by Andy Lyons, Editor-in-Chief
Kansas City has long been known for its blues music. The local soundscape has evolved quite a bit since the 1950s, becoming a mecca for multiple genres from alternative to metal, from folk to hip-hop. There are more than 25 local venues that play host to the local music scene, with support from Kansas City radio stations such as X105.1 giving opportunities to the myriad of local bands putting together new music.
Climbing their way to the top is Instant Karma!, a four-piece psychedelic rock outfit from KC. The group has been playing all over the Kansas City metro area for years, and made a trip to Austin, Texas this spring as part of the Midcoast Takeover.
Instant Karma! features Cole Bales on vocals and guitar, Cody Calhoun on guitar, Branden Moser on bass, and Zach Harris on drums. Their first EP, “Trying to Find My Mind,” drops July 22 and the group gave CMN a chance to check out what’s to come.
The five-track EP came together as a “happy accident,” as described by Calhoun. After a lineup change in late 2016, things really started falling in place for the band.
“If I were to pick one theme to the album it would be happy accidents,” Calhoun said. “Obviously it’s not a lyrical theme we explored or anything but everything that led up to the EP’s creation seemed to fall together by chance, or fate, if you believe in that sort of thing… I mean when the first few songs for the record were written I had just starting to get into keyboards, and before that I was starkly opposed.
“In addition, Moser and Zach were not even in the band yet when about half the EP was written, yet their styles fit the songs better than we could’ve ever asked for,” he continued. “The other guys we had were great musicians but they couldn’t have pulled off what Zach and Moser did on the EP. How do you explain that in any other way but fate or dumb luck? Besides all of that, the title track for the whole album, which consequently influenced the cover art, wasn’t ever even supposed to be recorded for the EP. It was something Cole brought in and we knew it had to be on this EP.”
The tracks fit together in somewhat of a concept album, which continued the line of happy accidents when the album was put together. The rhythm section of the band recently joined, Bales and Calhoun have been writing together since they were teenagers. Although they’ve been playing together for years, it became obvious the time was right to publish some music once Harris and Moser joined the band.
“I think that we realized we had reached a major turning point with our writing,” Calhoun said. “Cole and I have been writing together since he was 16 and I was 15. We felt like we had matured a little bit as writers, and really turned a corner. When you get those goosebumps going when you are writing a song you know you’re onto something. Plus, if I said it once I’ve said it a thousand times. Zach and Moser were the icing on the cake. Well, really they are the whole cake. This record would never have been made if not for them.”
The flow to the EP really grips the listener, pulling them on a sonic rollercoaster of ups and downs Instant Karma! has masterfully pieced together.
“We definitely intended this album to be listened to straight through in one sitting,” Moser said. “Simply because that’s what we love about all our favorite records – to be able to sit down and drop the needle and lose track of time and reality and go on this sort of musical exploration. That’s what really gets us off.”
From the count in that kicks off the EP’s opening track, “Make Me a Man,” the music bares its teeth for what’s to come. The track is the first song the group played together with its current lineup, with Moser joining the band the week prior and Harris, who was working as the engineer on the album, stepping in on drums. The guitars show off the indie rock flair to the band but the bassline is the catchiest part of the track. Bales and Calhoun said the song is inspired by funk legend Curtis Mayfield, but the bassline is all Wu Tang Clan.
The flow picks up with the opening bassline to the second track, “Bad Girl.” The anthem-y song is carried by the bass and drums, but the guitar work and vocals really bring the track full circle in a sonic assault that’ll have listeners bobbing their heads seconds in. Funny enough, “Bad Girl” came to be through another “happy accident.”
“That all started with a bass line I wrote that Moser didn’t play right and made even better,” Bales said of the track. Moser said Bales didn’t tell him he wasn’t playing it the way it was written until months later because he liked Moser’s take.
The EP slows down in the middle for “Cold Wind,” but the song sonically is probably the album’s best track. The hip-hop influence shine, accentuated by use of a booming 808 kick drum. Back-up vocals from Grace Griffin give “Cold Wind” an ethereal feel only accentuated by the use of an organ.
The tempo picks back up for “Bet on Me,” the EP’s fourth track. The song picks up with the organ and again features Griffin on back-up vocals and playing the tambourine. The track’s composition really shows the depth Instant Karma! has at each instrument. From its chorus to the guitar bridges, the song shows a maturity of the band lacking from many independent bands.
The EP’s final song, the titular “Trying to Find My Mind,” is the icing on the cake to the EP. The song opens with a sexy bass groove before jumping off. The track features a Flamenco guitar and keeps a pacing that isn’t intrusive on the listener. “Trying to Find My Mind” was actually created last minute on the way to a show in Pittsburg, Kan. Bales wrote the lyrics and the band performed it live for the first time that night at TJ Leland’s.
“My favorite part from this song is during the quiet section in the middle,” Harris said. “For this song we recorded in the band room at Missouri Western State University and there is a really nice Steinway baby grand (piano) in there. We get done with some of the overdubs and Moser tells me he wants to play it next. We pull it out and I get it all mic’d up and ask him where he wants to start. I hit record, he plays four chords and then looks at me like he’s done and that was it. It seemed like a lot of work for four chords at the time, but it adds a real nice layer that some might not notice.”
Overall, the EP shows a depth and maturity to Instant Karma! The EP was recorded at Missouri Western State University, where Harris was going to school, and engineered by Harris and his father Leonard. Each track is mixed and mastered beautifully, truly accentuating each facet to the music – from vocals to guitar, bass to drums, the EP is sonically untouchable, and carves a spot in the KC soundscape for Instant Karma! to call home.
“Trying to Find My Mind” releases July 22 and is available for pre-order through Instant Karma!’s BandCamp page here. The band is hosting an EP release party July 22 at Revolution Records with The Atomic 50s and The Bends. A Facebook event for the release party can be viewed here. Instant Karma! is also playing throughout the KC metro this summer, see them at Lawrence Field Day Fest next month, or at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, Kan. with Supperdoppler Aug. 8. For more, follow Instant Karma! on Facebook here.
“Trying to Find My Mind” has been made available for Central Mo News viewers via SoundCloud below: