Portland, Oregon-based three-piece Modern Kin are singer-guitarist Drew Grow, bassist Kris Doty, and drummer Jeremiah Hayden. The band pulls from a variety of sources, like Tom Waits and The Make-Up, to name a few.
Modern Kin’s self-titled debut record is full of meandering soul, off-kilter blues, punk, and rock-and-roll. Grow’s vocals are always a haunting mix of poetic warmth and desperation. The 12 songs were produced by Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, and warrant an old listening approach – from beginning to end, loud, and often.
The band’s kinetic live shows have earned them opening spots on tours with Wild Flag and The Head and the Heart. Catch Modern Kin play a free show at the Lightbulb Club on Wednesday Oct. 1.
Who: Modern Kin (Portland, Ore.) / High Lonesome (Fayetteville, Ark.)
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014
Where: JR’s Lightbulb Club, 19 N. Block Ave.
More: Free / Facebook event
I talked to Drew Grow about his band and here it goes…
Give us a brief history of Modern Kin – how did the band begin and what did you want to write and sing about?
I’ve been playing music off and on with these two, Kris and Jeremiah, for a long time. The beginning of this band was the end of the last one, Drew Grow and The Pastors’ Wives. It was time for serious change. Originally we weren’t sure if the new music would have a new band name, but as we got together to write the new songs and work out what the music would be we went through a lot of changes together. The old thing was dead. We worked our asses off to become the band we wanted to be – to grow into new powers. I’m so happy with what has come about. The sound needed to evolve, and we pretty much willed it into being.
The record Modern Kin ends is a different place than it begins – it seems like you’re influenced by a diverse spectrum of music and art. What are your primary influences?
Oh man. I really connect with things that are about ideas, those things really capture my imagination. I want things to make me imagine, to stir up my pot, to present an idea that I can’t seem to get my brain around. On the musical end, I continue to connect with the lyrical approach I’ve heard Thom Yorke and Michael Stipe talk about – mining their subconscious, and the abstract and intuitive shreds of David Byrne.
There is something remarkably cohesive in their songs that must just suprise the shit out of them as it rumbles out of the back of their heads. Musically I love Tom Waits and Nick Cave, I connect with how male they come across – like Hemingway. But I also love anthems which has pulled me to Springsteen and more recently I’ve been back on an Echo and the Bunnymen kick.
Your lyrics are very measured – do songs begin with words for you? What have you been reading lately that’s helped shape a song idea?
Songs for me usually begin with a musical idea and then I rough in lyrics. I like to use what seem at the time to be random words and vowel sounds that I just want to hear over a developing melody. Then I make things more cohesive. I’m not a writer who can quickly turn around things I’m reading, observing, learning into art. It takes me a while. I don’t understand how people do it, reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” and then writing a song called “Boo Radley”. I have to chew it up and really digest it. Then often much later they come out of the back of my head. I would say my subconscious provides most of the momentum of a new song and then I work it from there.
How did Janet Weiss come on board as a producer? Are there special elements she added?
Janet is such a powerful musical force. So creative and such taste! As we were preparing to record, I knew I needed help on the recording and production end. When the opportunity arose to ask Janet we went for it. I had gotten to know her through my friend Paul. We connected well musically, and I was so pleased when she accepted!
What does the band do in the van between shows?
Because we’ve been home more recently getting the record out, these days travel time is a chance for us to brainstorm and hash out where we are and where we’re going. I guess the longer we are out, the more we mostly want to give each other space during the day to do our own thing.
What’s the first thing you look for in a new city?
Without fail, coffee.
What can we expect at the show?
We like to make every show different, we depend on audiences to tell us how it is that night. What is the energy? This is what we love, making something happen together with people. This is what live music is all about. Someone’s got to call down lightning. Live music is so much more than playing the right notes at the right time and so much more than doing what you’ve rehearsed. The best musicians I can think of are in the moment, they’re out on the edge, watching the crowd and giving all they can.