Monday, November 14, 2016

Behind the Wall of Mystique: An Interview with KOLARS

In today's internet age it is quite impossible to be mysterious.  If I were to do a google search on myself I am sure it would spit out at least ten pages of useless info.  The same cannot be said about the band KOLARS.  That is exactly the way they'd prefer it. The two piece outfit would rather you discover them aurally and visually.   The way we used to discover bands.  In fact, the best way to discover bands.  Seeing KOLARS live is more than a concert.  It is a performance.  Exuding raw energy, Lauren Brown drums a full kit while tap dancing on the bass drum.  Her body lurches and moves in a hypnotic state along with Rob Kolars' haunted rockabilly howlings.  It leaves one wanting more.  Fortunately, Rob and Lauren were willing to sit down and talk about what drives their music, performance, and mystique.

Fran Chismar:  Thank you for taking time out for me. I haven't had a chance to see you live, but I have gotten to see videos. One thing, it's hard not to focus on your drumming and your technique, so I was hoping you could talk about how you developed that, how that came about.

Lauren Brown: Totally. I grew up as a tap dancer most of my life. Not as a drummer, even though I always wanted to be a drummer. We were in another band called He's My Brother, She's My Sister for a long time. In the start of that band, we had a drummer and I would tap dance alongside of the drummer. I was a -

Rob Kolar:  Percussionist.

Lauren:  Percussionist of sorts. Then he chose to leave the band, and instead of getting a replacement, it was (Rob) that suggested to me learning to play the drums, but keeping the tap.

Rob:  We talked about it and you were maybe a little unsure.

Lauren:  I wasn't sure.

Rob: I think we as a band said, "You can do this," and she locked herself in a studio for literally like three months straight everyday.

Lauren:  I just went crazy.

Rob:  It was a weird thing because there wasn't really anyone she could learn from. There were moments where you would work with drummers, but they would have to almost rethink their drumming to suit (Lauren).

Lauren:  Dancers also count differently, so I was on a different count system. I was also on this understanding of, because my feet go at the same time while I play the full kit, so I was always trying to understand some sort of choreography almost. Coming at it from that kind of perspective versus more of a musical perspective. We both land in the same place, but we have to come at it with a different viewpoint.

Rob:  The language is a little different.

Fran:  Are you playing a traditional kit, though? Is it more toms? Do you use the snare at all?

Lauren: Yeah.  My kick drum is the standard kick drum, and I play that with my right arm. I play the floor tom with my right arm. My right arm is going with those two, and then my left arm is doing a cymbal and a snare. My feet are doing the high hat.

Fran:  It's a completely different feel.

Lauren: It is a completely different feel.

Fran:  They talk about Ringo and how he's in the moment and feels it.

Lauren:  Absolutely, and his skills are never the same. He's awesome. My steps start from my toes and they end in my fingertips. It's how I see every bar of music for myself as a drummer, in a weird way. I don't know if I've ever even explained that to (Rob).

Fran:  Does it change for you? Do you find yourself playing the same song differently sometimes?

Lauren:  Yeah, I do.

Fran:  If you have a certain feel, or you're following along with a change and -

Lauren:  Absolutely. Maybe not even a sense where what I'm doing changes. Sometimes my tap can change a little bit, but I have more freedom with my tap than I do with my arms. Also, levels of intensity, where I want to pull back, when I want to add into it. I used to do theater at NYU, so I think I come at it too with that almost emotional perspective, like what is Rob trying to say in this song, how does he like to perform this song, and how can I bring the drums into it and also -

Fran:  Your physicality.

Lauren:  My physicality and tell a story.

Fran:  Rob, do you feed off that?

Rob:  Absolutely. A lot of times, it can be exhausting as a performer. I'll come to her and almost absorb some of that energy. Every step, there's a few times where I'm playing and maybe I'm struggling to find some emotion and I'll always come over to her and play right next to the drums and it's almost like a recharge.

Fran:  That's awesome.

Lauren:  Almost with the drums, and I think in rhythm too, and you must feel this as a rhythm guitarist, you can get into a trance with it. I think that's the best part of rhythm at least for me. When your brain works, but in a totally different way than it works as a human being walking around in this world. People associate it with how your brain is with sex and how your brain is in various other activities, but I definitely feel that way.

Fran:  You have that going on live. Now you're in the studio recording. Is it hard to recreate that or is it just like another live performance for you?

