By Harry C. Tuniese
Band photo by Violet Hammersly
There are many directions that bring you home. Some start very young with parents, siblings, and friends encouraging uniqueness and experience. Some ideas may take and others may just drift on by (“What about your soul?/ I can’t hold on, but I can’t let you go!”). Positive good vibrations – taking nothing for granted – adds to the luster of each Life. Having seen Linda Viens in numerous band incarnations through the years only exemplifies the inquisitive nature of this very talented woman. From Children of Paradise to Witch Doctor to Crown Electric Company to roles in Boston Rock Opera productions to Angeline to Adam & Eve, she has invested each venture with indomitable spirit and energetic enthusiasm. Her current project, Kingdom of Love, was founded with musical partner Richard Lamphear after the split from Adam & Eve (who were an folk-acoustic vocal quartet that focused on songwriting but eventually became two pop factions going in separate directions – the other being Hummingbird Syndicate with Jon Macey and Lynn Shipley).
When I heard Linda and Richard’s new EP, Ghosts, I was truly shocked by their new direction: lush new-wave electro-pop. And it really succeeds! With duel vocals, analog keys, swooshing lead guitar, and assorted textures, this music is both retro and futuristic and bursting with possibilities. There are just a handful of local acts formulating this ’80s sound for current listeners. How and why? Does it work? Let’s chat.
Noise: Please give us a brief background of your past efforts, especially Richard, since you’re a bit less known than Linda.
Linda: First off, thank you so much for doing this feature on Kingdom of Love, and for your very kind words about me as an artist and our first release, Ghosts! I’m not going add more about me as you already, most graciously, summed up much of my musical history in your introduction, except to say that I love Love LOVE creating music and performing, and I feel enormously fortunate to still be doing it.
Richard is from Indiana originally, and while there co-founded the notorious art-punk group, Amoebas in Chaos. After moving to Boston and playing regional clubs for a few years, he left the scene and became a home studio hermit, stealthily developing his writing and production skills. He returned to the public eye a few years ago, and contributed heavily to Jon Macey’s solo album Intention. This led to a stint with the short-lived folk/pop group, Adam & Eve, of which I was also a member. After knowing each other for decades, it dawned on us that we were musical soul mates, and Kingdom of Love was born from the ashes of that project. We’ve also been extremely lucky to also have one of Boston’s greats, Johnny Berosh, join us as our drummer and collaborator.
Noise: How much was your record conceptual, and how much did programming wires and boxes to fit together with your lyrical ideas to see what you could produce with them?
KOL: Early on we knew we were going to call it Ghosts, but the record wasn’t conceptual in that we didn’t come up with the concept and write songs to fit it. The songs were born organically between us in our writing phase, but when we finally went in to record we were drawn to the sounds the machines made. We knew we needed both acoustic and electronic sounds to express the full range of modern experience, and also the sound of spiritual and emotional transformation, which is what many of the songs are about.
Noise: Were you trying for a total experience to produce such a romantic lyrical beauty?
KOL: It’s very nice of you to say that; those adjectives really make us smile — thanks, Harry! We produced, and produce, from our own subconscious. All five songs are romantic, but we didn’t realize that until we were finished. I think we surprised ourselves with how big we wanted the songs to be.
Noise: Was it the case that your songwriting needed the usage of synthesizer technology, or that you could have adapted it in a previous musical generation? The shift from acoustic to ambience is most notable.
KOL: To us, it’s a matter of taste. We grew up with the Beatles and Bowie, and the great musical poets like Bob Dylan and Patti Smith, but nowadays much of what we listen to is electronic dance music, hip hop, and quirky modern pop. It’s a reflection of our own tastes and musical interests right now. We never set out to be a folk duo; we played acoustically because that is how we were writing and working on the song arrangements together. We always knew we were headed for a bigger sound.
Noise: Do you hear echoes of direct influences in your work? Since you increasingly incorporate a pop aesthetic – was that you both simply growing as artists and wanting to explore different textures?
KOL: Yes! If you’re alive, and lucky enough to still be creating, hopefully you are always growing and changing! We rarely turn to the past, except to someone like Bowie who was so ahead of his time in terms of production. We listened obsessively to the Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz record while recording. We also listened to a lot of Phantogram, and contemporary hip hop — we are inspired by the mash-up style of artists like Kendrick Lamar, and right now can’t get enough of the new Jay-Z record, 4:44. Richard also recently rekindled his deep love of Nile Rodgers and Chic, and that led to the crucial presence of “the groove” in everything we do. Portishead, Goldfrapp, and Aphex Twin are also some major influences.
