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In Conversation

Transgression, Violence And Cocks: Kite Base Take On Krent Able
Patrick Clarke , June 5th, 2017 13:12

Former Stool Pigeon cartoonist Krent Able has become revered and reviled in equal measure. Kite Base, the new project from Kendra Frost and Savages' Ayşe Hassan, took the brave step of commisioning him...

Illustration by Krent Able

"The first thing I saw of yours was a drawing of David Lynch flying the Eraserhead baby… it was quite twisted…" says Kendra Frost of Kite Base to one of Britain's most notorious cartoonists, Steve Martin. Better known as Krent Able, that's as tame an illustration as he's ever done.

A one-time musician himself but perhaps best known his work with the dearly departed Stool Pigeon magazine, he approached the music world with a gleefully twisted eye for the utterly obscene, his strips replete with genitalia, gore and violence. From Sunn O)))'s summoning of Satan himself to crush Lily Allen to an interactive maze game where the aim is to help Pete Doherty pass a 'stubborn skag turd', and of course the infamous Doctor Nick Cave, whose unconventional medical techniques are based mainly around dismemberment, in the cartoons compiled in his 2012 Big Book Of Mischief there's a taboo transgressed in every panel.

Kite Base, the project of Frost and Savages' Ayşe Hassan, both of whom play bass, were not deterred by the artist's reputation, recruiting him to lend his ink to a poster for their tour earlier this year, which preceded the release of their excellent debut album. The four of us have met for a conversation at the Lexington, the gig venue that hosted the wake for the Stool Pigeon upon its sad demise in 2012. It was here the artist first encountered Hassan, who played with Savages that night, and the three crossed paths once more at a book signing for tQ's John Doran's book Jolly Lad, for which Martin provided illustrations.

As depraved and controversial as the work of his alter-ego can be, Steve Martin is as personable in conversation as can be imagined. His humour is dry and restrained, far from the maximalist mania of his Stool Pigeon cartoons. Where the divide lies between these two very different personas (Able represented in self-portraits as a kind of demonic wolf-man), is the subject of a new short film by Half Life Films, Ink, Cocks & Rock 'n' Roll; you can watch a trailer further down in this article, in which Martin, Hassan and Frost discuss how eating a cassette tape is the best way to determine its worth, the Stool Pigeon shaped hole in the music industry, and, of course, cocks.

Krent Able

tQ: Kendra and Ayşe, When you first encountered Krent Able, what did you think?

Kendra Frost: It just really made me laugh. I think I must just have a really twisted sense of humour

Ayşe Hassan: And I really respected the fact you had the balls to create that kind of art, it felt extreme just because I'm not used to seeing… cocks on Nick Cave! It really did jump out. I think you need that, it was exciting!

Steve Martin: People say it's 'brave' to do that kind of thing, but it's just a laugh for me. I'm not pushing myself, I'm just winding people up.

Steve, you designed Kite Base's tour poster, do many bands approach you for your services?

SM: Not really, no…

KF: Chickens!

SM: They probably think they're just gonna get cocks.

AH: We were a tiny bit scared of that...

SM: Turn the picture upside down and you will see the massive cock.

AH: There's actually an Easter egg on our site where if you type in a particular sequence of keys something else appears. I won't tell you what though.

A giant cock?

KF: Yep, a giant cock!

AH: I do love that, like when you find a secret track, stuff that a person has really thought about that you wouldn't expect. It adds that extra touch.

If a band you'd never heard of approached you, Steve, would you make a decision based on their music?

SM: Oh yeah, I'll say yes or no based on whether I like the music.

What did you like about Kite Base?

SM: I liked... the tunes! I'm a bit shit at descriptive stuff. It was really good! When I saw your record sleeves before they were minimal, grey and white, that's not really me, I'm a maximalist! But when I saw you live I could see the colours [I later used in the poster], the purple and black.

Krent Able's Kite Base Tour Poster

Kendra, you've written about how visual identity is really important to you as a musician, why is it such a focus?

KF: When I was growing up as a kid I was found eating my mum's cassette tapes, I destroyed most of her collection. I don't think she was too upset because it probably looked cute, a tiny kid happily eating Jimi Hendrix, but she sellotaped the rest of them so I couldn't get at them; all I could do was look at the art and imagine what it sounded like. It became a big thing for me, I got into a lot of my favourite bands now just by looking at the artwork first and trying to think what it sounded like, then I could see if I'd got it right or wrong. It was almost as important as the sound to me.

Were you often right when you tried to guess the sound?

KF: I think I got it in the rough area! I was only attracted to certain types of artwork, a consistent body of work. Yes and no, sometimes I was pleasantly surprised, sometimes I was totally put off.

Steve, as an illustrator yourself, do you like to focus on a band's artwork as much as their music?

