Keith Rankin is currently releasing music under the name “Giant Klaw”
And its pretty 🙂
Yakuza Heart Attack is Keith Rankin: guitar/keys, Matt Emmons -on keys/Synth, Chris Mengerink on Drums and Justin Baker on bass. They play otherworldly EPIC instrumental pop on synthesizers. They are embarking on a tour that includes Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee. Read more and hear their music at myspace.com/yakuzaheartattack
Squids Eye Records
Do you mind if my adjectives JUMP out at you in attempt to quantify this music? Punchy! zippy! elaborate, presenting, fanfare- tadaaa! its Yakuza Heart Attack- Exploding Fireworks of LOVE!
Dayton’s Multi-instrumentalist Kieth Rankin presents this triumphant 2nd album from Yakuza Heart Attack. (Also behind such bizarre sonic experiments as the Crane Engine and Erasers Fantasy, under his moniker “Keith Kawaii”)
One obvious highlight is the epic “Tears of the Judge,” which contains portions that are plodding and intense like metal, but there are excursions into sillyness, quick synth blips appear out of nowhere to herald a new section, as if a space ship has blasted away an opponent, only to encounter another more terrifying one.
The blissed out “Goodbye Rainbow Road” has wacky synths in conversation that remind me of Jean Jaques-Perry. “Power Surge” is pure candy joy for fans of YMCK, and sometimes sounds like the music in old Capcom games like Megaman, and other times resembles the music in Super Mario RPG. Keith uses bright and sugary tones frequently, especially on ”Hyper Fun Zone.” The bass and drums are also excellent and multiple tempo changes and unexpected diversions keep things spontaneous. The multiple layers of sound remind me of the joyous circus extravagance of Belaire, or what it would sound like if Ratatat were to expand and commit itself.
This music is great for sledding or snowboarding, or any other busy activity full of excitement!
Isaac – Did you record this yourself? as a band? or are you playing everything yourself? do you have label support?
Keith- I recorded/produced the album myself… half using an old Fostex recorder, half in Logic on a mac (and a little bit on Acid Pro on PC) I’m obviously a fan of ‘in the red’ style recordings, where the sound is very loud and bursting. The record is unmastered, mainly because the sound files are peaking so bad that not much can be done with the dynamics. I thought mixing a more “modern, heavily distorted” aesthetic with synthesizer music would be cool. I’ve been making recordings like that for years, and now it seems like a pretty trendy thing to do (even the Flaming Lips last album was pretty blown out)! Our label head (at Squids Eye Records) actually became gravely ill right as the YHA II album came back from press. He thought he might die. So we were left a bit stranded, with tons of CDs but no immediate plans for distribution. Most of the attention we got in 2009 came from blog posts, from me emailing places with a free download of the album and putting it up on our myspace for free.
So you released the cd for free on the net first. Then you plan to release it in stores?
That’s the plan for now… Our first album is on Amazon, Itunes, all that. The second one will hopefully be out soon. People can contact me through our myspace right now if they want to buy a CD or get a download. I think the question of how music is sold and obtained is the most important and complicated issue for musicians and the broader industry right now. I would obviously love to make a living off of music, be able to live from selling albums and touring, but you know, how many musicians in America actually do that? I read some statistic where only like 25 artists sold more than 100 thousand albums last year or something. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but the point is that our cultural view of music has changed forever, and everyone has to adapt. Kids aren’t going to magically stop downloading torrents. And it’s not up to me to decide how someone else wants to consume things. If they want the physical album, its there, if they want mp3s that’s there too. Giving the album away has helped us out, just by getting some tiny internet recognition.
I guess the big question is if people will get so accustomed to downloading that physical products fall by the wayside. Or what happens if people stop buying music altogether? Speaking for myself, if the world is a post apocalyptic wasteland, it won’t stop me from making music. Maybe we should start weeding out the money hungry opportunists masquerading as “artists” right now?
Isaac- What do you say when you are trying to convince a club or bar that you are worth their time? How do you try to make yourselves stand out? Your music is unique, but when you have to describe yourself, what words do you use?
Keith- I think it’s fairly easy to “sell” ourselves to certain areas, because a lot of elements in our music cater to niche genres that people are passionate about. All you have to say is “This shit sounds like a 70s Cop Movie Soundtrack mixed with King Crimson” and the right people will have a strong reaction. “70s synthesizer music like Wendy Carlos, early electronic stuff like Raymond Scott and Edgard Varese…” there’s just a lot of reference points that are starting to bubble up in popular indie music at the moment. So when you say, “We are heavily inspired by Clara Rockmore,” if someone is down with that, they’ll get excited, because it’s been only a minute since that style was “cool.” Analog synths alone are a big drawing point. There’s also the whole chiptune angle. I’m fine with it all. I also love that 70s music like Cluster and Neu! are becoming so canonized now. Kraftwerk is already the bible to a lot of people.
Isaac- This sounds like compositions from an orchestra, rather than jams from an indie band. Did you record all the parts and then teach it to a band? Or were these written as collaborative efforts with a rhythm section?
