The two week hiatus has ended...welcome back to the Concert Closet fellow progheads! As you are probably well aware by now, the search for all things prog has taken to finding bands and artists that are fantastic in their own right, yet receive little to no fanfare. In other words; the headliners and standard bearers get all the press while so much great prog talent goes unnoticed.
This week, in an effort to expose more great "underground prog" to the masses, I decided to revisit a band that impressed me tremendously when last I was in Scotland. So to Glasgow I gladly return, this time for a review of the new release "THirty Rivers to CRoss" by Scarlet INside and a talk with the mind behind the madness, one Kevin Kennie.
Closet Concert Arena: Congratulations on the release of your latest album, "THirty Rivers to CRoss." Sales are going well I hope?
Kevin Kennie: Can't say I ever expect sales of anything I record. There is no doubt that if you look into the modern world of prog rock, very few people are aware of the existence of Scarlet INside. Starting out with no "footprint" or mark in the music world, certain things have to transpire and a lot has to happen just so for all of us in the "business" to reach a point where we have a buying public. However; I have neither the ability nor the wish to be a "businessman." Scarlet INside is but a small project without financial means or the business acumen to spread the news. I am quite certain there are many bands in my position. To borrow a cliche that really sums it up; "success breeds success."
I must also say that the music of Scarlet INside, isolated as it is...can be experimental and indulgent to the point of deliberately inserting ideas and tracks that are "wrong, different, and baffling." Add to that not recorded in a real studio, thereby reducing sound quality...
I can say with no shame and few regrets; beyond the hope people will like your music, the "BLood" album sold exactly TWO copies...ah well...
CCA: When I last visited Glasgow and discovered Scarlet INside, it was the one-man Kevin Kennie show; what is the current status of the band?
KK: Scarlet INside as a project was a decision I made after many years of playing what I call "the same ol' stuff;" Saturday night bands, cover bands, rock bands, show bands, blues bands, singer/songwriter...you get the idea. I decided to let the music I always wanted to write, play, and record come out of hiding.
It was never meant to be a solo project but I was unable to persuade others to join the fun. Feeling as they did that it was failing to be popular music; not wielding to the wants of the listening public...or maybe it just wasn't their "thing!" Recently I have played/recorded as a trio which was more "rock style" with prog weirdness...as a solo act with as much "proginess" as I could get my hands around...and as a duet of full blown Scarlet INside.
Currently the situation is complicated; I have been working with keyboard player/composer Brian Johnson for the last three years. We operate as a duet and play as many live gigs as possible. In a trade-off of sorts, I sing the vocal tracks on his solo album and he plays keys/tech/computers/ backing tracks for Scarlet INside. However; neither of us in the other's band...we do what we do and this odd arrangement works for both of us at present. I would like to have other members of the band but it simply hasn't worked out. Quite the conundrum...being unknown makes it difficult to attract
people--because they don't know who you are...
Time to check out what scared off Kevin's mainstream musician friends...so a little taste from the current release called "PLease Let Me Be Asleep." Scarlet INside has a definite affection for the dark side of the prog garden; the images are vivid and quite full-bodied...you can almost feel that unwanted hand on your knee. The bass line is haunting while drums and guitars tap at the back of your skull a bit delicately, as though attempting to break through without being obtrusive. The vocals cut like a dull knife through a frozen stick of butter; not exactly a gentle exercise but fitting the mood. Kevin channels Jamie Muir for a while as he draws sound from virtually everything and
everywhere--and it works perfectly. Don't be scared; the evil genius really is harmless...
CCA: Your music has a dark, ominous quality that somehow manages to stay on the right side of morbidity. How do you balance the dark with deep thought and not fall into the abyss?
KK: As I said earlier, Scarlet INside is most definitely an indulgence. Rather than dwell on ideas of what music should be, I let what's in come out and work on arranging it into working--or as is the case at times--non-working tracks. I have been told that that my music, and in particular my lyrics, are dark and focus on death and evil; many times this is deliberate. The first "BLood" album was decidedly about darkness and horror, while the second focused more on things that were personal to me; happy and bittersweet memories that I love. I do enjoy upbeat, happy music...I just don't seem to have any in me...
CCA: TRTC is no exception to the darkness...I am actually sensing a concept album dealing with death and the hereafter told from the point-of-view of the gatekeeper. Where do you go when writing and do you draw from real life experience?
KK: Originally "Rivers" was not meant to be a concept album, but it became clear as I wrote that many ideas were similar. The title represents the number of years since I originally formed Scarlet INside and the bridge of each year that had to be crossed. I originally intended it to be the title of a "Best Of" album I had hoped to release last year on our 30th anniversary. But like most things I attempt, that idea fell flat due to outside circumstances.
The concept/story behind The TWisted BRaids of CHance" tracks is that of a single (perhaps lonely) subatomic particle flying through quantum space until it chances upon a cloud of collected particles. Here it encounters/smashes/destroys/creates/becomes anew...and flies off once again into the vast spaces between matter. Both a positive view of the creation of the new, and the loneliness of the singular. The remaining tracks are individual but absolutely of the Scarlet INside variety...
