The Art of Kappa Chow

Category: music 343

“We are DIY, local, community, and scene-oriented by necessity.”


By Matt Carter

Kappa Chow has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I can’t even remember exactly where I first heard of them. I do remember asking Backstreet Records to order me in their first 7”, the tongue-in-cheek single, Punk As Fuck. They did, and I continue to love it.

But my interest in the band goes far beyond a simple 7” single. In a lot of ways, Kappa Chow’s very existence evokes a certain nostalgia for a time I long thought had past – a time when learning more about a band involved things like stamps or expensive long-distance phone calls. In a world where the internet can answer just about any question you may have, it’s a breath of fresh air to learn there are still people, bands and labels who embrace the importance of connecting with their audience the old fashion way. Kappa Chow is more than a band. They are something we all need to experience.

This brings me to today…or at least the month of February. Within the past week I heard of a new Kappa Chow 7” surfacing, and their upcoming all-ages show at ReNeu Boutique. Miraculously, I was able to track down Joe Chamandy. We traded long-winded questions for long-winded answers in hopes of removing some of the mystery surrounding all that is Kappa Chow.

Grid City: For an active group, touring, performing and releasing records and cassettes, it seems very hard to find any solid info on the band through the usual means of today.  It’s also very commendable and reminds me of the pre-internet days when I’d read about a band in a zine or Maximum Rock and Roll and have to send a self-addressed stamped envelope for more information.  Come to think of it, I can’t even remember where I first heard of your “Punk As Fuck” single, but I have a copy and it’s great.  Can you explain the challenges and rewards that come with this approach?  It’s a beautiful “fuck you” to our current state of affairs.

Joe Chamandy: Yeah, like you said, it’s partially a choice to leave a bit of mystery to the band. That is something I’ve always appreciated about older/more obscure punk bands – the activeness with which you have to engage with them in order to gather info and hear their music. It is part of what makes music exciting. Also, I hate bands and artists that cram their shit down your throat. That kind of “professionalism” is the antithesis of rock n roll. I think there is something to be said for respecting the audience’s space, as well as not pandering to trend-riding tech junkies. So part of the decision is that, in terms of internet presence, less is more. I see a lot of bands with more pictures of themselves hanging out and being silly/loveable/serious/badass/pouty/cool/etc online than I care to. But, we aren’t as true to this philosophy as many others; there are a lot of great bands that exist solely in the physical realm.

“We are trying to make physical objects and physical experiences with this project.”

collage1We aren’t anti-internet. It is an amazing tool in terms of DIY networking and sharing information. I still love message board culture, even though it seems like it is less of a presence than it was five years ago. I guess I have some disdain for the social media bullshit bands seem to partake in. Why do you need a Facebook page to be a band? Neither Ilse (drummer and other half of Kappa Chow in terms of art, direction, ethos…) or I have FB, and I don’t say that as a point of pride or to insinuate that we aren’t as fucked by the interweb’s dominance as everyone else, but just to say we are alive without it and a band can be too. But I admit that this really makes booking tours and stuff harder than it would be. I think people like the ease with which they can qualify a band using these social media sites, like how many followers they have, who their friends are, how often they post etc. These are often bigger factors than the music to a lot of people. Not only that, but it’s a way of streamlining the process of getting to know a band.

We send mail, and love getting mail. We are trying to make physical objects and physical experiences with this project. In terms of the social element, we are trying to travel and meet people in the flesh and leave a trail of mystery and novelty, and internet buzz is not a priority. I mean, we care about it, but less than those other things, and mostly just as a means of creating real experiences.

I don’t want to come off like some serious dick, because I know our music/approach ain’t revolutionary and is fairly light fare, especially that first single, which is more or less a novelty record. I don’t want anyone to perceive us as this cold calculated serious band. Ultimately, we want to make rock n roll with substance and humour and do it on our own terms. Ultimately, our attitude towards the internet is that it is not as important and necessary in our band’s “campaign” as many others perceive it to be. It is a tool, but not a default thing that you have to do, because a band is something non-definable, a term that you have to negotiate for your own purpose.

