In Conversation with…THE KILL VAN KULLS

The Kill Van Kulls are an indie electro pop three-piece from Manchester, they make music that just soars through your being and settles right on your heart. With songs like Lost and Found, The Impossible Man, Shame & Pride and Oceans, they’ll have you dancing and singing along in no time, As they transition into a new stage in the lifespan of the band, they are truly soaring and are all the better for it.  Currently working away in the studio, but soon to unveil the fruits of their labour, it’s a very exciting time for these guys and I for one, can’t wait to hear lots more from them.

I caught up with the band last night before their brilliant headline set at the Cadence Cafe’s first birthday celebration in Tyldesley.  Read on to hear everything from how the new music’s coming along to where they get their inspiration from when it comes to writing the songs.

What’s the story behind your band name?

Gareth Bartlett (lead vocals, bass): The story behind the name is that, one of my big idols is Bruce Springsteen and I was reading about Bruce Springsteen one day. Reading about his history, where’s he’s from and what he’s written about. I was just curious and inquisitive about the geography of the area he comes from, New Jersey, and as I was looking at that on the map, I came across something that talked about crossing the Kill Van Kull and I thought that’s interesting. It’s a piece of water. So, I put it to the guys and I said “What about The Kill Van Kulls?”. It’s kind of related to something that I’m interested in, and so yeah, that’s it.

Describe your sound in three words or less.

Chris Milton (guitar, vocals): Orgasmic.

Ben Mousley (drums): Kaleidoscope pop.

Gareth: Hooks is what I’m going to say. It’s something that hooks you in.

You’ve been working away in the studio on new material for a while now. How is it sounding? Has your sound changed much since the Wooden Heart EP was released?

Ben: I think, Wooden Heart was kind of capturing a period where we were transitioning, we lost a member, he didn’t die, we just lost him. Anyway, we were just trying to figure out what the sound is that we make between us three, so what you heard on Wooden Heart was just like the beginning of our sound basically and then that’s kind of continued and we’ve developed on that a lot more and more influences have started to come in. We’ve developed more, so there’s new things. I’d say we’re a bit more heavy now, we’ve some more rockin’ kind of stuff, we’re more mature now as well.

Chris: There’s a few more hints of electronics. On the Wooden Heart EP, we stayed away from that a lot, just to get a focus on the songs but I think we’ve brought a bit of that back into the sound as well.

Gareth: We started off very electronic, we stripped it back and went very bare bones, just about the song and I think that we’ve, in this new material, found what is, for us, the happy medium between the two. Or we think we have [laughs].

When can we be expecting to hear this new material?

Ben: We’re playing one new song tonight at least, and then we’ve kind of reworked some old songs into our new kind of vibe. I think a lot of our songs, we’ve never thought that they were complete, and so we’re kind of going back to them and completing them, I suppose. Then we can just say goodbye to them [laughs]. We’re looking to release something soon.

Gareth: It’s being confirmed at the moment, so we can’t really comment on that right now.

Your tour schedule lately has been quite sporadic. Can we be expecting a full run of UK shows soon?

Ben: We are hoping after the next release that we will be able to tour more extensively than we have before. It just depends on the release and hopefully that’ll be soon. It’s just that it’s been a long process getting to something that we’re really happy with and that’s a big step up from our previous release back in March.

Chris: Yeah, we’ve been recording all the stuff ourselves, so we’ve been learning how to do that really and bring that up together, as well as writing new material and recording that, so it’s taken a bit longer than we would have hoped but hopefully it will pay off. It’s something that we’re happy with, so we’re getting there.

Gareth: So, if we can line up a good response to those better recordings, with some radio and a tour off the back that, then that will be the plan.

What’s a show for The Kill Van Kulls normally like?

Ben: I’d say it’s really difficult for us to say, because we can’t watch ourselves play and the shows over really fast for us as well. We kind of play all the songs and all of a sudden it’s the end, it doesn’t happen in real time like it does when watching a band from an audience perspective. So, I’d say it feels good to play in The Kill Van Kulls, but I don’t know what it’s like to watch us.

What’s been your biggest achievement to date as a band?

Chris: I think we’ve had quite a long list of really good achievements.

Ben: I’d say our biggest achievement is where we are right now. I was just looking at some of our material from when we first started and playing live and everything, we’ve come such a long way and developed. So, I think where we are now is a big achievement, even though it may not be like winning a Grammy or something like that [laughs]. Those things are nice but I think the best thing is how good are you really and what your music’s like.

Gareth: The typical credentials are obviously things like awards and we’ve not released an album yet, so clearly we’ve not got to the point where we’re winning awards, but I think we’ve had some very good achievements for the scale of where we are, things like the MTV plays we’ve had.

