There are two versions of each of the tracks on this new Kitchen’s Floor 7 inch. The versions included on the vinyl were recorded after a friend’s death, while the ones excluded (though available as a download if you order it) were recorded before. As Matt Kennedy told us in a recent interview, the newer versions were recorded as a tribute, and the difference between the two are like night and day. Originally, ‘Bitter Defeat’ was a sad, but unusually colourful (by Kitchen’s Floor standards) pop song. Now it’s a beautiful monochrome dirge. In the former, Kennedy’s vocals lifted from their usual low monotone into a higher, more melodic wail. On the latter, they’re comparatively flat and resigned.
In light of that interview, it’s difficult to divorce this new release from its context, and the difference between these versions of both tracks makes that connection all the more stark. But as an artefact in Kitchen’s Floor’s small but increasingly strong catalogue, Bitter Defeat is all the more interesting for what it says about Kennedy’s songwriting. Previously, and especially on his debut Loneliness is a Dirty Mattress, Kennedy seemed eager to put a song to bed in the most efficient way possible. Three minutes was an epic. Verses and choruses bled into each other amid heavily distorted guitar and purely serviceable percussion. Here, Kennedy lets the ensemble run its course without the aid of vocals for long stretches at a time. The song slowly burns, and getting the words out feels like a challenge, for Kennedy, that needs to be risen to.
The other key difference here is instrumentation: Kennedy plays a nylon acoustic, while Andrew McLellan (Cured Pink) traces the melody with an organ that sounds serrated and on the verge of doom. What emerges is a kind of inverse to what we’ve heard before from Kitchen’s Floor: while they’ve always vendored desperate music, previously that tension was offset by the scrappy energy of a rock band. That energy compromised the soul of the songs, somehow, or at least beat it into less overt shapes. But now, it feels like that ever-present darkness has overcome those elements, resulting in the most affecting – and sometimes exhausting – music this songwriter has yet released.
Sometimes, and especially on this record, it feels like Kitchen’s Floor is the perfect mirror of our times. There’s a resignation to a certain kind of failure. It’s incredibly passive: all of the assertive elements of punk and rock ‘n roll are syphoned entirely. Kitchen’s Floor sounds like the result of an age group chronically over-diagnosed and frankly, scared, at the new challenges involved in scraping together a living passed down to us by previous generations. It’s the cumulative cost of living and the erosion of options.
And despite the fact that this is beautiful, honest, heart-rending pop music, Kitchen’s Floor sounds squeezed. It’s girded by fuzz and it clips at the edges because there’s always the sense that these songs are being buried by greater forces. And it’s because of this that Kitchen’s Floor ties a knot in my gut almost every time I listen. Because it exists despite all of this, and it’s honest, and it doesn’t back down, and it (sounds like it) feels the same way as me, sometimes. It sounds like its own awkward victory, because it hasn’t capitulated, because these songs are here, and they’re lovely, and Kennedy isn’t rotting in a call centre selling dial-up internet to off-the-radar folk in far-North Queensland. In this way, Kitchen’s Floor is the most spirited and important sadness there is, and these are his best songs yet.
Kitchen’s Floor’s music has always reminded me of the house I grew up in. There was no door on the toilet. The corrugated iron roof was blood red rust. The bathroom – for some reason – was carpeted. Under the house, feral cats gathered. It was a former hospital in a hot drunken backwater.
I describe this for you because Kitchen’s Floor’s music sounds like suburban or regional decay. It sounds like depression and boredom. Despite all this, Matt Kennedy’s songwriting is a truly beautiful thing in the way that it doesn’t seek sympathy. Kennedy’s droll vocals are plain-speaking and matter-of-fact: honesty is at its core. Writers like myself have and do whittle these factors down to the group’s geography (Brisbane), but it’s pretty fair to say that this dirge can apply wherever you may mope. Fact is, Kennedy was actually born in New Zealand, but has lived most his years in Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
The group – or rather, Matt Kennedy with his new recruits – have just released a new 7 inch on Negative Guest List records. So we got in touch with Matt via email to catch up. Matt is also busying himself with a show on 4ZZZ called Eternal Soundcheck, named after his blog which, for several years, traced Brisbane and the wider country’s music scene with a handheld camera.
Who’s in the band at the moment?
Besides myself, at the moment Josh Watson is on bass. Josh also plays bass in Sewers, currently one of my favourite Brisbane bands. Playing drums is Bobby Bot. Bobby fronts the legendary band Wonderfuls and we also both played in Meat Thump together so it felt natural to bring him over to Kitchen’s Floor. It’s also good to have a drinking buddy in the band and I’ve never met a more determined drinker than Bobby. Andrew McLellan of Cured Pink fame plays organ, though only occassionally depending on his availability. He’s been playing on and off in KF for years.
‘Bitter Defeat’ sounds even more depressive than the last LP [Look Forward To Nothing, Siltbreeze / Bedroom Suck], in my opinion. Why?
‘Bitter Defeat’ is a simple song about losing something big and wondering what to do with yourself from there. That song and another new one ‘Down’ were planned for release on Negative Guest List as a 7 inch single in February. It was one of the last things Brendon [Annesley] and I were working on together. After he died I decided to re-record the songs as some form of therapy. It’s more depressive as it was recorded during the worst time of my life.
