Isaac Koren of The Kin
Not too long ago, Australian brothers Thorry and Isaac Koren were heading in very different musical directions as members of separate bands, until one event brought them together to form The Kin. Their newest album released on October 6th “The UPside” is a follow-up to “Rise and Fall,” and is chock full of piano and guitar rock. The Kin is promoting their latest album by touring with Rusted Root this fall following a tour as an opener for Rod Stewart. Yeah, you think they’re sexy.
Opening strong with the powerful pop song “Waterbreaks,” the album kicks off with solid vocals that make for a catchy passion-fest of joy-infused pop/rock. The UPside is sweet, but not syrupy enough to turn the cynics away. The UPside is a more hope-filled collection to follow up their darker debut album, which will likely be welcomed by fans of The Kin and will hopefully rope others into becoming kindred as well. I sat down with Isaac Koren before their Boston show at The Red Room last week to talk about the new album.
Interviewed by: Sally Feller | October 2009
Let’s start with the basics, what brought you from Australia to the States?
We used to like to say that we stowed away on a cargo ship. You know, in barrels, being attacked by rats. But the truth of the matter is my brother finished high school in New York City studying jazz, and I came over later after I finished college here in Boston at Northeastern. I was here for 6 months, convinced a few teachers to lie to my Australian teachers and convince them that I was doing what I should’ve been doing when I was actually doing music and philosophy. Then we kind of met up in New York, we had separate bands. He had sort of like a jazz ensemble where he’d get up and freak out and bebop and stuff.
Like he’d be up there playing (mimics classic jazz riffs) and I’d be sitting there at 5 in the morning at Smalls drinking juice. There were all these serious guys. And I had an experimental rock outfit. So we got together. A family friend offered us a free demo and said you guys better write some songs. So we did. And the harmonies started flowing and it’s kind of kept us together.
You guys rented a farmhouse in Pennsylvania in 2006. What’s the story there?
Oh there’s many a story. It was Buck’s County, right next to Delaware. Do you want the short or long story?
Long story, because I feel like it’ll be crazy. (laughs)
Okay, the long story: we took a gig because it paid well, in New Hope. We were touring regionally, from
Boston to DC (in 2007). And this man came up to us after the gig and this man came up to after the gig and he’s like, “look, this sounds crazy, but I’ve got this bar called the Pussycat Club. Before you make any judgments, I’m telling you you want to come, you want to be there. I’m going to get 50 of my friends to be there. I’ll record you, I can’t pay you, but I’ll feed you, I’ll put you up, you’ll get a killer recording out of it. Here’s my card.” So it took me about two months to call him. We set out to Buck’s County, to the Pussycat Club. Sure enough, 50 of his favorite friends came and the show was great. We sell that live recording.
Where is that available?
It’s online and on iTunes: “Live at the Pussycat Club” but we gave out about 3,000 copies of it on a pink disc and it became known as “The Pink CD.” We’ll buy them back. Anyway, that night, a man named Philip Stephano saw us and we became business partners, we started a label together. And so we came up with a budget to record, we didn’t have a major label or anything telling us what to do. So we thought, “right now, we can do anything we want.” So there was a band in Boston called Aberdeen City and we had heard their demo and we decided we wanted to use their producer. He wasn’t a big name or anything, but we just really wanted to work with him. He was edgy. We wanted a more acoustic version of it at the time. Nic Hard is his name. We cold called him and at the time. So we had rented an old farmhouse to write, because we like to be isolated when we write and just create a lot of space for ourselves.
But the farmhouse was creepy, right?
Oh yeah, it was haunted. Three fireplaces. But we’d just spent three years in the city and to be honest we just need to get out there and write some songs. So here we were in this old farmhouse and we’re taking meetings with Nic and some other producers and Nic Hard came out and he heard us play and he said, “alright, I’ll do the album on two conditions. One is, we record the album here in this farmhouse, and two is that you guys play all the instruments.” And we just looked at each other and thought, “our dreams have come true.”
So you already played all these instruments?
No. We didn’t know how to play anything. My brother has a bit of drummer envy and being a guitarist he plays hack bass, on the eights, you know. I’ve always wanted to play the marxiphone and the wine glass. We went ahead and we made a record and we just lived in this old house and we recorded everything we did.
For the album “Rise and Fall?”
Right yeah. It was the most creative experience we’ll ever get. It was purely unadulterated fun to tape and it changed everything for us. It showed us what was possible. And it’s not perfect and that’s why we love it. It’s very human and it’s possibly more dramatic then we’ll ever be again. It was basically chaos and then we were like, “whoa, what are we going to do with all of this. So we took it to another haunted place to mix it (laughs), but it was an incredible space to mix it in, so we kind of took the chaos and made it make some kind of sense. That was Rise and Fall and then we toured nationally for a year and a half, just went on the road. And one of the last shows we were performing in NY, Jack Douglas who did John Lennon’s last record and was part of the last three. He came and he said, “I want to do your record” and we found that hard to pass up. But we said, we want to do it on the West Coast, because the last record was done from about now to December in the Northeast and it was really cold and miserable. I loved it, I’m a melancholy dude. We decided that Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco was our favorite belt of cities, for some reason, and we wanted it to be in the middle of summer and we just thought that maybe it would affect our music and make it happier, and not wrist-slitting melancholy. So, we headed West and it was summer and we went straight to Seattle. Robert Lang Studios which, shock, horror, has a ghost, it’s on the website. We had no idea.
What’s up with you guys and the ghosts? Maybe you’re bringing them with you?
