by HAP MANSFIELD
Everyone has a list of songs that can lift their mood. Our bag of inspiring tunes may be a bit more mixed (and local) than most.
They would include Stay A Little Longer by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys; (Get A) Grip (On Yourself) by The Stranglers; Small Town Psycho Crazy Girlfriend Blues by Robbie and the Robots; I Got the Dog and He Got You by Big John Mills, Well, Well, Well by Woodentops; Whaddup by LL Cool J; and Tightrope by Janelle Monae. More recently, we’ve added Bartalk en Juarez by local musicians Kabomba!
Kabomba! — formerly known as Helix — is a band that challenges description. While their sound can be described as funky, indie rock, punky ska this does an injustice to the subtle counterpoints that run through their music. Eastern European and Indian tones meld into the tunes so seamlessly that it seems more like bursts of pure joy rather than notes are mixed into the music. Little wisps of psychedelia float through the tunes, waving at polka beats as they vanish. The band bends each genre of music they sound like into new melodic vistas with more textures and depths. It’s familiar but somehow so much better — more enthusiastic, more interesting, more, well, Kabomba!
This may be because the seven-member band formed after meeting in a philosophy class at Texas State. Philosophy is not one of the things normally associated with bands unless it’s hedonism, which, arguably, is not really about just living it up anyway, no matter how the term is used in pop-culture. The members of Kabomba! would know that. Maybe this sets them apart from a tattered cliche’ about rock bands but that just scratches the surface of their originality.
The members of the eclectic group include Matt Schuster (guitar/vocals) Bryce Gorski (guitar vocals), Neal Denton (bass),Talley Barnes (drums), Anne Linders (trumpet); Sax: Nick Steger (sax), and Steve Trinkl (trombone). They are dedicated San Marcans who love the community and give back whenever possible. Their video for “Brand New Baby Blue Cadillac” is loaded with filmed footage of the city.
You can experience their lively music for yourself at three different venues in July. They will play at the big H-E-B parking lot from 5-7 p.m on July 26. They will perform at Hays County Foodbank’s Foodstock on the courthouse lawn in downtown San Marcos on the square on July 27 at 4 p.m. Later on the 27th, the band will be at the Triple Crown, 206 North Edward Gary Street, at 9 p.m.
We were lucky enough to round up a few of them — Steve, Anne, Neal, and Bryce — to make jokes, talk music and explore the magic that is Kabomba!
San Marcos Mercury: What album most influenced your life and why?
Steve: This is a really easy question for anyone who knows me. I was in middle school when the ska boom of the 90s happened, and it was the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ album Let’s Face It that got me into playing music in the first place. Now look at me, I have my Masters in Music and am going for a Doctorate. Not only that, but the Bosstones’ staunch anti-racism message had a huge impact on me. I literally would not be the person I am if not for that album.
Mercury: Legs to Make Us Longer by Kaki King. It’s all in the music. This album made me really listen to music and how deep music can fill your being.
Neal: I would say Pink Floyd’s The Wall for myself. My friend let me borrow it when I was a freshman in high school, and it didn’t leave my portable CD player for a month, literally. The music is monumental, and I related to many aspects of the story at that time in my life.
Bryce: Above all the greatest punk rock albums to me, from Black Flag’s Damaged, Iggy Pop’s Fun House, and The Clash’s London Calling, At the Drive-In’s Relationship of Command, the one that will forever and ever have changed my perspective on the human potential for raw energy and rhythm is Gogol Bordello’s Gogol Bordello /Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike. Produced by the great Steve Albini (Nirvana’s In-Utero), I’ve listened to it hundreds of times and turn to it whenever I question my own musical direction or need to tap into man’s primal Dionysian spirit.
Mercury: How do you decide what to play? Is it like a jazz session? Do you all write the songs?
Neal: Matt, Bryce, and I all bring songs or structures for songs to the group. You can hear the difference of influences in our sound. Matt is more into the indie rock/singer-songwriter sort of stuff. Bryce is all about bouncy, gypsy-polka-esque sort of stuff, and I’m more into the funky/groovy rock sort of stuff. Baby Blue Cadillac, one of our more popular songs, was written in a jam session though.