Lauren:  Depends how we're choosing to go at each song. I know with the He's My Brother stuff, it was all live. I would just get into the recording room with no click, it would just be me playing live. This band, we break it into parts a little more.

Rob:   We're approaching the recordings, at least on this first album, more like a dance record, in terms of really locking in the groove, having things much more tied to a certain tempo or click, and then -

Lauren:  Building it out.

Rob:  The tap, though, is one thing that we like to layer on top and let that move and explore a little bit more on top of that. There's definitely a grounded rhythm that includes her live drumming and samples interwoven.

Lauren:  It always has to be something that I can understand as a drummer. We can never put a drum beat in a song that I can't make sense of or it feels foreign to me, doesn't feel like a natural way.

Rob:  What we do with our live set is the first half, we play with no tracks, just the two of us raw.

Lauren:  More like punk, a little rockabilly.

Rob:  It's a funky, punky, rockabilly experience. The second half, we expand the sound, incorporate baselines, and keys that I recorded, and sample drums and meld the two worlds.

Fran:  Do you always see this being a two piece?

Rob: I think so.

Lauren:  I think so.

Rob"  We would love to have guests collaborate, maybe bring on bass player for a tour, but at the moment, there's a lot of freedom. It's very easy for us to connect and build the show that we both envision, and we're very much aligned, which is really great.

Fran:  Pretty much in tune?

Rob:  Yeah, to what we like and where we want to go with this.

Lauren:  We can play tight shows because we can hear everything on the stage. As opposed to playing with other bands, sometimes I would be in the back, and you end up feeling isolated.

Fran:  Is it too much almost?

Lauren:  It's too much. Not for everybody, but for me.

Rob:  I think some bands get fortunate where there's just natural balance. We've been in experiences where there's been a lot of competition within a band, where sometimes it's not always about supporting the song, and it can sometimes be about someone's own experience versus the collective.

Fran:  I really think less is more sometimes.

Lauren:  I do too.

Fran:  Sometimes when you strip it down to the bare essentials, you get more. I'm really shocked at how many bands I go to see and I'm thinking they're a five-piece, and they're a three-piece. Then you're like, "Oh, I don't see this working as a five piece at all."

Lauren:  Totally.

Fran:  As someone that's never seen you or heard you, but just heard about you, I could see how someone would think what you do (on drums) would be schticky. Then you hear it, and you realize there's so much substance to the music that it's completely not. It's a different feel.

Lauren:  Also, that I'm just as much of a drummer. I think a lot of people see that it's tap, and "Oh, it's a tap dancer and a girl. It's this gimmicky kind of a thing." Then you see it live, and it's like, "Oh, no. I'm a drummer."

Rob:  The funny thing about it too is it was never planned, so it just evolved and happened. It's not like you had a choice in the matter. If you wanted to sit behind a drum set, you could.

Fran:  Could you?

Lauren:  Yeah.

Rob:  You've learned it, but where you feel at home and where you excel is within this world that you've created.

Lauren:  When the full body is going.

Fran:  I can imagine. It's something that you've created. Given that, influence wise, for what you've created, do you have any influences, or do you have to backtrack? Now you do what you do, so now you incorporate what you hear.

Lauren:  That's actually really true. That's how I look at it now. I think my influences are so spread apart, it's just as much as I'm a fan of certain performance artists, as I am of certain dancers, certain drummers. It's a combination of everything. Now, I think you're right. I think now as a musician, I look for inspiration in even more diverse ways.

Fran:  When I listened to you, the first thing I thought of influence wise, it reminded me of The Cramps.

Rob:  Interesting.

Lauren:  Awesome.  We love that.

Fran:  I heard rockabilly. Who would you say your influences are?

Lauren:  The Cramps.

Fran:  I heard The Cramps. That's the first thing I thought of.

Rob Kolar:  That's awesome. I think, I do love The Cramps, I think I'm influenced by similar artists Iggy Pop, the Clash.

Fran:  They're definitely performance.

Rob:  Right. There's a darkness that I'm drawn to. Maybe it stems from a love for The Doors and Jim Morrison to certain goth bands and the Cure. A sense of someone's despair in certain instances, but also a love for punk.

Lauren:  There's a rawness to it. I think we're both a fan of that. Honesty on the stage and in music. Whatever it is is whatever it is. It lives in the imperfect and we're okay with that.

