to it at all, right?
IK: Yeah, it’s completely gibberish, inspired by Sigur Ros maybe, I don’t know!
Photo Credit: Rebecca Ney