Interview: Ron Varod of Kayo Dot

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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.

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  • LAMENTATIONS OF THE WOMEN

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  • This rules. Thanks for putting this together, Christian. And thanks for talking with us, Ron!

    • Negrodamus

      I agree 100%

      Christian >>>

      • Christian Molenaar

        I mentioned it the other day but dude, definitely check out Zvi! I get a similar vibe as TSTAT.

        • Negrodamus

          I’m not sure I got that rec from you… but the list is increasing. I dunno how you guys do it to be frank lol… I still need to check out Whitehouse and really sink my teeth into Cloak Of Altering but I am listening to Pyrrhon’s back catalog cause I am working on something for that! Playing A LOT of Wovenhand’s first album too.

          • Christian Molenaar

            I like all the things you just mentioned so I can’t fault you for listening to them. One day, though, one day…

          • Negrodamus

            I’m gonna make some progress this weekend, by the gods.

    • Christian Molenaar

      Yeah I’m pretty great, but the real thanks should go to Ron for being a great dude and Jordan for also being a great dude and setting this up.

      • Negrodamus

        CHRISTIAN MOLENAAR RIDES A HOVERROUND

        • Christian Molenaar

          The truth comes out :'(

          • Negrodamus

            =/

      • You can just leave the giant sack with the “$” on it at the door.

  • Steve Smithwick

    Oh shit, they’re coming to motherfucking Geno’s? I live fucking 100 feet down the sidewalk from Geno’s. Thanks Molenaar, I’m definitely going to check this out.

    Also, this interview is well-conducted, and Ron gives informative answers that he seems to have put some thought into. One of the reasons I actually like the e-mail interview format is that it allows an artist, who is so inclined, to give you a thoughftul answer, instead of a half-brained, auto-piloted cliche word-jumble. This is a cool bit, and I’m gonna check these vids out. Then I’m gonna hit up Ron at Geno’s and let him know the Toilet is *everywhere*.

    • Still too far to walk. Recommend calling a cab IMO.

      • Steve Smithwick

        I do have a car, but parking meters make that shit a fucking hassle. So little parking in my beautiful, lovely Portland.

        Totally not kidding about 100 feet down the sidewalk from me. If you google map Geno’s, you’ll see a giant red-brick apartment building next door, and that’s where I live.

        • I live in a giant red-brick apartment building too! (The legend of JAG having his own personal lawn, in which the banishment of punks is routinely enforced by his stepping out on a porch and racking the pump on his shotty, is really just a myth.)

          • Gurp

            My life is a lie.

        • Howard Dean

          Byyyyyaaaaaaahhhhh! Portland!
          I’m not a resident, but I do visit often! Not to totally creep you Portland motherfuckers out, but I must’ve walked by Geno’s and that ghetto smoke shop about five times last week while I was on the campaign trail (read: on vacation). Congress Street! I ate at Local 188 repeatedly and sated my inner screeching campaign monster on their steak tartare (so damn good!).
          Damn! I probably walked right by you guys, or was browsing next to you at Bull Moose (sweet record shop! 0/5 flushes! I bought them out of their Black Witchery and Carpathian Forest!) and you didn’t even realize that you were standing next to the future president!
          Dean-Flair in ’16! Fuck all the cunting lifelovers!

          • Steve Smithwick

            Oh man, the Bull Moose? Which one did you go to? If you went to the one in downtown Portland, you went to THE WRONG ONE. The Bull Moose in South Portland (across the bridge at State Street) is a personal favorite, but the one in Scarborough probably has the biggest and most diverse metal section. THINGS TO CHECK OUT NEXT TIME!

            As for Local 188, that place is baller as hell. My GF has a big thing for their mussels! As for other restaurants, man oh man, I hope you’ve tried Pai Men Miyake. Their Japanese-style ramen is authentic as hell, and is locally farmed by the owner (yes, he actually cultivates a farm outside of town that grows the vast majority of his ingredients, including meat- it’s fresher than hell and truly delicious.) Pai Men is over at the intersection of Congress and State.