Chris: Reading and Leeds Introducing.

Gareth: Yeah, the support we’ve had from BBC Introducing. Supporting The Fratellis was obviously a great set of gigs, so there’s been some good achievements and I think as Ben said getting to where we are and sticking together on this, because I think that’s what most bands fail on is actually to stick together and grow, and become a better band and I think we are…especially over the last three months, it’s very noticeable, we’ve become a much better band.

Your songs are based around strong melodies and strong songwriting, When it’s comes to writing the songs, where do you get your inspiration from and is it a collaborative process?

Gareth: We are a collaborative process, I think that’s one of the strengths that’s grown over the past few months, more so than anything else. But typically, we’ll all come in with ideas and for me, I try to look around things that motivate or evoke some kind of emotion. I try and think about things like that first, but having said that though, we write songs about robots [laughs]. It really does come from anywhere.

Chris: The main thing is, when I try writing songs, I never set out to write a song or force it. I’ll be just jamming around or I’ve got a hook, I’ll record that. I think that’s the same case with these two as well, it’s never like a forced sort of thing, if it happens it happens.

Ben: Yeah, I mean sometimes I’ll just be messing around on my laptop and make a little song on just on the laptop and send it to the guys and they’ll be like “Oh yeah, that’s a really good bit”. We’ll take the good bits of that and put it together and make a Kill Van Kulls song.

Which song of yours are you the most proud of writing?

Gareth: That’s a tough one, because I’d imagine that’d be different for everyone probably or maybe not, I don’t know. I think collectively, again with the new process of writing it’s probably one of the more recent songs. But there are songs, very old songs in there…we were just literally talking about this before we came in here and there’s some very old songs that are very good songs. Songs like Fools Wish is a really great song, Lost and Found for what it is, is a great song, a great pop song. Wooden Heart is a great song. I think, to say most proud, it’s like children.

Ben: You wouldn’t pick your favourite child.

Gareth: Each one gives you something different and hopefully that’s what it does to the listener, it’s like we when I listen to my favourite songs, I can’t pick a favourite song. There are too many. It’s that bit in that song, that magical moment in that song, so it’s hard to choose.

Ben: Yeah, once the songs released or it’s shown to the public, it’s kind of a thing you’re proud of anyway, but then there are a lot of songs we’re not proud of that we haven’t played to anyone [laughs]. So anything released and known, we’re proud of it equally.

We’re big supporters of new music here at Bitter Sweet Symphonies. Having said that, are there any new artists that have caught your attention recently that you’d like to share with us?

Ben: There’s a band from Brighton, who we played with earlier this year and they really blew me away live, they’re called The Physics House Band and they are just really interesting and really different. They are mainly instrumental as well, but they are worth checking out and they are doing really well at the moment as well.

Gareth: They are an incredibly tight live band. It’s very impressive to watch that kind of structured, I’m tempted to say, obviously academic approach to music, but it is extremely impressive. Obviously, bands that aren’t maybe yet in the full mainstream, bands that we’ve been to watch recently in smaller venues, like The Deaf Institute. Bosnian Rainbows are a great band and hopefully will emerge to do more, but I think we’ve been too self involved over the last few months, trying to figure out how to get the perfect record, and I think that is an elusive thing to chase but it’s something that we’re trying to capture…with limited funds [laughs].

Do you have any tips for new bands starting out, any advice that you could give them?

Chris: I would say have a good set of songs, obviously. Which you can do a gig with, then any of those 5 or 6 songs could be a single because when you first come out the limelight’s on you, so they’re like “What’s next? What’s next?” and then if you haven’t got that, then you lose out.

Ben: Yeah, make sure you’re good enough when you get the opportunities. You need to take advantage of those and make sure you’re ready. Don’t rush yourself into anything that you’re not going to be ready for and most importantly you have to enjoy yourself as well. You can’t get to a point in music and not enjoy it because then there’s no point.

Gareth: I completely agree with the last point. We still turn up to each other’s houses or turn up to the studio to work on a song, and you know when we look around at each other and we are all as happy with it as we are getting, and that’s definitely why we do it and that’s what other people should do it for.

I think the one other thing to tell young bands is to make it about the song and not about their individual parts because bands are like an orchestra, you don’t get the conductor very often allowing everyone to just do their own thing, do their own solos, so you can play the most complicated, fast thing and that’s a mistake that a lot of people make I think, when trying to write songs.

So, if you can just think about what makes a good song and strip it back, and if it means that you just play something simple or you sing something simple, but it’s got a hook to it. I think that’s what a lot of great pop songs are about.

Ben: The whole is more than the sum of its parts.


A special thanks to The Kill Van Kulls for this interview and for more info on the band, check out the following links below.

Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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