Rocket Queen: Brothers in Arms

Hanging with the Keim brothers, and going way back when with KARP.

When I ask Garnet Keim what he thinks his younger brother Snow Keim's strengths are as a songwriter, he deadpans, "I'd say he's the musician and I'm the asshole."This is typical Keim-brother maneuvering, and it can make for an exhausting if entertaining interview. Spend 15 minutes with the siblings and you instantly imagine them battling each other for control of the stereo while they were in diapers—or fiercely defending one another in a schoolyard brawl. The fraternal collaborators have earned both friends and enemies while sharing and fighting for the spotlight in local outfit the Blakes, and more recently in a gracefully accomplished side project called the Beads. When I rephrase the question and ask him why he enjoys making music with his brother, Garnet says, "I'm not sure that I do all the time. It's so far beyond that; it's an extension of our life. It's just what we've done every single day for 20 years."Their volatile reputation within the Seattle scene is a strange beast, built from both legitimate criticisms (their manners could use some polishing) and unfair dismissals of their talents as one-trick, pretty-boy posturing. The music made by the Keim brothers is actually a fascinating funhouse tour of genres that moves stealthily from catchy garage pop to punk-informed rave-ups to new-wave-flecked rock anthems and back to simple, stripped-down songwriting so quip-filled and street-smart, it'd bring a tear to Ray Davies' eye.In their latest incarnation as the Beads, the brothers are adding a more introspective, darkly shaded layer to that kaleidoscopic vision—partly because they both suffered a spiritual ass-whipping of sorts in 2008. "My dad went to prison, my grandmother died, my mom lost her eye, we lost our record deal [with Light in the Attic Records], and we lost our manager," explains Garnet matter-of-factly. "It was a hell of a fucking year." One spin of "Evil," the opening track on No One Knows, the group's debut LP, and it's clear that Snow also got hit hard in the romantic department ("Go on, get out, you're evil/Sail right back to hell"), though he's reluctant to discuss it. "Yeah, I was a little heartbroken and disillusioned," he admits, adding dismissively, "you can only do it to yourself."The rest of No One Knows is the sort of haunting, emotion-laden soundscape that practically mandates a midnight listening with a mammoth goblet of red wine in hand, and is definitely a must-listen for any fan of John Lennon or George Harrison's post-Beatles solo work. What's perhaps most impressive about the balance of the writing and tone, however, is that it rarely dips into outright self-pity, siding instead with honest ruminations about the demise of old friendships and the way hedonism doesn't heal heartbreak. The disc closes with a gorgeous swell of guarded but earnest optimism, as Snow is slowly joined by a chorus of voices: "Oh lord, ain't it time, for a good thing? To shine down from heaven above?" Snow points to the acronym in the band's name as the source of that strength. "Beads stands for 'Because Everybody Always Does Somethin'.' I guess the idea is that no matter how shitty or rotten you feel about yourself or your life, you still have a larger part to play in life and [as part] of the world—even if you don't know what it is."Though they weren't genetically related, the three young men who founded Olympia-based sludge-punk band KARP back in 1990 were as thick as blood brothers throughout their nearly decade-long career. The thunderous groundwork guitarist/vocalist Chris Smith, bassist/vocalist Jared Warren, and drummer Scott Jernigan laid during those early years spawned lauded acts like Tight Bros From Way Back When and Big Business. Jernigan and Warren even reunited briefly in 2002, playing in the Whip together until Jernigan's sudden, tragic death in a boating accident in 2003.New York–based filmmaker Bill Badgley is now working on getting their story immortalized on celluloid. His documentary, tentatively titled Kill All Redneck Pricks: KARP Lives! 1990–1998, is currently in production in various cities all over the country, with crews interviewing friends, family, fans, and the two surviving band members. The project is currently being backed by the Missoula, Mont., label Wantage USA, and an official release date is still pending. "We've received a lot of help from Calvin Johnson and K records, in addition to many others who have thrown in their own time and effort to make this movie a reality," explains Badgley. "It has been my intention from the very beginning of the project for this to be a film about three friends and the audible resonance of that friendship. Considering the early age that the three of them started their involvements together, the friendship takes on many of the attributes of a small family, as many great bands do."

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