Anything but silent, The Silence Kit puts out music that fuses a variety of genres yet artfully dissects them so each song stands out on its own. Merging post punk, dark indie, and shoegazing dream pop, this NJ/PA-based band a stands all the way out in what often feels like a sea of bands marching forever under the Echo & The Division Cave Order Valentine Dive banner, and they just dropped their 5th LP: Fall Protection. “Fall Protection” is aviation-speak for a harness to use when jumping out of a plane, which is an interesting analogy for these crisp and cutting, but ripe, songs that rely on the intrigue of mundane aspects of relationships coupled with the inevitable foibles of everyday life, an auditory harness designed to keep you as safe as possible from an emotional tumble.
The track titles tell a story that one needs to completely dig into from beginning to end in order to fully appreciate them. These songs slip easily into one another like 3-and-a-half minute chapters of a novella. Ripe with introspection and a borderline angst that never quite reaches a tipping point, not to mention sheer bewilderment, Fall Protection emphasizes The Silence Kit’s capacity to morph a platter of diverse genres.
Leadoff track “Supermarket” ripples with the dark dexterity of Pat’s voice. This is nothing like Joe Strummer and Mick Jones’ trip to the Supermarket. It’s apparent from the start that The Silence Kit are wheeling their own shopping cart down an aisle far removed from the consumer dread usually threaded through tracks on this subject.
The pounded piano chords opening “Wound” remind you that this instrument doesn’t always have to be pretty. The vibe is claustrophobic, sick even. “I cough and scratch and cling to walls”. Demands are made. “Don’t you say a word. Don’t you say a word”. Another dark “W” track, “Worry”, showcases their ability to dip a toe into many genres without getting trapped in any of them. This thing takes almost a minute of guitar buildup before the vocals pop. Pat is worried about someone and “It’s all he can do”. He goes on to lament “But what good does that do?” What indeed?
A standout track, the icy “Can We Skip This” almost morphs all the way into surf rock territory before its effectively abrupt ending, with the chorus asking a truly pertinent question: “Is this life or can we skip this?” These are some of the most searing, detail-oriented breakup couplets you’ve heard in a minute. “I hide beneath the tablecloth…. You get angry then you are bored. Should have known this is bound to happen. I was just hoping there was something more”. Things don’t seem to be going too well here, do they? “You play victim but you are fooling no one” This is certainly “final track” material, but a quick check of the tracklist will show you this one isn’t over quite yet.
“Discard” rounds out this group of moody, melodic tracks with a deceitfully meandering melody line that barely contains a palpable aggression burning just neath the surface. Mostly relying on cascading melodies tangled with reverb and distorted guitar, this song lands somewhere in what most critics would shoehorn into the “shoegaze” category, but there’s a solid texture to this gauziness, a cascading sort of ascension, that’s much easier to sink your teeth into than your average Ride track.
At more than one one point on this record, the tremolo backspin hits that “drunk butterfly flying backwards” realm that only the very best psyched out postpunk can conjure.
Pat McCay graciously offered to answer some of my scintillating questions. Here are those scintillating questions and what he had to say about them:
Wow your sound is radical. Nick Cave would be proud! I read that and thought the same thing. Man I am thrilled to have found you. You have been a band for awhile, and just added new members in 2018? You guys have a tight sound. Really professional.
Thanks so much! We’ve actually been around for quite a while, although the lineup has changed a lot through the years. I started writing and recording as a solo project at home, back in 2001. I’d put together a lineup and officially started calling it The Silence Kit by 2002. We recorded a 4 song demo back in 2003 but shortly after that, that lineup fell apart. So, the first album by The Silence Kit was “In Regulated Measure” which I recorded myself – just me on guitars, bass, synths, drum programming, and singing. It was released in 2006, but a couple of the songs were actually taken from some of the demos I’d done in 2001. “A Strange Labor” followed in 2008, the “Dislocations” LP in 2009, “The Stairs” and “In Parts” EPs in 2011, the “Watershed” LP in 2014, and finally “Fall Protection” in 2018.
