Hard-won “Battles” for Kingsley Flood
When Kingsley Flood began recording in Maine this summer, Naseem Khuri had only finished writing four songs for the band’s sophomore album. After nine days of laying down tracks and as many nights of sharing whiskey, they emerged with the 12 songs that make up “Battles.”
Khuri’s confidence in the band’s collective creativity is apparent in the resultant music and in conversation with the band. Sitting in a Charlestown rehearsal space, Khuri does most of the talking, but the other five members contribute in the same way that they complement his songs.
“We got into a routine of in the morning, not touching instruments, just listening to demos and taking notes,” says the singer, before violin and sax player Jenée Morgan interjects.
“And harassing Naseem to finish lyrics,” she adds.
Elsewhere, the other band members chime in when discussing their long distance relationship with Khuri, who in 2009 moved to Washington, D.C. from Boston, where the band has always been headquartered. This means they must never rehearse, right? Wrong.
“We go through spurts. I’ll come up for a week and then I’ll disappear for two weeks,” says Khuri.
“And then we’ll play for six weeks,” says drummer Travis Richter about how they usually schedule their tours.
“It’s kind of like the gigs are the rehearsals,” says bassist Nick Balkin.
On the occasion that we meet Kingsley Flood, they are participating in that rare activity of actually rehearsing together. In a rehearsal space! In Massachusetts! This time it is for a three-hour gig at the North Shore bar The Rhumb Line. They run through favorite songs by Pavement and The Buzzcocks to fill out their setlist, selections which might surprise anybody who only knew of the band from their Boston Music Award for Best Americana Act late last year. But then again, the diverse sounds on “Battles” might surprise those same people as well. The band members don’t seem to mind the Americana thing though.
“We’ll probably always be known as Americana, even if we play death metal,” says Khuri with a shrug.
“There are a lot of roots to what we’re doing,” says lead guitarist George Hall, “but we live and interact with our culture as it happens today.”
Throughout an hour spent with the band, it is evident that the band do in fact interact with their culture. A sampling of the other acts that the band members bring up in conversation: Carla Thomas, The Clash, Radiohead, Bob Willis, Sun Ra, The Kinks, Wilco, The Grownup Noise, Son of the Sun, Pearl and the Beard, Ugly Purple Sweater, King Crimson and Phish.
The last two bands only come up because they are known for having lyricists outside of their band. Balkin and Hall tease that if Khuri was unable to finish his words in time, they might have had to resort to employing such tactics.
Khuri did finally finish the lyrics though, and to great effect. Though the music on “Battles” is alive with the spontaneity of a band falling in love with mostly rocking new material, the words feel carefully chosen, with recurring themes and characters at crossroads of hard luck pasts and futures of fading faith.
“I know there’s a light, but the tunnel is so hard to find,” sings Khuri on “Sigh a While,” one of the album’s more contemplative tracks. And on “Waiting on the River to Rise,” the narrator poignantly questions, “How come everybody for the common man never looks quite like me?”
“I went into the lyrics of the whole thing wanting to sort of tell this story of what happens when you do everything right, but still fall behind,” explains the singer. “It’s just an idea I’ve been really fascinated with and you see it all around you. I was doing volunteer work at a shelter and when I’d talk to people, this always seemed to be a resonant theme. So there’s that and then what choices do you have? Do you sell out? Do you be a jerk and throw your elbows around?”
Luckily for Kingsley Flood, their second album keeps on rewarding upon repeated listens, which could mean that they might not have to sell out or behave like jerks. As for throwing elbows around, they’ve already accomplished that with this set of songs.
Kingsley Flood Album Release Show
With Velah, Air Traffic Controller
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Brighton Music Hall
158 Brighton Ave., Allston