Kavus Torabi must be a very busy man. Throughout the 90's he fronted the brilliant London based Monsoon Bassoon, and in the last decade split his time between the North Sea Radio Orchestra, Chrome Hoof, his own group Knifeworld, Guapo, and The Mediaeval Baebes... not to mention having a spot in the line-up of his childhood heroes, the unstoppable Cardiacs.
Sadly, Tim Smith, the leader of the Cardiacs, suffered a stroke on June 25th, 2008, which has lead the band to go into an indefinite hiatus. A Tim Smith tribute album, Leader of the Starry Skies, is set for a November release on Torabi's label, Believers Roast, and will include performances from Knifeworld, Max Tundra, Andy Partridge of XTC, and Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson.
Kavus Torabi is still very active in performing music, however, fronting the awesome Knifeworld, whose Buried Alone: Tales of Crushing Defeat surely includes some of the coolest progressive-psychedelic-metal-pop-rock this side of Voivod.
I was able to interview Mr. Torabi about Knifeworld, Leader of the Starry Skies, and his race with Max Tundra via email. Check it out after the jump.
Well, initially my involvement was recording "The Stench Of Honey". Bic, who was in the [Cardiacs] in the early Nineties, was organizing a big concert to raise money for Tim's care, but as the time came close to confirm the event, it became apparent that it would be a logistical nightmare (which is not to say that we won't be able to stage one in the future). Bic hit upon the idea of this album and spread the word to Tim's friends and favorite bands. We looked at a few labels to release it on but it seemed to make more sense that it came out on my label, Believers Roast, particularly as I was fairly involved in the thing anyway.
As for why Knifeworld did that song, well... it's so beautiful and for some reason gets a little overlooked. In the beginning of 2008, Tim and I were talking about what tunes to do in the set at the end of the year and I suggested that one, which the band had never played live before. Tim agreed it would be a good one to do. Obviously, with the awful events of June that year the tour never happened.
Earlier this year when we were talking about the big tribute gig Emmett, the keyboard player in Knifeworld, said "We've got to do Stench Of Honey" having no idea of the conversation I had with Tim a couple of years before. It seemed too much of a coincidence so I went with it. I probably would have done "Dergo" otherwise.
For me personally, I love the whole record. There's a couple that really do it for me but I won't say by who as most of the people involved are my friends. On a completely selfish note, I'm very excited about putting out an album on my label with Andy Partridge on it.
You've frequently discussed the influence of Canadian metal band Voivod in regards to your own music. How did you first get into them? What other metal groups have had an impact on you? Do you ever fear that the metal-influenced elements of your music may scare away the metalphobes who are nonetheless entranced by the other parts?
I got into Voivod around the time of their album Killing Technology. Compositionally, it's streets ahead of any other metal at that time or indeed most other rock music period. For me, they had an incredible run of four extraordinary albums starting with that one and ending with Angel Rat. Such a beautiful metamorphosis, my favorite is Nothingface but I love all of those four.
They were dreadful before that. I liked and like a lot metal in as much as I like a lot of Jazz and I like a lot of pop or avant-garde music, but I tend not to think of music in genres. The chords, structure, and lyrics on those albums have very little in common with most metal anyway. Usually genres say more about what the band look like. The actual 'style' that a music is played in which seems to govern what genre a group or artist falls into is far more superficial than the sort of modes or melodies they use which trigger a specific emotional response. Voivod (on those four albums) has far more in common with, say, Stravinsky or Beefheart than Metallica or Bon Jovi.
As for scaring away metalphobes, if anyone is scared by tunes because of genre and the associations it may have rather than the music itself, then good. They're clearly not interested in music.
You split your time between many groups: Knifeworld, Guapo, Chrome Hoof, The Mediaeval Baebes, Cardiacs, and several more. Is it difficult to split your allegiance to so many different groups? I take it you don't have much spare time...
It didn't used to be difficult but, to be honest, I was a little too busy on 'other peoples groups' this year and Knifeworld suffered, so I've recently quit the Hoof. I was only really a touring guitarist anyway.
The Mediaeval Baebes is a load of fun and just takes up small chunks of time for recording and touring. Guapo had a year off this year anyway and Cardiacs...well, Cardiacs has ceased to be as an active band anyway. I would never have taken on the Baebes or the Hoof if we were still up and running.
The thing is when you tend to play the kind of stuff I do, you need to play in a few bands just to make your rent. It's not uncommon, most of my musician friends play in two or three bands.
The Knifeworld album, Buried Alone- Tales of Crushing Defeat, was seven years in the making. Max Tundra's album Parallax Error Beheads You took a similar amount of time. Being frequent collaborators, was it strange having both of you working on these projects that were taking years to develop?
Yes, it became a bit of a joke with us at the end, we started treating it as a race. He won.
I wasn't working on my album exclusively. I started it in 2001, recorded the drums and all the basic tracks, then something would come along and I'd get sidetracked. I had two bands of my own, Miss Helsinki then later Authority, in the interim plus I joined Cardiacs then Guapo. I'd keep making a fresh start on it then it just felt like too much to take on so I'd chicken out.