Tell me about how you all got together? I am always interested in how bands come into fruition.
I’m very lucky because I have so many really talented friends and I’ve gotten to play music with a lot of my favorite people whom I’ve known for years. The current lineup started coming together in 2014, right after “Watershed” was released. Our bass player and drummer at the time decided to leave the band and we had to support the album which was about to come out, so I reached out to my friend Darren (drums) who had been following The Silence Kit and coming out to shows for years. He and I had always wanted to play together, but whenever he was looking for a band, I already had a drummer, and whenever I needed a drummer, he already had a band. Finally, the timing worked out, as he’d just moved back from NYC and was up for playing. Once Darren was in, I reached out to my old friend Justin (bass) who I’ve known for many, many years; our old bands had played shows together and we’d always kept in touch through the years. His recent band had just broken up, so he joined us and things got rolling. A few years later, when Kristin decided to leave in 2017 I asked my friend Bryan who’s a multi-instrumentalist (he actually played baritone sax on “I Could Be” from “Watershed”) if he’d like to start playing synth with us, and my friend James to see if he wanted to play guitar for us. Brian was another friend I’ve had for many years, our old bands played together all the time. And I’ve actually known James longer than anyone else – we used to work together in a record store when we were both in school. So, long story short: the band consists of friends I’ve made at all different points in my life, so it’s pretty awesome.
How does the creative process go with the band?
New song ideas typically start with ideas for guitar progressions or riffs, but sometimes it can start with a bass and drum groove like on “This Time.” Other times, James or I will write all the parts to a song on guitar and bring it to the band and the other guys write their parts and we arrange or rearrange it as needed. Sometimes the song ends up close to how it was envisioned and sometimes it winds up pretty different; once the rhythm section locks in on something, that’s when you can tell whether something is working, and when it is, that’s when things truly get exciting. If I’m bringing an idea to the band, I like to have at least some notes on lyrics so I have a starting point to work with, sometimes I have practically all the lyrics already written.
Who handles the lyric writing? How do you lay down the tracks?
I write all the lyrics. As for laying down the tracks, I put together my own recording studio / rehearsal space years ago, so we can leave everything set up from week to week, and so I could handle the recording and mixing of all of our stuff myself. I’ve bought recording gear a little bit at a time and can now record up to 16 tracks at once, but I typically only need about 12 or so. We usually record the bass and drums live, along with at least one guitar or a synth. And after that, we overdub additional guitars, synth parts and vocals. But at times, we’ve recorded almost everything live for certain songs as well. We use whichever method works best for the song, because we want to preserve the energy of the song, and sometimes you need to all be playing at once to get that. We got the album mastered at Gradwell House Recording in NJ and they did such a great job, it made a huge difference. I’ll definitely be taking any future albums there for mastering for sure.
I heard a bit of British thing going on ala Echo and Joy Division. Are you British? The brash vocals are what sucked me in along with the rezzy distorted guitars.
Although we’re not British, a lot of our favorite bands most definitely are centered around the UK. Each one of us likes all different kinds of music, but we have a lot of overlap in our tastes as well. We all love the 70s and 80s post punk stuff like Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, The Cure, The Smiths, The Chameleons, Gang of Four, Wedding Present, and more, as well as bands like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Lush, Radiohead, and Portishead.
Are you playing outside Philly? How do you find the scene? I have interviewed several bands from Philly. What’s in the water there 🙂
Over the years we’ve mostly stuck to the east coast, typically playing shows in PA, DE, NY, MD and NJ. But we’re looking to travel further out for shows in the next year. It’s really inspiring to be a band based in Philadelphia these days. There’s a lot of really great bands playing all different kinds of music in Philly, and there’s so many more cool venues than there used to be when we started.
What are your favorite songs to play live?
