Interview: Kid Koala

Published: July 20, 2017

We caught Kid Koala's insane party show at  Festival d'été de Québec this past Saturday.  Not only did he wear his infamous Koala suit he attempted to create a human vinyl by getting the crowd to participate in a massive circular conga line.  The show enticed smiles across Impérial Bell as audience members played kazoos, flew paper planes over each other's heads and watched puppets shaped as laptops dance across the stage... yeah it was weird...but a hell of a good time!

We chatted with Kid Koala before the show to talk about his newest release Music To Draw To: Satellite, his work on Baby Driver, the Vinyl Vaudeville tour and the other multiple projects he has on the go.

What makes you go from the mind space of something like Twelve Bit Blues to Music To Draw To?

It is actually completely a weather thing. It has more to do with the change from Summer, to Autumn to Winter than it does, thinking in terms of musical style. When you live in Montreal there is that Jekyll and Hyde type of living situation when you are dealing with the weather. Just the most basic human level of going from 30 or 35 degrees to minus 35 degrees. It affects the type of music you wanna listen to, it affects the type of music you wanna make. I think the only time it gets a little method is when I have to make melancholy Winter-y music in the Summers specifically for a film or something. Or if its Winter time and I get asked to do beats for what’s coming out this Summer. I just kind of go by inspiration and I can’t help but be affected by the temperatures. If I lived somewhere that is warm all the time or if I lived somewhere that was raining all the time my music would change absolutely.

You are on the soundtrack for Baby Driver; how is your process different for scoring a film versus working on your own albums?

Well, what’s great about doing something for a film is the point is to just create music that supports that scene the best you can. I love working with film directors because they have such a concise vision of the story they are telling. You’ll meet up with them and they’ll explain to you what they want in the scene or story beat they wanna hit or what emotional beat they wanna hit and then your job at that point is to try to create something that will help make that scene stronger, funnier, sadder or more exciting.  I’ve always loved the cinema, and it combines many of my favorite things including music, storytelling and visuals. Its second nature, even though I haven’t done that much score work, but whenever I speak to a director about doing something or they call me in to do a few scenes with music, they’re speaking a language I can understand.

Have you felt like your music may be going in a different direction than the director?

Uhm, not really. I pretty much just wanna support their vision. If they’re asking me to do something it’s usually because there’s some aesthetic that I can add, something that they know me for. I might throw some options or demos at them, so they can listen and get a gauge for what they’re looking for exactly.

I remember working with Jason Rietman [on Men Women and Children] and when he showed me a scene I felt like: “oh, ok… I’ll try that, but then I have a little bit of an idea of how it could also work in terms of a different tone of music”, and I sent him that and he was surprised because it was actually similar to stuff on Music To Draw To. He said: “Who made this music?” and I said “I made this music” and then he says “I didn’t know you made this kind of music” and I was like  “yeah, I do, in the winter”(laughs).

So I sent him a few bits and he called me back and says: “Hey, we’ve actually used a couple of these tracks in the soundtrack”. There’s a song called 'Nightfall', on Music to Draw To which has two versions and one features Emiliana Torrini, that’s the song that Jason used in his credit sequence and also during the third act. He used the instrumental version in the third act but he felt strongly enough about it that he said “Hey, we cut together this pivotal scene to that track and, you know, we wanted to do it again in the credit roll and this time can we hear it with some vocals?” and so, he was actually the catalyst to me reaching out to Emiliana Torrini, I’ve known her work for a while and we never had a chance to work together.

You’ve worked with so many different people, what do you look for when you’re working with someone and how does that relationship begin?

I think the first thing is just some sort of chemistry, or some sort of mutual interest to create something together. I’ve been pretty lucky in that everybody who’s approached me to work with them in the film world are Edgar Wright, Rian Johnson, Baz Luhrman and Jason [Reitman] and I’m a fan of all of their films. It was just an honor to be asked, and I think when you’re already a fan of somebody’s work it’s almost like you have a little bit of intuition into what they are trying to get. Oddly I met all of those directors at shows. They’ve come to attend live shows of mine and we would meet afterwards and just hit it off.

Does it work the same when you are working with different musicians? 

Yeah, absolutely I think when you meet someone or you’re fan of somebody and you meet them in person and you hit it off usually it’s a good sign that together you’ll be able to make something, pretty cool. You could buy all the technology and all the equipment in the world but really its people and their ideas and the chemistry that makes it palpable.

How did Vinyl Vaudeville come about and working with Adira Amram?

Vaudeville started as a concept when Twelve Bit Blues had first been released. It was kind of a pet project to create a live show where I can perform some of those songs which are quite slow and in a 6/8 time signature and not your standard 'hip hop or dance floor music. Its much slower and blues-ier and how do we do that without just making up-tempo dance versions of all the songs? Or how do we create the music, keep it intact with the way it was made and the way the tempo was made and still have a show that engages people and is fun and surprising?

