Influential indie rockers Gatsbys American Dream made a strong impression in its brief five years of existence. Hard to categorize, the band drew diverse audiences that included just as many punk rockers as trendy indie kids.
The group, which may or may not have broken up two years ago – even former members aren’t sure of the band’s status – has spawned one of the most impressively creative musical collectives you have yet to pay attention to.
Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground, comprised of former Gatsbys American Dream’s bassist Kirk Huffman and fellow Gatsby refugee/keyboardist Kyle O’Quinn, has had a rocky start. An almost-signing to V2 fell apart just as the label was about to merge with Universal Records. Through lack of funds – and necessity – the band released its first collection of songs on cassette (remember them?) and its follow up as a live CD/DVD. Their self-titled debut, brimming with brilliant late ’60s/early ’70s inspired pop rock, was just re-released on vinyl and CD through Suburban Home Records.
Kirk Huffman, a little jaded but humor intact, spoke with Innocent Words about his former band’s demise, life in Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground and the importance of a record’s artwork.
Innocent Words: So did Gatsbys American Dream break up, or are you guys just taking some time off?
Kirk Huffman: You know, honestly, I don’t really know how to answer the taking time off or broken up question. I have to make up vague bullshit to tell kids when asked about it, but really I don’t know. Do I have a desire to play music with those guys again? Fuck yeah. They’re still the best musicians I’ve ever played with. Kyle and I still use elements of Bobby’s (Darling) unique songwriting style all the time, and Rudy (Gajadadhar) is unmatched by anyone I personally know on the drum kit. But we really burnt ourselves out on that music and on each other. I think the extended hiatus is justice for the amount of time everyone gave Gatsby in a brief five and a half years.
IW: How did things end with you guys and the other members?
Huffman: No seven people should have to live in such close proximity for 85 percent of the year, and the idea that doing something that we loved, playing music, was tearing our friendships apart, is a terribly heavy thing to have weighing on your conscience. There’s been talk of demo-ing some new tunes, but realistically, we’re all just taking time to try fulfilling what we want in our lives personally, and I don’t see Gatsby getting back together in the near future, but anything is possible.
IW: Kay Kay came close to signing to V2, but it fell apart at the end. Was that a tough blow?
Huffman: The only tough part about it was that we felt like we had a really, really great A&R guy in Jon Sidel and a label staff who fully supported what we were trying to accomplish and didn’t want to interfere. But realistically, if the deal had still gone through and Universal still bought out V2 and had taken us on, our record probably would’ve been delayed, re-tracked, I wouldn’t have gotten to do the art work, and we wouldn’t own the rights to our masters or digital sales. Basically everything important to us about releasing a record would’ve been compromised by a ridiculously bureaucratic process.
Our success up to this point has been solely based on the fact that we’ve been able to put out records and continue to make new music available to people at our pace and on our terms. If anything, the V2 deal not going through enabled us to promote ourselves more thoroughly and in more creative grassroots ways that give our fans a deeper connection to us, because we aren’t just running around with everyone else in the same mill.
IW: That being said, do you feel like bands really need record labels nowadays?
Huffman: Fuck no, unless you’re a chump. Look, check out tunecore.com. Any simpleton, including myself, can use that program and maintain an account of their music catalogue and digital sales. Guess what all the major labels use to distribute their artists songs digitally? Tunecore.com. I mean, sorry, but that’s why we keep running our mouths about it. It’s insulting that I don’t even have a roof over my head except a tin can with four wheels, and yet someone gets paid $65,000 a year to do what we’re doing daily for a couple of hours on a laptop. With the amount of technology available, bands should either focus on completely revolutionizing the music industry or being successful by distancing themselves as far away as possible from that sad business mold.
IW: For those who haven’t heard Kay Kay yet, how would you describe it to a typical Gatsbys fan?
Huffman: It’s music for people who like records made from ‘67 to ’73.
IW: Well said. What other musicians helped out with the new record?
Huffman: Pretty much all of our homies who accompany us on stage all played on our records.
IW: How many musicians do you tour with?
Huffman: It can be anywhere from 10 to 15. This tour we’ve taken with us a viola player, tuba and flugel horn, cello and the six band members on bass, guitars, keys and vocals.
IW: You guys have had a few unconventional releases: a cassette, a live CD/DVD for your first proper record, a vinyl-only release. Do you enjoy messing with preconceived notions of how a band is supposed to release music?
Huffman: We enjoy messing with any preconceived notions. However, the Kay Kay releases have pretty much come from our inability to get anyone to actually put our releases out. After we finished the first four demos and released the cassette tape, we had a handful of labels who were interested in talking to us further but wouldn’t go beyond telling us our songs were awesome, as well as wouldn’t commit to coming and seeing us pull the songs off live, so we had to put together some sort of way to show people we could pull all of it off on stage, hence the live DVD. The same thing is true of the vinyl release. We couldn’t get anyone to release the self-titled record, so we contacted Virgil Dickerson at Vinyl Collective (also founder of Suburban Home Records) who agreed to at least put it out on vinyl for us, enabling us to retain the ability to sell it digitally, too. For people who are into us, though, I think they view our unconventional record releases as just another part of why they feel so passionate about our music.
IW: Did you think about not releasing this latest album on CD?
Huffman: I don’t necessarily think about it. If the next record doesn’t come out on CD, it will probably be because we aren’t in control of that decision, but I won’t be surprised if it ends up that way either.
IW: You talked earlier about the artwork. How important was the artwork and the different vinyl options available for this release?
Huffman: Those options are important for the diehard kids who want to own every option of everything we’ve released. I am just glad when someone takes the time to just simply listen to the record objectively. If they get an extra engorged boner from the art work and the different-colored vinyl options, then hell yeah, but we’re mainly concerned with the songs on our records.