The Return of the Kidneythieves Part 2: An Interview

In Part 1 of our conversation with Bruce Somers and Free Dominguez of the resurgent Kidneythieves, we spoke about places the band had been and what it took to get to this point. Now, the topic turns to where the band goes from here. With the "Invisible Plan" EP quickly coming together, we talk about the new music, the emotions of going out on the road, working with KMFDM, and naturally, the band's favorite horror films.
For Invisible Plan, what can you tell me about it? What’s the same, what’s new, what’s different?
Free: I mean, it still sounds like us, like Kidneythieves. Bruce played with a lot of different sounds, a lot of different parts of electronic music, and I think on this album we decided to take it more electronic. And it’s one of those things were everything kind of comes together; I had an idea of how to come out of the story of “Trypt0fanatic,” lyrically, story-wise, and everything matched up with the music. I think there’s growth there for sure.

Bruce: We’re experimenting a little a bit, too. You know, “Trypt0fanatic” was really heavy, so at the end of that CD, I personally didn’t feel we had total balance of the mellow groove, Portishead-y kind of sounds, and the really heavier stuff that we’re kind of known for. I think it was a lot heavier sounding. We definitely wanted to make sure we had some groove on this release. And electronically, yes, Free and I have been pushing to try things out electronically instead of just rocking out, and sort of balancing that while making sure the songs still have a heavy feel to it. There will definitely be some surprises on there.

Free: There’s definitely territory that we haven’t covered with it.

You said this was born as you came out of “Trypt0fanatic.” Do you consider it a companion piece, or is this a whole new ground level for people to get in on?
Free: [laughing] I want people to get “Trypt0fanatic” and the “Invisible Plan."

Bruce: Then we can eat. We got to eat first, and then we’re gonna tour.

Free: I actually would tour and then eat because they provide the food when you’re on tour. I really like the idea of connecting all the stories on the album and then there’s an evolution. “Trypt0fanatic” is about the dream and the waking life and how to blend the two. This is, to me, coming out of that, that sort of material, and now you’re dealing with the waking life, but you have all your dreams right there, what do you do with it. How do you survive? How do you exist? And that’s how I see this, and then this will thread into the story of our next full album.

Does that mean there are already ideas on the table for that?
Free: Yes! I’m always fantasizing. I’m always writing and fantasizing probably two albums ahead.
“Trypt0fanatic” has this kind of impossibly dark humor in places, will Invisible Plan have that same thread running through it? What’s the emotion of the album?
Free: I think it’s important to incorporate that sort of humor. I mean I don’t want to be campy or anything, but it just balances the parts that are so serious. So there’s definitely some things like that.

People in general have a roughly solid concept of how rock music is written and composed and recorded and so forth, but that’s not what you’re doing. When you’re working with electronic elements, what makes the process different, and what stays the same?
Bruce: I don’t know if it’s exactly electronic elements. I think the comparison is in working with a band, three or four people sitting around with instruments and coming up with a riff, like some classic rock bands might write or might not write, or demos or whatever. We’re always building off of two people and either she has a lick or I have a riff, or something that is raw or a little snippet of something that’s done, whether it’s electronic or it’s a guitar piece or something that’s in Pro Tools. Free will a lot of times take it and put an amazing melody on it, and then we work it together. Sometimes we’ll drop all the electronics, pick up the acoustic guitar and just start writing the song. It probably comes from where we both come from, and how we’ve been doing it, but we like songs. I think that’s the best way to tell a story. Even if it’s going to be an anti-song at the end of the day, kind of dissonant, and might have elements that aren’t classic chord connections or something like that. That’s always part of it. It might start off really weird, but we want to make sure it’s a song.
So, you don’t conceptualize the pieces in advance, you start off with something that feels good and then break it apart and put it through the production?
Bruce: Yeah. I think Free and I are a little bit different because she conceptualizes all the time because she is always thinking about a lot of things and what to write about. And as the singer and the lyricist of the band, she’s always thinking about songs. She’s thinking of life in a million different ways. For me, I’m playing with a ton of sound-making things that inspire me, looking at combinations and saying ‘that’s awesome.’ So that’s the two processes that come together.
Who do you look to in electronic music that inspires you, or outside electronic, as it relates to Invisible Plan?
Free: Bruce and I listen to a lot of different types of music.

