By Bob Gourley | Published on March 13, 2016
The KVB are a UK duo who create dark yet beautiful music that blends together elements of shoe-gaze, gothic and experimental styles. The drum machine rhythms provide a perfect foundation for minimalist arrangements of heavily effected yet tightly focused guitar and synthesizer. Started in 2010 by Nicholas Wood as a solo project, the KVB was soon rounded out by Kat Day, who also provides all visuals for the band. They’ve proven to be very prolific, putting out five albums and numerous EPs and tapes. The KVB’s newly released “Of Desire” is their second album for Invada Records, a label run by Geoff Barrow of Portishead (Metropolis is releasing it in the US). Recording it in Barrow’s studio allowed them to experiment with a variety of different synthesizers and effects. Over a Skype interview, Nicholas and Kat talked about the album and the evolution of their band.
Were you involved in other projects before starting up KVB?
Kat: I was studying at art school, a university called Goldsmiths in London. I had no intention of going into music, actually. I was purely focused on my art.
Nicholas: I was playing in another band that was more sort of punk, but a dark punk, post-punk type of vibe. I decided to make some tunes on my own. Before that, I’d made sort of acoustic, folk sort of things, but then I got more into electronic music and started making experimental stuff.
Did you have a clear sense as to what you wanted KVB to be?
Nicholas: It just evolved, really. It started off as a solo project and then for playing live, we decided to make it a duo.
Kat: I always had, in an individual sense, in terms of things that interested me and what had concerned my research at university. It kind of worked really well with this music, it naturally goes together. The processes I use visually are very similar to what we use in music. Like processing through different machines, the flicker and vibrato. And also the rich textures throughout the visuals and the music. They just seem to naturally be prefect for each other.
Kat: At the moment, the visuals are always made after the music. But I’m still using the same sort of techniques to create it. In the future, we’d like to maybe reverse that and do a film, which Nicholas would do the soundtrack for. But that’s in the future.
You’ve been pretty prolific. Does most of what you do get released?
Nicholas: We’re always working on new music, and there are loads of demos that have never seen a release, or will ever see a release. It’s something that we just enjoy doing, and we tend to pick out the best stuff.
Kat: We don’t spend years and years working on it, because that can make it lose some of the initial spark. We might come back to it after a couple of years, and approach it from a different aspect. But we wouldn’t spend months and months just working on one song. We’d rather just keep it fresh, keep it interesting.
Can you give any examples of songs that you later came back to and finished?
Nicholas: Yeah, that has happened more recently. I used to record all the music onto a DAT 8 track machine, and that didn’t give me much opportunity to revise and go back over tracks. Now that I’m using more software for making demos, I can revise and go back to tracks. On the album, the track “In Deep” was recorded as an old demo, and we revisited that and completely changed it, apart from the guitars and the strings.
Do you feel recording on the DAT 8 track, with the limitations, had much of an impact on how that music turned out?
Nicholas: Yes, I think so.
Kat: It gives at a [specific] sound where you’re pushing it too much. The flaws give it beauty; the beauty in the errors. You’re pushing something a little bit too much, but it gives it something interesting.
Nicholas: I wasn’t able to really rework stuff, and it created a lot of good moments where I would improvise over what I had. That’s the case with songs like “Never Enough.” The original version of that was recorded on a 4-track tape machine. It was in the red the whole time. On the actual finished demo, there’s a bit where it cuts out for a second, where I kind of messed up the bounce. And that’s still on there.
Now that you’re using computer-based recording and don’t have those limitations, do you worry about spending too much time on things, given that there are so many options and possibilities?
Kat: You need those limitations, absolutely, to find new ways of working within them. But we didn’t use a lot. I think it was all hardware [synthesizers/effects] on the album when we recorded at Geoff Burrow’s studio in Bristol. We had the sound engineer, who was doing everything on the computer, so we weren’t doing that.
Nicholas: Well we haven’t had too many troubles with imposing a deadline. I’m still in that mindset of wanting to finish the songs and get it done.
Kat: We don’t tend to use the virtual instruments.
This was the second time you recorded a release in an outside studio. How does that compare to working at home?
Nicholas: You have limitations on time, and deadlines to achieve when you’re in a studio. So it does kind of affect the way that you work. When we were in Bristol for this album, we had lots of time to experiment, more so than we did before.
