INTERVIEW: Sonny Kilfoyle (MINKS)

MINKS is the one-man moniker of musician Sonny Kilfoyle. Kilfoyle is most known for being lumped into the category of Cure-influenced pop but, surprisingly enough, has no interest in being pigeonholed in that genre. We spoke with Kilfoyle about his latest record, Tides End, the departure from the colder tones of his debut album, By The Hedge, surfing in Long Island, and comparisons to his music.

By The Hedge is out now on Captured Tracks. He’ll also be at Captured Tracks' CT5 Festival in Brooklyn during Labor Day during day 1.

ChunkyGlasses: Excited to be back in the spotlight, so to speak?

Sonny Kilfoyle: Yeah, it’s nice to have an album coming out.

CG: You have it coming out the same month as Medicine’s new album, right?

SK: Yeah, I saw something about that from Captured Track’s posting. Shoegaze right?

CG: Yep, Captured Tracks did a reissue of their discography and they came together to make a new album after years of a break from music. Speaking of breaks, besides brief spurts of touring in 2011, you haven’t been too active in the spotlight. What have you been up to since then?

SK: A lot of things, really. I did make a lot of music in between now and then. I actually tried to record a new follow-up album a lot quicker and started recording it the summer after By the Hedge came out.

CG: Oh really?

SK: I just didn’t like the way it was turning out. I was having trouble figuring out the identity of where I wanted to go for the project. We recorded about six songs and I didn’t really like it so I scrapped it. I continued to write sporadically but with no real motivation. I really hate touring so it’s more about just writing music for me.

CG: What was the tone of the six songs you scrapped?

SK: I just didn’t want to make something so morose again. I didn’t want to make something as gloomy as the first album. I think it was like I didn’t want to commit to just this one sound. I didn’t want to say, “This is me.” I try different things and different sounds.

CG: So do you have a lot of demos lying around then?

SK: I have a lot of songs that are almost finished. I just didn’t want to complete them prematurely.

CG: Listening to the new album, besides the apparent change in warmth, it seems that your voice is a lot stronger and more present than it was on By The Hedge. Were you planning on making a warmer album or did it just come off that way?

SK: The album is a lot more vocal-heavy. I couldn’t do the boy-girl vocal thing anymore and I didn’t want to hide my voice behind reverb anymore. I just got so sick of that trend of hiding your voice behind reverb. It seems to me like every band is doing that. I’ll like the music and the lyrics but I’ll hear the reverb in the vocals and be like, “This sucks. I can’t hear any of the lyrics”. For me, using reverb, it was to compliment the mood of By The Hedge. I just became obsessed with pop music and I wanted vocals in the forefront. I wanted to challenge myself.

CG: Do you see this this warm tone as a permanent direction?

SK: Its hard to say, actually. There were no live drums recorded on this album. I was talking with my brother the other day, who will be playing live with me on future shows, about doing a lot more live recordings. I have a feeling it will be a blend of the first two records but maybe with a more psychedelic sound.

CG: Speaking of the recording process, during recording, you were asked to listen to artist like Simply Red and Seal during creative roadblocks. How did that turn out?

SK: It’s funny because it wasn’t like [producer] Mark Verbos told me I couldn’t listen to any other music. He just comes from a different perspective. He had me listen to these artists to look at how they produced the music.  It wasn’t like I wanted to write a Seal song but more so to listen to how they built the texture for each song. I think his intention was to think outside my normal train of though when it comes to production.

CG: Do you listen to music while in the studio? I know some artists completely isolate themselves from outside sources while others will look to other bands for influence.

SK: I don’t really pay much attention to music or isolating myself. Its funny because people always make MINKS comparisons to the Cure or New Order but I never listen to those bands. I’ve never actually listened to a full Cure record in my life. I don’t even listen to 80’s pop, which is funny because I don’t even know how my albums even end up sounding like these 80’s pop bands. It’s the strangest thing because I usually listen to jazz or Elvis or even 50’s rock more than I listen to any 80’s British band that was on Factory Records or labels like it. I don’t understand how my music comes out this way but it’s just how it comes out of my head and into the music. Part of me is fine with this comparison but the other is thinking, “Man... I need to get out there and write something completely different”. I didn’t want to make the same album all over again with Tides End and people are already making the comparison to these same bands all over again. I just don’t get it.

CG: If anything, the new album sounds much more sunny and has a beach vibe to it.

SK: I do live near the beach and I do surf so that makes sense to me.

CG: How did you get in touch with Mark Verbos in the first place?

SK: I had known Mark for six or seven years before and he had just come back from Germany and the electronic music scene over there. I had worked with him before by helping him work on other people’s albums. I hadn’t seen him in over two years and called him up to see if he wanted to mix the new album. I hadn’t recorded Tides End yet and I knew Mark would be a great fit. I loved working with Mark because he knew how I worked. I work very quickly. I think a mile a minute or some type of ADHD. He’s the only producer who can work as quickly as I think. He knows me so he is usually one step ahead of me.

CG: Mark must have to think quickly since he produces a lot of electronic albums and even has his own band.

SK: Definitely. I feel like there are a lot of great producers out there but you have to work with the one you connect the most with. I’m no stoner so I can’t really work with these bands and producers who want to get slow and deep. I’m very reactionary and I think quickly so I need to work with someone who can keep at my pace.

CG: For you as a songwriter, does the songwriting process come naturally or does it take time to flesh out these songs?

SK: I’m not really pre-meditative when it comes to writing so I’ll have some demos recorded in an instant. I like to have all my guns loaded at once with the guitar set up at the same time as the bass and the drums and synthesizer. I like to work rapid fire, you know? It comes in the moment to me when I write these songs. Mark would help me record the rough tracks, send me home for a week to listen to them and come back to fine-tune the tracks.

CG: I read that a house you found that was going up for sale right along the beach influences a lot of this album. How did you find this place?

SK: It’s in my hometown and I was driving around. It didn’t make me want to write an album about it as much as it captured a feeling that I wanted to record. People were walking all over the estate so I parked my car and found out a lot of the items were going up for sale. These people were forced to sell their house because they couldn’t afford to keep it. The property itself was valued at something like 15 million dollars. The property tax is probably crazy so they had to sell it. I was able to go in and I ended up talking to the people because my nature is to strike up conversation. They were really interesting people because they seemed unaffected by the outside world. The house, it seemed, had nothing modern in it. Everything in the house was there from the late 60’s and no one ever changed anything. It was just one of those “a-ha” moments for me and helped me figure out what I wanted to do for the new album. The idea of living in a world, unaffected by everything going on around you, was intriguing to me. I wondered how I could live my life unaffected by modern technology and society today. I thought about how I could live life by my own standards and not by anyone else’s.