You & I in the Kaleidoscope
A delicate glockenspiel melody floating above a guitar rock apocalypse, fearing for it's' life. The Clash performing the Carmina Burana. A heartbreaking James Bond love scene soundtrack, covered by The Cure and produced by Phil Spektor. Yes, classifications can be deceiving. Just ask Kites mastermind Jean-Philip Grobler, who's been toiling away at his new EP 'You and I in the Kaleidoscope' for nigh on three years. 'I wanted the 4 tracks on the EP to represent everything that to me is beautiful about pop music, and that took a lot longer than I thought', he laughs. With '...Kaleidoscope', Jean has gone beyond creating just beautiful pop music. He's crafted a perfect pop record that is irresistibly catchy, while still being able to surprise you at every turn. The guitars are often loud and big, but they're juxtaposed by Jean's layered, almost silk-like vocals and counter melodies. There is incredible intimacy and tenderness, as in the heart-wrenching 'Game of Love and War', but just as you're about to shed a tear, Heroes and Villains comes along blazing all it's' ominous dance-rock cannons. Planet-size choruses are flung at you like cars through the Holland Tunnel, and razor-sharp hooks come so thick and fast it's like standing on the wall-side of the world-championship Darts tournament. For every inch of inspired pop-majesty, however, there are mountains of texture and aural-delicacies aplenty. Whether it be the Ska-meets-Baroque middle section of Easy Now, or the delicate melancholy of Daylight's breakdown, the four tracks on '...Kaleidoscope' contain enough auditory bliss to fill an entire sugar refinery. So now you might be asking: 'Why did it take 3 years to make only sixteen minutes and forty-two seconds of music?' Well, you might be even more flabbergasted to know that, actually, the whole story began in Johannesburg, South Africa, a lot longer than 3 years ago. Jean was born to an English speaking mother and an Afrikaans father, and even before he could talk was singing along to Michael Jackson music videos on South Africa's answer to MTV; an hour long TV show called 'The Springbok Hit Parade'. Before long he was enrolled at the Drakensberg Boys Choir School, South Africa's answer to the Vienna Boys Choir (but whom actually beat the VBC in a choir competition), a boarding school situated deep in the Drakensberg mountain range. He attended 11 hours of choir practice per week, went on tours to Japan, Australia, Europe and the USA, and developed a love for Brahms and...Radiohead. 'It was my very pithy attempt at Rock 'n Roll rebellion, but it meant a lot when we were traveling and pretty isolated most of the time to have that small bit of access to this mysterious other world of music that wasn't classical or 'light' pop music.' Because access to records was limited, Jean listened to the same records over and over and soon taught himself the evil of evils; Guitar. 'One of the guys at the schools' parents bought him an electric guitar and an amp at some point, and I remember standing outside, turning the amp up to 11, playing a power chord and hearing it echo down this enormous empty mountain valley. We never saw that amp again.' After that small, if epic, taste, Jean knew he had to have more Rrawk, and soon after leaving the choir school bought a guitar, an amp, played in loads of bands, and devoured records like they were boerewors rolls (South African Hot Dogs). Once finished high school, Jean moved to Liverpool, England to attend Sir Paul McCartney's Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts to study music. The cold, grey, damp and famously depressing home of The La's and that-other-band The Beatles served as a massive learning experience for Jean. 'Because we didn't have MTV or a lot of access to 'underground' records for a long time in South Africa, I had a lot to learn when I got to England. I discovered a lot of great music I'd never even dreamt of.' Besides listening to music, attending lectures by the likes of George Martin, and regularly strolling down Penny Lane, Jean played venues like The Cavern Club and the famed 'Bandwagon' club night at The Zanzibar. His fondest memory of the whole period, however, was a compliment he received from Sir Paul himself'. 'We had a songwriting class with him (Sir Paul), and after the class the Rector told me that Paul was the most impressed with what I had played out of everyone in the class. At the time I was really nervous though and thought I'd buggered it up by burping in the most important bit'. It was in his final year at the school, though, that Jean wrote the songs that appear on '...Kaleidoscope'. 'I began pursuing a darker and more conflicted direction in my songs, and those 4 were the strongest that came out of that period'. Jean played the songs with his band at the time, but the band soon split up when all the other members, who were Norwegian, moved back home. After graduating, Jean moved to New York and began working in a recording studio. Staying after hours to experiment with sounds and teach himself how to use the equipment, Jean began developing a sound world for the songs. 'I didn't really know what I was doing at first. I just had these songs that I felt had a certain depth and mystery, and I really wanted the arrangements to convey that. I was learning how to record and make sounds as I was going along'. Focusing on interesting sounds and combinations of sounds rather than perfectly recorded sterility, Jean added layer upon layer until he felt the arrangements matched what he had in his head. 'I mean, really, in the beginning you never know where you're going to end up. But the more you work at it the clearer it becomes and soon you realise how much more you'll have to work to achieve that feeling you get from your favourite music, as cheesy as it sounds. I knew that I had a lot of work to do, and I really didn't want to skimp on getting it exactly right'. After feeling satisfied with his demos, Jean decided that he would need to re-record everything, and with a live drummer. The choice was easy. Jean invited his long-time collaborator, friend and drummer extraordinaire Jay Sikora from Manchester, England to play drums. Adding a new layer of rhythmic sophistication, Jay almost completely redifined the EP in the space of 6 hours. 'Jay is an incredible drummer, and the moment he hit the kick drum on the first track we recorded I knew that I would have to re-record everything. I only realised then how lifeless the songs sounded before, he reincarnated them. It's no wonder his nickname is Doctor Groove.' Taking another 6 months after hours at his studio to re-record everything, Jean realised that he would need an extraordinary mixer to give the songs the clarity they needed. 'There was so much stuff going on, 80 Audio tracks in Easy Now, 68 in Game of Love and War, that I needed to have someone who really understands the process and knows where I'm coming from to mix the EP'. That's where Andy Baldwin stepped in. Having met at a studio, Andy and Jean realised that they shared an affinity for similar bands, mixers and producers, and so they struck up a friendship. It wasn't long before Jean realised that Andy had to mix 'You and I in the Kaleidoscope'. 'He's had so much experience, and he's from the Southern Hemisphere, so I asked him and he reluctantly agreed. Reluctantly because he'd heard some bad things about us South Africans'. And the result, my by-now-well-educated friends, is 'You and I in the Kaleidoscope'. Four tracks of extraordinary proportions by a band called Kites. Muscle, tenderness, janglyness, beauty, sadness, love, war, heroes, walking down streets ...too many things to mention here, and definitely a lot of contradicting things that will just confuse you further. It's played with lots of instruments, and has a lot of melody, but as well as it's been described and discussed in this document, it really must be heard to be understood. And it probably needs to be heard a few times to really be understood. It's accessible, but has a lot of extra gifts to give on repeated listens. It is complex, yet simple. Very, very big and yet, at times, very very small. In an ocean of cute-indie music made with toy instruments, it dares to stick it's' head out of the water. And yet it also has toy instruments. So listen to it, and despite it's' contradictions, let it take you on a journey. And be glad that there is more to come.