Kunek: the magic flying horse with rainbow wings
It’s a Friday in December in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and snow edges walkway of my path as I am calling to confirm plans for the Kunek interview at noon.
I call Kunek’s cellist Jenny Hsu after frontman Jesse Tabish doesn’t answer my call. She says she’s on her way, and that she’ll find him. Meanwhile, I meet up at the coffee shop on the corner of our sleepy downtown, and I grab a cup of coffee with my photographer, Mat Miller. After a few minutes of Tabish’s M.I.A. status, I get a call from Hsu, and she’s saved the day. She’s found him – he was at his parents house having breakfast, and oh yes, that interview was today.
We all regroup down the street at the Kunek practice space where the band’s been demo-ing songs for their sophomore release. And a place where Tabish has been halfway living, which I realize as I sit down with Hsu, and Tabish proceeds to brush his teeth and apply deodorant. He apologizes profusely for being late. I say it’s unnecessary, because it was only a few minutes after all. Eventually, Tabish joins us, and I attempt to act like an objective journalist, one who hasn’t spent the past four years as a friend of the band, and one who isn’t likely to act like it.
I ask a few traditional questions, like “Hey, what’ve you been working on lately? How’s everything sounding?” awkwardly. Tabish and Hsu both give professional musician responses.
“We’ve been working on the new album… I’d say it’s more folk/orchestral based. We’ll have some banjo. We’re kind of waiting to go to the Seretean Center [at OSU] to break into the band room to play on vibraphones and orchestral instruments,“ Tabish says.
Kunek’s first album, Flight of Flynns, released on a one-album deal with Playtime, was critically acclaimed. It earned shout-outs by industry giants including Filter Magazine, iTunes and John Mayer. But what does Kunek really mean, anyway?
Hsu explains: “Really it’s just a name that Colby [Owens] wanted to name one of his children – specifically he said his ‘unborn child,’ but I feel a little weird saying that. I think he said one time that he couldn’t name his kid Kunek anymore.”
Hsu, Tabish and Owens started out as a three piece in a little house off Ramsey Street in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The three spent hours writing songs and developing even more intricate music than what they release today – “Our songs got shorter as more people got in,” Tabish laughed.
Eric Kiner, Jon Mooney and Josh Onstott completed the six-piece band.
“When we first started we’d just sit around and play for a long time. We’d finally leave around four in morning,” Hsu says.
As hours got long, the band had to get rid of the TV. They started spending too much time on video games and apparently, on watching the auction channel, which I cannot deny is particularly interesting. Auction channel off, the band released their self-recorded album nationally in September 2006.
Touring aside – they’d rather be home anyway – the band is constantly writing music. When they’re not writing music, you might find them at a local coffee shop (nearly all the members of Kunek have been known to frequent Aspen Coffee) where they like to get their daily kick. When I was formulating questions for the interview, a friend/coffee shop dweller suggested I ask Tabish how many cups of coffee he has in a day.
“I usually have a double shot in the morning, and then maybe a shot in the day… and maybe four or five,” Tabish admits. Hsu says she usually starts drinking coffee around five to seven in the evening. As of right now, each member of Kunek still maintains a day job – Tabish teaches music lessons at Daddy O’s Music, and Hsu takes care of children – so I can see why all the caffeine might be necessary.
Hsu starts telling me about a recent babysitting experience. “There’s was a dad who called me yesterday and was like ‘What’d you feed him?’ And I’m like ‘Why?’ And he’s like ‘Because he’s thrown up four times.’ I was like ‘Oh shit.’ But he goes to pre-school, he could’ve picked up the stomach flu there. I’m just glad I wasn’t there when he was throwing up.”
Tabish doesn’t. “I’d much rather clean up throw up than a poopy diaper.”
“Poopy diapers are okay. If they shit, it’s already in the thing, and you just roll it up,” Hsu says.
“What are we talking about? Vomit versus shit. Looks like vomit won out on that one.”
Next to poopy diapers, what-to-cook-Tom-Waits-for-dinner proves to be the question to stir the most controversy between Hsu and Tabish.
While Hsu insists that he’d like her dumplings, Tabbish says he thinks it’s more appropriate to cook Waits something sacrificial in nature that includes lamb, or a stew with pig’s blood. They settle on a dumpling stew.
I offer a less controversial question. “If you were an animal, what would you be?”
Appropriately, doe-eyed Hsu says she’d like to be a deer – a caribou more specifically. Or just any kind of female deer with antlers, whatever that is. Tabish says he’d be a monkey swinging from trees and throwing shit at people.
And, “what’s your favorite cartoon?” I ask. Hsu decides on She-Ra and He-man, and Tabish says Ren and Stimpy (looks like we’re still not off the topic of bodily fluids) and Rocko’s Modern Life.
And their favorite superheros? Again, She-Ra prevails as Hsu’s pick. “I really like She-Ra; she was a superhero. She had a flying horse with rainbow wings.”
I guess rainbow wings sounds enticing to Tabish.
“Can that be mine, too? I don’t know She-Ra, but I’d like to get to know her,” Tabish says.
“She’s hot,” Hsu adds.
“I bet. I bet she’s a fucking babe,” Tabish says.
When they’re not talking about cooking, animals, superheros, and cartoons with me, the band is known for showing up at local shows, so I ask who are their favorites.
“Colourmusic’s live shows are in a way the opposite of what we do. They are so much full of life. Not to say that we aren’t, but it’s a little bit more punk. I think everyone in Kunek secretly wishes they were in Colourmusic,” Tabish says.
While Hsu agrees that she loves Colourmusic’s live show, Hsu wouldn’t be Hsu if she didn’t mention bluegrass.
“I’ve been really into bluegrass lately. The Flatland Grass Band, The Parks Family Band, The Farm Couple – they sing traditional folk tunes. I guess it’s not as high energy as Colourmusic,” she says.
I quickly correct her as she corrects herself, too. “You don’t go to a Colourmusic, and see people swing dancing,” I say.
“That’s true. You see people moshing and throwing streamers and running around in costume. It’s different. Stillwater offers a wide variety,” she says.
Ouside of local music, Hsu’s been listening to more bluegrass – like from the Doc Watson Family. “That’s really good bluegrass. It’s this family with grandma, grandpa, uncle and children. Some of it’s accepella and some is with the banjo,” she says.
Tabbish has recently bought Phillip Glass’s 12 Piano Pieces, which he liked, but “wouldn’t say it’s amazing.”
With indie rock, bluegrass, classical composers and other bands like Godspeed, Sigur Ros, and the Beatles as influences, you’d never know what to expect from Kunek. But really it’s like this: To me, Kunek sounds like everything that’s ever happened to each individual member of the band – all the moments of sadness and all the moments of joy and triumph they’ve each experienced – pieced together in an intricate mosaic of sound. That said, there’s nothing that they could say, no statement they could make, that is not in some way relevant to their music.
That’s why I love Kunek; their music is as for real as they are themselves – She-Ra references included.