It's only a few blocks to the beach, but no one wants to go. It's just after noon and the guys in Kinch emerge from the cramped aisles of an indie record shop thirsty for more beer. They started drinking an hour ago, washing down a cheese pie at the famed Pizza Port brewpub. The beer brunch is rare occurrence for this bookish indie pop quintet — three Brophy boys who've been playing together since high school and two younger Yuma transplants grafted on over the past two years. But they're in Carlsbad, in North County San Diego, home to some of the best breweries in the world, and they want to soak it up.
Besides, they've seen that beach before. Singer Andrew Junker, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids star Rick Moranis, and his cousin, guitarist Brian Coughlin, who has Kermit the Frog's touch for self-deprecating humor, have been coming here since they were kids. They have fond memories of the record store Coughlin just walked out of holding a rare piece of Gaslight Anthem vinyl as a gift for a local promoter, Junker having tentatively pawed a disc from Polish pop star Basia, more or less her country's Celine Dion, an unironic favorite. The seven siblings in drummer Jake Malone's family, on the other hand, went up to Oceanside, the next town north. The two new guys — bassist Wayne Jones and keyboardist Phillip Hanna — don't have those ties to Carlsbad, but they tramped down to the beach from their Motel 6 room earlier in the morning.
So it's on to the patio at Stone Brewing in Escondido, where they'll honor the band's version of the Epicurean creed with duck tacos and bold IPAs.
Martin Cizmar Sonic Truth
Kinch is scheduled to perform on Saturday, January 29, at the Rogue Bar in Scottsdale.
"I love to find a cool restaurant or a cool place to get a drink every day. You have to do it, at least for us," Junker says. "No band eats as much as our band — at least not that we've been on tour with . . . There are some bands that are so good at not spending any money on tour — I'm sure you've been on a trip with someone who is so good at not spending any money — and thankfully we're not very good at not spending any money. We don't have a lot of money, and it's not like we're blowing tons of money on tour, but for me it's important to try to have a good time."
For Junker, that means a good beer to sip while poring over the San Diego Reader. For Brian, it's a little ice cream shop — microcreameries, he calls them.
"Being on tour is not like traveling — in any way. It's being in a van for six or eight hours and then being in a club for five hours, then going to a hotel and getting up and finding a place to eat," Coughlin says. "You have to share beds . . . You're not making any money."
"That's why when you get to a town, you try to find a place that isn't an Applebee's, so at least you have that," Junker says. "I'm going to have a decent beer or meal or ice cream, even if that's the only thing that goes right the whole day."
"It may have cost me $900 to get out there and play in front of three people, but at least the ice cream was good," Coughlin says.
They're being modest about the turnout. At least at Silverlake Lounge, where they played last night for a healthy and interested crowd, despite being slotted after a shitty prog-rock band in matching camouflage. The Silverlake is one of three notably cool clubs in the hip L.A. hood from which it takes a name, right across the street from the liquor store where Silversun Pickups got their handle.
Tonight, it's on to Soda Bar in San Diego, a timeless club with soft leather booths, a vintage Battletoads arcade game that people are actually feeding quarters, and a sign above the bar advertising the house special and reading precisely as this: "Shot (well) and beer (domestic) 6$." These California shows are part of an assiduous month-long project that finds Kinch doing weekly residencies at those clubs as well as Scottsdale's Rogue Bar.
The whole concept of a "residency" is a novelty in Phoenix, but buzzing L.A. bands have been doing it for a while. Out there, it's like a victory lap — maybe you get signed and schedule a month of shows to learn a new record and hang out with your friends — which is why their stint initially raised the ire of The 704, an Angelino music blog with fashionably low production values and writing heavily influenced by Hipster Runoff. After seeing their show, the blogger ended up praising them in spite of himself — in the coolest, most detached way he could manage.
"I wasn't too enthused at the prospect of Kinch, since their name (a Joyce reference), as mentioned, sounds gross. Plus, they're from Arizona. An out-of-town band getting a residency kind of offended me . . . Has L.A. really run out of bands?" he wrote. "But people started telling me that Kinch was kind of great. So I gave them a shot. And it turns out that Kinch is kind of great. You know — kind of. They're not going to change your outlook on life, or rewire your brain. They haven't invented anything. But, really, they do what they do with such style and vigor, it's truly worth the exertion it takes to shake your ass. The songs I heard them play were pop at heart, but with a constant rollicking edge that kept things more gritty than sweet. Like, for real: that shit rollicked."
Getting in front of verbose tastemakers and important industry types is one big goal of this residency thing. Touring with grunge survivors Local H and Phoenix's Dear and the Headlights, Kinch has seen much of the country. But they haven't yet tapped into the most important market within an easy drive or found a benefactor with the connections to get them signed.
"For some reason, we've barely been over to California," says Coughlin. "We've played Kansas City more than San Diego in the last two years."
Walking down the idyllic streets of Carlsbad, the conversation turns to movies. First, it's cartoon/environmentalist propaganda pic FernGully. Then, someone brings up Waiting for Guffman and Junker makes a cynical but telling quip: "Hey, that's kind of like the residencies!"
