|Neil, Katy and Chris of Kogumaza - Photo by Sofie Schnoor|
Kogumaza is made up of Chris, Neil and Katy, who between them have played in various bands including Bob Tilton, Felix, Lords and Not In This Town. A couple of years ago they started jamming, liked what they heard and have been playing their droning, fuzzy, ambient grooves ever since. LeftLion caught up with Chris and Katy from the band on one barmy autumn night in The Gladstone pub...
How did Kogumaza get together?
Chris: I had moved to Nottingham to be in bands with Neil. I moved here about ten years ago. We were in a band called Wolves! (Of Greece) together, that was pretty hectic and draining. Then me and Phil from Wolves formed Lords. After that, Wolves broke up, but me and Neil continued playing together in lots of different bands. We played with people like Damo Suzuki from Can. We wanted to get a new band together and we had an idea in our heads of what it was going to be, but we didn't have any idea of how to do it. So we had a few jams with different people, but they didn't really work out. Then me and Neil ended up playing for Glenn Branca in his Hundred Guitar Orchestra at The Roundhouse in London. He makes you change your guitar to a certain way. It's pretty mind blowing even though I knew about his music.
What sort of things does Glenn Branca make you change to your guitar?
C: It's too secretive. The tuning on the guitar is a certain way, and it removes the ability for people to play like (makes fret wanking pose) and freak out. When you do that on the guitar you are not really thinking, you are just playing patterns; you are not in the moment, you are about five moments ahead of where you should be. Glenn makes you do things to your guitar so you can't fuck about basically. You have got to read his sheet music. The whole thing is really fucking intense. So we did that and it was mind blowing.
We came back from that gig and the guitar I used for it stayed in my house, and was still in this particular tuning and set-up. I just started playing music on it and I found that it was really easy to play things that were quite hypnotic and sort of beautiful, but you never went anywhere else with it. You couldn't play that for five minutes then think ,“Here comes my fucking solo”. I started making these little tunes on a sampler, as I'm really in to the composer Moondog. So I just made these little loops to play in the house. Then Katy wanted to learn to play the drums, so we went to the practice room to have a jam, and it turned out that her way of playing the drums was perfect for these riffs. It was never meant to be like that and I could never imagine how it would work, it was perfect. Then I asked Neil that we should be in a band together after five years, and he liked the songs and agreed to play on them. We played our first gig eight weeks after that. A friend of ours asked us to open some shows for them and said we could do whatever we wanted to do. So we put something together for it.
How many songs did you have for that first gig?
C: Four. But it was still quite long, we played for half an hour. We didn't really know what we were doing. The guy in the band who invited us to play did the sound for us that night. So for our first gig the guy doing the sound was the guy who was a big inspiration for us.
So that Glenn Branca tuning is important to your sound then?
C: Yes it is. It's a bit like playing a keyboard. You are not looking down and seeing a vertical thing on the guitar, you are seeing it horizontal. You just move around and hit the guitar. The only other band I know use it are Part Chimp, and they use it for the same reason. They say that they want to be really fucking loud and they don't ever want to show off. You could play it with your forehead.
How would you describe Kogumaza's sound?
C: I guess it is like a stoner rock thing. When I was 17 years old and someone told me about stoner rock, in my head it sounded a bit like the Velvet Underground; really slow and heavy, unusual and endless. In reality stoner rock doesn't sound like that; it is really fucking blokey. I would just describe Kogumaza as being my idea of what stoner rock sounds like. I was really drunk and I did this TV interview when Kogumaza first started, and I said it was like ambient music made by people before they had looper pedals. Imagine The Sonics and all of those 'Nugget' bands playing in their garages being told to make an ambient record; that's what it sounds like.
Katy: I really like slow films, black and white, monochrome, where not really much happens. I guess we are like that, where it slowly unravels.
C: When you watch a film like that, the pace is so slow it makes you reassess what an important event would be. Is that what we do? I have no fucking idea.
Is their much room for improvisation?
C: Kind of I guess. When you do that thing on the guitar (mimes playing guitar solo), you are leaping ahead of yourself, and that is what improvisation has done. But for us, we are right of the moment, you can't really think about going anywhere else. So the improvising comes from the moment sounding different every time, whether it is longer, shorter, faster or slower. To us, those small changes we make, make it feel like we have completely altered the song. When we lengthen the end of one of the songs it is a really big deal. In my head I'm thinking, “To anyone who has seen us more than once, this is going to seem like we have forgotten to end the song”.
Katy, is this the first time you have played drums in a band before?
K: I haven't played them for very long. The first time was when I played with my friend Tom in a band called TomKat, which was just the one gig.
C: Let me just say for Katy's benefit, the idea of not having a hi-hat and playing with beaters was me and Neil's idea. It wasn't because Katy couldn't play with a hi-hat. We didn't want to think that people thought you were doing it to be like Mo Tucker, despite me liking Mo Tucker.
It must be good to work within these strict limitations?
