They may be a more recent addition to the cresting wave of proto-metal obsessed bands paying homage to the classic sounds of the late '60s and early '70s, but Berlin power trio Kadavar has fast become a favorite among discerning stoners. The group's raw 2012 debut sounded like an unearthed relic recorded decades ago in a dingy basement amid hefty bong sessions and a heavy rotation of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath.
While founding guitarist-vocalist Christoph "Lupus" Lindemann and drummer Christoph "Tiger" Bartelt parted ways with their original bassist as they worked on the band's follow-up effort, the group quickly rebounded with the addition of friend and Aqua Nebula Oscillator bassist Simon "Dragon" Bouteloup. Last year's Abra Kadavar -- the band's first for Nuclear Blast Records -- delivered another stomping dose of focused doom/psych anthems that put the group in the same class of like-minded label mates Graveyard and San Francisco's own Orchid. All Shook Down recently caught up with drummer Tiger on the phone ahead of the band's return to S.F. for its first headlining gig at the Bottom of the Hill tonight, May 9, with L.A. punk-metal hooligans The Shrine and Oakland heavy psych-prog merchants Mondo Drag.
As much as I love the sound your first album, Abra Kadavar seemed a major leap forward in terms of fidelity. How did your approach change between the two recordings?
I'd say what we tried with the second record is take a step back in terms of the recording technique. So we used less microphones and we played even more together. It was almost without overdubs. The band playing in one room and I think we had six microphones only. But I agree that the sound is not as dirty as the first album. What we were trying to accomplish was have an organic room sound for the second record. And I think the songwriting is a little different.
There are some classic soul revivalists like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings who -- as far as recording -- stick with a mostly analog approach using 16-track and 8-track tape machines and vintage equipment. Do you use the same kinds of techniques as far as capturing that vibe in the studio?
That's the main thing with our recording. We try to get an old nice sound. Especially in this time, there's a need for that because everything is so polished. We just try to make a difference taking it one step back and play together. Basically that's how it was done back then, and I think you can get a lot more out of a record if you don't polish it too much. If you play how you play and try to bring that out, but leave out all this artificial stuff.
From what I understand, the songs for Abra Kadavar were put together fairly quickly prior to entering the studio. Were the songs written collectively, or did individual members bring their own tunes to the table?
It was half and half between the singer and me who brought the ideas for the record. We worked on the songs together in the studio, but as you said, we had a very limited amount of time. We had been on tour for the whole year. There were maybe a few really basic ideas I had recorded on my phone, but as far as the writing is concerned, we really did that in less than two weeks.
One song that stood out to me was "Liquid Dream" since it was the only tune on the album that used keyboards. Have you thought about expanding instrumentation or adding auxiliary players?
No, not really. If you listen to our first record, you might recognize that on the last song there's also more instrumentation than just the trio. We stuck to that idea with the second record. On "Liquid Dream" there's the organ and a synth track. On the first album with "Purple Sage," there's even more. It's the same concept. We want to keep it just the three of us with basically all the songs, but we leave one track on both records to mess around a little bit.
One of the band's biggest strengths is that the music is evocative of classic late '60s and early '70s heavy rock and psych, but you don't draw too much from any single influence. Do you ever find yourselves in the writing process consciously avoiding sounding too much like a specific band or song?
Definitely. It's nice that you say that, because it can get a little boring when you have a look at what people say about you and 50 percent only make comparisons to Black Sabbath and Hawkwind. That's what a lot of people say, but it's not like that to us. If something like that comes up that points too much in one direction, we would not use it. We're always looking for the right feeling. There's this point where you think "This is a good one!" And if in the process someone says "No, I know that from somewhere" we wouldn't use it.
What were your earliest passions or focus of interest in music? Did you start with this era and genre that Kadavar is working from, or was that something you discovered later?
I would say it's a thing that we've been enjoying for a lot of years, but Christoph and me have always had a strong punk and garage background. This is what we were listening to when we were teenagers and going to all those concerts. At least for me, the music that's related to Kadavar came a little later.
Do you remember when you discovered the proto-metal and psychedelia that Kadavar's sound is rooted in? In the States, most kids are brought up on classic rock just from what they hear on the radio or from their siblings or parents. What was your first exposure to Hendrix, Zeppelin, and Sabbath?
I grew up in West Germany, and those are the acts you just get to know at some point. Of course, the Beatles and the Stones came first, with Bob Dylan and Neil Young, from my parents. Then, like you said, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix is stuff you come across definitely, but it's not like it is in America. I think you get a bigger variety [of music], because it's all around. Then you come to the point where you have to dig into the '60s and '70s music a little deeper; put in a little effort, you know?
Did the '90s bands that brought together punk and '70s hard rock, metal and psych like Soundgarden, Kyuss, and Monster Magnet have an influence in your sound?
I like the early Monster Magnet records and some other stuff, but it never was really an influence. At least not for me.
What music outside of the heavy rock and psych wheelhouse would someone who listens to Kadavar be surprised that you listen to as a fan?
For me, it's probably all the '90s Amphetamine Reptile noise rock. I really like Melvins, Jesus Lizard, and Shellac. Everything that's related to Steve Albini I like. I'm also a recording engineer, so I like the sound. It's really inspiring for me, to try to capture the huge drums and organic room sound that Steve Albini got.
I understand South By Southwest is a generally hectic experience for performers and attendees. For the Austin Psych Fest, are you getting to stay for the whole festival?
Not for the whole festival. We tried to stay for the next day to see Brian Jonestown Massacre. But you can't compare them at all. This was our second South By Southwest and the first time we realized how stressful it can be to try to see other bands and make your own shows. The whole city is a big traffic jam and most of the stuff you want to see you don't get into anyway. This year we just took it easy and stayed on the east side of Austin. We saw a few shows but we made it more relaxed. It just makes no sense, because you just get too stressed when you try to be downtown and go to a lot of shows.
Do you have plans to see anyone in particular at the Psych Fest?
Yeah, the lineup is amazing. I will try to see as much as I can. Definitely Brian Jonestown and the Golden Animals. The Zombies are playing and Temples, this band from England who is very hyped in Europe right now. There's tons of stuff.
The one release that you've put out that has not been as readily available in the states has been the split double album White Ring you did with Aqua Nebula Oscillator. I saw that it is being reissued and was wondering if you'll be selling it on this tour?
It's good that you ask, because it is actually on the way to the States right now. I'm pretty sure that we'll have it by the time we get to San Francisco. We hoped to have it for Psych Fest, but because of Record Store Day there was a delay. We wanted to have it for the beginning of the tour, but it is out of the pressing plant now. It got reissued with a different cover and some special vinyl colors.
Kadavar performs tonight, Friday, May 9, at Bottom of the Hill with Mondo Drag and the Shrine.