Kaputt: All Under Their Own Steam

There’s nothing quite like feeling a pure rush of adrenaline. From the immediate onset of energy to the wave you end up riding for the following few hours, once you’ve consumed something that gives you that feeling, that feeling can then consume you in a flurry of ecstasy. In terms of delivering on this virulent buzz, Glasgow art-punks Kaputt provide an instant hit.

While it might still be criminally slept upon, the sextet’s 2019 debut album Carnage Hall is a kinetic tour de force of no-wave inspired absurdism. There’s something truly arresting about their frenzied approach, as the band whisks you through surreal tales of plagues of rodents to giant offspring, while still managing fill the gaps with wry satirical commentary on an array of more serious societal issues. The record is full to the brim with honks, clangs and yelps combining to forge 39 minutes of just-about-organised chaos, and to be frank, I wouldn’t want it to be any other way.

Two years certainly isn’t a long time, although we’ve all witnessed how much can happen in that frame. It appears that the increasingly drab and dismal state of affairs surrounding us has driven Kaputt to channel frenzy into fury, as their much-welcomed return in singles ‘Movement Now’ and ‘Another War Talk’ sees the band taking a more direct approach to their craft. Sure, the band still harbours a hyperactive sensibility in their sound, but the lyrics are no longer dressed in abstract ideas and instead adopt a political angle, rallying against the government’s draconian immigration policy and living in the fear of a constant threat of annihilation.

The tone might have shifted, but it’s still the same Kaputt, and where many bands of their stature may have felt the pressure to call it quits in this challenging time, they seem to have found an extra lease of life through screaming in the face of the things that threaten their very existence. The rush of adrenaline still hits hard, but now it is permeated with a burning desire to take action against the ills around us. While the full ensemble also includes guitarist Curtis Halling, saxophonist Chrissy Barnacle, drummers/percussionists Rikki Will and Emma Smith and bassist Tobias Carmichael, Wax chatted to vocalist, guitarist and principal songwriter Cal Donnelly, whose humorous candour pervades the conversation, offering a curious glimpse into the themes that will grace the upcoming material and the current direction of the band.

Evening Cal, how have you been?

Yeah, not too bad. I’m sort of between places at the moment. It’s been a tricky time, especially like balancing Covid and stuff like that. But I’m hanging in there. I’m doing all right, for sure – you know how it is.

I know it’s a little bit different in Scotland, but have you managed to get together as a group much at all? You’ve obviously recorded a couple of new songs.

I’ve seen everyone individually, and other people have seen each other. Even during the recording process, we did everything separately. I was the only constant because I was directing everything, but it was like three days. It was drums/guitars one day and everything separate for social distancing and just general safety stuff. We haven’t all been together as a family in a while, but when the reunion does happen, it’s going to be glorious.

Oh, of course. As a six piece I guess it’s very strange having to get together.

It’s just everyone’s got such different lives. There’s quite a big age range in the band, which when I was putting it together, that was something that I was aware of. I actually thought was a big positive, because you’re going to have people at different stages of maturity, experience and also just general waywardness. There’s like an almost ten-year gap between me and the oldest member and we all have very different lives, but I think we benefit from that. I think the things that you could maybe consider as a hindrance because of that, I’m perfectly happy to live with. So yeah, it’s strange being six but it’s good. I definitely wouldn’t change it.

How did your two recent songs, ‘Movement Now’ and ‘Another War Talk’ come about? Are you mostly responsible for laying down an idea and then bringing it to the rest of the band?

Yeah, so for ‘Movement Now’, I recorded almost all the parts of that for a separate demo for something else. We repurposed it into a song because there was a point in time where it wasn’t going to be a Kaputt song, but it felt like it had the spirit and energy to be one. I think I was just uncertain about how the others would take to the change, like there’s a definite mood change and a direct nature, I guess I wanted to play into. A lot of the music before sort of existed in an abstract plan or whatever you want to call it, so I wasn’t a hundred percent certain that’s the way people would want to go. Once I showed them that, people seemed keen. So then after that I taught everyone the parts, then everyone expanded the parts in whichever way they saw fit, the saxophone was written, and then we just went from there. ‘Another War Talk’ was similar, but it was more a hangover from the Carnage Hall album era, rather than the new stuff, which is more like the first song.

Was there a great deal of evolution from the demo to the final recording or was there quite a lot of room for experimentation? The way you’ve always come across to me is that things seem quite fluid.