Introspective dudes in bands like to think that, at their most pathetic, they're best satirized by This Is Spinal Tap. Not so. Spinal Tap follows the career of a has-been metal band mockable for undiminished indulgence as their career crumbles. In the grand scheme of things, however, the band is still wildly successful compared to 99 percent of their peers. There aren't many 40-year-old dudes in bands who wouldn't take that gig opening for a puppet show in half a heartbeat.
In truth, many local bands are better spoofed by another Christopher Guest movie, Waiting For Guffman. Guffman is about an ill-fated musical developed by a community theater group to commemorate their painfully ordinary Missouri town's 150th anniversary. The delusional director convinces his naively ambitious cast — played by the usual Guestians, including Parker Posey as well as the mom from Home Alone and the dad from American Pie — that a big-time Broadway producer is flying in to scout out the production, which he might want to take to New York.
Spinal Tap is about has-beens largely responsible for their own fate; Guffman is about never-will-bes blissfully ignorant about their hopeless windmill tilting. Get it?
Realism is hard won in the lower levels of today's music biz. The Kinch guys get the joke now, though they'd probably laugh a little harder inside a lawyer's office with pens in their hands. Still, they're miles from where they were when Coughlin, fresh out of high school, told his mom, "If things go according to plan I'll be dropping out of college after a semester, when the band gets signed."
Obviously, that hasn't happened — so few bands get signed anymore, really. But Kinch was just anointed with their second South by Southwest showcasing slot and recently got a big bump from Jimmy Eat World, who picked them as direct support at the Fiesta Bowl Block Party. At that show, Kinch bumped The Maine — the Tempe kiddy-pop band whose album peaked at number 16 on the Billboard chart last year — down to third on the bill. Not a bad way to end the year.
For now, the guys are traveling to tour dates acquired by their recently hired booking agent in an old white GMC van with a heater that won't shut completely off. They're at an intermediate level — smart enough to bring their own foam covers to L.A. because the house mics shocked them the week before, but not big enough to have a sound tech handle such things for them.
Also with them: A burned copy of their all-but-mastered new album, to be called The Incandenza after the family at the center of David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest. Coughlin has scrawled the band's name and his phone number on the CD.
Kinch's goal is to find a quality label interested in releasing the album. Their first record, 2008's Advances, was given away for free as a download, in the spirit of Junker's favorite band, Radiohead. Advances got a lot of acclaim from critics, myself included, but it's not nearly as good as The Incandenza, an indie epic with Eno-esque production that sounds almost arena-ready. Hopefully, the guys say, someone with the power to release it — let's call him Guffman — will see them in L.A. or SxSW. If not, they'll do it themselves.
It's hard to appreciate just how much time a touring band has to strangle in newsprint, suffocate with beer, or bludgeon with idle conversation until you're on the road. Rolling around the country eating at famous dives and drinking delicious beer seems like a dream come true, but, when you're with a band, it feels a lot more like the silver lining to an otherwise undesirable situation. And this little jaunt is an easy one — just six hours each way to California and three hours between L.A. and S.D.
The Kinch guys have had many worse days.
"This fall, we had a very rough tour, out on our own in cities we probably shouldn't have been playing on our own — the kind of cities where we've only been once before, too long ago — and had some bad luck with locals, people dropping off the bill . . . If anything, club owners were incredibly sympathetic. We had club owners saying, 'This is the worst fall I've ever had, in 20 years of owning this bar,' Junker says. "We were all pissed and depressed, and there was so much soul-searching in the van."
The result of that soul-searching? Appreciation for what they have.
"It's really easy if you're not having good shows to get in a state of mind like, 'What are we doing? It's pointless.' Brian and I are both married, but we're out on the road, not making any money. My wife and I had to move back in with my mom to save money," Junker says. "But I think I'm lucky in that I don't have any great ambition or drive beyond this. If I wasn't doing this, I'd probably be a schoolteacher or something. Which is a great and worthy profession but not really what I want to do. So I think the point is, we're really, really good at bringing it back to realizing how we're really, really lucky to be able to do this, no matter what happens."
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It's not like the indie band business is the only one with such long odds and hours, the guys say. Just look at the people who make and sell the tacos, ice cream, and beer in the little restaurants they seek out in the towns they visit. There's a connection between those people and Kinch — and it goes beyond the stomach.
"You've got to be really realistic about it, but it's a different realism than a lot of people would bring to it — a lot of people would think this is kind of a hobby and it's kind of silly for a 26-year-old married man to be doing this, freelancing some work and not really having a steady job. But I always look at it kind of like we're opening a restaurant," Junker says. "Usually they aren't profitable for many years, and how, like, three-quarters close within two years. People who open restaurants are kind of crazy too, because they know the odds . . . But there's something about being in a restaurant, and something about being in a band, it takes kind of a crazy person to want to do, but if you're successful, it's so great."
And so it's off to Stone for beers and gourmet tacos, then down to the Soda Bar to load in and wait with the bartender in an otherwise empty club. It's three hours before other people start showing up.
I sneak away for a walk on the beach.