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Published: 2009/03/26
by Fady Khalil

Just Wiggling His Fingers: Steve Kimock Constructs A Crazy Engine

Steve Kimock lives down the street from me. Well, maybe more like an hour away. And yet sometimes I think I can hear his signature jazz-jam guitar runs emanating from some sleepy hamlet in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. From there, Kimock, a guitarist whose collaborations read like a veritable who’s who of live music’s finest, coordinates his new project, Crazy Engine. Complete with a new cast of characters (John Morgan Kimock on drums, bassist Janis Wallin, Melvin Seals from the Jerry Garcia Band on keys, and “The Girls”JGB vocalists Shirley Starks and Cheryl Rucker), a new direction, and a new energy, Mr. Kimock talks about his project, and why now was the right time for it.

FK: What was the impetus for forming Crazy Engine at this particular time?

SK: (Long Pause) Well, there are so many things; I’m trying to think of how to put it into a concise sentence (laughs). I think like most decisions to do something kind of big, because it’s not a little thing to decide to put a band on the road, you put a lot of work into it. You need a lot of help, and you need a lot of money, all kinds of stuff. So it’s sort of a confluence of events, all sorts of things have to line up for it to happen. So there’s nothing in particular, but I think some of the major reasons for deciding to do it right now is, number one, my son is in the band (John Morgan). He’s a great drummer, and he’s a young man. He’s going to be off doing all sorts of brilliant stuff, and I just wanted to get him before he took off (laughs). I should just play more with him, before he really gets off into the world. At some point he’s going to be out there doing all kinds of great stuff, and I just won’t be able to keep up (laughs). I want to get him while I still can.

You know I spent the last three or four years couch surfing from project to project, an almost homeless kind of position or approach to booking myself. There wasn’t any one steady thing going on during that time; they were lots of different bands and styles and approaches. That’s a lot of fun, and its kind of a stretch, and I enjoy being stuck into new and different kinds of musical situations where you basically only have what’s going on in the moment to get you through. I like that. It’s improvisational. But it didn’t give me an opportunity to write, and it doesn’t give me an opportunity to develop anything with certain chemistry. I’ve done enough where it’s not terribly important to me exactly what that chemistry is in terms of what style of music is manifested, as long as there is some consistency to it, so that I can write, react, and develop production around it, and so forth.

FK: Crazy Engine differs from your past collaborations in overall group dynamics and sound. Do you feel that there is a big difference, and in what ways do they differ?

SK: I don’t know to be perfectly honest. We’re really just at the beginning of the trip, and I can’t guess where it could go. I can imagine, or I can worry about where it won’t go, or something like that, but I can’t predict. There’s a way that these things grow (he pauses, searching for the words). Do you play, are you in a band?

FK: Yeah, I am actually. I play guitar.

SK: Then you know (laughs). You get some guys together to start a project, and there are all kinds of unintended consequences. All kinds of stuff happen, good and bad. With this particular group of folks, every body that’s playing plays in a way that really puts me in a very solid comfort zone. So, that right off the bat is very cool. But how that’s going to manifest itself in the future musically, I can’t say.

FK: In addition to long time friend Melvin Seals (Hammond B3 player who’s best known for his work with the Jerry Garcia Band), you’ve brought on board Janis Wallin, the really great bass player from Family Groove Company. I’m interested to find out what was it about her particular style that drew you?

SK: In Janis’ case…I’m predisposed to listening to bass players. I started out as a bass player, and I think the whole bass thing is super cool. I’ve been really fortunate to play with a lot of really great bass players, and learn from a lot of really great bass players. Odd as it may seem, I think, a lot of the really important musical stuff I’ve learned in my life has come from bass players (laughs). It’s weird. When I got to hear Janis play for the first time, I was like, God damn that’s a heck of a bass player. Super, straight ahead, no bullshit, responsible, good energy, great groove. Kind of old school (pauses). She’s just one of those, “This is my bass” (laughs). I think she’s fantastic. They don’t make them like that anymore; she’s really got the right attitude and approach to handle that role, in what I consider a really proper way.

FK: You’ve added Cheryl Rucker and Shirley Starks on vocals, but you haven’t historically done too much with vocals within your repertoire. How do you feel vocals add to your music?

