Volume 91, Issue 87

Friday, March 13, 1998

Bottoms up


ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
 

Famous, rich and funky

By Carey Weinberg
Gazette Staff

The Philosopher Kings entered a maturing process when they first poked their heads out of the musical cave. Famous, Rich and Beautiful is the second offering from the Toronto band which shows their evolution into a brighter and funkier voice – which they will ring through the halls of the Embassy tomorrow.

How does a pack of philosophers get along after spending four months in a van together? "Nobody's been seriously injured yet," guitarist Brian West laughs as he talks about life with his surrogate family. And essentially when you tour with bandmates, they are your family. This is something West considers a fortunate experience.

"We're really lucky to be in a job with four high school friends, it's a great situation and not many people get that kind of opportunity." Long since high school, they have developed into a relatively successful act as a result of maturing into a space where they are comfortable.

In terms of realizing a voice which exemplifies the Philosopher Kings, West speaks of verging closer to that nebulous goal on the latest release. "It's the elusive thing where as soon as you capture one thing, you're onto the next."

This album took a different turn from their self-titled debut release. Famous, Rich and Beautiful has a '70s kind of Stevie Wonder feel. "We went with a funk disco-y thing. I think we did a good job of trying to close the focus a little. I feel we definitely achieved a sound. One thing people can't accuse us of is sounding generic." On the first album, the Philosopher Kings covered a Bob Dylan song which enabled the band to feature singer/songwriter Gerald Eaton's unique vocal stylings (principle songwriting duties are shared between Gerald and pianist Jon Levine). West discussed the state of the modern musician's tendency to borrow more liberally from their predecessors.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with doing covers as long as you take a unique approach. It just bothers me when people do cover songs and just try and replicate the sound of the original recording to the point of delivering the lines like the original singer – it just seems so pointless.

"It's also an equally creative thing to approach someone else's material and change it – I don't have any creative hang-ups about doing covers." The '90s is the era where the artistic generation finally has the guts to admit artistic creativity is an act of recreation, as opposed to some kind of gifted spark of genius coming out of the cosmos.

"I look at it like recycling. There's such a junkyard of old songs out there it seems like a waste to let them fall by the wayside," muses West. "Especially now with sampling, people are starting to realize they're all musical elements, whether it's a sample from a song or a bridge section from a song that you stole from somewhere else." So in the kingdom of these philosophers, theft is not only legal, but condoned. "It's all the same thing. It's old materials and how you recontextualize them."

Now the Philosopher Kings are writing more efficiently as they understand the spaces each other occupy. As musicians in a maturing band, they orchestrate differently than unseasoned songsters.

"Now it's different when we go into the songwriting process. It's a lot more free form and relaxed. Before, we tended to intellectualize what parts should sound like, now we just play and loop the song structure and stuff starts to happen," West says.

As is the case with most bands, the live show is their preference. "It packs a lot more punch. We've always been a live band, it's what we know – what we've been bred to do."

The Philosopher Kings want to make that live feel translate to the recording. "We're trying to figure out the studio and use the studio as an instrument to try and capture what we're all about."


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Copyright The Gazette 1998