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The Switchblade Kid interview with Harry Koniditsiotis

Okay folks, I figured it out, I found out who The Switchblade Kid is – it’s Harry Koniditsiotis, but wait!  Before you rush off to call the authorities about all those unsolved stabbings in your neighborhood you should check out an interview with one of the catchiest pop punk, shoegaze meets surf psych dudes dropping music right now.  Seriously though, I don’t honestly know to precisely label exactly the at once dreamy, soothing and yet raucous and energetically playful sounds that he’s able to conjure, but I damn sure know I like it.  For almost three years Koniditsiotis has been constantly working and reefing the sound of the band with a somewhat revolving cast of characters after dissolving the numerous other musical projects that he was involved with in favor of a single, unified sonic attack on the psyche in the form of The Switchblade Kid.  There’s an open honest sincerity to Koniditsiotis’ music that’s a real breath of fresh air to me.  There’s no pretention or expectancy here, it’s simply self-expression, and if you can get on the same wavelength or know where he’s coming from you are going to catch a wave and surf the tide directly into your subconscious, illuminating those warm summer days of your childhood that you’d long since forgotten and then jarring you forward into your tumultuous teen years, awkward glances at girls and getting fucked up at the local swimming spot.  Enjoy the ride.  
- Listen while you read:

What’s the lineup for The Switchblade Kid at this point?  Is this the original lineup or have there been any changes since you first started performing as The Switchblade Kid?

I drag in my wife and various friends.  I consider it my solo band and don’t really want to have fixed members, so it changes from time to time.  Other bands I’d been in the lineup of were always changing anyway and nothing would get done.  This way, I’m kind of able to do what I want, when I want.  I’m lucky to have friends willing to put up with me doing it this way.

I know that at least you usually keep really busy as far as musical projects go Harry.  You’re still involved in several bands that are still active as far as I know, including The Turn It-Offs and The Angel Sluts right now.  What active bands are you all in at this point?  Do you have any active side projects going on right now?

No, Switchblade Kid is the only one I’m involved with nowadays.  I was playing in The Angel Sluts, The Turn It Offs and Twin Pilot for a long time, which is kind of insane to play in three different original bands at once.  I dissolved them all into Switchblade Kid in 2012, so there’s a lot of crossover with the members of those bands.  Memphis is pretty incestuous like that; a lot of people are in a lot of different bands.

Can you tell us a little bit about who you’ve released music with in the past?  I try to keep up with what everyone’s done and doing but nothing beats getting the answers directly from the source!

I’ve worked with some great indie labels including Red Lounge Records, Chickpea Records, Fat Sandwich, Jukebox Records and Infinitesimal Records.  I also started my own label called Miss Molly Music

How old are you and where are you originally from?

I’ll be forty-two in April.  I’m originally from New Orleans.  I moved to Memphis in 2002.

What was your home like musically when you were growing up?  Was there a lot of music around or anything?  Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or extremely interested/involved in music?

Not really growing up, but my great grandmother Sarah Shienart formed the first all woman’s orchestra in the US in the late 1880’s.  My brother and I would sing ABBA and Neil Diamond songs in the back seat of the car while on family road trips.  I had the usual piano lessons and school band, but it all seemed pretty boring and pointless to me.  I grew up in the early 80s MTV generation, so there was all that.  Around fourteen or fifteen my friends were all buying guitars so I decided to buy a bass because they all needed a bass player for their bands.  I just knew I wanted to be a musician, and that was that.  I never really thought of doing anything else.

What about the local scene where you grew up?  Did you see a lot of shows as a kid or get very involved in that scene in your opinion?  Do you feel like it played an important role in shaping your musical tastes or the way you perform at this point?