No, we’re not. I mean, you go to the website and there’s this whole thing about the ghost. Nirvana recorded there. So we did the rest of the recording [of The Upside] in LA. Jack Douglas’ son played drums.
So, for “Together” off of “Rise and Fall,” which is the song that I knew first and probably most of our readers are most familiar with…
Yes, I was the only person on the planet that watched “Moonlight.” I’m sure there were others.
Yeah, there were! They still watch “Moonlight” somehow.
Reruns pull us through. But you guys were also on other TV dramas like “Army Wives” and “Grey’s Anatomy”…
Yes, and we felt embarrassed that an Australian band got the Super Bowl soundtrack but last year “Nowhere to Now Here” was on the Super Bowl soundtrack.
Was all of that surprising? The Super Bowl and the dramatic TV programs?
It was so dramatic that you could throw a football to it. It was the strings. (laughs). Yeah, it was very surprising.
Does being brothers ever come between the two of you when you’re writing and creating music, or is it more of a bonding?|
For us it helps. I know for a fact that it gets between others.
Oasis is the one. But you know secretly I think they just love each other. You know, they close the door and they’re all, “Liam, pass me the water, please. God, you look great tonight.” You probably won’t even write what I just told you because it’s schmaltzy and nice.
It’s true. You’re all way too nice. Maybe I can twist it.
It’s terrible. We’re despicably nice.
Maybe, however, the song “Waterbreaks” strikes me as being kind of a dark underbelly of The Kin. What’s the story behind that song?
It is dark. It came out of two different conversations. One was our grandmother was talking to us and she was like, “You’ve got to write a song about Mark Twain.” And I thought, “how am I going to do that? Tell me more.” Interestingly enough he got his name by going down to the docks and watching the wharf man as they called ‘Mark Time, Mark Time’ as the boats would come in. And everyone would have to watch their feet with the ropes and people would be yelling “Mark Time.” And we thought, that’s a cool phrase. We’re here to mark time. So that became the first lyric of the song.
What does that mean, exactly? I mean, ‘alert, wake up?’
Yeah, you know, wake up, a ship’s coming in. I recently had like a year’s worth of tidal wave dreams in which I died over and over again and was swallowed whole. So we were having this conversation and it felt like a metaphor for something you can’t escape.
What was it you were trying to escape? Was this just a tribute to your grandmother?
Well, it was a tribute to the dreams I was having and I was just trying to figure out what they meant. So I guess “have you seen the waterbreaks” is you know, “has something happened to you that’s changed your life? You know, has something come at you like a wave and thrown you to the edge of whatever you know? And have you come back from that?” It is not a surfer’s song, despite what many people think. It’s best not to try and explain things.
What album could you listen to over and over again and never get sick of?
A lot of them. Definitely Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Nina Simone’s “Little Girl Blue” and all of them, I can’t get enough. Stevie Wonder “Inner Visions,” Radiohead “OK Computer,” the list goes on. Keane’s “Hopes and Fears.”
In reading your blog, I saw that you guys like Faulty Towers. So are you just John Cleese fans or you into the whole Monty Python troupe?
Oh, the whole troupe. But John Cleese was for us the cherry in the sundae.
Which songs on The Upside are you most proud of?
“Never Be the Same” came out in about twenty minutes. Written and recorded in, like, twenty minutes in Seattle. It just speaks without fabrication…it was just an outpouring of just creativity. “You and I” because it’s kind of smashed together, Thorry and my equally devastating love lives at the time. Another reason we headed West was that we’d both broken up with our girlfriends, so we were just broken. And we just kept talking about it and wanting to write what we wanted to say. So we wrote the song instead of telling them that. So we didn’t end up telling them that and then getting back together, we just wrote the song.
You guys work for CharityWater.org. What drew you to that organization?
It’s just a smart organization. It’s 100% efficient, first of all, and they build wells in Africa and India and they build wells with 100% of the proceeds and they raise money for selling bottles of water. We’ve actually tried to get them away from selling the bottles of water as it’s not necessarily environmentally-friendly. But on top of that, they’ve just been using new media in a really cool way. But we used to work with Save: Darfur and stuff, but we weren’t certain that 100% of the proceeds were helping it out, nothing against the organization, but we just didn’t feel like it was accountable to the work we do. We just raised enough for a well in Kenya in 2008 and we’re just about to do another well in Ethiopia in a school.
You were both going in different directions musically at one point, but something brought you together to work on one song together. Tell us about that.
Yeah, we were broke and didn’t know what to get our father for his second wedding. It’s kind of a weird thing, you know, your dad is getting re-married, what do you get him? So we had different bands and we wrote the most long-winded and terribly boring song that hopefully no one will ever hear. But in it were these Simon and Garfunkel-like harmonies that we’d never heard ourselves do before, and we were really excited about it. Our dad looked at his watch twice during our performance during the ceremony as if to say, “Very nice boys, but that’s enough.” Our family friend recorded our demo and we started doing local shows in New York.
And how has New York affected your music?
In every way. The funny thing is when we go back to Australia, we’re billed as a US band, when we’re here in America, and we’re billed as an Australian band. So, fuck it, we’re New Yorkers. We’re claimed by New York, so we’ll take it. Australia had their opportunity but they’d rather keep us as traitors. Cultural traitors. We’re expats to them, they’ve claimed.
Wow, that’s harsh.
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(Side note to my fellow Detroiters back home: Isaac: I can’t tell you how much I love Detroit. It’s not about being friendly, it’s about being real. There’s reality on people’s faces. I had to drive like an hour and a half to get breakfast and when I did I got food poisoning.
Because nothing’s been open for twenty years?
Exactly. There’s something that warms the cockles, like being in the third world almost.)
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