March 18, 2010

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Metal morph
From Otto Kinzel to Chemical Distance
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Otto Kinzel IV bowed out of live music for a while last year. He was bored with the metal scene, an endless succession of peaks with no valleys. He likened it to a crowded NASCAR field, with everyone going 180 miles an hour, all the time.

“It was all very predictable — two down-tuned guitars and a screaming vocalist. If you stood in the back of the room, everything was a wash,” he said — a wall of sound with no discernible elements.

He also sensed an unwillingness on the part of most bands to move beyond the genre’s narrow boundaries.  “When they hear drum machines and synthesizers, it’s met with resistance,” he said.

So he stepped away and went looking for new musical challenges. 

“It’s more difficult to write a good song with a good hook than it is to write niche music with crazy time changes,” he said.

Kinzel took his love of beats and sequencers into the studio and began a solo project. He hoped to come up with an austere, minimalist sound that employed a few ingredients wisely.

The plan was to use Kinzel’s programmed tracks as a canvas for other musicians, including vocalist/lyricist Michael Hauptly-Pierce, who wrote five songs for the project, bass player Matt Connarton and turntablist Steve Bradbury, among others. The record began to take shape over the summer.

“A live drummer got involved; there were five difference vocalists, including me,” Hauptly-Pierce told a radio host recently.

“It was sort of a Trent Reznor project, yeah,” said guitarist and composer Kinzel. The music is a hybrid of Depeche Mode dance pop and Skinny Puppy industrial rock, with an unconscious nod to Frank Zappa’s psychedelic jazz collaborations with Captain Beefheart. There are also strong melodic elements at play, especially on songs like the world-weary “Red Queen Dance,” and the hurdy-gurdy roller coaster ride, “Carnival.”

As work on the album, The Pain and the Progress, moved forward, it began to morph into a band project. Hauptly-Pierce and Connarton backed Kinzel for three solo shows “and the chemistry clicked,” he said. “It felt so nice having those guys on stage with me that it didn’t seem appropriate to call it under my own name, and luckily we were early enough in the post-production process of the CD that we hadn’t printed tons of covers.”

By January of this year, the trio had become Chemical Distance. The name was chosen by Hauptly-Pierce, who says it represents the ways that time and context shape memories: “[It’s] that one little synapse in your brain, that little chemical gap which can change all the perceptions of what really happened in your life.”

The band adopted a marketing philosophy as unconventional as its music.

Their coming out party was held at Dover’s Brick House, but since then they’re been turning up in a lot of places not normally associated with live music.

After Kinzel contacted Victoria Gailinas, better known as “Wicked Evil Step Mom” to fans of the ManchVegas Roller Girls, the band was booked to make two halftime appearances at matches later this year. They’re also performing at a Manchester Harley-Davidson/Buell event next month. 

“We like playing in clubs, but it’s more fun to play roller derby, Harley shows and stunt bike events,” said Kinzel. “It’s a huge crossover demo we wouldn’t get if we were playing Milly’s or the Uptown Tavern if it was still around.”

It may be a different environment for a band trying to market itself, but Kinzel bristles at the notion that the appetite for live music has dried up: “People who complain that there’s no scene are saying they’re not willing to do the work, and want someone else to work for them,” he said.

“You have to crawl a mile to move a inch,” said Connarton, who knows about self-promotion as manager of the Internet radio site www.ipmnation.com and co-host of Norm’s Psychic World on MCAM TV-23.

They dismiss the nostalgia for a golden age of barhopping record company scouts searching for bands to sign as both naïve and misguided.

“What gets overlooked a lot is that in those days, you had no leverage,” Kinzel said. “You got paid next to nothing, didn’t own the rights to your own songs, it was slave labor and if you didn’t hit you owed them big bucks.”

All the band’s songs are available on the www.chemicaldistance.com Web site as free downloads. Eventually, they’d like people to buy their music, complete with artwork and lyric books. For now, however, they’re mainly interested in being heard.

They also hope to generate interest in their live shows, which feature a “Frankenstein tower” of old-school tube televisions showing conceptual films as they reproduce their studio sound — though, said Kinzel, “it’s warmer, because humans are playing it.”

The new marketing landscape may be challenging, but there’s far more opportunity, said Kinzel. “Bands can empower themselves. I would rather sell 5,000 records and keep the money than sell 100,000 and end up in debt.”


Chemical Distance
For more information and free downloads, go to www.chemicaldistance.com