Fran:  What I was going to ask was, based on all of that, you kind of went in the direction I thought you were going to go, because I always try to do my research coming in, and I couldn't find a lot on the two of you. What was your upbringing like? To hear someone say that they're influenced by Iggy Pop to Jim Morrison, I immediately assume you're West Coast. Am I right?  Here on the the East Coast you hear the Velvet Underground.

Rob:  I'm also massively influenced by the Velvet Underground.

Lauren:  You're a mixture of England and you're a mixture of Los Angeles.

Rob:  Yeah, that's what I would see as my upbringing. Then, a year in New York, but that was kind of a sprinkling. (Lauren) is East Coast.

Lauren:  I'm East Coast. I grew up in Boston, but I spent my formative artist years in New York. The downtown theater scene, and really studying performance art in college.

Fran:  The two of you got the best of both worlds. You're bringing New York and LA together.

Rob:  And then we traveled it all.

Lauren:  Absolutely. Performance art is so associated with that stuff too.

Rob:  It very much is about, especially with The Cramps, the look and the feeling, and sometimes even the menace of the aesthetic. There's some showmanship to that, and that's one thing we do love about some of those bands. We're very influenced by the Glam Rock scene, like T-Rex and David Bowie.

Fran:  New York Dolls?

Rob:  New York Dolls. Sweet even, some of the more poppier bands of that era are massively influential to us. It varies.

Lauren:  This is a really fun interview. Thank you for doing this. I'm really enjoying this,

Fran:  You're involved in so many projects.  You have He's My Brother She's My Sister. You did the scoring for (TBS's) The Detour, KOLARS, Lemon Sun.

Rob:  It's technically not over, but Lemon Sun and He's My Brother have melded into ... we play songs from both those bands.

Fran:  You have so much going on. Is it the diversity of it that does it for you? Is it one project over another? Do you need them all going on for you, or do you find yourself in a zone in one project, or you need all of them to fuel each other? Would you not be satisfied if you had to pick one?

Rob:  Probably. I think it's nice to at least have the option there, but I think definitely now at this point, the KOLARS and the scoring balance my world.

Lauren:  Not completely have a panic attack.

Rob:  You get to play very different roles. As a composer, I'm satisfying someone else's vision, which can actually be quite liberating when you're in a project when you're so in your own head. In that case, I'm there to support. I'm there to almost play a role as an actor of music. What can I bring to the table? Direct me and let me give you that piece of music that going to elevate your vision as a producer or director. With the band, we get to express ourselves and be creative from our souls, from our spirit.

Fran:  Do they bleed into each other?

Rob:  They do.

Lauren:  Totally.

Fran:  Do you go from working on the scoring, and then come back and go, "Man, I just had a great idea"?

Rob:  Absolutely, or something like, "Oh, that should be in the band." I was talking to Lauren recently how I think our music is going to start evolving in a slightly symphonic scoring direction, incorporating the rock-and-roll, because I'm starting to learn some of those traits.

Lauren:  You already have that new song right now we're playing with that's a six minute song that almost feels like you are playing a score.

Rob:  It goes through different movements.

Lauren:  As opposed to that perfect little three-minute song that has that bridge and has that -

Rob:  I think that will be something. Also, with the show, some of our songs get used in the show, or in this recent season, we've made a little cameo as band in this weird, seedy, New York club.

Fran:  Given what you do, what's the wring process?

Rob: I think it varies.

Lauren:  I'm more the editor, I would say.

Rob:  Well, that's very true. Lauren has a big role to play, once I've composed a sketch, she really goes, "That's not really working."

Lauren:  The editor is the naysayer.

Rob:  Or I'll be like, "Lauren, what do you think," and very rarely is there a time where her opinion is said, it resonates, I change it, and I don't go, "She's right. This was better."

Lauren:  That's really nice.

Rob:  It's a really wonderful relationship in that, because she also doesn't try and encroach on my process. It's much more of a sounding board. Let me put my influence, let me tidy it up, let me tailor. Here's the suit -

Lauren:  I'm a tailor.

Rob:  Lauren tailors it, and now it fits right.

Fran:  What I hear is that you couldn't do what you do without each other, which is pretty awesome. That's unique. So many bands you see, one person's the band. They go solo. It continues on. You're married too, correct?

Lauren:  We're married too. I think we also enjoy working in partnerships. I think we both have always felt that way. We like working with a partner. It's not like a solo. In other things that I've done, because I've had theater companies that I started at and created plays, and I've always liked working with one other person. Not a group, but having that buddy that like, "Let's share the vision that I understand."

