CRUCIAL AUDIO GEAR
Started by former Whigs and current MGMT guitarist Hank Sullivant in 2008, NYC Indie pop band Kuroma has gone through various inceptions before finally settling on their current one, the line-up rounded out by James Richardson and Will Berman of MGMT and Simon O’Connor of Amazing Baby. Considering the incredible background of all musicians involved in this project, we thought many emerging musicians might be interested in knowing a thing or two about how these guys tackle the creative and recording processes. We asked Hank a few questions in this regard.
What comes first: music or lyrics?
Usually chords, melody, a structure or a feel comes first before I write any words, although a few phrases or a title might pop up early. Who writes lyrics first except a total loser? Just kidding, I’d like to try that some time, but maybe more so as a structural concept.
What’s been inspiring your music lately? [please limit the answer to this questions to anything but equipment – like experiences, records, new chords you learned, etc]
Not much. James taught me how to stack 4ths but I wouldn’t know when to use that except for in jazz emergencies.
Is inspiration some kind of random blessing, or is it possible to set it in motion?
If I’m getting nowhere I usually turn my attention elsewhere. But you also don’t have to be “inspired” in some vague sense to make impactful music; you can approach it dispassionately.
Tell us about the process of the one song from your repertoire that came together in the most surprising way.
Kuromarama is a purely pop album but I was listening to more classical music than usual while writing the songs. I used the opening notes of Salome as the basis for the chord progression of “Thee Only Childe”. There is a pervasive Oompa-Loompa vibe on “Thee Only Childe” which makes it the best Kuroma song to see live. Sonically, Kuromarama it’s our highest quality, best mixed album; it was done without any amplifiers and was mostly mixed in the computer with a couple of outboard compressors. The moral: it’s not about recording at home versus the studio, it’s about using available resources with intention.
Sonically, Kuromarama it’s our highest quality, best mixed album; it was done without any amplifiers and was mostly mixed in the computer with a couple of outboard compressors. The moral: it’s not about recording at home versus the studio, it’s about using available resources with intention.
Where do you look for lyrical inspiration?
The human condition today and throughout all of human history, the crisis in the soul, the world in its relation to God, and a playlist of songs that I might be able to emulate or rip off.
Is there something you look for when writing lyrics, like, say, catharsis, personal expression, topicality, or positivity?
It has changed over time and it’s changing again now. The earliest Kuroma songs were catharsis in a cosmic style. Then the lyrics became more cryptic and personal and religious. The lyrics on Kuromarama are articulate and coherent, reasoned. Some of the songs I’ve written more recently are more suggestive and minimal.
- BEING A BAND
What’s the songwriting/arranging process in the band? To what extent is each band member’s role defined?
I’m the main songwriter with everyone contributing to the arrangements. Simon contributed two songs to Kuromarama (“Simon’s In The Jungle” and “Case Logic”).
Are bands ever true democracies? What about yours?
No they aren’t and probably shouldn’t be in that governmental sense but each member can find that sweet spot where taking care of yourself takes care of more than just yourself.
How do you guys deal with the inevitable conflict of egos?
It helps when everyone has more going on than just the band.
- MUSICAL TOYS AND RECORDING
Have you ever looked into Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies” when in a situation of impasse?
No. In a situation of impasse I inevitably reroute or put it in reverse, or I leave it on the side of the road and make a new home for myself deep in the forest.
How much of your recording is done at home versus in the studio?
Earlier Kuroma albums were traditional studio situations. Kuromarama was done in Ben Goldwasser’s apartment and in Eric Gorman’s little tiny “studio” at the time. It was eye-opening. Sonically it’s our highest quality, best mixed album; it was done without any amplifiers and mostly mixed in the computer with a couple of outboard compressors. The moral: it’s not about recording at home versus the studio, it’s about using available resources with intention.What are the pieces of equipment that you find particularly inspiring when recording at home?
Again I love my JX3P. He’s my special little guy. Been loving a few plugs recently: Valhalla VintageVerb, fabfilter proQ2, Kush UBK. Have fun with your wonky ass tape machine and sputtering outboard units, I’m working ITB. (Jk I so covet your tape machine and outboard units).What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your recording setup?
Maybe most of all a Palmer DREI with a Palmer speaker simulator. I’ve used this setup in MGMT’s live show and I think it would be very spicy for recording electric guitar.
Do you/your guitarist use rack effects or guitar pedals to forge your own guitar sound? If you do, please list the ones you use the most and let us know why you love them.
I use a Strymon OB-1 (Optical Compressor/ Clean Boost) and I leave the compressor part switched on with a setting that bulks up my tone. The boost is perfect for my soaring leads. My Earthquaker Devices Talons overdrive is the best distortion pedal I’ve ever owned and it sounds really juicy on my acoustic guitar.Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for?
No, it depends on the project or the album.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?
The most challenging aspects are usually logistical. Also, our band consists of producers so there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. On the flippidy flop, I love that everyone in the band has so much experience. It makes for much better quality control and final product.
Is there a person outside the band that’s been important in perfecting your recorded and/or live sound?
- THE LIVE SHOW
Would you say that your live show informs your recording process? Or that your recording process informs your live show?
hmmm it’s not straightforward. Our live show definitely informed the performances on our album, but less so the final sound. Nowadays our live show is informing our live show. We’re not trying to recreate the album sound, we are simply trying to be a lean mean live Kuroma.
What equipment do you find particularly useful on stage?
We’re not too fussy about equipment onstage, but James likes his Gibson Firebird and maybe a durable GK head, I like my acoustic these days plugged into really any tube-y combo amp with aforementioned pedals, Simon just switched from Strat to Les Paul and it’s sorta changed his world and improved our sound, Will’s pretty chill about drum situations so long as it’s a good kit and it’s his kick pedal.
- BEYOND MUSIC
Are there any vintage formats that you’re interested in pursuing for the band, like, say, vinyl or cassette? If so, why?
We printed our album on vinyl, if that’s what you mean? I’d be interested in trying out the new high quality digital stuff like Neil Young’s Pono and the like.
With bands doing more of everything themselves these days (recording, performing, self-promoting, etc.) and the evermore multimedia nature of the world, how much effort do you put into the visual component of your band: fashion, styling, photography, graphic/web design, etc.?
I do put a lot of thought into the visual world of Kuroma. The videos, the look, some of the recurring images and settings, it’s all designed to be of the Kuroma-verse, the uni-roma. Fashionwise, a stylist wouldn’t hurt but I think we look alright for a bunch of breathtaking badasses. What I’d love is to grow as a live act, to gain a true audience, and to start investing into the light show, to make it gorgeous. I like projection for certain bands, but for Kuroma I would want a dazzling painterly light show. I would love to even write Kuroma songs with a light show in mind.