All posts by Kai Strandskov

Kai Strandskov grew up in a musical family. His father played the tuba in a Danish folk dance band and sang in the church choir, while his mother played a variety of musical instruments--including accordion in a Balkan music ensemble. It was as a small child while falling asleep listening to the intricate rhythms and melodies of folk music from around the world, that Kai naturally gained an interest in music. Starting in the 4th grade, Kai played trumpet in school bands. It was in his senior year that a buddy of his, Shawn Evans, introduced him to a local ska band, Smidgen, headed by Libby Roach. They gained some local popularity, and regularly played in the local scene and with touring bands that traveled through, such as the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. The next year, the band decided to reinvent itself into a more experimental rock band. With influences like John Zorn’s Naked City, No Means No, Sonic Youth, and Mr. Bungle, the band got louder and Kai ditched the trumpet and took on the drums. Kai obsessively taught himself the coordination needed for a drum set and to keep up with the complicated rhythms that the band required, listening to recordings of drummers with a wide range of styles such as Terry Bozzio, Mike Bordin, Jon Fishman, Neil Peart, Tim Alexander, Bryan Mantia, Carter Beauford, and John Bonham. Kai continued to play in the local scene, working on additional projects such as the Heroin{e} Martyr Coalition, an avant-garde spoken word group, and A Million Fingers, a rock band with a strong political message. He briefly moved to Santa Cruz, California, and dabbled around briefly in the scene there, and then dived into the deep end of the Seattle scene. Today, Kai is still playing a wide range of styles in Seattle; from the neo-wave progressive electroclash band Hidden Number, to a Party Metal band by the name of Shiplosion, to a chaotic Balkan ensemble called the Bucharest Drinking Team. He is also a session drummer for recording studio Magnets Large & Small, and available for subbing in for folks.

Trying not to fall behind

It seems like it’s a struggle not to fall behind. There’s always more to learn. More to observe and soak in.

I’ve played with musicians in the past that have been stuck. They had the chops. They had the core technical skills to rock. But they hadn’t kept up with what was going on in the scene around them.

Now you might be the type of musician that doesn’t care what’s going on, and that’s fine. You’re the type of person who we call “ahead of their time”. There are even savants like Henry Darger, who just sort of figured out how to do his thing all by himself and for himself. But the rest of us mortals have to care a certain amount about what’s happening now, if we’re going to have a conversation with the rest of the art community.

So, I saw that those musicians who were stuck were being left behind. They were hard to work with. It took longer for them to get the right sound that the song required. If you’re going to push the boundaries, you have to know the boundaries. And the boundaries are always changing, so I try to predict the changing boundaries and push that too. If you don’t know the boundary, then you are irrelevant at the moment.

That happened to me. I learned to play drums in the 90s. I built up a set of hardware in that context, and certain inflections in style particular to that time (for example, a tightly tuned snare). It wasn’t until maybe 15 years later that I realized I was still hanging on to a few things. I probably am still irrelevant in many ways, otherwise I’d be famous.

It’s hard to be that self aware. I really value the people I can trust who will be honest about that stuff. “Your snare sound sucks.” “Your high hat is way too brittle sounding.” Sometimes I don’t notice that stuff right away just on my own.

Yeah, so try not to fall behind like I did. But if you’re truly passionate, then you’ll figure it out.

Trying to have some personality

I think personality is more important than technical ability. A lot of times it takes a lot of technical ability to truly express your inner personality, but I just find myself more drawn to the kind of art where the personality transfixes me. Sometimes an aspect of that personality can be really sloppy, or can be something that borders on a train wreck but not quite. Tom Waits just can’t be compared to Pavarotti, but you know what? They both have a magnetic personality. Or take Madonna: she has fully admitted that she’s not the best singer. Adele has both personality and technical skill, but I think people mostly just care about her personality. I can think of some bands that just suck, but they are all technical virtuosos. I won’t name them here. :) Or take the entire hard core movement. It was about energy, it was about substance, it was about the scene. Not about hot guitar riffs.

Don’t get me wrong–I think you have to have technical skill of some kind in order to express what’s in your soul, and anyone can be technical with enough practice. So there’s some balance here. It’s a skill to be able to express yourself properly. And that is above and beyond learning to play a bunch of fast notes in a row.

I’ve played in sessions where I’ve felt my soul getting crushed because I felt like I was under the microscope, and it made me self-conscious. And I’ve seen it happen to others. They focus so much on playing notes perfectly, and then the life gets sucked out of the finished recording.