C: Yes, totally. Me and Neil have a rule, not that we have ever agreed on it. All our gear is pretty old. It would make our lives so much easier if we could use a looper or a sampler. We've kind of had an un-written rule that that will not be the case. Someone always always has to be playing otherwise there will be massive holes in the sound.
Does being old friends and knowing each other very well help?
C: Maybe, I don't really know. It certainly seems like it is not that hard to come up with things that sound good to me. Sometimes when we are playing I catch on to what Katy or Neil is playing, and it becomes so much of a blob of sound that it starts to affect what I'm playing. It all ties together.
Are you going to be recording and releasing any more music?
C: We have started doing an album. We have had a few goes of trying to organise it, but we are not too sure how we are going to do it. We could record it live and it would sound alright. But we don't want to make it sound like a rock record. We don't want to present it like one of those bands who record with Steve Albini and do it all in one take. We just want to make it so it is something surprising to us, like it is something that we would want to listen to. I would like to go in and not know what it is going to be. We recorded all the songs over a weekend, but then we have got to go back and add stuff to them.
|Kogumaza's studio...Pole dancers not pictured - Photo by Chris Summerlin|
Where did you record them?
C: We haven't got our own studio, but I always call it a studio. Well, we've got our own studio that we built - Fuck it, we do have out own studio. So we did it there. We borrowed some equipment to record it.
K: It will have pole dancers in the background.
C: Our studio is next to a pole dancing school. I'm not saying any more than that in case anyone wants to rob us. We get on with them pretty well now.
Do they hear the music seeping through?
K: They must do.
C: There is a little bit of cross-pollination going on. There is a Samba school upstairs and a pole dancing school downstairs.
Is it important that you release music and have a physical product?
C: I think less so than other things I've done. Definitely less than Lords or Felix. As I always think with those bands playing live is really good, but wouldn't it be great if I could just play those songs right just once. Whereas with Kogumaza, is there a right or a wrong? When we put out the 7”s, we fucked with them so much that some people thought we were an electronic band. As long as we put out a record and it sounds so unusual that people are dumbfounded, that would be great. My friend, Steve who is a big influence on us plays as The Horse Loom. He's brilliant, a total genius and his how outlook on life is amazing. He has these songs that are fantastic, and he could record them easily as all he uses is an acoustic guitar and sings, but he will not record them. He doesn't want to pin them down. But if he stops doing it one day you are going to want to hear them, and it will be a shame if you can't.
K: I want to record them mainly because it would be nice to move on from the songs. Put them away.
C: We are quite a fast moving as a band. We have done two 7”s and written a whole bunch of songs that we have never recorded and probably never will. We have moved on pretty quickly as we are doing an album within a year and a half of starting the band.
Do you write a lot of songs then?
C: Not really. One song is one riff. It you go to see one of those bands (makes twiddly guitar poses), about twenty seconds of one of their songs would last us about a year.
So, you are like Steve Vai but slowed down...
C: Yes. When me and Neil were in Wolves! (Of Greece), we came up with twenty minutes of music in five years.
Who drives the tour van?
C: Neil drives, it is kind of an unwritten rule.
K: I really like the driving.
C: Nobody in Wolves drove apart from me and I always said that if you ever pass your driving test you are driving me to the shops whenever I want a bag of crisps. Basically, you are driving me wherever I want for the rest of my life. Then Neil passed his driving test and I think he has taken me seriously.
Aside from the tour you are about to go on, have you played many other gigs out of Nottingham?
C: We have played some unusual gigs. We played a gig in Liverpool for the Liverpool Biennial. It was in a disused warehouse where there was an art gallery. It had an installation that was a fake record shop. We played a fake in-store in this fake record shop, and the artist recorded it and pressed it to vinyl as we played and sold it in the shop. So the only thing that the record shop sold was the vinyl from the bands who had played the shop. I haven't seen the vinyl yet though. We have played Liverpool mainly, because David who runs our record label Lancashire and Somerset, sets us up with these bizarre gigs.
K: We played at the Liverpool School of Art with all of these posters.
C: I had forgotten about that. We played at the John Moores School of Art in Liverpool where they commissioned loads of poster designers to design a poster for the gig. They put all of the posters on the wall in the space and then we played in the space. Stuff like that is interesting. But then it is equally interesting to play the Rescue Rooms. We have got Mark (Spivey) in our band, he does stuff on the desk. We played at the Rescue Rooms and he was made up as the desk had everything he wanted.
Do you class Mark as your fourth member?
C: Yes, we couldn't play without him.
K: We played a few gigs without him first of all.
C: It's hard to play without him. When me and Neil started this, the whole idea was not to be like a normal band. I want someone to come up to us after a gig and go, “That would have been really good if it hadn't been for the sound-man. He kept putting on all these crazy effects”. I almost want that to happen. Anything to stop people messing with their mobile phones. We want to be able to play and give people space and Mark makes that happen.
K: When I play the drums when Mark is doing the sound, you sound like you are above it all and you don't know what is happening. You don't know what is going on, but it still sounds good. It's a nice collaboration.
Were the lights you have on stage with you the bands idea?
