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Features and Reviews Copper Press #14 vs. The Ed Kemper Trio
2/1/2003Steve Brydges"The Ed Kemper Trio"

Ironically, it is the bands least likely to be approached by unsavory music-business types promising wheelbarrows of cash in exchange for their ever-loving souls that are the ones so concerned about not compromising their sound under any circumstances. Noble to be certain. But it is nevertheless easier to be steadfast against the enemy when it doesn't nor wouldn't consider one marketable prey.

Kenny Johnson of The Ed Kemper Trio is proudly defiant of his unwavering punk ethos, and although it has taken him over a decade to see his music released on a label other than his Pinebox Records imprint, persevering through the frustrations and numerous band break-ups - EK3 is his fourth band in ten years - has yielded substantial personal rewards for him and his bandmates, and finally, a record label. Even if the wait was attributable less to his implacable stance than to the uncompromisingly unrelenting music he and his bandmates write.

"Honestly, it's exciting," Johnson said. "I've been doing this for fifteen years and to feel someone is interested enough to ask to release our music without compromise is very satisfying."

Make that two someones.

In 2002, Yawn Records, a surging label from Oklahoma, was turned on to The Ed Kemper Trio via demo submission, and by the fall, Yawn had released How To Win A Sword Fight. In the ensuing months, after they performed at the Independent Georgia Film and Music Festival in August at the behest of the Atlanta band Hex Error, the owner of Moodswing Records approached the band to offer to release their next album.

"At the time we had seven songs half-assed ready, so when we got home, we hit the books and cranked out six more," Johnson recalled. "This is the first time we've written with a release in mind. In the past, we just wrote whenever the moment struck. This time, we focused and surprised ourselves. I think it's the best thing we've done, but I could just be overly excited about it."

Later that month, they traveled back to Georgia from Montgomery, Alabama to record these thirteen new songs at Sarcophagus Studios in West Point. Moodswing will release these as an EP in the Spring of 2003. They've already begun writing again and Yawn may release another album for them later in 2003.

Not only does The Ed Kemper Trio strike while the iron is hot, they do so with alarming rapidity, ripping off entire EPs in about half the time it takes for the average Mogwai song to get going. Evil, the band's second release disgorged six songs from its fiery bowels in just eleven minutes. The Ed Kemper Trio, who along with Johnson are bassist Vonda McLeod and drummer Glenn Grant, obviously strive other than to lengthen their songs.

"In fact we try the opposite," Johnson said. "We trim all the fat from the songs so hopefully there are no dead spots. We do this for the same reason we like The Minutemen. No breath is wasted no unnecessary notes are used. We try to get to the point in an interesting way. Just like in a conversation. Unless you're a long-winded jerk-face, you try to get your point across without boring people to death. Plus, it's just fun. It gets old playing the same guitar part over and over and over for years. Keeping things short sometimes lengthens the song-list-life-span of that song."

Direct and forceful, The Ed Kemper Trio writes music that is brutal yet nimble, threatening and furious in its sonic quasi-psychosis. Johnson's vocals reside in the same atonal range as his scraping guitar, his shout-sing delivery emits real pathos as he chews and spits his venomous words like hot lead, leaving them to sizzle briefly on the microphone before dissipating behind his searing guitar work.

Whether veering, charging or stomping militantly, the rhythm section of McLeod and Grant demonstrate both agility and muscle as they counterpunch Johnson's stabbing riffs or bolt ahead, leaving the guitarist writhing in his acidic spew. Since their debut, Ding Dong School, this has been the prime objective of The Ed Kemper Trio: Seek. Pummel. Flee. And be quick about it. Lethal, were it not for their brevity, these songs would have no conscience, no mercy upon the weak.

Maybe that's because Johnson and his bandmates have thus far survived the Darwinian reality of independently-released rock music. To make a reptilian analogy, they've only survived by being quick and deadly, are small enough not to attract the attention of the larger predators, and even if they did, EK3 tastes a bit bitter.

No one has offered to re-release EK3s first two records, though discussions have been had. This doesn't seem to concern Johnson.

"It'd be great if someone would," he said, "but if not, I'll go back to burning CD-Rs and giving it away. Which, by the way, I think it should be done. Give it all away. It would keep bands more honest in that they'd make music for themselves, instead of pandering to record buyers. I think you're just lucky if someone likes your CD enough to pay for it. Lots of bands playing the indie game these days are losing sight of why there is such a thing as punk and indie rock."

Not The Ed Kemper Trio, however.

"It's great," said Johnson of the label attention they've earned. "After fifteen years of turning my hair gray, straining personal relationships and my own body, it's very satisfying to know on a small level we as a band have done something without sucking up to anyone."

Objective complete with integrity intact. And somewhere, Darwin is smirking.

-- Steve Brydges