Magazine article Guitar Player

Screw the Vocals! Kinski's Chris Martin and Matthew Reid-Schwartz Let Their Fingers Do the Singing

Magazine article Guitar Player

Screw the Vocals! Kinski's Chris Martin and Matthew Reid-Schwartz Let Their Fingers Do the Singing

Article excerpt

Few bands can get away with tuning their guitars to G, C, G, G, G, C. In lesser hands, this unorthodox approach would likely result in a snooze-inducing drone that just might lead the listener into an irreversible catatonic stupor. But Kinski guitarists Chris Martin and Matthew Reid-Schwartz have turned that unusual collection of notes into some of the catchiest, hard-driving rock around. The instrumental band's newest album, Alpine Static [Sub Pop], shows Kinski tightening the screws on its sound to lock down the heart of the band's live show: Aggressive, in-your-face songs with innumerable twists that keep the listener guessing.

What were you trying to accomplish with Alpine Static?

MARTIN: We wanted to capture the way we sound live, because people in the audience kept saying that we sound much better live than on our records. So to record Alpine Static, we set up facing out like we would at a show, although we did use some baffles to minimize signal bleed. Then we kept all the live tracks, and we only overdubbed some of our adder guitar sounds to add some texture to a few tracks. We also wanted to get away from using reverb. We were looking for more of a straight rock sound.

When did you start using alternate tunings?

MARTIN: I got burnt out, and I didn't play for a couple of years. Then, out of frustration, I started twisting the tuning keys. It's pretty random, but a lot of it is just having the G and the B strings tuned to the same note. In many cases, all six strings are tuned to just two notes--for example G, C, G, G, G, C. We just listen for whatever sounds good open [unfretted], and we start making up chords. We're almost never in standard tuning. If I sit down and play with a guitar in standard tuning, everything I do ends up sounding like a blues song or something.

REID-SCHWARTZ: Sometimes you start getting into patterns and ruts, and you're confined to what you know. Open tunings give you a little more freedom, and more layers of depth to the sound. Just having a C on the bottom instead of an E makes the guitar come across in a fundamentally different way--it lends a modal quality to the music. On a basic level, open tunings are fun. We use different tunings on practically every song.

Tell us about your songwriting process.

MARTIN: Sometimes, I'll make up a tuning, and then I'll just start strumming to see if anything comes out of it. Or I might mess around with an echo pedal or a weird distortion pedal to see if that sparks something. Typically, the songs start with a certain sound more than anything else, and they evolve from there. Within an hour, I'll often have a skeleton of an arrangement that I can take to the band.

REID-SCHWARTZ: Chris will come up with the main parts of the song, and then the other members of the band will add their own parts. …

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