You could say bad weather inspired the Philistines.
After a heavy snowstorm buried Kansas City in late 2012, Cody Wyoming and his girlfriend of eight years, Kimmie Queen, holed up in the house they share, and music started to happen.
“We had lots of food, whiskey and records,” Wyoming said. “So we stayed in, played records and wrote songs.”
Wyoming is a veteran of the Kansas City music scene. His former and current bands include the Afterparty, Tiny Horse and the Pedaljets. Queen has been part of the local theater scene for years. She had never been in a band, but some of her stage roles were in musicals, such as “The Rose” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” for which Wyoming was part of the house band.
“I’ve always put being in a rock band on a pedestal,” she said. “I was an actress but I always thought being in a rock band is were its at. When Cody would go to band practice, I was always a little jealous.”
“I’d never been in a band with a girlfriend,” he said. “But we’d talked a few times about doing a project together.”
And this time, they followed through.
By the spring of 2013, they’d assembled a quartet, one founded as a democracy. But, unexpectedly, his vision of the project changed abruptly.
“It was going to be four people putting all their creative weight into it,” Wyoming said. “But after a couple of practices, I went on a writing jag. And I had to say, ‘Sorry, this is going to be my project.’ I didn’t mean for it to happen, but it had to become something I could control.”
That vision was specific but grand.
“I knew I wanted to play psychedelic music,” Wyoming said, “trippy, spacey, big, soaring sounds. I listen to a lot of that. But at first, I envisioned a four-piece pub band, part Birthday Party, part Adam and the Ants. But that changed. Once I started writing, all these walls of sounds and tidal waves of swirling noises started happening. I had this sound I really wanted to chase.”
By July 2013, he’d recruited four others to join the second version of the Philistines: keyboardist Josh Mobley, a former bandmate in the Afterparty; bassist Michelle Bacon; drummer Steve Gardels; and fellow guitarist Rod Peal. All came from disparate music backgrounds and brought varied levels of experience to the project. But they’ve meshed nicely.
“Cody chose each member in spite of the fact that most of us had limited experience in the roles we were given,” Bacon said. “I hadn’t been playing bass extensively for very long; this was Kimmie’s first band; and it’s Cody’s first time as primary songwriter in a band. As a result, I think this has caused each of us to grow together — as musicians and as a collective — while we continue to shape the band’s sound.”
Wyoming had eight songs in the can by then, and the band added a few covers, including “Cheree” by Suicide; “Sleeping With Your Devil Mask” by Robyn Hitchcock; and “No Big Deal” by Love and Rockets.
Wyoming and Queen collaborate on the original songs.
“We strum chords and hum melodies until we get hit with bolts out of the blue,” Wyoming said.
“Sometimes we collaborate heavily,” said Queen, the band’s lead vocalist. “Sometimes we paste parts together. And sometimes Cody writes the whole song. There’s no real set process.”
Then they bring the foundation of each song to their bandmates, who finish the song.
“Everybody writes their own parts,” Wyoming said. “There’s little dictating by me. I say, ‘Here’s the chords.’ Sometimes I get stuck and they help me out. And now, I’m writing with everyone in mind, knowing what they can do.”
“Cody comes in with a riff and structure in mind already,” Gardels said. “We’ll spend 10 to 15 minutes working out the groove, getting the parts down and playing with the feel of the song. After that, Michelle and I lock in the base of the song while Rod, Cody and Josh go to space with the rest.
“We’ll pull out what works, figure out stops and accents and get the rest of the tune show ready. Other times, we just find a riff and run with it as hard as we can to see what sticks.
“I’ve got Michelle as the other part of my section, but we have four other people flying all over the structure. This means I have to keep everyone on time and help Michelle keep the song steady, but I also pick out accents from those four other parts and work my drums into a melody, rather than just percussion.”
