We chatted to Isaac Koren, one of the members of The Kin, which is made up of two brothers (Isaac and Thorald ‘Thorry’ Koren) from Australia, and their unique hand-drumming drummer from New York (Mark ‘Shakerleg’ Nicosia). Having begun their musical journey in Adelaide where they were born, the Koren brothers have been making soulful alternative rock music in NYC for nearly two decades. Their latest album, Modern Primitive, signifies the end of an era for the the boys, as they look back on the path they forged in the midst of the music they love so much.
The second time we heard it was a few years later, as we wrote a song for our father’s second wedding. We were hiding in the bathroom as we wrote it and I remember the effect of the natural reverb on the sound of harmony over minor chords – we were hooked!
2. Who or what inspired you to move to New York to pursue your music dream?
It was a lot more accidental than that really. I was studying music and philosophy at Northeastern University in Boston and Thorald was finishing Performance High School in NYC, shedding 6 hours a day on his jazz hollow body in the stairwell. We lived in a two bedroom apartment on 58th and Avenue of Americas, right by Central Park.
We would get together on weekends in NYC, brothers hanging out again, smoking rollies, joints and drinking copious cups of tea. The Kin was born out of late night jams and digging through our childhood wounds together and trying to make sense of it all.
We had grown up in the perfect family from a happy Eastern suburb, and then our mother changed the rules on us. She had forgone her career on the stage for a seat in the ashram; this is where she met our father, meditating all day. Shoot to fifteen years later with three kids and she decides she needs to continue her path on Broadway. No one could stop her. She was unstoppable.
We were Aussie hippy kids, who now found themselves in the bows of New York City. We would cling to music as a safe place, I think. Perhaps we still do…
3. What was your initial impression of the American musical scene in NYC when you formed back in 2001?
We were totally absorbed in the Jazz scene. We would head down to the West Village on Friday nights at about 11pm and drink cheap red wine and eat peanuts until 4 or 5 am at SMALLS, watching the local Jazz musicians and soloists get up and shed their latest grievances on their instrument. The whole room was in a groaning trance and I could see my brother studying their fingers, dreaming of playing those notes.
We would sometimes head to the Blue Note and Thorald would nervously get up and try to follow the eager drummer who was challenging the blonde kid with an accent.
The Lower East Side was full of a rock and roll revival back then. Everywhere from Mercury Lounge to Bowery and in between was skinny kids who didn’t care what you thought of them.
4. Do you find that you draw upon any musical influences when creating your music or is there an artist that you are inspired by?
We are certainly influenced by everything that we ever hear, whether we like it or not. However, Kin songs were always downloaded and never consciously written. We never sat down at the piano and thought, “I need to write a song and it needs to feel like this”… perhaps we should have? The music always just overflowed and we caught it; sometimes from a dream or from recording a whispery voice note in the bathroom.
5. Your latest album, Modern Primitive, showcases a striking portrait of a young man with bruises – can you tell us the story behind that artwork direction?
That was how we felt after years of dealing with a major label and hauling our gear across the world. We don’t want anyone’s pity because we did it for ourselves and to serve the music, but we certainly got some dirt and blood under our fingernails. This album represents the final battle for The Kin. We are proud of our scars, as everyone should be; these wounds are where we draw our power from today.
6. You’ve toured with huge and renowned artists such as P!nk and Coldplay – from arena concerts to rural outback Australian gigs – what has been your most surreal, and most wonderful experiences from those tours?It was a real sweet last Aussie show for us to support Coldplay at the Enmore Theater. Those boys spoiled us with French champagne and were so kind to us. Some of the nicest blokes we’ve ever met. Their crowd had a real energy to it. Supporting P!NK in the Adelaide Entertainment Centre was emotional for me. That’s the city where we were born and to play our first show there was a real achievement for us. My godfather Ken, took me and my tour manager, James St Vincent, out the night before and I played the show with a raging hangover. We pulled it off however…
7. How did you find your drummer Shakerleg (aka Mark Nicosia)? Were you aware of him drumming with his hands in the NY subways or did you happen upon him by chance?Everyone knew SHAKERLEG back then in 2006. He’d yelled at everyone but you got where he was coming from; it was a wild passion to express himself. What a beast of a performer. He would jam on subway platforms with Theo Eastwind and they knew quietly that they had the biggest audiences in the local scene. They were stealing their ears, but they still had the widest reach. We all knew of how much of an animal and musician Shakes was. Just one day, we urgently needed a drummer for the Rise & Fall tour. We took our sighting of him as a sign and followed it.
8. Could you imagine ever doing music solo or do you feel that your bond as brothers (biologically and as mates) is what brings about the soul in your music?Yes we must do solo stuff. It would not be right to hold back from painting on our own canvass. Thorald and I will both explore those projects later this year. SHAKERLEG is also working on his music. The Brothers Koren have a writer/producer team that we are working with that we are excited about.
9. There are rumours that your latest album could well be the last you produce for a while. What are your plans whilst on musical hiatus?We are writing a broadway musical, not only is it a radical feminist rock opera but it is a way of bringing our family circle to completion and having one last hoorah in NYC. Watch this space!
QUICK RANDOM ONES:
– Favourite place for a drink in Manhattan?
First celebrity crush?
– Most loved holiday destination in the world?
– Thing you miss most about Australia?
Who would you most love to collaborate with?
– Most prized possession?