Spotlight: Killick Hinds

Whether performing acoustic dronefests with the latest Paul Vo technology, or jamming with his band Pocketful of Claptonite on his fretted, fretless, or micro-fretted Teuffel, Toone, or New Complexity Harmonic Isolator instruments, Killick Hinds defines the modern guitarist. The Athens, Georgia resident performs steadily locally and sporadically elsewhere in a variety of improvising situations. Here he articulately discusses the foundations and process of his art and the tools with which he creates it.

What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?

Proficiency is something I stumbled into in stages and with many plateaus. The first time I plucked a guitar string, it felt like a natural extension of my desire to communicate complex feelings and ideas, which before guitar was limited to speaking and writing (and at the age of 12 was limited to the vocabulary and life experience of a 12 year old). Guitar vastly expanded the possibility of meaningful dialogue in my life. Guitar playing suited me, mechanically and practically. I attempted playing most popular and unpopular styles, finding a raw ability here, an impenetrable roadblock there, but always with discovery and joy amidst the unknown. And overall, I was an okay-player. In my mid-20s, I began a very different path through an extraordinary collaboration with builder Fred Carlson of Santa Cruz, California. Happening upon American Lutherie magazine and Fred’s Sympitar (a guitar with additional resonating strings), I knew I had to contact him. Through a series of letters (a different age) we derived a plan for a bowed, quartertone-fretted, upright guitar to be called the H’arpeggione, an instrument and neologism based on the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle (a sympathetic-string violin) and the Italian bowed guitar of antiquity known as the arpeggione. Fred was so kind during the process, incorporating my growing interest in expanded timbral reach, increased pitch range, and harmonically dense tonal shaping. He knocked it out of the park, although the difficulty factor for me as a musician rose dramatically. For about ten years the H’arpeggione was my main instrument and focus, and I became quite good as a player and conceptualist, the secret being my practice at the quietest dynamic level possible, late at night, as my wife slept a few feet away. If she stirred, I was too loud. This imposed an attention to subtlety that was the key to becoming myself on “regular” guitar when I returned to it around 2006. Lately I’ve been playing the H’arpeggione much more; it’s all come full circle. Somewhere along the way, I began calling my music Appalachian Trance Metal, drawing on the harmonics of what these words imply. That’s where I found my proficiency. And through the past three years with the Vo-96 acoustic synthesizer, I’ve learned what it means to chill as a musician; this has radically informed my playing on any instrument.

A friend reminded me recently that when I was just starting out my concern was with what I called “emotional technicality”…today I consider this “fluidity.” It can take many forms.

What led you to create more experimental (non-mainstream) music?

From the beginning I gravitated organically to clearing my mind and letting my fingers do their thing. I tried to contextualize it: “soloing,” “practice,” musical humor. I now know this pursuit as free improvisation or shamanistic presentation. Before I heard Sun Ra, Phillip Glass, John Zorn, Pauline Oliveros, or John Cage, I had my natural exploratory inclinations, yet without a neat fit in the superstructures of heavy metal, punk, hardcore, pop, classical, and what-have-you. Each uncategorizable iconoclast I heard through USA’s Night Flight, David Sanborn’s Night Music, and through WNYC radio’s New Sounds offered a trail of popcorn away from the categorical woods. Every sound in the natural and made world additionally influenced my emergence as a composer (preordained improvisation) and an improviser (spontaneous composition). Insects, wind, water, fire, and the silence of winter were vastly integral to my development. I’m glad I don’t fundamentally experience the separation between genres or extra-musical purposes any longer. I recognize that many people strongly make these distinctions, and I navigate accordingly. But audiences are open-minded nowadays. Increasingly, there is the phenomenon of cross-pollination with mass media exposure. The average truck commercial or blockbuster film score contains sounds you’d only have heard on an Einstürzende Neubauten record not so long ago. Hip-hop and offshoots like Trap and Bounce and Footwork make brilliant use of polytonality and the widest spectrum of color, raising the bar for any of us in the neighborhood of avant-garde.

Whose music inspires you? Past and Present.