The clip for ‘Bitter Defeat’ takes place in the same house that’s shown on the cover of your RIP Society 7 inch. What’s the history of the house?
The house is 116, which has been my home for over six years now. It’s over 100 years old and has never been renovated so it’s a bit of a dilapidated eyesore compared to most other houses in the affluent suburb of Paddington. It’s a very early Queenslander house design, built on ridiculously large stilts on the side of a hill. I’ve lived with more housemates than I can remember. Dozens of house shows have happened here over the years and they’ve been some of the best shows I’ve seen. One of the most memorable was in 2009 when Blank Realm, Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys and Royal Headache played in the lounge room. The house was packed with people and there was even a ‘mosh pit’, it was very exciting and surreal. The house has been in a trilogy of Kitchen’s Floor music videos – The video for ‘Left‘ from Loneliness Is A Dirty Mattress was filmed downstairs in the laundry, ‘116‘ from Look Forward To Nothing was filmed in the backyard and recently ‘Bitter Defeat’ was filmed in the lounge room.
Going back a bit, my first exposure to your song writing was with the Look! Pond CD. How old were you when you recorded that?
I had just turned 20 when that album was recorded back in 2006. Look Pond had been a name I had been recording under since I was 18, most of the songs on that CD are re-recorded band versions of the original 4-track recordings I had done by myself a year or so earlier.
Kitchen’s Floor is also the name of an old Look! Pond song. What’s the significance of the name Kitchen’s Floor?
There’s no real significance except for the fact it’s the name of one of my old songs. I think in late 2007 I was asked to play a solo set at Yvonne Ruve in Sydney and they needed a name for the poster and I didn’t want it to be ‘Matt Kennedy’ so I gave them ‘Kitchen’s Floor’ at the last minute. Since then I guess the name has come to fit in well with the whole dirty domestic feel of the music.
Domestic decay seems to mark a lot of your music, or is a part of the aesthetic. I’m thinking in particular the cover for Look Forward to Nothing: there’s a certain bleakness to it, a kind of destitution almost. Why?
It’s an honest reflection of my life. The cover for Look Forward To Nothing is a photo of me sitting on my bed in my room with a massive hangover. The night before I had been drinking heavily and thought it would be a funny idea. I told Joe Alexander [Bedroom Suck] the idea and the next day I had completely forgotten about it and was lying in bed feeling like absolute shit when I heard a knock on my bedroom door. It was Joe and Sarah, who he brought over as the photographer. They walked in and said ‘Get up Matt, we’re here to take the photo now’ and I was like ‘Arghhhhhhhhh’. But I thought it turned out good, and I still find it funny.
How has life changed between now and those early Look! Pond years?
Not a whole lot. I still live in the same house which is fine and I still do the same things, which is fine. I’d like to think I’m a little more mature and responsible now but I’d just be deluding myself.
Your songs usually sound quite unhappy. Are there any formative experiences, or is there a particular worldview or outlook, that you think may have influenced your songwriting?
I’m generally known for my depressive qualities but I don’t want to go into detail about that. I try to be as honest as possible with Kitchen’s Floor. I keep the lyrics and music as direct and simple as possible. I think the songs speak for themselves about how I feel regarding the weird sadness of life.
I know you’re the songwriter and the name is essentially yours, but why the regularly changing line-up for Kitchen’s Floor?
I’m a very difficult person to be around, I have constant mood swings and can be really horrible at times. I’m also a control freak when it comes to Kitchen’s Floor, I won’t have it any other way, so you can figure out why the band has such a high turnover rate.
When I spoke to Jimi Kritzler a couple of weeks ago he said he needed to leave Brisbane, for a change I guess. Do you think you’ll ever leave Brisbane?
I’ve come close many times over the years. At the moment there’s plenty of great bands here to keep me entertained, I have some nice friends. There’s enough happening to keep me here for awhile.
How is the music scene in Brisbane faring at the moment?
There are a lot of really great bands at the moment. Sewers, Blank Realm, Sky Needle, Scraps, Fig., Muura and Cured Pink come to mind as some bands that make me get out of bed every day. Real Bad Music in Moorooka is thriving as a venue, it’s the residence of Matt Earle who runs the Breakdance The Dawn label. The Lost Domain played their final show on the weekend there and it was one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever seen. 4ZZZ is also really good, a lot of very passionate people are involved there at the moment and I feel the station is finally covering this sort of Brisbane ‘outsider’ music to the extent I think it deserves to be.
Kitchen’s Floor is going on tour in November to launch the new 7 inch [dates soon]. We’re playing Maggotfest in Melbourne then we’ll be doing Hobart, Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane so far.
‘Bitter Defeat’ is the a-side from a forthcoming Kitchen’s Floor 7 inch through Negative Guest List Records. The clip below seems to have been shot in/around the same house that features on the cover of the band’s 2009 7 inch through R.I.P. Society, or maybe there are heaps of houses like that in Brisbane. Whatever the case, ‘Bitter Defeat’ sounds a lot messier and more miserable than the songs we heard on Kitchen’s Floor’s Siltbreeze LP last year, or so it seems to me. The shitty old synth / organ really adds a layer of un-hope to the tune.
The 7 inch is available right now. It’s limited to 300 copies.