Thirteen years after their debut, neo prog band Kino is releasing their sophomore effort “Radio Voltaire” on March 23rd.
Formed by Pete Trewavas (bass guitar, Marillion, Transatlantic), John Mitchell (guitar and vocals, It Bites, Frost*, Lonely Robot), and Craig Blundell (drums), the band counted also with a guest musician, John Beck (keyboards, It Bites) adding textures and melodies to their sound.
After the first few listens to “Radio Voltaire”, the first thing that caught my attention was how the band was able to establish their identity, even with thirteen years between two releases. The new album carries a perfect blend of influences from their core members´ main bands, while covering new ground. It´s also worth noticing the nods to other British pop/rock bands such as The Who, The Beatles and The Police, on a number of tracks.
The album kicks off with its title track, announced by a robotic voice and a keyboard melody which reminds the listener of some of Marillion´s early work – “Jigsaw” and “Punch and Judy” come to mind. A great opener and an uplifting song, setting the tone for the upcoming numbers.
“Welcome to the Dead Club” has a riff with an intricate time signature and dissonant keyboards, with heavy guitars in the background. The band chose this song as the first one to be shown to the public, and it can be listened to on Inside Out´s Youtube Channel:
“Idlewild” changes the pace slightly, and is a slow ballad which talks about airport goodbyes – the song title used to be the name of JFK Airport until 1963. Mitchell mentions loss and sadness with a beautiful and raspy voice, and also provides an emotional guitar solo.
“I Don´t Know Why” sounds as if The Beatles wrote a prog song, with its romantically silly chorus and an upbeat feel, even though the lyrics talk about a lost love. Once again, a great solo by Mitchell, and tasty drum fills by Craig Blundell.
“I Won’t Break So Easily Any More” kicks in with bits and pieces that reminded me of The Who´s “Who Are You” and Marillion´s “Incommunicado”, with several tempo changes, a keyboard-driven chorus melody and inspired solos by Mitchell and John Beck.
“Temple Tudor” is another welcome change of pace, a short acoustic number. It is followed by “Out Of Time”, where Pete provides a bass solo that perfectly matches his personality: not a bombastic and flamboyant affair with a million notes per second, but a cool, enticing and jazzy sound complimented by Mitchell´s open chords and rim clicks from Blundell.
“Grey Shapes on Concrete Fields” is arguably the catchiest song in this release, and it is telling that they chose this song to be the first lyric video from the album – it can be seen here:
The album ends with a sad song, “The Silent Fighter Pilot”, which carries a lot of meaning for Mitchell on a personal level – more details on this later in the article. Overall, this is an engaging release, which goes by smoothly and quickly, never overwelcoming its stay. There are no official plans of a Kino tour as of now, but it will be a shame if those songs are not performed in front of an audience – most of them would gain new life in a live setting. And let´s hope they don´t take too long between releases again!
In promotion of the new record, guitarrist John Mitchell was quite gracious and gave us half an hour of his time to talk about this release, even though he was suffering from a cold. Our chat is transcribed below:
Lotsofmuzik – “Radio Voltaire” is Kino´s new album. Is it true that you wanted to use those songs for the third Lonely Robot album?
John Mitchell – No, that was never the intention. I finished the second Lonely Robot album and wanted to keep working, because I´ve spent so long in my life producing other bands and sitting in the studio with other artists, and in recent years I just enjoyed doing my own music. So, after two Lonely Robot albums, instead of spending three more months working on the studio with other bands, I decided to carry on writing. The label suggested another Kino record, and I said “why not!?”, and here we are! I´m going to be working on a third Lonely Robot album next and I´m looking forward to that, but I was on a roll in the writing process, and Pete Trewavas and I decided it was time for another Kino record. I always say never say never!
Lotsofmuzik – Kino´s first album was reissued last year, and now we have Radio Voltaire. It seems the perfect timing for a tour, and yet there are no plans to hit the road…would you consider touring if the opportunity presented itself though?
JM – The thing about touring is that it´s the easiest thing in the world for people to say “yeah, come on tour”, but the logistics of it is quite complicated. Pete is very busy with Marillion, and Craig Blundell is on tour with Steven Wilson at the moment. It´s not that we don´t want to tour, but the logistics of getting everyone together is quite complicated. That´s the downside of playing with very good musicians – they´re always busy! (laughs).
The other thing is that the album has to sell well enough to make a tour financially viable. We´re expecting it to sell well, but I don´t know if it will be enough to guarantee a tour through all places where people say “come to our country”. But the reality is that there´s gotta be an audience for the tour to be financially feasible.
