Over the past fifteen years, kimono have slowly become one of Iceland’s more venerated guitar bands, their small but powerful collection of music marking them as a band that runs a slightly different course to its peers. However, things have been fairly quiet on the kimono front in the past few years, with over five and a half years since the release of the three-piece’s last long-player, ‘Easy Music for Difficult People’, in the beginning of 2010.
When I ask kimono singer/guitarist Alison MacNeil whether they’re turning into Portishead or—worse—Guns N’ Roses, she seems unperturbed. “Well, the album before ‘Easy Music’—that came out in 2005. And the one before it was released in 2003. Based on the timeline, the gap between albums two and three was quite long, and this time around it’s incrementally longer. So I guess we’re working on an inverse logarithmic scale.”
Shortly after ‘Easy Music’ was released, work and family obligations took over kimono’s lives. “Gylfi [Blöndal, guitarist/bassist] and I got sucked into our jobs at [sadly defunct Icelandic online music retailer] Gogoyoko big time, constantly trying to make that work,” explains Alison. “So we didn’t do a lot for the two years after ‘Easy Music’.”
The intervening years saw a huge change within kimono’s world, on both a musical and personal level. For instance, Gylfi moved from baritone guitar to bass. And then there has been Alison’s journey with her gender transition, which among other things, brought on a rethink about her role as the group’s singer. “At that time, I was thinking a lot about how I was going to sing,” she explains. “For a lot of people it’s a big thing, what they do with their voices. When we made our first records, I wasn’t really a singer. I’m still not really a singer, not like [operatic voice] “la-la-la” but back then it was all in a lower register. So it was a process of contemplating whether to do something completely different, or to just sing in the same way as before.”
Alison’s solution was to alter her process of preparing for performances: “Because I’ve never studied singing, the way I always got my voice in shape for concerts was to make songbooks—with bands like Pavement or whatever—for fun, to play and sing along with. So this time, I made a songbook that was heavy on female voices to practice singing in a higher range, using my breathing differently. Stuff like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Cat Power, Bat For Lashes, some Joni Mitchell—that was a challenge [laughs]—and Elliott Smith.”
Despite contending with changes and outside commitments, kimono haven’t been entirely idle. They self-released a single, ‘Aquarium’, in 2013, while 2014 brought a 7” called ‘Specters’ on Theory of Whatever Records. Last year, they underwent the ambitious project of reissuing their back catalogue on vinyl, financing it through the Karolina Fund crowdfunding website, a process that, while successful, proved draining.
“It was a good experience,” muses Alison, “but a really time consuming one. And I don’t think I really like the whole manufacturing, mailing or admin side of the process. The actual work involves things like contacting the pressing plant. It can be all profit for the band, one model for an artist to make some money from their music, but doing a three album reissue with all the artwork and layout is a hell of a lot of work—getting the test pressings, having the vinyl sent to Iceland and then mailing out records to everyone. I’ve done it now, and I can safely say I don’t like it. I’d be happy for someone else to do it [laughs].”
kimono are currently looking forward again, in the process of finishing a new album. Tentatively titled ‘This Is Going To Hurt’, it’s been in the works since late 2013, when the band reconvened to write new material. Although Alison notes that they “don’t do concept albums,” the album centres around themes of transformation and overcoming. “It’s about all sorts of things and change—relationships breaking up, other life events, the transition that comes from any kind of change…”
“My own transition is definitely in there,” she continues. “I wrote the lyrics for one song the morning that I woke up in the hospital. I wrote it all down in one go. I was of course on a lot of morphine, which was a first for me. I also wrote an opera. Actually, the opera came first and involved radios, but then I realised later that it was probably just some Fluxus thing I’d heard about. I don’t think you’ll be hearing that anytime soon.”
I ask Alison how far along they are with the record. “If I could sit down for a weekend, the tracks would be done,” she tells me. “It just needs proper mixing and mastering. I don’t really like to be the last set of ears on our music. I always end up making things sound too raw. In the past we’ve always done our records with Aron Arnarsson, but he’s now living in Barcelona and touring a lot with Gus Gus. It’s always been the final step in the process, bringing him in to add the finishing touches.”
‘This Is Going To Hurt’ thus seems like it’ll pretty much be done… when it’s done. “There’s no real outside pressure to get the record finished,” explains Alison, “still, part of me wants to get it out ASAP, and not sit on it for another three years—even though people keep trying to get us to stick to the script. Fuck the script.”
kimono are performing with Ari Russo tonight at Húrra—check out the full listing here.