It cannot be overstated how difficult it is to do what Kingsley Flood makes look so effortless: create the kind of music that is both instantly likeable and rewarding of deep scrutiny. The Boston- and DC-based band, scheduled to perform at the Sinclair in Cambridge on Jan. 30, mines the pop/rock vernacular with a combination of fastidiousness and abandon. In the process, they transform some of the weariest buzzwords in music journalism—folk-rock, Americana and comparisons to Wilco—into something engaging and complex.
It helps that lead singer Naseem Khuri has the voice that he does: sandpapery and familiar with, yes, more than a passing resemblance to Jeff Tweedy. The great strength of Kingsely Flood’s 2013 sophomore album “Battles” was its ability to follow Khuri’s vast, lucid storytelling through hushed ruminations and cataclysmic outbursts and yet maintain its internal integrity. In Kingsley Flood’s hands, a song like “Down,” with its insistent downbeat and rubbery bass line, can transition abruptly to the bare, wistful “Sigh A While” and convey not a sense of dislocation but one of tension released. It is a rare group that is able to experiment freely with sonic texture—Kingsley Flood includes a violinist and a trumpet player—and still manage to sound of a piece.
The band’s new EP, “To the Fire,” has a narrower palate, and the concise five-song offering functions as a boisterous, coordinated attack. Its opening number, “Set Me Off,” is forceful and radiant, with a chorus of sing-songy “Oohs.” The refrain contains a particularly masterful rock ‘n’ roll lyric: “I wanna be your gun/ I wanna set my sight/ So you can set me off.” It is a delicious, unsettling conflation of sexy and violent.
On Sept. 5, Kingsley Flood launched a year-long PledgeMusic Campaign designed to track and fund their progress as they write and record two EPs and a full-length album. “To the Fire” is the first product of that endeavor. “Like almost every other band, we struggle with how to keep doing this in a dying industry where music is valued less,” they explain on the PledgeMusic site. “Instead of seeing how we make one particular project, you can see how we create and release material over the course of one year. Think of it like supporting a public radio station.”
Below Khuri and the band’s new violinist Eva Walsh discuss “To the Fire,” the PledgeMusic campaign and the continuing evolution of Kingsley Flood.
Do you feel that “To the Fire” has any thematic commonality among the songs?
Naseem: Yeah. ... I just had this realization that I am not going to change the world the way I thought I was when I was 22. And it’s basically an evolution of that. So I spent my 20s basically trying to go down this path of effecting real change. I live in Washington and I wanted to work in policy. And I was an activist, and I was on the streets, and I was marching for peace in Israel and Palestine. And I was doing all that type of work, and sort of realizing that change is really hard to come by, and [wondering], what’s that process? What does that process look like? When change is hard to come by, and how do you live with that. And it can be very cynical. You can say, “Oh, we’re all f---ed,’ right?” Or, you can choose to say, “We’re all f---ed, and I can finally figure out what role I can play. I can figure out what my reach actually is.” So this whole bunch of songs are that, in one form or another.
I feel like the first song on this EP, “Set Me Off’ really sets the tone for it. Can you tell me a bit about how you wrote that song?
Naseem: Yeah. I was in a Hard Rock Café. I think I was in the Boston one. And I saw Kurt Cobain’s smashed guitar in this beautiful framed case. And I saw a dude who came off work being like, “Oh man I really want to buy that and put it up in my living room.” And I just thought the whole thing was just disgusting. Just how quickly you could take something that had so much life to it and meaning to it, and it could suddenly turn into a frame on your living room wall. And so that tune is—you know, I think a lot of these tunes are about that fear of nothing changing, but also the fear of the life you settle into when nothing changes. And so that song is my fear of complacency. And my fear of Ikea furniture. My fear of just plastic everything, and a lack of authenticity, and a lack of meaning. When things lose their meaning over time.
How do you feel this EP, and really the material that you’re working up right now, is different from the stuff on “Battles?” And is that change, or evolution, intentional?
Eva: Well, it’s interesting for me to answer that because I’m new to this band. And [they had] already started a transformation in the sound before I got there. I really enjoyed “Battles,” but to me this EP actually sounds quite different. There are obviously the same elements that are still there, but I feel like you’re getting closer to the sound you dream about. And I say “you” as far as songwriting, [Naseem]. But as a band I think this is getting closer to a true identity for the group. ... Differing from “Battles,” I’d say there is more of a harder edge moving forward. And that may have to do with the determination of the group.
The PledgeMusic campaign was sort of posed with this narrative of declining music sales and consumption on the Internet, and this feeling of, “How are we supposed to make money doing this?” Why was it framed that way?
Naseem: I do think the Pledge model is sort of the future, and it’s going to have a different name and might have a different type of—it won’t necessarily be called “charity,” as I think people think of it now. “Oh yeah, Kickstarter, yeah, I’ll help my friend.” But it’s going to be the way that we cut out the middle. And fans support the art that they want to see, simple as that. And I don’t know how that plays out in the rest of the world, where every single day there’s an article by David Byrne or there’s an article by David Lowery or something like that, just bitching about Spotify. And someone else saying, “There’s so much crap,” and longing for the old days of 360 deals and [misery]. So I don’t know. I don’t know that there was—I’m not sure we were totally deliberate about knowing what the exact path is. I just know that it’s a cool model. And I would like it to move towards this thing where, yeah, maybe there’s no middle. And maybe you can actually have a career just with fan support.