Kooky Bombshell: An Inter(e)view
Mikey Kahleck doesn’t “do it for the money”.
“For true Capitalism to work,” Kahleck says, “and even for true democracy to really work, there has to be a level playing field…and there never has been a level playing field, let’s be honest.” Mickey sipped his second coffee (at 1:30 PM) and I sipped my second beer (again, at 1:30 PM) while we waited for our lunches.
Bryant Lake Bowl is as cozy and egalitarian as ever, nestled as it may be in the heart of an ever-changing Uptown Minneapolis. We talked about Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk; to what extent people will go for their desires and what collateral damage they’re comfortable leaving behind in their pursuit. And then I thought to start recording our conversation. On my iPhone11.
“Tim Cook,” Kahleck mentions casually, “I didn’t say anything bad about you or the iPhone 14. It’s a great product.” This will come back around. Because Mickey and I are both silly-silly fun-fun music boys. Only he’s been at it longer than I, and is waaaaaaay better.
I’m a guitarist, so I have to ask the very rudimentary and boring craft questions. But I don’t get the answers I was expecting, which is actually much better.
Adam: “Which effects or programs did you use for this project?”
Mickey: “I don’t use any programs, per say. What I do is I use my actual amps and I run it through an IR Load Box where I can mic cabinets and use computer software – which is pretty fascinating. There’s a few options I have. Since I have such a small room where my windows are basically useless I have to be very cautious about the noise I make.”
Kahleck lives with his wife and son in a nearby suburb but is cohabitating peacefully thus far with the squares.
“So I set up this hybrid system for just that reason.”
“A lot of it is the cabinets you choose. All of the signals are coming through an IR Loader Attenuator Box that this company called 2 Notes makes. It’s great. It has this software attached to it that you can directly run into your DAW workstation. It also has a direct signal – other cabinets from other software makers, like Celestian. I also have a bunch of my own cabinets. I did that with a lot of the more quiet stuff that didn’t end up on the album I put out. I did mic-ups, and they sound great, but my wife’s like, ‘…nah…’”
We share a laugh. The wisdom of an honest partner is indispensable to an honest artist.
“It’s an interesting concept I came up with,” he continues, “this hybrid thing. I want to use the actual gear I have. But since I’m not able to do the loud volumes that I want I figure out my ways to have my own little studio; go in there any time I want, and not worry about how it’s a/effecting other people; and also get the tones I hear in my head. I can set up my mics in a software emulation. It’s pretty weird, but it’s pretty cool.”
A: “I had issues with that, myself. When all that came out I found myself thinking, ‘This all sounds fake, and I don’t know what I’m doing.”
M: “I never had good experiences with, say, Line 6 stuff in the studios in the late 90s or early 2000s when it hit the market. I remember using those in the studio with a band and thinking they were bloody awful.”
A: “We can’t all be Coal Chamber.”
M: “Actually, now that I think about it, the gentleman from 12 Rods used those on a few recordings and they sound phenomenal.”
Ryan Olcott is another local talent and mainstay who has been crafting sounds since before it was cool.
“I hope he continues doing what he’s doing. That would be awesome.”
A: “But it is just you on the record?”
M: “I play everything. It’s important for me to not come off as playing loops or sampling that sort of stuff. I want to actually be playing everything.” But here is when he catches himself. (I have to remind him NOT in a lie) “There’s a few things on the first track I looped. I found a really cool bass drum sample and found a hi-hat that I did a bunch of crazy effects to and then I just mixed everything. Superior Drummer has all the top of the line studio drums, all recorded at Galaxie Studios. I take the raw drums and mix and match everything – cymbals, toms, bass drums, tunings. I think I had three different drum kits that I used for the EP with different configurations. It’s a trip.”
A: “Speaking of drums, you historically find yourself behind the kit despite identifying as a ‘guitar player’, yes?”
M: “I have because nobody wanted guitar players in the mid to late 90s. I didn’t start playing drums until I was 19; and the only reason was to keep beats on my own 4-track recordings. I loved watching drummers, and I would mimic a lot of my friends and favorite players just figuring stuff out. I always wanted to be a guitar player, but that changed when I was trying to find gigs.
