Hubardo is a story about a meteor that falls to Earth and enchants the heart of a lonely poet, forcing him to undergo a personal alchemical transformation.
LURKER’s love affair with Kayo Dot is well documented, and we aren’t afraid to continue singing the praises of this band, with good reason. Toby Driver’s inimitable compositional style has taken Kayo Dot from lurching doom through goth fusion and woodwind-driven metal, to Hubardo: a 100+ minute double album that promises to cover all of the eclectic stylings that the band have amassed over the last decade. And it really has been a decade. Hubardo marks the ten-year anniversary of Kayo Dot. It also marks a continuation down the path of band-led, crowd-funded projects.
Following an announcement and track-release (on the bandcamp page), the band still need to sell more copies to propel Hubardo into existence (you can purchase it from the band’s big cartel site, here). LURKER talked with Toby Driver, Kayo Dot’s architect and chief composer, about Hubardo and the joys and struggles of working without record labels.
You’ve used Kickstarter several times in the past to raise funds for the recording or printing of new material. How do you feel these crowd-sourcing platforms affect the way you release music? This time you have used your own store and imprint to raise funds, is there any reason you have chosen to go it alone?
Just to clarify, I have used Kickstarter twice. Before Kickstarter was well known, I also crowd-funded a record through a self-run fundraiser. So yes, three records so far, and Hubardo is the fourth, using a slightly different method: pre-orders. Crowdfunding affects the releases in the sense that we simultaneously have more autonomy and less. We have less because the labels that we have worked with in the past have had larger amounts of money to spend, allowing each step of the record-making process to essentially proceed as it should. When self-releasing, especially as someone who is broke, each step of the way is basically an obstacle that you have to figure out how to overcome. We chose to “go it alone” this time because I still have a Kickstarter project from 2012 (Ichneumonidae) that is outstanding.
Is this the result of the difficulties that have arisen from finding and working with record labels? With the creation of Ice Level Music, it looks as if Kayo Dot will continue down the road of self-financing with future releases. Has the music become too outsider and avant-garde for independent labels to consider it a profitable venture?
I sincerely hope that is not the case, or, that it is the case but we somehow become wildly successful. I mean, ideally, it would be great to be able to do all of this myself, but as I mentioned above, the financial burden is oppressive. In my current state, I would prefer to release through an outside label. True, I have been self-releasing out of necessity because, not to get dark or anything, labels and press are generally not interested in my projects. I also would like to clarify here that Ice Level Music was started in 2007, its first release was Tartar Lamb – Sixty Metonymies, and the label has released 5 albums so far, Hubardo being the sixth.
As I mentioned above, it really depends on what happens with Hubardo and the band in general throughout the 2013-2014 season. Ice Level Music only exists because when you release a record, if you want to put the record in the marketplace and register its publishing info and such, it ‘needs’ a label name. It’s like if you’d want to have a record on iTunes, but the record doesn’t have one of those stupid 300×300 square images that pass for album covers these days. You just can’t upload a record to the marketplace, or even get reviews on blogs, without a stupid square.
So, anyway, independent artists are always just coming up with ‘label names’ and ‘publisher names’ for their own stuff. I would not want to release records by other artists, even if they’re part of the Kayo Dot family, because I think labels ought to fulfill a really specific function, and if they aren’t fulfilling that function, then they’re bad for the artist and they need not exist. I can’t provide any of those essentials to any artist, not even to myself. Yoshiko Ohara’s record on Ice Level is an exception – the label’s needed role with that was something very unique and was something I was able to fulfill.
Do you share the view that creating a label exclusively for projects related to your own creations plus some friends of the band (like Bloody Panda’s Yoshiko O’Hara and her solo effort) not only gives you more freedom to work as you like without the pressure of an external entity, but also decentralizes the creative process and confirms your works as truly independent entities?
I like your latter observation – I think that may be a good side effect. However, I don’t really think it gives us more freedom to work… less, in fact, because of the financial restrictions. Doesn’t it suck how it’s really all about money?
From Kayo Dot’s birth, the metal influence from maudlin of the Well was still clearly audible, though on recent releases you have explored your prog side in greater depth. With Gamma Knife and now Hubardo, it seems you are bringing the metal to the fore again. What sparked this? Does this signal a resurgence of old influences?
