Today Winnipeg-based act Kitz Willman releases their brand new album “Royal Visit to Uranium City.” Their first release of 2021, this album features experimental music influenced by the sampling of hip-hop and heaviness of post-hardcore. These unique songs are sure to leave an impression on anyone who listens. IDIOTEQ has an interview with Kitz Willman and an exclusive premiere of the video for “have you seen the trees?” This song talks about radiation poisoning, Chernobyl, and a journey inspired by jazz music.
Royal Visit to Uranium City is the new album from producer/multi-instrumentalist Kitz Willman. The Winnipeg-based artist flexes their world-building skills with nine brand new songs. Entirely self-produced, Kitz handles saxophone, piano, bass, drums, and vocals to create experimental music influenced by the sampling of hip-hop, energy of free jazz, and the heaviness of post-hardcore.
This is their first release of 2021, fresh off of their 2020 collaboration with Kay the Aquanaut called “Ancient Fish from the Northwest.” Releasing on March 5th, Royal Visit to Uranium City is available on CD, digital download, and streaming. There is also a visual component that premieres on YouTube on March 6th, 2021 at 9pm Saskatoon time. Check back tomorrow evening CET to check it out:
Tell us about the album’s title. It appears to reference a 1959 Royal Tour that brought Prince Phillip to Uranium City, Canada. Is that what you’re referencing?
Kitz Willman: At a base level you’re right, that 1959 royal visit is what I’m making reference to. But, I don’t intend for the album to be situated solely in that reference. My hope is that listeners will begin to think about what “royal visit to uranium city” can mean as a self-contained concept in its own right. Any place could be Uranium City. I am sure in time I will fully explain my perspective, but I want people to get some listens in first!
1959 Royal Visit to Uranium City:
This was your first album written and recorded since moving to Winnipeg. How did your new city impact this project?
Kitz Willman: Yes, this is the first full project I’ve written and recorded while living in Winnipeg. The city made its way into the music in the lyrics, like the line from “kings” about “Babushkas waiting for the bread truck in Winnipeg.” Certainly my new living space and the studio set-up impacted the recording process. But yeah, since it’s the pandemic I haven’t been fully immersed in the city so I think the impacts are more subtle and probably hard for me to see right now.
There is quite a bit of variation between songs on this album. You have outright bangers like “kings,” free jazz-leaning epics like “have you seen the trees?” and the distorted electro-dance outro “always.” Was it hard to find a balance between these different vibes?
Kitz Willman: Honestly not really! The first three songs I recorded were “even the dogs wore badges,” “dust on the bookshelf,” and “have you seen the trees?” These songs are mostly improvised, even lyrically. I started shaping an album around those tracks. My favourite albums take unexpected twists and turns. I wanted Royal Visit to do the same so it kind of came together piece by piece. The last piece being “only butterflies,” which I think helps exemplify the way I pieced this track list together based on dynamics and flow.
With that said, of course there is always the task of finding a balance between different dynamics on a record. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of sequencing work to make everything flow. But that’s just part of the creative process. I don’t think it was necessarily hard or difficult to put this tracklisting together. I am proud of the places it goes!
Is there an emotion you sought you express with this album?
Kitz Willman: Those first three tracks definitely came from a place of discontent, anger, and wonder at this ever-evolving capitalist colonialist imperialist dredge. The first recording I did was “even the dogs wore badges” which was inspired by two videos I had watched: SubMedia’s “Breaking the Spell” and Idris Robinson’s “How It Might Should Be Done.” I was very obviously influenced by the police dog footage used in the latter.
Breaking the Spell:
How It Might Should Be Done:
Those videos had me fired up! I wanted to yell and be loud and that’s how the recording process started. I think that energy shows throughout the record. That also speaks to the pandemic’s effects, a bit. And in terms of the politics, I mean, there’s obviously the audio clips about anarchism that I used in “dawn” and I think the dog barks are very visceral sonically. That’s part of why I reference animals so much in the lyrics and even song titles. That was purposeful.
You mention these videos, which sound quite political. You’ve been no stranger to political lyrics in the past. Talk about the Ancient Fish from the Northwest collaboration with Kay the Aquanaut and how that was sparked. He is quite a firebrand emcee. What was that like?
Kitz Willman: I’ve known Kay for quite a while. Coming up in Saskatoon, I knew his music as a fan before we became friends. We first connected when he was in his band Reform Party and I was in one of my bands called Strangers. We played together once or twice in Saskatoon before I moved to Ottawa.
But yeah, in terms of collaborating, I think that was something I had been working towards in my production for a while. Building skills until one day the call came. And it was super short notice. Like less than 24 hours! That’s a longer story for another interview, but for as haphazard as things might’ve been I am super proud of that album. I think it’s raw, gritty, and I haven’t heard Kay barring out that hard in a couple releases.
