In a basement in the Chicago suburbs Kali Masi began carving out a sonic space between the urgency of the punk and hardcore bands that were their foundation and the Midwestern emo breeze that was sweeping through their towns at the time. They also wanted to write as many songs as they could in ways that they hadn’t heard before.
In 2012 Kali Masi released 900 Feet Beneath — a 7-song EP recorded in a basement that made its way around the United States by word of mouth, relentless touring, and bare-knuckle DIY self-promotion. In 2013. Kali Masi released a 7-inch on Berserk Records titled Things I’ve Learned While Swallowing S Words. The band cut their teeth on month-long stints to both American coasts and stretches of Canada. Borrowing from Fugazi, they’ve titled their latest, most introspective chapter, and their first full-length record, Wind Instrument, working with engineer Jay Maas to bring their latest mosaic to life.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with singer Sam Porter to discuss the influence of midwestern emo and hardcore on the band, organic growth and Kali Masi’s secret sauce.
You guys seem to be pretty deeply influenced by midwestern emo and hardcore. What is it about those scenes and sounds that resonated so deeply with you?
A lot of that music is really the soundtrack to my youth in the suburban midwest. It’s rugged and relatable in a lot of ways. I found a lot of my friends in those communities, so obviously it holds a special place in my heart. Influence comes from all directions and mediums though.
You’ve had a moniker change, right? Why the new name?
Between our last release and this new record, a lot of things changed. We lost a guitarist and the original bassist of the band’s career began taking priority over touring, so there were some new faces. We were also running into some copyright issues with our old name because it was not very unique, so we decided to change the name before we entered the world with a new full-length. It was an extremely tough decision and it’s been kind of uncomfortable moving forward with, because we’re largely the same band. But I would rather suffer some small awkward periods in front of a smaller fanbase than change it three LPs in and confuse more people.
I discovered Kali Masi by word-of-mouth; Todd from Benchmarks. Has most of your fanbase’s growth been organic like that?
Todd’s great! Yeah, I think it has and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I think any success that Kali Masi has seen has been due to personal relationships and touring, which is a face-to-face engagement most of the time. You play for the bartender and the bartender’s son the first time you come through a city, and the next time they bring five of their friends. It’s organic and it’s personal and I love that.
Todd and I for example only know each other through me asking him to book my band, which didn’t end up happening. But we kept talking and I found out I used to see his old band Two Cow Garage when they’d come through Chicago, and he liked my band and offered to shop our record around. I send it to him and he really dug it. Now I’m doing this interview with you, you never know what’s gonna happen with people. Just be friendly and open to other people, it’s really helpful in the long run.
What was it like working with Jay Mass? What did he do to help you achieve what you’d set out to do?
Working with Jay was a really positive experience. He’s an extremely focused, no-bullshit kind of person and knows what he’s doing regardless of which side of the glass he’s sitting on. I really respect his patience and thoughtfulness while we worked through the songs. He pushed everyone to perform their best and stopped us if we weren’t. Aside from that it was just really great to hang with him and his awesome wife Jessie, who was eight-months pregnant with their son Dean while we were tracking. Jay sets this standard of life and determination that I think a lot of struggling musicians could aspire to and draw influence from. I like him.
What messages were you hoping to convey with the record?
Most of the record deals with reflection and regret and moving forward from that. There are many moments on this record where I am admitting to myself that I am lost and that I do not have the answers that I thought I used to have. It tries to be self-aware, but it’s an evasive state. I think the message is that that’s an alright way to feel. It’s all on the path to figuring out how to be you and who you are and seeking happiness within that journey. A neurotic search for peace within a body of contradicting ideas.
What are your favorite moments on the record?
I love listening to the group vocals and picking out everyone’s individual voice. Obviously it’s different for me listening to the record than it is from an outsiders ears. I hear the room and see my bandmates and see Jay behind the board. There’s a moment at the end of “Recurring (II)” that’s from when I was trying to figure out this piano melody that’s at the end of “Your Other Left.” I like the little motif’s like that that other people may not notice but we put them in there even if only for us.
What is the secret sauce or special chemistry between members of the band that make this endeavor rewarding for you?
At the end of the day, I think we all just have a lot of fun playing music together. We respect each other but also know that we have a lot to learn about each other. Me and John have been at this together going on six years now and there’s still a lot to learn from one another. We all really enjoy playing music together and have a lot of fun on stage playing these songs.
When you guys started touring you were barely adults? What are the predominant lessons you’ve learned since those early days?
Protect the van and gear at all costs. Do not let the promoter leave the show without settling up. Talk to other bands, fans, people running the venue or house. Respect everyone. Learn as much as you can. Take pictures and write everything down. Get enough sleep and drink enough water. Take nothing for granted. Swim as much as possible. Never forget that touring and playing rock and roll is only a dream for millions of people and even though you have a stomach ache and miss your girlfriend, this is an incredible thing to be doing.
What has it been like working with Take This To Heart?
It’s been good. Joe has been super kind to us and really accommodating to our outlandish requests while making this record a reality.
What do you expect the future to look like for Kali Masi? What are your loftiest goals?
Lots of touring. America and Europe and anywhere else that can set up shows. Working on another record. I would love to have Joe Pesci review our record. I would love to play with Sharks if they ever get back together. When you’re a small band like we are, we’re really just happy to be here with you, wherever that is.
(Visit Kali Masi here: https://www.facebook.com/KaliMasiBand/.)