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King's Horses' Reformed Noise-Rock

Mar. 22, 2011
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The Milwaukee trio King's Horses formed from the ashes of—by their own account—a much worse band. Singer-guitarist Matt Slater, bassist Jack Packard and drummer Kyle Martin had been playing together in a self-described "very crappy pop-punk group" until its frontman defected, taking his songs with him and leaving the remaining trio to start from scratch.

"The hardest part of being a musician is not only finding your own voice, but figuring out that you don't need to conform to anything else," Packard says. "So we spent a lot of time when we were this crappy pop-punk band rationalizing what we were doing by telling ourselves, 'We think this is what people want to hear.' It was only in the last two or three years that we decided we would play what we wanted to play."

Figuring out exactly what King's Horses wanted to play, however, was complicated by the trio's diverging musical backgrounds. Slater is a Sonic Youth obsessive who shares with Martin a deep love of art-punk and Dischord Records-styled post-hardcore. Packard, on the other hand, boasts, "I brought to the band my complete and utter lack of music knowledge. Kyle and Matt are audiophiles and music geeks, and they can testify that I don't listen to any music at all."

That can lead to some squabbling when the band records—not sharing his love of Fugazi, for instance, Packard often tries to convince Slater to tone down his yelling—but Slater says that Packard's outside perspective ultimately has freed the band to grow its sound.

"I think because Kyle and I listened to so much of this music we could sometimes get bogged down with the form, following the rules of how it was supposed to sound," Slater says. "Because of Jack, we end up doing things we couldn't have even considered. It's like when a concert pianist watches a kid play a piano, and the kid does something that the professional never would have thought of, because the concert pianist is trained to play within certain guidelines."

"I think what Matt is trying to say," Packard adds, "is that I am a child playing piano."

The band's reinvention as a noise-rock trio was well timed to coincide with something of a renaissance period for Milwaukee noise-rock. Slater speculates that the city's righteous hardcore scene of a decade ago has mellowed and evolved as its players have aged, creating openings for bands that, like King's Horses, don't take themselves quite so seriously.

"For a long time I think we were lost in this pocket where we were too heavy for the indie kids but not hard enough for the hardcore kids, but I think people from that scene have outgrown the need for growled vocals and mosh parts, and now just want to hear a good song under all the distortion and noise," Slater says. "That has really worked out for us, because we're just not badasses, and we're not going to pretend that we are."

King's Horses play an album release show for their first full-length,
Polis, on Friday, March 25, at the Cactus Club with Terrior Bute, ZCFOS and Owner/Operator.


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