Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground are mining soul from a massacre. Bandleader Kirk Huffman lives close to the site of 1983’s infamous Wah Mee killings in Seattle’s International District, which he says has inspired the desperate, compulsive mood of the band’s third album, due this fall. Its sonic touchstone, he says, is soul, as displayed by the handful of ’80s soul-pop covers the band recorded with Steve Fisk and released on Huffman’s SoundCloud over the last month. To premiere its new material, the band brings a revamped lineup to the brand-new Barboza this month.
What’s with the covers? Hall & Oates and Blackstreet are a far cry from the big-band cabaret pop Kay Kay is known for.
They’ve brought me back to all the R&B stuff I listened to when I was a kid. I don’t think anyone would expect us to pull out a Mary Jane cover from 1993. It’s been nice for fans getting antsy, to have new music from us that has all the players we’re gonna take to LA [to record our new record]. We laid out the band to be the Daptones with strings—the same instruments, the baritone sax, the tenor sax and trumpet.
Are you self-releasing the record?
We’re taking the reins ourselves because no one else is gonna give us a shot. We need a bunch of money to make a real record, make real videos. We have all these ideas, and it’s like, how do we do that?
So how do you do that?
Our manager put us in touch with a publishing company called Pulse—they do Diplo’s publishing, Santigold’s publishing, they work with Bonnie McKee, who’s written songs for Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez. A lot of club producers. We went to LA and met with them and got tracks from producers they represent and wrote 10 songs over the beats, and a couple originals, and we got a good response. Artists wanna pick up the songs we’ve written. The Pulse thing is highly lucrative. None of us needs shit-tons of money—unless it comes down to, How do we move Kay Kay forward? We’re songwriters, we’re versatile, we can write songs for anyone. Let’s do that. We were given the opportunity by one of the best groups that does this type of work. So it’s all been to push Kay Kay forward.
So you’re writing mainstream pop stuff? What’s that like?
It’s foreign territory for us, like trying to figure out some kinda math equation. All these songs are one chord progression over and over. Very formulaic stuff that, in a lot of respects, has helped us. We’ve gone back on this third record and re-written songs, something we never did on the first two. It’s a different way of getting around things.
Why not just record the album up here?
There’s advantages and disadvantages to doing it here. For me, I just need some sunshine. I get motivated by being in different environments. A lot of the record, lyrically, deals with the anxiety to leave this place I’ve been for almost 30 years, with me losing my identity as a Seattleite as Seattle gets bigger. Seattle is an amazing hub for getting an artist off the ground, but when you wanna do stuff on a giant scale, it sucks. It doesn’t have that population yet. We love Seattle, it encompasses our identity, but now’s the time. We can’t just sit around and wait for Sub Pop to find us. There’s no template now for navigating the industry as much as there is finding out what works for you.
Photo by Hayley Young.