SM: Yes, the two things really do come together.

KF: Did you do the artwork for your band when you were a musician?

SM: Yeah. There was a lot of maggots, children with maggots on their faces…

KF: Did any of the band ever say 'I'm not sure about this one, Steve…'?

SM: Yes. Some of them did. There was a Tom of Finland guy and he had a big maggot in his hand and a nail gun. They were saying it was homophobic… I didn't think it was homophobic. It was more insulting to maggots…

What's your favourite album cover of all time?

SM: The one that made the biggest impression when I was young was Nail, by Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel. It's got loads of guns all over the front and Russian constructivist lettering, and it's all red, it's really dynamic and almost scary. I went to the record shop and you look at the song titles and think Jesus, do I really want to get this? Then you'll think 'fuck it' and go back next week. The music and the art really went together, as one powerful concept. I also love Thee Oh Sees, they're pretty much my favourite rock band at the moment and their artwork is always brilliant. I wouldn't mind doing one of their sleeves…

Kendra, when you were trying to eat cassettes, which art were you drawn to?

KF: Probably something like Revolver, I remember spending ages looking at that artwork and trying to work it out, fascinated by the mix of illustration and collage, trying to work out what it was. I liked things that were detailed.

Does Savages have a visual identity that you make an effort to stick to?

AH: Yeah, we do. It's always hard creating your own album art because in the context of that it's four different people, four different ideas. With Kite Base because it's the two of us and we're very similar we have the same ideas. Things only need tweaking in general. I think it is really important to have visual identity, it's the compromise that's the main thing. I'm 100% behind everything I've put out, it reflects my ethics and my visual identity.

KF: That annoys me when the visuals don't match the sound. It puts me off the project

Steve, is it important to you that one person can look at one panel of a Krent Able cartoon and know it's you? That you're instantly recognisable by your visual style?

SM: I don't know if I am or not, my work changes all the time depending on the job. Other people say they can tell it, but I'm too close. It doesn't really concern me, just that I'm having fun doing what I'm doing. I don't like artists who stay the same because then you become a hack. I have to keep changing, keep pushing myself. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Do you think there's a Stool Pigeon shaped hole in the music press?

KF: Definitely, it's a real shame.

SM: You need the right people, like [Stool Pigeon editor] Phil Hebblethwaite. They were mavericks, they didn't give a fuck, in fact they liked to stir it up as much as possible. That's not really the attitude these days. If you look at Loud & Quiet or Crack, they're nice but they're just a bit too slick for my tastes.

AH: I used to love zines, things that were done by people and were DIY. I love the idea of a community and an area making something. That's harder in London, it's hard to find that. There's only a few publications I bother looking at, and they're all online. It's just really sad.

Have you ever been tempted to move out of London?

AH: Oh yeah, a lot. I'm not a fan of cliché so I absolutely love New York but the idea of me wanting to move there annoys me. That rebel part of me wants to reject that, it's the expected path. Maybe I should move somewhere isolated, like Iceland, somewhere I have no friends and I can start a magazine on my own.

KF: And deliver it by sled.

You've been a musician and later an artist in London for 25 years, Steve, how have things changed for creatives?

SM: You could squat quite easily, we used to rehearse in our house with rats running around. Sometimes the police would come round, bang on the door then stay and watch us.

KF: Really? That's amazing!

SM: Yeah! They'd say 'we've had some complaints' but then just hang around and chat, then they'd watch a whole rehearsal and say 'see ya lads'. We'd just move from one house to another, get evicted and take all our equipment out onto the street. It was so much easier.

KF: God, that would have been awesome. Digital platforms have made releasing your work so much easier, you can be autonomous, and writing and recording your stuff is much more possible, but having a space to rehearse and making it an affordable thing has done a complete swing.

AH: I did used to do something similar though, I had a music room in the spare bedroom of where I used to live because I shared. It was an old Victorian house and one of my neighbours actually moved out because of a full band rehearsal. I can understand now that psychologically it must have been a mind fuck for her to have non-stop noise of this fucking band rehearsing. I wouldn't change it, but I do feel guilty.

Have you ever had any reaction from someone you've drawn? There is a story about Nick Cave being spotted buying your book…

SM: Yeah, my friends were in a comic shop in Brighton hanging about and chatting at the till and he came in. I think he saw the picture of him in a frame with a massive forehead, laughed and said 'I'll have this'.

Is that the reaction you'd like them to have, to be in on the joke?

SM: Yeah I'd like to imagine that he leaves it in his toilet and when he needs a crap he'll flick through and have a laugh. I'm not trying to upset them, I hope they've got a sense of humour. I don't know what Goldfrapp thinks… apparently Daniel Miller is kind of OK with it. It's just naughty!

An excerpt from 'Doctor Cave', by Krent Able

How would you feel if you opened a copy of Stool Pigeon and saw a Krent Able cartoon of Kite Base?

