Karate Bikini | Listen, Try, Listen, and Try Again

gypsy karate-bikini_smHaving fun is fun, but we don’t want anybody to hurt themselves.



Recently, I was stopped a band of musical ninjas wondering around South City and decided there on the spot to interview them. The local indie pop band Karate Bikini includes a host of veteran performers: Tim McAvin (bass, guitar), John Horton and Mike Martin (guitar), Michelle Rae (sax, flute), Rich Ives (keyboards), Danny Hommes (percussion), and Adam Frick (various instruments).

gypsy karate-bikini

How did you folks get together?

AF: Tim posted on Facebook that they were looking for a trumpet, trombone, or some other instrument to complement the sax. My wife actually noticed it; I had been talking about getting back to playing again, and she put two and two together. I’m glad these folks were willing to give a French horn a shot; it’s been a ton of fun.

DH: I received an email from Tim one day that said something like, “You should play drums for Karate Bikini,” and I responded positively. It will forever be one of my favorite emails. I tried to find it and copy directly so as to be accurate but it seems to have been deleted.

MR: I had a drummer friend tell me I should join a new project. When I got the address, I found out that Tim only lived one block away. I was so excited to be able to walk to practice.

TM: I was playing with Joe from Tight Pants Syndrome; I was playing drums and Joe played bass. It was pretty rough, but there was something there. John called me and wanted to play. I got excited.

MM: Tim and I hadn’t really seen or spoken to each other in 15 years. A Facebook message from out of nowhere said three words: “Join my band.” Uh, OK.

RI: Tim seemed to recall that I played the trumpet some, but I don’t reckon I do. He seemed happy enough to be adding a keyboard player once reality was reestablished.

Which do you like better and why: studio versus live performances?

DH: For me, a good recording session is very rewarding, but in a “sense of accomplishment” kind of way. A good live gig is much more pleasure-centric in a way that only performers can really understand, and that’s even truer when the other band members surprise you musically. It happens frequently in Karate Bikini, and I love it. So while it’s nice to accomplish something, I’m going to have to go with pleasure.

JH: They’re both fun. They’re different. Every situation is different.

AF: Well, I’m an audio engineer by profession, so I’m most at home in the studio. But it’s been a really great change of pace to be in the same room with other musicians and play shows and feed that part of my personality.

MR: I am definitely a live show girl. It makes me so happy to interact with the band and the crowd.

MM: Maybe the studio; I can fool them a little better.

Who are your biggest influences for songwriting and playing?

DH: In Karate Bikini, that would be Tim. He’s the guy who brings in most of the songs, and those songs and his ideas strongly influence what I play. Followed by everyone else in the band. Outside of KB, I’m a fan of bands that experiment with sounds and textures a lot. Elbow and Wilco come to mind. Radiohead, of course. But at the same time, I love the storytelling songwriting of Dylan, [John] Prine, and [Loudon] Wainwright, as well as stadium rock like The Who and Foo Fighters.

TM: I’ve had huge musical phases: British invasion, [Brian] Eno, punk. The Beatles started it for me, though. Right now I’m coming off of a pretty fun country kick. I like the Shins and The Magnetic Fields a lot. I’m not sure how to explain my own songwriting; I work pretty hard at it. As far as musicians go, I really like the good ones.

MM: My answer used to be much more hipster than this, but as time has gone on, I realize my biggest influences are the people I’ve played in bands with through the years. That list would be huge, but to name a few: Jeff Barbush, Ann Hirschfeld, Sean Garcia, John Horton, Curt Hendricks, Bob Reuter, Jack Petracek, Steve Smith, etc. I’ve picked up different things from different people.

JH: I’m all over the place. I like a lot of different stuff..

What is your songwriting process?

JH: No real process, more of an intention.

DH: Referring to how I come up with percussion parts for Tim’s (or anyone else’s) songs: Listen, play, listen, modify, listen, refine, repeat.

MR: Listen, try stuff, listen to recording, try other stuff. Sometimes I just like to harmonize with something great going on, sometimes fill the holes.

TM: I write a lot of horrible stuff, seriously awful music. Then something comes through, and I try to work with it. The more I do it, the luckier I get. It’s the most awesome thing in the world that I get to bring music to Karate Bikini. It ain’t a free for all, though. Having fun is fun, but we don’t want anybody to hurt themselves.

RI: In this band? Try not to be in the way of all of the cool stuff that’s happening: finding moments to pop out and add something that makes things even cooler. It’s a constant challenge with such talented cohorts—a really fun challenge.

Tell me about your new album. Where can I get it?

DH: Physical copies at Euclid Records, CD Reunion, Vintage Vinyl; digitally, they’re just about everywhere, including iTunes, Amazon, etc. And shows, of course!

AF: We had three people mixing, including me, and everyone in the band sort of produced along the way. That was lots of fun and ultimately turned in to a really diverse but interesting album. I can’t wait for folks to hear more.

MR: I’ll be carrying them around in my purse for the foreseeable future.

JH: There’s some pretty cool stuff on the album. I dig it.

TM: The album is called A Simpler Sugar—twelve songs. There’s quite a range on the album. There’s more acoustic on this album than the last; Adam Frick’s French horn adds a lot. I like the flow from song to song. There’s some good playing on the album. I’m proud of this group of musicians and people; I’m fortunate that they indulge me.

MM: Well, I dropped out of the band for a little over a year to return to school. When I came back, they had written and recorded this album. Pretty damn good, I would say. Thanks for asking me to rejoin KB!

RI: It might still be evolving; give it multiple listens over many months.

What are your upcoming projects?

MR: In addition to some more great songs written by Tim, we have started to work on songs written by everyone in the band. So the next album will have one song by each member of the band on it. It’s been great fun to hear and work on what everyone has brought to the table.

What do you think of garden gnomes?

DH: They’re like little children: always underfoot and expensive when you get right down to it. I say “Gno thanks.” I literally say “Gno thanks,” but as the “g” is silent, most people don’t realize it.

AF: You can stop by my house any time and ask my gnomes yourself.

MR: I’ve been on the fence. Thought I wanted one, but wasn’t sure, so I bought one for my sister. She liked it so much, she kept it in the house.


MM: I’ve been waiting for a long time to be asked this question. My retirement plan is to open a gallery that only displays and sells artist-designed garden gnomes. If you think about it, it would be pretty damned cool.

RI: The real ones, right? I am offended by the plastic and concrete knockoffs.

JH: They remind me of a book I had as a kid. The book came before garden gnomes.


Who would have guessed garden gnomes would be such a hot topic? | DL Hegel

Check out Karate Bikini on their official website or Facebook page.

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