Interview: Ron Varod of Kayo Dot
Ron Varod is the guitarist of the ever-changing, always-incredible Kayo Dot and recently put out his first solo album as Zvi. I recently had the chance to talk to Ron via email and he proved to be a gracious, down-to-earth guy, shedding light on his current musical endeavors as well as his previous band, So is the Tongue.
Before joining Kayo Dot, you led So is the Tongue, who haven’t released any material since 2012’s a Child of Divorce. Is there any chance So is the Tongue will become active again?
After I joined Kayo Dot I was still doing So is the Tongue for about 2 years, I actually put the production of a Child of Divorce on hold because I got the offer to do my first Kayo Dot Tour in Europe.
Anyway, towards the end of So is the Tongue I felt like I was beating a dead horse. All of the people that actually helped write and record the songs weren’t in the band anymore and nobody that I got to take their place seemed to be into playing the music. Doing anything with that band became a bummer, while every Kayo Dot activity was really fun and to be honest, much more successful. I decided it was time to put SitT down for the time being because I still had Kayo Dot to keep me active and I had started playing solo music (Zvi) which was something I really wanted to focus on for a long time but didn’t really get around to until I moved to Brooklyn in the Fall of 2012.
I have some rough ideas for songs that don’t fit into the Zvi aesthetic and absolutely call for at least drums, mostly short/faster songs that don’t really fit with most of the SitT material either. Honestly, the only way I could see myself using the name So is the Tongue again would be if it proved to be a good business move, I think that’s why most bands don’t change their band name every time they change their sound or some members, all their fans would lose track of them. So is the Tongue had like 10 fans and they were all Kayo Dot fans as well so I don’t have to worry about them being out of the loop.
When you write new material that doesn’t fit Zvi, do you just plan to save it until one day when you have a new group? Additionally, have you had any hand in writing material for Hubardo or Coffins on Io?
It’s hard for me to motivate to work on music if there isn’t a way to present it with either a band or a recording. Mostly now I work on music that I think would work in the solo setting cause I know I’m the only one stopping me from making that happen. I have little riff scraps here and there and I have some left over song ideas I wanted to use for So is the Tongue when that was still happening. Also some left over song ideas from a band I had with Nick and Larry from Cleric called “Eaten by Bees” 6 years ago or so that we never got to work on.
Kayo Dot songs are always brought in by Toby, usually he writes all the parts for all the instruments and coaches Keith while writing the drum parts unless he has something really specific in mind. I’ll throw in little intricacies but usually it’s all of Toby’s writing. Even though this is the first band I’ve been in that I don’t write what I play, I actually find it really fun and challenging. It definitely keeps me on my toes.
So far there’s been one exception, I wrote all the guitar parts for “The Second Operation (Lunar Water)” off Hubardo, those are all MY sweet licks.
And sweet licks they are! Going in another direction, I wanted to know how you got into the world of avant-garde/experimental rock (or whatever you want to call it). Before joining Kayo Dot you cited them as one of your favorite bands, and you’ve also mentioned your love of These Arms Are Snakes and Deftones in the past. Personally, I love all three, but to some listeners they may seem more than a little disparate in style. Both of the latter certainly lean more toward the experimental side of alternative rock/metal, but what pushed you over the edge into the avant-garde “scene”?
I actually don’t listen to too much avant-garde music, I’ve tried to really get into that scene for over 10 years and I don’t think it’s for me. I think it’s okay to think that free improv stuff just sounds like people making fart noises with their instruments, cause like, it does…
However, two weirder artists that heavily influenced me early on that I can think of off the top of my head are Infidel?/Castro and Khanate, holy shit Khanate was the best.
Haha! Totally understandable, it’s definitely not a sound for everyone. That said, though, you were a Kayo Dot fan before joining and Infidel?/Castro! are pretty far from accessible most of the time. Whatever you want to call these bands, it seems like a lot of their fans are musicians or at least more educated about music than casual listeners. Even at their softest on Blue Lambency Downward or the more straightforward, traditionally structured songs like “And He Built Him a Boat” on Hubardo, I can’t put on Kayo Dot as background music, I have to give it my full attention. I wouldn’t call Kayo Dot “music for musicians” in the sense that some dorky prog or tech death band might be, but would you say your music requires closer listening to absorb?
