Sunday, January 03, 2016

Raedon Kong Interview

Raedon Kong's new album Critical Paths came out back in November of this year, making a great impression as soon as it arrived (you can read our review of it right here). 

The duo of David Leonard and Stephen Sheppert were kind enough to give us some of their time for questions about their backgrounds, the new album, and a few other things, so read on!

The Burning Beard: Hi, thanks for giving us some of your time for this interview.  Why don't we start with each of you introducing yourselves and sharing some of your musical background, from stuff you listened to while growing up, all the way to how you got into playing music yourselves?

David: My name is David Leonard, born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana.  My musical background is a little bit of band class in elementary and middle school where I played trombone.  When I was in middle school, my brother Brian was in a classic rock band which practiced at our parent’s house, so I got to watch them and I paid most attention to their drummer.  I soon realized that I wanted to play the drum set… this was 1990-'91 era.  I bought my first drum set in the summer of 1993 and started a band with my friends.
Basically, as a kid I listened to everything popular like Michael Jackson, The Police, Rush, and just a lot of radio music as well as classic rock like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin.
Towards the late 80's I started listening to a lot of Metallica and Iron Maiden.  As I got a little older I got heavily into hardcore and punk music as well as more extreme and obscure metal and hardcore bands – a lot of crossover bands.  Basically, I grew up listening to punk/hardcore, heavy metal, progressive rock, experimental and a lot of pop music.

Stephen:  I was also born and raised in Cajun country.  I was raised on rock and roll from an early age thanks to my vinyl-collecting pops, who is also a musician and serious music fan.  Had guitars laying around in every room so it was inevitable that I’d pick one up.  Went through the school band thing, which I believe to have been beneficial when it comes to composing and understanding dynamics.  
In my early teens I pretty much watched MTV all day with guitar in hand and learned every hair metal song I could.  BIG STEVE VAI FAN.  Gradually the grunge invasion came along, as did a heavy dose of skateboarding.  I discovered Sonic Youth, Quicksand, Fugazi, Primus, etc., through skate vids and [the MTV show] 120 Minutes.   Around that time a friend I met through skating asked if I could burn a disc for him.  It was Evil Twin, an album by Hammerhead.  I had never heard of them, but my life pretty much changed then.  I got a big muff pedal and ended up joining the band Icepick Revival.  
I was exposed to a lot of great bands during that time: Today Is The Day, Keelhaul, Dazzling Killmen, Zeni Geva, early Dillinger Escape Plan, etc.  Relapse [Records] and Amphetamine Reptile [Records] were on fire at that time, and I truly believe that was a high point for underground heavy experimental music.
When Icepick Revival disbanded, I started Collapsar (on Escape Artist [Records]) which was a tech metal project that I needed to get out of my system.  Eventually, Collapsar faded out, and that's when I started jamming with Dave to form Raedon Kong.

TBB: How did Raedon Kong come together?

David: One of Stephen's previous bands, Collapsar, had called it a day, and I was not playing with anyone, and we were in different bands in the scene here in Lafayette, knowing each other peripherally, so we just got together and started jamming.  Basically.

Stephen:  Yeah, I knew Dave was a good off the wall drummer; his previous band Arma/Hooves was a killer project.  I guess Raedon Kong started with the mindset of no barriers; just play what comes to mind, whether it’s heavy or not.
TBB: What was the reasoning behind sort-of naming your band after actress Rae Dawn Chong?

David: The name comes from the actress… it rhymed… it sounded really cool and larger than life, so we kept it.

Stephen: Yeah, we made a list of names and kept coming back to it.  A little humor always helps.  Plus she’s pretty hot, right, and has a great lineage.

TBB: What were some of those other names you almost used, if you can dredge them out of memory?

Stephen: That was a long time ago.  I think one possible name was "Suicides in Japan" and another might have been "Xamot" - a reference to an old GI Joe character.  They were pretty lame, so we stuck with Raedon Kong.

TBB: Your first album and EP were self-released, but your new album, Critical Paths, is being handled by the Hell Comes Home label, which is based in Ireland.  Given that RK is a Louisiana band, how did you end up with HCH for this release?

