Q & A: We Killed the Lion
by Erik Oldman
Every once in a while a new band comes along and just totally catches you off guard. Your friends hype the band with their descriptions and build up an initial image and sound in your head, you see posts online for shows, you catch a snippet of a video or mp3, and you get the 2d preconception of the band.
Then you catch a live show and end up throwing out the preconceptions. I had that experience when I attended a recent We Killed The Lion Show at the Elbo Room.
There is a certain rawness to the band’s sound—something like the swamp blues of Clarence Gatemouth Brown or Leadbelly, if they were backed by Black Sabbath playing through My Bloody Valentine’s backline.
That’s only how it sounds. The hook is the attitude and delivery of the live show. Every note played is deliberate. This is not your run-of-the-mill alternative rock with incomprehensible moaning on stage and indifferent playing by the band members. These guys can really play. They dig in with a full attitude and style rarely seen with local acts. You feel the music instead of just hearing and looking at it. Leonard Warren’s drums create a solid rhythmic foundation for the sonic menagerie created by Brian Lorenc’s guitar and Joe Gunia’s bass. Brian’s disaffected vocal delivery completes the sort of post-modern dystopian blues.
We Killed the Lion performing “Seven Circles” at the Elbo Room
I recently caught up with Brian, Joe, and Leonard from We Killed the Lion for a Q & A session.
How did the band come together?
Brian: The band started around the fall of 2010. I asked Leonard if he would play the drums on a recording project I was writing for. He agreed, and we just kept collaborating and writing new material. We then asked our friend, Joe to come to a rehearsal to hear our songs. He thought there were pretty cool, and we asked him to join. We Killed the Lion was formed.
How do you come up with new material?
Brian: Usually, we write songs by improvising off of a riff. I record everything we do and we take our good ideas and craft them. The songs seem very natural and come to us quickly. Occasionally, Leonard will beat box us a melody and I will manipulate it into a new riff. He has a lot of great ideas. Other times, it may be Joe that comes up with a bass line, or I will initiate the idea. I sing anything that comes to mind and also use nonsense syllables over the ideas, later I use the melodies created to generate lyrics. I try to write the entire lyric in one sitting if possible and just let it flow.
How would you describe We Killed the Lion to someone who has never heard the band?
Brian: We play with a lot of emotion and energy. I would say our sound is very raw and edgy. There is a strong psychedelic undercurrent within our music. The guitars are loud with thick, saturated fuzz tones. The beat drives the music and gets your head bobbin’.
Leonard: Our playing style is somewhat like a roller coaster. We can start a song off slow, ramp it in the middle, kick your ass during a break, and then make love to you on the way out. You’ll bob your head, feel high, shake your ass, and possibly blow an ear drum. But you’ll have fun!!!
Joe: Dirty rock with a hint of substance.
Who are some of your influences?
Brian: My mother always played music for me as a child. When I was about five, she bought me the cassette tape of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell”. Big mistake mom!!! I grew up listening to Black Sabbath, Bon Scott AC/DC, The Doors, ZZ Top, lot’s of hair bands like Motley Crue and L.A. Guns. I currently listen to a lot of garage rock, punk bands, stoner rock, 80’s alternative; I love ambient shoe-gaze type bands as well. A couple bands I am really into are Darker My Love, Dead Meadow, Autolux, Nebula, and The Black Angels.
Leonard: My music influences seemed strange because people look at you when you’re the only black kid listening to metal or 90’s alternative. It was good growing up seeing Bad Brains, Living Colour, and Fishbone. I of course jumped on the Nirvana bandwagon, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and STP. But I also get into TV On the Radio, Black Keys, Santigold, The Gossip, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Joe: I initially started playing music because of my love for the music of Metallica and Megadeth. Today I my tastes in music range from Metric,to Death Cab for Cutie, to Incubus, to Britney Spears. Every face on the music totem pole has got something to offer all of us as listeners and as artists.
When did you first realize you wanted to create music?
Leonard: I always wanted to create music since I was a kid. I started playing in churches at 8 years old, so I’ve been playing live for some time. But I wanted to play something besides gospel, and start my own version of Living Colour, but couldn’t find black musicians that wanted to roll with me on the idea. Eventually I met Luis Rodriguez and Karl Hafner from Lucid Ground, and started playing with them. But I guess my biggest influence that got me started on playing drums was when I saw a Motley Crue video where Tommy Lee was twisting upside down in a fiberglass cage. That was cool.
Joe: My Dad was (and is) a trumpet player in several polka bands so I’ve always been around music, whether it was watching & listening to my Dad practice or going to some of his polka gigs. Music has always been a prevalent force in my life and it was always a natural thing in my house to figure out a song on the piano or keyboard. Everyone in my family listened to a different genre of music so I’ve been absorbing a wide variety of styles since I was little. It wasn’t until I was 14 when I picked up a guitar for the first time did I make a conscience decision to put serious effort into creating my own music. I remember that day like it was yesterday, it was as if I had opened the door to the land of Oz. It felt completely right. It’s one of the few decisions in my life that has actually worked out for
What was your most memorable show?
Brian: My favorite gig so far, was our last show at The Crown Tap Room in Chicago. We played with two really cool bands, Snake Island! from Nebraska, and The Bingers from Chicago. There weren’t many people there, but we were on fire. It was a fun place and the drinks were cheap.
Leonard: Most memorable gig for me was our 2nd show at Debonair in Wicker Park. That’s when I realized WKTL would work. It just felt right.
Joe: Our very first gig in Joliet. I don’t remember the name of the bar but we booked the show the day before and drove down there for the show. Up until that point my other band,72Hours, had gotten to a point in Chicago where we would only play certain venues and only on weekends (which is where you want to get as a band). WKTL playing a last minute show to a modest crowd of brand new people took me back to when I first started gigging. It was exciting and it felt like somebody had hit a ‘Reset’ button on everything I had done in theChicago music scene over the previous 15 years. That show really set the tone for the band’s philosophy of playing anywhere to anyone at anytime. That’s down & dirty rock and it feels good to do that and I think people really connect and appreciate that.
What can someone expect from your live show?
Leonard: You can expect a lot of fun at our live shows. We’ll give out t-shirts, CD’s, and condoms. Your good vibes will be multiplied 10 fold, and Brian does his Dr. Rockso impression on stage. VERY COOL!!!
Brian: It’s my Vince Neil impression.
Joe: Fun, rock & shots
Are there any other bands in Chicago (including the burbs) that you want to give a shout out to?
Leonard: I wanna give a shout out to A Friend Called Fire, Model Stranger, Bullet Called Life, Visionaire, Steel Chops, Six Degrees of Separation, Spare Parts, Cats and Jammers, Mason’s Case, Polarizer. I feel bad because I know so many.
Joe: Model Stranger, A Friend Called Fire, A Bullet Called Life, Polarizer, Dr. Kavorkian & the Volunteers, The Bingers, Red Mercury Sky, 72Hours (shameless plug), & there’s just far, far too many to name. But these bands, I feel, are the cream of the crop.
We Killed The Lion
Check out We Killed the Lion on the August 2012 Podcast