I started going to shows around that time.  There was a place on Oak Street in New Orleans called Muddy Waters that we would always go to and eventually started playing.  It was a bar that would let teenagers in, but it was pretty casual and no one asked any questions because that was just New Orleans back then.  There’s always something going on in that town.  It’s a very social city and you can get lost in it really easily.  New Orleans has a pretty mixed bag of music leaning heavily towards metal and jazz.  After awhile I just got bored of “the party” and moved to Memphis when I was twenty-nine.  Memphis has an amazing rock n roll and soul music history that I’m still blown away by.

What do you consider your first real exposure to music to be?

You know, I think it was in 2nd grade.  I came home from school, turned on MTV and Devo’s “Love Without Anger” was playing and it just sucked me in.  It was the wildest thing I’d ever seen!  I think my head exploded.

If you were to pick a moment, or a small series of moments, that seemed to change everything for you musically and opened your mind to the infinite possibilities that music present, what would it be?

The above answer would be one of them. The other would be at around age thirteen I was given a bunch of cassettes by my brother’s cool friend George.  It was stuff like Buzzcocks, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Generation X, Bronski Beat, Sex Pistols and that lead to stuff like the Cure, Joy Division, Depeche Mode which lead me to 80’s college rock and the Athens GA scene which got me in the Velvet Underground and I think it all bloomed from there with the noise, punk and goth stuff. I graduated high school in 1991 so I was ahead of the “alternative” scene and I didn’t really care for Nirvana and the “grunge” bands. I was really into the Velvets, Swans and My Bloody Valentine at that point.

What was your first instrument?  When and how did you get that?

I first started playing bass in 1988.  I loved Duran Duran and thought John Taylor was the coolest mother fucker in the world, and I still do!  I got a guitar a year later.  I discovered the whole feedback thing and just loved making a racket.  In a lot of ways I haven’t really grown from that moment, ha-ha.

When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing you own music and what brought that decision about for you?  Or was it more of just a natural progression of being given a new outlet to create something of your own and express yourself in a new way?

I think it was a natural progression.  I just started scribbling words and phrases down.  I kept a little notebook with me at all times.  Writing songs and playing live seemed like the logical thing to do if I was going to be a musician.

What led to the formation of The Switchblade Kid and when would that have been?

Ha-ha, well I think the band was born from my frustration of playing with three bands and touring non-stop for three years with the Angel Sluts.  That’s also why there’s some cross over with the band members.  I now use the Alfred Hitchcock mentality of treating your actors, or in this case musicians, like cattle.  Herd them in and herd them out to get the project or show done.  It’s a lot easier, people’s feelings don’t get hurt and everyone’s lives can go on.  People have wives, kids, jobs, etcetera.  Being in a band is a time consuming thing.  It really takes over your whole life.  The Angel Sluts were around for eight years.  The last show we had a big record release party for our 7-inch singles compilation called Singles Starring at the Steady in March 2012 and it seemed like the right place to end it.  The first Switchblade Kid show was a few months later in July of 2012, oddly enough at Creepy Fest in NOLA [New Orleans].

What does the name The Switchblade Kid mean or refer to in the context of your band name?  Who came up with it and how did you all go about choosing it?  Are there any close seconds that you almost went with you can recall at this point?

I basically just thought it was a cool band name, but it comes from a joke nickname given to the actor Sal Mineo.  His friends and family say it was funny he was cast in juvenile delinquent roles because he was a very sweet and kind person.  If he had to handle a real switchblade he probably would have accidentally stabbed himself.  I thought that was funny.  I bought a switchblade in Italy years ago that I keep around, so there’s that association too.  The Other Voids was another name from a song title that I thought about.  I always joke that I’m going to start a band called theharrykoniditsiotisexperience.

Is there any sort of shared creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares or lives by, spoken or unspoken?

Eh, its more like don’t be an annoying dick.  And dogs rule.

Where’s Switchblade Kid located at this point?  How would you describe the local music scene where you’re at?

Memphis is a great town to be a musician or artist.  It’s easy to book shows here, cheap to live, and generally just has a good vibe of creativity.

Do you feel like you’re very involved in the local scene where you’re at?  Do you book or attend a lot of shows or anything?

