Why’d You Name Your Band That?: Oakland quartet Kapowski offers a rush of experimental pop as potent as caffeine pills

Hey, hey, hey! What is going ON here, Kapowski? (via Facebook)

There’s a lot that Jesse Rimler loves about his Oakland-based band, Kapowski, from its sophisticated approach to harmonies to its unusual guitar-less lineup. Its name is not one of them.

Rimler has some reservations about the Saved by the Bell-inspired moniker he and his friends settled on years ago. Though the group’s music is best described as “pop,” it’s not like Kapowski is an ironic, pastel-uniformed, keytar-wielding Zack Attack tribute band. He and his friends take serious inspiration from 20th Century geniuses who penned songs as intricately crafted as they are captivating, from Cole Porter to Ray Davies.

At Kapowski’s core are Rimler on Wurlitzer and Jon Gondo on bass. The pair have known each other since middle school in Pleasant Hill, where they bonded over a love of ’60s pop. Currently the quartet is rounded out by drummer Sam Ospovat and additional keyboardist Michael Coleman, both of whom also are members of the experimental jazz trio BEEP.

The band took a step up from home recordings this year and released Boy Detective, a 10-track album recorded at New, Improved Recording with Eli Crews, who has worked with such adventurous, highly blogged-about Bay Area acts as tUnE-yArDs, Man/Miracle and Rogue Wave.

Kapowski – Section Eight by jrimler

Instead of talking about all that, however, Rimler agreed to submit to an interview that primarily focused on his least favorite aspect of the band. That’s the definition of a good sport.

ATLC: Go ahead and tell me how you settled on the name.

Jesse Rimler: I can’t remember the moment we settled on it. It may have been my brother’s idea. It’s origin would be the Kelly Kopowski character from Saved by the Bell. It’s mildly embarrassing for me for whatever reason. You have to be careful when you pick a band name. … At the very least, it’s memorable.

I was reading this article not long ago that the A.V. Club posted that had nostalgia for Saved by the Bell marking the end of western civilization. I was reading it and sweating. (Blogger’s note: I believe he’s referring to this Sean O’Neal essay on “the decline of ironic appreciation.”)

The idea wasn’t, “I hope everyone likes our cute reference.” It was just a name so we could have a name. I keep thinking I should come up with an explanation like Kapowski was this obscure Polish composer who wrote fugues for accordion, but I haven’t come up with a good lie, and I guess I’m not going to. We’re definitely not a joke band. We don’t have songs with goofy lyrics. Well, maybe unintentionally. We are serious about what we do. That is something I worried about. Maybe not much anymore.

ATCL: Without the “Kelly,” it kind of emphasizes the “Kapow!” part, which is maybe what caught my attention.

JR: We’re not really drone-y or shoegaze-y. We are a band with a lot of dynamic changes in the songs. And they’re short songs. They start and end … I’m not quite sure how to explain it. They don’t stick around for very long. We have an idea and move on to the next.

ATCL: Can you remember any alternate names you consdiered?

JR: There’s one name I thought of a lot later. I was watching this John Cleese sketch at one point. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen that sketch, where the pilots are toying with the passengers and seeing what they can get away with.

ATCL: I don’t think I have.

JR: It’s not from Monty Python. It’s from this show he did before, How to Irritate People. There’s one point where Graham Chapman is just shouting gibberish to the people in the back, and he says, “Make sure to push the photoscamps on the back of your chair.” I thought (Photoscamps) could be a future project.

ATCL: Do people ever get the name wrong?

JR: We’re probably not at the point where we have enough people writing our name to get it wrong. Sometimes they (spell it with) a Y. We once played a show at this venue where they introduced the bands and the guy asked if it would be prounounced “Kapovski.” He had some knowledge about Polish pronunciation. I’m sure if we went to Poland we’d get some different pronunciations.

ATCL: How attached to it are you? Are you pretty committed at this point?

JR: In the sense that it doesn’t make sense to change the name, unless we’re sued by some other band or Tiffani-Amber Thiessen.

I was thinking about band names and how you get stuck with them—and this is by no means a comparison—but a band like The Beach Boys, when Brian Wilson was in the studio recording this baroque acid dream pop, I’m sure it occurred to him it might not need to come out under the name The Beach Boys.

I think the best band names are not too specific. I think when you’re starting out, you pick a name that (describes) what you’re like at the time. In a few years you might not be like that. Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground, those are really memorable but they don’t really mean anything. Flying Burrito Brohers is a name that kept me from listening to that band for years, and I finally listened to them and they’re awesome.

Now, Randy Newman can put out any album he wants and it will sound like Randy Newman. That’s the best way to go, but we’re not a solo project.

ATCL: Any advice for bands that are just starting out and are in search of a name?

JR: Just be aware you may dislike your name a few years down the line, but if you’re committed to the music it doesn’t matter. When you hear “The Beatles,” you don’t think about it being a lame pun on beat music. But then there’s the Flying Burrito Brothers example, so kind of be careful about that.

Upcoming opportunities to see Kapowski live include shows at 9 p.m. Sept. 23 at Subterranean Arthouse, 2179 Bancroft Way in Berkeley, with Wiener Kids ($10 cover) and 9:30 p.m. Sept. 30 at The Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley, with Trainwreck Riders and Schmoozer ($5 cover).

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