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Its Own Thing: KaiserCartel, February 5 at RIBCO PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Monday, 02 February 2009 15:21

kaisercartel.jpgThe influences of the Brooklyn-based duo KaiserCartel include punk rock on the "his" side and The Cure and My Bloody Valentine on the "her" side.

But good luck finding much evidence in the sound of the group, which is playing at RIBCO on Thursday in a show. The band's music is largely acoustic pop, and Courtney Kaiser's voice has a character like Aimee Mann's but without the flat disillusionment. Whistles and xylophones add sunshine to some tracks, but there's also a magnetic sadness in many.

Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel - both of whom sing and play multiple instruments - insist that the influences can be heard, and their comments reflect a wise understanding of the efficiency and directness of their own songs.

"We tell people what we love and what we listen to, and I don't know if it's necessarily what comes out from our music," Cartel said last week. But KaiserCartel has "a lot of the immediacy and energy and conciseness" of good punk rock, he said.

And listeners of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless record, with its warped wall-of-sound guitars, "don't have a clue what the words are, but they can get a sense of the emotion and the meaning behind the songs from the sound of the melody and the driving guitars," Kaiser said. "I think that you can feel that in our songs as well."

Kaiser and Cartel quit their teaching jobs last year - about a week after the release of their full-length debut, March Forth (a play on words with the date they first connected in 2004) - and have been on tour for all but a handful of weeks since, they said. They travel the country in a Toyota Prius that holds all their gear: a drum set that folds up into the bass drum, two amps, two guitars, a drum machine, and "a bunch of xylophones," Cartel said.

"There's more room in a Prius than most people I think realize," Kaiser said.

The duo prides itself on sounding like a full band even with the two of them. Kaiser said they are "constantly challenging ourselves to see how many instruments we can play at one time." Cartel might be playing guitar and the kick drum at the same time, for example.

"Could you play guitar and bang on a xylophone in between riffs?" Kaiser said. "You want to constantly learn and grow and become a better musician and a better songwriter. When you choose to challenge yourself that way, it just keeps it interesting. The response from the crowd when we start doing things like that, they get really excited, too."

She added that audience members "feel like they close their eyes, and they hear a whole band."

Kaiser noted that there's another benefit to this way of doing things: "It's a lot easier to go on the road with two people," she said. "It's a lot more cost-effective. ... We made money off that first tour. We've never lost money on tour."

In part for those financial reasons, Kaiser and Cartel began touring together as separate solo acts, with each supporting the other musically on stage. "A lot of people were asking us when we were putting out a recording," Cartel said. "And we realized we hadn't thought about doing a band. ... We just kind of realized through doing it that it was its own thing."

While neither is still teaching, Kaiser said the xylophone is clearly tied to their backgrounds in education. (She taught music; he taught art.) The instrument is "something that everybody can play and play really well," she said. It has the added benefit of being portable.

Cartel said while the band has done educational things - such as a gig at a Phoenix high school - they don't miss teaching.

"Courtney and I were musicians before we were teachers," he said. "When I started teaching, I realized that getting up in front of people and leading a class is a bit like a performance."

But "we taught to play music," not the other way around, he said.

KaiserCartel will perform at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue in Rock Island) on Thursday, February 5, with Thunder Power. The all-ages show starts at 5 p.m., and cover is $5.

For more information on KaiserCartel, visit or

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