Local trio Kill Me Tomorrow might be a different band entirely if not for a string of drama-queen drummers.
“They were super high-maintenance,” bassist Kate “K8” Wentz explains.
“Like Animal from The Muppets,” adds her husband and the band's current (and less-drama-prone) drummer, Zack Wentz. “They had to keep that guy chained up.”
Animal, the Jim Henson puppet (reportedly based on The Who's Keith Moon), had such violent skills on the skins that he had to be shackled to his drum kit. Kill Me Tomorrow didn't have the option of imprisonment with the parade of percussionists that passed through their early lineup.
“We'd remake the band every time we'd find a new drummer,” Zack recalls. “We'd always have to make the drummer happy.”
When the Wentzes formed KMT as a “bedroom fool-around project” back in 1996, Zack sang and played guitar. In 1999, the couple moved from Portland to San Diego. The first person they met here was Dan Wise, the band's current guitarist.
“We had one last nightmare drummer,” Zack says. “At that point, we said, ‘No more.' We tried a drum machine for a while, but that sounded a little too canned. I knew how to play drums, so I decided to do it.”Zack hacked up his drum kit so he could play standing up.
“I didn't want some Don Henley bullshit,” he laughs, referring to the Eagles' seated, singing drummer.
With the new lineup solidified, Kill Me Tomorrow set about reinventing its sound once again. “[Kate and I] were listening to The Velvet Underground and The Beatles ad nauseum,” Zack recalls. “Our entire music collection had been stolen in Portland. When we got down here, Dan worked at Off the Record, so we started rebuilding our collection. We were pretty permeable then.”
In 2001, KMT put out its first album, Chrome Yellow, a VU/Joy Division inspired art-punk affair loaded with effect-pedal distortion. Three years later, the band dropped The Garbageman and the Prostitute, a concept album with a stream-of-consciousness narrative relating to a same-titled novel written by Zack. Kate did the artwork.
Released on now-defunct Gold Standard Laboratories (GSL)—the infamous California noise-punk label and onetime home to bands like The Rapture, The Faint and !!!—KMT's sophomore effort earned raves in the underground music scene, including a fawning write-up on Pitchfork.
Things were going well for the hardworking locals, who built up a solid national fanbase during extensive tours. In fact, as they toiled on their third album, the trio seemed poised to make it big like some of their labelmates. “Then the music industry took a shit,” Kate says with a sigh.
KMT had recorded Trap Like a Steel Mind on spec, which meant they didn't have to pay for studio time up-front. But then GSL shut down in 2007, and the band was suddenly without a label. They shopped the album around, but nobody snapped it up like they'd hoped. KMT's music didn't exactly scream radio-friendly, either.
It took the band more than a year to pay off its studio debt (Kate points out that they just broke even after last month's opening slot for Grand Ole Party at The Casbah). The third album is due out soon in a handful of formats: Local label Art Fag is releasing it on cassette, Moorworks is distributing a CD in Japan and Kitty Works is considering publishing the vinyl version. But the drawn-out process took its toll on the three musicians.
“It's been a hard year-and-a-half,” Wise says. “We had high hopes for [the album]. We thought we were moving on to bigger and better things. After a while, when you're always creating, you don't care about your old stuff. You care about what you're writing today. The whole record just becomes more and more, ‘I just want this off my shoulders.'”The three agree that they're not bitter—not now, anyway.
“If you'd asked me a couple years ago, I would've said yes,” Wise says. “But I just wanna play music.”
“Time heals all wounds,” Kate says with a trace of sarcasm. “I think we started enjoying music together a lot more in the past year-and-a-half. I think something broke.”
“It's looser,” Zack clarifies.
“More natural,” adds Kate.
This newfound comfort level is especially evident in the band's live shows, which are tight and fiercely intense. Zack pummels his drums so violently (not unlike Animal) that his sinewy arm muscles look ready to pop. Kate could be a sexy, platinum-blonde descendent of Kim Gordon, guiding the band with her taut basslines. And Wise, who seems the quietest of the three, appears lost in a trance as he plays.
Kill Me Tomorrow, who'll play an Aug. 28 farewell gig to local puppeteer Max Fields, who's moving to Los Angeles to attend art school, are busy finishing up new songs for their fourth album (which could actually precede their third). In December, they'll cross the pond for the second year in a row to play All Tomorrow's Parties in the U.K. In the indie scene, it's considered a high honor to play the curated festival; The Melvins and Mike Patton selected the lineup this year (locals Black Heart Procession will also play).
“I'm pretty happy with where we're at,” Kate says. “I feel like it's where we're supposed to be.” Kill Me Tomorrow perform on Thursday, Aug. 28, with Max Fields at The Casbah. 619-232-HELL. www.myspace.com/killmetomorrow.