“In order to play shows I had to switch it over to drums…and I was god awful. But I faked it well enough; and I practiced a lot. I learned on the fly when I was working on the job, basically. But I got pretty good pretty fast. By the time I was in my third or fourth band as the drummer I felt pretty confident.”
A: “Drums that stand out to me usually dance around and incorporate a lot of tom work. What inspired you to lean into those sensibilities?”
M: “When I was younger I loved busy drummers. I loved some of the jazz greats; I loved just thrashy drummers, too, and metal drummers. They did some phenomenal tom work. Nick Menza, Buddy Rich, Tony Williams – I found them so inspiring. I could never achieve their talent, but what they were doing was inspiring me to do what I was doing and get better, to achieve my own style. My ear will allow me to learn things and play them, but I would rather work toward my own style. Which is something I’ve always aimed for.”
Our meals arrive and we let the conversation casually meander through 70s rock ’n roll, specifically Aerosmith. We conclude that both Team Jimmy Page and Team Joe Perry are of equal esteem and any competition between the two would be futile. But Joe Perry is technically the better player. And I try to get him talking guitars again.
A: “Speaking of guitars, what were your guitar ideas on this new project?”
M: “The guitars were kind of an after-thought, honestly. The only two songs on the EP that I developed by playing anything were “Work Together” (on a Moog Matriarch) where I found a grimy tone, and the beginning Mini-Moogs on “I Want All the Sounds”. Those were the only two things I really “wrote” on any instrument. What I do all day while working is coming up with ideas and humming them into this app your using right now.”
M: “That’s how those songs are developed. All the instrumentation is thought out beforehand, what kind of pedals and how they’re present in the mixes, what kind of amps I want to use for what. I use a Hiwatt Custom for more driving mid-rangey stuff; more driven stuff is with the Marshalls. I used a few software emulations I got from Amplitude, but they’re settings I did myself combining everything.”
A: “That is bonkers cool.”
M: “Guitar-wise – I have a few Les Pauls with different pickups and different qualities to them. I have a Frankenstrat that this guy named Adam at Mill City Luthiery put together for me. The body was from this Strat my grandfather bought for me back in 1990 for Christmas, and my grandfather meant a lot to me, so I wanted to save that. I bought a neck from Warmoth and all the electronics and pickups. I believe his name was Adam—sweetest guy—and he worked on all of my guitars for this recording, so that and the Les Pauls were the two main instruments for this project.
“I don’t have a bass cabinet, but I used the IR loader. I have a really cool Laney 60-watt in great condition. I had to have the power transformer redone, but they took the original casing of the Mercury Magnetics power transformer. It looks and sounds incredible thanks to Casey Gooby. My Music Man Stingray has two humbuckers instead of one, also. So that sounds incredible.”
Kahleck’s dedication to authenticity comes roaring to life once we get into the content of Kooky Bombshell and the nuances that went into its conception.
A: “Kooky Bombshell is very synth-heavy and that seems to surprise people who hear it, but for me that makes a lot of sense.”
M: “My last record, Woods Colt – most people have never heard that, unfortunately. And I will get that up online eventually once I put out a few more EPs.”
A: “From Chibalo to Silicone Cells to your time in the Chambermaids, your public sound has been more akin to Indy Rock, say. Or the heaviness of Blackthorne. Yet this new EP is more…Gary Numan. Where did that come from?”
M: “I have no idea. “Work Together” was definitely a ‘let’s see if I can do this’ moment. I wasn’t planning on that, but I kept getting ideas in my head more like early full-on Kraftwerk. And there was a kind of Kraftwerk point to the lyrics, too. I wanted them to sound a certain way.”
A: “The assonance of the words as well as the meaning.”
M: “Yeah – because you’re basically fighting the machine we’re being driven by and you feel like a cog in this factory:
Hey, there’s no way
We carry on today without a trace
We make the beat to reach that daily pace
“The chorus is more like a vision of hope, more human:
Everybody, work together
If forced to face the mountains
We won’t turn away
The boldest ever find what lies behind the other side
“I Want All the Sounds” came about similarly, starting out as about twenty different things. I got module synths on that: Berhinger ARP 2600, my mini-Moog. I also use this midi software called Arturia. It’s synth emulations of all the best synths that are made, and I used a few of those on there, too. But most of it are analog synths that I own. But a lot of it is a blur.