Noise: Where does your creativity spring from? How do you compose? Who are your influences and mentors?
KOL: We don’t over-romanticize the process. We sit down and get to work. We make sure that at least two, often three, weekly work sessions are on the books. And we are both always working out ideas on our own, seeds that we can bring to the table. The best way to be a writer is to make it a job — as the artist Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs.”
Noise: I like to pride myself as being intuitive about some artists. I heard your sensational first single, “Two Souls” and I was struck by your new direction, full of persona, gentility, and grace. When I finally heard the EP, as well as the extra B-sides, I was floored by its mature and full approach. How was that change achieved, when you sensed that this presentation was going to be greater than you may have presumed?
Linda: Thank you so much for those very kind words! I guess we have matured. We didn’t want to rest on any (of our) punk rock laurels from the past. We both have a fair amount of experience writing and performing and recording, and we’re drawing on that. Once we were recording and arranging the songs, there was an impulse to create a really big sound. It doesn’t hurt that Richard also has insanely great instincts for producing and sick recording chops. (He can’t say that, but I can!)
Noise: I want to discuss your music. Let’s go through some of the tunes… some of my faves are “Two Souls,” “Karma Song,” “When You Follow,” “Spread Your Wings,” “My Lady Day,” and “Play It On.” What was on your minds?
KOL: The songs on Ghosts are both light and dark, reflecting, we hope, what it means to be alive and human right now, in the modern world. Some go to that really dark, down place — with images of emotional violence, suggestions of physical violence, loss, and death. Some of the tone is open-ended. Some of it full-on free and full of joy. We’re on a spiritual journey with our lyrics and sound; observing what’s going on in the world, and in our own souls. We’re interested in transformation, how do we collectively find grace, and hope, in the face of so much loss and suffering. And we try to present the full range of emotional experience as best we can.
Noise: As long-time members of the Boston rock scene, can you share some memories that take us from then to now in creating the new group?
KOL: We have been friends in Boston for many years, going back to our punk rock days — we met at a rehearsal space on Kilmarnock Street — but only began collaborating recently. We’re not sure why it took us so long — because we’ve been fans of each other’s work for a long time! Fate, we guess. And it doesn’t hurt that we share so many mutual friends and personal history. We have a familiarity that makes it natural and easy to collaborate. And we also share an almost utter lack of nostalgia for the past. We don’t spend too much time looking back. We want to be here and now, as they say.
Noise: Do you think things have changed for the better in the way that music is no longer so strictly stratified and marketed as it once was? You have a home studio with modern equipment. You can still do-it-yourself. Things have opened up beautifully since then. Fill us in on the full spectrum.
Richard: The current environment is rough on established artists, especially those who made major contributions but did not sell in the top of the charts. Some incredible artists from the pre-digital era are having trouble making ends meet because people don’t buy records anymore, and that saddens me. However, for artists struggling to break through, things have never been better. The hardware costs to produce and distribute a competitive recording have cratered; it’s a dream come true for folks like Kingdom of Love who thrive on the personal satisfaction of making cool recordings. We have the tools at hand to produce video and complete a full artistic statement. It’s like heaven on Earth.
Exactly how to earn a consistent income from one’s creative output is still a work in progress, though. I believe over time the musical community will figure it out. Until then we just have to support the community and make sure we are all there for each other — what we’re doing is critically important to our culture, however difficult to monetize.
The Noise: What are some of your future plans? More recordings? More performances with the enlarged Kingdom? Get a manager or agent to help guide you or are you following your instincts?
Linda: All of the above! We want to do it all. We’re just like when we were kids, like — fuck our day jobs, man! Why can’t we just write and make music all day? We’re very grateful to have help — Richard’s girlfriend Kristin Kelley, who is also a poet and writer, helps us a ton with promotion, P.R., etc. We definitely plan on making some videos for the songs, and to do more with visuals and theatricality in performance. We are having an absolute blast playing with our drummer Johnny, and collaborating with some of Boston’s finest young musicians, and we want to keep doing more of that as well. We love bringing people together and hope to keep contributing to the worldwide musical community, because we know how healing music can be, and is. We aspire to being a project that keeps surprising our audience.