Los Angeles' Kan Wakan Pieces It All Together

Like a good watch, beautiful machines require intricate movements and many parts to work right. Kan Wakan, the grandiose and dark pop act that's fronted by vocalist Kristianne Bautista with composer Gueorgui Linev and guitarist Peter Potyondy at its production core, is such a finely tuned act. With a sound that relies on massive string arrangements and spaced-out reverb, Kan Wakan is more an exercise in immersion than simple listening, a band better listened to in stereo than mono, according to Potyondy.

They're also making the festival rounds, albeit with a bigger stage production than most bands, as their cinematic sound requires more hands on deck than your average indie act. After making waves in their native Los Angeles, Kan Wakan is releasing their debut LP Moving On on June 3. We spoke to Potyondy ahead of their set tonight at Bar Smith as part of the Viva Phoenix festival.

I really have to appreciate you guys as tastemakers within the Los Angeles scene -- your residency at the Echoplex was a big part of that, really amazing musicians like Avi Buffalo and Moses Sumney. How important is it for you guys to be surrounded by equally ambitious musicians?

More than important, it's just more rewarding and more fun that way. We're friends with a lot of these guys and we hang out at all the same events. They're just people we really like and I guess it would just make sense that musicians that are into similar things are going to end up hanging out together.

Yes, but being a band from Echo Park, where there's more of a saturation of talent rather than a competitive nature, it can be a little harder to rise to the top. Some bands have a like-minded outlook, like Nite Jewel and Julia Holter, and they band together. Are there any artist in your social circle that are in a similar mindset as Kan Wakan?

Well, the guys that you named would definitely be in the top two, we're big fans of those guys. We had so many great people out at the Echoplex, [like] my friend Tien -- we went to college together, he's phenomenal, he's one of my best friends for sure. We're producing an EP for him right now, and he's one of Gueorgui's roommates right now so he's definitely in the circle.

Lo-Fang's awesome, he has a tour with Lorde coming up right now, James Supercave is at South By with us. Everybody's friends out here, but it's totally competitive too, of course. It's just as competitive if not the most competitive out of all the places, but we're all friends too.

Kan Wakan isn't really driven by any one instrument, so the interplay is most interesting to me. Working with the timbre of Kristianne's voice and Gueorgui's composition dynamic, how do you write guitar parts that are complementary?

We're piecing together a huge puzzle. There's only so much sonic space that fit between two headphones. It oftentimes is a battle between many parts that we like and figuring out which ones we can keep and which ones we can throw away. We'll just be stacking part after part, an endless inspiration of layers that we can throw in, and eventually we get to a point where it's too much and we start cutting back.

It's tough for the guitar parts because there is such a broad spectrum of frequencies covered by the other instruments. I'll often be playing very high up on the neck because we've got a lot of low mids filled in by the strings and mellotrons and what not. You definitely don't hear a lot of big chords like you would in a three or four-piece where the guitar needs to fill out the harmonic range. Pretty much everything on the record is going through lots of delay and reverb. One of the ways to cut through is just to play dry [laughs].

Because there really are so many elements that make the band's sound, what kind of obstacles do you face when touring? How will your set, in terms of production, change for South By Southwest as opposed to something like the residency at the Echoplex?

The main obstacle is figuring out how to collapse things to a mono mix that can be understandable to an entire room instead of being a stereo sound that kind of envelops you. A lot of things are fighting for frequency range so just figuring out clarity on the fly, especially at South By when you have ten minutes to set up with no line check.

We just did that at noise pop and it was definitely a challenge, we did it at CMJ and it was really hard. This is just the sort of thing that's going to be hard for us for a while and hopefully we get a stellar sound guy on board. Especially on these small stages, all of us fitting is definitely a challenge. We can definitely put on a better show at [something like our] residency at the Echoplex to dial in our sound, but when we're winging it at festivals it's a challenge but also really fun.

Kan Wakan is scheduled to play Friday, March 7 as part of the Viva Phoenix Festival. Tickets are $20.

Top 40 Songs with Arizona in the Title 9 Tips for Using A Fake ID To Get Into A Show Why Indie Band Oregon Trail Is The Hardest Game Ever The 30 Most Disturbing Songs of All Time

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
K.C. Libman
Contact: K.C. Libman