Danielle Dorky interviews rising Los Angeles band Kan Wakan about their 2014 debut album Moving On and the influences behind their experimental, genre-breaking sound.
The dramatic opening notes of “Forever Found”, the title track from Kan Wakan‘s 2013 EP, transport its listener to a seductive gala with mysterious figures who conceal revolvers in patent leather wingtips, the moments preceding a climax in a James Bond film. Rhythmic percussion followed by lead singer Kristianne Bautista’s deep, melodic voice quickly break the tension with simplistic lyrics that explore the frustration in need.
Forcing Kan Wakan into a musical genre would require a Venn Diagram. If their primary circles are post-rock and jazz, floating in the shared space would be psychedelic soul, orchestral pop and alternative folk. Each of Kan Wakan’s members brings a unique musical background and expression to the group, but instead of one style reigning over the others, they create a sustainable symbiosis that allows them to slip effortlessly between genres, stupefying listeners with songs that recall everything from Nina Simone to Bill Withers to Little Dragon to Explosions in the Sky.
Formed in 2012, Kan Wakan is the symphonic innovation of composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Gueorgui I. Linev. Originally from Bulgaria, Gueorgui traveled throughout Europe and England before eventually “settling” in Los Angeles, and there is little doubt he brings this wide range of influence to Kan Wakan’s music. What was originally imagined as a small orchestral ensemble quickly evolved when vocalist Kristianne Bautista and guitarist/producer Peter Potyondy joined the group.
Kan Wakan’s four-track EP Forever Found creates a soundscape so rich and expansive that to simply cast it as “experimental” neglects its thoughtful intricacy and weaving of genres. The influence from Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief engineer Darrell Thorp is clear in the chilling two-part track “Midnight Moon”, a tranquil orchestration featuring a lazy, loping bass and rebellious saxophone punctuated by Kristianne’s unwavering alto vocals.
Kan Wakan plans to follow up their brilliant Forever Found EP with the release of their full-length debut Moving On this Spring. Their Monday night February residency at Echoplex earned them top concert pick of the week by LA Weekly and each show brings more praise as the band wins the ears of Echo Park residents and beyond.
Kan Wakan was kind enough to interview with Danielle Dorky and share details about their 2014 album, plans for touring as well as a bit of insight into what Kan Wakan means and how the band name was chosen.
DD: From what I’ve read, Kan Wakan is a derivative version of the Tagalog word “Kalawaka” which alludes to space, solar systems and atmosphere, as well as the Lakota Native American words “Can” and “Wakan” which loosely translates to eternal (“Can”), sacred (“Wakan”) and “Sun dance” (“Can Wakan”). How do these definitions inform your style of music?
KW: Our lead vocalist, Kristianne, and bassist, Ian are both Filipino so that’s where the Tagalog influence comes from. It fits us well because our music is often described as spatial and we strive for a sort of inclusiveness that lends itself well to galaxies and atmospheres.
As far as the Lakota Native American phrase, Georgui is very interested in Native American culture, so that’s kind of his take on the name. I think both definitions are fair descriptions of the music we make.
DD: Who are some of the band’s musical influences?
KW: There are really so many and it varies for each band member. People would be surprised to know that Kristianne played in a garage rock band before joining Kan Wakan so she brings some of that with her. Some of our other influences would include Bill Withers, Wilco, Nina Simone, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen and Brian Eno. I think that variety of influences is why our sound can be so difficult to describe, it’s a lot of different perspectives.
More specifically, what were some of your inspirations for your forthcoming debut album “Moving On”?
KW: I’d say its a melting pot of anything from classic films, Jean Claude Vannier, travel, tightly knit atmospheric backdrops, Bill Withers, soul, Pink Floyd… There is soo much.
What can fans expect to see during your February Echoplex residency?
KW: A lot of new songs from our upcoming record. We’ve worked hard on picking artists we really enjoy and curating a line up that more or less showcases some of what we’re into. On night 4 (February 24th) we welcome a couple of surprise guests that we’re truly excited about. Together they form the anagram: Suave, measly buffoonism. Also, on night 4 we’ll feature a 6 piece string ensemble during our set.
DD: What are your plans after the album is released? Any festivals or a tour on the horizon?
KW: Touring is definitely on the agenda, and especially for us, one of the most exciting bits about being in a band.
We’ll be heading out to Noise Pop Festival to perform at the Chapel in San Francisco on Feb 27, followed by ViVa PHX in Phoenix, AZ on March 7th, before we drive to Austin for our first ever SXSW experience. We’re very much looking forward to touring the UK in April-May which is also when our album drops over there.
Watch their new video for “Forever Found” above and be sure to check out Kan Wakan’s last show in their February residency at The Echo on Monday, February 24th. For more information about the Moving On release date or 2014 touring schedule, visit Kan Wakan’s website or social media.