I used to go out a lot and book a bunch of shows, but it’s wearing to do as you get older.  I probably put on four shows a year.  Now that I’m married I tend to stay in more and let others do it.  I’m tending to focus more on my studio The 5 and Dime right now.  I think I’ve spent enough years out on the town.  It’s easier to stay focused creatively.  We have two dogs and three cats that are the best entertainers.

Do you feel like the local scene where you’re at has played an integral role in the sound, history or evolution of Switchblade Kid, or do you think you would be doing what you are and sound basically like you do regardless of where you were at or surrounded by?

I’m sure it has to a degree.  I love the music of this town, but I think regardless of where I was I’d be doing the same thing - which is playing music.  I think Memphis was the right town for me to ‘settle’ down in and create.

Are you involved in recording or releasing any music for anyone besides your own/The Switchblade Kid’s?  Do you help run or operate any labels or anything like that?  If so, can you tell us about that briefly?

I run a recording studio called The 5 and Dime and a small label called Miss Molly Music.  It’s really just a way to do short-run vinyl and cassettes of my own material, but I have done a joint release with Bruiser Queen.  Sometimes its easier to DIY it and I wanted to have control over the physical copies and the money.  I had a bad experience with a label basically holding copies ransom, so I just said fuck it, I’ll do it myself and get rid of the middle man.  I also wanted to learn about running a label.  I still interact with all the labels that I mentioned before.  Jukebox Records put out the I’m a Hog for You Baby 7-inch.  My next release is on a 7-inch comp from Infintesmal Records, so it’s always great to work with others too.

How would you describe The Switchblade Kid’s sound to our readers who might not have heard you all before?  I always feel like I’m screwing things up by putting way too many of my own perceptions about what I’m hearing into descriptions and it can really be a daunting task sometimes!

I say bootgaze, deathwave or noisepop to pigeonhole.  There are a lot of roots in punk, post punk, glam, goth, shoegaze, psych, rockabilly and anything dreamy sounding.

Speaking of your sound, I’m curious who you would cite as some of your major musical influences?  What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?

I’d say my three favorite albums to reference for Switchblade Kid are The Velvet Underground and Nico, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy and Spacemen 3’s Sound of Confusion.  Bowie, Eno, Iggy are in there with elements of old rockablilly and country drenched in reverb.  A friend said 70s Glam was just psychedelic rockabilly and I kind of agree with that.

What’s the songwriting process like for The Switchblade Kid?  Does one of you usually come to the rest of the band with a riff or more finished idea for a song to work out and finish, or do you all get together and kick ideas back and forth or jam until you hit on something that you’re interested in working on and refining?

I pretty much have a finished idea at this point and let the others throw in their two cents.  I generally start with a basic riff or harmony and go from there.  There’s always a degree of jamming it out though.

What about recording?  While I think that most musicians can appreciate the end result of all the time and effort that goes into an album.  Getting to that point however, getting things recorded and sounding the way you want them to, and once that’s done, even seemingly small things like getting the recordings properly mixed and mastered can prove to be extremely difficult and frustrating.  What’s it like recording for Switchblade Kid?

I’ve been recording my own bands for over ten years now and recently it’s not an annoying process anymore.  I think I just got better at doing it but it can be a total pain to record yourself; it’s all trial and error.  Plus, annoying band members mess up recordings more than anything.  Owning a studio helps.  Over the last ten years it’s evolved a lot.  Now I have it set so anyone can just walk in and start recording immediately.  There’s drums, amps, PA, keyboards, organs, pianos, etcetera, all mic’ed and ready to go at a moments notice.  The setup time was always the killer for me, and others, in the studio, so I wanted to eliminate that from my workflow.  I like getting everyone together and tracking live, but lately I’ve been doing most of it myself, then bringing in others to play parts.

Do you all like to take a more DIY approach to recording where you handle most of the technical aspects of things on your own so that you don’t have to work with anyone else or compromise on the sound with them?  Or do you like to head into a studio and let someone else get behind the board and worry about that headache so you can concentrate on the music and playing?

I’d love it if someone else did it but that hasn’t happened too often.  I do like being the producer for others.  My attitude is very, “Lets get this shit done!”  People have a tendency to want to dawdle, fuck off, come in unprepared, etcetera and I’m the crack the whip guy.

Is there a lot of time that goes into working out exactly what a song’s going to sound like before it’s recorded, with the arrangement and composition all worked out and planned ahead of time, or is it more of a situation where you get a good skeletal idea of what something’s going to sound like, while allowing for some change and evolution during the recording process where you feel necessary?

Yes to both.  You never know where a song will go sometimes.  I think it’s all about the groove and the mood; a good song can sound good no matter what.

Let’s talk a little bit about your back catalog for a minute.  In 2012 you released the self-titled Switchblade Kid 12” for Miss Molly Music.  What was the recording of that material like?  When and where was that recorded at?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?  Was that a fun, pleasurable experience or more of a nerve-racking and difficult proposition for you all at the time?

Well, I call that my “death of youth” record.  Things were changing in my life and I was making changes that I wanted.  Like I said earlier, playing in three bands and touring nonstop gets a bit much and I felt like things were a bit out of control and getting away from what I wanted.  I’m pretty happy with the record.  I also shot a video albumversion with my friend George.  Actually, this album was finished before the band even existed, was named, put together or played a show.  I recorded it myself with different friends over about a year.  Really, just whoever I was grabbing randomly from the three bands, plus other musicians who were passing through the studio at the time, so it became kind of a big party album to me.  I was able to pull in lots of different players and not be so restricted to the “bands” I was in.

You followed up the self-titled LP with a collection of CD-R and cassette recordings that you collected onto a 12” in 2013 entitled For All The Sad Bastards.  Can you talk a little bit about how you selected that material?  Were those selected tracks from those CDs and tapes or more of a complete collection?  If not all of the material was compiled on For All The Sad Bastards is there anyway you get a hold of that other material at this point?  How did you go about selecting the material that would appear on the 12”?

With the birth of a new band and the success of the first album I wanted to put to rest some “old ghost” songs before they got lost in the shuffle again.  I have a huge unreleased back catalog and it just made sense to do it.  I would have loved to put it all out separately on 7-inches but the cost effective reality was to just do a full-length and I’m glad I did.  I think it sums up my first ten years in Memphis pretty well.  These were the songs I had written that just didn’t work out with the bands I was playing with at the time and were never used.  I felt like they never got a fair shake and it just seemed like the right time to take them off the shelf.

You released two 7-inches in 2014, the self-released “ELM” b/w “BPW” and I’m A Hog For You Baby on Jukebox Records featuring artwork by Peter Bagge of HATE!!! fame!  Can you talk a little bit about the recording of the material for those singles?  When and where would that have been at?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

They were both recorded at my studio The 5 and Dime.  I record on Pro Tools through a bunch of mostly 70s gear.  The board is a Kelsey, lots of Fender amps.  The room is very 60s sounding.  I’ve been told it looks like the old Hi Records studio.  I tracked most of the songs myself and pulled in some friends to play bass, drums and some extra parts.  That’s kind of my normal process nowadays, but there’s still a sense of everyone jamming together in the same room.  “ELM” and “BPW” are bits of old songs that just wouldn’t die and wove themselves into new ones.  I recorded most of “ELM (Eyes Like Mine)” and “BPW (Bridal Party Weekend)” when my wife was out of town on her bridal party weekend.  My friend ShaneEssary shot accompanying videos for them with Piper Sheperd out in LA at an abandoned Nazi compound called Murphy’s Ranch and around Korea Town.  “I’m a Hog for You Baby” is an old cover that I liked and thought it was a good fit for the band.  Dave from Jukebox Records has a lacquer cutting service called Lucky Lacquers.  He had cut the lacquers for the two albums and the ELM/BPW 7-inch so he offered to put out a 7-inch on his label.  Dave has some connection with Peter Bagge.  Back in the early 90s my friend Jason got me into the HATE comics, so it was really wild to have someone like Peter Bagge do the cover.  Jason and I are still friends, so I had to call him up and say “You’re never gonna guess who drew the cover to the new 7-inch!!!”

Does The Switchblade Kid have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a demo or a single that I don’t know about?

Ha-ha, as a matter of fact I do.  Infinitesimal Records will be releasing a 7-inch with the song “Perpugilliam Brown”.  It’s an online Doctor Who fan film single that I did.  I also covered the intro to “K-9 and Company”and shot a video for it as the ‘b-side’.  I have a soft spot in my heart for sci-fi fan films.

With the release of the two singles this past year in 2014 does The Switchblade Kid have any releases in the works or on the horizon that you can talk about?

There are some things in the works.  The Infinitesimal Records 7-inch is the next official release.

Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up Switchblade Kid’s music at?

With the completely insane international postage rates over the past few years I try and provide our readers with as many possible options as I can.  Where’s the best place for our international and overseas readers to pick up your stuff?

Boy you aren’t kidding!  I wish I could find a distributor.  It costs about fifteen dollars just to send one record overseas.  Norman Records in the UK has all our stuff, though and Red Lounge Records in Germany carries the Turn It Offs album.

Are there any major plans or goals that The Switchblade Kid is looking to accomplish in 2015?

I’m focusing a bit more on the studio this year.  This July will be three years I’ve been doing Switchblade Kid and I’ll have put out two LPs and three 7-inches by then.  I’m writing some new material and doing a short film with some friends.  I was an avid comic book collector when I was young and have copies of Avengers #1 and #4.  We’re basically going to shoot a rock n roll road trip to a comic con to get Stan Lee to sign them unless he dies before we get there, then we’re screwed.

What, if anything, do you all have planned as far as touring goes right now?

I’m a bit on the fence about touring right now.  I went from touring months at a time for years to just regional weekends, etcetera.  I kind of want to do a month long type US tour again but I’d have to find the right person to book it.  I always did the tour booking and it’s just a pain in the ass that I don’t want to have to do again.  There’s always talk of going to Europe and Japan but it’s a finance thing.

Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road touring?  Do you enjoy being out on tour?  What’s life like on the road for The Switchblade Kid?

I enjoy it.  Switchblade Kid is much more of an ‘adult’ time than the crazy partying that was the Angel Sluts.

What was the first song that The Switchblade Kid ever played live?  When and where would that have been at?

I think it was “The Sore Subjects” at a place in Memphis called Murphy’s.  It was the warm-up to the Creepy Fest show.  I think we did “Hard Feelings” from the Turn It Offs and maybe “44” by Angel Sluts too.

Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to play with over the past few years?

Vibrolas from Louisville, Kenbtucky, Bruiser Queen from St. Louis, Missouri, New Madrid of Springfield Missouri, Dumpster Babies from Chicago (Interview here), Kill, Baby…Kill! from Alabama (Interview here), Piss Shivers also from Alabama, and Modern Convenience and Churchyard who are bother from Nashville Tennessee.

Do you give a lot of thought to the visual aspects that represent the band to a large extent, stuff like flyers, posters, shirt designs, cover artwork and that kind of thing?  Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re attempting to convey with the visual side of The Switchblade Kid?  Is there anyone that you usually turn to in your times of need when it comes to the visual side of the band?  If so, who is that and how did you get hooked up with them?

You know one of the things I can complain about is I’ve never been in a band where anyone did any kind of art.  It’s kind of weird, because I know so many bands that have “that person” who handles the art stuff and I think that’s pretty cool.  I guess I just wasn’t lucky enough.  It’s kind of the last thing I think of.  I like to keep things pretty simple and dreamy.  If I have to design something its pretty cut and paste photocopy looking like our Velvet Underground style logo or the ELM/BPW cover.  The artist Lauren Fogg drew the Miss Molly Music logo for me.  Most artists I know are tied up with their own stuff, so it’s hard sometimes finding someone to create the right images.  Glad I learned a bit of Photoshop.

