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the latenight callers

Behind the Scenes with The Latenight Callers

For the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring artists playing the MidCoast Takeover fundraiser shows, sponsored by Midwest Music Foundation.

It’s 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning, which for this reviewer typically equates to a dog on each side and blanket after blanket piled upon my bed. Instead, I’m braving the brisk winter air of Midtown to talk with a band whose name is acutely contradictory to my being awake.
If you don’t know them, you have to wonder what The Latenight Callers are really like, especially during the early morning hours (relatively speaking). You also might be wondering what the band’s new recording sounds like. To provide a quick perspective: the four members (Ms. Ellen [O’Hayer] was unavailable for comment that day) were awake and pleasant, and the upcoming LP leaves nothing to be desired for this skyrocketing Kansas City group.
I met with Ms. Julie, Mr. Mac, Mr. Nemeth, and Mr. Combs at Weights and Measures Soundlab, where they’ve been tracking with veteran engineer (and musician) Duane Trower (currently of Olivetti Letter; formerly of Season To Risk, Doris Henson, Overstep).
“The character of Duane’s gear helps us portray the character of the band, in the essence that everything is out of another time,” said baritone guitarist Krysztof Nemeth. Trower boasts an array of obscure, vintage gear, as well as equipment he’s built himself, which the band believes help keep its sound as unique as possible.
Unlike the band’s previous two EP recordings (The Latenight Callers and Easy Virtues). the full-length will be mixed by Trower (who mastered Easy Virtues) instead of recorded by Nemeth. Keyboardist/electronic sound guru Nick Combs mentioned that Trower seemed to be the perfect fit for the band’s upcoming album. “We needed someone that wouldn’t make us sound precious. With Duane’s own experience as a musician, we knew he’d give us the heftier sound we’ve been looking for.” Recording in a studio has given the band the freedom to explore its music, most of which will be new and some of which will be re-recorded from the first EP.
The new full-length, still untitled, seems to be more of a collaborative effort than previous recordings, with tracks built by each individual member to serve each song. The Callers’ first EP was written, produced, and performed by Nemeth and frontwoman Julie Berndsen, before the other three members were added to the mix. After 3 years, the band has gained a collective maturity and a strong foothold in the local scene, and the new tracks show that each member knows what element to bring to write a song that is uniquely The Latenight Callers.
Berndsen noted, “Everyone has the goal of creating a cohesive song, but we had to really think about… does each piece complement the particular song?” Berndsen and O’Hayer recorded their vocals in a session after each instrument had been laid down, which, according to the group, enhanced the emotive aspects of each track.
“With recording, we have to step back from our individual roles and look at it from a distance to gain perspective of what our audience will recognize and respond viscerally to,” said Nemeth. Combs added, “Instead of just one person’s vision, it’s all five of us. We’re listening to the arrangements and orchestration instead of just thinking about ‘my part.’”
With plans to release this album in the spring and big shows in the works, 2013 promises to be another tremendous year for The Latenight Callers. Stay tuned.
Editor’s note: Bassist Gavin Mac was available for comment, but settled upon curling up in the studio’s comfortable leather couch and settled in for a long winter’s nap. Left-handed bass players are prone to hibernation at this and all other times of year.
The Latenight Callers will be performing some of the songs from its upcoming album this Friday, February 1, at Czar Bar, for the second MidCoast Takeover fundraiser show. The Callers will headline the show, playing at 12:00 a.m. after Jorge Arana Trio, Eyelit, and Tiny Horse. Tickets are available here. The band will also be performing at the MidCoast Takeover show at SXSW on Saturday, March 16 at Shangri-La in Austin, Texas.
Photos by Randy Pace. Please do not use without permission.
--Michelle Bacon


Artists on Trial: The Latenight Callers

(Photo by Mat "Slimm" Adkins)

Five shadows emerge from a table in the corner of a dark room. The table is littered with empty liquor bottles, half-smoked cigarette packs, Zippos, playing cards, guitar picks. A Gretsch baritone crunches and rings out, followed by swaggering rhythms and vocals, dripping with sexual overtones. The sights and sounds you’re hearing are characteristically those of The Latenight Callers, Kansas City’s favorite noir band. We feature them in this week’s Artists on Trial, so pour yourself a glass of bourbon and read on.