Fran:  I'm sure that can have challenges too.

Rob:  Sure.

Fran:  It depends if you're not seeing eye-to-eye.

Rob:  Even we have conflicts. We don't always agree. We actually do very often agree.

Lauren:  But we still also know other person is coming from a place that we relate to. It doesn't ever feel like I don't get where you're coming from.

Rob:  Right, the intentions

Lauren:  It's always like, "I get where you're coming from. I disagree with it, but I get where you're coming from."

Fran:  (Lauren) said you were coming from a performance art background.  Did (Rob) always know you wanted to be a musician? Was it always, you were a musician when you were young, or did it come on later in life?

Rob: As a kid, I wanted to be a professional hockey player, in Los Angeles, which is absurd.

Lauren:  Wasn't expecting that answer, I bet.

Fran:  No. Did you play hockey?

Rob:  I did.

Lauren:  He still does.

Rob:  I still do actually. I captain a team in LA.

Fran:  I got to say, and as you get older, you continue to play you have the people that no longer have the skills that they once had and get chippy.  I worked with a lot of people that played hockey as adults, and they just ended up hurt all the time.

Lauren:  He does.

Rob:  I do.

Lauren:  I'm surprised he has his teeth right now.

Fran:  Any bruised ribs?

Lauren:  He's broken ankles.

Rob:  I've broken ankles. We played South by Southwest one year -

Lauren:  Remember that boot? Oh my gosh.

Rob:  I was in the giant boot and crutches.

Lauren:  It was a nightmare.

Rob:  With the crowds everywhere, it was kind of insane. It was hockey, but after a while, it transitioned to music as this outlet for emotions and social commentary and all of these things that I was feeling passionate about. As time evolved, it felt like a calling.

Fran:  Do you play more than guitar?

Rob:  I do. I play piano, guitar, bass, a little bit of drums, and produce.

Lauren:  Our tracks, which is all the other instruments, he's played every single one except for the drums.

Rob:  Which we arranged together in a lot of ways.

Lauren:  Yeah, but everything else is you.

Rob:  Yeah, pretty much.

Lauren:  You actually said you're a better bass player than you are a guitar player.

Rob:  I prefer to play bass, but I do play bass on the tracks. They're just not live.

Fran:  For He's My Brother She's My Sister, you were in a band with your sister, correct?

Rob:  Yeah, the four of us.

Fran:  Were you doing that together growing up? Was it something you both -

Rob:  No, not at all. We fought so much as kids, it was pretty wild. Screaming in our house constantly. We decided later in life that it would be fun to do a side project, like an acoustic kind of band. It was one of those weird things where the thing you just do for fun somehow takes off and turned into us touring, and becoming a pretty successful indie variety band.

Lauren:  Nothing up until this point ever felt like a plan. I'll say that. Even sitting here right now, this was never, none of it for me anyways.

Fran:  Considering you're married and this is a lot of what you do together, when you're not musicians, what do you like to do?

Rob Kolar:      Outside of music?

Fran:  Outside of being a musician.

Rob:  We love traveling.

Lauren:  Love traveling. We just went to Egypt and Turkey.

Fran:  I could see how that becomes tiresome sometimes too. You're going from town to town. You may no always get to see where you're at.

Rob:  That's true. It's a very big part that people forget sometimes.  This year, we went to Egypt and Turkey, and that was a really fascinating, eye-opening experience for us. Seeing the Pyramids, but also seeing the cultures and having experiences with people of very different backgrounds and religious ties. I think that stuff really excites and inspires us.

Lauren:  It's so hard. I feel like the arts take up our lives, all of our interests. From film to literature, to even politics. We like that whole world.

Fran:  What type of films are you into?  If I had to say pick a favorite film, or top three?

Rob:  I'm a big Stanley Kubrick fan.

Lauren:  I'm a huge documentary geek.

Rob: I couldn't pick a singular film, but a director ... Kubrick and Milos Foreman are two of my favorites.

Fran:  What's your favorite Kubrick?

Rob:  Probably Clockwork Orange but -

Lauren:  I think that's both of us. It's influenced so much from style.

Fran:  It's such a great, just visually, and the darkness of it reflecting the black humor in it too.

Lauren:  Yes, it's that blend.

Fran:  Are you David Lynch fan?

Rob:  Huge, love David Lynch.

Fran:  I was going to say I see the similarities.