Thousands of recordings and hundreds of live music encounters for sure have been pivotal for my enjoyment and development. One thing I really miss is the immersion into imagination by way of piecing together scraps of information about an artist. A coming-soon post in a magazine meant you’d (maybe) get more details next month. What did they look like, who were they, really? Cover artwork offered a few clues, and sartorial choices allowed me to join their mission until either they or I evolved, or not. Mystery in these realms is all but gone today. Perhaps one nice consequence is we have discovered the musical gods are just mortals, with light bills and corrective lenses. And yet they create beauty and primal energy, some for many decades running. Some (and only some) incredibly inspiring artists: Metallica, Slayer, Huun-Huur-Tu, Masters of Persian Music, Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane, Jon Gibson, Pharoah Sanders, Shakti, Joni Mitchell, Meshuggah, Kronos Quartet, Michael Hedges, Michael Manring, Hamid Drake, Ken Vandermark, Dave Rempis, Voivod, Paolo Angeli, Oumou Sangaré, Steve Vai, Sándor Szabó, Habib Koité, Mastodon, Converge, Jeff McLeod, Colin Bragg, Blake Helton, Jeff Crouch, Julie Caldwell, Funch, the Georgia Guitar Quartet, Blaise Siwula, Mahmoud Guinea, The Police, Masada, Choying Drolma, Johnny, Henry Kaiser, Mary Halvorson, Charlie Rauh, Harvey Valdes, 247, King Crimson, Chicago, Black Sabbath, ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Cat Stevens, Joanna Newsom, Tinariwen, Id M Theft Able, and classic arcade game music—my fascination with which continues.

Lately, I’m wild about Laura Marling, Kaushiki Chakraborty, Gojira, Naia Izumi, Barbara Hannigan, and Ukandanz. Also the lesser-known musicians I work with, like my brother/colleagues in Thunder O(h)m!, Crazy Hoarse, and Pocketful of Claptonite, as well as Ezra Buchla, Kathleen Duffield, Jamie Thomas, Michael Pierce, Beto Cacao, Scott Eggert, Chelsea Dunn, Alec Livaditis, Claire Campbell, Claire Dunphy, my student Teri Hamlin, and the wildly talented musicians here in Athens, Georgia. Of course, my love for the above-mentioned music continues as I incorporate new artists into the fold.

How did you get better at your current style?

My current style is to be flexible. Lately I’ve been practicing with a rock band called Gumshoe, where I seek to blend in. I can only be myself, and hopefully I’m appropriate to the purpose. When it’s just me solo, I have the advantage of there being no expectations. I go with the tenor of the room and audience interaction to create an architecture and flow. Genre and approach follow the exchange of sensibilities, instead of the other way around. When I’m with an improvisational ensemble, my goal is group cohesion, a collective transcendence. I don’t tend towards fast runs on the high frets or (too much) power chording, which already is a subversion of the guitarist-as-leader role, even when nominally I am the bandleader. In a compositional setting, whatever is warranted is what I strive for. My pedagogy includes hyperkinetic (and panrhythmic, pantonal, panharmonic) flourishes and passages; long periods of limited motion; tonal or extended chording; linear lines; textural extractions from the strings or body of the instrument; playing between my fretting hand and nut; rapid arpeggiations; moving in and out of metronomic and felt time; and infinite combinations of all of these techniques. Having a foundation in Western classical theory is very helpful. My high school in New Jersey gave me three years of music theory, and I absorbed tons vicariously from the University of Georgia’s graduate music studies by way of friends. I’m eternally grateful. But there’s definitely no checklist. Every time I play I start fresh. The conversation goes where it will. I don’t know if I get better. New combinations emerge all the time, which is exciting to me.

What are you trying convey with your music?

I’m at my best when I’m making music, especially when I’m not thinking about making music. It is something that has been a huge and redemptive part of my life, and I am glad to share it. Ideally, listeners will find something that shifts our perspectives, theirs and mine, at least a little. Since I was young, I’ve loved self-publishing. Visualizing a project and its completion is a self-fulfilling catalyst to make it reality. After the collapse of the record industry, I began to miss making CDs: the cover art, the liner notes, recording/mixing/mastering, and the sequencing. I generally don’t print up physical media any longer, but I can be as prolific as I like with the Internet. It’s ideal for that, at least.

The bigger picture is that I love doing this thoroughly. Bringing attention to underutilized pathways in my own body, mind, and soul has brought forth a great deal of healing and intangible (yet undeniable) benefits in my life. If I believe in anything, it’s the transformative potential of contemplation, art, cross-cultural exchange, and dialogue. I’ve found that those ideas have to come to clarity within myself before externalization is warranted. There’s no arrival point; it’s constant work.

Which guitars, amps, effects, plug-ins and software do you use to create your music, and why?

I have about 10 guitars, each totally different from the next. I intuit which will work best for a given situation, but sometimes I like the additional challenge of playing a “harder” instrument for a certain result, for example, when I’m doing something that suggests lots of chording, I might play fretless; when I need to go microtonal, maybe I’ll do it with frets, trying to figure out how to get around the bumps in the road. The easier way is fine, too. I feel the same about effects. I have about 20 pedals, a collection assembled to push me into new territory. With a few exceptions, my pedals don’t instantly make me sound “good” or “better”…they have to be finessed individually and in tandem. Just like I don’t have a set of stock licks, I don’t have a specific signature sound, at least not an equipment-induced one. Live I generally bring one or two guitars and if possible will run direct. If I need lots of juice, I’ll bring my beloved Schroeder amp (formerly known as the DB7), which can really get the walls rattling and sounds so warm and comforting. I’ve also learned that I prefer having an electric guitar if there’s a drummer involved. For years I would often play acoustic in a loud setting; it could be thrilling, but I was limited to the top of my dynamic range throughout the performance. I prefer lots of headroom now…

For my most recent studio recording, Garfield minus Hetfield’s zero depravity, recorded totally live in one take with no edits, I used two guitars: my Teuffel Tesla quartertone-fretted 7-string (tracks 1-4) and my Rick Toone Walrus with its interchangeable fretted neck (tracks 5-9). I went through my Vertex pedalboard with overflow Holeyboard patched in.