The Deli: Gun to your head, 1 sentence to describe your music. What is it?

The Latenight Callers: "The house-band at David Lynch's pool-party...and is that a Walther PPK?"

The Deli: Let’s talk about your upcoming shows or recordings. What can we expect?

TLNC: We've got lots of shows in the next few months, but we're REALLY excited about hitting the studio during the dark days of winter. We're planning on 2013 being a lucky number for us.

The Deli: What does “supporting local music” mean to you?

TLNC: These days, it seems that the best definition would be to GO SEE bands performing live! It's great that you can download anyone's music, anywhere, anytime, online, but truly the only way to literally support the local scene is to be part of it by putting yourself in front of the bands, themselves!

The Deli: Who are your favorite “local” musicians right now?

TLNC: We're quite fond of a pretty broad variety of music, including The Quivers, The Cave Girls, Steady States, Federation of Horsepower, Victor & Penny, The Silver Maggies, The Hillary Watts Riot...but honestly, there are just too many to mention!

The Deli: Who are your favorite not-so-local musicians right now?

TLNC: We're in love with The Royalty (El Paso), which have an incredibly catchy 60s garage-soul-pop sound, and Overcasters (Denver), who have this huge and doomy Americana rock sound. Check them out when they come to town again!

The Deli: What is your ultimate fantasy concert bill to play on?

TLNC: Oh, the two bands listed in the prior question! The Latenight Callers, The Royalty, and Overcasters would be crazy awesome, and as different as those two bands are, TLNC is sort of a crazy halfway point between them!

The Deli: Would you rather spend the rest of your life on stage or in the recording studio?

TLNC: It'd be easy to do both, but the stage is really where we really have the most fun... plus, no one can see you all dressed up in the studio, right?

The Deli: A music-themed Mount Rushmore. What four faces are you putting up there and why?

TLNC: Tom Waits, Billie Holliday, Nick Cave, Patsy Cline... because you'd have to have big personalities up there that you'd never get tired of their influence.

The Deli: All right, give us the rundown. Where all on this big crazy web can you be found?

TLNC: thelatenightcallers.com


Pretty much anything anyone needs to know about us.

The Deli: Always go out on a high note. Any last words of wisdom for the Deli audience?

TLNC: Stick with brown liquor.

The Latenight Callers are:
Julie Berndsen – lead vocals

Ellen O’Hayer – guitar, vocals
Nick Combs – keyboards
Gavin Mac – bass
Krysztof Nemeth – baritone guitar

You’re in luck, because you can catch TLNC tonight with two of their favorite local bands, The Quivers and The Cave Girls. KC Rockabilly is presenting this great show at Aftershock (FB event page). The Quivers take the stage at 8:30, TLNC follows at 9:30, and The Cave Girls at 10:30. Then, on Saturday, December 1, TLNC will be at recordBar with Deco Auto, Now Now Sleepyhead, and In Back of A Black Car (FB event page).  

--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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Grinding Gears with Nick Combs

It's great to know why musicians do what they do. Why they write songs about heartache or joy. What kind of emotion they're trying to express. Who they most look up to. That's the magic of what they do. But then there's the science of it. How do they make the most raw or sensual sounds come out of their instruments?

For this week's edition of Grinding Gears, we catch up with keyboardist Nick Combs of The Latenight Callers. He's a madman on the keys, and a recovering drummer. 

Read our interview at the link here!

--Michelle Bacon

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Grinding Gears with Nick Combs


It's great to know why musicians do what they do. Why they write songs about heartache or joy. What kind of emotion they're trying to express. Who they most look up to. That's the magic of what they do. But then there's the science of it. How do they make the most raw or sensual sounds come out of their instruments?

This week we talk with Nick Combs, the madman behind The Latenight Callers' dark, dancey beats and sultry synths.

The Deli: What kind of gear are you using?

