Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Spotlight - KaiserCartel

Today's spotlight shines on a duo that came to my attention back in May when I came across their brilliant song Okay from their equally brilliantly titled debut EP Okay (and other things we feel). That duo, pictured above, is comprised of Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel and is collectively known as KaiserCartel. The EP was just a teaser for their debut full length release, March Forth, which came out in June. I loved the EP and had eagerly anticipated the album, but as these things sometimes go, it fell through the cracks and it wasn't until earlier this month that I got around to finally getting the album.

Courtney and Ben were kind enough to share a little bit about the tenth track from the album, Dog Stars, a song about their pooch, Ivan. As always, text in red is their words and my questions are in black.

KaiserCartel - Dog Stars : March Forth


This is a very special song because it is about our dog Ivan. We were at home in Brooklyn, NY. Ivan was being very cute on the couch (which is all the time really), and I started singing to him with my guitar. Ben heard me from the kitchen and walked over with a little portable tape recorder. Ben said "Do that again, I want to write down what you are singing."


Ben took the recording and started writing down the words I was saying. A couple days later, we decided to work on the song together. I looked at what he wrote down and added some lyrics, and Ben also added some lyrics. At first we thought it was funny singing about 'Dog Stars' and Ivan in space, but the song is really an attempt at trying to get inside the mind of our dog and imagine his thoughts. We decided to record it on March Forth.

Matt Hales (our producer) also liked the song, and was really into the idea of adding spacey sounds using his memory man, keyboard, bullet mic, and a speaker. In our minds, his sounds make it such a visual song. We can imagine little Ivan traveling in a space ship from planet to planet meeting different creatures.

Dog Stars is an example of we like to write some of our songs in a spontaneous style. Sometimes we schedule rehearsal time in our week, and other times the songs come out of the present moment. We are constantly writing, whether its at soundcheck, in a hotel room, or in our house.

And now for three more Q's for the pair:

1.) On the album the two of you share vocal duties. In fact, some of my favorite songs are the ones where your voices intermesh and complement each other. When a new song is being born, how do you decide who will sing it? Do you ever fight over parts?

BC: A lot of the time, the songs that each of us sing are already decided because that particular person started the first writing process. But, lately, we have begun writing differently so that has been changing.

CK: I can't imagine us fighting over who would sing the song...if we both like it, we both sing it.

2.) Matt Hales (aka Aqualung) produced your album, which surprised me when I first realized that. His music seems rather different from yours to me (a little louder, more dramatic). Both of you have been making music for quite a while before finding each other. How did you feel his [Matt's] presence affected the music you made together?

BC: Matt had a different approach to making music. In the past, we were doing more of an indie rock, American perspective. I think Matt brought the English pop perspective.

CK: We got along right away when we first met. And even though his music is different from ours, he also has an experimental side which really complimented the arrangement ideas we came with.

3.) I know that the two of you work as teachers in younger grades. Can you picture yourselves doing a kid's album anytime in the future?

BC: We would like to do that at some point in the future, but we would like to establish ourselves as artists who play "big" people's music before being artists who play "little" people's music.

CK: I think our record can be listened to by anyone. All children love Yellow Submarine by the Beatles, and they didn't make that song for children. I think our music is pretty understandable and can be enjoyed by a person of any age in a similar way.


To be completely honest with you, taken as a whole this album is one of my favorites of 2008. As I mentioned above, the two members' voices working together really work for me. Their music (with one notable exception) is about muted and tempered emotion. An apparent subdued starkness on a perfunctory listen that contains weighty emotions within only a few shades that beg you to listen carefully to experience them. The exception which I mention is Season Song, the second track from the album. Perhaps because it's such a sharp contrast to the rest of the album's tracks, this one really stands out. I DARE you to listen to it (I've included it below) and not start whistling along by the end.

I'm really hoping that this album gets the attention that is deserves. The pair are playing near me at the end of October with the Winterpills and I'm definitely planning on checking them out in person. Keep your eyes posted soon after for a review of the show, although I'm already predicting that it will be excellent as I can clearly picture the two onstage with their guitars playing songs from the album which don't require elaborate instrumentation to convey their message.

In the meantime, here are a few choice tracks (of the many on the album - it was difficult to choose) to download and enjoy.

and one from their EP:

Visit their website, their label bluhammock music, and become their friend on MySpace.

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