Monday, May 18, 2009

Interview - Karate High School

Karate High School might just sound like a novelty band name, but it's been a long time since I've heard a band as genuine as this one. Take a minute to hear what they have to say and maybe you won't judge a book by its cover.

PPJ: First, tell us your name and what you do in the band?

Paul McGuire: Hi, I’m Paul, and I’m the singer/songwriter/producer guy.

PPJ: Karate High School is a band that's often described with lots of hyphenated genres. What exactly do you think your style of music is? How did you arrive at that sound?

Paul: Billy Joel said it best: "Everybody's talkin' 'bout the new sound / Funny, but it's still rock and roll to me." It’s all just different sub-genres of rock music, right? After that, my head starts to hurt and my vision gets blurry. For example, I honestly couldn’t tell you the difference between the genres of Industrial and Post-Industrial music. I mean, I know that a difference exists – but I can’t listen to an electronic European noise track and tell you which sub-genre it falls under. I just don’t care enough to learn which details shove a band from one yard and into another. If I like it, I like it. I’m well aware that I’m not doing anything shockingly original with my own tracks. I’m just playing music I like to listen to, that’s all. I’ll allow the three people that actually listen to my music to decide how many hyphens that deserves.

PPJ: What drew you to start making music?

Paul: If you’re like me, music is all you have. It’s what keeps you sane. It’s the only real thing in a world of zombie neighbors, co-workers, and bosses. It allows you to vent when you’re bummed out, to laugh when you’re happy, and to dance alone in your room as you sing Britney Spears at the top of your lungs. Music is the only loyal companion you’ve ever known. Music was there for you when you totaled your dad’s Ford Focus after you stole his keys last Halloween, it was there for you when you won that karate tournament by one roundhouse kick, and it was there for you in eighth grade when you told everyone that Jodie Meyers had sex with Derek Micklebee even though it wasn’t true, and then everyone found out that you lied and wouldn’t talk to an established gossip hound for six weeks. And perhaps most importantly, music was there for you when your girlfriend decided not to be. All of these things inspire me to write music. To establish a connection, to express my own thoughts and ideas the way all of my musical heroes have. Because I want to give back, and create something timeless for myself. In other words, I have absolutely no idea.

PPJ: What do you think touring so hard to support your first two albums did for you as a band?

Paul: There is no substitute for quitting your job, neglecting every important, personal relationship in your life, and hitting the road in your disgusting, filthy van and playing shows in basements and VFW halls around the country to three kids at a time. The experience has allowed me to become both a better musician and a better person. Once off the main interstates, there are endless amounts of beautiful open roads and generous, loving people that connect with your music and invite you into their homes. Do I sound like a hippie yet? Good, because I haven’t showered in three weeks and I thought I’d start acting the part. But really, touring and performing is one of my favorite things, just under (or perhaps tied with) creating the actual music itself.

PPJ: How did you hook up with Eyeball Records?

Paul: After touring for two years with absolutely no support whatsoever, we decided to contact the one label that we’ve loved and respected for years. Ray (my keyboard player) contacted Eyeball, and both parties decided to meet each other and see if our vision and passion for music matched up. Luckily, everyone at Eyeball is super awesome and the experience has been amazing. I couldn’t be happier.

PPJ: Tell us about what went into recording "Invaders."

Paul: That’s a big question. Like, how is the album made from start to finish? I usually lock myself in my room in front of my keyboard and guitar, and I stare at the wall until inspiration strikes. And no, I’m not kidding. During the writing of the new KHS record, I didn’t leave my room for weeks on end. I’d get up at 6:30am, and just play and write and play and write until 8:00pm. Then I’d take a walk around the block, read for a while, and go to sleep just to do it all over again the next day. That seems to be a very clear pattern in my life: I work all day until I’m satisfied with something, then wake up the next morning and think that everything I created the day before was absolute garbage. And then...repeat. In other words, it’s exactly like the average person’s work day, except I don’t get paid and 13 year old kids criticize the things I create from the comfort of their laptop-equipped bedrooms.

PPJ: What do you think sites like Facebook and Twitter have done for your band?

Paul: Social networking has completely revolutionized the music business. But I’ll spare you a 10,000 word topical essay on the rapidly changing corporate music business model. Instead, I’ll simply say that as a band, the entire point is to get your music heard by as many people as possible. Web 2.0 has allowed this to happen with incredible, stunning ease. In other words, it’s a good thing.

PPJ: On your myspace, you talk about how there are no original sounds left and that you'll never write a "Hey Jude" level song. So what makes you keep doing this? And how do you try to make yourselves interesting in all the repeated sounds?

Paul: Just in case someone reading this hasn’t read what you’re referring to, I’ll be insanely pretentious and quote myself here: "But c’mon, folks, let’s face it: there are no original sounds anymore. Everything has already been done. The Beatles already wrote every great song many years before I was born. I’ll never write a Hey Jude. Heck, I’ll never write a Yellow Submarine. The only thing I can do is put as much honesty and creativity into the songs that I can, and hope that they connect with you." The last sentence answers your question, I believe. Just because every song and story has already been written, it doesn’t mean that you can’t put your own unique spin on a timeless tale. For example, you can reduce the television show LOST down to simply being about the timeless struggle of Good VS. Evil. That doesn’t mean the way they told that story wasn’t fresh and original, it simply means they put their heart into articulating a universal theme and made it their own. That’s the same thing I try to do with my songs. Expressing yourself never gets old or boring, it’s an exhilarating and necessary part of Trying To Understand What Life Is All About.

PPJ: What are your plans after the record release?

Paul: Well, the new album, Invaders, is on sale on iTunes right now, or you can buy the retail copy in stores on May 19th, 2009. We’ll be touring for the rest of the year in support of the record. In other words, my immediate future will be comprised of sleeping in a disgusting van, "showering" in Wal-Mart bathrooms, and eating two hot dogs for one dollar at 7-11s across the country. Oh, and I’ll be doing my part to thwart the (hopefully not) inevitable robot takeover of the human race. Are you in?

PPJ: What do you hope people will take away with them when they listen to your CD or see your shows?

Paul: Pretentious Answer Alert: I suppose the ultimate goal is to inspire. When I went go to shows, I love watching music be performed. I connect with the music, and I feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself. Music has always been there for me: it’s pulled me through the toughest of times and comforted me when no one else could. In a sense, I feel like performing is my way of giving back, my way of trying to contribute something that has genuinely moved me and affected my life in a real, meaningful way. If someone sees my band play, and is inspired enough to think, "hey, I want to do that too," then every night I spend sleeping in Wal-Mart parking lots is worth it. Oh, and if they can walk away with some merch too, that would be awesome.

PPJ: Lastly, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.

Paul: I’m going to limit my choices to one, since I don’t have any cool, hip band suggestions that you aren’t already listening to. That said, I would like to continue my streak of plugging The Streets in hopes that Earth enters an alternate reality where Mike Skinner finds this interview due to placing a Google alert on his own name, and finds it charming that an American rock producer with absolutely zero money, fame, or talent wants to record a song with him. If so, then hey Mike, please email me. He’s a personal hero of mine and I think his work is ridiculously underrated in America. Everything Is Borrowed was one of my favorite records last year. Brilliant stuff.

Thanks again to Paul for thoughtfully answering these questions, and to Mike Cubillos at Earshot Media for arranging the interview. Be sure to pick up Karate High School's new album and to catch them on one of those endless tours.

Website | MySpace

No comments: