Friday, November 10, 2006

A Matter of Kansas

i discovered a lot of my all-time-favorite music in high school. i also listened to a lot of stuff i thought was great then but that doesn't hold up so well now. (i know there's a good example of that type of band, but i can't really think of any right now.) one thing that holds up really well is a band from Lawrence, KS called Kill Creek.

in a way, i think Kill Creek was my first exposure to any sort of independent music. my best friends (there were four or five of us in middle school and high school who went to shows, bought CDs, and discussed, listened to and played music obsessively) and i went to this festival called "Day on the Hill" in 1993, which by my calculations means that it was the summer before my freshman year of high school. this was an all-day indie-music concert at Kansas University, which is in Lawrence, about 45 minutes from where i grew up in Kansas City. anyway, i'm not sure who the draw was for us; i know the Gin Blossoms played that year, so it could have been them.

but the two bands that really struck us were MU330, who were this goofy, fun ska band, and Kill Creek, who were this kind of passionate, punkish indie-pop band. to be completely honest, i don't even remember their set. what i do remember is meeting the guys in the band in this sort of side area near the stage. my friends and i bought their tape (called "Cthonic") and some T-shirts and just sort of hung out with them.

we thought it was so cool that we had met them and that was really our main interest in the band. but then we started playing the tape and realizing that their music was actually really awesome. throughout high school, they played a lot in Kansas City--once or twice with my friends' band the Crackbabies--and we always went to see them and hung out with them and whatnot.

their music kept getting better and better. at one point, they were signed to Mammoth Records, which i think had a distribution deal with Atlantic. anyway, they put out this album called "St. Valentine's Garage," which is still one of my very favorite albums of all time. i reviewed it for (click here) and there i called it power-pop, which i'm not sure is accurate b/c i know that that term has a very specific meaning to some people. at any rate, i stand by my description in general: it's a very dark, cynical album, with a lot of dissonance and heaviness. but it's also classic pop in many ways, with gorgeous, soaring hooks. the vocals especially have a very desperate, frustrated quality that i associate with the Midwest b/c i heard that in a lot of Kansas bands.

Scott Born, the singer and lyricist, has a very unique voice that can sound sort of childlike but can also build to a massive roar. his singing has this wonderful grit to it that reminds me a little of Milo from the Descendents, who might be the greatest punk singer of all time. anyway, "St. Valentine's Garage" is probably Kill Creek's finest moment--it's a sprawling and dire yet hopeful album, crammed full with passion and incredible songwriting.

KC's next album, "Proving Winter Cruel" didn't come out for a while. it's a very solid release, but more controlled and with an almost crazily solipsistic aspect. the entire thing is about Born's breakup with his girlfriend of eight years and he examines the split from all sides, sometimes getting creepily personal. a great record, but a bit hard to take sometimes.

that record sort of had the quality of going to see Kill Creek live. Born was notoriously shy and awkward onstage and would always apologize and stare at his shoes and seem totally mortified about being in front of people. he'd forget lyrics and chords and whatnot; one time, during an instore to celebrate the release of "Proving Winter Cruel," he forgot a bunch of the songs and my friend Adam, a ridiculously talented guitar whiz, had to show him how they went.

anyway, that was the last KC record that came out while my friends and i were in high school. i kept in touch w/ Scott though and made sure i knew about what was up with the band. they put out some nice limited-edition rarities CDRs (one of which had "Cthonic" on it) and then a final full-length disc, "Colors of Home," in 2001. i took a while to warm up to that one, but i now think it's a masterpiece.

it's generally slower, poppier and more stoic than the Kill Creek of old, but Born is still Born. there's a great line where he says, "Entertaining kids shooting up in clubs was no way to spend the night I turned 29." that sort of gives you an idea of his morbid sense of humor. his lyrics were always amazingly literate, yet really sad and poignant too. (another one of my favorite lines is "You can't dominate my scenario; I'll be your impresario..." from "Kelly's Dead" off "St. Valentines.")

the last i heard Scott had met another woman and gotten married and i think had a kid. i think he still lives in Lawrence and works with disabled children. the Kill Creek website hasn't been updated in like three years, but it's got a lot of useful info. in 2004, the band put out this handy comp that has the entirety of "St. Valentine's Garage" and "Proving Winter Cruel," plus all or most of "Cthonic" and some great rarities from other early tape releases. info on that set, called "The Will to Strike," can be found here; this stuff is SO worth your time.

it's impossible to know how i'd react hearing it now for the first time b/c it was so intertwined with my teenage life. the fact that they were local, that i knew them, all that stuff obviously affected how i heard the music. but i just listened to a whole bunch of Kill Creek today and i still felt that chill. i think there's something about fall that makes me want to listen to them. it's angry, tearful music, but as sweet as anything, with little country tinges. RIP to one of the best bands ever.


Unknown said...

so you still have that kill creek tape. Id love to buy it from you. I am a die hard kill creek collector as i grew up seeing them all the time. I have it on cd but i would love the tape

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post but had to comment that I completely agree with everything that you said. I think these guys were ahead of their time. The music still stands the test of time. Great stuff.
I was just listening to "Gaslight Anthem" and thinking that they had some stuff that reminded me of Kill Creek- but I think Kill Creek is/was so much better.

Neutral Malk Hotep said...

So great to read about Kill Creek anytime. I grew up listening to them, but unfortunately never got to see them live. It's a shame they couldn't play a reunion show at Middle of the Map Fest or something in Lawrence. I guess it wouldn't be the same though

Anonymous said...

Great article, great band, my thoughts exactly!!

SJ from Minneapolis

Terry said...

Wow Hank, you're on my wavelength...I feel that Craw is the most underappreciated band of all time (being pretty much my favourite), and I think Kill Creek's "St. Valentines' Garage" is the most underappreciated album of all time (being pretty much my favourite). Early Kill Creek has such an edgy energy that makes me think that no matter how they were live, it must have been a great experience. It seems criminal that Born doesn't appear to be making music anymore. I still play St. Valentine's Garage regularly.