“I did a lot in a short period of time. This is the first project I’ve really mixed. It had to be a certain standard because I wanted to release it, and it had to be quality, and I wanted to do it myself. So I had to teach myself how to mix, how to use all of this technology; because I didn’t know how to mix. And write all the songs. And write all the lyrics all within that period of six weeks that I was gone.”
A: “Holy shit, good for you!”
The United States Postal Service is a fine workshop environment but not so much for functional artistry. Vacation bidding has to be done strategically, and Kahleck is at least a first-degree black belt in said venture.
M: “Pressure cooker. Got to make it count. You’re forced to get shit done, but it’s got to be up to par with what your vision is. You don’t want to leave it on the table, but you don’t necessarily want it to sound too quantized and pitch-corrected. Even the stuff I recorded with software isn’t perfect. If I did make a mistake I would go back and fix it manually. I’m a terrible piano player, but it had to sound real. I didn’t want it to sound like I quantized every note and made it sound perfect.
“Fortunately for me I do have a DAW and I can take my time, but some day I want to get back into a studio and lay down something on analog tape.”
We trade studio stories, expectations and understandings (personal and otherwise).
A: “So what’s next?”
M: “I plan on doing another one by late May or early June. I don’t have anything written yet. I have plenty of ideas – I don’t want to go that route. I want fresh ideas. Have maybe five bangers and get it done and out by late spring. There might be more of a flow from one song to another. This one kind of jumps around a little bit, but I’ll try to get a through-line going. My goal is to get about two EPs out a year until I get a bit of a following. Because I want to put out vinyl again, but not unless I know I can sell it.”
A: “And I totally understand that, believe me. No worries – we still have too many of our first record.”
M: “Everything is cheaper and easier now. People can access your music online. We’ll see what happens.”
A: “Are there any plans to bring the studio work into a live atmosphere?”
M: “I have a love-hate relationship with playing live. I love playing the show; but I’m at the age now where I don’t want to deal with a lot of the bullshit that goes on behind the scenes. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had in the past, but it’s not necessarily a thing I’m striving towards right now. If there are people who start finding an interest in what I’m doing then maybe I’ll consider it, but…
“Even my time with Blackthorne three or four years ago – I love those guys, but it really brought back lots of things I thought I was done dealing with, a lot of personal feelings. But I’m glad I did that. It was a great experience and I’ll forever cherish that. If I can play venues that are more accommodating than I’ve experienced in the past, I’ll consider it. But that’s more for the young women and men to do right now. My main passion is writing and playing music at home right now. Producing, at least for myself. Because I believe in longevity, for myself and for my family.”
Audiophiles rejoice. Your Friendly Neighborhood Tone Lord has arrived:
Synthesizers? Fucking d’uh.
Drums? Why are you even here if you’re going to ask such stupid questions.
Kahleck’s proclamation at the onset of the EP – “I Want All the Sounds” – is really the through-line of Kooky Bombshell. This is a “headphones album“ from start to finish. It has been two months since the August 25 release and I am still finding new layers upon each listen.
What is truly palpable in the songs is a very urgent sense of kind frustration. “An honest soul can tell no lies“ is a phrase I just made up; but one cannot lose sight of the sharp, concise, yearning sensibilities of these five rock ‘n’ roll songs. The guitar solo of “Make The Call”, followed by the piledriving “Christ In Jeans”, belies the verisimilitude of the lyrics:
Let’s reasonably agree to disagree
There’s not a place in this world we can face
The challenges we’re going to face
If all we feel is full of hate
The thoughtful spontaneity of the project is quite present and is more or less the lifeblood of the EP. When Kahleck characterized his ambition as “bangers“ he was spot on. His “time and pressure“ method have produced a few diamonds, and I’m excited to see what comes next. Stream the whole EP right here:
Adam Johnson lives in Minneapolis with his wife, cats, and guitars.