David: Stephen sent our album to about ten thousand record labels, and Joel replied with interest in releasing our album on vinyl, so we said OK and it's now actually out there for everyone to hear, which is really exciting! Thanks Joel!

Stephen:  Yeah, I sent the album out to every label I could think of, just for shits and giggles.  Probably 1% listened to 10 seconds of it.  We were seriously days away from releasing it ourselves when Joel from Hell Comes Home contacted us through Facebook.  He dug our old stuff and was interested, so I've gotta give thanks to him for coming through in the clutch like that.  Crazy to think, but some of the riffs on Critical Paths were written in 2012.  We recorded the album mid-2014, just took time to get it out.

TBB: What are your song-writing habits like?  Have they changed noticeably since your first album together?

David: Stephen writes a lot of riffs, we sift, and we sift, and we combine, and jam, and we sift, and eventually, voila!

Stephen:  You know, I used to come to practice with complete compositions that I had written on the couch, but playing with Dave and his freestyle approach to drumming kinda opened up the song-writing process.  Pretty much now I may bring a 'couch jam nugget' to jam, but then leave everything open to be written as we play.  Kind of a shotgun/stream of consciousness approach.  We record everything so we usually sift out the tasty jams after listening.

TBB: How has Raedon Kong been received at the live shows you've played?  Any experiences or reactions, good or bad, that really stand out in your memory?

David: We usually get a really positive response from those that come out to hear us.

Stephen:  We usually get the 'man you guys are great but if you had a bass player…'.  Or wait no… how about 'you guys ever heard of Big Business?”  Mostly though, our shows are just a bro sesh; lots of jamming, beer-drinking, reminiscing with old friends.

TBB: Are there any bands with whom you've really enjoyed playing a show, maybe feel might fit well with you for a split release?

David: Eat The Witch, from New Orleans.

Stephen:  Man, I have a good time jamming with most anyone.  The now defunct Skycrawler (from Austin) was good.  Also, Darsombra from Baltimore are always a treat and a trip.

TBB: What do you enjoy hearing in the music you listen to in your own time, whether it's to relax or get energized?

David: If it moves me I will listen to it.  There is too much to mention in an interview, but if I were to pull from the top of my head, it would be Pink Floyd's Animals.

Stephen:  +1 on the Pink Floyd Animals.  I’m a little burnt out on it due to 1000+ listens.  Mostly Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson lately.  Jammed the entire Keelhaul catalogue the other day.  Will Scharf forever.  A little Zebulon Pike, Pinkish Black, maybe some Death sprinkled here and there.  Bought an album by John Lurie called The Voice of Chunk the other day.  Interesting album.  Youtube that shite.

TBB: Are there any bands you've come across recently that you would recommend our readers should make a point to check out?  On the other side of that, are there any bands, metal or otherwise, that you feel have been getting way too much hype lately?

David: If I may be so bold, I'd say that Raedon Kong needs more hype!

Stephen:  Well, I'd have to rely on my old faithfuls; Zeni Geva, Keelhaul, Dazzling Killmen, King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra.  If you haven’t jammed that stuff, get on it.  As far as bands that get a lot of hype, aren’t most if not all of them watered down a bit?  I’ve been hearing some really strong opinions both for and against this band Ghost.  I guess I need to check 'em so I can be that guy on Facebook.  Kanye? 

TBB: How did you settle on the artwork for Critical Paths, and who created it?

David: I painted this picture because I grew up watching Bob Ross paint happy trees, and I always loved doing artwork and wanted to start oil painting, so I tried it and came up with this image.  Years later I showed it to Stephen as a possible option for cover art… he liked it, so we used it for Critical Paths.  As far as artwork, it is whatever works at the time… maybe we'll use someone else's artwork next time.

TBB: What's in the near future for Raedon Kong?

David: We are likely to start writing again and play some shows.

Stephen:  Not sure about the musical direction but we'll most likely leave it open to whatever comes. 

TBB: Anything else you'd like to say to our readers?

David: Thanks for your time and interest in our music, and hopefully we can create more.

Stephen:  Thanks to anyone that has checked our albums out and supported us.  That’s the stuff that keeps bands going.  Stay tuned.

TBB: Thanks very much for your time, and for the excellent music!

~ Interview by Gabriel

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