photo by bleedingpalm.com
The world is noisy, and so is Kenny Millions.
Kenny Millions grew up on the West Side of Detroit, about a mile from Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. recording studio. It was close proximity to musical greatness and his thorough education in classical training starting at age 11 that led to the inevitable: At 15, Millions was catching Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock at jazz clubs in burned-out ghettos, and by age 20, he was hitting the road as part of the backup bands for legends like Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, and Gladys Knight.
But don't let the jazz/R&B/soul/pop pedigree fool you. By the early '70s, Kenny was a player in New York's freak-jazz Lower East Side loft scene, and he's been a scalding-hot dust storm of squalling, screeching-cat saxophone; muddy, grumbling guitar; and Tourette's-like barrages of vulgar exclamations directed at no one and everyone.
We emailed Kenny a list of questions, and he responded promptly but requested we give him a call for him to talk about his early influences:
Kenny describes his primordial loft days as "a musical stew of influences" but cites two particular poignant moments on his career's incredibly winding timeline.
The first transpired at a 1969 gig while Kenny was enrolled at the University of North Texas. Legendary free-jazz saxophonist Rasahaan Roland Kirk crashed a jam Kenny partook in and invited the young saxophonist to play with him again the next week. Kenny fondly remembers Kirk presenting two stipulations: "You've gotta drink whiskey and eat fried chicken."
Kenny's second breakthrough came from being a regular at Sam River's Studio Rizdea loft a half block from punk-club institution CBGBs, which also frequently hosted Kenny's early freakouts. "It was a completely avant-garde situation," Kenny says. "You'd just start blowing. Famous musicians would come and go. It was free jazz. Free music. You could throw chairs against the wall. It was all cool."
Smirking over the telephone, he added, "The music I do now is nothing in terms of theatrics."
Country Grind: How did you become "Kenny Millions"?
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The legal name on my passport is Kenneth Keshavan Maslak. I started using Kenny Millions 30 years ago when I was living in NYC and was poor all the time. I had a flash of inspiration: change my name to Millions and millions will come to me both financially and in gigs, attendence, etc. All of those things worked out to a certain extent without getting into details...
Your discography is expansive. A lot of it is self-released on Hum Ha, but tell us about some of the labels you've worked with and your various experiences with different mediums -- vinyl, cassette, digital -- over the years. What is your current preferred format and why?
I have no current preferred format. I've done enough recordings over the years. If someone wants to record one of my gigs and release a bootleg, please do so. I now like to upload my pieces on Soundcloud and make them available for free. Music is not a business for me, and I don't give a shit about being paid for it. I'm free of that career-hustle bullshit. Recordings are only a business card to get gigs. Recorded music is virtual reality. Real music only exists in real time in a real performance. Besides music is a gift for the world and should be available for free. Fuck record companies. Experiences with all of them left a bad taste in my mouth. Motherfuckers...
Why is your act so vulgar?
I never thought my act is vulgar. To me, it's funny and extremely sarcastic. Also I hate being ignored onstage, so calling the audience cocksuckers, motherfuckers, etc., gets their attention real fast. Besides this present society we live in is really fucked up. I'm an artist who expresses what I see and feel. It's about freedom.
A lot of your older material is very melodic. These days, though dynamically executed, your sets are almost exclusively abrasive, atonal, noise, etc. Could you see yourself ever making a return to more traditional music-making processes?
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The world has changed, and melodic music doesn't fit in anymore unless you're a pop artist. I'm not that. Fuck traditional music. The past is the past for me. I happily performed traditional styles of music in the past when it felt right to do so with great musicians. I've evolved as an artist. Besides I was always doing provocative, in-your-face performance art from a young age. Exposing myself, cursing on stage, etc. I've had a long career, and I have the ability to perform any style of music, which I did. The world is more noisy now, so I'm more noisy.
Death to the Sun III. With 90s Teen, the Band in Heaven, Bulletproof Tiger, Curious Hair, the Dewars, Dino Felipe, Family Treasures, Fourier, the Gun Hoes, Guy Harvey, Holly Hunt, Kenny Millions, Kid Khameleon, Love Handles, Luma Junger, Manny and the Mangos, Matilda Lights, Meat, Möthersky, Palmeto, the President, Rat Bastard, Relaxxx, Ritz Riot, Skeleton Warrior, Slashpine, This Heart Electric, Toad Eyes, Universal Expansion, Unstoppable Death Machines, the Viking Funeral. Saturday, September 24, at Snooze Theatre, 798 Tenth St., Lake Park. No cover. Click here.