SK: I’ve had two of my own projects going on kind of simultaneously for the last 10 years. There’s the Steve Kimock Band, which is just music. It’s instrumental music, like 99.999% instrumental music. Occasionally someone would sing something, but that would be once every 50 gigs. A lot of what I had written and was writing for that was still song form stuff. It was tunes with melodies that could easily have lyric content. It was music minus one thing, and I could just sort of provide some soundscape where the listeners could insert themselves in. If they wanted to have their own interpretation, if there were words or sounds, that stuff would be in there own heads. It was kind of like a write your own song as it goes, audience participation event. I think a lot of people got it like that, and a lot of people thought, “How come there’s not a lot of shredding going on?” But, we just wanted to leave space for the listeners to insert themselves as much as they felt able or willing, and I think that it works.

At the same time, all the rest of stuff I’ve done, like the Steve Kimock and Friends gigs, which is a different kind of gig, there are always vocalists. When I did the KVHW (Kimock, Vega, Hertz, and White) thing, obviously Ray White was a phenomenal singer. And the rest of the stuff is pretty song oriented, rock n’ roll, blues, R & B, pop, and folk. It’s all predominately vocal music. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain by including that, but it was just the basic mission statement of some of my other Kimock trips to allow that space, unspoken by words.

FK: I know you’re embarking on a tour right now. Is there a region of America, venue, or a place that you look forward to playing in particular?

SK: There’s a certain character or quality to the folks to that will show up that are local to any region, and there’s a certain quality and character to the folks that will get on the bus and follow a (band) around. There’s a little bit of that everywhere, because there will be people that will come to multiple shows. Some part of the audience often stays kind of the same, and I’ll get on stage in St. Louis and look, and they’ll be five people in front that I just saw in Washington, which is kind of interesting. So the audience is not entirely unique to an area. There’s a certain vibe to it that’s unique, and those vibes change in different times of the year. I mean, a Pacific Northwest tour at harvest time is a real different tour than going around the Great Lakes in the middle of summer.

FK: I can imagine depending on where you are, there are a lot of different aspects to it (the audience’s vibe).

SK: There’s some music differentiation that makes sense. I would normally expect to be taking more chances and more liberties with my own music in some of the older, west coast markets than I would be if I were trying to do the same thing at B.B. King’s. People in California still remember me playing with John Cipollina, so that’s a different attitude. I guess there’s a bit of audience expectation that you play to when it’s authentically part of your experience and the audience experience, from your history in that area. I mean it wouldn’t be any different if you were just talking about two people who were friends, and how they would react to certain situations that they were sharing. After being friends for a long time you react differently to certain things then if you were total strangers and you just met them and saw something go down. You wouldn’t be able to be as honest or immediate with your response with that situation. Some of these places we’ve been playing, I’ve known these people (audience members) and they’ve known me for 30 years. There’s no pretending. They know if I’m digging it, and I know if they’re digging it. It’s wonderful, to have that kind of relationship with an audience. I go to a lot of places, and I love those folks. They’ve really kept me going.

FK: What do you hope a newcomer would walk away with from a Crazy Engine show? Is there something you hope they take from watching your new band?

SK: Wow, that’s a good question. I really don’t know the answer to that. From my own perspective, just as a person trying to understand what it isI don’t want to be stuck on either side of the glass. I don’t either want to be a passive observer of music that maybe has some filters in place, and maybe taking some things away or doesn’t, or maybe has no filters in place. I also don’t want to be just a musician on the other side of the glass who thinks that, whatever it is I’m doing is what’s happening. I’m wiggling my fingers is all I’m doing (laughs). I’m making a bunch of fucking noise basically. People are coming away from it having all different kinds of experiences. Those experiences are partly in the nature of whatever fellowship or vibe or energy is happening in that gathering, and they’re partly as a result of that succession of feeling states that the music induces.

But from my own look at those dynamics, in some kind of more thorough or systematic way rather then just being batted around by it, I wouldn’t pretend to tell anyone what they were going to hear or experience. It’s going to be different things; different moments, and different things this time and next time. It could be the exact same thing, and you dig it this time and you don’t dig it the next time. There’s no way to predict that.

I wouldn’t put a brand on it. I wouldn’t say you should come away from my show with this experience. I would just say whatever you’re doing you need to go out and get with people, enjoy yourself, and support live music, because I think those gatherings are healthy. They’re good, and people need them. It’s potentially cathartic. You should be going out supporting creativity with creative people, and enjoying yourself. You don’t need me to do that, you need you to do that (laughs).

FK: I have one last question, a very important one indeed. Why the name Crazy Engine?

SK: Oh. No, I ain’t saying yet (laughs). I’ve been asked that question a bunch, and you’re either going to figure it out or not, or you’re going to get it or not (laughs). But down the road somewhere, I’ll say exactly what it is, but by that time everyone will have their own version. That’s fine too, but that’s a good question.

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