The last 20 years have seen a serious upswing in the number of side collaborations between people whose notoriety has been obtained from their work in other ventures. September 12th, 2019 saw the release of the third album from one such alliance under the title Circle of Dolls. KXM is a hard rock trio formed back in 2014. Two-thirds of this triumvirate are Ray Luzier, the drummer from Korn and dUg Pinnick, bassist and vocalist of King’s X. The third side of this triangle George Lynch, who first made a name for himself as lead guitarist for Dokken and later his own band Lynch Mob. Lynch, who handles guitar duties for KXM as well, recently lent his insights into the making of Circle of Dolls and the working relationship between himself, Pinnick and Luzier.
Circle of Dolls is a 13 track combination of all original hard rock songs that shines a wide musical spectrum through an edgy, audible prism. Lynch was asked to summarize the record for anyone who had not yet heard it, and he said, “Well, it’s darker than the first two records. A little more moody at times. It fits right in with the trilogy. It’s got its own flavor, I mean it’s a very personal record. It’s unique in that we came up with stuff that isn’t really not traditional straight, three-piece rock.” Though the individual members have historically traveled in different stylistic lanes on the metal highway, every few years they find themselves in the carpool lane together for a few creative weeks. Lynch describes the desire to return to this project by saying, “We didn’t know that we would do more than one record. After the first one was done, we weren’t sure if we were going to reconvene and do a second one. Everybody was chomping at the bit to do a another one. It was an enjoyable process. Sometimes records can be tedious and hard to make, and sometimes not fun. I’m not going to say easy is the right word to use, you know, it was 12 days out of our lives. When you go in knowing that you’re going to work really hard for 12 days, and you’re going to come out of it with this finished product, that is very satisfying, and it was fun. It doesn’t get much better than that. It was really a win-win. So every two years or so we get together for 12 days and it always works.”
Expounding further on working with Luzier and Pinnick, he continues, “When I say ‘always works,’ I mean in the sense that we captured a moment in 12 days.” Generally taking much longer, and with KXM only spending a dozen days recording, there isn’t quite as much time to make everything just right. Basically working on one song per day throughout the entire process, they have learned that being a perfectionist is just something that time does not afford. He reconciles the comment by saying, “Is it totally satisfying to us like we got every song right? No no, because on every record there are spots where I wish we’d spent more time on this or I wish we could have changed that. But that’s just the nature of the beast, the way that we write and record these things. Having said that, it’s still worthwhile doing, it’s such a unique sound when the three of us get together because of the chemistry.”
Circle of Dolls has a very consistent feel throughout its sum. Within that framework there are elements of progressive rock, Caribbean flavor, pop and even some new wave sounds included. The first track, War of Words has a pulsating riff, contrasted with a haunting synthesized vocal backdrop to the chorus. Lightning is a slower tempo number where Pinnick’s soulful vocals are wrapped with a 1970’s sounding, melodic R&B soundtrack. Twice opens with a riveting guitar riff that gives way to a very dreamy feeling verse and the feel of it is very appealing. Time Flies incorporates the poppy, new wave feel that incorporates some interesting effects around a straight forward chorus. Vessel of Destruction is driven by a stirring guitar riff and throws in that Caribbean feel as well as hitting some progressive rock elements. Sounds like this record is all over the place, right? No, the records retains cohesion throughout and upon being asked how that happens while borrowing from so many different musical elements, Lynch submits, “I think what we do if we do a part that’s outside of the straight rock realm, you know, a little flavor of this, a little flavor of that, we make sure we’re not trying to mimic something that we’re not. We’re not going to try and sound like we’re Bob Marley’s band all of a sudden. We’re just going to have that flavor superimposed over what we do. It’s still Ray playing his drums the way he plays, it’s still me and if I do a funky refrain, there’s going to be an added little twist to it.”
In a writing style that is kind of different from how most records are written and subsequently recorded, KXM chooses to come together for that “moment in time” with no preconceived ideas. There is no bringing a riff that’s been bouncing around in someone’s head, no vocal line that someone’s been dying to put to music. Lynch explains how one of the members plays the taskmaster in regards to keeping things spontaneous, unique and fresh, saying, “Ray is usually the one who polices that, because I’ll be the biggest offender, I’ll have something that I had on my voice memo, a little idea or something. He’ll be like ‘NOPE,’ he won’t allow it. He’ll just change things up to disallow you from playing that (chuckles). He actively prevents us from bringing anything to the table that’s preconceived, everything has to be created on the spot. But there’s no lack of ideas, we’re going all kinds of directions, the problem is it’s like herding cats. That’s the challenge is you have to manage all of those ideas and you have to coalesce them into a viable arrangement that you can get your heads wrapped around.”
Twelve days is an awfully short time frame for bringing an entire album from conception to completion. Some bands have spent literally months making records. Although Lynch did not comment on how long the work days were for this session, less than two weeks is still just not that long. The notion was floated that having three extremely creative people in a room for that relatively short amount of time must generate more creativity than there is time to explore it, Lynch agreed, “Exactly right! Also, every time you open a door, that leads to ten more doors and that leads to ten more doors. So, you have to really have the discipline of mind to focus on what you’re really trying to say. You’ve got three guys trying to say three different things, the challenge is to be able to communicate. Also important is to be able to be open and to listen. When we’re younger and we’re writing, it’s all about us. That’s the biggest joke in the business, when you’re a young writer, you always think that your ideas are better, and you grow attached to your ideas, and you don’t want to let them go. I learned early on that you have to let them go. You have to develop thick skin, you cannot fall in love with your ideas, that is an immature writer. You have to listen, you have to pull from the outside from your partner’s point of view. If we’re all doing that it works and it’s rare to find a group of who do that, and we do that.”
The breakneck speed of this process for KXM is summed up by Lynch very pragmatically. “Eventually at some point we’re like, OK guys, we got this song. We may not be 100% blown away with it, but we’re done for the day. Tomorrow is another day at work.” That is a bit of a refreshing point of view for three people who have had successful recording careers to adopt. Two years from now is another 12 days at work and while this record is enjoyed, we may have another “moment in time” to look forward to from KXM.
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