CCA: What is the back story to the name of the band, "Scarlet INside?"
KK: The name was borrowed (???) by our original drummer and co-founder Drew McKinlay. It was taken from a song by Clannad, an Irish band we were very fond of. The song was about a character named Will Scarlet, a man filled with intense and dark anger over the murder of his wife. To us it represented that we are all the same inside; same color, same mind...therefore the same people. That and the capacity for bloodletting everyone possesses within themselves.
With that lurking around your cerebral matter, time for a taste of "THe TWisted BRaid of CHance (i) ALone I TRavel." As the song opens, you feel as if you are about to enter Hannibal Lecter's private basement studio/laboratory...and the emotional intensity carries into part (ii); "OPening the Scarlet DOor." Here Kevin put voice to the darkness, and in an odd way you almost feel secure walking through the cobwebs. The guitar and drumming are dialed right in on this piece; the mood is set...and as the canvas drips the sounds enter your head and simply play off each other. Scarlet INside has mastered the art of squeezing musical sound from any inanimate object, which makes this piece even more impressive.
CCA: The artwork on your album covers is very distinct, unique, and really nails the connection to the music. Who is the artist?
KK: All of the artwork to date is a digital compilation of photography; I use whatever free or inexpensive digital artistic programs I can find on the Internet. However; the photos for "The Fall" were taken and arranged by me. I have also used the photography of Scarlet INside co-founder and drummer emeritus Drew McKinlay.
CCA: If you could play a live gig with anyone living or dead, who would you want to be on stage with?
KK: My musical heroes are the people who have said, "What happens if I hit this?" The man I most admire for doing just that is Peter Gabriel; I would love to work and perform with him. On guitar, I would love to have David Gilmour--just to hear him up close...or John McLaughlin, although I am sure I would never be able to keep up with him. As for someone no longer with us; perhaps Frank Zappa and/or Alex Harvey.
CCA: How has the music of Scarlet INside evolved album to album?
KK: My first Scarlet INside abum, "The Fall," was a four track EP. Spanning time from that release to the current TRTC has been a lot of experimentation, advice given (both heeded and ignored), and following ideas and thought processes to their ultimate conclusion. To me, the experiment--the attempt! was what mattered most--not the product of a song that people would "like."
CCA: You describe the band as "semi-prog, multi-genre." Can you elaborate?
KK: Although Scarlet INside can be fitted within the prog framework (perhaps no other genre would have us); no music style, type, or genre is exempt. My personal musical tastes run from classical to world, pop synth to industrial, folk to funk...I am as happy with Mozart as I am with Motorhead, and as likely to listen to Barbra Streisand as I am Black Sabbath, or Classical Indian as King Crimson.
I have used the term Sui Generis to describe our music. Essentially it means singular, one off; however for us it also means the track we are about to play sounds nothing like what we just played, nor will it sound like the track we follow with. May not make us popular--but it does satisfy the soul...
CCA: What else does the world need to know about Scarlet INside?
KK: Scarlet INside the band will continue in one form or another. I have enough material to release at least one more completed album, although I would prefer to go into the studio and work with composers to get the best out of the music.
We are preparing for some live shows, probably in Glasgow to start and hopefully we will spread out a bit wider as the tour progresses. The suggestion was made to release a "Best Of" album, but of course there are differences of opinion as to what tracks or styles it should be comprised of.
I am considering releasing a new album of acoustic material under the name Kevin Kennie (Scarlet INside). I am also trying to determine what style of music to turn to next...I have so many half-finished ideas and new things to learn...
Well fellow progheads, that was quite a learning experience. Scarlet INside redefines "avoiding the mainstream." Kevin has much going on and a lot more in the hopper waiting to be shown the light of day--or perhaps the dark of night...Scarlet INside may be dark, ominous, and even a bit morose--but don't let that force you to look away and miss some intriguing music. Kevin has found a way to pull life from death and sound from the void that exists in the outer reaches of the prog garden.
Normally I would post a clip for your perusal and listening pleasure; this week I decided to let you listen for yourself and make a purchase if you are so inclined...surely we can move more than TWO copies! Check out "THirty Rivers To CRoss" and more at Scarlet INside Music. For those who enjoy the many mood swings a prog band has to offer, you will not be disappointed. Also check out the band's Facebook page at Scarlet INside Facebook, and of course you can keep up with the latest from Scarlet INside on Twitter at @ScarletINside.
A different journey this week fellow progheads; another tangent road traveled. I know you will agree Scarlet INside lives on the dark side but thrives in the light. One more fascinating "fun fact" about progressive rock; there is no hemming it in. Unafraid to venture into sections of the prog garden previously unattended or with few visitors, Scarlet INside invites you--with sincere excitement--to hazard a walk through deeper growth. Besides; how many prog bands list Barbra Streisand next to Black Sabbath?
Time to take the Concert Closet and the search for all things prog on another leg of this unending journey. Not sure where I will end up but I am sure it will be worth the trip...until next week...