Personally, this lack of “traditional” methods puts a more human face to the band and your music.  If I want to connect with you, I have to work for it.  It also puts more meaning in finding your records or catching a show.   By today’s standards, this makes Kappa Chow more of an experience than just another band. Is that the intention?

I think so. It’s just how I get excited about music. Like I said, the oversaturation online isn’t really helping anyone. I like sending mail to bands and labels and writers I like and trading records and we use the mail for art as well. We like Ray Johnson and Maximum Rock n Roll and City Mail and all these things that revolve around the mail as a medium for artistic practice. After we go on tour, we send thank you cards to the people who helped us out and sometimes they write back and we maintain those friendships in a fun and meaningful way.

And there is an intention in not having a website, although its not a totally resolved stance on things. It’s just where we are at right now. I also think it comes a bit more from visual art. It’s a lot more common for visual artists that are active in real life and show and apply for things and stuff, to not have a personal website. I read this thing on personal branding the other day, like how my generation (I’m 24) uses the internet to sell a product which is themselves and people get rich and famous off these selfie blogs and shit and it is such a big part of people’s identities these days. It creeps me out, but I think it is a real interesting platform for web-based art and I see some people doing that. I really think there are ways to subvert that within an online presence and that can be a cool and effective angle. Like I remember seeing the Nomeansno page which was a funny/cool website that was mostly just taking the piss. But yeah, I don’t think we are just music; we are like an art project that revolves around building some identity that is based on a lineage of records and shit we like, and part of that is what that BFTG type stuff is capitalizing on. That mystery and energy of weird hits without the oversell that most bands today kind of use. It’s not the only thing in there though. There is also a real respect here for inclusionary politics and trying to learn to adapt this collage of the past rock n roll/punk/kitsch aesthetic to leave out the sexist, racist, homophobic, macho horseshit that it’s so often tied to. Also to say “fuck you” to professionalism and polish and any predetermined industry standards of what a band has to do.collage2

Another thing I’m trying to get at is that every idea has its own best presentation and means of production and stuff. I highly respect some uses of bandcamp and stuff as a way of getting things out there with immediacy, but I think in some cases people regard it as a default, and that is bullshit, because there should be zero defaults in art and especially fun/dangerous/irreverent art such as rock n roll. We may be a goofy band, but we are also kind of serious artists in that we don’t want to feel compromised by anything but our own shortcomings. When we send our shit out to campus radio, we decorate it, make it a cool package with as much of us as we can fit in the package without giving away details that cloud the mystery or weigh down the music. We think about this shit, and not in the embarrassing way that desperate corporate-minded “indie” bands seem to do. I spend a lot of time in and around campus radio and you would not believe the disconnect between what some people write on a one sheet and what they put in their art.

tumblr_njkb928lVT1rngv12o1_1280So, you’re coming to Fredericton to play ReNeu. You’ve played there before.  Do you remember any highlights from your last Fredericton visit/show?

Yeah we have played ReNeu once before. It was really great and I do have some memory of it. We played with Wooden Wives, who are awesome and totally get all this shit and are kind of scene vets and are so supportive of us in all we do. So obviously it was great to play with them and even collaborate on a song as we were doing at that point, because we had been playing together a lot.

Also we played with this band Tortue, who I liked for a couple of reasons. They were young, and I’m young, so I mean like 14-16. I think and they were approaching things from an exciting place. They were like a partially inept prog rock noodle-core act, whose partial ineptitude made them interesting and special. And they were all better musicians then we are, so I’m not dissing their chops and also chops are kind of bullshit anyway. I don’t know whether they knew that or not but they were cool and really nice. Other than that, Heather is an amazing host. She books lots of cool bands passing through, and Mike Taggart was there who is rad and that was my first time meeting him, even though I was aware of his and Zale’s musical presence before I moved to the East Coast because of some message boards or something and maybe Hamburger Tapes?