            Other delicious restaurants, in no particular order: The Holy Donut, Taco Trio (best latin food in Maine, most similar to real latin food in Florida), Nosh, Otto’s Pizza, Paciarino’s (italian spaghetti place- owners are Italy natives!) and many, many others. We probably did pass right by each other- we were out on missions to the farmer’s market in town on Saturday, as well as donut missions at The Holy Donut.

          • Howard Dean

            I went to the one downtown. That’s the one I’ve been to the most (besides the one in Portsmouth, NH). I’ll definitely check out the ones in S. Portland and Scarborough, though. I love me some Bull Moose!
            Portland’s restaurant scene is fucking amazing and is one of the main reasons we keep going back. Besides Local 188, our favorites are Central Provisions, Street & Company, and Boone’s Fish House. I’m definitely down for hitting up some of the Asian-themed places during our next visit (Pai Men Miyake sounds great)! I’ve been recommended Nosh before, so that’s definitely on my radar, too.
            And the Holy Donut! My fuck is that an amazing place. Potato donuts blew my socks off! I had the dark chocolate and sea salt donut, and nearly hyperventilated. Best donut I’ve ever had.
            Portland is such an awesome city. If I were ever forced to move out of the wilderness of northern New England and into a city, I’d pick Portland (Portsmouth is a contender, too).
            Oh, and Byyyyyyyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!

    • KJM

      Haven’t been to Geno’s since 2006.

      • Christian Molenaar

        You should change that, if only for a ToH meetup.

      • Steve Smithwick

        Seriously, what Molenaar said. On the direct opposite side of my apartment building? Joe’s Smoke Shop, a nice cigar spot. We could enact the ToH tradition of cigar-based meetups.

        Also, like I said, we can totally hit up Ron and thank him for interviewing in person, and show him that ToH supports featured artists!

        • Negrodamus

          I thought the ToH cigar meetup was only a theory at this point… ?

          • Steve Smithwick

            It is, which is why I’m trying to make it a very-real tradition. Hell, with you in NYC, I might go to shows down there from time to time, and WE could make that shit happen.

          • Negrodamus

            The only drawback to that is that I live near Minneapolis, Minnesota!

          • Steve Smithwick

            DAMMIT. I constantly mix up who is who from Reason/Honor/Respect and their Disqus handles.

            My deepest apologies. Deputy Dipshit is NYC. Not NegroD.

          • Negrodamus

            Ha, no problem at all. A lot of people get us confused in the FB group cause

            1) same first name

            2) both have beards

            3) both had profile pics with significant others

          • Steve Smithwick

            NOBODY EVER CONFUSES WHO I AM, BECAUSE I KEEP SHIT SIMPLE.

          • Negrodamus

            It does make it very easy on us.

          • Scrimm

            I hate facebook, but I would totally join that group.

          • Negrodamus

            It’s pretty fun! It’s more of people posting all the time at different times than the ToH which corresponds with people’s day jobs, or at least mine. I know we have some weekend posts on here but you know what I mean lol

          • That’s why I need to get the forum off the ground. Give everyone a place to post whenever.

          • Scrimm

            Sounds like a good time.

          • are you Jay Alan Goodwin?

          • Steve Smithwick

            You sonovabitch.

  • Great stuff. Thx, Christian…you lovely bastard.

    • Negrodamus

      JAG you’re here early today!

      Is it some holiday? Traffic wasn’t bad, either.

      • YourLogicSucks

        Traffic was amazing for me too. Where is everyone?

        • Negrodamus

          I dunno, but they weren’t in my way which was AWESOME lol

        • Steve Smithwick

          They’re all here in my humble section of Maine. Real talk, all the license plates of New England (plus Connecticut, Florida, New York and some Canadian provinces) are here in Maine right now for tourist season. It’s the busiest time of year for our area. Our traffic is bad only from mid-July to Mid-September or thereabouts. After that? Frigid crickets.

          • YourLogicSucks

            I know that feeling, but mine is all year ’round. In Chicago the roads are either covered in ice or construction workers.