Keith- Most of the foundations for the songs originated on piano with me or the other key player Matt, but when we bring in bass and drums, everything changes. It’s funny, our bass player, Justin, is always getting down on himself like a depressed motherfucker because he thinks he doesn’t contribute anything original to the band, but his bass lines add an extra line of counterpoint that really brings the compositions to life. We try thinking about music horizontally rather than vertically, but it can be a challenge because so much of modern music, particularly rock, is built around jamming block chords, not stretching separate melodies overtop one another. When people hear horizontal music in a rock setting, though, it can be somewhat startling and exciting. Even if its just intense arpeggiations and nothing else, the lack of symmetrical block chords lining up musical bars can sound fresh, even though simple counterpoint is, you know, OLD.
Isaac- Is there a “nerd music” scene in your town? I have heard of the Protomen, and the Minibosses, There’s a band in Seattle called “Press Start to Rock.” Who do you play with, who is your scene? there is a fun band called YMCK that plays gameboys.
Keith- I love YMCK. We recently played with Anamanaguchi and Starscream who seem like big parts of the chiptune scene. Their energy is awesome. Our best friends in our hometown of Dayton, Ohio is this band Astro Fang who share a certain progginess with us. I think in general “nerd culture” is becoming less and less taboo. Who doesn’t love Mario Bros? Both the game AND the music! That theme might as well be ‘happy birthday’. It’s here to stay.
Do you have an interest in the Yakuza? Do you find them fascinating or is it just a Japanese sounding word to you?? The Yakuza are responsible for human trafficking and sexual slavery. I have a hunch that “Al-Qaeda heart attack” or “Nazi heart attack” would send a different message.
Living in the states, the Yakuza almost seem quaint. I know they have cut peoples heads off, but from what I understand they are still heavily involved with local economies and communities — they’re not just terrorists. That might all be a bullshit westernized view of the Yakuza, but I guess it’s why we went with them instead of the Third Reich. Also, apparently when the Japanese police don’t want to deal with a Yakuza related death, they just report that the victim died of a heart attack. Now I guess the name sounds like some hipster nonsense, though. We’re stuck with it!
What keyboards are you playing?
Live we rely on two Casio MT-100 keyboards, which somehow cut through everything when the music is blaring. Also there’s the Jen SX-1000 which is a really streamlined, basic synth that’s easy to drag around. The real “star” of YHA II, though, is the Roland SH-02, which we got JUST before we started overdubbing key parts. It gives all those “whoooosh” and bubble sounds, and a lot of the sound-flavors that are floating around in the background. There’s something massively appealing about being able to turn knobs to affect a sound in real time, a feeling that’s completely lost in most digital keyboards I’ve played around on.
I love sound-world albums, where noises and notes are used out of the context of a melody to elicit different reactions — different from what you feel when you hear a heavily contrapuntal piece of music. Even though our album is filled with saccharine, dark, or triumphant melodies, that method of composition can be very straightforward in its relationship to certain emotions. We’re so culturally bound to, say, minor chord changes being sad, that it’s a bit of a trap when you go ahead and use one. It’s like, “Oh, heres the sad one. Now there’s a happy one.” I think the spread of noise and pure sound as a legitimate form of composition is making ambiguity easier, and hopefully there’s a bit of that on our records. It would be wonderful to get to a point where people were registering the pure sounds more prominently than the compositional techniques behind the music, but that’s a long ways away
Isaac- Naming instrumentals is always a prickly pear, names like “Untitled #4″ and “Composition in D# for four Cellos” are unsatisfying and banal. Many of my favorite bands are instrumental, and they often have unsatisfying song titles. The Bad Plus, Medeski Martin and Wood, Do Make Say Think, Tortoise, and Man… or Astroman?, are all fantastic at composing, but their titles bore me.
I really mean no offense, but why did you name these songs these things? The terms “monster,” and “beast” are vague. “Tears of the Judge” and “Heart Pounding Prison” are more fun titles because they force us to make an image in our mind that is unusual or contradictory. Raymond Scott had very colorful titles, “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals” packs a lot more narrative punch than “Hello Dance,” or “Power Surge” It seems to me that these songs are so vibrant and exciting that naming them at all brings them down a little- ties them to reality in a way that dissatisfies me. again, I hope not to offend.
THIS INTERVIEW IS OVER!! Kidding. Titling is often difficult. On the records I make by myself, I sometimes leave the song titles blank, because part of me does like the old classical system of naming things — the idea that an album is all of a piece, or that someones entire musical career is of a piece: Piano Sonata #4 Op. 58… whatever. It’s tied to a more statistical way of thinking.
YHA II obviously has song titles though. I’ll give you the pretentious explanation for it all: I like to think of the record like you’re entering an alien world or going through epic levels in a video game. Each title is like a new level or segment of a larger ‘journey’, so in that light you could take Beast Attack literally if you wanted. You know, it just depends on how much nerd-energy you want to invest.