I Can See Clearly Now; An interview with K.C. Maloney of Adult Karate

Adult Karate, is the manifestation of Los Angeles-based producer, singer, and songwriter K.C. Maloney’s desire to expand his repertoire. Lyrically and thematically, Del Mar is an exposition of Maloney’s past experiences including the years he spent battling heroin addiction, before getting sober in 2011. Touching on subjects ranging from embracing nihilism, to guilt, sexuality, paranoia, and self-doubt, it’s lyrically as raw as Maloney has ever been.
Ghettoblaster caught up with Maloney to discuss the album, released August 3, new wave and post-punk, his former life as a drug addict and more.
How do you describe the Adult Karate endeavor to people who haven’t heard it?
Adult Karate is the big cacophony of sounds swimming around in my head that eventually come out in my small bedroom studio. Whether it be straightforward pop or experimental techno, I listen to a lot of music and have a lot of influences so it’s sometimes hard to keep a consistent “sound” to Adult Karate. But I try to keep it mostly under the “electronic music” umbrella. Mostly.
Do you think ’80s pop and post-punk is making a comeback? To what do you attribute that?
Well, I think the ’80s pop and post-punk sound has been back for a little while now. Several years ago, when I first started hearing people use these big ’80s synths, drum machines, and chorus-heavy guitar sounds again it made me very happy. For the longest time the ’80s pop/new wave sound was regarded as disposable music. People never took it seriously. But I think with the benefit of time and perspective, people are finally appreciating the music made during that era for what it was: brilliant. Well, not all of it; there was a lot of shitty music in the ’80s for sure. But like take for instance Echo and The Bunnymen. Sure they were successful and achieved notoriety in their time, but I don’t think an album like Ocean Rain really got the acknowledgement it deserved. It’s one of best albums ever recorded. A complete masterpiece. But you rarely see it on these ridiculous “Top 100 Albums Of All Time” lists.
What is it about those sounds that fascinate you?
My favorite thing about a lot of post-punk and new wave acts was their ability to take the most depressing and dark subject matter and somehow make it work in the framework of a pop song. Like, The Cure were kings of that. Take the song “Pictures of You.” Fuuuuck. Absolutely heartbreaking. But the song seemed so happy sounding it eventually got used in a HP camera commercial. It should have been used to sell whiskey. Or xanax. Or whatever product would help you stop obsessing over someone who was long gone. But I think that juxtaposition is brilliant. And I use that same juxtaposition in a lot of my songs as well, albeit maybe not as gracefully as Robert Smith. I have a song on my upcoming album called “Keep Watch” where I really tried to capture that same feeling. It’s a song about the absolute panic and fear that, thanks to the complete saturation of social media and sensationalist news, now permeates daily life in 2018, and it’s set to very upbeat sounding synth pop. I could have easily made it a love song or a song about going to the beach with friends or some such bullshit. But where’s the fun in that? Besides, I don’t really like the beach. Too much sand.
Del Mar is a concept album, right? What catalysts inspired it?
Yeah, it definitely turned into a concept album while I was writing it. It was inspired by my life several years ago as a daily drug addict and all the fucked up things that come along with that, mostly in my head. It’s a life of obsession, hopelessness, and emptiness. I’d be on the bus to go shoplift something to pay for my bag of heroin for the day and I would just be brimming with rage. Trying, desperately, to pin the blame for my situation on this person from my past, this thing that happened in my childhood, this job that fired me… when really I was the one to blame. But you get so insulated in your own little dark bubble that you are blind to this.
So I tried to paint that picture with a lot of these songs, but with the added perspective of me being sober now for several years. Nevertheless, the story of the Del Mar LP doesn’t end happily. In the end, he dies, deluded by the idea that nothing matters. I think maybe I wrote it as an act of gratitude that my actual life didn’t turn out that way. I’ve actually never been happier in my life than I am today. I wake up driven and excited most days, which is the polar opposite of how I woke up during those darker days.
You seem to tackle both nihilism and guilt on the record. Are those opposing concepts? Is it possible to be hedonistic or nihilistic without guilt? Is it possible to be human and not a sociopath without experiencing guilt?
Can I first just say that I love this question? I’ve definitely gone through phases where I thought I was a nihilist. But in reality my “nihilism” was really a coping mechanism to deal with difficult emotions like guilt or fear. I would convince myself that I didn’t care about anything to bury these feelings. And sometimes it worked for a little while but eventually the garbage pile of emotions within always reared its ugly head. So it’s not something I could ever successfully commit to. Through recovery and therapy, I’ve been able to deal with guilt and fear a lot better than before. The song “We Will Be Lost” on the album is directly about this kind of false nihilism; convincing yourself you don’t care when you really do deep down.
So, yes, I think there were times I was able to be hedonistic and nihilistic without feeling guilt about it and drug addiction definitely helped with that. There were times I could stare concerned family members in the face and spout incredible lies and I would feel nothing. Until later that is. The guilt always came back, especially when I would try to get clean. I don’t know if guilt is absolutely necessary to be a healthy, loving human being. But I DO think you need to have the capacity for guilt if you do something fucked up. Otherwise, yes, you’re probably a sociopath. I used to think I might be a sociopath, but sobriety has proven me wrong. Just the other day I spent about 3 hours worrying if the parking lot attendant thought I was rude because I didn’t turn my music down when I was talking to him. I cried during an episode of the children’s cartoon We Bare Bears. Maybe I went too far in the other direction.
What did you learn while making Del Mar?
I don’t know if I had any big revelations while working on the album. I proved to myself, again, that writing music can be an effective method of dealing with one’s demons. On the technical side, I definitely get better at recording, mixing, and production with each release. So most of the stuff I learned would be new technical tricks for mixing, but that would be kinda boring if I went into it.
Do you have plans to tour in support of Del Mar?
Yes, I am currently planning a small west coast tour for the fall. Hoping I can expand it into a wider tour of the U.S.