Kat: So we could experiment with those different synthesizers and look through all these boxes of so many pedals and things like that. We were able to just try all different processes with that and experiment.
You’ve had vinyl and even cassette releases. I take it having a physical product is important do you?
Kat: I absolutely like the physical, because I guess I’m a visual person. So I like seeing the artwork, and actually having it in your hands. The tactile experience. I always felt that whenever I bought CDs when I was younger, the booklet was just as important to me as the music. We enjoy the DIY side of it. Sometimes when we made our own tapes, it was quite fun. Doing cassettes was more to do with the availability. We could afford to do it on cassettes. We couldn’t afford to go to a vinyl press and do the release on vinyl.
Nicholas: It keeps it DIY.
Kat: And I do like the sound of tape. And I did find my old tape player when I was back at home two Christmases ago. It still worked! That’s longevity.
Was it always obvious that you wanted to perform as a duo? Did you consider and try working with other musicians?
Kat: Well, we’ve never ruled out bringing in new musicians, it’s just that we like the chemistry and the relationship of just the two of us on stage. We’ve been a couple for 5 years now, so we’re very in tune with each other. If we were to bring in another person, I wouldn’t know how to direct them.
Nicholas: Well it would have to suit the arrangements of the songs. This album is very minimal, really. It’s drum machine, guitar and synthesizer, mainly. So for us to bring in a band…
Kat: It would have to make sense.
Nicholas: And the songs would have to fit that format.
So when you perform you use a programmed drum machine?
Nicholas: Yes, just the drum machine and sometimes a few little arpeggios and things that we can’t physically play [are programmed]. Apart from that, it’s just guitar and synthesizer and voice.
When writing and recording, are you thinking at all about how the songs will be performed live?
Nicholas: Well, to begin with I didn’t think about it. It was just recording. But as time has gone on—on this album—we did think more about how it would work live, so we could sort of play this together as a duo.
Kat: We had to adapt some of the songs from the last record, the instrumental one, for live.
Nicholas: Because with some of them there are not any guitars on the recording.
Kat: Some of them were improvised.
Nicholas: So we had to work out where the guitar could fit in. It’s quite good sometimes—the way that we can interpret songs live. Sometimes it’s difficult, particularly with the EP that we released 2 years ago. There, we did use a live drummer in the studio and it’s more difficult to play those songs live. We want to do them justice, but it’s not always easy when it’s just 2 of us.
Could you describe the visuals you use on stage, and the process behind them?
Kat: Well, I make them all using a variety of different programs—3D programs, game programs, video editing. I use digital cameras and mini DV. Anything that has a nice texture. Everything sort of amalgamates. I want to create an immersive atmosphere, nature gone through digital processes. I’m also interested in architecture, rebuilding that in 3D programs and animating that. And how I can use the same sorts of musical processes to affect the visuals and make really textured, haptic, immersive experiences.
Do you do any kind of real-time manipulation of the visuals?
Kat: I couldn’t possibly unless I had 4 arms! I’ve got both arms taken up by synthesizers. I am interested in it, and I have seen other bands do it. But I’ve equally watched them and have not noticed the interaction between the music and the visuals. I think it’s interesting that sometimes your brain interprets the visuals and the audio and creates these connections between it. And sometimes, these audio-reactive visuals can look really boring. Just like screen savers on computers. And I find that incredibly dull. So I wouldn’t want our visuals to be anything like that.
Have you considered doing installations combining the visuals and music?
Kat: Yes, absolutely. And like I said earlier, we’d be interested in expanding the project into my doing a whole, long film and doing maybe a live soundtrack to that. We’re interested in exploring the project beyond just the song/album kind of format.
Do you have touring plans?
Kat: We’ve got a really big tour in Europe, and then we go to Russia.
Will you be performing in America?
Kat: We’d love to. It’s just not so easy with the visas. We’re really trying; we’re hoping later in the year
What can audiences expect from the shows?
Nicholas: We’ll be playing most of the new album. It’s the first time we’re really going to do that, as we’ve always played a mixture of old and new songs.
Kat: And we’ll have a whole new visual thing to do with it as well.
For more info on The KVB, visit their official website at http://www.thekvb.co.uk/.