By 2007, I realized it was getting fucking ridiculous. Here was an album of songs I really liked that were getting to be a decade old and were not getting finished because I was too stupid or weak or something. I threw myself into a four month intense recording schedule where I basically didn't really see anyone and didn't shave. The four months turned into most of that year and I emerged with a completed album and a big beard. So dramatic.
I'm pleased with the results. It proved to me that I could make a record largely on my own, but the next album will be much better... The band are fantastic, the tunes are, I think, stronger and I know what I'm doing a lot more in terms of production. Buried Alone was a lot of trial and error, mainly error to begin with, I spent a lot of time re-recording parts that I'd done a few years earlier that weren't played brilliantly or weren't recorded well. I knew exactly how I wanted the thing to sound but didn't know how to get there at first. I'm as happy with that album as anything I've done though, eventually I got it sounding the way it had to. There's parts of it that are the best I've ever written. Working on songs that were by this time six or seven years old was quite strange... a bit like reading an old diary or something. I can't wait to start the next one all the songs are from the last couple of years I'm really 'vibed up' about it.
Speaking of Mr. Tundra, what is the group Admirals Hard that you were both involved with? The concept of a "sea-shanty supergroup" seems very appealing...
Admirals Hard was a terrific group. It consisted mainly, although not exclusively, of Plymothians (folks from Plymouth, a port city in the South West of England) was fronted by a Cornishman and featured three of The Monsoon Bassoon all of Stars in Battledress and a couple of honourary Plymothians, ie: Max Tundra and his sister Becky Jacobs (ed. of the band Tunng). We basically played traditional sea shanties and folk tunes segued with Iron Maiden instrumental passages in a pschedelic style. Lovely. Great to play and wonderful to be performing with a bunch of close friends.
Given the pedigree of the members it was a real thrill to play to audiences who really responded immediately and 'got' the music, and the gigs ended up being fairly rowdy. The music most of us generally play leaves audiences scratching their heads if they don't already know the stuff. We haven't done anything for a few years though. We were all living in London at the time but half the band have moved back to the South West now.
Thank you. I love that album, we put everything into it and the band was my entire life for about eight years so I'm so glad people still care about it. I think it's pretty unique stuff. With the exception of what I'm doing in Knifeworld I can't think of anything else that really sounds like it. A few people have asked me about re-releasing the stuff. I was speaking to the old manager of The Monsoon Bassoon very extensively on this subject just yesterday.
It looks like, including I Dig Your Voodoo, we have three albums' worth of studio material, you know... B-sides, singles, EPs and unreleased recordings plus about an album's worth of radio sessions, acoustic stuff, and pretty decent live recordings. I have my label Believers Roast now, so we'll need to talk about how we can approach it, whether to do a box set or what. As you no doubt know the market for CDs is in a strange old place at the moment so it's ultra risky with a relatively obscure band that split up nearly ten years ago and a small label with little budget... That said it was always the plan to get I Dig Your Voodoo back out there somehow.
So to answer the original question, yes.
Are there any groups or artists that are making music today that you are particularly fond of?
Yes, loads. I can never think who, though, when these sort of questions get asked. My favourite records from the last couple of years or so have been by Dominique Leone, Skeletons, Cheer Accident, Field Music, Cosa Brava, Yugen, Foetus, Extra Life, Magma, The Lionheart Brothers, Marnie Stern and Rob Crow. These are the first that popped into my head although not necessarily new bands, there's much more. I'm not one of those people that think music was better 'in the old days'.
What are your plans for the newest Knifeworld album? Who will be playing on it? When can we expect a release?
Well, we start rehearsing for it in a couple of weeks and begin recording in January. It's all written already. The personnel will be the full band this time, which, in addition to Khyam Allami on drums and Melanie Woods on singing who were on the first one, will be Emmett Elvin on keys, Craig Fortnam on bass and Chloe Herington on bassoon, sax and recorders. No doubt I'll pressgang a few others in on the action too.
As for a release date. I'd love it to come out next year... it certainly won't take another seven years, but I have an idea how I want the whole thing to sound and won't put it out until it's perfect. Luckily, I don't have a label badgering me for deadlines, so I have that luxury. There will almost certainly be a single or an EP out next year though.
Ha! I've actually almost finished building a small soundproofed studio in my garden where we'll be rehearsing initially and recording the bulk of the album, but I'll hire out a commercial premesis for the final rehearsals before recording. It would be too impractical to rehearse a full band with amps and drums etc in there.
It is no secret that you are particularly fond of the Cardiacs, and it is often said of the group that those who like them LOVE them. Why do you think this is? What record do you think is the best first step into Tim Smith's catalog?
The main reason is probably because Tim Smith is a genius and I don't use that word flippantly. His music is just so singular and beautiful. It had a profound effect on me as a teenager, it was the main reason I moved to London and since then Tim Smith the person, as one of my closest friends, has had a profound effect on me so it's hard to be at all objective. My favourite album, if you were holding a gun to my head, would have to be On Land And In The Sea. Many people find Sing To God: Parts 1 and 2 as a good way in though.
Who knows, man. He hasn't written a bad song.