Very few people have it. Luis Vasquez of (the Soft Moon) has it. Anthony Gonzalez (M83) had it. One would think Springfield, Missouri, to be an unlikely place to find it. But rest assured that Seth Goodwin and Mark Gillenwaters of Kudzu fucking got it!
I would say that as of right now, those four names are the only legitimate makers of authentic sounds that come from a previous generation. They are the four “keys” to let’s say, a spiderweb congested tomb hidden away from undeserving eyes deep beneath the Kudzu; a tomb you can escape to that’s full of vinyl records and tapes where you can reminisce your aging hippocampus away into a coma.
All of the musical comparisons that Kudzu has been hampered with against other bands are appropriate, such as Public Image Ltd., The Damned, and Gang of Four. In their “Defeated” release, you can hear the Johnny Lydon-styled vocals on a track such as its title track.
This being their third release, two things are likely. One being that the Springfield-based duo is by design showing that they know their way through various pivotal influences and musical styles of the 20th Century or, even more likely, that this is their third-time’s-a-charm moment where they’ve finally found their sound.
The initial reason for why that’s more likely is the sense that “Defeated” was created through a burst of frustrated inspiration.
Kudzu’s ‘Defeated’, a better escape plan than paint huffing!
Kudzu doesn’t need to distort their narrative. That’s why god made paper bags to huff paint out of and you’ve got to take a really deep huff if you want to Escape From Springfield.
Dammit. Someone get me John Carpenter!
But this next revolution of Goodwin and Gillenwaters means that Kudzu’s music provides a much healthier escape and/or, a reason to stay than paint huffing.
I’d like to contribute to the chance that Kudzu finds Springfiled is a miserable place. I know that feeling myself about a certain phase in my city, only too well before I found that it was purely subjective.
The True Source of Kudzu’s ‘Frustration’ and ‘Disenchantment’
Because some of the early articles about “Defeated” about these guys appear to center around the notion that they were frustrated and disappointed in their local DIY music scene.
In fact, according to one of the first articles published on this Springfield, Missouri duo’s 9-track release this year, Goodwin says:
A lot of these songs come from a place of disenchantment with punk and “diy” scenes I’ve dedicated too much time to and the resulting dissociation as I’ve continued to have involvement in those scenes.
Gillenwaters also weighs-in in The Big Takeover article saying:
While we were working on new material, I drew inspiration from the petty frustrations of everyday life and the stark reality of life in the Ozarks. I feel like there is a type of alienation that you can harbor in a place like this that lends it’s self to bleak music. I like to treat lyrics as more emotional than literal so some lyrics might not make sense but still convey the emotion I’m trying to present.
Unfortunately, one lazy writer after the first only ran with the quotes and either didn’t go enough out of their way to reveal specifics or just wrote around it.
So, we decided to ask them ourselves.
So far, most of what’s been said about your new release is that it was created by your frustration and/or disenchantment with the punk and DIY scenes. What kind of mutiny is this and why shouldn’t “Luther” be driving around hunting you down, clanking three bottles together calling for you to “come out to plaaaay?”
Hahaha. . . we wouldn’t call it a mutiny personally. Neither of us would be playing music today if it weren’t for DIY spaces, and we still love playing in DIY venues. We were pretty blindsided when confronted with unchecked abuses in the DIY community and felt compelled to examine those power structures. We have seen countless men use their allyship to exploit women and marginalized people for their own gratification. On some levels, DIY communities are great at dealing with this kind of thing, but we think it’s important to never stop listening to individuals who have been victimized and to look out for each other.
Whoa. That’s certainly concerning. And while we weren’t seeking to find the solution to that problem, I did wonder if perhaps because of the duo’s spiteful drive behind the concept of their new album, if they saw it as a catalyst to improving the problems in their scene.
I believe that feelings about things like this tend to change after a while. Do you think that perhaps the drive behind making “Defeated” about that frustration over your DIY scene is just what is needed to contribute to its improvement? I imagine since this is bound to be such a profoundly successful release that it will turn things around by leaps and bounds?
We didn’t set out writing this record with a goal of changing anything or with a goal in mind at all really. We just love making music and we love playing shows so most of our ideas come from that place. We are a product of our environment more than a force trying to change it.
“Defeated” into a new direction
To me, Kudzu is the “Abel Ferrara” of the DIY music scene, the “Bad Lieutenants” of Springfield. They’re hitting all the right notes but on their own terms and they don’t mind gritty settings as they’ve clearly wrangled their way through the DIY trenches to carve out their own niche.
At least that’s how the sound of the album and the duo’s approach to it translate to me.
You have no choice and given no chance to break Kudzu down when they throw the opening track “Some Cop” at you from the get-go sounding like Ministry’s trashing loin-ripper “Jesus Built My Hotrod” from back in 1992.
Yes, the comparison is warranted, just as those made with P.I.L and The Damned. As you might know from our previous reviews, I have a special place in my heart for Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry, which tends to possess the duo in tracks such as in the track “Sleep in Disguise”.