I’d say Kayo Dot is music for any breed [of] patient listener. Some of the time those happen to be musicians but a lot of Kayo Dot fans I’ve met aren’t and just connect with the music reguardless of weird composition methods or technicality. My favorite prog bands have always been ones like Pink Floyd and Tool who let the emotive side of the music take the spotlight.
It’s outsider music, those of us who aren’t always invited to cool parties have a little more free time to sit and listen to a 100 minute album about meteors.
I definitely hear that, both the emphasis on emotion and also sitting at home listening to Kayo Dot instead of going to parties. Disregarding my pathetic social life, I think some listeners may be confused when they hear a song like “Calonyction Girl” or “The Black Stone” because there are no obvious cues as to how they should feel. The lack of traditional chord progressions or structures combined with the at-times oblique lyrics leave a lot up to interpretation.
Many albums feel to me like collections of short stories with more or less a unifying theme. Choirs of the Eye and Hubardo (even outside of its actual status as a story) feel more like genuine novels. Listening to a single track is like reading just one chapter of a book, but hearing them in full gives such a complete sense of composition, development and resolution that I feel is only achieved by truly great albums (if you’ll pardon my gushing).
Correct me if wrong, but based on The Flenser’s announcement of Coffins on Io, it sounds like the album will be more focused on individual songs as opposed to the album as a whole. Would you say this is true, and if so, was it a conscious decision after the monolith that was Hubardo?
I’ve only been on 2 Kayo Dot albums, but from what I understand most of the Kayo Dot albums were conceived as a big project from the get-go. This one was a little more casual. Four of the songs were recorded first without any real direction, we were thinking maybe some digital singles or maybe 7-Inches? But then changed our minds and decided to shop rough mixes as demos and see if anybody was interested in putting it out.
The Flenser became interested in putting it out as a record, so we went back into the studio and recorded 2 more songs to round out the flow of the album. So in a way it started as just a collection of songs but once we knew we had an outlet for it we threw in 2 more songs to glue it together and have a good album flow. Also we’re super aware that Hubardo was intense and knew we could lay back a bit for the next one.
When crafting an album as multi-faceted and dense as Hubardo, did you have any fears that fans may find it and inaccessible or insurmountable listen, or is the audience not something you consider at all? Additionally, I know Toby is the main creative mind behind the band, but do you see yourselves continuing on the more (for lack of a better term) individualistic song-based path you’re starting now? Or after making an album in that manner, could you see yourselves wanting to create another massive album like Hubardo?
I personally didn’t realize how dense Hubardo was until someone told me. Toby would show me 2-3 song skeletons at a time and I got a chance to ingest each song as we built it up and worked on it. I think we knew that whatever we wanted to do we wanted to go a little easy on ourselves, although parts of 2 songs were so complicated that I think everyone besides Toby had a breakdown while tracking it.
We actually haven’t spoken at all about the next thing we’re doing besides some possibly exciting tour plans for next year. I’m sure once we’re super comfortable playing Coffins on Io material live Toby will probably want to work on something new.
Sounds great, I’m really excited to hear the new material and I hope I can catch you on tour. That about wraps up any questions I had, is there anything else you’d like to add for the readers?
Thanks for the continued support, honestly. Besides people buying records which allows us to fill our gas tanks and continue to make records, people saying encouraging stuff to us makes us want to keep on going. We don’t make a living playing in this band and make a lot of sacrifices to make it happen so it helps us to know you guys are into it.
Also I guess I’ll just plug my tour starting in a few weeks for my solo project Zvi:
Sat 8/16 New Haven, CT @ Anna Liffeys
Sun 8/17 Providence, RI @ Funky Jungle
Mon 8/18 Allston, MA @ O’Brien’s Pub
Tue 8/19 Danbury, CT @ Heirloom Arts
Wed 8/20 Hancock, NY @ FWF
Thu 8/21 Syracuse, NY @ Gorham Brothers Music
Fri 8/22 Toronto, ON @ Ratio
Sat 8/23 Ottawa, ON @ Black Squirrel Books
Sun 8/24 Montréal, QC @ Psychic City
Mon 8/25 Burlington, VT @ Nectar’s
Tue 8/26 Portland, ME @ Geno’s
If you have the chance, go see Ron as Zvi, or buy his self-titled album here. Kayo Dot’s new album, Coffins on Io, is set for release October 16th via Flenser Records, and their previous albums are available here.