AH: I'd love it! Life is so boring, you need humour like this!

KF: It is flattering! Just… a scary kind of flattering

AH: Why be so serious, I think it would be awesome if I saw a cartoon of me and I had a cock, I'd be sharing it everywhere. Although there was a rumour that I used to be a man… That may or not be true!

SM: That's album number two sorted then, you two on the front with massive wangs. You might have to change the music a little to make it match…

When coming up with a Stool Pigeon cartoon, how would you choose who to draw?

SM: They have to have enough character, that's why I like Nick Cave and Kanye West, even if they're annoying. If they're bland there's not much you can do with them. It gets harder and harder as pop stars get less and less interesting.

Do you think musicians are getting less interesting? SM: For me, yeah, but then I am getting older and I'm not keeping up with it.

KF: I think it's just harder to find them, harder for underground acts to break through, everyone's using the same slipstreams and those paradigms are getting broken. It's oversaturated with people making music, and that's a good thing about having platforms readily available. To access the mainstream is quite a shift.

AH: I feel like there are extreme acts but are they doing it just to be extreme? For me it's filtering out the interesting people making music but just being themselves. Also I think that because anyone can put their music up online, it kind of gets lost in a way. In the 80s when Throbbing Gristle were doing their insane performances I imagine it would have spread like fire by word of mouth. Growing up I considered myself alternative, I didn't fit in to a particular style, but nowadays I'd have fitted in great because everyone's trying to be different, and because of that everyone's becoming the same.

What were you like at school, Steve?

SM: I was quite a nice boy! Although I did used to draw the teachers and leave the drawings around the school. One of my teachers did find a drawing of her and start crying. I feel bad about that now…

Kendra, you've mentioned before that the subconscious is a big part of Kite Base's approach to music, could you tell me more?

KF: We didn't set out to form a two bass band, it was just a band with similar tastes learning to follow their gut. We had to feel around, figure out what were going to do and find the right sounds. I'd be walking around and something would come to mind and I'd jot it down, but it was then trying to translate that into sound, it became a focal point for the album. Exploring that together and bringing those together, we relied heavily on that process. You couldn't just sit in a room with a traditional set up and off you go, you really had to think about it.

Steve, how do you feel about the psychoanalytic approaches to your work, that Krent Able is an outlet for your own inner darkness?

SM: I'm just having a laugh! There is a lot of subconscious going on but I live more in my subconscious than the real world, it's impossible to articulate. I live in my own world.

AH: The subconscious is such a powerful source. Everything in every day from birth informs your subconscious, it's why I'm intrigued by people who approach their lives and art differently. There's so many boxes you're brought up with, like in Britain there's the idea of what a family is, people follow that imposed ideal. I feel like the way you [Steve] talk about living in your subconscious, I wonder how that's effected how you work compared to if you lived in a different society. I'm intrigued by all these rules and regulations.It's hard to step out of that and do things differently, you're so conditioned by the things you hear, the way you shop, language.

In Ink, Cocks & Rock 'n' Roll there's a point where you describe that you know what's right and what's wrong in your head. Do you have a limit?

SM: Yeah. Anything that offends me. You do have to be careful because sometimes you'll do something and think 'that's right, I know it's right, but no one is gonna agree that it's right, I'm gonna get so much shit for this.' But then you have to force yourself to do it anyway. It's your work, fuck them.

What's the last thing that offended you?

SM: I see a lot of shit on the news that's offensive, but I don't think that because something's offensive it shouldn't be done.

AH: I don't think I'd be making music if I was easily offended.

KF: You have to have a thick skin, or just be able to remove that.

AH: If I'm doing it, I'm gonna be doing it. A comment might hurt, but overall I wouldn't care. There's humour in so many things, if someone wants to insult something it makes me wonder what's wrong with them, not me.

KF: It's another twisted compliment, they've taken the time! A lot of my favourite things offended the shit out of a lot of people.

If a comic causes more offence than usual, do you see that as a kind of victory?

SM: Not really, some of them have been totally misunderstood and I’ll get a lot of emails.

Any in particular?

SM: There was one I did about Chris Brown after he beat up Rihanna. I was called sexist, racist, transphobic, I was getting emails and I'd patiently write back and try to explain how it wasn't, but it's a waste of time. You can explain it in a million ways, they're either going to get it or they're not. I don't feel pleased if people get offended, I just don't reply to the emails.

Kite Base's debut album, 'Miracle Waves' is out now on Little Something. They are also on tour this month, with all the dates here.

'Ink, Cocks & Rock 'n' Roll', starring Krent Able, Phil Hebblethwaite (Stool Pigeon) and The Quietus’ John Doran premieres on tQ on 22 June. You can find out more from Halflife Films here

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