Interview: The Republic Tigers
Wed, 20 Aug 2008 16:01:31
There's a popular In-N-Out Burger at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Orange Drive in Hollywood. There's no time during the day when it's not overflowing with tourists and burger fiends of all kinds. However, in the middle of one summer afternoon, it's surprisingly quiet. That's fine for Republic Tigers frontman Kenn Jankowski because he's enjoying a quick getaway in L.A. He says, "I'm just vacationing right now. I'm soaking up the rays." Rays certainly abound this time of year, and he deserves it after crafting last year's alt. folk, electro epic Keep Color. Kenn took some time out at In-N-Out to talk to ARTISTdirect about the record, Kansas City songwriting and much more.
Where do songs start for you?
It depends on what’s going on in our heads. We'll record ideas using Midi programs on our computers. Then we’ll share those with each other. That’s how a lot of the songs start. We just come up with ideas pretty quickly and spread them around to the band. Then we write on top of that. Sometimes I’ll come up with a melody, and the lyrics come after that. That happens more rarely.
Would you say there's a thematic thread to the album?
Yeah, we’re all very influenced by movie music and classical music. That’s one thing we all have in common that we like to infuse into the songs. That thread is purposeful.
Are there any film composers in particular that inspire you?
I actually never remember anyone's name. I just like specific movies. There are a lot of them. I can’t remember who did the One Hour Photo soundtrack, but I liked that one a lot. I also liked Being John Malkovich and Brazil. I can say the names of the movies, but I forget the composers' names [Laughs].
Do you ever write with certain images in mind, sort of like you’re scoring a film?
Absolutely, I imagine scenes when I read books especially. That helps writing songs. I can really figure out what the visual might be.
Songs like "Buildings and Mountains" come to life very vividly.
Well thank you. I think about landscapes a lot. That's for sure. We were in Colorado when that song was written. The lyrics were written when we were in the mountains. I was in Florida when "Feel in the Future" was written. I went to the beach a lot.
Does the lyrical process differ from the music or are they in conjunction?
I'd say they happen in conjunction. It's equally difficult to structure the instruments and the song musically as it is to compile all the information that is necessary for the story to be told properly. They're both very difficult things.
It's definitely a delicate balance like any art is.
Yeah it is. It's very delicate. I don't usually go with what I come up with first. I'll leave it and come back to it. I deal with melody mathematically. I filter through what pops into my head differently with each melody. I just try to be creative.
Another song that stood out for me was "Fight song." What was the story behind that one?
That one was started between the drummer of my old band and myself. We were just on tour in a hotel room. We were inspired by songs that you hear at football games. You hear the Gary Glitter song all the time. We started trying to think of a way to make something like that. We wrote "Fight Song" for a football game or school. We wanted it to be heavily percussive. He came up with a couple notes and I came up with a couple notes and we had our little riff. I started co-writing that idea with the other guys in the group now. It was based on marching band influences. As far as lyrics go, it's got three different stories that don't make sense with the same world. There are three different ways to take the song, probably way more than that, but there are three ways I take it. I would have to take small little words from each story to keep making sense. It's political, and it's about a competitive game.
“I deal with melody mathematically. I just try to be creative.”
Where did the title Keep Color come from?
It comes from the lyrics of "Contortionist." In the middle of the song, right where the music breaks, you hear the vocals say, "Keep Color," and then it follows that note. I just felt like that means a lot. It encompasses the sound of this record, all the lyrics and the motivation behind the lyrics. The title is one way to link them all. I'd say poetically "Contortionist" is my favorite song.
Are you guys going home to just kind of work on music after L.A.?
We're going to Beirut in a couple of weeks. We're going to play a festival. That'll be our first time out of the country. That's the craziest thing.
What's the scene like in Kansas City? It seems like some cool band always comes out of there, like Reggie and the Full Effect.
Everyone seems to be trying harder than ever to break into the game. People who don't know how to up their game are giving up. I think we're heading into a new system. I don't know if it's effective or not. I think it helps that the Republic Tigers are staying in the city to help the competitive level of creativity. I wanted us to raise the bar of effort for everyone there. I think where we live we have a bigger chance to hold onto our humanity, just so we're not distracted in the bigger cities. I think it's special being there in a small place. It's relative to what's happening with the bands. The effort is growing. I like having a little neck of the woods and all, but it would be nice if we got a little larger for music and all that.
When you're living in a place like LA and you're playing shows where there can always potentially be someone in the industry there, there's added pressure. I think things don't come out as naturally.
There are so many bands here. I've noticed a lot of them are trying to make exactly what they think the industry wants. It's really fuckin' boring, but there are a lot of good bands too.
There are just more bands out there; there are more shitty bands and more good bands too.
You're right. I've heard too many not so good ones. You've got to know where to look. Bands are like beaches, you never know which ones are the good ones before you go see them.