RACHEL MARTIN, host:
Take some rough and raw vocals akin to Tom Waits, mix it up with a heavy dose of Dylan, melodies that both send you back to a bygone era and push you forward with a rock and roll-based urgency and you get Kingsley Flood.
(Soundbite of song, "A Little Too Old")
KINGSLEY FLOOD: (Singing) Out of the blue, they were singing a song. I don't know why you were singing along. 'Cause everyone knows, darling, everyone knows, everyone knows, you're a little too old.
MARTIN: That's "A Little Too Old" from Kingsley flood's debut album. It's called "Dust Windows." The band is based in Boston, but we're lucky enough to have them in the our studio here in Washington D.C.
So, we'll start off with some introductions. First, we've got Chris Barrett on trumpet and percussion.
(Soundbite of percussion)
MARTIN: Nice. George Hall on electric guitar.
(Soundbite of guitar)
MARTIN: Naseem Khuri is on acoustic guitar and lead vocals.
(Soundbite of guitar)
MARTIN: And Jenee Morgan on violin and vocals.
(Soundbite of violin)
MARTIN: Nick Balkin on bass and vocals.
(Soundbite of bass)
MARTIN: And Mr. Will Davies on drums.
(Soundbite of drums)
MARTIN: Hey. Thanks, you guys, for coming in today. We appreciate it.
KINGSLEY FLOOD: Thank you.
MARTIN: You guys have only been together a couple years and this is your first album. And it's kind of gutsy to say to yourselves, yeah, let's do this. We've got something to say and it's different than what everybody else is saying and doing out there. Especially, Naseem, you had a different career planned out altogether right?
Mr. NASEEM KHURI (Acoustic Guitar, Lead Vocals, Kingsley Flood): Right, yeah. I started off, you know, after grad school thinking I would have something in international relations-type of thing, and somewhere along the way I just got a little nervous at the idea of sitting in a office for a long time. And I realized I really wanted a more sort of direct connection with humans, and found that a rock band was the best way to do that. I had all these songs festering for a long time and just the most raw way to get in front of someone and to have that connection as to actually play two feet away from them.
MARTIN: Well, a lot of people say that your music is, quote-unquote, "Americana" music. I mean, that connotes certain images. I'm thinking kind of West Virginia, I'm thinking Smoky Mountains, I'm thinking a lot of acoustic. Is that accurate? What comes to mind when you hear that word?
Mr. KHURI: Can George answer that one? He's good at that one.
Mr. GEORGE HALL: Well, I always have mixed feelings about the word Americana just because of all the things you said, which are great. And then there's also, like, a long heritage of black music, which also incorporates, you know, string bands in the '20s and all that. And Americana, to me, it's kind of hard to define but it's something that has some depth to it, that has some roots, that goes back a little ways. And that, you know, really synthesized itself in America.
Mr. KHURI: You know, maybe we're not a huge fan of labels in general, but it's not a bad one to have. We just want to keep pushing it around.
MARTIN: OK. Let's hear you push it around a little bit. Let's listen to a song off the album, "Dust Windows." And the first song you're going to play for us is called "Cul De Sac."
(Soundbite of song, "Cul De Sac")
Mr. KHURI: (Singing) I met my daddys friend; three little girls and a hand to lend; Ive seen him build the deadly drones; Ive seen them eat when the fires blow.
Right next door is my mamas pal; olive branch on her bumper and shes raising hell; she builds stickers and signs with her neighbors face; and a hat passed well makes a hearty plate.
Well, Ive got my thumb on the pulse of the, on the pulse of the, on the pulse of the nation.
And I got 'em tagged from across the street (Oh Charlie goes round again); and I see and I write and I hear and I speak (Oh Charlie goes round again); and I hope you check the evening news (Oh Charlie goes round again); or else I will go hungry soon (Oh Charlie goes round again).
Well, Ive got my thumb on the pulse of the, on the pulse of the, on the pulse of the nation. I've got my thumb on the pulse of the, on the pulse of the, on the pulse of the nation.
And you shake your head from across the tracks; with the money in your wallet and a bone in your back; you say I got ideals; I say I got pride; but words are words from across divides. And I hope you see, youre just like me; you sigh, opine, and we ride.
Well, Ive got my thumb on the pulse of the, on the pulse of the, on the pulse of the nation. And I've got my thumb on the pulse of them, on the pulse of the, on the pulse of the nation. Of a nation. Of a nation. Of a nation.
MARTIN: Now, I hope you don't take this as an insult, but there's a little Irish drinking song in that. Am I right?
Mr. KHURI: Absolutely.
Mr. WHITE: Trying to escape.
Mr. KHURI: We've got a lot of influences on this album. There's some New Orleans. There's definitely some Nashville. And there's a lot of stuff going on.
