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Kapp a Tune

by Dylan Muhlenberg / 19.08.2009

Righard Kapp wants his old job back. He was retrenched, see, but now the company that he was working for is hiring again and Righard believes that the formality of a regular nine-to-five makes it easier to focus on the after-hour activities. The fact that Righard isn’t making a living off of his extra-curriculars (music and art) shouldn’t make you want to reach for the closest and tiniest violin.

‘I don’t want my livelihood to depend on music so that I can always be free to make the music that I want to make.’

But then Righard also doesn’t think that highly of himself, and even though he’s put out a very beautiful album – Strung Like A Compound Eye – Righard still says that he’s not a vocalist, or a guitarist, or a musician, that instead these are all mere tools to get his ideas across. The self-described dilettante needs to listen to track three on the abovementioned album. Righard Kapp needs to learn to love himself.

Playing your talents down in an interview is a very Righard Kapp thing to do. He’s always done the wrong thing, from teaching himself to play the guitar upside down (he’s a leftie, obviously), to doing noisy electro when everyone was into guitar music, which he’s now doing now that the cool kids have left it so that they can sway to tech. Still, it would seem that he’s happiest in the background, fiddling with nobs, experimenting with noise, loops and feedback, gigging with bands like Skrummasjien, The Man From The Man From UNCLE and The Buckfever Underground, a band that improvises behind the poetry of Toast Coetzer (‘His lyrics are truly transcendent. He’s really observant and he’s writing about living in South Africa in ways that no one else is doing. I think he’s incredible.’). Kapp recently left the improvisational and experimental to focus on composing more involved, watertight music.

Righard Kapp

Mahala: Strung Like A Compound Eye is much more accessible, easier listening. How different was this beast to your other stuff and why did we have to wait so long for it?
Righard Kapp: All of my previous output has been deeply based in experimentation and improvisation, playing around with noise rock, ambient swells, feedback drones, distorted drum machine loops and extremely high pitched sine waves. Strung Like A Compound Eye (referred to from hereon out as SLACE) is a radical departure from that, in that it is primarily based on acoustic compositions. The album came about through Dirk Hugo’s generous offer to work on a studio album (Dirk has also produced The Wild Eyes’ ‘Our Love Has A Special Violence’, ‘Nikhil Singh’s ‘Pressed Up Black’ and Andy Lund’s ‘Soundtrack for a Muted Heart’) so the situation came about where we could really work hard on getting everything to sound really good. Since we both worked we had to work on it in our free time, it ultimately took a year and a half of evenings and weekends, from the first demo’s to the final master.

Mahala: What does the title – Strung Like a Compound Eye actually mean?

RK:The title is something of a nonsense phrase that I came up with and really liked the sound of. I often do that with words, making up phrases that have a nice musical rhythm and sound, that semantically perhaps don’t make immediate sense, but that nevertheless reveal some things as you pore over them: ‘strung’ could be a reference to the guitar, and the compound eye says something about the multifacetedness of it that we were trying to convey. In the lyrics as well, there’s a kind of meta textuality going on, where the words themselves are kind of reductionist and quite obvious in a way – but outside of the text there are all sorts of meanings that can be gleaned from it – for instance, the line “I’m gonna learn to love myself, so i can love you, and the morning light inspires a kind of flight instead of fear” – in the emotional context of the song, which rises to this almost euphoric peak before suddenly lapsing into this real bummer chord – the actual inner conflict that the song is about is never explicitly mentioned, but rather lies just outside of the text.

Mahala: The album starts with a stark John Butleresque pick-guitar opening track and builds consistently until that, almost upbeat, Magnetic Fields sounding closer. This really is an album to listen to from beginning to end, as opposed to the norm where the album merely serves to bookend one or two singles. Was this intentional, a flowing album that takes the listener on a journey from song one through to eleven?

RK: I’m so glad that it does this! I must admit I was quite worried at one stage that the album would be a bit too all over the place. The idea to open the album with August was pretty much there from the start – to announce the ‘acousticness’ of the album – and then the sequencing we decided on is structured in such a way as to draw one in bit by bit – to add little ideas gradually so that ‘the plot thickens’, in a way. But a definite aspect of this album is that I am interested in various strands of music, and am trying to convey this broadness of possibilities through it. I hope that it grabs people’s imaginations.

Mahala: You made it freely available, why?