Nick Combs: 

Currently in The Latenight Callers, my keyboard is a Novation SL MKII 61-key connected to a MacBook Pro running Reason 6.5. From the laptop, I use a MOTU 828mk Hybrid interface running into a Mackie M1400i power amp that powers two Behringer Eurolive B1220A speakers. For some shows, I also run an ART 125 watt power amp connected to a Clark Synthesis Prosound 429 Platinum Thumper connected to my throne. Oh, and the latest addition, a RockNRoller Multi-Cart, which has been one of the greatest things I've ever used, I know it's dorky as hell, but holy crap is it useful.

The Deli: What makes your particular gear achieve the sound you're looking for in your music?

Nick:  Well, what I like about my setup is that it's not about the gear, it's about the sounds I can create. I also program and run the drums in The Latenight Callers, so keyboards are only half of my job. Using a software based setup frees me up from the restrictions of built in sounds and manufacturer built-in limitations, and allows me to do alot more at the same time.

The Deli: How would you describe your sound?

Nick: The Latenight Callers use a ton of very diverse sounds beyond the traditional keyboardist role. I'm playing everything from traditional tonewheel organs to synth bass to accordion and farfisa, but I'm also triggering samples and playing with modular synthesizers in different songs. If I have a sound, it's that I'm trying to sound as much as a traditional instrument as I can, but as untraditionally as possible.

On the drum side of things, I have two easy requirements: it has to make you want to dance, and it has to be interesting. As a former drummer, nothing is worse than either a boring drum part or the same drum sound for every.... single.... song. I try to make every song different and its own sonic entity, but still make it obviously a Latenight Callers song. It's a balancing act sometimes, but I also try to be quietly subversive and sneak a club dance beat in with a traditional church organ tone over the top.

The Deli: How was the process of finding the equipment you needed to achieve your sound?

Nick:  I started off using Roland Juno, a MicroKorg, and a Roland SP-404fx sampler going into a massive 24-channel mixer with a full rack of effects and silliness, then added a FCB1010 MIDI


footboard to control it all and a Monotron for gits and shiggles. It was a massive rig, I think subconsciously birthed from my days of being a drummer and hauling a ton of gear to every gig. It sounded OK, but it was hugely cumbersome, a technical nightmare, and I still couldn't get the sounds that I wanted exactly how I wanted them.


The more research I did, the more sense a laptop rig made. I think it was the gig where my MIDI controller went down, my monitors went down, and I accidentally hit the sampler restarting the drum track that made me go "Screw it, I getting a damn laptop." It's been the best thing I've ever done, I can setup and tear down in 5 minutes, get the sounds I want to get, and am about as portable as a keyboard player can be.

The Deli: What projects are you in right now?

Nick: The Latenight Callers are a five-piece noir-a-go-go act out of Kansas City. We've been called the "house band at David Lynch's pool party." Think Massive Attack backing Ella Fitzgerald, or watching a black-and-white movie with a '60s spy movie soundtrack playing. Frequently, we may be found consuming brown liquor libations.

The Deli: What other instruments do you play?

Nick:  In a past life, I was a drummer for many, many years. I try to break free of my drumming roots, but they keep pulling me back. It may be time to pull out the old kit again soon. I'd love to learn guitar, but I keep thinking I should actually become a proper keyboard player first...

The Deli: Who are your favorite or most inspirational players (of your instrument[s]), both in KC and beyond? 

Nick:  Oh man, in KC, every time I see Mark Lowrey play I'm either inspired to go practice for hours, or just give up now. Billy Smith, when he was in town, blew me away with his guitar work and tone in Roman Numerals and Thee Water MoccaSins. I'm biased, but I have yet to ever tire of hearing The Latenight Caller's own Gavin Mac play bass. Quentin Schmidt, The Good Foot's bass player, is also a monster.

Beyond KC, Paul Meany from Mutemath and Matt Bellamy from Muse are total inspirations as keyboard players and musicians. Both are phenomenal players and do a bunch of interesting, boundary pushing kind of things outside of the traditional keyboard player realm.

The Deli: What is your ideal dream equipment set up? 

Nick: I'd love to be able to have a backup laptop B rig running sync in case anything ever happened to the first one, and I'd love to have in-ear monitors. Oh, and a proper sound check before every gig.

The Deli:

 Where do you like to shop for gear, and why?