Lotsofmuzik – You have two albums that were written and released 13 years apart, and yet you seemed to have established an identity to Kino´s sound. What do you think contributed to that?
JM – The things I write are quite different from Pete´s – I write more introspective stuff, while he brings the more joyous side of our songs. That combination, along with John Beck´s dramatic keyboard style, is the sound of Kino. It´s nice that people can identify our sound and say that there´s a musical theme running through both albums. It means we have a voice, and as a musician, that´s all you can ever really want. It´s like Brian May´s guitar playing – you can always tell it´s him playing those notes. So if Kino sounds like Kino, I´m happy!
Lotsofmuzik – The album cover was made by Paul Tippet – and it´s very cool by the way. How was the process of drafting that cover, did Paul get any input from the band, and is it related to a particular song off the album?
JM – Paul got input from me, and it´s worth pointing out that he´s done every album cover of all the bands I´ve been involved with. The first time he ever did a cover for a band was the first Kino record – he approached me and wanted to get involved in doing album covers. Since then he´s become one of the most in-demand graphic designers in the world of music. He´s done a book for the Rolling Stones, cover albums for Black Star Riders and Europe…I like to take credit for the fact that I gave him his first break (laughs). Regarding “Radio Voltaire”, I said to him that I wanted the cover to look like a cross between “Moulin Rouge” and “Live and Let Die” – whatever came to his mind when he heard that. I didn´t interfere too much, but thought it looked pretty cool. It would look really good on a scarf too!
Lotsofmuzik – You love your scarves, don´t you? You´re wearing one of them in almost every photo or video I´ve seen! (laughs)
JM – I do like a scarf yeah. And when I looked at the cover he presented I thought that was perfect!
Lotsofmuzik – Judging by the name RADIO VOLTAIRE, is there a connection with the band Cabaret Voltaire, who coincidently, have a song named Kino? What is that connection, since they don´t sound like ANYTHING a prog fan would go to in the first place?
JM – I didn´t know they had a song named that, and it´s interesting that you made that connection! I honestly didn´t know anything about Cabaret Voltaire. I just liked the word Voltaire, and after doing some research, I noticed what an interesting person Voltaire was – very controversial for his time, against slavery and anti-establishment in many ways. I thought about how interesting it would be if there was a radio station that spoke nothing but the truth – he was a man in search for truth. That´s what the title comes from and the lyrics to the title track come from. I´m fascinated with words, and “Radio Voltaire” sounded like quite a curious combination of two words.
Lotsofmuzik – The first song to be shown to the fans was “Welcome to the Dead Club”, one of the shortest ones, which features the work of John Beck and Craig Blundell quite prominently. Did they actively contribute to the compositions on the album, and to that song in particular?
JM – The way that song came about was quite unusual. Whenever I write an album we have to book John a few months in advance, because he has a very limited window. For that particular song, all I had was that main riff, which is in 7/8. I said to Craig “play 7/8 for five minutes and play 5/4 for another five minutes”, and I kinda wrote the song to match that beat. John added the atonal keyboards, and I wrote the lyrics and basic chords. The contribution of those guys was rather significant to arrange most of the songs, and cannot be understated! “Welcome to the Dead Club” was the one we chose to show the world first, and it´s quite an unusual number – I´m all for unusual!
Lotsofmuzik – The song “Idlewild” has a very cool part that talks about “shooting vapor trails at the sun”. Could you tell us what the lyrics are about?
JM – Funny enough, somebody was asking me about this the other day in an interview, and they thought it was about the Scottish rock band Idlewild, but no, it has nothing to do with it. What a lot of people don´t realize is that the airport that is now known as the John F. Kennedy Airport used to be called Idlewild. That song is about people saying goodbye to each other at airports, and how much importance is put on the emotion of the moment. “Shooting vapor trails at the sun” is then a reference to jet flights. It made me think about a time a couple of years ago when I was flying to Australia with a friend, we were saying goodbye to our partners at the time, and my friend´s wife was so deeply distraught, even though we were only going way for three weeks! It´s a strange fascination I have with the fact that when people say goodbye to each other at airports they tend to get a lot more emotional than when someone just walks out the door of the house. That´s what this song is about.
Lotsofmuzik – The song “Out of Time” has a bit of a surprise for long time Marillion fans – a jazzy solo from Pete Trewavas. How did hat come to be, since he´s always been primarily about keeping time so well, and adding the well placed note here and there to fill up spaces?
