There are many musical hybrids in this global village era of broadband and rapid file sharing; tunes on technological tap. Musicians merge distinct stylistic ideas and genres evolve unrecognisably from their original incarnations. Sheffield’s King Capisce represent one of these breakaway niches. Not quite jazz, but embodying the same spirit of aural adventure; not quite rock, but similarly unafraid to crank up the volume; not quite prog, but often hyperopic in melodic and structural vision. Guitarist Tim Feben explains it better in his own words, talking to Now Then Manchester’s Ian Pennington.
Now Then: You’re fronted by a dual sax action pairing that takes on most of the lead parts. Who or what inspired this? Did it just fall into place or was it intentional?
King Capisce: Well, we actually started off as a four piece with only one sax. Without any vocals in the band the saxophone carried a lot of the melodies in the tunes and it worked out as we were more of a jam band back then. But when we started to write and experiment with the tunes for our debut album we found adding a second sax line beefed up the sound and gave the melodies significantly more depth and character. Rich, our sax man, basically went through all our tunes and reworked them for two saxophones. After that we couldn't write or gig with solo sax again! We got Alex in and the harmony between two tenor horns became the ‘vocals’ for Capisce's tunes.
NT: You appeared at the Manchester Jazz Festival recently - how did that go?
KC: It was a pleasure to be part of and a bit of a personal goal of ours, especially with all the great bands featured at the festival year after year. We were on at Matt and Phreds and it was packed out, which was wicked. Typically speaking though we love a standing crowd right up with us, dancing and thrashing around – it keeps the energy up, makes us play better... But that's just nitpicking, it was an awesome weekend, we'd love to play again next year...
NT: What's the biggest (and best, if different) gig you've performed at?
KC: Supporting some of our favourite bands such as Polar Bear and Led Bib has been fantastic but I think playing to a couple of thousand people at Sheffield's own Peace in the Park festival this year has got to top it. There is such a communal vibe and the atmosphere all day was fantastic - by the time we came on at around 7pm it was already through the roof. We just needed to turn up to be honest! Seeing our tune 'Cheer up Cyclops' start up a mosh pit in our home town was something behold... having a gig like that on our doorstep is magic.
NT: Are lyrics superfluous?
KC: In general? No. In our music, I think so. For one, it frees the music up and gets us away from verse-chorus-verse clichés. More importantly to us, we've tried to create tunes that are multi-textural and the lack of lyrics helps other elements of our music shine through. Our 'dual sax action' as you put it, has its own lyricism - if that doesn't sound too cheesy. But also with Capisce, we all try and put originality and personality into our playing... lead lines come from all of us and we hope that the connection with the music and instrumental performance is enough to replace the need for a traditional front-person. Who knows what the future will bring? There are amazing lyricists out there who define the importance of vocals but, for us at least, the connection you get watching musicians who are really connected with their playing is as good as music gets, words or no words.
NT: How do you feel jazz / progressive music forms are portrayed (in the media and otherwise) & how would you alter it?
KC: That almost certainly requires a better answer than we can think of right now, but they both don't have it anywhere near as good as they should! 'Progressive' rock is arguably a large part of our sound, but being associated with the classic image of 'prog-rock', as in 1970s hair rock with over-the-top guitar solos, is not an idea we're too keen on... We happen to have a long-haired type in the band, unfortunately enough, who also plays guitar, so it’s dangerous territory for us! But it does seem like if you call yourself ‘jazz’, you're suddenly being inaccessible or exclusive... And being called post-jazz, or post-this or that, just sounds pretentious! Maybe we should all spend less time on genre tags and just listen to more music?
NT: With your mix of prog rock and jazz, do you see yourself as part of a 'scene' or as a space between different musical styles?
KC: With the previous half-rant in mind, I think the answer to that is probably a bit of both. We play music that comes naturally to each of us individually, without trying to force things or follow suit, so inevitably that gives things their own flavour. We've also actively tried to fuse some of our favourite elements from, say, the post-rock or contemporary jazz scenes, so in this regard we can definitely identify with the 'space between' concept – especially when it comes to being paired with other artists for gigs. Having said that, there are loads of amazing live bands who are 'cross-genre', experimental, jazz/rock influenced and/or mostly instrumental who we love and maybe feel some kind of 'musical affinity' to... we've already mentioned Polar Bear and Led Bib – off the top of my head, bands like Jaga Jazzist, Get The Blessing, Portico Quartet. It’s not necessarily a 'scene' we feel connected to I guess, it’s more of an approach and ethos towards making new and original music of mixed origins.
NT: I once interviewed Peter Hammill from prog rockers Van Der Graaf Generator who suggested that by 1977 music had become "overblown" and for some new bands it didn't make sense to say "you can only be a band if you've got 6 keyboards" so the lo-fi punk model was a more feasible alternative for many young musicians... What's your view on prog vs punk, both in terms of an impression of then and how you see it now?
KC: I don't think across the band we're particularly into either in their purest form. However aspects of each are great and have undoubtedly informed each of us and our sound. Punk tells you to strip down what you’re playing to its most essential elements and play it with balls. That's a good lesson, especially if you want the tune to be high octane and catchy. Prog might tell you not to rush an idea and let it evolve and layer up as required. That's also a good idea. What's not necessarily a good idea is taking each to their extreme and ending up with a tune that is either wishy-washy and over technical or so simple and harsh that it misses out on some of its potential depth. So that's it essentially; each has a lot to teach the other.
NT: Finally, which records are you playing the grooves off at the moment and which of your peers would you recommend?
KC: Well I think we've already mentioned a few of our favourites, so we'd better just promo bands we are playing with who we consider 'peers'! It's altruistic self-promo, we promise...!
We are going to be gigging with the mighty Red Snapper at Sheffield nightclub Plug on 18th November. They have been doing awesome stuff for years now, mixing jazz with various modern beats and grooves and paving the way for bands like us. We also played with an awesome young jazz trio from Manchester called GoGo Penguin [who will support King Capisce at Dulcimer Bar on Thursday 22nd September] who we were so impressed with that we're bringing them to a night we are organising in Sheffield – they are definitely worth seeing live.
Images #1 & #3: Simon Bray.
Image #4: Courtesy of King Capisce.
Now Then This City Is Ours poster design: Craig Brown - Beards Illustration.
King Capisce headline the next Now Then Manchester show on Thursday 22nd September at Dulcimer Bar on Wilbraham Road in Chorlton. Get a free copy of their latest single 'If Not Now, Then When?' GoGo Penguin and Kerfuffle support, with the This City Is Ours DJs LSN and Blood Boy providing the audio intervals. Suggested entry fee is £3, but it is a pay-what-you-like premise that encourages as much or as little as you can contribute to support the musicians involved.