Tonight, FutureFest kicks off at The Jazz Gallery with a set by the “mad-sad noise rock band” Tiny Gun. Featuring Kathryn-Agatha Lee on voice & guitar, Michael Beckett on synths, Jesse Bielenberg on bass, and Zane West on drums. The group’s raw and searing music reflects both their eclectic tastes and jazz training, striking a balance between formal complexity and emotional directness. We sat down for a conversation with Lee and Beckett, talking about the group’s development, writing process, and sonic palette.
The Jazz Gallery: Tiny Gun has been performing for a few years now. How old is the band and what is the project about?
Kathryn-Agatha Lee: We’ve been an official band for about 3 years but we were all friends and colleagues who met at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Our record coming out on October 26th is called Crazy, I Can Be, and it sort of dives into a toxic relationship throughout stages of denial—trying fit a form, self-hatred and rage. [laughs] That writing process was sort of a way for me to lean into being called some coded words like ‘crazy, sensitive, demanding, or damaged’ and have it be this radical reclaiming of agency that gets taken away from you when you’re being belittled. Like, maybe I’m not ‘sensitive,’ maybe you’re just an asshole?
TJG: The band is described as a “mad-sad noise rock band.” Did you listen to lots of heavy music growing up and what are the things that draw you to it?
KL: I listened to a lot of metal and shreddy guitar music growing up! I came around to it when I was a teenager as sort of the next extension that tacked onto my emo music phase. I think I liked it because I was always so fucking angry. Now I still love heavy music mostly because I find music with lots of sections and strange forms to be really interesting, which is something that definitely finds its way into my songwriting.
Michael Beckett: Tiny Gun really started to become Tiny Gun when we embraced the music we grew up with. Going back to heavy/emo music that bares its heart on its sleeve gave us a place to be emotional and messy from. It allowed in a part of ourselves that wasn’t finding a way out through other music.
TJG: Which of those bands have stuck with you? Where is your taste and interest going these days?
KL: I still love Fall of Troy, Animals as Leaders, Periphery, Veil of Maya, and also, I love really fucking sad songs. These days I’m really into Palm, Tera Melos, Great Time, Tricot, Buke and Gase, Deerhoof, Andy Shauf, altopalo, Covet, Gregory and the Hawk…
TJG: A lot of progressive music of the guitar-inclination tends to be instrumental, but you manage set serious and weighty lyrics within intricate instrumentation. How have you approached shaping the music to fit the songwriting?
MB: When Kat brings in a song we spend a lot of time going through each section trying to locate the sonic landscape that it belongs to. In our own way we search for the place where Kat is coming from and express it through our instruments. And we ask: How can we support, echo or foreshadow a sentiment or statement? A song is done when we’re able to, as a band, express its lyrics and feelings, as opposed to Kat emoting while we form a noisy backdrop.
TJG: What is the role of the Prophet synthesizer in Tiny Gun’s sound and composition?
MB: The Prophet opened up a lot of new areas for the music. I started using it when the material was getting a heavier and it let in a lot of noise and abrasion along with sweetness and dramatic flairs. Unfortunately I don’t gig with it a lot as of late—that shit weighs a lot.
TJG: And are bass effects a plus or a minus in your book?
KL: I think when used well, effects on bass can add a lot of body and vary up the sound a lot. Bass FX are hella tight.
TJG: You attended the New School for vocal performance and have many peers and friends within the jazz performance world. What was your experience with the school and the culture surrounding jazz conservatory?
KL: New School Jazz was a lot of things. I feel like I was never really what a lot of my teachers wanted me to be, which used to be upsetting, but now it’s something that I have come to love about myself. For instance, being told to sing like an alto sax but really—if I wanted to sound like an alto sax, I’d play the fucking alto sax. It definitely felt like a really big boys club outside of the vocal classes, which brings about certain feelings of exclusion and musical worth. There is the obvious issue of misogynistic teachers being incredibly inappropriate with female students, making everyone uncomfortable, being bad at teaching and still not getting fired. But whatever.
I can recount many experiences but to keep this on the shorter side as I could go forever, I remember at my first ensemble showcase, a male teacher hit on my mom and then came up to me after my performance and criticized my songwriting, telling me to look up to my boyfriend at the time and to utilize his skills because he “actually [knew]” what he was doing.
REGARDLESS of this!—I met some of my very best friends at and through the New School, so for that I am grateful.
Tiny Gun opens FutureFest at The Jazz Gallery on Friday, September 28, 2018. The group features Kathryn-Agatha Lee on voice & guitar, Michael Becket on synths, Jesse Bielenberg on bass, and Zane West on drums. Tiny Gun’s set is at 7:00 P.M., followed by sets from Ba Akhu and Blake Oppler’s Quesitonable Solution. $25 general admission ($10 for members), $35 reserved cabaret seating ($20 for members) for the evening. Purchase tickets here.