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As a producer, composer, music director, songwriter and performer, k.s Rhoads is rarely not pouring over someone else’s music. But busy as he is, he took the time to let me hound him with questions about The Wilderness, his sophomore album released earlier this spring. In classic k.s. form, this collection of songs is dense with layers of precisely placed notes, blankets of sound, and pages of instrumental narrative. Despite the title,Wilderness is anything but sparce. His lyrics rise to match the musical exactitude in their meaning, thoughtfulness, and intention.
According to k.s. the album is a lot like one of his favorite films—Beasts of the Southern Wild—a mix of tragedy but "in the face of sorrow, finding the fact that there is meaning and that there is good."
More about The Wilderness in his own words—
NL: Six years have passed between your first album (Dead Language) and this one (The Wilderness) — why so long?
ks: I think a lot of that was sort of logistics. My first record I had a team around it. I had somebody who had a studio and wanted to be involved in the record. It was being able to get a record done; feeling like you have the right record to make.
The thing about this record, and I don't normally say too much about records because you never want to say it means something to you that means something different to someone else—but I've got no qualms saying that it's sort of the first time that I've put out a bunch of music that's addressed my main concerns in this life. This feeling of "How are we here in this universe?" The dealings with mankind's relationship with God, the desire to need God and believe in it—all the things. The human condition in a nutshell.
I know it is crazy that this is only the second album in so long, but it's not going to be like that any more. I'm seriously on a mission to every year be releasing a big thing of music. I have about 100 songs and this album only has 11.
NL: Talk about the astronaut on the album cover.
ks: That shot actually worked out really great, it was just by accident. The first video for the song "Orphaned" should be coming out pretty soon and in the video I wore that costume the whole time. My original intention was that this guy crashes into a planet, is orphaned there and then he finds all these discarded robots in the junkyard. At the end they were supposed to build a ship together and leave or something, I don't know it was ridiculous. But I ended up walking all around the city, like downtown and coffee shops and everywhere.
What it feels like to me is it's about something being out of place. It's almost a suburban place and here's somebody in an astronaut outfit. I like that about the archetypal image of an astronaut; he's is still searching for something.
NL: Favorite track on this album?
ks: I love how "The Harvest" was produced. That song actually got written near the end of the record and once we were done with it I was with Cason Cooley (who produced the record with me) and told him it was sort of /would love it to be the pro quo for the record. Just the sound on that song. But it got produced so late, it was one of the last songs to go on the record.
I think maybe "The River of Suffering" is one that um I really feel. Because the day we were singing it— I was like "I gotta get into this song." So I spent a lot of time just sort of being quiet and looking at some things that are pretty sad going on in the world and trying to get into the mindset I was when I first wrote it. I think that's one of the main things with an album—the moment you write a song you will sing it it's best that day, that night. So if you've written a song a long time ago, you're trying to get back to that when recording/performing it.
NL: What are your Nashville favorites?
ks: Where to eat is amazing because it's become so much better in the past bunch of years. City House is one. Food there's great and it's sort of always at the top when people come to town. I love to take them there. Favorite place to see a show? That's one of those really hard questions too because there's something about each venue in town that I do like. I think 3rd & Lindsley's really good now, ever since they got that room really big, but... you know what I'd say—the best place to see a show is TPAC because I saw Matthew Perryman there with the ballet. It was AMAZING! And the sound at TPAC was so good. But, the Ryman. That's the answer.
NL: You 'wear a lot of hats' in the Nashville music scene, but literally — where do you get your hats?
ks: A lot of my hats have just happened throughout touring from certain places. Twice —I've had my favorite, MY hat taken. One I wore on the cover of Dead Language, that was like my Indiana Jones hat. I could fall off a building and it could float off to some other part of the city and somehow randomly someone would walk up and be like, "Is this your hat?" And then one day I played a show in New York and after the show this girl walked up and she said, "Oh, I like your hat," grabbed it and put it on all ridiculous and I got spun around and then she was just gone with my hat. And that's happened twice.
So now Otis James has come to town and he makes some great hats. He made me a couple and he's really good at it. He had a shoot for his website and I sort of wore the hats—I'm not going to say the word model because... but I wore the hats. He's great.
NL: What's next for you?
ks: Now that this album is done I'm going to start recording a project with this girl, Emily West, do you know her?
(of course—from our "It Girls" article an the December 2012 cover)
I really like it because the whole role of having to be the one to deliver the lyric is just taken off me and is put on her and I sort of get to just spend more time in the song and it's a really cool thing to do. And she is just naturally born to do that. I'm sort of on a mission to have that recorded by the end of this year. (Band name is still undecided— anything from Elephants Gerald to Les Comedienne).
Emily and k.s. made our Eight Need to Know Duos in Nashville list!
Pick up k.s.' latest album The Wilderness and keep an eye on his new project with Emily West on his twitter feed or soundcloud.