“Because we’re a six-piece with an emphasis on cutting guitar riffs and atmospheric keyboard lines, my job is to hold down the groove and help carry the song structures and dynamics,” Bacon said. “Having Steve in the drummer’s seat makes that process so much easier and more fun for me.”
The Philistines’ sound is both familiar and elusive, vintage but eclectic. Asked to name some influences, band members will mention Love and Rockets, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Velvet Underground, Black Sabbath, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
“I honestly don’t think of us as a psych-rock band so much,” Gardels said. “To me, it’s ’60s pop mixed with first-wave British heavy metal, mixed with Queens of the Stone Age mixed with Neil Young. But it comes out as psych. We are psych by proxy. I overheard someone in a crowd ask what kind of band we were only able to get a one-word answer: ‘Loud.’”
“We’ve developed our sound, a Philistines sound,” Queen said. “Even when we do covers, we sound like the Philistines. I love how our version of ‘Revolution Blues’ by Neil Young sounds like us, not us covering him. We can explore new sounds and different sounds, but it always sounds like us.”
It’s a sound, Wyoming said, that gives everyone some room to roam, but with a refined aesthetic in mind (despite the definition of “philistine”).
“Even our rambling, 81/2 minute songs have a point to each part,” Wyoming said. “It’s more songs with movements and some improvisation within those movements. But we’re not a jam band. There’s no noodling.”
In October 2013, at the Brick, the Philistines unveiled that sound for the first time. A month later they played the big stage at Knuckleheads as part of Apocalypse Meow, a major fundraiser for the Midwest Music Foundation.
In early 2014, they released their first recording, a single: “Heart Like Candy” and the B-side “Stygia,” which can be heard at philistineskc.com. The band is now recording a full-length album at Massive Sound with producer Paul Malinowski.
“It’s very lush and large-sounding,” Wyoming said. “Lots of layers, lots of spacy textures. We hope to have … the full length ready, hopefully, later this spring.”
Saturday night, the Philistines will headline a four-band bill at RecordBar that is a fundraiser for the MidCoast Takeover, a four-day showcase of Kansas City and Lawrence bands at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, in March.
“(MidCoast) is such a great event,” Wyoming said. “It really helps raise the profile of Kansas City bands to people outside Kansas City.”
And that’s the plan for 2015: Put out a record and spread the band’s big, spacey sounds around Kansas City and beyond. Despite the dreary weather that inspired the Philistines, you could say the band’s future looks bright and sunny.
The Philistines perform Saturday at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road. The Latenight Callers, the Sluts and Medicine Theory are also on the bill. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $10. The show is a fundraiser for the MidCoast Takeover.
Saturday’s show at RecordBar is the second of five fundraisers for the sixth annual MidCoast Takeover, a four-day Kansas City music showcase in March in Austin, Texas, during the South by Southwest Music Conference. (The first year it was called the Midwasteland Takeover.) It is not an official SXSW showcase.
Since 2011, Midcoast has been at the Shangri-La, a venue on Sixth Street east of downtown Austin. This year’s showcase will feature more than 100 bands on two stages, most from Kansas City and Lawrence.
“The fundraisers raise money to pay for the stage, the venue, sound gear, gasoline and a rental truck,” said Rhonda Lyne, who organizes the takeover with Sondra Freeman. “We have a crew of about 10 to 15 people that help with the showcase.”
The showcases give the local bands a chance to perform before music fans from all over the globe. Admission is free. And, for the past several years, the turnout has been heavy, often at capacity.
“More than anything, I think that MidCoast is a living representation of Kansas City and how much we’ve got to offer,” said Steve Gardels of the Philistines. Gardels is also part of the MidCoast video crew. “Our bands are good, our production is right on and our people are nice and fun to party with. What’s not to like?”
The next fundraiser is Feb. 7 at RecordBar. It will feature Kangaroo Knife Fight, Appropriate Grammar, Big Iron and Reid the Martian.
| Timothy Finn, The Star