Some records are snapshots, but Last Danger of Frost is more like a long gaze into a mirror.
By Scott McLennan
Even though he has been involved with many different musical projects, Steve Kimock has pretty much held the same job for the better part of 40 years. “My role as a featured lead guitarist is a thing,” Kimock said when reached by phone at his Northern California home.
Now 60, Kimock wanted to try another “thing,” and made the beguiling Last Danger of Frost. He wrote, performed and produced all of the music on the album, stitching together pastoral acoustic passages played on acoustic guitar and edgier, feedback-sculpted soundscapes into a collection of songs that carries the veteran guitarist into fresh sonic terrain.
Touring in support of Last Danger of Frost, Kimock put together a band with his longtime collaborator Bobby Vega on bass and relatively new Kimock connection, Leslie Mendelson, who plays keys and sings. Drummer John Morgan Kimock, Steve’s son, rounds out the ensemble, which calls itself Kimock. The band is performing locally Saturday, March 19, at the Narrows Center for Arts in Fall River, MA and Thursday, March 24, at The Bull Run in Shirley, MA.
For those who have followed Kimock through his work in the psychedelic rock arena with the bands Zero, KVHW or his own namesake ensembles, the material he crafted on Last Danger of Frost may be somewhat surprising — but it has deep roots.
“I was looking for a way to engage with my music that is off the stage,” he explained, referencing the folk music he played as a kid, and traditional Canadian work songs he learned from an aunt who was a musician. And he wanted to tap into the musique concrète influences he nurtured as a teen when he would bicycle to the local library and delve into its collection of modern classical and avant-garde music. Then there was the neighbor of his in San Francisco that turned Kimock on to traditional gamelan music.
Not that Last Danger of Frost has any of those influences specifically taking center stage, but rather all of the “off the stage” music informs his trek away from the sorts of electric-guitar forays he more commonly pursues.
Some records are snapshots, but Last Danger of Frost is more like a long gaze into a mirror for this artist. The music, along with the rustic album-cover art, the narrative themes laid out in detailed liner notes, and a short essay penned by Kimock and printed alongside a photo of him at ease looking out a window, gives us a vivid portrait of the artist as a not-so-young-man any more (but not complaining about it, either). The record’s introspective mood accommodates some humor; for example, the tune “The Artist Dies and Goes to Hell” is a bit of acoustic guitar picking struggling to be heard over a chatty audience.
“It’s all about that idea of just wanting to play music no matter what and all the work you put into it and you may end up playing a jazz waltz at an Italian restaurant,” Kimock mused.
It’s a horrifying reality he was willing to risk to make music on his own terms.
“I’m really fortunate to have an audience at all given the nature of my trip,” Kimock recalls. “I play guitar, I do it for my own reasons. I don’t think about making a bunch of records or having a big hit. What I do ends up all over the place, but there’s enough honesty to it that I think people are fine with it. It’s all about being OK with letting the music take the shape of its container.”
Moving from Pennsylvania to California in the mid-1970s, Kimock connected with the architects of the original San Francisco psychedelic sound, including Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cippolina, as much a mentor to Kimock as he was a band mate in the early years of Zero. And while Kimock has certainly pushed the improvisational-rock style forward, he also remains a keen interpreter, having frequently toured with members of the Grateful Dead after Jerry Garcia died, as well as presenting concerts of “Garcia music,” repertoires featuring songs Garcia performed with his various side bands through the years.
The live shows will feature music from Last Danger of Frost, but they will expand the album’s dynamic range given the additional players in the group. Still, the performances promise to have a “living room” feel, said John Morgan Kimock. The younger Kimock has played in other ensembles with his father, but this new endeavor is admittedly something new altogether.
Yet it’s also unmistakably his father’s work.
“He was working on this for a long time, and when I first heard it, I thought, ‘Thank God.’ This sounds like him, the way I know him, and his family knows him,” said John Morgan, adding he wants to make a remix of the album with his own added beats, further carrying out the father-son creative exchange.
The senior Kimock said his 26-year-old son brings his own creative energies into the project, as do the others. On paper, that looks like a difficult task, given that the band features a drummer who is a generation removed from the band leader, the band leader’s longtime buddy, plus a singer-songwriter whose solo work has focused on a classic pop sound. But it works in a way that suggests the fertility of Kimock’s musical smarts, especially his willingness to look past the obvious.
“I want something to capture the freshness and energy of this music, as well as a performance that reflects the chemistry it takes to play well together,” he said. “There is definitely chemistry within this group of people. These are new ideas, and I’m presenting them with people I trust.”
After 40 years of performing, Kimock is still willing to take a few instinctive leaps, and he’s skilled enough to land just perfectly.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal, The Portland Press Herald and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene