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Progressive Rock Interviews


Interviewed by Lorraine Kay
Interview with John Mitchell of Kino
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 5 at

Most of the talk about Kino is how it is actually pieces of four other awesome bands in the UK that decided to start a new band. But it was more than that from what I understand. Why don’t you tell the readers about that?
Well, basically, I did an album for my old band called Urbane and the album was called “Glittler.” It was released through Inside Out Records and Thomas Farber really liked the album and it did spectacularly well. He really liked my style of writing music, so he asked if I thought about teaming up with some other people and doing something a bit more proggy. And I said, “Yeah okay.” And he asked who I fancied working with and immediately the first person I wanted to work with was John Beck and so I told him I would get in touch with John because I knew he was on tour with John Wetton in Japan. I also wanted to work with Ray Wilson, the guy from Genesis and I kind of got in touch with him, as well. And initially he was very interested in doing it. I had a couple of meetings with him and we got on very well. Then Pete Trewavas of Marillion got wind that I was working with John Beck and Pete wanted to get involved as well. So I started writing with Pete instead and we sort of wrote a bunch of stuff before I even started working with John, because he was kind of busy with Alan Parsons at the time. And when John was less busy with Alan Parsons he sort of got involved. And then we just basically wrote all these songs together. I co-wrote a few with Pete and co-wrote a few with John. John wrote two songs on the album, “Swimming In Women” is one of them. And I wrote quite a few things and then I co-wrote with Pete and then we all got involved with that. And eventually we decided it’s time to start recording and we needed a drummer. So we had all sorts of crazy ideas of who should be drumming on it. But I said I quite liked the idea of getting Chris Maitland cause I’d seen him with Porcupine Tree. I was more impressed with the fact that he was really charismatic on stage. I didn’t pay much attention to his drumming by itself. It was the fact that he really looked like he was into what he was doing. But by that time Ray had decided he wanted to concentrate more on his solo career so I said “fair enough. So then everyone decided that I was going to sing on this record. I thought it was a bad idea. I still told them about getting all sorts of other people to sing on it. And eventually I just ran out of steam with the whole trying to get someone else to sing and I just said “Oh well, I’ll do it.” And that’s basically how it all happened.
MSJ: But you do really well with the singing part.
Well, I get by and that’s not by any stretch of the imagination. I just do my best.
MSJ: How did you come up with the name Kino?
That was kind of Pete. I really wanted to call the band something to do with films. I am a big film fan. I knew we couldn’t call it Cinema because the guys from Yes were going to call their thing Cinema in the early ‘80s. But I still kind of liked the whole cinematic thing. Films are my hobby or pastime. So Pete decided to call it Kino, which is German and Czechoslovakian and Russian for cinema. I thought that was a cool name. I didn’t actually realize at the time that there was a Russian band that was around during the ‘80s called Kino and their singer died rather tragically in a car crash in the beginning of the ‘90s. So from time to time we get a lot of angry Russians on our web site going “How dare you call your band Kino” but you just have to take it with a pinch of salt really. Yeah, we spent ages with dictionaries like just opening pages at random and you know pointing at things and that didn’t work. And yeah, so Pete kind of got us out of that spot. And I really liked it and John Beck thinks it’s the best name on the planet now for a band.
MSJ: So you didn’t sing with your other band?
With Urbane I kind of sang and I’m fond of singing. It just never came natural to me. It’s been something I’ve had to work at – trying to sing. Whenever I tried listening to my demo tapes when I was about 16 I just laughed. Some people can just start singing at any age and be brilliant but it’s something I really have to work at. It’s certainly not something that I’m particularly good at. But it is something I try very hard at. And it’s paid off to a certain degree.
MSJ: I notice John Beck sang when you guys played at CalProg.
Yeah, he sings. He used to just sing back up with It Bites and he has a kind of cool sounding voice. It’s very individual. And he wanted to sing the song that he wrote for the album “Swimming In Women.” He kind of brought that song to the band because he’d had it lying around for a few years prior to even the idea of Kino and he wanted to sing it. So I said, “Yeah go for it.” I’ve never been one in Kino to go “okay no one else is allowed to sing.” I really don’t mind who sings as long as they sing in tune.
MSJ: Do you expect that he’ll be singing more in the future?
Yeah, The thing about It Bites (and people don’t realize this) is just how many vocal parts he does actually sing in It Bites. He sings a lot of the little bridge parts and songs. He and Bob (the drummer in Kino) used to sing a lot of harmony together. And Francis used to do all the easy stuff. John is really a very gifted musician. He’s probably one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever played with. So I encourage him to do what ever he wants to do. He’s a really nice person as well. He’s a very genuine and honest person and I’m very fortunate to be in a band with him.
MSJ: After the CalProg show we had a very brief meeting, but even in those few short seconds it seemed as though everybody is really nice. You must enjoy that.
It is cool. I’m not going to mention any names but I’ve been in bands with people that have really, really p***ed me off. Over the years that hasactually made you not want to be in the band and not want to bother with music anymore. It’s supposed to be enjoyable because we don’t make a king’s ransom out of doing this. So the fact of the matter I think that people lose focus of the fact that one of the most important things in a band is camaraderie. People might not be the greatest musicians in the band or whatever but as long as the camaraderie is right that’s the most important thing. If you’re in a band and you hate somebody so much in the band that the only time you actually see them is in a sound check or on stage, and you have no social interaction with them whatsoever, I can’t see that as a healthy situation. I think that’s very important and it just so happens I’m in a band with very gifted musicians who aren’t complete a***oles. That’s kind of cool
MSJ: So you guys hang out together when it is possible?
Well yeah. I don’t hang out with Pete so much, but John lives at the end of my road. We both live in Reading in England. So we hang out socially a lot on the weekends. At the moment I’m writing with him pretty much everyday of the week. So I get to see him a lot anyway. I’ve never had an argument with John. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve never had the need to have an argument with John because when we’re writing music he points things out to me that I wouldn’t have thought and sometimes I might I point things out to him. I’m good with catchy vocals and lyrics and stuff and he’s kind of good with arranging stuff. At the moment somebody has to take the reins to a certain degree but I do think when bands go wrong it’s when one person doesn’t realize how important chemistry is. And people don’t like line-up changes in bands, that’s a fact. I’ve been in Arena for like 10 years and Arena has had more line-up changes than most people have had hot dinners. It’s kind of like just as soon as somebody gets used to a team of people and it changes you lose momentum and focus... it’s just a pain and I really do believe that if you’ve got a good chemistry no one should ever get up above somebody else in the grand scheme of things.
MSJ: Of the four bands that you all come from what ones are still out there gigging?
Marillion, of course. It Bites. The next Kino record that we’re going to do is not going to be for quite a while because the original other actual members of It Bites, Bob, John and Dick Nolan and me, are teaming up to do another It Bites record. Francis Dunnery didn’t want to be involved. So we’re actually going under the name of It Bites and kind of doing It Bites kind of stuff. So that’s what’s happening with It Bites. And Chris Maitland is a bit out of the picture at the moment cause he’s doing a lot of session playing around Europe with various different musical productions of Mama Mia, the Abba tribute musical. So he’s like a jobbing musician really and he can’t commit so much to touring or to being a member of a band. The band he came from Porcupine Tree is still going. So that’s where we’re at really with it all. At the moment Kino is taking a little holiday and we’re working on this and that’s why I’m working with John, writing the It Bites record. As far as Arena goes, we’re kind of taking an extended hiatus. We don’t really know what we’ll be doing next or when we’re going to be doing it. I know that there’s a sort of “Best of Album” coming out this year, but that’s all I know about it. I don’t think there’s any immediate plans to run into the studio and write or record anything.
MSJ: Of course Bob Dalton plays with you in live gigs, and since Chris is so busy with his other projects if and when you get into the studio again will Bob Dalton be your drummer?
We haven’t really discussed this. Bob was there for the live commitments and Bob is definitely going to be on the It Bites CD. Yeah, sure if he wants to. Chris has certainly expressed an interest to me to play on another Kino record. But, I think Chris always thought it was just a studio project. And I was always wanting it to be a proper band. But I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that Kino, whilst there is a good chemistry, we’re kind of held back by a lot of factors. To Pete it’s more of a hobby band because he’s got Marillion and we’re kind of very much at the mercy of Marillion’s schedule. So, which is why we wanted to do the It Bites thing. We’ve got four people that want to be focused and write a record, record a record and tour as much as we can. Cause with Kino we really didn’t tour as much as we should have done to support the record. And it sold fantastically well but I think we could have toured a little bit more.
MSJ: Were you pleased with the fan turn out at Cal Prog?
Yeah for sure. Everyone that was there seemed to enjoy themselves. They weren’t exactly the most vocal audience but they certainly showed positive reactions after the show. It’s very difficult to know because we were standing up there doing the gig, and we’re thinking, “Hey, is anybody actually enjoying this or not?” And at the end of it all these people are going, “It was fantastic.” And it was, “Wow, so you did enjoy it.” I’m used to doing shows in Europe where it’s like a big party. It was a pretty subdued crowd. I’m just used to more of a “hoedown”.
MSJ: I noticed you had a bit of a problem with your gear and I know it wasn’t your gear but leased. How was that for you?
It was all right - the usual stuff. You can’t expect everything to run like clockwork, especially when you go into a foreign country and hire all the gear. But it was cool, pretty close to what I’m used to. You turn up somewhere in South America or something and you know you always find out they’ve got completely the wrong keyboards and everything and its just a bit of a nightmare. I’ve done some of the worst gigs on the planet, so when things go as well as they did at CalProg it’s a pleasant surprise.
MSJ: Did you bring any of your own gear, even your guitars?
No. We just played on all hired stuff. We’re just used to it.
MSJ: I was impressed with John, because I know he uses different programs, and for him to find what he needed on the fly like that was pretty good.
Well, he does use pretty antique equipment so I was quite surprised that any of it was actually locatable.
MSJ: It seems that nowadays everyone is moonlighting with other bands and other recording projects, especially in the Prog-rock world. I can’t think of one player that I have interviewed that doesn’t play with more than one band. Everyone is juggling tour and recording schedules and maybe a life. Is that the destiny of Kino?
Well, it causes a lot of discontent with some of the other bands I’m playing with. Some people think you should just do one thing and one thing alone. But then I’ve always thought that the goal of musician is that you should try and stretch your boundaries as a musician as much as you can. And I don’t think there’s any one band yet that I’ve been in that encompasses everything that I want to do musically. Arena does out and out traditional sort of progressive rock in a sort of Pink Floyd through Genesis mold. Kino’s more poppy. The Urbane stuff was more like alternative rock. And then I get to play with John Wetton. I play guitar for him, I don’t write music with him or anything. We play kind of UK stuff that is kind of technical prog rock. I don’t see anything bad about it. There’s this whole argument whereby people think that you’re kind of diluting yourself or spreading yourself too thinly and I suppose there’s a valid argument but I don’t think in those terms. I don’t think, “Yeah, I’m doing too many things.” I just like to be busy. And frankly any one band that I do is never occupied all the time. It’s not like U2 touring all the year around. A band like Arena will only do a tour once every couple of years for around four and a half weeks. So what am I going to do for the rest of the time. I just like being busy and I like playing as many different styles of music as I can. If I was in two bands playing exactly the same music then there’s a valid point for not doing it. But I don’t. I just like stretching the boundaries of what I do as much as I can.
MSJ: So you just like variety?
MSJ: So you just like variety?
MSJ: Do the other members of the band feel the same way”
I think Pete does.
MSJ: How committed to Kino are the other members of the band?
I think certainly in terms of the importance of it all, it’s certainly very important to myself and John Beck, who didn’t join a band for a great many years after he left It Bites. He did his project with Dick Nolan called Unicorn Jones. It was a kind of electronica thing. But this is the first time he has actually joined a band since leaving It Bites, which was like 16 years ago.
MSJ: When it comes to writing where does your inspiration come from?
The stuff that makes me want to write stuff are bands like the Police and stuff like that My influences as a musician are a lot of ‘80s rock, Mr. Mister. And I like Def Leppard, melodic rock from the ‘80s, but I also like progressive rock cause I kind of find that the two kind of clash into each other and I kind of find myself writing sort of Mr. Mistery, but slightly progressive songs. The sound kind of does it for me.
MSJ: But lyrically what gets you going?
I can tell you about some specifics about one song. “Perfect Tense” is about when I was little and I was growing up in England, and I went to this strict public school. And it’s basically about having to go to chapel every day and having this guy reciting Psalms to you. It made absolutely no sense. I found it quite like brainwashing. So I found it quite humorous to write a song about it. All the way back to when I was like 8 years old. So I drew influence from that growing up at school. I like expressing different parts of me and experiences that have happened in my life. None of the songs I write are ever about nothing. I don’t think I could ever be accused about that. I’m not here to preach to anybody. They’re just about experiences I’ve had. And people I’ve met.
MSJ: What do you want the fans to come away with when they listen to your music?
Wow, I hope some beautiful moments. I hope there’s a few hairs standing on the back of their necks if they play it loudly enough. I listen to a lot of film soundtracks and I kind of find myself drawn toward film soundtracks because I always find there’s a moment where it crescendos and you can feel the hairs on your neck going up. I think that’s the most magical thing you can get from any piece of music. I listen to a lot of Alan Silvestri, who scored the film “Contact.” And it’s a brilliant piece of music and the music to “Blade Runner” and stuff like that. I’m really into films. I just find myself watching an awful lot of films and sort of getting inspired by films as well.
MSJ: Would you like to do soundtracks?
I would love to but I really wouldn’t know where to begin. It’s such a completely different kind of music.
MSJ: What comes first when you write a song, the music, a feeling, or the lyrics? In other words, do you write the music to fit the lyrics or vice versa?
I’ve always – and it really annoys me and I wish I could get out of the habit of writing with an acoustic guitar, which I find is not actually a good thing. I like working with keyboard players, they always come up with much more interesting chord changes because it’s easier playing interesting shapes and stuff. I find it kind of constricting writing on an acoustic guitar. The basic inversions of the chords and the melody I kind of strum on an acoustic guitar and then I get a rhythm. For the vocal I kind of sing a bunch of nonsense into a Dictaphone and then once you’ve got your phrasing together, that’s one thing I kind of pride myself on is actually getting phrasing that really fits well with the rhythms. I’m always really fascinated by the rhythm of words as well. Once you’ve got that together. Lyrics aren’t an after thought but I kind of do spend a lot of time writing lyrics and I’ve always found it really weird working with other people. Some people have a habit of writing a bunch of chords without any idea of what the vocal melody is going to be. And write a bunch of riffs over the chords. And you’re building this whole sonic tapestry. The last thing anybody thinks about. And I’m not going to name who does this but I find it absolutely bewildering. It’s kind of like building the house from the roof down. It’s kind of like the most important thing is the chord structure and the melody on top of it. And when half of that is missing from the outset I find that quite bewildering.
MSJ: If you write a song, or John and you, or whomever, do you already have an idea where you want the song to go and then tell the other members what you want from them, or do you give them creative license when they are added to the mix?
With John and I, the only thing we actually do disagree about is the tempo of songs. He always thinks a song should be faster and I always think that is the point of playing songs live to play them slightly faster. Yeah, pretty much normally I have an idea. I pretty much normally can hear everything I want to hear in a song in my head even before I even hit record. And the funny thing is, John always kind of pulls things in a different direction to me. Like with “Perfect Tense” on the album I always imagined that in the chorus to be a quite heavily distorted guitar and I always wanted, and it sounds really cheesy when I tell you this now, but I wanted the end chorus when it goes up to be like a big choir of children singing in the background, which sounds super cheesy but the way I heard it in my head I wanted it to sound a bit ironic because of what the song is based about. But he kind of chilled it all out and the guitar part ended up sounding like something Sting might write. And I didn’t mind so we‘ll keep it like that and I’ve grown to love it in a different way. And perhaps he’s very good at pointing out stuff to me like “Why did you want to do that?” He hears things perhaps as they should be and I always have a kind of bombastic approach to the way I think songs should go. And his suggestions always seem to be a little more understated than I would.
MSJ: In your profile of “Loser’s Day Parade” you mentioned the frustration of an artist and his relationship with his record company. How much control does Kino have over production and the material that ends up on the final product?
Total control, absolute total control. No one has ever said, “Oh, John, don’t do this, or you’ve got to have this.” Of course, Thomas Farber, he does say, “oh, I think this” or “I think that,” but at the end of the day it’s kind of like, “Well. Sorry, this is the way it is.” I’ve had a few arguments with him. I remember when we were mixing the album he’d say, “Well, I don’t think I like the snare sound in there. Don’t you think the snare sound is terrible?” And I said, “Well tough, I like it,” or whatever. At the end of the day he’s put a lot of faith in there and he’s got to let me get on with it. That’s what I’ve always done. At the end of the day, we’re never going to sell billions and billions of records so frankly no one really has a right to be telling us what sort of music we should be writing ‘cause we’re selling to a small marketplace. Yeah for sure we might be big fish in a small pond but at the end of the day it’s still a small pond. So nobody really has a right to dictate to us because any decisions we make aren’t going to make the difference between selling a 100,000 records or selling six million records.
MSJ: So he doesn’t have to be concerned about having his car sabotaged?
No, he doesn’t have to worry about that. I just wrote that always thinking that Ray Wilson would sing it when I originally came up with the idea for that. I just imagined him singing it, but sadly it won’t be. But no, it’s not autobiographical or anything. It’s in reference to things that have happened to me but I just kind of wanted to write them from an outsider’s view, like kind of build things that have happened to me into a storyline about somebody else. Certainly, I’ve been to New York a lot and a lot of the places I sing about in the song are places I’ve visited and things I’ve seen. But I’ve put it into a work of fiction. Thomas did get to hear about that and he did say, “Do I have anything to worry about.” And I said. “No, don’t worry about it I’ve never car bombed anybody.”
MSJ: Where and when does It Bites plan to tour and when will the CD be available?
We’re going to tour in the UK in December. We just got the dates and what we’re doing, basically, is only dipping our toe in the water ‘cause it’s the first time we’re going to be touring. Before Francis Dunnery was in the original line-up and he’s not in this one and there are a lot of skeptics out there going, “How on earth can they do this with John Mitchell?” And I’m like, “Yeah, okay fine - fair enough - good point.” So we just got to go out and try to prove ourselves and the first tour we’re going to do is in December and we’re only doing 5 or 6 shows but all up and down the country and hopefully people will give us a chance and go and see what it’s all about.
MSJ: But now the CD for It Bites is all new stuff. Will you be doing the nostalgic stuff for the tour?
The CD won’t be out until February, so we’re actually just doing the old stuff just before Christmas just to see what the reaction is here. This is the first time with me fronting It Bites and just getting accustomed to doing something slightly different.
MSJ: What was the last CD that you purchased?
Blood Sweat and Towers by Towers of London.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended as a fan?
Imogen Heap
MSJ: What was your most memorable Spinal Tap moment as a performer?
That’s easy. It was with the band Arena on tour. We did a gig - this might go some way to explaining my reluctance to tour the states - we did a gig in or we were supposed to do a gig in Milwaukee in a place called Shank Hall. Funny enough, you might know Shank Hall from the film Spinal Tap. That’s where the pods didn’t open. So we were supposed to play that place and the promoter, Brian Geigner, hadn’t organized any of the equipment we’d asked for. This is why I keep saying CalProg was so well run. None of the stuff we’d asked for was there. We turned up at the hotel and there was like seven of us and he only booked two rooms. I don’t know what he must have thought – we were like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or something? And then adding insult to injury we found out we weren’t actually getting paid the figure we had agreed to for doing the gig. And the sum total of his production was sticking a black and white flyer on the front door of the venue. We looked around the town and we didn’t see anything more. Remarkably, we had to pre-sell something like 100 tickets which would have made it worth while, but unfortunately, all the keyboards - and Clive’s quite specific about the keyboards he needs to do a gig - and the stuff that we’d asked for like a couple of Triton’s were not there. Instead we ended up with nothing like that but with a couple of Casio’s or something. Something ridiculous, the thing was an absolute disaster. Anyway. Mick, the drummer in Arena is most of the time a fairly tolerant person but I just remember in the hotel lobby Mick just completely losing it with this guy and just going absolutely ape-s**t at him and shouting at him and like going “We’ve come thousands of ****…,” you know lots of swearing. So yeah, that was our most Spinal Tap moment. Everything that could have gone wrong did. So we pulled the gig. Clive went out and basically said, “Okay, everybody, I’m really sorry your tickets will be refunded. Due to a lot of reasons basically down to one particular wanker, whose name is Brian Giegner, standing over there, we won’t be doing the gig tonight.” It was such a calamity. It was hilarious. It was a long time ago so we look back fondly at it now. Oh! And I forgot to tell you the funniest thing about the whole thing was about the singer. We did the Canadian thing in Quebec just prior to the Milwaukee gig. We flew out of Montreal to get to Milwaukee and what happened was our singer got held up because U.S. immigration starts at Montreal and our singer got held up because he had insufficient funds to get into the country. So the rest of us took off. And this is the hilarious Spinal Tapness of it. We were sitting on the plane going, “Right, okay, who can sing what then?” “So, John can you sing that bit there?” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah.” “Can you play that?” “Yeah I’ve got two hands here.” So initially we didn’t even have a singer for the Milwaukee gig. We eventually managed talk the immigration people into letting him fly into the states and he kind of turned up at the venue at about 6:30 in the evening like an hour before the doors were supposed to open. But even then we still had all this other stuff going on like the keyboards not being right. I didn’t even have an amp that worked. It was just a joke.
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