Chances are you had a parent or teacher force you to read something at one point in your youth and you thought the book really sucked. You hated having to slog through it and carried around resentment for years. You'd snap "I hate Shakespeare" or something like that, until by some metaphysical confluence of circumstance, that same reading material ended up back in your life (usually dangling on a string over the promise of pot or sex). Strangely, upon reexamining the same work years later, you found that something clicked in you. You actually liked it.
The same principle can be applied to any type of art that someone thought would be "good for you" -- ballet, flute lessons, finger painting, PBS specials. But what the hell does this have to do with Detachment Kit, you ask?
Well, Ian Menard, guitarist, vocalist, and one-half of the creative partnership that makes up the nucleus of the band (which is now officially down to two members, with touring guests), likes to write short stories. He also likes to read. He has friends who do "a good deal" of reading, he says. The members of Detachment Kit actually travel in silence in the van (i.e., no music) and fill up the time on long drives with... reading.
How un-rock and roll! you scoff.
Detachment Kit's songs allegedly start out as short story ideas that Menard and guitarist Charlie Davis make up during bouts of drinking, both alone and together. (Actually, that's just press release braggadocio. When the idea is quoted back to him, he laughs as if he'd forgotten that it was the official line on the songwriting process.) "I don't wanna write a bunch of songs about myself," Menard says, accenting the self almost disdainfully.
Menard's manner of speaking suggests he may be the missing link between comedian Steven Wright and Scooby Doo's companion Shaggy, though maybe not as burnt as either one of them seems. He speaks slowly and often deadpans funny statements before catching himself and laughing, almost as if his speech is one step ahead of his thoughts. In fact, the more he speaks, the more a rhythmic pattern develops. Menard sort of strolls lazily through his thoughts, but as he gets more excited, his words quicken and his sentences start to break up; it seems there are perhaps too many thoughts trying to come down the same neural pathway.
"I have a harder time communicating verbally," he says, "than when I sit down and write it down. I can organize my thoughts better. It feels a lot more comfortable for me."
Though he is a big proponent of the laptop, Menard has a lot to say on diminished attention spans, particularly with the arts.
"I think what a lot of people miss in art and music," he muses, "is that there's a beauty to language much further than composed sentences and stories. There's so much more that you can pull out of it once you start getting more familiar with it and experiencing it in different ways. Pop culture right now is very instantaneous. In music, it's... very oriented towards the next thing and the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. But it doesn't make me lose hope that people will come back around... In order to be a part of a working society, you have to be able to read signs. Otherwise, you're just nothing... It is very..." There's a slight pause before he deadpans, "frightening." Then, like he's just caught onto the humor in what he just said, his grin becomes almost audible over the phone.
"For me," he continues, "reading stuff on the computer is actually really difficult because it hurts my eyes. There's something really visceral about turning pages. I wouldn't jump so far as to say that the amount of readers out there has declined."
Then, he reconsiders: "It probably has... It's like anything else. You're always going to have fanatics that are into one thing or another, whether it be cars or booze or... whatever."
Although the name Detachment Kit sprang from a desire to move away from the stranglehold of indie rock, Menard and Davis refer to themselves as "the twins." On the cover of their latest CD, Of This Blood, they are bound like a Siamese creature being chased by a large, evil cartoon octopus named Queen Beaktapus. Born on the same day, both in Tennessee, they didn't meet until both were attending art school in Chicago in the late '90s. When they crossed paths, they discovered some connections from back home.
"There are some really uncanny things about the two of us," Menard says. "It was like we'd been barely missing each other for years."
Though Menard, who now lives in New York City with Davis, speaks highly of their time in Chicago and the music scene there, he wishes above all not to be trapped in the indie-rock Albiniverse.
"I have to be honest -- before I moved to Chicago, I didn't know what indie rock was," Menard says. "[The album] has that classic [Steve] Albini sound. [But] we wanted to leave it open-ended. Whenever we feel like certain styles represent what we're doing best, we'll just change! And we don't want anybody to bat an eye."
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