Photography by Walter Wlodarczyk
Brooklyn’s Kolb has followed a circuitous path to his first EP, Making Moves. Kolb, first name Mike, moved to New York to pursue a degree in opera, but quickly became enamored with Brooklyn’s DIY scene. His single, “Car Song,” sees Kolb deftly straddling both worlds, with a snarling guitar and driving backbeat propelling his soaring, theatrical vocal take. The track builds up to a noisy climax, complete with droning strings and, of course, car horns. I especially love the staccato, catchy-as-all-hell guitar solo that precedes the song’s ending; when you consider the song's complexities, it’s playful in its simplicity. Kolb chatted with us ahead of the release of the EP, which is out on February 9th via Ramp Local.
AdHoc: You’ve studied vocal performance and opera, and you came to New York originally to pursue a career as an opera singer. Can you tell us more about more about that background?
Kolb: In 2012, I moved to New York from Newburgh, NY to go to Brooklyn College as a music major. At this point, I’d been singing opera since I was 14 with a local teacher who had a small company. I got into classical music from just getting into YouTube holes as a 13 or 14-year-old; I was discovering a lot of non-popular music at the time (entry-level stuff like Phillip Glass, John Cage, Miles Davis, etc.), but opera was something that I could really get into because of the resources available to me.
I was also really into the theatrical aspect of it. When I moved to the city, I was singing opera for a solid year and change. I did shows with small companies and did chorus and bit parts. I did a production of The Magic Flute, part 2, that was torn apart in the Times.
At the same time, I was going to DIY shows at places like Shea Stadium, Silent Barn, and Secret Project Robot with whoever I could. I just loved going to shows, and ended up going more and more. I began to feel that, artistically, I couldn’t express what I wanted to say through opera. I was living near Myrtle-Broadway when Palisades opened, and I was going all the time. About a year into Palisades’ existence, I was asked to work there and was so excited. Long story short, it was dope! I got to see so much new music and see what was really good in the DIY scene. The beauty of Palisades was that it booked literally everything. I got turned onto serious free improvisation, techno, footwork, death metal, etc. and got to meet a lot of amazing, like-minded people.
How would you say your time in the classical scene informs how you think about writing and performing your own songs?
I’m thankful for having a conservatory education in music and I think a lot of my songs take influence from classical music, especially in writing. I’ve done a lot of singing in choirs, and that Renaissance and Baroque-style four-part counterpoint is just so fascinating to me. There are a few tracks on the tape that are centered around bass-melody interaction and motivic exchanges in the voices.
Though I try to not be limited to the confines of one particular style. Experiencing, researching, and listening to a wide variety of music is the move. These days, I’m not listening to much classical unless it’s Notre-Dame polyphony or some big Carlo Gesualdo. Also Sacred Harp.
Who would you say are your greatest influences?
I’m influenced by everything. I’m inspired by all the beautiful people around me just going hard busting their ass and making music of any genre. Two friends off the top of my head who inspire me are Paco Cathcart from The Cradle and Will Moloney of Old Table and Climax Landers.
“Car Song,” despite being recorded at home, sounds very lush and full. What is your recording setup? What do you like about recording the way you do?
I actually have to set it straight that it wasn’t recorded in my house, but actually by Mr. James Business himself: my friend Parker Silzer, at his studio. He gave me a really cool opportunity to use some bomb recording equipment and to work with someone who knows how to really flex on a DAW (which I’m no good at). While I’ve really only done home recording up until making this, the process of making this record was similar to all the other stuff I’ve made. We’re talking going in with the basics of a song and working out an arrangement based on what’s available, but this time I had cooler toys, like real pianos and even a freakin stone marimba.
Everything I made before this was either done on an 8-track Tascam or pumped out as a shitty Logic .wav, so I’m happy to upgrade. But I’m still playing 95% of the instruments and trying to get weird sounds. It’s cool doing it this way because I can play around and be creative.
Your EP is called Making Moves. What do you see for the future of Kolb?
I see this project as the current outlet for my songs, [seeing] as I have no fixed live band to record with. Where it will go, I’m not yet sure. I’m working on another record that will most likely come out under this name.
Say we stepped into an alternate timeline and ran into a version of yourself that wasn’t a musician. What would he be doing?
I'd either be a chef or a mystery novelist.