Songs like “This Time” have a lot of dynamics and just seem to maintain the overall mood of the set, so it’s always a great, lost-in-the-moment kind of feeling. And the higher energy songs are always a great release – “Tablecloth” is a great example, and also an older song called “I’ll Always Bring You Down,” which we’ve been playing again recently, is a fun one. “Wound” is kind of a strange one so we’re excited to start playing that one live again because it’s got a few very different sections and some unique instrumentation, so it will help mix up the set a bit. We’ve also written some new songs which are standouts for us in a set, because we get to play brand new material and feel that new energy and to feel how people react to it.
Is there a meaning for the band name? When I googled you another band came up Silence Kit. They had a more Sonic Youth sound.
The name comes from the Pavement song “Silence Kit,” and I added ‘The’ because I liked it better that way. I liked the name because it didn’t really say anything about what we would sound like, it didn’t pigeonhole us in anyway, unless you knew the reference and expected us to be a Pavement tribute band, which we certainly aren’t. Unbeknownst to me, a post-rock band from Russia called ‘Silence Kit’ started right around the same time we started. I’d looked online to find out if there were any other bands with the name and I didn’t see any mentions of them before I bought thesilencekit.com – this was 2002 – but after we were playing for a couple years I became aware of them. They seemed to have broken up a few years ago, and now, just in the past year, some new band from Canada decided to call themselves ‘Silence Kit,’ so the confusion continues…
What are your plans for 2019 which is right around the corner?
We’re already writing and working on new material, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we wind up recording a new EP in 2019, or at least some singles, and we’re definitely looking to play a lot of shows this coming year.
What women artists are you following? I always ask this to get the ladies out there.
Flirting is a band from London I just recently discovered and I’m obsessed with their single “Peppermint,” in particular. Female artists I’m always following include Cat Power, Mary Timoney & Ex Hex. A friend of mine got me into Star Tropics and The Luxembourg Signal, who are both fantastic modern dreampop bands. Darren has been singing the praises of Full Bush from Philly, as well as Honeyblood (Glasgow) and Hatchie and said, “I can’t find anyone writing a better indie pop song then Alvvays.” He and James have been really into Blushing, and we played shows with Exmaid who are a great band from NJ, and this band Iress from CA who we all loved as well.
I also ask a fun fact unrelated to music.
Darren is the sixth child of a sixth child. And I have a pet rabbit who we don’t keep in a cage, she just wanders around the house like a cat.
What are everyone’s particular tastes?
We all like a lot of different kinds of music, so in addition to all the common ground influences I mentioned earlier, we also all love our share of 90’s alt-rock (it’d be way too much to list, but for me, I would never have bought a guitar if it weren’t for Nirvana in particular), James, Justin and I have always loved punk, hardcore and indie rock bands. Justin is into prog rock, James is also into black metal, and indie hip hop. Darren’s on a huge Guided By Voices/Robert Pollard kick these days and said he’s most into stuff with noise and melody as well as music with interesting drums that don’t dominate the song.
Also in the era music, do you have a manager or do you do the DIY thing?
We’ve always been entirely DIY, which, in all honestly, can be a bit exhausting haha!
Also, any gigs coming up. I can mention that for you.
We don’t have anything booked at the moment, but we’ll be booking Dec / Jan shows to support the album.
And most importantly, what are the guitar and pedal preferences for The Silence Kit:
My main guitar is a Fender strat, but I use my Jaguar on some songs, and also have a Danelectro I sometimes record with.
For pedals, I use EHX Deluxe Memory Boy and Boss DD3 delay pedals, EHX Small Stone phaser, Ibanez TS-9dx overdrive, Hartman LM308 distortion, EHX Big Muff Pi Op Amp fuzz, and EHX Micro Pog.
James uses a J Mascis signature Jazzmaster and a whole slew of pedals! He has more than I do, and I don’t know what they all are but I know it includes a lot of Fuzzrocious and some EHX pedals; overdrives, fuzzes, distortions, delay, phaser, reverb and a compressor.
Pedals are SO IMPORTANT. Thanks for divulging your pedal secrets, pat. And for this interview.