K: They were Neil's idea. Neil and I went to see a band play in Nottingham and they had similar lights. I think originally we didn't want any light on us at all to not make us the centre of attention. We sound really demanding with our own lights and our own sound guy. We played at Spanky Van Dykes with those flashing lights behind us...
C: One of the reasons why we decided to be lit from behind is that we are not like, “Check out the new shit”, we are like, “Don't check out the new shit”. What is important is that people understand that we try to make an environment in which it is best to enjoy this band. If you still don't enjoy it, then that is fine.
What's been your favourite gig to play with Kogumaza?
K: It isn't down necessarily to a particular gig and it's more to do with how I felt about a particular performance. We played a few gigs recently that after I've felt that were really good. We played at a bowling alley. It was a really nice idea, but practically it was a bit of a disaster as people were still bowling. That was probably one of the worst. It's nice to play in these odd venues; I would like to do something like that in Nottingham. We played in London recently and that was really good, it was the one where Neil got really sweaty.
C: We were supporting Part Chimp and some other people on the bill I'm friends with. I've been friends with the people from Part Chimp for a long time, so it's nice if they like it. I was really nervous hoping that they would like the music.
K: When we played with The Ex recently, Chris really enjoyed it, but I just wasn't in the mood. I didn't feel like I was at the gig. In my head I kept thinking about other things I had to do like my washing.
C: That is what our band is for. A friend of mine once said that our band is a band for letting people think about other things. It's about playing music that is not concerned about what is coming up, it's all about now. It can be mentally knackering, but it's not like I have to put on a show for anybody. I wouldn't even mind if people didn't even watch us; if they think it sounds better from outside or in the bar, then fair enough.
|Kogumaza playing at the Rescue Rooms - Photo by Kevin Smith|
Where does the name Kogumaza come from?
C: Neil's off-shoot band from Wolves! (Of Greece) was called Oogumaza. We have got some Japanese friends who used to come and stay with us to watch the Gringo bands. Neil wanted to called the band Great Bear, and they said in Japanese Great Bear is Oogumaza. They were called Great Bear, then Oogumaza, and we liked the idea of being a continuation of that. Originally the name was written in Cyrillic, so people wouldn't be able to pronounce it. Oogumaza means the big bear constellation and Kogumaza means little bear constellation in Japanese. We haven't talked about this stuff, but there is definitely an interest in the cosmos. I'm not trying to get deep or anything. I like the idea that the name when written has got a lot of angles in it. Like with The Beatles and Nirvana their names are almost mirrored, it looks really nice, it feels right.
What are you earliest music memories?
K: I remember dancing around the TV to Madonna's True Blue.
C: Did you have the Madonna 'You Can Dance' album?
K: I did have the Madonna 'You Can Dance' album.
C: I had a Madonna True Blue tshirt when I was at infant school. It was small from HMV, but it was still so enormous on me. If I had that tshirt now it would probably fit me.
K: My dad used to have these hankies in his top drawer, and every time that song came one we would get them to do the hanky dance from the video. Apparently, I used to like the song Uptown Girl by Billy Joel, but I was so young I can't remember.
C: I remember watching The Muppet Show with my Gran and Granddad, and a guy smashed an acoustic guitar and it upset me so much, that I was really traumatised by that. Like when you make a piece of art then smash it, it just seems like a wanking substitute.
What was the first record you ever bought?
C: With my own money I bought two records. It was from WH Smiths. I bought 'The Power' by Snap and Blue Lines by Massive Attack. I liked 'The Power' more.
K: My first tape single was Ace Of Base All That She Wants.
C: I had shitter records before that. I had, I think, Sinitta, which was the first record I ever owned.
What was the last record you bought?
C: The new Pontiak album. We did two shows with them last week. I didn't really buy it, I kind of nicked it off them.
K: I got a Kate Bush and Kraftwerk record from a charity shop recently.
C: There are no record shops in Nottingham anymore, so I mainly get things from gigs. If I like a band and I've had three beers I'm like here's my money...Most of my record collection came from gigs.
What was the last book you read?
C: The last book I read was 'The Fallen' by Dave Simpson. I should read lots of intelligent books, but I don't. I just read rock biographies. I'm not usually interested in the people. Myself and Joe from Bilge Pump have special rock biographies sections on our bookshelves, and when we go round to each others houses were trade rock biographies. He's got Midge Ure's biography; I don't care about that, but I will read it. At the moment I'm reading 'Jimi Hendrix Gear' about his pedals. It's a history of the psychedelic music movement through equipment.
K: I'm currently reading a Paul Auster book, 'Mr Vertigo'.
If you were to die and were reincarnated what would you like to come back?
C: We are already at the top of the tree.
K: Do you come back with your previous knowledge?
C: You can't do as we are reincarnated according to Buddhists. It would be awesome to come back as an animal, but they are under threat all of the time. Like if you came back as a cat but didn't have any prior knowledge of what a car was, you would be fucked. It would be nice to come back as a Golden Eagle, but the chances of you getting killed are really high.
K: I would like to come back as something that has a really different habit to you.
Kogumaza play with Gareth Hardwick and Dusty Bible at The Chameleon on Thursday 11 November 2010.