Steve: For the horn lines, it’s an in exact science. For the older tunes, Nick and Talley had it all figured out. I added a bit of harmonies here and there, and Anne added a lot as well. Every member of the band is involved in the process to an extent.
Mercury: You have a new release recorded, yes? When will that come out?
Bryce: Recorded indeed! A 12 track full album that could practically pass for 16 songs. It shall be called “Spring Loaded” and is currently being finalized as we speak. The album will really display our knack for good ol’ fashioned funky grooves with songs like “What it is” and “Don’t Hate the Playa”, a delicateness with songs such as “Space is NOT Man’s Final Frontier,” and pure distorted rock energy with “Bartalk en Juarez” and “The American Surprise.” We hit at just about every length of the musical spectrum. We’re aiming for a release just as school is being let back in. You’ll be sure to know exactly when as we announce it.
Mercury: What’s the deal with the H-E-B gig? More grocery stores should sponsor band gigs.
Neal: Yeah, it’s really cool, right? The store manager e-mailed us one day because they’re booking music in the café area where they serve local beers, pizza, and more. They have shows there every Friday from 5-7 p.m. for a happy hour when pints are $1 off, I believe.
Mercury: You guys are always busy and your sound is so tight. Where does all that energy come from?
Bryce: Sometimes it feels like we’re just inheritors of a long line of musical DNA passed down through the ages! We don’t know necessarily where it comes from, somewhat like how you can’t see the radio waves entering an antenna, but it seems to gravitate to us out of a necessity per se. Everyone contributes something unique and it works to create Kabomba!! There’s no reason rock’n'roll should ever lose its excitement and energy, so we continue what we can in the same spirit.
Mercury: How would you describe your sound?
Bryce: A cocktail of what happens when a ska-like horn section meets an Indie-Pop kid who said that he knows a Daptone-esque bass groover that should get together to play with this kid who enjoys metal pedal A-minor punk rock that goes along with this one dance beat double time drummer. Is that a run-on?
Mercury: What has been your most memorable gig so far – a good one or a bad one.
Bryce: A good show would probably be opening for Henry+the Invisibles at Stubb’s Barbeque two years back. An odd lack of clothing was worn, we were asked not to ever shoot silly string again, megaphone usage, plenty of dancing with some “what the heck is going on!!??” factor. A bad show would be considered when a band named Helix was converted to Kabomba! overnight after a show that started off wayyyy too fast for its own good and for its newly found drummer who had only a couple practices in. Songs were forgotten, crowds dispersed, and feelings of desperate hope that the show would just please end ensued. It was raw, maybe even genius, but man was it bad!
Mercury: This sounds crazy but how do you get everything set up? I was in a couple of bands years ago and one them had 12 people in it- the stage logistics were insane, just wondering how you deal.
Bryce: I guess it’s not so crazy as it looks. Finding room for the horn players is probably the most important, but we’ve got our gear rigs all figured out and we kind of know our places on stage from playing over the years. It’s all on the sound guy really, but we trust it gets all figured out.
Mercury: Any plans to tour outside of Texas?
Bryce: Shyeah! Once everyone quits their jobs. I’m working to convince everyone to sell everything, put the baby up for adoption, get tattoos, and say screw it! Let’s do this! Alright, the baby can come too.
Anne: You guys should all become music teachers so you can get the summers off. Duhh!
Mercury: Do any of you still attend Texas State? What did you study there?
Neal: Nope. Nick, Bryce, Matt, Steve, and I all went to Texas State. Steve just graduated with his Master’s in Music Composition. The rest of us all graduated years ago. I studied Geography and Philosophy. Nick studied music. Bryce studied Philosophy and History I think, and Matt studied Philosophy.
Mercury: What’s your favorite part of San Marcos?
Neal: The headwaters of the San Marcos River by Saltgrass. What a beautiful place!