Bruce: I think Pandora is amazing, give a little shout-out to them, too. She’ll send me a Pandora station that she’s digging, and it’s right on track. It’s amazing how in the old days it was all about radio, you realize now, maybe kids don’t know, but the limitations of radio compared to what Pandora has to offer, are unbelievable. Having gotten into that a little bit and having stuff come at me, it’s amazing. Truthfully, we didn’t have that in the day. We had a lot of music and record stores and things like that, but it’s great to be able to jump online and be inspired like that. That’s exciting.

Free: I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. Jazz, Brazilian and rap. I listen to a lot of rap, The Roots are one of my favorites ever. And I was listening to a lot of rap and I was listening to a lot of electronic, and then I heard this remix, Modeselektor, “Dark Side of the Sun,” and it just completely. Blew. My. Mind. Just the programming and the groove and the way the lyrics were. I remember that as a defining moment of ‘this is another level of electronic that I’m really, really digging.’

Is that helping “Invisble Plan” evolve, then? Are you hearing or taking elements from elsewhere and thinking ‘that would sound great in such-and-such an arrangement?’
Bruce: I don’t like to refer to it as ‘taking,’ it’s definitely ‘stealing.’

Free: You know, Bruce just got this amazing new synthesizer that has great sound, and I think we get inspired, like I said. What it does is it fuels us to want to create something. He’ll start playing some sounds, and it will get me just as excited as say, when I heard that remix. I don’t think we ever come in and say ‘I want it to sound like Justice’ or something like that.

Bruce: It’s interesting, I think there’s another side of the coin to that, where you get into ruts, where you’ll be thinking a certain way, and having to repeat yourself, and it takes a little bit of proactive effort to actually get yourself out of that headspace. First of all to realize you are writing the same thing, possibly, and move yourself out of that a little bit. Luckily I’m in a great partnership with Free, and she’ll pick that out a lot.

Free: I’ll be like ‘No! No! No!”

Bruce: But on my own, it’s been something that on “Invisible Plan,” I’ve been trying to push myself a little bit. I even told my manager the other day that I really need the time to do that. Because it takes a concerted effort to break yourself out of a mold. Even if it sounds good, even if it sounds like Kidneythieves, it has some heavy guitars and goes from there. But that’s something we’ve been thinking about a little bit, and there will definitely be a couple tracks that are breaking down into something a little different.

Free: I think someone who did that, too, was Linkin Park. They got excited about making a record again, and they totally broke it down and [were] trying new pieces of gear and getting a new sound and really breaking out of that. I think that’s a good example of someone who kept doing what they were doing, but really pushes themselves and I think that’s a great record that they made.

Will there be a tour for “Invisible Plan?”
Free: We have our band members together and everyone’s working on the material, and once we get closer to the finish of the EP, we’re gonna start bringing everybody in to rehearse, and definitely have an event surrounding the EP release. And then we’ll just go from there, let it happen.
For people who have never seen, what can fans expect from a Kidneythieves live show?
Bruce: Sometimes it’s a little heavier, we might do an electronic tune that kinda drives some more guitars. It’s always cranked up, so it’s always loud. I always thought it was interesting to listen back in the day to a [Nine Inch] Nails record and then go see him live and it was just another level, and that was always inspiring to me. That’s really what we try to bring. I think it sucks if you have a really killer sounding, heavy record, and you go to see the band and they’re thin, there’s only one guitar, and I never liked that. I always wanted to be bigger than the record. So that’s always been our inspiration, people should be blown away. Free’s amazing as the front-woman.
How do you think it’ll feel that first time you’re back on the road under the banner of Kidneythieves?
Free: I think we’re pretty much ready to do it, we’d love nothing more than to bring the show everywhere. I don’t think there’re any hesitations about it.

