EMOTION IN LOW FIDELITY
Words: James Frostick
Matt Kennedy from Kitchen’s Floor talks about the lyrical content of his songs and how it relates to his own thoughts on life.
Acknowledging and confronting the harsh realities and unfortunate truths of life is something most people prefer not to do. Mortality, illness, loss and the like, are topics that create an awful feeling in the stomach, so many prefer to ignore it as best they can. Fear and sadness are usually all one gets out of self-exploratory excursions into the depths of the mind, yet there is gripping realness and a grim appeal associated with doing so.
Musicians have made livelihoods discussing and exploring these topics on behalf of music listeners and have in turn created some of the most compelling and acclaimed music ever recorded. Many of these musicians who step forward and discuss these issues and emotions are lauded and celebrated and rightly so; they are talking about the things many people don’t have the courage to talk about themselves.
Their music is often enthralling because of a few possible reasons. When set to music, these emotions can be easily romanticised and easier to swallow and accept. Sometimes the stories are worse than one’s own, making them feel comfort in the fact that their life isn’t as screwed up as the song writer’s. I think the most realistic factor is that listeners connect with the thoughts and the emotions communicated and they find comfort in the fact that someone else thinks about those kinds of things too; that they aren’t alone.
Kitchen’s Floor is one of those bands that explore the dark shit inside. Helmed by founder and only consistent member, Matt Kennedy, Kitchen’s Floor has carved out a niche in the Brisbane music scene by talking about the things that people don’t want to think about, but do anyway. A string of EP’s, two acclaimed LP’s and a live recording have been churned out since the band began in 2007 – each detailing in some way a seemingly ‘depressive’ aspect of life as it relates to Matt, the principal songwriter.
When I met Matt for a chat I was unsure how the interview would unfold. Probing someone about their music is hard enough, but when these songs are so viscerally honest and revel in unabashed sadness it made me wary about how much I could actually ask.
I was completely surprised and humbled by his honesty.
After some small talk involving Matt’s work at 4ZZZ and the new Judge Dredd movie, Matt opened up about Kitchen’s Floor, its place in the music consciousness and why he writes about the things he does.
“Kitchen’s Floor started in late 2007,” explains Matt. “That was following on from my previous band, Look!Pond. I think I played my first show as Kitchen’s Floor almost five years ago.”
Look!Pond was Matt’s second band after his high-school ‘disco-punk’ outfit, French Horns. Both projects were startlingly different from Kitchen’s Floor but Look!Pond shared some semblance of emotionally albeit of a more aggressive nature. Born out of feelings of isolation and frustration while living on the Gold Coast, Matt channelled these emotions to the confronting and disorderly punk sound of Look!Pond.
“I was really angry,” says Matt. “I guess with Look!Pond I had more spirit because I was younger, it was all about me screaming about the injustice of suburban isolation that I felt and I just wanted to make myself heard in a world that I felt was not paying attention to me. As I graduated from my teenage years and entered my twenties, I think I felt satisfied that I had achieved that.”
“It was music to vent my frustration at being isolated and stuck in a town that I hated extremely. That’s where that project was birthed, once I got out of the Gold Coast and moved to Brisbane, Look!Pond kind of fizzled out and then Kitchen’s Floor started and has really been my Brisbane band for the last five years.”
It only took a few years for Kitchen’s Floor to gain momentum and attract attention. Early EP’s laid the groundwork for the two full length releases which first experimented with bare-bones, lo-fi recording (2010’s Loneliness Is A Dirty Mattress) to then something more polished yet still raw enough to be attention-grabbing (2011’s Look Forward To Nothing).
Kitchen’s Floor’s latest release, the 7” Bitter Defeat, is a decidedly gentler track that still maintains the gloomy tendencies and melancholia of previous work. So far the song has attracted much praise, with reviews celebrating the down-tempo (yet foreboding) changes from the punkish squall of previous releases. The end result of all of Matt’s recordings closely mirrors his personal taste for the music of mother musicians.
“I like brutal honesty,” says Matt. “I don’t care about technical skill, I hate technical skill. I love raw, human emotion and that is sincere and that has weight behind it. I like music that is real and straight forward, to the point, and is a reflection of the person’s character. I try my hardest to do that. I wouldn’t comment on myself – but I do aim to do that. I try to be a direct and honest as possible with everything. Everything in the band has some meaning for me, which relates to the real world.”
When Matt initially started Kitchen’s Floor, it was to explore themes along similar lines to Look!Pond, but less as a statement on geographical isolation, rather societal isolation – written by someone who has grown in age and maturity.
“It was more of a way to express my place in the world and how I feel about existence and life in Brisbane in the 21st century as a 20-something,” explains Matt. “Kitchen’s Floor was just about going a bit deeper and getting a bit more self-reflective and expanding the sound to encompass a wider range of emotions and feelings.”
A previous interview with Matt also probed into the meaning and reasoning behind his work, eliciting a response where Matt claimed he wrote about ‘life’. I questioned Matt about his response, drawing a laugh from him when I asked him what his thoughts on life were exactly.
