Low Tech - High Emotion
Kissing the Pink
On the brink with Kissing The Pink, a low-tech group with high-tech appeal.
Curtis Schwartz discovers how Jon Hall and the 'Pinks turn ideas into action.
First; the name?
Somewhere between straight-faced truthfulness and a cynical sense of humour is where you might find Jon Hall, one of the founder members of Kissing The Pink, the seven piece eccentric, raw, often unconventional pop group who rose to fame in 1983 with their top twenty hit single The Last Film I Ever Saw, and currently climbing up the charts with their most grandiose opus yet What's On The Other Side Of Heaven?.
I put this very question to Kissing The Pink's keyboard player/ideas man who had the characteristically casual reply of "Love and Money" on the tip of his tongue. However, anticipating more double-entendres on this track of conversation, I steered to safer grounds on the question of equipment and production techniques used to achieve the Kissing The Pink sound.
"I'm definitely not a high-tech fanatic, or like the majority of keyboard players these days who chase after the newest and most expensive gear, presuming that their creativity and ideas can be enhanced by more buttons."
"I'm more interested in more unusual sounds and bending them to fit my ideas."
On stage, Jon uses Korg's MS20 monophonic synthesiser, a Solina string machine, a Casiotone 202, and a MiniKorg "just for weird things". Only recently has he incorporated anything 'modern' into his set-up — Yamaha's DX7 and Korg's Poly 800.
"The DX7 is really brilliant — I just wish I had the time or the patience to learn how to work it properly. But for the time being I am content using the factory presets, which sound good anyway."
"The Poly 800 is a really boring instrument — there's nothing that sounds good to my ears on it, so I just leave it in the car and get a good sound that way! At the same time, my favourite keyboard is the MiniKorg — you can pick them up for about £100 these days secondhand, and if you muck about with cheap effects pedals you'll have a very lovely time indeed.
"The key to all this is creating sound which evokes emotion — rather than an engineers contented paradise of perfect recording levels and obsession with technical clichés."
If this is the case, I wondered, then how do the producers which Kissing The Pink work with come to balance between what the band wants and what is technically viable?
"As far as I can see, everything is technically viable, it's a case of attitude and a lack of obsession with commerciality on ours and the producer's part."
"So far, the producers who we've had an affinity with are Martin Hannett (of Joy Division fame), Ken Thomas (Psychic TV), and the producer with whom we are working at the moment Phillip Bagnell who doesn't follow a typical producer's formula. He mainly uses unconventional sounds. But at the same time, we still record things in a similar way to anyone else — first the code, then drum track, etc., but by using effects we try to conjure up the required atmosphere."
On the current single, for example, the percussion is characteristically complex — heavily compressed 'stomps' and claps, Linn drum, Simmons, synthesised percussion noises from the MS30, and even some TR808 (hi hat).
"Including the demos, we have recorded about six versions of What's On The Other Side of Heaven, and the final recording has various bits lifted off some of the previous efforts — the main vocals were all 'hand-synched' from the previous recording!"
Since the band's formation two and a half years ago, the original line up of Stevie Cusack, Peter Barnet, Nick Whitecross, Josephine Wells, George Stewart and Jon Hall has been augmented by one new member — Simon Aldridge, who mainly concentrates on guitar, however there is no set pattern in Kissing The Pink for who plays what — "Everyone does 'everything' in the band, except for violin and saxophone, and this means that people can put more enthusiasm into what they do since what they do changes — and consequently if someone becomes bored on one instrument, they can change and never loose any 'spontaneity'.
"However, when it comes to live performances, we've more or less worked out who plays what in which songs."
It seems like an unusual goal to strive for, one of unusual sounds and ideas. Much easier would be to start from a point with a known quantity — the 'dance craze' of drum machines and sequencers, and then to elaborate and develop ones ideas from there. However, this does not seem to provide Kissing The Pink with enough incentive.
"If you are classically trained (as Jon is), and therefore come from a background where you are involved in totally different types of music, it seems obvious that you will find the restrictions within pop music very limiting, and naturally you will be creating things which seem unusual. However people do seem to respond surprisingly well to our music."
In fact, Kissing the Pink's efforts in widening the boundaries of pop music appear to be heading them in the right direction. You can hear some of their material exclusively on this months cassette — rather 'over-the top' even for Kissing The Pink, with the rather more straightforward mix of Heaven, their current single being available on Magnet Records.
The conversation then became more and more incomprehensible as it veered away from specifics and more towards generalisations — the meaning of life and other such trivialities, at which point I switched off the tape recorder and simply agreed with everything that was said...