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Call & Response: Kites Overhead

Posted by Jer / December 3, 2010

Kites Overhead (photo by Joseph Jeremie Roy)Call & Response is a series of Q&As with bands, artists and random people we dig that live in Montreal, visit here, or have some dubious connection to the city.

Kites Overhead is the project of Gene Kondusky, a home studio loop junky who called Montreal home for the last few years. He's recently moved to Fredericton to complete a Ph.D. in English, but he assured me that he misses this city dearly. Earlier this year, he released a three song EP called "In the Shadow of the Mountain". He followed that up in September with his first full-length album, You are a secret, and you must never tell it. Both releases occupy a middle ground between electronica, folk and pop.

The name Kites Overhead could suggest floating, ethereal soundscapes, but the ambience on You Are a Secret is much more grounded than anything you'd find on, say, a Hooverphonic record. The reverb-drenched drums in "The Poet", for example, sound like pure stadium pop and the rock and folk inflections give the disc an American Analog Set edge to it (a testament to Kondusky's varied influences). Although Kondusky is an able and literate lyricist, he seems a tad timid behind the mic. Visits from guest vocalists add a bit of variety to the disc, but it's the instrumental tracks that really stand out. Songs like "Introduction" or the stellar "Hearts and Minds" feature repetitive, hypnotic, shoe-gazey loops that build and blend, and that's when Kites Overhead really comes into focus. Clearly competent with studio toys and layers of sound, Kites Overhead may never fully soar with You Are a Secret, but you'll enjoy tuning in to the sonic breeze.

Recently, I had the chance to ask Kites Overhead a few questions about his sound, his influences, and his love of poutine. Here's what he had to say...

Do you actually fly kites? Because it is awesome. Especially stunt kites.
I do, and it is. I'm not a stunt flyer though - but yeah, those dudes are awesome.

Who is your favorite Canadian Artist (music or literary, considering your
background in both)?

My answer is actually the same for both: Leonard Cohen. In both his writing and music, he's shown ceaseless innovation and willingness for experimentation, which is really what I aspire toward in my own creative endeavours.

Besides family, friends, other music, and summer nights, what influences your music?
I guess my answer would be the next most obvious one: literature. Sometimes the subject matter of my music is inspired by the things I read.

Your album is at its best when the loops layer themselves on more loops,
creating a melodic, hypnotic soundscape. Can you talk a bit about how you see
the process of looping?

There's a famous quote from Gertrude Stein that I'm sure I'm going to mess up here, but it's something like "A rose is a rose is a rose." Except, according to Stein, it's not. Each time you say the word, that instance is informed by the previous. If I say a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose... each time, the words mean something different. I see looping as working in much the same way. Loops exist within environments, and become more than repetition. They work with some of the other loops within the song. Or they play against others. They challenge the time patterns of other loops. Sometimes they steal from and undermine other loops. Above all, loops build - even if they only build just to tear down again.

You're a pretty literate guy (literally); you're doing a PhD in English literature. Can
you talk about how this influences either the content or the construction of your

I see my academic career as influencing my music in two ways: lyrically and structurally. Lyrically, I'm always challenging myself to write lyrics that would stand up well as poems. Prose-poems, for sure, but poems nonetheless. I think the lyrics of "The Last Time I Thought About You" are deeply indebted to the Imagist movement. Then there's the more obvious influence in a song like "Ark Apprehensive." All the lyrics to that song are lifted (with permission, of course) from the poem The Boatman by Jay Macpherson, who is one of Canada's great poets. Structurally, I see the philosophy of literary study seep into my music. The same preoccupations with form, genre and style that guide the study of literature definitely loom large in my songwriting. I'm keenly aware of what I'm attempting to accomplish with each song I write in terms of structure. "Hearts and Minds," for example, is structurally a very simple folk song, but sonically, it owes a lot more to heavy rock or even metal. And I like those kinds of juxtapositions.

What do you love most about Poutine?
It's so fatty and delicious! Perhaps the perfect drunken snack.

What do you hate most about Poutine?
It's so fatty and delicious!

Who was your first live concert? Was it everything you had ever imagined?
The first live band I ever saw was a Nirvana cover band. I was maybe twelve or so. It was awesome. I went crowdsurfing and everything. Within a few days, I had bought a crappy nylon string guitar off my friend for fifteen bucks, and was banging out rattly power chords whenever I had the chance.

What's the best way to spend a Million dollars in 10 minutes?
Is it even possible to spend a million dollars in ten minutes? I'm actually embarrassingly practical - if I had a million dollars, I'd pay off my debts, buy a house, buy my siblings houses, that sort of stuff. Oh, and of course, I'd buy your love. (Can I fit in a lame Barenaked Ladies joke?)

What's the best place you've ever been to?
Kyoto, Japan. It's a fascinating blend of the ancient and the ultra-modern.

What's the worst place you've ever been to?
Ha! Yorkton, Saskatchewan. It's the only place in the world where I've literally had fruit thrown at me. And for no goddamn reason!

You are a secret, and you must never tell it is available as a name-your-price download at Home Is Not Here Records or as a CD for $15 (plus shipping). Apparently there's currently a sale for 25% off the price of the CD if you add the code "secret" at checkout.

Follow Kites Overhead on Facebook and MySpace and keep an eye out for the "little goodies" Kondusky sometimes releases to say thanks to people who show support by liking or friending.

photo of Kites Overhead, couch underlegs, and guitar by his side taken by Joseph Jeremie Roy

Other Cities: Toronto