“I just write about what I know,” says Matt. “I do write songs about ‘life’; it’s a pretty vague and general term. I’ve been living in the same house for over six years and I live the same routine every single day. I don’t mind that. I guess I just see there is something worth expressing with living in Brisbane in this period of time and this kind of environment. I feel like expressing it the way I see it – I like the idea that it’s kind of creating a sound track to my own life and then maybe other people can relate to that kind of sentiment.”
“There is a very conscious aesthetic with Kitchen’s Floor to convey that lifestyle of being down and out; being broke, being apathetic with a future that is not so bright. I’d say it is a very recurring theme in everything that relates to the band.”
Indeed. Reviews of Matt’s work have included descriptors such as hopeless, melancholy, heartbreaking, apathetic and fragile in the same sentence as antonyms like unapologetic, anthemic, addictive, real, beautifully broken. All words are apt, they paint a picture of the dual-nature of Matt’s writing and musicianship, yet each term (even the bad-sounding ones) are used in a positive light.
Kitchen’s Floor is honest music in the way it describes the harsh realities of life without sugar coating anything. Events may be fictional or anecdotal, it doesn’t matter – the facts are there. Those facts may be hard to swallow and they may not even apply to everyone; Matt’s willingness to base his music around these themes and ideas make them undeniably enthralling once one becomes accustomed to the harsh aesthetic of his sound. Maybe the fact that Matt is being so open about life in his music is part of the appeal.
“I can only speak for myself, personally,” qualifies Matt. “I haven’t been to Uni, I don’t work, I’m on welfare and I really like that. I don’t have any ambition to get a career or play the game. I don’t see any point in that – I just do what I enjoy doing. We all die in the end, that’s the ending of every story – it’s about just being aware of that and making the most of it and not forgetting that core truth.”
Despite being pretty morbid, Matt has a point. The core truth of Kitchen’s Floor seems to be the impermanence of everything and the apparent hopelessness you feel once this is realised. Yet Matt has found something to enjoy – communicating this mantra – so maybe there is hope. Some reviews have gone so far as to describe Kitchen’s Floor as a hopeful band in the end, yet Matt doesn’t really connect with this sentiment exactly.
“I think no Kitchen’s Floor song is a happy one – they are all pretty sad,” says Matt. “I feel that the fact that I am acknowledging that sadness and turning it into catchy pop music adds a value in a way. As opposed to making shallow, up-beat pop songs that don’t have any meaning. I think it is important to think about things and create songs that area a bit dark in nature and have a bit of meaning that might not be immediately obvious to a listener.”
Matt probably has no problem telling me these things, nor any reason to care. His music is self-evident, it can be read an analysed like lyrics in liner notes and I think he likes it that way. His life is different to many but he isn’t too different as his music might suggest, rather, he is someone who appears to have truly accepted the unsavoury aspects of life and has chosen to live his life how he sees fit. No one can really tell him how to live his life, or to lighten-up. He is self-aware enough to know the situation he is in and to be comfortable there, but I was curious to hear what he thinks about those who connect with his music and similarly enjoy the depressive aspects of his work.
“It feels good that people can listen to it and relate to it,” admits Matt. “It makes me feel less like a freak. I feel like the songs convey universal emotions that some people feel at some point. It’s good to know that people are starting to pick up on it.”
“I think the difference today is that we are living in a pretty futuristic world. Some people aren’t really built to handle the world that we live in today. We are living in a world that is moving pretty fast and that can be alienating to a lot of people. I can only speak for my own demographic, but it does seem alienating to live in a world that moves very fast and places priorities on so many vacuous things and relies so heavily on technology.”
Although Matt is future minded when it comes to what life holds for our generation, the future direction for Kitchen’s Floor hasn’t been set. Bitter Defeat is still a relatively new release but it shows a concerted effort to mix up the sound. Matt doesn’t seem to be thinking about it at the moment but admits that experimentation has always been a part of Kitchen’s Floor and will continue to be so.
“Every Kitchen’s Floor release sounds completely different, I think,” says Matt. “They all have different moods, different line-ups, and different instruments. The first album, Loneliness Is A Dirty Mattress was very lo-fi, noisy rock record that was recorded using really cheap equipment – 15 watt practice amps and a drum kit that didn’t have any cymbals or kick drum. It was all recorded in a basement.”
“The follow-up, Look Forward To Nothing was recorded in a studio with high end equipment and a million dollar mixing desk. I wanted to make a hi-fi rock record for that. The latest EP is acoustic and really stripped back and sparse; lots of reverb. I just try to keep it sounding similar but also completely different each time I do something like a release.”
Regardless of sound, the next crop of Kitchen’s Floor songs will almost certainly maintain the downtrodden, languid vibe of previous releases.
Say what you will about the way Matt lives his life or what he thinks of life in general, his appeal extends beyond superficial aesthetics. Many listeners are connecting to the way he communicates his frustration and loneliness swallowed by apathy – feelings our generation are experiencing more as they pass out of adolescence into adulthood. On one hand, listeners can take Matt literally and wallow in doubt and hopelessness when thinking about the future or they can accept what he says and attempt to find something to comfort or inspire them, something to show them that it’s not all bad. Despite what his songs say, I think Matt has found the latter with Kitchen’s Floor – something he wants and continues to enjoy as life goes on.