When I met up with Adira Amram, herself and three dancers had come to do an opening warm up set for me when I was down in New York and I just loved their act. They warmed the crowd up from zero to a hundred in less than the time it took to get to the first chorus of one of their songs. Immediately I knew that they’re spectacular entertainers in their own right. I brought them on tour with The Slew and while we were on the tour bus we were scheming up the idea of Vinyl Vaudville. The first version of Vaudville was 2012 or 2013 and we just loved working together.

The idea was that every song would be a different act like a vaudevillian show. So there would be costume changes, there would be choreography, there would be different places to focus in terms of how the show dynamic went. And the tag line said, 'the silliest show on earth' because we wanted to give ourselves that freedom to take it wherever we wanted and try to cause some smiles to happen as far as audience reaction.

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We added a bunch of acts and new music and I’m really happy to be working with this crew and to be on tour with them this summer. This is the perfect summer tour.

Either way I think the idea of having an audience comfortable enough to enjoy themselves is still key. Whether i’m doing a show where it's a soft seat theatre and everyone is sitting down or where VAUDVILLE for instance it's standing room and it's a total chaos, party, kind of mob, it's still the same philosophy behind it. We want people to have a good time. The music can change, as you know, from album to album or season to season. We want the show always to  be a fun contextual experience.

What got you into DJ-ing?

The philosophy or ethos of scratch DJ-ing drew me to the instrument in the first place. Its always about trying to push something further and creating your own style to fit your personality. Back in the day, if you were in a DJ battle and it was your turn to go up, and you had 5 minutes to go up and the idea was you had to create something with your 5 minutes that people hadn’t heard or seen or experienced yet and you had to do it with your own style and your own flare - that was really what I loved about that scene; it encouraged you to do that, not just everybody get up and do the same thing or do the exact same thing you did last time, it was more about what's fresh, what else are you going to pull out …of your hat.

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Are your fans responsive to all of the types of music and performances in your repertoire?

I feel very blessed, to have some people who have sorta followed me since Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in terms of coming to shows and seeing how its developed from one kid and two two turn tables to whatever it is now.

Over the course of several albums and several tours if you looked at it back when I was starting, and you said ”you have a half hour to DJ” it wasn’t like I was going to play one type of music for 30 minutes or stay on one tempo but I could connect it elegantly enough that the audience went on a bit of an adventure. Taking a step back and thinking of it more in tours, lets say you get to design 12 tours over your lifetime, are you going to do the same kind of show every time? For me, absolutely not. I think that's the core of the scratch DJ in me, it's like “no.” You gotta take everything you learned from all the previous ones and apply it to what you're working on now.

But at the same time, audience members have told me themselves at shows “I’ve seen you nine times and it’s so different every time but it’s still very much in the [same] demented universe” and I’m just really thankful that, there are some crowds that have seen that. I can’t think of too many bands that I’ve seen nine times. I always tell them “I need to give you some frequent flier card or something, you guys are on the permanent guest list from now on”

Who knows? Maybe I do like a country record someday, or DJ only in barbecue joints (laughs), or I do a record that’s really good for running or something for the gym and maybe we’ll just do like you know, spinning classes, who knows? Whatever it is, it’ll all reveal itself when its time I guess, but for now we’re just having fun.

What you thoughts are on the evolution of the DJ equipment?

I actually don’t think that much about it (laughs). I think the music that’s always moved me, be it electronic, acoustic, rock or vocal or whatever it is, it’s always the human element that resonates the most. If you’re given a piece of technology that’s fine, but at what point can you tell it was a human that made that or the technology just spat it out. I think in terms of something that really moves you, people are always looking for that human connection. So, for scratch DJs, once new mixers started coming out every year it wasn’t like you just wanted to take a backseat to technology, you always wanted to master that technology and try to figure out a way to express yourself through it.

The exciting part about turntables, for me, is sometimes something slips off the grid and the groove kind of shakes and it’s because of little human mistakes. It's kind of like not having a safety net. For example in Vinyl Vaudeville, there are moments where it’s me creating the beat in real time on a wireless drum machine and I might have to scale a barricade to get into the crowd while I’m doing it and while that’s happening I miss a beat or something. This show, like all of my shows could fall apart in like a second, and its about how quickly would you cover or not recover or get back into the groove from it. It’s those moments of tension that actually make it exciting. Like tightrope walking.

What's next for you?

I’m continuing Baby Driver promotional shows, also we have Vaudeville and we have Nufonia Must Fall, a live animated graphic novel with multiple cameras, creating a film live with mini inter-sets and puppets. It’s all scored live by myself on a piano and a turntable and the Afiara String Quartet. It sounds very complex but that’s more like a cinematic live event that we’re doing and we’ve been doing for a few years so we are continuing touring on that.

I’m working on a soundtrack for a video game called Floor Kids  and it’s a b-boy/breakdance videogame, and so that’s pretty much what I’m focusing on this autumn and as we move into winter, I’m going to start a new album.

Introducing Floor Kids! from JonJon on Vimeo.

 

Post by: Sabrina Spence

 

 

 

Interview: Kid Koala by Chart Attack | Chart Attack.

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