Saturday, 17 November 2007



As I speak with Kevan Byrne, guitar player and vocalist for Guelph’s King Cobb Steelie, he’s on Queen Street in Toronto, picking up guitar strings and getting minor repairs done in preparation for their imminent cross Canada tour. It’s been three years since we’ve seen or heard from them, and now they’re back.

Well, two of them at least – Kevan Byrne and Kevin Lynne, the original Ks from KCS, with the assistance of Michael Armstrong on drums, make up the collective’s current incarnation. And by the sounds of their newest effort, Mayday, King Cobb Steelie is a whole new band. Mayday is quite a departure from their previous albums, Junior Relaxer and The Twinkle Project. The songs are shorter and more direct, with uncharacteristically catchy choruses, and female vocal accompaniments. Singer/guitar player Tamara Wilson contributes to several of the tracks on the new album, and will be joining the band on tour. How does this dub-laden, trip-pop, rock ’n’ roll montage translate into a live performance? Lead guitarist and vocalist Kevan has several ideas in mind.

"We try and reinterpret the songs from the record into a live presentation. We don’t try and recreate what we did on the record. We try to give the songs another dimension, a greater depth."

Shrugging off suggestions that Mayday is a back-to-basics album, Byrne acknowledges some similarity to their past works.

"We’re playing very much like the way we used to play. With a live drummer, a bass, a couple of guitars and a percussionist. But we have a whole bunch of loops and samples and other things that we’ve thrown into the mix as well."

King Cobb Steelie is one ensemble that isn’t afraid to venture beyond their musical comfort zone in the quest for superior samples and source materials. They also thrive on leading audiences away from their pre-formulated expectations – for example there is the absence of a DJ on this album and tour.

"There are so many bands with turntablists now. And most of it is quite lame, I find. I don’t really want to add to the heap of mediocrity."

At the same time, Byrne is eager to separate King Cobb Steelie’s avant-garde image from the whole rock/rap fusion scene that has once again become so popular in the mainstream.

"There are some loops on the record that are kind of ‘hip-hoppish.’ I’m not really interested in bands that are combining rock and hip-hop in the sense that Limp Bizkit are. That was done 10 years ago – I can’t believe people don’t remember that! Anthrax did it with Public Enemy!"

Still, Kevan purports that blurring the lines between sample-based and live music is one of the most exciting directions an artist can take. The new release presents a somewhat distilled and concentrated version of KCS’s distinctive slash-and-sample guerilla music tactics. The tracks are more refined, lighter, increasingly poppy, and definitely marketable. Gone are the endless ambient grooves and experiments in human tolerance, replaced by brief musical vignettes with efficient titles like "Home" and "The Situation."

"We’re not doing the 10-minute explorations in sonic textures. There’s a fairly strong focus on the songwriting. The beats are pretty straight-up."

The diminished size of the band has facilitated their transformation, over the past three years, into a computer-orchestrated entity (after all, they do hail from Guelph, Canada’s answer to Silicon Valley). Kevan explains that he discovered a new musical language through composing on the computer, and in the process he came to the realization that KCS had to change with the times or perish.

"If you play long enough, you create a certain vocabulary for yourself. And it’s hard to get outside of that box. You have to create a new grammar."

King Cobb Steelie has apparently set aside their non-conformism and stepped through the commercial looking glass, hoping to score big in today’s international marketplace with the release of Mayday in Europe and the U.S. in the spring. King Cobb Steelie now find themselves standing on a corner of the busy intersection where rock, pop, electronica, dub, house, trip-hop, DJs and everything else come together, wearing brand new shoes and the tattered remnants of their old anti-commercial shroud.

by Christine Leonard

Originally published in Fast Foward Magazine
Performing with Hot Little Rocket and Slow Fresh Oil
Friday, November 17, 2000
The Night Gallery

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