JM – We were writing that middle section of that song, and after we finished that “fanfare” middle section I didn´t know what we were going to do after that bit, and jokingly suggested to Pete “why don´t you do a bass solo, it would be quite Spinal Tap to add a bass solo there!” (laughs). He started laughing, and decided to go for it. I don´t know if Pete had ever done a bass solo on record before – to be honest, I can´t remember the last time I heard a bass solo. It´s got a jazzy thing to it too, doesn´t it, that bass solo? It´s quite tongue-in-cheek the way we did it – it´s cool, it´s unusual, so there you go, it´s a first! Pete´s a very melodic musician, so it fits perfectly.
Lotsofmuzik – “Grey Shapes on Concrete Fields” is my favourite song off the album, and it has a The Police vibe – I could easily see Sting singing that song. Can you tell us what that song is about?
JM – I grew up with The Police, and Pete grew up with the Beatles, so we both write songs you´re always going to recognize a bit of both. For that song, I remember walking in London and pretty much as far as I could see there was concrete. I started thinking that at some point in the future, literally everywhere you look, all you´ll see is concrete. I remember being quite depressed about it, but in a strange way it came out beautifully. I wanted this song to be cold sounding, and the vocal effects in the verses are the same ones used by Imogen Heap in one of her albums, and I was fascinated by how it sounds robotic. I write songs to a title, and “grey shapes on concrete fields” was a name that came to my mind which I thought was quite curious and the song kinda wrote itself.
Lotsofmuzik – You were vocal about “The Silent Fighter Pilot” being your favourite off the new album, and it has all the elements of a prog epic, clocking at less than five minutes! Tell us a bit about that one.
JM – When I start working on a new album, all I have is a list of song titles I want to develop – not a single note of music in my head. I was missing a title, and while talking to Paul in a pub – that´s Paul Tippet, the album cover artist anyway – he suggested the title “the silent fighter pilot”. I thought it was an interesting title for a song, but started to think about what would that even mean! Then I remember my mum telling the story about my great uncle Sydney who died in World War II because his plane ran out of petrol – you know, like in the film Dunkirk. Unlike the film though, my uncle unfortunately crashed and died in Northern France. I wanted to write about the last three minutes of his life, so it´s quite a personal song. Sadly, my mother is no longer alive, but she told me about this story, and Paul came up with that title so it all came together. So, that´s the song that means the most to me because it´s the most personal one.
Lotsofmuzik – You´re involved in It Bites, Frost*, Lonely Robot and Kino – when you find inspiration to write a song, how do you know in which band it´s going to fit in?
JM – Clive is the chief writer in Arena, so when I have an idea for a riff I send it to him and he incorporates it into his songwriting process. With It Bites, I grew up with them, so I have an idea in my head of what they should sound like – more like choppy guitars and less heavy. I don´t write songs unless I have to write songs, so I commit to a project as and when it happens. Lonely Robot is about the mood, the atmosphere and ambient soundscapes in the background, with detuned heavy metal riffs. Kino doesn´t really sound like that – on the Lonely Robot albums, all guitars are down a whole tone, so it sounds a bit heavier. Kino´s a bit more old school rock and roll, and you can write about anything, whereas in Lonely Robot the themes are focused on the human condition, so it´s quite serious. With Kino, you could write a song about the decline of the textile industry and you´d be fine! (laughs).
Lotsofmuzik – Thank you for your time, and hopefully we´ll see you guys on the road soon!
JM – Thank you very much, nice speaking to you!
Kino´s “Radio Voltaire” will be released on March 23 via Inside Out Music. The tracklist is as follows:
KINO – Radio Voltaire (56:10)
1. Radio Voltaire (7:06)
2. The Dead Club (4:12)
3. Idlewild (6:03)
4. I Don’t Know Why (5:25)
5. I Won’t Break So Easily Any More (5:30)
6. Temple Tudor (4:32)
7. Out Of Time (6:22)
8. Warmth Of The Sun (1:50)
9. Grey Shapes On Concrete Fields (4:42)
10. Keep The Faith (5:38)
11. The Silent Fighter Pilot (4:50)
– Bonus tracks –
12. Temple Tudor (Piano Mix) (4:29)
13. The Dead Club (Berlin Headquarter Mix) (4:02)
14. Keep The Faith (Orchestral Mix) (5:34)
15. The Kino Funfair (1:00)
Picture (Vinyl re-issue 2017)
Radio Voltaire (2018)
John Mitchell – vocals, guitars
Pete Trewavas – bass, synths
Craig Blundell – drums
John Beck – keyboards
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