Bruce: You never know. There’s definitely no hesitation but you never know. The thing about it is getting up there. The best feeling in the world is playing live shows and just being at your best. So, we really want to go out day one and be there again. It takes a little time to work it up, but generally speaking, last show that we did, we didn’t know what to expect, and it was like picking up like we never left off. It was packed and sold out and it was incredible. We were really, really, really psyched to be doing it, so that’s the bottom line.

More often than not, the Kidneythieves get labeled as ‘industrial.’ How do you feel about that? Is it something you think about?
Free: I mean, there’s old school industrial and then there’s industrial inspired music. I think back when industrial started there wasn’t as much electronic music. Now there’s so much electronic music and so many variants of it, that industrial has blended in with electronic. Sure, we have industrial elements, we have electronic elements, and rock elements. I mean, I’m glad someone’s calling us anything.

Bruce: The truth of the matter is that genre stuff has a lot to do with marketing. In order to figure out how to market, they need to try to fit you into something. And that’s fine, I don’t have any problems with trying to get us out to people that may or may not listen to us. Certainly, no one’s going to put in a category with Celine Dion, but Free can sing an incredibly beautiful ballad and the key for us, the way I feel about it at least…you’re going to know it’s Kidneythieves from Free’s very distinctive vocals and some production that we lay into it. So that’s the most important thing to me, that it is alternative, it comes off as distinctive, and maybe jumps out a little but because I don’t think anyone sounds like that.

You have some work coming up on KMFDM’s “WTF?!” What’s it like to work with them, I mean obviously you’ve known them for a while.
Free: You know, Lucia [Cifarelli] and I had talked about doing something together for a while, and the opportunity never really came up. But she and I talk all the time and then she had written a song with Sascha [K,] and she thought it would be just perfect for she and I to do it. So they emailed me the track and I did everything I have [for it] and sent it back. I haven’t heard the final mix yet, but they’re both really, really happy with it. And who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to sing it together on stage.
So this isn’t just payback just for their work on “Phi in the Sky,” this is part of a continuing relationship?
Free: Well, they have photos of me that they threaten to release…
I'm putting you on the spot! When you say maybe you could sing it on stage together, does this mean fans can anticipate a joint tour?
Free: We have no idea what’s going to happen in the future.

Bruce: We would love to, we would love to go out with them, with KMFDM. And truthfully, the best thing is going out with bands that you’re friends with and that sound great, and you get to make it a great experience. A lot of times it’s an opening band that gets to tour and they’re friends and you know, people will know when it’s a good show, and not just a crappy opening band and a great headliner. It’s a really ‘wow, they both were awesome,’ and that’s a great thing, too.

Are you guys horror movie fans? Is there a particular style or genre or director?
Free: I like a lot of the old school ones, like “The Shining” and things like that. I love “Let the Right One In,” that’s probably one of my favorites. I actually watched it again last night; I just think it’s such a well-done film. And I like the “Saw” series, I like the suspense based horror films, more than the slashers. I know there’s a lot of gore in the “Saw” series, but it definitely makes you think, and I get really into that. I also loved the movie “Teeth.”

Bruce: You know, Rob [Zombie] is amazing.

Free: Zombie’s the best. He’s the king. We were also in “Bride of Chucky.” We had a song in there, which was awesome. It’s gotten like two and a half million hits on Youtube.

Bruce: That was kind of campy. Which was funny.

Free: Oh, and I love “Shawn of the Dead.” And I like “Zombieland.” Oh my God, “True Blood.” I am the biggest “True Blood” fan. For sure. Alan Ball is my hero, and everything he’s ever done is incredible. I would love it to get a song on that show.

Bruce: Can you make that happen, please? Thank you.

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