I would say that ‘Movement Now’ didn’t change that much. It was on a drum machine before, so obviously there’s acoustic drums on the recording, but a way that we tried to keep the feel of the drum machine was it was all recorded to a click. There’s a certain uniformity to the rhythm, which we’d never really done before. It was also due partly like to necessity as well as everyone recorded separately. We’ve always recorded live. But no, from the demo to the recording, it didn’t change that much. The intro is slightly different and there’s a lead guitar part in the verses that’s different, but generally it would be recognisable.

For the things that are going to be on the record, I’m definitely leaving a lot of room for like creativity, and I want the rules to be less defined. If people feel like they want to contribute a part that isn’t necessarily their main operation in a live setting, then they will be able to, but with that song in particular, there wasn’t that much. It was a good amount, but nothing compared to what’s to come.

I wanted to actually approach that subject. I don’t know how much you want to want to talk about stuff that’s not been said yet, but are you working towards a full-length thing and if so, what kind of thing can we expect?

So yeah, we’re about to start recording the new album at the end of May. As I said before, because everyone works full time and one of our drummers just had a child. I figured that the best way to do it, was to record the whole thing incrementally over about four months, which I’m quite excited about because it means we can hyperfocus on certain songs and elements – each thing at a time. It also means that we’re not putting anyone in a corner where they feel like they need to sacrifice time at home or holidays, you know, there’s not a lot of whole days consecutively or worrying about getting paid. These are the main things you need to worry about when you don’t have money behind you. At the end of the day, it’s all under our own steam. I think that’s important in its own way.

I think in terms of energy, it’s more similar to ‘Movement Now’. We’re definitely trying to be more direct and there’s going to be more synthetic elements. We’re probably gonna try and put out another single later on this year, maybe around October when touring starts back up. You’ll hear a bit of it soon.

Nice, I’m very excited for it. It was odd actually because it was probably the day before I was sent your new song that I’d been chatting with a friend about Carnage Hall and saying we want new Kaputt material. The gods have spoken.

Maybe you’ve accidentally summoned us. Yeah, it’s good. There was always stuff going on; it’s just a case of timing. We were just about to go on tour with Squid before all this happened, so there was always stuff in the pipeline. Time just gets away from you, especially when there’s nothing going on.

I also wanted to talk a bit about the lyrical themes of ‘Movement Now’ and where you’re going with that. You said about having the music be a bit more direct, but the content of it sounds a bit more direct as well, and definitely a lot more political and less abstract in its meaning. What spurred you on to take that approach?

I guess that the reason the first record was more abstract is because I’d been in a lot of bands that had been focused around directness. I was interested in exploring a slightly more personal angle on things like my own life, but almost passed through a lens or something like that, almost to not give away too much of yourself or something. I feel like I got that out of my system partly. Also, a lot of things changed either within my own life or on a wider political scale, where I feel like it’s hard to write about anything other than that. I think people will have reserved the right to write about whatever they feel are deemed necessary, and I just believe that I want to make our position clear on certain things within the arena of our own abstract nature – feet firmly planted on the ground, but tongue firmly in the cheek.

I think it’s because there’s a lot of oppressive clouds, you know – I just feel this weight, and I find it hard to think about anything else, and therefore writing seems to just be like spelling out a little bit. I felt like rather than fight it because of wanting to explore another side of writing, I just wanted to go with it because I feel like it’s important. A lot of things within my personal life have been affected by this government or been affected by the galvanised nature of people, whether it be to do with racism or sectarianism, and I think just seeing that so viscerally is up close and personal. I think that may be why it’s on my mind.

Yeah, I do feel that this has definitely explored a different way of doing things; you can feel there is a definite sort of burning inside.

Yeah, whether you’re talking about, statue defenders, Orange Lodge or the BNP, it’s all very tied in here specifically. I don’t know if you’ve ever been here before, but sectarianism was a really big problem for example, and that comes down to whether it be from the football teams, which then bleeds into nationalist politics, which bleeds into the independence referendum, then Brexit, unionists voting to leave the EU, and that also goes with who defends the statues. I mean, I saw a flag that was the red right hand of Ulster and a Confederate flag with the Orange Lodge’s tulip on the left of it and a thistle on the right. I was like, ‘that is the most hateful thing I think I’ve ever seen in my life’. When you see that in the square you live next to, it’s hard not to feel rage essentially.