Nick:  Honestly, and this pains me greatly to say, but I don't shop locally for gear. I worked at a music store for 3 years, I know the scene there and I want badly to support mom-and-pop stores, but I just have not found one that carries the gear I'm into these days. 95% of the time I'm forced to find the piece of gear I want and buy it online to try it out. I get the economics of the situation and realize most small business can't carry funky Nord keyboards or a wall of audio interfaces and modular synth noise boxes, they've gotta make their money selling guitar strings and $250 beginner instruments to soccer moms. I can't bring myself to shop at the bigger national music stores in town, I normally start feeling stabby after 10 minutes of being in one of them.

When I played drums, I was in Explorers regularly. Funky Munky used to be next to my work, so I'd pop in there every time I had a break. In Lawrence, I poke my head into Richard's pretty regularly to see if anybody has brought in any off the wall pieces of gear. I'm about to start building up a semi-proper home studio, so I'm definitely looking at gear alot more these days.

The Deli: Do you have a favorite KC venue to play in terms of sound quality? 

Nick:  In terms of sound quality, recordBar, hands down. Duane Trower, the main sound guy there, knows that room and the gear inside and out and has a great set of ears. Crosstown Station could be really great sometimes too when it was still around.

The Deli: Ever made or have thought of making your own custom gear? 

Nick:  Absolutely, it's something I'd love to get more into. I love goofy little noise boxes, MIDI controllers, and modular synths. I have fantasies of getting a soldering gun and going nuts someday.

The program I use to control everything, Reason, is a fantastic sandbox, so I feel like I've created alot of gear in there that just couldn't feasibly exist in the real world, weird stuff like having an organ sound modulated by a CV controlled filter running through a randomizer matrix, processed by stereo delays and compressors, running through an old Ampeg fliptop. I mean, you could do that in real life, but it'd be a ton of gear to haul around and setup, just for ONE sound.

You'll be able to see Nick tearing up his keys in true fashion as he performs with the rest of The Latenight Callers gang next Friday, August 24, on the lawn of the Nerman Museum at Johnson County Community College for its Light Up The Lawn series. They'll be performing with Victor and Penny. You can also enjoy some spirits and catch Latenight at the Uptown Theater, performing on Sunday, August 26 for the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival.

-Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor-in-chief of The Deli - Kansas City. She also has a weekly column with The Kansas City Star and reviews music for Ink. She plays with Deco AutoDrew Black and Dirty Electric, and Dolls on Fire. She secretly loves hugs. And candy bars.

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Nick Combs

Photo by Randy Pace 

The Latenight Callers 
Photo by Todd Zimmer



Show recap: American Catastrophe Farewell Show at recordBar, 7.14.12

This past Saturday, American Catastrophe performed its final show to a packed crowd at the recordBar. The band was preceded by Omaha duo drakes hotel and Kansas City's Noir-a-Go-Go darlings The Latenight Callers. Though both opening bands performed strong sets to a growing audience, the focus was clearly on American Catastrophe.

For 2 hours, the group played its acclaimed version of dark Americana to a crowd that continually hungered and hollered for more. The band performed favorites from its album Excerpts From The Broken Bone Choir, along with other signature songs including "Six Foot Whisper" and "Swing Edmond." By breathing life into these songs, American Catastrophe gave listeners a chance to hear why it's been a mainstay of the Kansas City scene, despite releasing only one album in its lengthy career.

That night, each piece of music proved just as vital as the other. While the deep rhythmic foundation of Amy Farrand and Eric Bessenacher held down each song, Shaun Hamontree laid the groundwork with vocals that switched between a haunting low register and a brazen roar. As the multi-instrumentalist of the group, Terrence Moore enhanced the immediate mood of each song. An ominous banjo with a fearful, foreboding undertone; a chugging harmonica, navigating the listener through the nine circles of hell; or a screeching guitar, ripping clean through the soul. These are the types of sounds the successful 4-piece experimented with during its run and fully brought to fruition on Saturday. A fitting farewell to a fine, dynamic group.

--Michelle Bacon

Photos © Todd Zimmer, 2012. Please do not use without permission.


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