Interview: Kappa Gamma

Photos: Carla Mundy
Interview: Paul Klotschkow
Friday 07 December 2012
reading time: min, words

Picked up by Denizen Records, linked up with Dog Is Dead, championed by Dean Jackson and glommed onto the  Radio One playlist, it’s been a very decent year for Kappa Gamma and their freewheeling dream-pop stylings. Time, then, to talk to Tom Towle and Max Starbuck of the band...

You were originally known as Cromwell Street. Did you change it because of the Fred West reference putting people off?
Max: We didn’t even know. We had a gig when we first started and needed a name - so we just named ourselves after the street that we played on.
Tom: We only realised the Fred West reference later on. Max came up with the name Kappa Gamma, and we were all just so fed up with looking for one we all said “yeah”. It’s got a good meaning behind it; it’s a fraternity in America that’s exclusively for deaf people. The Greek letters look good too. 

You came to a lot of people’s attention when you won a Nusic competition to support Dog Is Dead at Rock City last year. What was that like?
Max: It was pretty scary, but by the time you get up there it is awesome. We did maybe change as a band after that. 
Tom: When you do something big like that, it changes the way everything kind of works. It feels like we have been several different bands playing the same music. That was a big peak, where you get a glimpse of what it is all about when you are doing something like that.

How did you get involved with Denizen Records?
Max: Me and Julian did a college project at Confetti, where we had to record a song, Green Eyes; we decided to send the recording to Pete Fletcher at Denizen. He came back, said that he couldn’t stop listening to it, and invited us to the studio. We recorded all five of our songs, then he told us he wanted to sign us up.

Do you have any kinship with other bands from Nottingham?
Tom: Kagoule, they’re great people. We played with a band from Derby the other day called Cheap Jazz. They are one of those under-rated Derby bands.
Max: Dog Is Dead, of course.
Tom: We are forever covering for Dog Is Dead’s Pressure DJ sets. I think in the last couple of months we’ve done it more than they have.

What’s it like starting out and getting gigs when no-one knows who you are?
Max: I think the best thing is to go and play Acoustic Rooms at the Rescue Rooms. I was very cheeky and originally asked if we could support Yuck, but the promoter said we could play the Acoustic Rooms instead. If a promoter is interested in you, or Danielle who runs the night, then they will put you on. In Nottingham it’s good to get onside with DHP because they have a strong foothold.

Is it important to be known outside of the city?
Max: That’s what we are focusing on at the moment. 
Tom: Last year we did loads of Nottingham gigs but it started to get really samey and it almost felt like it was becoming a bit of a job, like playing The Bodega for fifty quid, it felt like a chore almost.
Max: We want to make our Nottingham gigs feel more special.

How are you getting shows outside of the city?
Max: Normally it’s promoters getting in touch.
Tom: We haven’t asked for a gig in a while. Sometimes we will see a gig on a poster and really want to support whoever it is so we’ll ask DHP. We are trying to hold back on gigs so we can do a bit more writing. We’ve never had time to practice, and when we did practice we were just practicing for the next show. 

The music you make is quite fashionable at the moment. Are you worried about that style becoming unfashionable and people moving on?
Tom: There’s a lot of that dream-pop thing at the moment. The way our music is going, there is a divergence away from that. We never set out to do anything like those other bands, and we don’t really listen to that kind of music.

How did you get the European tour support slot with Rolo Tomassi?
Max: They put out our 7” for us on their Destination Moon record label. James, the keyboard player, really likes the music that we make. He’s constantly outdoing himself with his kindnesses. 
Tom: He didn’t let us know until we got asked by the booking agent three weeks before the tour. We managed to sort it out just in time. We literally got a van the day before.

What was life on the road like?
Tom: Smelly. The van was really old and rickety and only went 30mph. One place we played in Hamburg had an apartment for bands, and Munich did. All of the venues have band rooms with rows of bunk beds. I don’t know why we don’t do it in England as it makes a lot of sense. But our best gig was on the way home, in a squat in Holland.
Max: It was like a tiny shop front, like playing in Mimm - they crammed about forty people in there.

How did you get the daytime BBC Introducing... slot on Radio One?
Max: I think because we did Dean Jackson of The Beat a favour... 
Tom: He invited us along for a session, but little did we know that he was doing an item on East Midlands Today about music piracy. A week later we got an email from Dean saying that we were going to be played on Radio One. That’s probably our payment for helping him out.

What did being played for a week on Radio One get you?
Max: Our Facebook likes and views on YouTube have certainly gone up. It’s been good leverage for getting better gigs. You have to to utilise those sorts of things to exploit yourselves.

How would you sum up 2012?
Tom: We are on a high at the moment.
Max: My low of the year would be telling my Nan that I wasn’t going to uni. She was very disappointed. I just want to be in a band. But believe me, Nan - I will go to uni one day.

And your aims for 2013?
Max: We want to get the album done.
Tom: We just want to make something that we can ride off for a while. Put a load of work in to it and surf it for a bit.

Will you mind if people download it for free?
Max: If people do download it and then like it, please pay for it. 
Tom: It’s easy to take money off a musician signed to a huge corporate record label, but when it is an up-and-coming artist or someone who might not be doing it for the money, you have to give them a reward. I would love for the music to sell and do well, but I wouldn’t be gutted if it didn’t. You don’t want to get your hopes up.

What do you do in Nottingham when you are not being in a band?
Tom: We have a weekly Saturday DJ slot at the Rescue Rooms. We enjoy it, not just because it’s good pay, but because you get to control the music.
Max: And you get loads of free booze.

Why does Kappa Gamma exist?
Tom: I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with making music, and this is my favourite way of making it.
Max: For that moment when we are at practice and jamming and then something clicks and it’s like “yes”.
Tom: Then you want to do that to other people, and make them go “Yes”. It’s all about creating and capturing something. It’s a really strange thing, and I don’t understand it, but why do people dance? Why does music exist? It’s really weird, but we like it.

Kappa Gamma play One Thoresby Street on Saturday 8 December 2012. Just Another/ Wildfire is out now.


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