There are two things that sparked it with Gamma Knife: primarily that I was frustrated with how much bland, unthoughtful, weak metal was coming out and receiving acclaim, and I very immodestly felt I could create something that was as idiomatic, yet way more interesting. I generally, in my personal and public life, try to be as humble and modest as possible, but this issue was something I just couldn’t let go, and felt I needed to jump into the imbroglio. I decided to keep it up on Hubardo because Gamma Knife was essentially a live recording and home recording, with a low-fi and murky production that did not make it easy for listeners to fully take in some of the stuff we were doing. I thought we should do at least one studio album that featured some well-recorded metal ideas before heading off into future abstract territory again. But anyway, the second reason was because it’s really enjoyable to play. So, I’m not necessarily saying we’re definitely going to back off metal again – we may keep doing it if the ideas stay fresh – I still do not want to fit into the parameters of the metal police.
Hubardo will feature Jason Byron on vocals. I know you have built a loyal and impressive cadre of musicians over the years who have consistently featured on Kayo Dot albums, so how does it feel to have worked again with your longtime friend on a piece of music?
To clarify, I have not ceased working with Byron this whole time. He’s written lyrics for every MOTW and Kayo Dot album except for Blue Lambency Downward and Coyote, both very special cases… but during those periods he contributed lyrics to other songs I was messing around with (“The Second Sight,” for example). So it’s not as if we’ve had a reunion or anything like that. The special thing is that he actually performed some vocals – so, to answer your question in regards to this aspect, it feels very warm! I also should mention that our former guitarist, Greg Massi, is the guy who took his own laptop up to Byron’s place and engineered the vocal take. So, in a sense, both of those guys contributed, which is really cool. It is a tenth anniversary album, after all. I had actually wanted to have every former KD member (who I’m still on good terms with, that is) contribute something, but logistically that wasn’t really possible. Anyway, I think Byron is a totally brilliant writer, and his input has always strongly shaped the Kayo Dot aesthetic, and that should not be overlooked.
On the topic of musicians that work with you on Kayo Dot, do they bring their own ideas and influence to the sound? Has the revolving door of musicians had any resounding effect on the direction and sound of Kayo Dot? If so, how has it helped shape Hubardo?
Yes, I have done records where I write everything, but often with Kayo Dot the other musicians write their own parts, with a bunch of producer-style guidance from me. Kayo Dot’s sound is always shaped by the musicians who are involved at the time and the instrumentation that’s available. Always, always, always. That’s an essential part of our identity, and I think that any seasoned composer will tell you that shaping your music around your musicians is a fundamental, as well. This resounding affect has shaped Hubardo in the same way as the other albums – the band members’ idiosyncrasies are apparent. Speaking a little about your most recent musical project, Vaura: what are your future plans with this band? Have you considered releasing some new material under your new label?
No, Vaura is fortunate enough to have support from real labels. We’re just going to keep making records, I guess. I don’t know what our other plans are. The front man is a new dad, so he probably can’t tour for a while.
With Jason Byron back on lyrical duties, and the accompaniment of a new poem, “The Sword of Satan”, can you elaborate on the concept and ideas that form Hubardo?
Again to clarify, he’s been doing the lyrics for us this whole time. The S.O.S. doesn’t have to do with Hubardo, really, but there are things in it that elucidate the meanings of some of Byron’s Kayo Dot lyrics from the past ten years. Hubardo is a story about a meteor that falls to Earth and enchants the heart of a lonely poet, forcing him to undergo a personal alchemical transformation. Obviously, the themes explored in the story have to do with all the things Byron studies and has written about for the past decade, so everything is symbolic in a way, although it functions as a superficial narrative, too.
On Hubardo, we see a reassembling of long time contributors to your music. The blurb on big cartel is worded to sound like Hubardo is the biggest undertaking/amalgamation of ideas since Kayo Dot began. How does Hubardo differ from past ventures, from a personal perspective?
Yes, it’s a huge massive wad of ideas. It differs because it has so many songs, perhaps? It’s more metallic, more listenable, and more technical? I really don’t know. However, it is quite similar to every other Kayo Dot album, because it is overambitious, haha! Of course every record is uniquely personal in its own way, but I’m not really sure I would say Hubardo differs from the others from a personal perspective in terms of the general question of how records are made. But, we as a band do feel like Kayo Dot is entering into a new phase of our existence, so that might be the feeling that you’re referring to. Terran [Olson], for example, is moving back to the west coast, so he’ll be out of the picture for a while. The music on Hubardo was written with the listeners in mind – also a new experience for us, hah! We’re not reading sheet music or wearing shorts on stage anymore, stuff like that. We’re grownups.