I was just listening to some rough mixes from Bucharest Drinking Team. We recorded a couple songs completely live at Vera Project. No individual tracking, and not one instrument at a time. We just went in for a few hours and recorded live whatever happened. The Drinkies are the kind of band where the live experience is so much of what they do, so I  couldn’t imagine recording any other way. There were some sour notes. I overplayed on the high hat. Whatever. The personality is shining through, and I’m completely happy about that. So I hope I’m making some progress with that, finally. It wasn’t until I went to get some drum lessons that I truly appreciated this.

So what’s important to you? Personality? Something else?

Trying to figure things out

Susan encouraged me to start blogging more, so here goes. A series of posts, where I try to figure things out. It will probably be a lot of philosophy and self help and different ways to think about learning. I’ll probably digress into math, science, and, of course, drums. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to post comments and we can start a conversation about this stuff.  Thanks,

–Kai

Learning by metaphor

I like to think in terms of metaphors. It’s a way of brainstorming, but also a way of learning. When I encounter something new, I like to brainstorm what metaphors might apply. If I’ve found a good metaphor, then I suddenly learn a lot more about the new thing, because a metaphor is a full concept that I already understand quite a bit.

Common metaphors

The pendulum

The pendulum swings back and forth between extremes. If it’s a magnet, then you have other attracting forces that can really affect the pendulum’s path as it swings in 3-D. It’s like the seasons, artistic trends, moods, something new that you’ve learned, and life and death.

The scale or balance

You’re choosing different options, you have two conflicting opinions, you are integrating something you’ve learned with everything else you know, you want to create a product with features and have a great user experience, you’re trying to control the volumes of all 4 limbs when playing drums (and trying to sing), you are prioritizing, you want to spend time and do a good job and use up few resources. With the scale, you can choose the weight of the things on the scale, but remember as you weigh toward one thing–the other things aren’t as heavy.

Equilibrium

In a system, everything coexists in harmony. When you make a change, then the rest of the system compensates in some way. Or the system starts to change and then restabilizes. Sometimes the system never levels out again. Sometimes you change the system, and everything has to change to compensate. It’s like social dynamics, or your energy level, or band politics, or the arrangement of instruments in a song, or how you spend your time each day.

Art

It’s all interrelated. Music, visual arts, dance, sculpture, film, food, your career, sports, driving. There is an art to it all, and they all have some major strategies or techniques that overlap. How you train, how you prioritize, how you make choices, how you gain perspective, how you express yourself, how you make money.

Just some thoughts I had today. Think of any other metaphors?

 

The week after Bumbershoot

Okay, now that you are completely burned out on music from Bumbershoot, here’s what I highly recommend this week. There’s a lot going on!

Thursday

Too much to choose from!

Cafe Racer – 2 Hour Variety Hour

After the recent events, the community at Cafe Racer is one of the closest and the most welcoming in Seattle–and possibly some of the most diverse. Then imagine the freaks of the freaks putting on a show that’s like flipping channels during Saturday morning cartoons. Last time I went, there was automated poetry, opera, Journey, puppets, and karaoke.

[Facebook Event]

 

Key of Solomon and Metameric at the Comet

This is going to be a kick-ass metal show. It’s the kind of night where it’s such a perfect line-up that you arrive early and stay the entire time. Metameric is high energy metal, with the perfect balance of technical prowess. Key of Solomon is more on the rocking side, and you don’t have to decide whether or not you like the vocalist.

[Facebook Event]

 

Diminished Men at the Comet

This is some crazy psych-surf rock. It’s like a scene out of Twin Peaks. I always expect to see a small dude dancing backwards. I love these guys. Also: this seems to be booked at the same time in the same venue as the event above? How is that possible? I have no idea. That’s why you should go.

[Facebook Event]

 

And then lastly,

Melvins at the Showbox

You know what this is. I won’t bother giving you a link. If you know what it is, you probably have tickets. But if that’s not enough for you, then let me just say that Trevor Dunn is playing with them and that should be enough.

 

Friday

Again: Too Much!

Les Pamplemousses at the Pink Door

Imagine an evening somewhere in France during the early 20th century. You’re there, and you know all the songs and know all the lyrics. How is this possible? Go and find out.

[Facebook Event]

 

 The Swans at Neumos

They influenced so many bands, I’ve lost count. We’re lucky that bands like this are still touring. I wish I had known about them a long time ago, and so do you.

 

Saturday

Bucharest Drinking Team at Tilth Harvest Fair

Stuff is going on all day, but my band will be performing at 2pm sharp. Parking is tough, so arrive early.

[Facebook Event]