Colin Clary Interview
A few years ago, Colin recorded a split CD that alternated tracks with James Kochalka, and he frequently plays with James Kochalka Superstar. This week he took the time to share his thoughts with KOCHALKAHOLIC! about Kochalka, music, and his hometown of Burlington, Vermont.
Poking around online, it looks like you've done a lot more music than I knew about. Tell me how you became interested in music.
I think I've always been interested in music. My mom had a small but good record collection that we were allowed to play with when I was little and I think that led to eventually buying my own records. I remember wanting to play stand up bass or tuba when I was really young, and too small to even think of holding or carrying either -- but at some point I started singing in school. For a while it was chorus and the Essex children's choir, and things like that. I didn't start writing songs until I was in high school and towards the end of high school I finally got into my first band. Starting bands is fun.
How did you meet James Kochalka?
I was thinking about this the other day and I've come to think that I'm not sure if I even remember! I think I probably introduced myself because I was a fan and he was my waiter [in his former job] at the Peking Duck House. In the early '90s I saw [early Kochalka band] Jazzin' Hell perform and I bought their seven-inch single "Rainbow Love/Egg Hunt," which I used to play at home in my bedroom. My dad thought it was weird. At some point the Burlington Free Press also did a story on 'zines and it featured a zine I did along with something by James and also Jason Cooley's comic Skoolbus. I forget what order things happened in, but James is so approachable that I imagine I said hello and struck up a conversation and over the years we just got to know each other a little better.
Burlington's a small town, so folks who've been around for awhile tend to eventually get to know each other. At one point we lived on the same street, Buell Street, and I would sometimes run into him on the street. For the record, my folks are Kochalka fans these days. And they used to point him out to people they would be dining at the Duck House and say hello even when I wasn't around.
Tell me about the genesis of the split CD you and James released.
The genesis? Well, I think James was looking for new folks to record with to get some of his ideas down he knew that I was getting a lot of recording done with my then roommate David Zacharis, so he naturally suggested or asked if he could come over sometime and record some songs. It turned into an almost weekly thing that eventually spawned tracks for both the split disc and the Hot Chocolate Superstar downloadable album.
He would basically come over and have a number of ideas and whatever seemed to work best ended up being what we would do. I would basically play chords on guitar til it sounded right and then we'd track guitar and then James's vocals and sometimes extra stuff to make 'em fancy and fun. So it was a three-way team effort between David engineering the sessions, me playing instruments, and James being James! David runs Dangerfive and suggested the split, so we used some of the songs we'd recorded with James and some of my songs and alternated the tracks to make a good flow.
Tell me about your relationship with James Kochalka Superstar, the band.
It's a strange situation because I play shows with James sometimes when his proper full band can't make it, but I am not actually officially in the band. In those instances I get into the "band" by answering the phone and saying yes whenever James calls. It's also how we do most of our recording these days -- James will call me at work and see if I can stop by on the way home to record something and I drop by with my guitar and we put the song together and record it that day -- sometimes I get a preview over the phone first. I did play on that first JKS album only one song -- the live cut towards the end -- I was playing bass that day. And I have played both bass and guitar to fill with the band in a pinch, sometimes, but at this point I'm more like an indiepop subcontractor!
When I had to play bass, Jason Cooley taught me all the parts. In the post-Pistol era, I feel like he's the heart of the band, but also that Creston and Eric are good foils for both James and Cooley. They, the whole band, are a rowdy rock machine! I'm honored to have played with them. A lot of folks have played with James, though. It's kind of like a Burlington rock rite of passage to play with James Kochalka.
Are you intimidated at all, when you play with the band?
Well, I think the most intimidating factor is the amount of songs you have to learn and know in order to be ready for any given show! James isn't intimidating -- he's very welcoming and awesome -- but he does make fun of my rhythm. The whole band is very laidback and easy to get along with. If there's any intimidation it comes from inside, from not wanting to mess up or let down the fans of James's songs. I don't wanna be the guy who doesn't know a particular song -- I wanna be ready to go with whatever James wants to play!
What's your favourite song to perform live?
I love to play the song "Beat Down in the Shower" and "Chooglin'" and "Quick Stop Parking Lot" and "Woodglue" quite a bit. They are all awesome in different ways. As an audience member, I love "The Mummy's on the Loose," because of the moves -- and I like "Monkey versus Robot" especially because I enjoy James's improvised variations during his monologue -- like if he says "dot the landscape" or "hulking wrecks" and sometimes only one or two words change, but I smile as I watch him choose what to say.
What do you think sets the band apart from other musical acts?