          • mustangbomb

            I hope you’re saying CT is no longer part of New England, I’d totally support that.

          • Steve Smithwick

            Some people feel it is; other people feel it is not. Connecticut is that weird battleground state where some are allied to New England, others to New York. The further west/south you go? NY. The further east/north? New England.

            I’m a New England guy through and through, but I don’t claim CT because roughly 1/2 the population are people I don’t want on my team.

            I used to live in Central CT, for the record, in a tiny town called Salem.

          • Poop Mango

            The Whalers settled this argument back in the 70’s.

          • mustangbomb

            I didn’t realize people within CT align with NY, but hey that’s cool. I don’t want them and their capability to pay out the ass for gas. And bad driving. And all their other stuff that they suck so much about.

      • JAG had a really busy week. Prolly gonna be that way for the rest of the summer. Even if I don’t have time to comment in a timely manner know that I read and appreciate every entry. I don’t even pay a lot of attention to MS anymore so, when I have time, this is almost the only thing I look at. …well, this and screaming at people who obviously can’t hear me for outbidding me on eBay.

  • God

    Look at that. A blog a few weeks old and we got an interview. Fuck yeah!

  • YourLogicSucks

    I feel like such a hipster when it comes to Kayo Dot. I started listening to them over 6 years ago, and it’s amazing how much I see them around now. Awesome interview!

  • Also, “Calonyction Girl” is surprisingly catchy. It’s kind of a jam.

    • Christian Molenaar

      Glad you think that! Check out their new album Hubardo when you have 100 minutes to yourself. Also worth looking into is Toby’s previous band maudlin of the Well, it’s basically the same lineup as the original incarnation of Kayo Dot. You can get their last album here for free:
      http://maudlinofthewell.net/

  • RustyShackleford

    Killer interview! never heard of these dudes but love me some experimental shit. Cool to hear his influences, will definitely be checking all of those out. Never Yep’d so hard in my got dang life i tell ya what boys.

    Also speaking of experimental: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rf4ZhFZZgKY

    • Christian Molenaar

      Estradasphere are fantastic, and actually Timba Harris is in Secret Chiefs 3 with Toby from Kayo Dot. I think they’re touring later this year with Cleric. If that comes near you you have no choice but to go.

      • RustyShackleford

        good SIR you are full of useful information! I’ll have to check that out. I’m really pissed after reading this that I’m gonna be missing Ron’s date as Zvi in syracuse since i’m gonna be there on the 22nd not the 21st 🙁

        • Christian Molenaar

          I live on the west coast so I have no chance of making it to any of these, haha. My only hope is that Kayo Dot comes near me some time next year. I actually tried to help them book something here a few years ago but nothing ever came of it and I kinda doubt they’ll try here again :/

          • RustyShackleford

            Sucks that such cool bands ain’t able to tour as much! Rusty’s gonna have to get out of the exterminating business and into the music business, fucking lack of justice in this world! THEY HAVEN’T HEARD THE LAST OF ME!!!!

  • Metaphysical Anus

    Time for music jokes. How do you spell pretentious? E-L-P.

    • Steve Smithwick

      I DON’T GET IT, because I’m not a musician. I feel left out.

      • Metaphysical Anus

        ELP is a pretentious prog rock band. If you want organ and moog wankery, go there.

  • Jen

    How the fuck did you guys manage to snag an interview with a member of Kayo fucking Dot?

  • Here’s a live set of Zvi. Go see him on tour!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bNGNGth4RA

  • Stockhausen

    Awesome interview! Great job man.

  • Warheart

    Awesome. An interview with Kayo Dot, I’m impressed.

  • A Feed From Cloud Mountain

    Oh wow an interview! Score! Never even thought of trying that, I’ll have to hit up Mikael Åckerfeldt, that magnificent bastard, see what he thinks of Akerstache.

  • Evan Clutson

    Next time please ask them to ask Terran and Toby to start a maudlin of the Well kickstarter so we can get another album. Thanks