Kingsley Flood:
The TVD Interview

“When I first heard the Clash,” recalls Kingsley Flood’s frontman, Naseem Khuri, “I was six years old and terrified. My sister would put on their first album and I’d run to my bed thinking we were under attack. Maybe because it was the first seed, but those first songs were jarring enough to stick. Why are these guys bored with the USA? Why are they fighting the law? The urgency of those songs stayed with me and has never left.”

“Bob Dylan had the same effect on me—like millions of others.  Here were people talking, singing, yelling about things that mattered. I was never really a dancer—I used my rock and roll for other purposes.”

It is with that same urgency that Kingsley Flood draws a crowd, switching seamlessly between songs from their unique folk-infused rock that has a crowd dancing feverishly one moment and attentively listening the next. With Khuri manning an acoustic guitar and the mic stand, the rest of the band consists of Jenee Morgan (violin/ saxophone/ vocals), Chris Barrett (trumpet/ keys/ percussion/ vocals),  George Hall (lead guitar/ vocals), Nick Balkin (bass/ vocals), and Travis Richter (percussion/ vocals).

We had the opportunity to talk to Khuri about the band’s latest album, Battles which was produced by Sam Kassirer, the band’s upcoming Newport Folk Festival performance, the importance of live music, and as is our way, a few thoughts on vinyl.

How did you meet the other members of the band?

Nick and I were random roommates through Craigslist and I knew he played guitar in a pop band. I needed a bassist for a gig I was playing one day, so asked him to pick up a bass for the first time.  Having not played much in public, I have no idea why he agreed.

Everyone else we just met through a vibrant and eclectic Boston music scene; we’d see people in bands or clubs or dark alleys. We bribed them with promises of long face-melting solos.

When listening to music, are you drawn to the orchestration or the lyrics first?

Neither and both. I try hard to listen to songs as a whole, and only make the distinction when one of those things really stands out, like when there’s some amazing lyric that cuts through.  A lot of Springsteen songs do that for me. I’ll jump when some lyric strikes hard.

How do you approach the writing process?

Lots of caffeine.

What was it like working with Sam Kassirer on your newest album, Battles?

We were drawn to Sam for three reasons. First, his albums have this distinctive sound to them that we loved; he can make an intimate song sound one foot away and a rager sound like you’re in an arena.  Second, he knows how to bring out the beast in any instrument. I play a beat-up acoustic guitar, and he knows how to squeeze all the life out of it. Third, his studio has BB guns. Those are fun.

Newport Folk Festival! How did it feel to find out you were confirmed?

I had read all the stories of Dylan at Newport—getting booed, not knowing any more songs, Seeger and the ax—so there was a pretty un-healthy amount of reverence in my mind about the festival.  I’ve been to the festival a bunch in recent years and have been smitten by acts who have had a big influence on me like Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Wilco…

I always wanted to jump on stage, then retreat to the getaway boat I had secretly hidden before security could reach me.  I’m excited we don’t have to get a boat.  They’re expensive and hard to maintain, anyway.

What inspired the latest music video?

I was pretty moved by this article in the New York Times Magazine last summer about boys who wore dresses, and what that meant for them, their parents and society as a whole.

I thought about a young family member of mine facing those same challenges, had a dream about a wizard-like figure pulling a dress-wearing boy in a wagon, and told the band about it. Their first instinct was “get your head checked.” The second was “let’s make a video.”

How was it working with all those kids? 

Our director, Chris Cannucciari, was amazing with them, and it had nothing to do with the pizza and toys we bribed them with to follow direction, we swear.

What is the most rewarding part of performing your music live?

Our home base is a small bar in Gloucester, MA called the Rhumb Line. We started off there, playing to two people, then five, then sixteen, et cetera. We move the coffee machines out of the way to make room for our amps. We never play for less than three hours.

When you’re playing a sweaty show and people are dancing one foot away from you for three hours straight, there’s a connection there I could never get through a day job.  There’s nothing like it.  That connection—which can happen at any and every show—is by far the most rewarding part.

Why do you think vinyl is making a comeback?

I don’t think just vinyl, but I think the listening experience as a whole is coming back.  We don’t seem to value music on its own anymore—it’s a soundtrack to a car commercial or background in a supermarket—and I think there’s a backlash. There are people saying they don’t want to spend 99 cents on a single, they’d rather get the whole album. They’d rather open up the vinyl, read the lyrics, sit down in a ratty chair with headphones and transport themselves to another world for 45 minutes.

We made Battles with that in mind.  We don’t tend to write in singles, rather albums, where we move from point A to point B.

So yeah, we’re kinda hoping that backlash is happening and isn’t just our imagination at work.

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