Well, they are more like a family, and they have scads of awesome songs from which to draw from for their lives shows. So in terms of potential, they are pretty much unlimited. What sets them apart is probably the Kochalka factor -- he's their un-secret weapon! And James is a good dancer on stage. Versatility, that's another good quality.
Tell me why you'd like to see Spread Your Evil Wings and Fly released.
Because I want to hear it and hold the final product in my hands and play it loud while I look through the booklet! And because the band worked really hard on the album and went through all this trouble to negotiate and sign with a label and now their album is just sitting there and not coming out and instead they put out a hits package? That's a short-sighted approach. Kochalka's like a franchise and it seems to me that any label would be able to do better with his records if they actually spent some time marketing them in the right way! I just want to see his band happy. I want them to have their album come out while they still feel like playing those songs and for them to make a new record and for it to come out reasonably quickly. All this waiting around kinda kills the excitement and motivation and momentum and it's bad for the spirit. Besides, instant gratification is more fun and exciting -- like a daily strip, for example -- why should the record be held up?
It's not like Ryko is working to build momentum other than to be frustrating and wait for James's fans to complain loud enough so they can use that as a promotional angle?
Whatever -- there was a time when Britney and Justin were the hot headline of the day -- and who had an album with a song that dealt with them -- James Kochalka, that's who! Man! He writes things that are timely and ageless and the folks at his label don't listen to the songs enough to know how to market James as anything other than a novelty act and I think that's really sad because James has a knack for catchy melody and wordplay that gets overlooked by casual dismissalists -- I don't know if that's a word, but you know.
Also, I love the song "touch a tiger" - that's a total hit song! I don't even know if it's on the record or not, but it's one of my other faves I forgot to mention earlier.
Tell me what's cool about the Burlington area.
First and foremost, it's the people. There are tons of working artists and musicians and filmmakers and writers -- it's a supportive environment for craft-honing and people are more likely to be encouraging than competitive. Plus I love the spring and the fall the most!
It's easy to get out of Burlington and be in the country, and it's fun to walk down one of the main streets and be likely to run into someone you know. It's definitely a community. People ask me sometimes if Burlington is like how James draws it. I think it is. It's a whimsical town. We don't get all the good new movies, though.
Most folks here are open-minded and nice and laid back. It feels safe here. It feels like home here. Most people do their own thing and share it with others. We have barbeques and parties and art opening and shows where everyone goes and you can feel like part of an us and have a sense of pride that you like your town.
Can you talk a little about James's comics, any thoughts on those?
Well, I am a fan of his books for sure! My favorites are Quit Your Job and The Sketchbook Diaries, but I also really like Fantastic butterflies. Sometimes the diaries drives folks crazy around here -- people sometimes check to see if they made it into a strip. I think I learned a long time ago that there is no rhyme or reason to it -- even if you spend all day with James and think you were hilarious, well, that might not be what he draws -- maybe he draws a leaf or anything -- this is just how it is. I have lately come to the thinking that if you think a particular moment is interesting enough you should make note of it yourself and not wait or hope that someone else noticed the same moment.
Of course, I'm spoiled and also honored to have been drawn by James. That said, from a fan's perspective, I love how the comics are a good compliment to the person. Amy is one of my favorite characters and I also really like her as a person. Same with Eli and James. I like when Spandy thinks and I like when superheroes get wasted on weird gunk!
As far as philosophically, well, I tend to find James books very rewarding and they tend to re-affirm things that strike me as pretty true sometimes. It's fun to think of any given moment as a diary strip -- a slice of awesome or whimsy -- a moment you want to capture and remember and appreciate. One thing I've probably learned from James --and incorporated into my own life -- is that you should try to do something awesome every day! James would probably phrase it like this, though:
You've got to do something awesome every day/you've got to do something awesome just like James K!
A lot of what one learns is that anything could become the thing that makes you appreciate your day. You just have to notice it when it happens, so I find that one can learn to be open to the possibility of something awesome happening at anytime if you allow yourself to take a step back for a second and look around at your surroundings and what's happening.
Sometimes an easy way to learn how to do this is to watch someone else in action. To see how James translates a whole day into one strip -- it makes you aware of moments as each their own thing. It could be a taste or a smell or even a bump on the head -- it's life in an instant.
I like that when James uses the stamp of Kochalka Quality that I know he has given his seal of approval. He has high quality control standards -- I've seen him check out a print job -- he can be brutal and critical if something's not done right!
I like seeing my town and my friends the way that James draws them. It makes me feel like we live in a magical spot!
Colin Clary's new CD "Sweater Weather or Not, These are the
Songs I Got" is available Asaurus Records. Look for the new Smittens album "A Little Revolution" coming in two weeks from North of January Records, where you can also purchase CDs of the James Kochalka Superstar rock opera "Carrot Boy The Beautiful."