“I always half-assed doing something in those first seven years,” says Kevin Kendall, reflecting on his time in Nashville prior to relocating to South Western Mexico in 2014. “The Mexico thing was me deciding to do something different, and I wasn’t sure if I was coming back here or not.” Having moved to Nashville from Kansas in 2007 to study Music Business at Belmont, Kendall’s post-grad education included time playing covers in bars for cash, and trying his hand working at a record label. Resigned to figure something out South of the border, his eight months away delivered just that. “That was a big turning point for me. If I can’t do music — what I want to do — if I can’t do that, I don’t want to do someone else’s music. It’s not satisfying. I’d rather just give this a try and see what happens.”
With drums as his first love, and having spent time playing bass in Ranger, Kendall’s self-described musical A.D.D. led him in a scattered artistic direction before eventually turning to electronic music in 2012. First experimenting with turntables in college, Kendall barely just began honing his new musical outlet before coming to a creative standstill. “I got bored,” he says, oversimplifying the point he was at before heading to Oaxaca, where friends of his parents own a Spanish school and welcomed him to work. “I had my laptop and a little MIDI controller, and I brought my bass, too.” For eight months he lived a mile from the ocean with a local family, using this period largely unplugged from the Internet and friends back home as “time to assess,” adding “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep going with music.” When his time in Mexico ended, though, he decided he wasn’t yet ready to give it up.
In returning to Nashville, he wasted little time in getting back on track: releasing “Soothe Me,” with a pair of b-sides in early 2015, before following that up with his first EP, Fire Escape. RACECAR, Ltd, the label which issued the four-song dubstep set in August of that year, billed it as “a stirring journey through the more abstract sounds of techno,” while also calling it “the embodiment of a basement level sound that emanates from the South.” Part of what’s driven his revitalized outlook has been Kendall’s curiosity to bring new sounds into the fold. He’s constantly scouring Craigslist for new pieces of equipment (so much so that his roommate has labeled him “Craigslist Kev”), only to sample them before turning the pieces over to make room for the next great find. “A lot of times I’ll record something on the computer, and then put it on the tape, and bring it back on the computer,” says Kendall, “just ‘cause it degrades the sound a little bit — makes it a little darker.” This speaks to the feel of this year’s three-song Motel release, which served as something of a dark house prologue to the more melodic, progressive sounds of grounded 2 U, which followed in May.
This year’s output is the producer’s first using his middle name, Kendall. Previously releasing music and performing under his given name, Kevin Buster, the new label has allowed him to compartmentalize his electronic music from past projects, while also refining what it is he wants to do with his music going foreword. For instance, having readied grounded 2 U last year under his former title, Kendall retracted the early version of the EP he put online so he could issue a cassette (limited to 40 copies) to supplement the release. While referring to the physical copy as an “obsolete piece of technology,” Kendall says “anything I put out from now I’ll probably toss it on cassette, just for fun.” And maybe that’s the key that was missing in his pre-Mexico years: fun.
In speaking of his time playing covers in a band, the tone in his voice conveys that it was something he should have been doing, not something that was truly satisfying. The music industry job? Same deal. But when speaking of his new release, his voice is much more upbeat and alive, revealing the positive space from which his music currently springs from. “I know it won’t last forever,” says Kendall, still weighing the options of pursuing his music further, or stepping outside the hustle to find a “straight job.” With little contemplation, however, another statement quickly followed, only further strengthening his resolve to continue creating: “I don’t know what else I’d be doing if it wasn’t music.”
The roots of D’ark wind through Nashville, back to Portland, and all the way to Maui, where six years ago the band Copperfox was conceived between partners Lisa Garcia and Rory Mohon. Their 2011 debut, From The Den, ended up running four tracks deep, revolving around a sound that Garcia calls “moody alt-country.” While those first songs transition fairly seamlessly into their sophomore release, the change and growth between the records was immense: Garcia and Mohon uprooted themselves “from the wonderful city that is Portland in search of a bigger music town,” eventually landing in Nashville, and expanding their lineup to include Andrew Bottini and Stephanie Kincheloe. What emerged from this period was last year’s Roads Traveled EP.
Copperfox played their first Nashville gig at Twin Kegs last summer, leading to a meeting with producer Caleb Laven, who was impressed by the set. Reflecting on the encounter over email, Laven says “[the band] really stuck out to me as a sound that could have an impact not only around the Nashville scene, but on a much larger scale.” “He told us we sounded like a David Lynch film,” adds Mohon via email. “I knew we were going to be friends after that.”
The framework of the first two D’ark tracks were recorded on Mohon’s iPad before Garcia added vocals and the songs were sent along to Laven for mixing. “Fangs and Paws” is slowly propelled by Garcia’s smokey howls while “Fast as Lightning” fades guitar echoes over vintage-sounding electronics. Both tracks bear a predictably dark sound, each following a traditional structure that Mohon describes as a reaction to synth-wave music he was listening to. “The people writing this type of music weren’t pushing it far enough,” he says. “A song would typically consist of a beat that rarely changed and a fixed chord structure and it would drone on for five and a half minutes. I liked it but would get bored and wanted there to be choruses and a bridge, like pop music would have.”
No matter the impetus of the music, both agree that Garcia’s vocals lend the songs their identity. “Theres this sort of beautifully haunting thing about the melodies she writes that really gets to me at times,” says Laven. “I also have Lisa to thank,” adds Mohon. “It was her voice that brought these songs to the next level and made me determined to do something greater with this project than to just pass it around amongst my friends.”