RK:Hmmm, well it comes down to the fact that it’s really hard for someone like me to get heard. I don’t have a hype machine behind me, I’m not the best networker as a person, and experience has taught me that radio and retail won’t be crawling over each other to stock and play this kind of album. So I just decided to put it online so that people who might not ordinarily have heard it can take a chance on it without risking money or something. That’s the way things are going now. People like Trent Reznor and Bob Lefsetz are saying ‘Give it away… if it’s good enough it will do more for you than if it isn’t getting heard… you don’t need the middleman.’ The album is still released in a silkscreened sleeve that hardcore fans will want, but the point of music is to be listened to, so this was just the best way to get it heard.

Mahala: What local bands do you like? What are you listening to a lot of lately? Which bands inspired you/did you reference while making Strung Like A Compound Eye?

RK: Local bands I love include the BLK JKS, Carlo Mombelli & The Prisoners of Strange, Guy Buttery, and Benguela (an improvising trio who pretty much made me want to do music – they’d split up but are now playing again – which I am very happy about). It also goes without saying that the artists I’ve been involved with in a label context (Ramon Galvan, Ella Joyce Buckley – now based in New York, Ampersand) I am huge fans of.

Righard 3

Albums that nourished my head during the making of this album: Fennesz’s ‘The Black Sea’ – this guy makes this idyllic drone music with this distinct sense of decay worked into the very fabric of his sounds- it’s sort of utopian and dystopian at the same time. Tortoise – Millions Now living will never die – an old album that I put on heavy rotation again, this band made vibraphone rock&roll, what more needs to be said. Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog – ‘Party Intellectuals’ – this amazing experimental guitarist put together a real hard rocking three piece band and put out this album that just did my head in.

Mahala: Who else features on the album?

RK: We ended up having a whole bunch of contributors on the album who are all friends of mine and artists that I admire – Ramon Galvan, Ross Campbell, Gareth Dawson, Marcel van Heerden, Toast Coetzer, Lauren Fowler, Ella Joyce Buckley, Lee Thompson and Christopher Engel.

Mahala: You’re touring in October and together with Ramon Galvan and Ross Campbell will be playing on a kind of triple bill.

RK: Yes. I still need to make most of the practical arrangements for that but my group, plus Ramon Galvan’s trio are going to on tour, and when I chatted to Ross about it (a very busy man) the idea came up that Benguela join us on the tour (which i am very happy about). All I really know about the tour at this stage is that it will probably be in late october, and that we’ve already decided we want to play theatre spaces. Because it’s listening music we want to play in a situation where people are able to focus on the music instead of yabbering away at the bar. The album launch at Newspace One (Long Street) was just such a wonderful experience that we know that this is the kind of context we prefer to play in. The rest I still need to organise but I have some pretty good ideas of the spaces we want.

Mahala: Please tell us about those other two projects.

RK: Benguela are an improvising three piece (Ross Campbell – drums; Brydon Bolton – bass; Alex Bozas – guitar) who are playing again after a couple of years’ hiatus. They kind of do this thing where they start building songs up out of this very abstract sounds, and it just gains momentum until it gets incredibly fierce.

Ramon Galvan used to be the frontman of the group Blackmilk round the turn of the century, since then he’s been working on more sparse minimal guitar songs – he’s a terrific vocalist, capable of writing some amazing pop hooks (even though his music isn’t pop at all) and is also fond of playing all sorts of strange instruments like kalimba (thumb piano), bulbul tarang (sort of an indian zither) auto-harp and kraakdoos (pretty much a circuit bend in a box, capable of emitting very screwed up electronic sounds). His album ‘Outer Tumbolia’ was released on my label, Jaunted Haunts Press, alongside my album.

Mahala: What’s Jaunted Haunts Press all about?

RK: Jaunted Haunts Press is a couple of things. It’s a blog on which I post news about the artists involved and occasionally wax lyrical about music that interests me. The label aspect of it is an extension of my interest in doing the silkscreened album covers, making the albums something of a collectible thing. I find that screenprinting occupies this ambivalent place between art object and mass produced thing. And of course what ties the artists together is an uncompromising dedication to their creative vision.

Mahala: Which bands have you done album art/posters for?

RK: Covers for myself, Ramon Galvan, Ella Joyce Buckley, The Buckfever Undeground, The Wild Eyes.

Posters: all of the above – plus Kidofdoom, Blk Jks, Real Estate Agents, and then plenty for events like a gig where I played alongside Aryan Kaganof, the Pan African Space Station gigs, and ‘On The Edge of Wrong’, an annual festival, of improvised music which is run by a friend of mine from norway, Morten Minothi Kristiansen.

*Download the album, listen to it, like it, then buy the beautifully packaged, screenprinted tactile version on www.jauntedhaunts.co.za

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