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Q&A with Kirk Huffman of Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground

By design, Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground is a touch unwieldy. Lead by singer Kirk Huffman, the 13-piece ensemble has spent the last five years putting out two albums filled with pop pastiche while staging one spectacular show after another, many of which would be an unholy mess if the players weren’t so talented. This past summer, the band emerged with a new sound, playing R&B covers and, in the last couple months, their own soulful sides. We caught up with Huffman as he prepared to take his whole band down to Los Angeles to cut two tracks that will be released early next year. Thursday, Oct. 18, Crocodile

The band has gone through some major changes, even since releasing Introducing… last year.
That record was supposed to come out in the summer of 2010. By the time it saw the light of day, the whole band was in a different place musically and we had already started talking about moving into an R&B style. Kyle [O’Quin, keys player and co-leader] always equates those first two records to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Revolver. Those albums are both stylistically the same and share some really great qualities, but you can tell by the end of Revolver that the band is moving in a different direction.

What’s influencing the new sound?
A lot of us have been listening to the Menahan Street Band records. They’re instrumental records, gorgeous soul records with one main riff but a couple different parts and these really pleasant instrumentals. It’s like cinematic mood music, but it’s on this R&B/soul tip.

You’re recording at Vox, one of the oldest studios in the country. What have you learned about it?
Nat King Cole demoed songs in there. Some of the instruments in there were used on Pet Sounds. The board is what Betty Davis’ records were mixed on; it’s what Exile on Main St. was mixed on.

Your guitarist Thomas Hunter is on the road with the Heavy right now. Kyle O’Quin is working with Portugal. The Man. Is it difficult to keep such a big, sprawling band together?
Just to get a practice with everyone there at the same time is really difficult. But everyone who plays in the band is massively talented, so I rarely have to worry about if the horns are going to be on or if Thomas didn’t get a chance to practice with us this week. The whole idea behind Kay Kay when we started was to have this one giant project with a bunch of people in it, and then everyone is doing their own thing too. We used to make Wu-Tang comparisons.

What’s the secret to keeping 13 musicians happy?
Lots of weed. [laughs] But it’s the dudes, too. When we lost [engineer Tom] Pfaeffle, I was an enormous wreck and I had a lot of support from Thomas and Kyle and our drummer Aaron as well. That is a big thing. We all call each other brothers.

Photo by Steve Korn.

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