I gotta say though, currently Fredericton is a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve played like three shows there (one with Astral Gunk) and it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of bands that are doing things outside of the mainstream, pseudo underground. Like you can play The Capital and maybe some yuppies and frat boys will come and you’ll cover gas and all that, but there are these bands, like Taggart showed me Hex Gurls or something, but I haven’t yet had much contact with this kind of out-there or all-ages or DIY shit. I don’t want to write off the experiences I’ve had though. We’ve definitely met some cool people and played with some cool bands, and I’m sure The Capital does some good programming, we are just kind of nubes to Fredericton I think. Also I know Gallery Connexion is another great space.

ReNeu has been hosting all-ages shows for years now yet a lot of people still complain that, “there are no all-ages shows”.  Do you think this is a result of our “if it’s not on the internet It’s not happening” culture and is it fair to say part of Kappa Chow’s mission as artists is to make the audience think about this shit a little more? 

I think you have a point that people are less actively engaged with the physical world and therefore with underground culture if they are constantly tapped into their phones and shit. If it ain’t on FB then they might not, you know, look around for posters or ask at the record shop or whatever. I find it hard to comment though because like I said, to some extent I avoid the things that disconnect people, but I think it is easy to get lazy when things are so fast and loose on the internet. Like you always hear these older people saying, kids these days don’t discover things the same way…it’s too easy. Any kid could find out about stuff that used to be underground information that took a lifetime to acquire.  I think that is also just a way for geezers to undermine newer generations.

“…we ain’t pushing people in any direction. We’re just avoiding the ones we don’t want to take.”

You have to admit it’s cool that we can read about rare records online and sometimes hear rips of them and access these archives of lost and obscure stuff. I don’t think it’s necessarily cheapened, but I guess I see their point as well because the hunt is often where that personal connection is born and all that. It can separate the trendies from people who take it seriously, although I’m not sure underground art audiences really need to be thinned out.

It’s like when you have a buddy who likes “pure punk” or whatever (I have a picky friend, who thinks what I like is garage/too arty/blah blah and not “punk” enough for him) and you want to show them a band you found that you think would appeal to them. They come to it with a preconception, because they aren’t discovering it for themselves. There is no sequence of events or information, just a suggestion that they only partially trust, or trust to be slightly off from what they truly like. But what I am saying is, even if you use the internet for research or whatever methods you use to find music, as a consumer of music, you want to feel that you are unique and have your own discerning tastes and whatever threatens that, the internet, or Pitchfork or whatever is going to be an enemy to you, and I feel that because I like what I like and I like hearing what people I respect like, but I don’t want to hear what’s “hot” if I find those opinions objectionable in the first place.

So to narrow in on the question a bit, I think our mission is to be independent of that world to some extent and to wake people up a bit to community and stuff, but ultimately we ain’t pushing people in any direction. We’re just avoiding the ones we don’t want to take. But also, it’s not like Pitchfork is knocking on our door; a) we are light years away from being on their radar and all that, and b) we are not conducting our shit in a way that is going to intersect with that. We are DIY, local, community, and scene-oriented by necessity.

What’s in the plans for 2015?  You’ve just dropped a new 7”.  What else is in the cards?

We really want to tour all the way out west this summer. It’s just worked out that we have this opportunity to not pay rent for the summer and we want to try to play and travel. We also have a 10-song thing that is almost done. We recorded some of it to tape and then the machine busted, so we are going to finish it digitally and then see what happens. After the summer, Kappa Chow (Ilse and I) are moving to Toronto, so we will be there and see what’s up. We don’t have any plans for the 10 songs yet or for what will happen after Ilse and I move. And anyone wanting to help, or book us this summer, get in touch!

Where should people send their self-addressed stamped envelopes if they want to find out more about Kappa Chow or perhaps grab a copy of your new record?

Send any fan/hate mail to 7 Lorne St. apt #3 Sackville, NB, E4L 3Z6 and we will write back.  We’ll also leave some records at Backstreet in Freddy and they’re already stocked at Spin-It in Moncton.

Kappa Chow+Sentimentals+Er & The Other | ReNeu Boutique | February 19, 2015 | 8:30PM | $7


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