By Ethan Bloomfield, Reviews Editor
[Photo courtesy of Kaiba]
On Feb. 18, The Union hosted ACRN Goth Prom, our most recent fundraising event for the station. Many wonderful bands performed that night, including En Love, Short Fictions, and of course, Athens’ very own Kaiba. I had an in-depth discussion with them about their band, the Athens music scene and the meaning of alternative culture.
How did you guys feel about goth prom?
Lane: It was great! We loved playing with En Love and Short Fictions, and we were happy to be on a bill that was stylistically cohesive. It was also just a fun night; it was a ton of fun pretending to be Robert Smith for an evening, and we were stoked about how many people were there and having fun!
Jack: Goth prom ruled. There were obviously a ton of people there, people were hype for our set, En Love and Short Fictions were both sick. Perfect night.
What is it like in a music scene like Athens? Is connecting with other artists easy, hard, do you feel constrained?
Jack: The Athens music scene is a bit of a double edged sword as of right now. It’s great because the younger kids are pretty ravenous for live music and will go crazy to so many different types of music. They seem really open to expanding their horizons. The downside of Athens is that people are usually only here for a short time so there isn’t really any time for more fleshed out scenes and subcultures to develop. So you just get a lot of people getting together with their friends to start a jam band, which is fine but that sort of thing has a pretty short shelf life in my experience. Overall though, it is a really cool place for music, especially if you are doing something a little different because I think people like a little bit of change.
Lane: Sometimes I feel like there’s a lot of homogenous rock ‘n roll, other times I feel like I should lighten up and consider that the college scene can be about having fun and that everyone is entitled to fun. At the end of the day, all of the bands I’ve met here have been overwhelmingly kind, and even though searching for bands that make sense on a bill with us can be frustrating, the people in the scene are really cool. I do miss the community of the 2018-2019 scene, where I felt both my music taste and my ideology were often challenged by the artists and people I’d meet. But hey, we’re in a pandemic, and it’s cool to focus on fun for a while. Not everything has to be punk or make a statement or whatever––at times I just feel like the scene isn’t centered around giving a space to all kinds of people and music like it used to be. Maybe the circumstances of the pandemic make it harder to do that too.
Do you have to prepare your voice for that kind of screaming you’re doing?
Lane: Mostly it’s a matter of hydration, consistent practice, and vocal warm ups. Otherwise, it’s just muscle memory in my throat and diaphragm. The type of scream I do is called fry screaming, which is just a high register scream that a lot of screamo bands do. There’s a lot of tutorials on YouTube and guides on forums and stuff if anyone wants to get into it. It’s a lot of fun.
What kind of emotions come out when you’re playing?
Lane: For me it’s mostly joy. I probably look anxious or nervous when we’re playing, and usually I am, but more than that I love playing loud and sharing a space with people who want to listen to music and have fun.
Jack: I’m mostly just focused when I’m playing honestly. I often get pretty nervous so when I start a set I’m usually just trying to zone in and play it right.
How did you guys get into the music you make now?
Emma: I had never heard of skramz before I met Lane. Shortly after we became friends, they played me a song by The Assistant (early aughts NJ screamo) and it changed my life. That sounds hyperbolic, but it truly opened up a new way of playing guitar for me. I’m self-taught and knew enough to get by, but I never felt I was good at songwriting. Screamo and emo frequently utilize alternative guitar tunings, which forced me to be more brave and creative with my playing and writing. This genre made me realize it was okay to do whatever you want on the guitar as long as it sounds good to you- it doesn’t have to follow any rules. Like Jack, I honestly don’t listen to screamo as much as I once did, but the ethos of it will always be with me. Plus, it’s just really fun for us to write screamo music given all of our collective influences.
Lane: My friend Alex showed me some skramz bands in high school, when I was about 16. We were in a sort of post-rockish, metalcoreish band for a while––and we sucked––but the bands that influenced us are still really important to me. Some of the most important ones from that time are Youth Novel, The Assistant, Raein, State Faults, and lowmeninyellowcoats. Shoegaze bands like Hum were also a big deal to me. Lowmeninyellowcoats were the first skramz band I ever saw. At the time, I hated it. I didn’t get it.
Jack: I got into this type of stuff from Lane and another friend of mine who started recommending stuff to me a couple years ago. Then I sort of went on my own journey and found the subgenres that I was most interested in and now I honestly don’t listen to as much screamo or emo anymore but I love it all the same.
Where do you think you draw inspiration from?
Jack: We all listen to a huge variety of music but if I had to nail it down, as a whole, our inspiration comes from a few select shoegaze, new wave, and screamo bands.
Lane: Instrumentally, I try to make music that I would want to listen to I guess. Lyrically, the songs aren’t always about something specific, and sometimes the lyrics are just abstractions. More than anything, I try to convey emotions like joy, hope, and anguish. The inspiration can come from anything really, whether it’s life, a cartoon, a dream, or a conversation. A lot of the time it’s listening to music that inspires me to make music, even though that might seem derivative or contrived.
What does Kaiba’s creative process look like?
Lane: Usually one of us brings a song idea to the band and we all edit and make suggestions. We have a fairly egalitarian process, and no one is ever told that they can’t do a part or idea. We all self-edit pretty well, and we usually just operate under the assumption that something good will come out of an idea if we encourage one another and keep at it.
Can we find your music anywhere online?
Lane: Not at the moment, but we just did an ACRN in-studio that will probably be out in the next few months. We’re also recording some stuff ourselves right now, so we’ll probably release an EP in the near future.
Jack: We don’t have any music online at the moment but we are working on recording an EP at the moment that should come out between now and the end of summer.
What does alternative culture mean to you?
Lane: I guess I generally consider myself to belong to punk subcultures, and I feel that punk is inherently a community with a specific ethos––it’s not just a genre or a fun thing for white people with trust funds to take advantage of. I don’t say this to be pretentious, or gatekeep punk, or anything like that, but I think that being punk, being part of this alternative culture, means doing the work. This can depend on who you are, where you are, and what your experiences are. But if you’re generally privileged like I am, that means making an effort to recognize the shit you’ve internalized, making an effort to give other people the space that you could take up, and making an effort to hold yourself accountable for your past and for actions in your daily life. It’s about taking these values to heart and using them to pour love back into your community; it’s not about wearing the right outfit or performing the correct kind of egotistic leftsism on facebook or instagram. It’s about connecting with people, sharing love, sharing ideas, and seeking to create change in this manner. From this standpoint, any genre of music can be punk in my opinion. There’s no singular punk narrative, but generally if it’s anti-capitalist and/or subverts heteronormative-white-male-hegemony and then channels that in a manner that creates equitable and positive change, that’s punk. If you think punk is about not giving a shit, you’re wrong. And in saying all this, I don’t mean that punk isn’t supposed to be fun. I mean that the reason punk is so fun and beautiful is because, when a community or a scene is built properly, everyone ideally feels welcome, safe to be themselves, and on equal footing. That’s punk.