With all of the methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why they choose and prefer the various methods of release that they do.  Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music?  What about when you’re listening to and purchasing music?  If you do have a preference, what is it and can you tell us a little bit about why that is?

I like vinyl and cassettes for releases because that’s what I grew up with.  You can’t ignore the fact that people are going to listen to it in the digital realm; download cards, Bandcamp, and YouTube are all good for that.  There’s a Switchblade Kid station on Pandora.  It’s all just the “radio” anyway.

I grew up around my dad’s killer collection of music and both of my parents really encouraged me to listen to anything that I wanted to from a pretty young age.  I developed a ritual for music at a pretty young age which I’ve never grown out of and has led to a lifelong obsession with physically releases music.  There’s just something about having a physical object to hold, something that’s concretely connected to the music that I’m hearing which has always made for a much more complete listening experience and seemed to offer a rare and brief glimpse inside of the minds’ of the artists who made it.  Do you have any such connection with physically released music?

Yes I do with vinyl and cassettes.  There’s just something about being able to hold it in your hands like a book.

Like it or not, digital music is here in a big way right now.  I think a lot of any situation is how you look at it and deal with it and digital music is no different.  When you combine it with the internet though, that’s when things get really interesting.  Together they’ve exposed people to the literal world of music that they’re surrounded by for the very first time in history, and along with the internet it’s allowed bands and their fans to reach out and communicate with each other like never before in history.  On the other hand though, while people are being exposed to all this amazing new music and are much more aware of the world around them as far as that goes, most people aren’t really interested in paying for music at this point.  A lot of people have begun to see music as a sort of disposable entertainment to be used and then discarded and forgotten once they’re done with it.  As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?

So far it’s worked pretty well for me.  It’s the ultimate chain music store of the time.  Like I said earlier the digital medium is just the “new radio”.  Some people will buy the song and some people won’t.  My attitude with music distribution is from a DIY standpoint.  I don’t have anyone doing it for me so I have to do it myself and the internet lets anyone of any fandom connect easily.  It’s also a “create your own entertainment” thing to me.  “Why am I going to bother to listen this crap music when I can just play my own?”  You don’t even need to be in the same city anymore to record music together.  So yeah I dig it.

I try to keep up with as many good bands as I can but there’s not enough time to sift through all of the music out there right now and I have a hard time even knowing where to start sometimes.  Is there anyone from your local scene or area that I should be listening to I might not have heard of before?

I’d say the list of bands before but there’s also a bunch of great new young bands coming up in Memphis.  Check out Berkano, Loser Vision, Ugly Girls, The Leave Me Be’s, and Rickie & Aimee.

What about nationally and internationally?

I like Trementina from Chile.  They have the whole Loveless My Bloody Valentine sound.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me so in-depth about the band!  It was awesome getting to learn so much about you all as well as getting a brief glimpse inside of the creative processes for the band as well.  Since you’ve been so generous with your time and I don’t really have anything else to toss at you at this point I’d like to open the floor up to you for a moment here.  Is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you might just want to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about?

I started writing for a zine out of Holland called City Trash so that’s a new experience for me.  My wife and I love dogs and cats.  She’s involved with a no kill animal shelter in Tunica Mississippi called Tunica Humane Society.  

(2012)  The Switchblade Kid – The Switchblade Kid – 12” – Miss Molly Music 
(2013)  The Switchblade Kid – For All The Sad Bastards – CD, 12” – Miss Molly Music
(2014)  The Switchblade Kid – “ELM” b/w “BPW” – 7” – Miss Molly Music
(2014)  The Switchblade Kid – I’m A Hog For You Baby – 7” – Jukebox Records

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2015
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Joe - you lived in Cols. in 90-90 at OSU. Or was it 89-90? I'd like to forget, too!