Watching Kithkin on stage is like walking through the woods and stumbling on a pack of wild beasts dancing around a sacrificial piece of meat by firelight — there's pounding drums, clapping and screams and squawking.
From their very first Seattle house party show in 2011, where the floor nearly caved in beneath them, to playing the Sasquatch! and Volume festivals earlier this year, Kithkin has maintained their primal instincts even as their sound has become more tailored.
Co-frontman Kelton Sears, 23, admits the band came out of a strong reaction against the folk music scene that had taken a stronghold on their Seattle University campus. Even though he, Ian McCutcheon (drums, vocals) and Bob Martin (keys, theremin) were in a folk band, "It wasn't a very good band and we realized we didn't like folk music at all," says Sears, who then played accordion.
Adding fellow student Alexander Barr on guitar, they wanted to explore what would happen if they had two lead singers and gave everyone a drum. Infused with their love of role-playing and video games, Kithkin was born from the dregs of punk rock and African tribal music, which they labeled "treepunk." They proclaimed themselves part of Cascadia — the bioregion and prospective independent country made up of the Northwestern U.S. and British Columbia — more for show than anything else.
"We're not secessionist, we're just a very nerdy band," Sears says. "It was more the fantasy element of it, the idea that we come from another place."
The guys are also concerned about the environment, that this generation will leave the world a worse place for the next. All the noise their band creates? That the singers are sometimes unintelligible? That's on purpose.
"It's a way to sneak it to people that we're the traveling doomsayers," says Sears. "We wouldn't say we're a metal band, but the ethos of doom, feeling of fear and anxiety, that's all there."
Trees especially — the emblem on the Cascadia flag and a symbol that's prominent onstage at a Kithkin show — have a deep meaning for the band.
"In Seattle, you can't go in any direction without running into a dying tree," Sears says.
It was a difficult time when the band was in the midst of writing their recently released debut album Rituals, Trances & Ecstasies For Humans in Face of The Collapse. They were still in school and McCutcheon's sister was dying of cancer and Sears' parents were getting a divorce. They wanted to make sense of things and trees symbolized roots.
"It was a weird spiritual time for us," he recalls. "All we wanted was something to hold onto. ... It's important to find something to hold onto." ♦
Kithkin with Sun Blood Stories and Bandit Train • Mon, July 7, at 7:30 pm • $5 • All-ages • The Big Dipper • 171 S. Washington • 624-4319