What moments on the record are you most proud of?

That’s a tough one. I’m pretty hard on myself so I am rarely proud of anything I do, artistically. I was very proud of myself when I installed a new kitchen sink by myself. But with my music it’s a constant battle in my head. Although, I like the fact that I explored several different styles and moods on the album and I hope that translates into a cohesive experience for the listener. And I am definitely proud to have worked with three incredible musicians for the guest spots. John Tejada is an absolute legend and someone whose records I’ve been buying since I was teenager. I’ve been a fan of his for so long, so it was quite surreal to work on a track with him. Also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Christian Gibson is a true talent and an Ableton genius. He’s taught me so many cool production tricks. And he’s very prolific; every time I meet up with him he has like 50 new tracks he’s working on and they’re all on point. Definitely someone to keep an eye on; he’s on to something big with the new solo stuff he’s releasing. And Adaline, what can I say about Adaline? I’ve collaborated on several tracks with her over the past few years and she is just overflowing with natural talent. A genius songwriter with a refined singing voice that is so full of emotion it gives me chills. It’s always such a joy to work with her.
Is music therapeutic in your battle with addiction? Is it tough to be part of a subculture or pursuit where drugs and alcohol are so prevalent?
Music is definitely therapeutic for me and I do think it has helped with my recovery from addiction and alcoholism. It gives me a purpose in life, which I am very grateful for. It sounds cheesy, but music has always been my savior. Yes, it can be tough sometimes to deal with all the excessive drinking and drug use that is pretty widespread in the world of music. Mostly because it’s hard to talk to or work with people who are really high or really drunk. But I don’t judge people who partake. I get it. I get the appeal. I just know that I am incapable of drinking or using drugs without it getting completely out of control. I have proven that to myself time and time again. And I never feel like I’m missing out because I drank and did enough drugs for several lifetimes. I had large amounts of fun until it was an absolute nightmare.
What are your loftiest goals for Adult Karate?
I want to start chain of Adult Karate-branded bar and grills in all the touristy spots around the U.S. Like Margaritaville, but a goth version. And then I want Disney to buy me out. Then I’ll buy the elementary school I went to and turn it into a vape shop that has too much open floor space. Just kidding. I’d love to be able to make music for many years that people want to listen to. I want to leave a formidable footprint on the world of art and music before I disintegrate into the ether. I wasted enough of my life trying to numb myself so I want to use the time I have left to create as much as I can.
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