Bryce: What’s not a favorite things about San Marcos!? Long walks in the Green Spaces, hippies in gypsy pants drinking local loquat juice, and how open people are to creativity. It’s seriously a paradise.
Anne: The people, the river and the positive energy.
Mercury: Who would you most like to sit in with if you could play with one famous guy or band?
Neal: I could go for a jam session with Tim Alexander, the original drummer for Primus. He’s nuts.
Bryce: Maybe a jam with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (lead guitarist for The Mars Volta and At The Drive-In currently with Bosnian Rainbows), I don’t think you could play a wrong note with him.
Anne: Miles Davis. Maybe he would smoke a cigarette while I play a solo.
Mercury: Do you think playing music changes your outlook on life? If so, how?
Steve: Music brings a sense of community in that a bunch of people from different backgrounds are coming together and contributing setting to a bigger whole. You also get a sense of ownership and pride when you see this thing you created out of nothing… that’s as close to magic as we will ever get. Also, seeing fans enjoying what we’re doing is fulfilling in the truest sense of the word.
Mercury: Music is your vocation and avocation, I assume. Anyone have any hobbies? Garbage Pail Kid card collection? Football jersey designer? Three dimensional chess? Trekkies? Gamers?
Bryce: I collect odd books from thrift stores and garage sales. Random spur of the moment travel and disc golf. I also enjoy extremely long walks through Onion Creek recently where I can be an all out caveman throwing rocks, carrying logs, and climbing trees. It’s a species thing.
Anne: Music is my life aside from bike polo.
Steve: I play a lot of video games. I also collect musical instruments and learn to play them. Sometimes.
Mercury: Know any good musician jokes? I’ll start: A little kid says “Mommy when I grow up I want to be a musician.” and the mom says “Well, dear, make up your mind, you can’t do both.” Or, What’s the difference between a banjo and an onion? Nobody cries when you chop up a banjo. Or, What do you call a guy from a rock band in a three piece suit? The defendant. My buddy Chris Mars from The Replacements can tell hundreds of these.
Bryce: Woah, you know Chris Mars? You win. Which is better: electric guitar or harmonica? Electric guitar. You can’t beat a harmonica player to death with a harmonica.
Steve: How many trombonists does it take to change a light bulb? We can’t. It’s too high. How can you tell if a stage is level? Drool comes out both sides of the drummer’s mouth. How do you make a guitar player shut up? Put sheet music in front of him. Okay, I’ll stop now. This was a bad question for me to tackle.
Mercury: How did you guys all meet and form a band? What’s the Kabomba story, more or less?
Bryce: Neal, Matt and I were in the same Philosophy class at Texas State. When introducing ourselves to the class we all mentioned music as important to us. Neal was looking for folks to jam with and suggested we play together. I practiced with Neal some of my songs because he said he liked Gypsy music. Meanwhile Matt took a trip to Costa Rica and met our original drummer Jason and they decided to pull together Talley on horns and Neal on bass when they returned. My roommate Nick played saxophone and joined in shortly after while I was away in Spain. Unbeknownst to me, they had found a new guitar player in my place and I waited patiently while he chose to stop showing up to practices before I was asked in. Steve the trombone player was found on craigslist cold and hungry, and Annie was also recruited this year after she moved down from St. Louis.
Mercury: Did you see Prince on the Billboard music awards? I missed it but everyone was talking about it on Facebook. Just wonderin‘
Bryce: No. But I did see the video of the Miguel guy drop kicking the crap out of audience members. He really needs to work on his long jump or not being an a-hole.
Steve: To be fair, Bryce, it’s hard to jump and lip sync at the same time.
Mercury: What is the question you wish someone would ask you?
Steve: Why, yes, Lucy Liu, I do happen to be free tonight. If you mean about the music, well, the question would be, “What’s the inspiration behind the music?” The answer is: Having a good time with people who mean the world to you. Toss back a cold one or four, start dancing and stop worrying about the stupid little things just for a little while.