Less than a month to go before they hit the stage at The Copper Owl for Shake! Fest, I sat down with Curtis Lockhart and Jackson Melenchuk of Death Kart to talk music, graduation, and Mario Kart.
OP. So Curtis, Death Kart started off as a solo endeavour, how did that evolve into the band?
CL. It started as a solo recording project back when I was living in Nanaimo. I knew I was going to be moving to Victoria at some point, so I thought it would be a good time to start putting pieces together. I knew I would be living with Jackson - he plays piano - so I asked him to play with me and he said yes. I actually met our drummer Griffon on New Year’s. We were both pretty drunk. He had to text me the next morning to ask if he was really in the band because he couldn’t remember, and I was like, “Yeah, no I recall that. You're in.” And then I met Hamzah through Jackson’s music production club.
OP: How did growing up in Nanaimo influence your path to making music?
CL: That’s a good question. I went to shows at Crace Mountain quite a bit, so that helped, especially with finding underground music and stuff like that and having a space to go to and openly play music. It was a good place to start out playing shows.
OP. You were in a band called Cloud Limbs before moving to Victoria. How long did that last?
CL. I guess for a year and a half. That’s a band I started playing in towards the end of high school that was basically just a thrashing punk band. It was a lot more Nirvana influenced. We all loved Nirvana. I don’t want to call us a Nirvana cover band - we didn’t do any Nirvana covers — oh yeah we did actually. Yeah...
JM. Curtis, Kurt Cobain, it’s right there.
CL. We had some fun. I probably lost half my hearing through that band. We played in a bedroom, that’s where we rehearsed, and the drummer hit like Thor, he was super loud. Going in there you had to brace yourself.
OP. And where do you guys practice now?
CL. Well, we used to practice at Hamzah’s house, but he doesn’t live there anymore so…
[Hamzah is living in Langley for the summer and travelling back and fourth for practice and shows]
JM. We might start doing it at Uvic. I think that’s our plan. They have different spaces there.
OP. As a fairly new band, you’ve only played a handful of shows so far. How have those been?
CL. Um, it’s been an experiment.
JM. Pretty good! Well we did a couple shows without our drummer, and we just used a Macbook for our drums. Those weren’t that good.
CL. Those were a nightmare.
JM. The connection on the Macbook was always fucked up so the drums would cut in and out for some songs. It was very rigid. The song starts and stops with the computer, there’s no playing around. Since Griffon’s come on we’ve been doing pretty good. Our show at Vinyl Envy was really fun.
CL. That’s it. Having a drummer, having a rhythm section basically, helps a ton.
JM. A good drummer! Griffon’s a really good drummer.
CL. Yeah, he plays by feel and that’s really important.
JM. He’s not a drummer like this [imitates a restricted, recluse drummer] he’s like crazy, all over the place kicking it. It’s a joy to watch.
OP. Sounds like it’s going to be a good Shake show! So we’ve talked about Nirvana, aside from that, who are some of Death Kart’s influences?
CL. That’s a good question. The thing about Death Kart is that we all sort of bring something different. There’s a lot of soul influence. Jackson has a lot of soul records, like 1970s Philadelphia soul.
JM. I think Death Kart, that album, was all Curtis. So we’re starting to evolve as a band now.
CL. Yeah, yeah absolutely. Like that cassette, the first cassette, it wasn’t as thrashy as Cloud Limbs but there was definitely-
JM. Like Joy Division!
CL. Yeah totally, absolutely! It’s very loud and abrasive. Some of the songs are softer too, but a lot of the new stuff we’re coming up with lately is a lot groovier which is weird for us.
JM. I’d like to say I helped with that.
CL. Oh yeah, totally.
JM. Also Hamzah, our bass player, is kind of a God. He’s incredible on bass, like it’s ridiculous what he can do.
