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Kilowatthours - Interview

  by Adam Day

published: 13 / 7 / 2002

Kilowatthours - Interview


With an intense emphasis on improvisation, indie rockers the Kilowatthours have drawn comparisions with both My Bloody Valentine and Radiohead. Frontman Chris Renn talks to new writer Adam Day about the band's latest album 'The Bright Side'

I met the Kilowatthours’ guitarist/singer, Chris Renn, in Louisville, Kentucky, in a hole-in-the-wall bar whose major attraction is an arcade deer-hunting game. We would spend the next hour talking about the band’s latest CD, 'The Bright Side '(released upon the Temporary Residence label), and treading the fine line between the truth and a good lie. The Kilowatthours are three guys (Dan Benningfield, Ben Lord, and Chris Renn), originally from the same town (Louisville, KY), with different influences (ranging from Radiohead to Cat Stevens to Antarctica to Einstürzende Neubauten to Suede to Motley Crue), and living in three different cities (Louisville, Boston, and New York City). Benningfield is recently married, Lord does graphic-design work for Atlantic Records in Manhattan, and Renn works in a stained-glass studio in Louisville. They come together a few times a year to write music, record, and try their luck at the local river-boat casinos. The Kilowatthours are an experiment that is amazing for its very chemistry. It is a chemistry that, even from great distances allows them to write and produce music (they’ve written songs via telephones & answering machines), and when together, allows them to feed off of and to anticipate each other. In fact, the beautiful (don’t let this fool you, there is anger behind that beauty), melancholic, and at times, light-hearted mood of 'The Bright Side' was largely influenced by the music written by the improv project Renn and keyboardist, Dan Benningfield formed while drummer, Ben Lord, was away in NYC. In turn, Trevor Kampmann, of Holland, produced the band’s last two albums, and doubles as a kind of fourth member, playing some instrumentation on almost all of the Kilowatthours’ recordings. (Incidentally, the Kilowatthours was the first rock band Kampmann ever recorded, though he has gone on to work with fellow Louisville rockers, My Morning Jacket, among others). This all-inclusive coop has brought Renn’s beautifully wrought lyrics and Benningfield’s bombastic keyboards to the fore, creating a sonic equilibrium on 'The Bright Side', that has not been found on previous Kilowatthours albums. With this intense emphasis on improvisation it is no surprise that unlike so many bands, if you ask the Kilowatthours if they had a vision for 'The Bright Side', they will reply proudly with a resounding, “No.” Though Renn admits the absence of a hard-and-fast plan can be stressful, he also acknowledges that the positives it allows for: the tremendous experimentation and sense of freedom, keys to writing and recording 'The Bright Side', far out-way that stress. “With our last LP, 'Strain of Positive Thinking', most of the songs were written before we walked into the studio. So we went in with the attitude of getting the job done. This time around we went in with bits of songs and just pieced them together right there in the studio. At four days there was just enough time to play with songs without over-working them.” When asked what the band most looks forward to in their next recording session, Renn replies before I have the words out of my mouth: “More time and less money-worries. I want two weeks next time. It’s a wet-dream of mine to custom build an album in the studio from start to finish. Because, you know, you go in and you sort of want fifty guitar tracks.” We both laugh at this and I throw out a Smashing Pumpkins analogy which draws a sheepish grin from Renn, and he goes on: “Yeah . . . I’m serious though. It’s got to be pretty liberating to not be working, but actually making. The older we get, the more less is more; less clutter, more power.’” This band-philosophy that the best work is created when you’re relaxed, is the catalyst for the Kilowatthours experiment. If their theory is right, then the best music is born neither from pure inspiration, nor from over-planning, but from manipulation, from process. It is this approach that makes 'The Bright Side' the kind of album that reveals new layers with each listen: at a glance the songs are catchy (without trying to be) and engaging, and at a studied stare they are nearly symphonic with their visceral power and complexity.. Call their sound roomy, dynamic, confident (adjectives which all ring true), but whatever you do don’t call them emo. Many reviewers have tried to paint the Kilowatthours as an emo band, and then appear disappointed when the band fails to fit into that easy category. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. “I don’t have anything against emo bands. I like some of them. Our music is melodic, and sure there is a definite art influence, but it’s also fucking loud (especially live). I mean, it’s like calling U2 emo, for God’s sake. We don’t deny a few emo tendencies, after all that is largely where we came from. But that’s just not our goal, we never wanted to be a great “emo” band . . . we just want to rule the world (laughs). Hell, we don’t even listen to bands that sound like the music we play.” Back to record-making: how realistic is it for a band at the Kilowatthours current status (a band on a small indie label, yet whose latest career highlight was selling out their first pressing of 3,000 copies of The Bright Side in its first week of release) to enjoy two weeks in the studio? It’s not. It’s a catch-twenty-two the majority of indie bands find themselves in. It is analogous to a kid whose family is too well off to get financial aid, but who is too poor to afford the college to which they've been accepted without aid. Perhaps this conundrum explains Renn’s reply to his ideal record labels for the band: Capital and Virgin, and then larger indie labels like, Darla, Matador, Touch and Go, and Thrill Jockey. “Hell yeah, we’d sell the fuck out. Don’t get me wrong, we would never turn into Sugar Ray. But we’d take the money and run – on our own terms. We want to get our music into the hands of as many people as possible, and if a major or large indie label can do that without compromising our sound, then rock on.” What can fans expect from the Kilowatthours? Catch them live at Bloomington (Indiana) Fest on Friday, August 30th with Black Eyed Snakes, Swearing at Motorists, etc. Then catch their newest CD, released this Fall as part of the Temporary Residence Limited 'Travels In Constants' series ( ). The 'Travels in Constants' series also includes releases by American Analog Set, Explosions In The Sky, The Black Heart Procession, etc. This EP goes in a distinctly different direction from 'The Bright Side'. Where that album built upon the mood of the work created by Renn and Benningfield’s improv project, this EP will build upon the very music of that work, creating a sound that is relaxed and mellow, though by no means fragile, and entirely instrumental, something the Kilowatthours do like few others. Also, yet another EP is in the works. This EP will be recorded this Fall and its intended contents are being kept under tight wraps, though we do know the Kilowatthours will be experimenting with a bassist for the first time. Finally, and perhaps most exciting, the Kilowatthours will begin an East coast tour with Explosions In The Sky in late October. “It’s like anything else in life, really. The not knowing what comes next is what drives us forward.”

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Kilowatthours - Interview

Kilowatthours - Interview

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The Bright Side (2002)
Promising but unfortunately all too brief second album, which incorporates piano and electronics into a lo-fi indie rock sound, from Sebadoh influenced Kentucky based group

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