Kay has provided a lot of support for my political and analytical growth, so undoubtedly he has an influence on that side of this album, as well. On “dust on the bookshelf” when I say, “this all harkens to some other words by some other people” Kay is definitely one of those people! I mean, there’s other folks included in that sentiment but I owe a lot to Kay in particular.
What was the oddest technique you tried during the recording process?
Kitz Willman: I used a frying pan for percussion on one or two songs (laughs).
Although the technique is typical for me, part of my process that might baffle people is the order that I record. I make the base track then record drums, sax, and vocals. However, I don’t generally record vocals with the live drum tracks nor the sax in the mix. I think this results in a bit of interplay between my different takes and hopefully creates a bit of a live feel even though I’m doing it all myself. I know the feel I am going for but I am not sitting there concentrating on lining everything up exactly. The piano and bass keep things steady. I kind of mess with the idea of a rhythm section in that way.
Your first instrument was the drums, correct?
Kitz Willman: Yes, I’ve been drumming for as long as I can remember. Sax is a relatively new addition.
Stallions – Vodka (Live in Saskatoon 2011):
And you use to drum in hardcore and metal bands?
Kitz Willman: In 2006 I started playing in the local hardcore scene in Saskatoon. Basically the first decade of my musical experience was in bands, playing live was the most important thing then. There aren’t a ton of recordings from that era. But I played everything from spastic drum-and-bass to raunchy southern hardcore and demure djent. I was also doing vocals back then too, so that’s where a lot of my vocal stylings originate.
I think Royal Visit melds these formative styles with my current direction. That is how I ended up with this mixture of experimental jazz with post-hardcore leanings. The dramatics of post-hardcore and emo are something I’ve always enjoyed. It was fun to merge that energy with the sampling techniques found mostly in hip-hop.
As there starts to be a rise in this trend of “trap metal” like Ghostemane, BackXWash and Scarlxrd, I hope my music can demonstrate a different take on this combination. I think my music draws more on MySpace era bands like The Blood Brothers, A Textbook Tragedy, and HeavyHeavyLowLow. Irreverent poetic lyrics with spunky rhythms and shouted vocals that veers into little jazz sections. I’m not sure if the connections make sense to others but they’re very clear to me as the person who made these songs.
HEAVYHEAVYLOWLOW – Giant Mantis vs TURT Nip:
BACKXWASH – Spells feat. Devi McCallion:
Ghostemane – Hydrochloride (Official Video):
What do you think of the current state of heavy music?
Kitz Willman: It is as exciting as ever! I mean, you have a band like Code Orange just dominating the livestream game. And not only that but their music is so cutting edge. The perfect combination of heavy music and computer capabilities. I think that’s where you see a crossover between a more traditional band like Code Orange and a noise rap act like Moodie Black that uses live guitars but also has a production-based sound. I think there’s different places to look for that satisfying heavy-music fix nowadays. Lots of things can be heavy, it’s all about that feeling and groove.
Moodie Black – Jesus Bound:
You were in academia for a bit and often deliver harsh critiques. Is that what you’re getting at on “sunshine list” when you sing “there’s no money in encyclopedias”? Later on in the song those encyclopedias are on fire, as well. Those lyrics definitely sound like they could be in a Blood Brothers song.
Kitz Willman: That’s exactly it. There’s no job security in academia which clearly shows it has lost its value in capitalism. Fake news and whatever else are signs of this, too. All the sunshine listers in the academy paint a pretty picture of some intellectual oasis while they seem to try to thwart creative thought at every angle.
On this song I use the encyclopedia as a stand-in for academia to highlight the systematic collection of accredited knowledge as the real issue. I can’t believe in elementary school they used to send us to the encyclopedia to write little essays. No secondary sources needed. Yet, today’s educators have the audacity to continue to decry Wikipedia as a sufficient source.
The song’s title “sunshine list” is a reference to the list of public employees in Ontario that make more than $100,000 a year. Professors and police. Corruption and sunshine, sunshine and corruption.
What’s next for you? Any projects lined up?
Kitz Willman: Of course, Kitz Willman always has stuff cooking. I currently have one full length in the bag with a similar sound to Royal Visit. There’s also another surprise in store for those who pick the album up on CD on release day. As things start to thaw here in Canada I will definitely be writing and recording something new. Spring is always time for recording. As far as collaborations go, I recently sent Kay the first grip of beats for our next project and I am in talks with Devin West to do another album as The Westkitz Watershed. Obviously I will be riding Royal Visit for a while, but coming up I have a song on the next AudioRecon sampler. I am also in talks to do a 7” in the fall.