Kevin Martin’s career is swollen with genre-hopping and a legion of collaborations, but he is primarily known for his dark ragga project, The Bug. It has pitted him with rapper Ricky Ranking and dancehall diva, Warrior Queen, among others. There is a sonic toughness those tracks, but his communion with Trinidadian poet Roger Robinson adds an otherwise unheard tender sensibility to the records. Martin and Robinson’s shared interested in the value of stirring their audience’s emotions and the undervalued genre of lovers rock has merged into its own affair—King Midas Sound (check their blog, too). On their Hyperdub-released full-length, Waiting for You, the two along with colaborator Hitomi of dubstep outfit Dokkebi Q, have married dub sounds and androgynous vocals into something looming and ethereal. After the jump, read our interview with the group—we talked to them about their natural union in King Midas Sound, their endeavors in visual arts and their live performance style. Below you can hear the heretofore unheard, ominous, “Too Long” (which, take note, is a different track than the previously released “Too Long Dub”), a song that projects a message of self-preservation and ambition, despite its darkness.
Download: King Midas Sound, “Too Long”
It seems like King Midas Sound is more a low key turn for Kevin and Hitomi. How did you get here?
Kevin Martin: For me there is just as much intensity in King Midas as The Bug, but it is not as explosive as the tracks I am known best for like “Poison Dart” or “Killer.” It is a very implosive, sensual sound, which I really wanted to explore. The more I talked to Roger, and we planned to upgrade a lover’s rock sound, the more exciting it became, like a weird voyage into the unknown. I wanted to examine the space in dub, where with The Bug I was more interested in probing the bass in dub.
Hitomi: When Kevin and Roger gave me this opportunity to try something different, I wasn’t actually sure I would be able to do it. I was surprised myself when this other window opened up, as I then saw myself in a totally different way, with such a new approach. I feel open minded in my tastes, and so it was natural to do this. The expression may have been different, but fundamentally it’s still me getting lost in emotion.
How does your live show work?
Roger Robinson: In the live show, we’re looking for that narrow corridor where people dance and think at the same time. All the sounds are bumped up so the voices are not as fragile as on the album. In the live show our attitude is, “we’ve come here to get down to business.” We try to be as open and honest as we can be in the songs, but there is always this tension with the bass in the song. Sometimes the bass in the show wins bodies, sometimes the songs in the show wins hearts and heads. Hitomi plays melodica and sings, Kevin plays sound, I play tambourine and sing. We’re moving towards some guitar and keys soon.
Kevin has said that The Bug became a caricature of itself. It seems like collaborating with Roger was the natural progression, as his tracks on The Bug records were always a little bit aberrant from the whole project, more low key. How did you guys decide to work together on a whole album?
KM: Actually, I didn’t say The Bug had become a caricature of itself, I said that the media, and more importantly the music industry in general reduces musicians/singers/entertainers to one dimensional caricatures for easy
consumption, and I felt the popular perception of The Bug via the media was of an aggro ragga dude dealing strictly in sonic violence. I was becoming frustrated that the deeper, denser sides of what I was doing was being overlooked and wanted to readdress the balance and make it absolutely apparent that other moods/atmospheres interest me. So, I wanted to challenge myself to write music that would move people emotionally instead of just physically, and soundtrack sadness whilst finding ways to incorporate sick sounds within conventional structures. When Roger played me some solo material, his androgynous, fragile voice seriously touched me, and we more or less dropped the original idea, which was for me to just soundtrack his poetry.
RR: It was a funny time for me. I had become meandering and unfocused with my music. Kevin said we should do an album and I was like this would be a good focus, and Kevin is so much more brilliant at music than me, I was sure I would learn a lot. As tracks were being made I had more focus than ever before, it just felt right. I decided that the bulk of my focus should be on lyrics, melodies and better singing. Then I didn’t realize how much discussion and experiment of sound and tone there would be. I’m definitely a better musician and songwriter now than when I started the process.
How did Hitomi become part of the project?
Hitomi: It was a funny accident. I was working with Kevin, recording dubplates for The Bug and doing artwork for the “Ganja” sleeve, when I heard him playing tracks from the Midas album which he was also working on. He played an unfinished version of “Earth A Kill Ya,” which I really liked the mood of and I was just started singing along to it as I was working on my artwork. Then Kevin stopped the music immediately, started laughing, and said, “That’s it!” It turned out he and Roger had been having problems finishing the track and then Kevin played me a couple of other tracks they were having problems with and I just found it really good to have to sing in a different style to a different sound than I had been previously used to. They seemed to think it added spice to what they had already recorded and it all started there.
Roger, you are a poet. How would you describe your lyric writing process? Do you collaborate with Hitomi on lyrics?
RR: The lyric writing process was different in that we started with the idea that we’d have to use less words to do more work and that the tone that we get in the voice will add to the work in the words. So the writing was far less flowery than my poetry or other lyric writing projects. We were also thinking that there was a kind of naive writing on early reggae records that bypassed intellectual thought and got straight to the matter without self-consciousness and this to affected my approach. Hitomi and I don’t collaborate on lyrics because she is an awesome songwriter herself. Sometimes we riff on what the other person has written to keep on theme.
You’ve mentioned that you are going to have an elaborate booklet to go along with your album. Can you describe it? Are you guys visual artists, as well, or have you collaborated with other people?
H: Kevin and I discussed the lyrics, and had a mad brainstorming session where we threw potential visual ideas at each other. Kode 9, Roger and Kevin had decided it was crucial to include Roger’s beautiful lyrics, and Kevin thought it would be a great idea to illustrate each song as he knew my work. He felt it was important to go far with the CD design to combat the throwaway format of CD. Everybody now just downloads because so little care goes into the artwork and so much empty product is released. I personally felt it’s really good to trigger another dimension of the listener’s imagination. You know, they will see the booklet or image and combined with the music it will intensify the impact. Maybe someone will come back from the club, a little stoned or drunk, and they would flick through the booklet whilst they are checking the sounds and it’s just nice to think my pictures may extend their party or dreams. And yeah, I am an illustrator/visual artist. In the pas,t I worked deep with the skateboard scene, designing t-shirts and other garments for Heroin, Etnies and Silas & Maria. I also went on to design T-shirts for Uniqlo.
KM: I did graphic design for all the music I released as God, Techno Animal, Curse of the Golden Vampire, etc, plus some compilations on Virgi, and have always felt it’s crucial to accompany music with really impressive visuals. A total package.
Hitomi, you’ve made illustrated videos before. Are you planning on making
King Midas Sound videos?
H: I’m working on a video animation for the King Midas track “Blue” and also working on animation for “Catch A Fire” a track from the forthcoming Bug in dub album for Ninja, which I’m also singing on. Plus Kevin and I are collaborating on a cartoon idea called “Kamikaze Kat.”
KM: Now we are asking Niall, who has been responsible for all our band photos and the front sleeve shot of the album, to film and direct a video for “Lost” from the album. He’s like the unofficial fourth member of King Midas Sound because we reckon his visual taste totally reflects our sound and he’s also a diamond geezer…LOL.