Rob:  Yeah, Blue Velvet, I think, is a masterpiece.

Lauren:  You know what's weird? My favorite Lynch film is The Straight Story which couldn't be more opposite from these other films -

Rob:  But that's very you.

Lauren: That sweet, wonderful story. I know. I always think about that movie. That had a profound effect on me.

Fran:  When will we get new music?  After I saw your video, I wanted more, and I couldn't get more. I was like, "I'm going to see it, but how do I binge ahead of time?"

Lauren:  We kind of like that. We want you to want more.

Rob:  We're putting out a vinyl full album in probably March, more or less.

Lauren:  We already have six of the songs for it all ready to go.

Rob:  We want to try to release more frequently than previous bands, and maybe smaller releases, more often.

Fran:  I like that. I definitely like that. I think the audiences attention span has gotten much shorter. If you're hitting them more often, I'm definitely more in tune that way.

Lauren:  I think so as well. New content, visually, always trying to grow.

Fran Chismar:  Visually, the video I saw was in the desert. I was like, "Man, that's exactly what I was thinking." If I heard the song -

Rob:  After reading about what the band is on paper, and seeing it, it matched.

Fran:  It matched.

Rob: Oh good.

Lauren:  That makes me really happy. That's what I'm really interested in right now is having this cohesive vision. The songs fit the videos, fit the styling. Nothing feels random.

Fran:  It was what I hoped for, if that makes sense.

Lauren:  Awesome, that makes me really happy.

Rob:  That's really a great compliment, thank you.

Fran:  Meeting you was very intimidating for me only because, like I said, trying to do research, I couldn't really find a whole lot, and I liked what I heard. I like what I saw, but I didn't know anything else about it.

Lauren: Who the fuck are these people?

Rob:  That's kind of great. I remember when the Strokes first came out, that was something I loved about them.

Lauren:  I was like who the fuck are these guys.

Rob:  A little bit of mystique, and a little bit of ambiguity.

Fran:  Which is very cool.

Lauren:  Which is cool in this day and age.

Fran:  There's definitely a mystique, and it made me even more curious, and I can't wait to see the show.

Lauren:  That makes me really happy.

Fran:  One question we always ask, and it's just to be silly, and we always get some great answers. This should be interesting. Who spends more time on their hair?

Lauren:  Rob, let's be honest.

Rob:  Which hair?

Lauren:  Again, let's be honest.

Fran:  Not manscaping.

Rob:  Yeah, it's true (laughing)

Lauren:  I think it's the same person for every way that you put it.

Fran:  One last question. As you're traveling around, what are you listening to on the ride? 

Lauren:  NPR is what I'm obsessed with right now, but that's because it's this week. It's not every week.

Rob:  Recently, we discovered Nick Gilder, who is this seventies English glam era guy, and we've been really into his music. He has that one song.

Lauren:  Hot Child in the City.

Rob:  Which is his hit.

Lauren"  But the other ones are so much better.  

Rob:  There's some other fantastic tunes, so we want to cover one of his songs coming up. In fact, we've been thinking a lot about doing a covers record of a lot of our heroes and some of the artists that have passed that we love. That might be either the next record, or the following one, is to do a full on covers record.

Fran:  In your style?

Rob:  In our style, yeah.

Fran:  Given the influences that you've mentioned, I would love to hear that. That would be an on-taking, because I would love to hear you take on some of the glam.

Rob:  The mixture, a little punk, a little glam, a little folk, a little rock.

Fran:  Do you have anything that you would like to pitch. Do you have any big shows coming up? Any big projects coming up? Anything that you want to make sure the people know about?

Rob:  Just the album that's coming out next year.

Lauren:  I think the only thing I want to pitch is that people just keep listening.

Rob:  Oh, you mean more of a message pitch.

Lauren:  Yeah, just keep listening, check it out, and if you're into it, spread the word. There's no real events I want to pitch.

Rob:  I thought you were going to say that people keep listening to each other so they find common ground.

Lauren:  I should have said something like that. I just said keep listening to us. What a horrible thing to say. Oh my god. Vanity, right?  Fran, it has been so awesome talking to you.

Fran:  It has been wonderful talking to you,  It's been a pleasure. Thanks so much for taking the time.

Lauren:  It was a pleasure. This was great.

Rob:  It was fantastic.

Lauren:  It was really fun.

Fran: I can't wait to see the show tonight!

See you when the needle drops!


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