You're a record label executive. You're in a high-risk low-margin
business because a lot of your acts play low-yielding progressive rock, so
you're watching every Deutsche mark. So there is no possible way that you'd
risk a large sum of money on four musicians who you barely know! Oh,
they're well established and you know they're very capable, but they hardly know
each other and you have no clue how it would work out or what the music would
sound like. Let's face it - in
this age of home-studios and Sony/BMGs, there's no room for Ahmet Ertegun's
Atlantic Records styled entrepreneurship!
Well Thomas Waber of InsideOut Germany took that risk, and the result was
What a pleasant surprise to see someone willing to take a risk on prog! So Duncan Glenday asked frontman and guitarist John Mitchell for more of the
behind-the-scenes lowdown on Kino.
Kino is John Mitchell, the guitarist who was largely responsible for the
success of Arena's recent Pepper's Ghost, and who fronts The Urbane and runs his own
studio; Pete Trewavas, is a seasoned veteran on bass guitar and a big name in
progressive rock circles, having provided the bottom line for Marillion for
years; Porcupine Tree's ex-drummer Chris Maitland; and It Bites's keyboard man
Beck had written the piano lines for a song called "Picture", a
piece that he'd hoped to sell to movie studios as a possible film soundtrack. Mitchell wrote lyrics about someone very close to him, and that song was the seed
that would grow into an album, and indeed, the group. Expanding on the
idea of the movies, they wanted to call the band "Cinema" but that name
had been used so many times and held Genesis connotations. "A few days later," says Mitchell, "Pete came into the studio
and said he'd found out that the word "kino" means "cinema" in at least 3
languages. "So it all just fell into place, really,", he laughs.
And that was it - Kino was born! They'd originally wanted Ray Wilson on
vocals, but despite showing interest in the early stages Wilson elected to focus
on his solo career. Chris Maitland is currently playing in three very popular
West End shows - "Grease", "We Will Rock You" which is a Queen musical, and particularly, "Mama Mia" which
is based on the songs of ABBA and features music and lyrics by Benny Andersson
and Bjorn Ulvaeus. "Mama Mia" is touring Europe right now, so although
Chris remains an integral part of Kino, his long term status has yet to be
finalized - but he won't be joining Kino on the Spock's Beard tour in March -
Bob Dalton, from It Bites, will be sitting in for Chris .
John Beck, in the meantime, is moving to John Mitchell's home town of
Reading. "It's going to make life an awful lot easier, you know for writing -
that's how close a friend he is, and we've got a good circle of friends here".
And the music itself? In our review of
Kino's Picture we said ...it is essentially approachable, song-oriented
rock with tracks that range from progressive through AOR and it even has one or
two songs that could comfortably be described as pop. But we also said
The 9-minute opener "Losers' Day Parade" is progressive in every sense of the
word. It runs through a sequence of tempo and mood shifts and doesn't stay still
for more than a minute at a time. So despite the common thread of
"Picture" and the name "Kino", don't make the assumption that the debut CD is a
concept piece. This is song-oriented stuff and - Kino is a rock band with
some progressive tendencies, rather than the other way around. "I'm glad you
picked up on that", agrees Mitchell. "I'm the only guy who is - strictly
speaking - in a progressive band. I mean Pete has a great progressive
background, of course ... it was always going to be more song-based than
anything, really, and I'm pleased with the way it came out. I think it's
quite a diverse album. I mean one minute we're doing a sort of Police-like
thing and the next minute we're into something else - I like the fact that
there's a lot of variety on."
The conversation steers away from Kino as John addresses something that obviously bothers him about some of today's progressive artists. "Whether or not the songs are over ten minutes is neither here nor there, as long as the arrangements are good. And I think the emphasis should be on songs with interesting arrangements rather than the other way around – you know, interesting arrangements masquerading as songs. We've always had this joke in Arena – not mentioning any names but sometimes when we've been on tour we've had supporting bands that just seem to bolt it all together haphazardly – people forget about economy of the arrangement, and they'll have songs that go on for eighteen minutes just for the sake of it."
This has, of course, been a topic of so many discussions for so many years – artists who introduce changes in time signatures and tempo apparently to show how clever they are, but the changes are badly managed and don't contribute to the end result. As a writer I know the value and the pain of editing, and Mitchell puts that process into the context of music. "There's a whole period of time on every Arena album where we sit down for a good few days and say Okay - what don't we need? Is this piece a waste of everyone's time? Is it getting dull at this point? It's like editing down a film - it's a hard thing to do, but you can't be precious about it if you want the album to work!"
With plenty of well managed shifts, the most progressive piece on Picture -– is "Loser's Day Parade" which tells the story of an unbalanced musician who gets sick
of his record company and sabotages the executive's company car. "It's about
someone I know." No names were mentioned, but the song is really about an
artist's freedom of expression. Since the band's contract calls for another two
CDs, Kino's relationship with InsideOut is set to continue - and they've already
achieved a minor milestone together, in that Picture is InsideOut's 200th CD. "I don't know if Thomas Waber has read the lyrics to that song", Mitchell
laughs. "But he doesn't need to worry - I've got my head on straight - his
company car is safe!" (Unlike in America, business managers in England and
Europe are commonly given free use of an automobile and the 'company car' that
features in the song has become an idiomatic description of a certain section of
society.) "For Thomas Waber, Kino was such a leap of faith, really – four
complete strangers, there's a large wedge of money, come back and give us what
you've got. I mean we could have turned up with a country and western album! I mean it was a gamble that seems to have paid off - we don't know how it's going to sell yet, but the chemistry among us is very good!"
InsideOut Music America will not be distributing the special edition which
includes a DVD with four songs from Kino's recent TV appearance. But the
standard CD is a remarkably good listen - and it goes on sale in the USA on Feb.
21, and in Europe on Feb. 28.
Oh - and if you want to know what the lyrics of "Swimming In Women" mean -
you'll have to E-Mail me!