CL. Well he can play any instrument.
JM. Yeah, any instrument. You can show him a song and he’ll be like “Oh, ok.” And just does it. There’s a crazy story from after one of our gigs. We’re just hanging out after a show and he picks up this guitar that’s not his and starts playing Curtis’ guitar part for one of the songs like it’s nothing. And he does the vocal part to it too. Like perfectly. And it’s just him fucking around. Like, it doesn’t matter to him. I call him the Young Mozart.
CL. What I really appreciate now is all the different ideas that each person brings—especially because how we usually do a song is I come up with the idea of it, and then record it as a demo and show it to everyone through Facebook or whatever and I’m like, “Hey, tell me what you think of this,” and we show up to practice and people add their different bits to it. So that’s really helped develop songs, everyone bringing different influences. Griffon’s added some really good insight into songs in terms of form and how they work out, and it changes it completely, well not completely, but it makes it really grow. It’s really great.
JM. I think “And I Still” is probably the best example of that. That was like a slow ballad song on the album. We’ve turned it into this grunge, hardcore song.
CL. I wouldn’t say hardcore.
JM. Ok. It’s way harder. So, everyone influences. Griffon’s into ambient stuff. He works at Ditch so he listens to a lot of music. I think the stuff he listens to now is really weird and out there, so he brings some cool sounds.
CL. And then Hamzah, obviously being really good at bass just does his own thing and is amazing. He’s into math rock too, isn’t he?
JM. Yeah. It’s like really technical stuff. He’s like—is he in computer engineering?
CL. Computer sciences, something like that.
JM. He’s a really smart dude.
CL. He’s amazing.
OP. Sounds like you guys have a good team going. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like some of the lyrics of “And I Still” are uncomfortably relatable to a lot of people our age. Can you talk a little bit about how you wrote that song?
CL. Yeah, yeah it’s a darker song for sure. I remember coming up with that as I graduated from high school and it was kind of like, “Oh, this is very easy.” A lot of lyrics lately are based on uncertainty of the future. Especially with our generation, how nothing is really set in stone anymore. It’s not like once you get a university degree you’re guaranteed anything. It’s sort of just like, so now you have a university degree but what are you going to do? It’s about just being uncertain and the anxieties that come along with that.
OP. Do you guys have a favourite song on the EP?
CL. "Years" is always fun to play.
JM. Years? I hate Years!
JM. I don’t hate the song. I love all the songs. I just hate playing years because I would always fuck it up in the beginning.
CL. In the beginning, but you got it now.
JM. I got it now. I like "My Baby".
CL. My Baby is fun. We’ve definitely phased some of the songs from the first tape out of our live set because they just don’t apply to us or our style anymore.
JM. And Beach Bummer, but I’m into that slower stuff. I shouldn’t say I hate Years. I want to retract that. Take it off the record.
CL. It’s too late. You have to think of that before.
OP. Besides Shake! Fest, what’s on the horizon for you guys? Any plans to record again in the future?
CL. Yeah, absolutely. When Hamzah gets back that’s something I definitely I want to do. Record something in the fall. I’d like to tour at some point, but I don’t know when or how. It would be difficult with school.
OP. Who are you most excited to see at Shake?
JL. Us. Can’t wait to see Death Kart there.
CM. I saw The Courtneys and they’re a really good band. I’m excited to see them again. Power-Buddies is playing too right? They’re a really fun band. And Gender Poutine as well, yeah.
OP. I still can’t get over that name.
CL. Such a fantastic name.
JM. It’s going to be a great festival. There’s a lot of bands I don’t know.
CL. Discovering new bands will be a lot of fun.
OP. Is there anything else I should know about?
JM. Where does the name Death Kart come from. Tell the story.
CL. I have no idea.
JM. Yeah you do...
CL. I don’t! Well... I was at University back in Nanaimo when I thought of it. I was like “That might work.” And that was it. Because, like, it’s hard to find a band name.
JM. Weren’t you playing Mario Kart drunk?
CL. Might have done that.
JM. It’s a rip on Mario Kart.
CL. It is a rip on Mario Kart.
JM. Which is great.
CL. And there’s a very good chance I was drunk while playing it.