MARTIN: Tell me a little bit, Naseem, about how your family roots and your heritage kind of inform your songwriting. You've got strong connection to the Middle East - your parents were raised there and your dad spends an awful lot of time there as a doctor.
Mr. KHURI: Sure. You know, my parents are both original Palestinian and, you know, grew up mostly in Lebanon. I would say, you know, in that conflict, in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Arab-Israeli conflict in general, the great tragedy of it is that you'll get bogged down in the politics and the violence that you lose the fact that there are actually lots of humans out there going through the same exact things that people here are going through.
So, you know, these songs aren't necessarily about that conflict. They can apply as much to Little Rock and Trenton and Boston as they do to Ramallah and Gaza so.
MARTIN: If I can ask you a personal question: I know you lost your dad recently after a battle with cancer.
Mr. KHURI: Right. You know, he is a great...we're both huge Springsteen fans -that's one thing we bonded over - so we had this one experience where we went to see, when Springsteen was doing those Seeger Session tour where it's all these sort of traditional songs that he, you know, redid. And my dad, I remember, was dancing and singing along to that song, "Jacob's Ladder."
And there's sort of two conclusions. One: that we had this thing that we bonded over and I realized, like, how much I loved this music. And we didn't know at the time that he was sick but I actually remember that sort of feeling of mortality, you know, he's not going to be around that long. This is quite a moment. And two was that he was just a really bad dancer, and it was awkward, I guess. Stood three feet away from him.
But from there, you know, when he did pass away, it was that sort of urgency. It was that I got impatient. I wanted more contact, I wanted more human connection. I wanted these songs to come to life. I wanted to sort of follow a passion.
MARTIN: All right. Let's listen to Kingsley Flood playing a song off their new album. It's called "Roll of the Dice."
(Soundbite of song, "Roll of the Dice")
Mr. KHURI: (Singing) Ive known a poor boy for 16 years, and Ive stored up and swallowed sixteen tears. When I shake his hand my eyes never stray, and I check out in the mirror and Im on my merry way. All right.
Well, I was born on Beacon on a street you see on tours; and he was born somewhere else, where, Im not really sure. But I always trim the curtains, man, I always trim the fat, and I always carry quarters for upside-down hats.
Hey, Ive been right, and Ive been good, and Ive sung songs where Jesus has stood. You wonder why some weights wont die, but Ill bet my boots its the roll of the dice.
And my father's got six houses down from Edgartown to Rome; my mother's storing statues that she never thought shed own. And my brother bets on thoroughbreds to win and not to show; and Im having trouble sleeping and I wonder if they know. All right.
But I know it aint so pretty man, it aint so safe and clean. And I do believe Ive seen 'em bleed in Time Magazine. And all the doctors daughters and all the bankers boys; I wonder if theyve ever packaged up any joy.
But, hey, Ive been right, and Ive been good, and Ive sung songs where Jesus has stood. You wonder why some weights wont die, but Ill bet my boots its the roll of the dice.
In my time of introspection, upon scrutinizing seeds, and reckoning a fine line between hobby and need; I wonder when time passes if Ill ever feel that shame. And I wonder if I will recall that poor boys name. I wonder if I will recall that poor boys name. I wonder if I will recall that poor boys name. I wonder if I will recall that poor boys name. I wonder if I will recall that poor boy's name.
But, hey, Ive been right, and Ive been good, and Ive sung songs where Jesus has stood. You wonder why some weights wont die, but Ill bet my boots its the roll of the dice. And I'll bet my boots it's the roll of the dice. And I'll be my boots it's the roll of the dice.
MARTIN: So, that was "Roll of the Dice" by Kingsley Flood. And you can hear in there, there is a lot of violin action. Jenee, how are you...are there times when you're playing and spontaneous sounds happen that you didn't even know were going to be appropriate and end up really working well?
Ms. JENEE MORGAN (Violin, Kingsley Flood): Yeah. I learned how to play folk music, old time country music, barn dances - I did a lot of that in my early 20s.
MARTIN: Barn dances, really?
Ms. MORGAN: Oh yeah, yep. Square dances, do-si-do...
MARTIN: Like square dancing?
Ms. MORGAN: Yeah.
Ms. MORGAN: All the way. And I really wanted to bring that into the music. I've only been playing with the band since February. And so we had to go in and figure out fiddle parts for almost every song. So, that was really fun to learn what sounds my violin made that I didn't realize it could make.
MARTIN: OK. Kingsley Flood, thanks so much for coming in. The new album, again, is called "Dust Windows." We appreciate it.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: And you can hear cuts from Kingsley Flood's studio performance at NPRMusic.org.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
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