I suppose with wanting to confront those kinds of things and rallying against hateful ideologies that it is probably better to not mince your words so much and be to the point about it.

I think that’s how I feel. As I said, everyone reserves the right to speak about whatever they feel like they want to speak about, and I think this is just what we feel for us is necessary at the moment. The subject of the song was funny because it was doubled up with us my own prejudices from some time ago where I would see artists flooding into the city and we’d see them acting like they discovered it and as if it never existed before their arrival. I hated it, but then I realized that, everyone has everyone, regardless of whatever has the right to movement. That’s a judgment on my part; you don’t know where those people are from, what their background is, why they feel it was necessary to come here. That’s just more like a broad character that I attributed to a lot of people that probably didn’t deserve it. It was me coming to terms with that and just sort of the local nostalgia versus global movement. I had to find something funny about the song, otherwise I could just attribute it to some kind of empty, virtued sentiment. I think me just rallying against something that I’ve only been affected by in a relatively small way, without having some kind of internal anxiety to compare it with wouldn’t work for us as a unit. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going out and singing it if I hadn’t worked something out about myself through the process of writing that.

Do you find that quite a good goal to work towards with your songwriting is finding different ways to relate it back inwards?

In a sense, I’m blessed with a lot of people that have been in my life who have done these slightly terrible things and people to write about and therefore I’m not reaching for some kind of imagined scenario, you know? There’s complete reality to base it off, and therefore I don’t feel uncomfortable writing about it. So to answer your question, me relating it back to myself, I don’t find it hard because there’s only like one step between my own life and the things that I’m talking about, if that makes sense. For instance, with these songs on the album we’re writing, I just felt like I had to have an additional internalised narrative going on along with the bigger one for myself.

What was the span of time between beginning the first sketches for this one, and then having it ready to go into the studio?

I would say that the sketches probably came together over the course of last year and then developed slowly alongside other stuff. I think as well it’s about growing into yourself a little bit, feeling more comfortable talking about issues that you would maybe be concerned talking about, maybe not because of immaturity but because of insecurity. I feel a lot more confident and have a lot more presence of mind and know where I’m right. I do have the right to talk about these issues because it has affected me, and I know if it’s affected me, it’s definitely affected other people, you know? I think that really came into its own over the last year.

Were you working on something else as well? Last year you had had a solo project.

I’ve been doing a few things. I’ve got a solo project which I’m going to do an EP for this year, and I’ve been working for my friend on another gothy electronic thing. We’ve got a few labels looking to put it out. Even though I’m writing the majority of the Kaputt stuff, I think everyone should have the opportunity to do their own thing as well, because then when you bring it back to the collective, you’re not trying to vie for power, you’re just trying to vie for the end result. I’ve said that to people in the band before that everyone should get a notion that everyone should try and exercise, because I think that it’s positive and it can only make things better and make bonds stronger as well. You’re your own boss.

But sometimes I feel you need to throw ideas off other people and have that validation from someone else saying, ‘look, what you’re doing is actually fine, you don’t need to worry about it’. I get this a lot myself.

Do you find yourself plaguing yourself with uncertainty?

Yeah. All the time.

It’s hard. I’m insecure about pretty much everything that I do, but at the same time, there’s something really freeing about just letting go. What is it, ‘you stare at the abyss and the abyss stares back’? I think when you pour your heart and soul into something, rejection hurts all the more, but then also acceptance is all the more sweet. It’s a double-edged sword, and you’re always going to run a risk when you show anyone else. I think like one of the biggest lessons you can learn is just being able to accept criticism and not let it cut you. If you work on something really hard, the slightest comment could get you down.

How do you feel having had this time apart? Do you feel like it’s going to take a while to get the energy back or do you feel like you will have a fresh approach to things when you return to the studio and stage?

I think even though it’s been horrendous, I think this has probably done us the world of good in terms of being able to let go, to then fill ourselves up for a new approach. I think that even though the separation has been hard and it’s been a long time, I really believe the energy is definitely still there. It’s dormant, you know, it’s just been in hibernation. It’s not going anywhere and I can’t wait to play for people.

Words: Reuben Cross // Photos provided by Kaputt

‘Movement Now/Another War Talk’ is out now via Upset the Rhythm. You can purchase the 7″ and stream the release via Kaputt’s Bandcamp.

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