The best way to escape overall is actually with headphones (earbuds if you prefer) and thereby isolation, with the music and away from everything else.
Gillenwaters showed that he and I were in the same mindset when he told The Big Takeover that the Ozarks tend to lend itself to bleak music. So, I wanted to delve more into that with my own methods of musical isolation.
I love immersing myself in solitude and even, go to some extremes even when I don’t have to. I imagined some vacant and condemned place I could escape to (a spiderweb congested tomb hidden away from undeserving eyes deep beneath the Kudzu) and lose myself in time with many of the musical influences you’ve already been compared to like a vault of vinyl records. If you’ve ever put yourself in a kind of isolation where you’re later forced to come to your senses, you might feel some guilt later on over having put yourself in danger and feel somewhat beside yourself? I think music from Joy Division or any of the post-punk stuff speaks to that very well. It’s a soundtrack for the bleak and yet, I would likely venture to that secret place again just to feel that sensation of danger. When I was a teenager, I used to get my make-up on and my netted hose and boots, walk the railroad tracks listening to Rozz Williams.
Also much like Gillenwaters feeling that his lyrics might not make sense but work to convey the emotion he was trying to present, I felt my questioning to be similar and felt the need to point that out.
Am I alone on this or do you feel a similar connection with your music? I’m hoping if anything, you can get a broad sense of what I’m referring to. What’s your experience? Aren’t the Ozarks kind of like that lost space and solid accompaniment for bleak music?
Definitely. The Ozarks are a really wonderful place to get away from people and find space for yourself in nature. Most of the bleakness here comes from the cycles of poverty that many of the people here are trapped in and we draw lots of inspiration from those experiences.
Whoa. Certainly, this might not be the right time to get into the socio-economic issues people in Missouri might be facing so we’ll look at getting into that in the near future.
But in my journey to try and get a feel for Kudzu’s musical influences, I sought out past releases such as their previous “Cairoglyphics” and their “Fliesch Parade” EP prior to that.
After getting more than a few listens to “Cairoglyphics”, it’s obviously a very different album from “Defeated”. Tell me a bit about your headspace then and where you are now with the new release?
Well, we were a totally different band at that time. In no way were we a synth-pop group at that time. We used live drums, had two other members, and each member’s input counted in the formation of the songs. I mean shit. . . some of these songs Seth demoed when he was 19. “Cairoglyphics” was a culmination of the songs and experiences we shared together up to that point. After we released it, we recorded a 4 song EP that is the missing link between the sound of “Cairoglyphics” and “Defeated”. Unfortunately, we won’t ever likely release that again because the recordings are of bad quality.
I wondered if this might have been the “Fliesch Parade” EP and if I might have been incorrect on the timing of that release? I had asked Kudzu about getting that EP as it’s no longer on BandCamp but they didn’t seem to have it anymore, which might show that I wasn’t off on my timing after all. Perhaps the first release from any band could end up disappearing, especially if they’re looking forward to better things.
However, they also said:
A lot of our older material is going to be confusing in contrast to the new material we have been playing for the past couple years.
After that EP, our former bassist started a family and moved three hours north to a farm. Our former guitarist, who wrote a bulk of those songs, has a schedule that hardly works with ours. We even considered changing the name of the band because of how much different the band dynamic is now as a two piece, but ultimately decided against it. I suppose “Defeated” is the beginning of a completely different process of writing songs.
The Boss DR 202 drum machine became a key component of our writing process and live setup acting both as drums and a sequencer for our bass synth. We got really used to the robotic precision of a drum machine and its structural limitations helped define our sound. It was a change that came out of a desperation to justify our existence and it’s been very exciting.
Kudzu can count themselves among those who have ascended to greatness because they embraced the technology for one reason or another! This is also very exciting because it tells us these guys are determined to stay. In fact, they reinforced this perception.
“Cairoglyphics” is certainly structured differently and for me at least, they both tend to move in the same direction, musically. Where “Cairoglyphics” is more contained and well-rounded, “Defeated” gets straight to the point. My thought would be that the next album should be a combination of both and everything will fall into place for Kudzu?
I don’t know if we’ll ever sound like the band we were during “Cairoglyphics”. We were in a completely different headspace, working with different people. We’re really proud of that album we made with our friends, but we are ready to explore new influences and sounds.
I completely agree. Kudzu’s “Cairoglyphics” is still a pretty relevant album for them as part of their step in the right direction. Songs like “Thick Airs”, “The Corner” and “Parade” are favorites and if pursued, might have locked Kudzu in as a worthy contributor to the music scene.
But Kudzu wants to stick around even if it means taking a technological hike to overcome the lack of two bandmates, they’ve gained far more in their pursuit and so has Springfield.
“Defeated” releases March 2. Pre-order download/cassette at BandCamp now!
[Featured image by Chris Brown]