The guitar goes into a Vertex interface and volume pedal. From there it goes to a JHS-modified Boss GE-7 equalizer, a Wampler Ego compressor, an Electro-Harmonix Freeze, a Mantic Flex Pro distortion and a Blackout Effectors Twosome distortion. The signal is then patched to Holeyboard pedalboard, through an Earthquaker Devices Pitch Bay, two TC Electronic Dittos, into a MASF Possessed delay, a Chase Bliss Spectre flanger, an IdiotBox Blower Box distortion, an FEA Labs Dual Engine Compressor Limiter, a Neunaber Chroma chorus, and an Earthquaker Rainbow Machine. It then goes back into the Vertex board and continues through Hologram Dream Sequence, Neunaber Wet reverb, and JHS Stutter pedals into a Lehle Little Dual router to an Electro-Harmonix 2880 looper and a Vertex interface buffer.

All of this went into a Kemper profiler amp on a Fender Twin Reverb setting with only a pedal pitch-shift as an effect, which was recorded direct. The signal also went into the Schroeder with a miked cabinet. The two were blended for what you hear in the final recording. Sometimes I use almost all the pedals at the same time and sometimes just one or two. My engineer Jesse Mangum used Cubase to capture and finalize the music.

When I record at home, I prefer Logic, and I’m crazy about the Plogue Chipsounds plug-in, which I can use via Jam Origin’s revolutionary MIDI Guitar, offering multi-string tracking without a special pickup. I used Chipsounds on about half of the studio album I made last year with bassist Michael Manring.

Which do you enjoy more: recording or playing live and why?

I definitely enjoy both equally. Both seem to take the same amount of preparation and effort. Making a document under the microscope of the studio is thrilling, and so is the tightrope act of live performance. I used to get worked up and anxious before a performance. What helped was the realization that the moments before, during, and after performance are just that, moments unconcerned with the task before me. There’s no separation. That said, I have to make sure I’m warmed up. Studio anxiety is slightly different. Mostly, it’s worry about the ticking money clock. Coming in prepared and methodically getting from point A to point B is essential. The Garfield minus Hetfield album was the second recording I did that day. The first was the art’s the art that gives us strength to face the tyrant. We arrived at the studio at 1pm and I was home by midnight with two completed albums, posted on Bandcamp the next day. It’s taken trial and error to become efficient. And it’s a necessity since music sales are so diminished.

How have you built up an audience for your music?

Although I’m quite obscure, I have been at this for a very long time. Perhaps tenacity is why I have an audience. I’m very fortunate to have people interested in attending my concerts or listening to an album online or otherwise. I don’t take it for granted, and I deeply respect someone spending his or her time (or money) in pursuit of the muse with me. I always give 100% of my abilities. And that means me loving what I offer, warts and all. Transparency might be another reason. What you get with my music is down to me. No managers or corporate directives or quarterly profits to satisfy.

With whom would you like to collaborate and why?

I’m glad to collaborate with people who are thrilled with their own involvement in the creative universe. Whether that’s luthiers, visual artists, musicians, dancers, poets, filmmakers, or visionary designers like Paul Vo, my life has been made immeasurably more interesting because of their dedication to craft. My guitar builders Scott Baxendale, Ulrich Teuffel, Fred Carlson, Rick Toone, Lewis Waters, Wes Lambe and the unexpected gift of Craig Jordan’s lyre have been a constant source of inspiration. I’ve gotten to play with some of very best musicians in the world, and it’s been a true honor. It’s mostly unfolded organically, and led to new dimensions taking root. The best collaborations are the ones just around the corner.

What is your latest project? When will it be available and where can people in different parts of the world get it?

I tend to crank out lots of releases. Sometimes I retreat a bit, but there’s usually something brewing. I’m hoping to wrap up a large collection of poetry sooner than later. And you can always check my website or Bandcamp for the latest music. I make all of my recordings available for free (or name your own price). There are lots of videos on YouTube as well. Thanks for listening.

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2 thoughts on “Spotlight: Killick Hinds

  1. Killick’s music and words are such an inspiration! He’s someone who has tapped into truly consciousness-expanding sound.

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