Kevin Kling (KK): Sure. I wrote the poems in the hospital on morphine, because I’d just been in a motorcycle accident, and my room seemed to keep filling up with birds (that I found out later weren’t really there). And so I started writing poems about the different birds. And I wasn’t a poet before the accident, and so that was interesting to me as much as the birds. I was like, okay, here they go. So I wrote a series of poems based on the birds, and Victor and I are always scheming on stuff to work on. He said, “What do you got, what do you got?”, and…
Victor Zupanc (VZ): [interrupts] I just remember getting a stack of them from you, and then when Zeitgeist commissioned me to write something, it was the first thing I thought of. I thought, “I know exactly what I want to do.”
Kevin Kling: It couldn’t have been a better…you couldn’t have found a better group for them. That was just the most amazing…because it is a place that exists between dreaming and reality, and I think Zeitgeist is very comfortable in that land. They really can take us there, take us to what it was like to be in two different worlds at the same time.
CM: Yeah. I mean, I really felt like there was a cool arc over the course of the whole album. It starts out with stories, kind of from your childhood, Kevin, it sounds like.
CM: I don’t know, I was listening as I was walking down the street outside my parents’ house last night, as the sun was setting, and it just was the perfect mood for that.
VZ: I was just going to say, I mean, you’re mentioning how the stories come from Kevin’s life and his childhood, which also influenced me in styles of some of this music. I’m thinking of one piece in particular, “The Nighthawks,” (the drive-in theater), which I keep calling “The Billy Joel Song.” And you know, that’s my childhood, when I was a kid and a teenager, listening to pop music and Billy Joel.
KK: I love the fact that you’re singing in the music.
VZ: Yeah, me too. I mean, I’m not a real singer, but I felt like I needed to sing these songs, because of our relationship, and I understood these poems. And we’ve worked together enough that I get it, and I thought this is going to come from deep down inside me, too. And it’s not the type of piece that requires a singer, you know. It needs to be someone who can sing these songs in many different ways and tell the story. I enjoyed it a lot.
KK: It couldn’t be better. It’s a theatrical piece, and that’s really…it rides on an emotional and unseen thread that kind of holds this thing together. And that’s how good stories work. Really good stories…you can’t really figure out how they work, but they do, and you know that there’s, that it relies on momentum. It relies on so many different things, and one of the reasons I can tell that that exists in this music is that we’ve done it already umpteen, how many times now, and every time we do it, I hear something new. Every time we do it, I go, “Oh man, where did that come from?” And so the music seems to be living in its own place. And the other thing: since we tour with it, we’re always in different venues. And different venues will highlight different instruments. Like one kind of venue will make another instrument pop that I haven’t really heard come out as much, and all of a sudden hear that thing and go, “What’s that all about?”
And that’s another really interesting thing I know about touring that probably drives musicians crazy, but for me it’s so interesting because it keeps it really different and really alive.
CM: Yeah. Thinking about the ‘birds’ metaphor going throughout the piece, I’m guessing that the meaning has changed a little bit over time as you’ve performed it so many times. Do you find that the bird sections kind of mean different things to you as you go along?
KK: They do for me, every time
VZ: Yeah, I think so.
KK: Yeah, because you can’t stay in the same place, and for sure some of the stories are dealing with a motorcycle accident when it’s fresh, when it’s brand new. And I’m not there anymore, for certain. And so a lot of it, I’m hearing these songs or these stories and this music, and they’re somebody else. So I’ve already moved past that. But the nice thing about the stories in between is I get to be that somebody else. And so the stories are always changing. I’m always trying to crack these guys out, too. I’m always looking for, like a new thing to throw in there. To throw in another monkey wrench.
VZ: Yeah, I mean we know it so well now where we have done it a lot. Dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of times and we know what it is and we know what it’s supposed to do, so we stretch that, and do play with it.
KK: I still can’t wait to do it whenever I see it’s coming up. It’s really a blast.
VZ: It’s also really deep. I mean, people really respond to it in a really deep way. I’ve never done a performance, a piece, really, where the audience afterwards just doesn’t want to leave.
That’s true. They stay and they want to talk to us about it, and they have so much insight, and so much…you know, we were just talking about our, it bringing us back to childhood, and our histories, and people just start talking about stuff like that. You know, about something that happened to them, or this reminded them of this when they were a child, or…
KK: I think the other reason they want to talk is that it’s challenging work. And especially in the different parts of the state that we go to, this is challenging stuff for anywhere, and so we’re always curious. How is this community going to respond to some of this music? And it’s overwhelmingly been positive. I think that’s part of the reason they want to talk about it. Somebody has finally trusted their community to a piece of challenging music, and they’re up for it. And they come up, and they go, “Yeah. We want more of this stuff.”
CM: One piece that I really enjoyed was when you’re kind of writing from the perspective of a mouse being carried off by a hawk.
KK: My mom hates that one!
CM: It’s kind of heartbreaking, but really…was that one that came to you while you were in the hospital?
KK: Oh yeah, definitely. That’s a real hospital experience, because you’re in the claws of the hawk a lot, and you don’t know where you’re going or who you’re being fed to. [Laughs]
CM: Towards the end of the album, it does get a little bit deeper and kind of heavy and dark…
KK: Well that’s another piece of music that I just absolutely adore, because there’s a wonderful momentum to it, and the mouse is trying to stop that momentum but the music won’t let it. Especially with Patrick on that bass clarinet, it’s a driving piece. The mouse doesn’t want it to be driving.
VZ: You know, I got the poems and I immediately started thinking of songs, but there were a couple (and that was one of them) where I just went, “No, this is not a song. This is Kevin telling the story, and just music. I’m just going to shape this music and score this really short story.” But that was fun, because as you said, Kevin, that momentum and that driving is like, “Yep. We’re going somewhere, we’re going somewhere.” And then at the end, it’s like, “We’re not going anywhere.”
KK: No, we’re there! [Laughter]