“Prog punk” might be the closest thing to an appropriate label I’ve heard when considering the spirit and sound of Haploid‘s music, and it’s one that vocalist and guitarist Kaylee Rae Timmerman says appreciates. The Des Moines band’s album Villains Amiss certain takes on elements of both prog and punk, but the songs also reveal elements of synth and jazz, culminating in the release’s 20+ minute behemoth “Four Score Insectivore.” Whatever the label is you want to put on that song, so be it. It’s good. That’s what matters.
My personal introduction to the album came at the band’s xBk release show a few months back, and throughout the evening the group skillfully adapted their recording for the stage, complemented by guest appearances from Jess Villegas, Bridget Botkin, Bob Bucko Jr., Justin Comer, and David Clair. This conversation focuses on an intersection between the performance and the album, leaning on impressions of each while Timmerman covers topics including the band’s influences and writing process. For more about Haploid, please also check out their interviews with Iowa Basement Tapes (Apple / Spotify) and Accelerativ Thrust (Apple / Spotify).
villin: I didn’t know what to expect at the band’s xBk album release show, and now thinking back to that night, the portion that stands out to me was the performance of “Four Score Insectivore.” What stood out to me about that was the clash between structure and chaos; more specifically, how the 20 minute journey looped back around to find closure at the end. Seeing how that took form in the live setting was really impressive. Where did the idea for this song come from and did the concept change as its list of collaborators grew?
Kaylee Rae Timmerman: First of all, thank you! To be honest, the idea for “Four Score Insectivore” had no specific trajectory. It started as the main riff as the theme and we kept building layers as we jammed. Being a huge early Yes fan I thought it would be challenging and exciting to try to recreate our brand of “Close to the Edge,” respectively. The song was not originally planned to be 20 minutes but we kept adding and subtracting parts until we felt satisfied. I started writing some lyrics for it here and there at the tail end of 2022 about a Venus flytrap having an existential crisis and it sort of mutated from that point on. Our additional guests on the track, (Bob Bucko Jr., Justin Comer, David Clair), adding so many colors that tied together all the loose ends we were hearing while writing the main structure. We are beyond grateful to have been able to work with them.
villin: When listening back to the band’s Accelerativ Thrust interview, there was a comment about how Haploid was initially conceptualized as a synth pop band. Listening back to Villains Amiss, there are elements of that sound that bleed through, as with the closing of “Rejectamenta.” When putting a song like that together, does the band have an idea at the outset for what elements of sound it wants to include, such as a synth part, or is there more of an experimental or free-flowing approach to writing the music?
Kaylee Rae Timmerman: It’s definitely a 50/50 of premeditated elements and improvisation. We spend a lot of time at practice spitballing and feeding off of each other’s energy. Dave tries to write as many little parts in his free time to at least have a starting point but the best part is deciding where it will go, how we will respond to them. “Rejectamenta” was definitely free flowing. It started out as a series of bass riffs that Dave came up with when he was just messing around. They didn’t quite work as a Haploid song, but they inspired what became “Rejecta.” You can hear the original riff in the bass break before the verse.
villin: Piggybacking off that interview further, I was sorta blown away to discover the band doesn’t have any formal musical training. The music communicates as complex and, for lack of a better term, carries a certain jazzishness at times, which lends this album a feeling of musical sophistication. A confidence comes through with that vibe, but I’m curious if there was any uncertainty or self-doubt when putting the album together, and how you worked through those feelings if they did come up?
Kaylee Rae Timmerman: Self-doubt may as well be my middle name but I have complete confidence when we combine forces as a group. I have never taken a formal class on theory or basic lessons but when I think about who my favorite players are, knowing they were in a similar boat, it makes me feel a bit better. I definitely think there is value in learning scales and other tricks, but truthfully, that stuff has never excited me. There is no right answer. As long as you’re learning, it’s all good. I appreciate the “jazziness” comment a ton! Some of my favorite arrangements are from the likes of Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock and Eberhard Weber.
villin: If forced to identify a label with the album, I could probably do worse than use the term “prog” when trying to encapsulate its sound. I’m really green when it comes to that world, but am wondering if there were any direct musical influences from that genre which helped guide the creation of Villains Amiss?
Kaylee Rae Timmerman: It’s a long list of influences but as far as favorite prog elements I would say obviously early Yes records, King Crimson’s “Red” and “Discipline,” and Genesis’ “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.” A lot of other pieces were fueled by my obsession with Polvo and Unwound, especially on our track, “Circling the Drain.” The guitar player from Factual Brains called us prog punk, which we like. But a friend said that’s just another name for math rock.
villin: Instead of mastering the album in-house, Phil Young stepped in to help on that front. Is it difficult to hand over those sorts of technical responsibilities, and what element did Phil give the final recording?
Kaylee Rae Timmerman: I’d say our relationship with Phil dates back to Dave and I’s former band, Nostromo, as he recorded our second album. It has always been so painless and easy to hand off duties to him so there was zero doubt when it came to asking for mastering help. So far, we have recorded everything ourselves but Villains Amiss was the first album we decided to have mastered. Phil smoothed out the rough edges and leveled everything into the same plane. I guess it was kind of like we built a shelf and Phil sanded it. Haha!