4. MODERN KIN
SOUNDS LIKE: Arcade Fire covering “I Put a Spell on You” with the intensity of a Daniel Day-Lewis monologue.
Drew Grow has a voice so fiery and convincing it makes his trio, Modern Kin, an act of near-religious catharsis. The band’s self-titled debut full-length, released last October, is a mesmerizing amalgamation of gospel and rock ’n’ roll, delivered with the fervor of a man touched by an unspeakable force, not to mention a musical gene pool: Grow’s mother, a trained vocalist, sang in coffeehouses in the ’60s, and both of his parents sang in opera choirs. He owes his evangelistic presence to them as well.
“By the time I came along, my parents had become evangelical Christians,” Grow says, “and my childhood was full of church music, choirs, holy-roller all-night camp meetings.”
Modern Kin started as Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives in 2007. Three-fourths of the band carried over to the current act. They’re fewer in number but bolder in sound, trading twang and folk for bigger amps and a bit of fury. Drew credits the band’s versatility and flexibility to his bandmates, bassist Kris Doty and drummer Jeremiah Hayden. “After playing with four [musicians] for a few years, I’m enjoying the space in the music so much,” Grow says.
Grow had become so attached to the music that, by the time it came to record an album, he needed an outside perspective. So he brought in his girlfriend, drummer Janet Weiss of Quasi and Sleater-Kinney, to produce. “It was invaluable to have someone with her instinct and chops saying ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’” Grow says. Songs like “Abandon” and “Pony” contain the volume and ferocity of Arcade Fire circa Neon Bible. Others, like “Big Enough to Cook,” show signs of Talking Heads and even shock-rock specialist Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Doty’s upright bass grumbles from below, while Hayden’s piercing ride cymbal creates a chilling effect. In between is Grow himself, belting like it’s his last sermon on earth.
Words like “stomp,” “shake” and “shatter” appear frequently in Modern Kin’s lyrics, which skip around subjects of mortality, family and, not surprisingly, religion. They’re potent words that carry a sound in and of themselves. “Let’s not talk or theorize, I can show I can surprise/ Pull the curtain back/ Ta-da/ Here is that bang,” Grow sings on “Modern Skin.” The diction is deadly, the written lines just as explosive and possessed as the music.
Last fall, Modern Kin played seven sets in 24 hours at Mississippi Studios. The shows were broadcast via YouTube, each scheduled for a different time zone. At 10 pm Pacific Time, the group was playing to a decent in-house crowd. At 7 the next morning, the band was scarfing doughnuts and playing before how ever many fans it may have in Beijing.
“It was an interesting experiment,” Grow says. “We wanted it to feel like we were playing from our basement, like Wayne’s World.” But he admits the shows played before actual attendees knocked the pants off the sets performed mostly for viewers half a world away. “The truth is that our rock show is not virtual,” he says. “It is a thing we do with our audience.” MARK STOCK.