Alongside his brother Tony, who sadly passed away last year, Chip Kinman fronted some incredible bands throughout the years, including early punks the Dils, plus Blackbird, Rank and File, and Cowboy Nation. A new album, Chip & Tony Kinman Sounds Like Music, compiles a bunch of previously unreleased material from all of those groups. We chatted with Chip about that, the recent Dils reunion, and more…
L.A. WEEKLY: How did the idea for Sounds Like Music come about?
CHIP KINMAN: We were talking to Omnivore about putting a compilation record out of all of our bands, but released material. As we were looking at it, it looked a bit daunting because it was spread out over a lot of record labels, and then they asked me if I had any unreleased material and I didn’t think I did. I went back and looked and as it turns out, I had a lot. I started going through that. Then we thought that we’d leaven the released stuff with unreleased stuff, and then Tom DeSavia, the coauthor of the new John Doe book, he suggested just putting out a record of unreleased stuff. I thought about that for a second and decided that it’s a great idea. So the record of previously released material will have to wait.
The album covers the whole gamut — Dils, Blackbird….
It does — there’s not a lot of Dils unreleased songs, that’s why there’s just one on there. I looked for the master but couldn’t find it, so the source was a bit dodgy but that’s OK. I’ll admit, some of the songs are strictly for fans only. Other songs are more universal. But personally I think it’s a delightful record. It’s fun to listen to.
Was the process exhausting?
It was. There was a lot to listen to, and then I had to whittle out things that I didn’t think would fit. There are 22 songs, and I probably have another 20 that aren’t released. It took a long time but it was really fun. Trying to remember what was going through our minds when we were making these records. I just read a great review, but it called some of the songs “experiments.” Well, I don’t make experiments, I don’t make demos, I don’t do projects — I make records. They were all conceived to be records, so it’s not like I’m throwing out a bunch of demos.
Were you concerned about the flow, considering the different style of each band?
I was, and I sequenced it the old fashioned way. I wrote the name of every song on a little slip of paper and laid it out on the bed and then started moving it about to see what would work and keep people’s interest. Admittedly, some of the stuff might be a bit tough to get through if you’re not familiar. It was a little tricky but the thing about mine and Tony’s songs is a lot of them are interchangeable. We could have done them with any band. Take a song like “Big Train” — we did that with Cowboy Nation and with Blackbird.
Was the decision to reform the Dils without Tony difficult?
It was at the same time difficult and easy. For 40 years, we decided we would never really reform one of our bands because we always moved forwards. Especially, we thought the Dils would be the most difficult to reproduce because it was such a time and place with teenage angst involved. So we never did it. Right before Tony died, he told me that I can rattle his bones to make music and money if I need to. I had his permission. My band Ford Madox Ford was offered a gig in San Diego but my drummer wasn’t available. My son Giuliano Scarfo suggested we do the Dils with his friend Brian Melendez. I thought about it for a second and said that we can’t suck. The guys are both 22, 23 and they bring the punk rock energy to make it work.
Is it strange to be up there with two young musicians, at your vintage?
Since I’ve known them since they were five, it’s not that strange and it’s the only way, post-Tony, a Dils reunion would work. Those songs are fast, so it’s a little bit difficult to do, but I bring the songs and they bring the punk rock energy and it’s a lot of fun. It’s not something we’re going to do a lot of. I want to keep it special.
Is it gratifying that there are kids coming to see the band, not just dusty old geezers?
You bet it is. We had the good fortune of being first wave punk rock, so a lot of the kids that come do what I did when I first started — I wanted to see how the stuff started. Who influenced the Beatles? Who influenced Merle Haggard. Since the Dills were there at the beginning, a lot of kids are interested.
There’s a lot of local punk pride for the Weirdos, Dickies, X and the Dils…
There is and that’s really exciting. I love when people write reviews and say that they never thought they’d see this. That adds to the excitement.
Do you have plans to tour this album?
I don’t know. I joined the band I See Hawks In LA on stage to sing three Rank and File songs, and the place packed. It was really fun. Now I’m tossing around the idea of putting together a Rank and File/Cowboy Nation show. Blackbird, I’m not sure how I would reproduce it. I still have the drum machine. Moving forward, I’m going to make a solo record on In the Red Records. An electronic album that will be weirder than shit. Not like EDM, more like synth-driven plus guitars.
Chip and Tony Kinman Sounds Like Music is available on June 28 via Omnivore Recordings.