Kiosk: Getting it together
The band have a classic male/female partnership at their heart. Chris Mugan meets the songwriters in question
Friday 23 September 2005
Now, from north London, comes a more subtle proposition. On paper, Kiosk may be a five-piece, but at their heart lies the songwriting duo of Donald Ross Skinner and Krissie Nicolson. Like The Kills, Skinner and Nicolson came together after a few false starts. Nicolson was part of the band for the Canadian rapper Spek (remember "I'm a Hippie", anyone?), while Skinner's last band, intriguingly, was Fiji, where The Kills' Jamie Hince plied his trade before he hooked up with Alison Mosshart.
Skinner, though, denies that he wants to ape Hince's success with his own female muse. "It was a mutual friend that brought us together. We were both looking for an outlet and Krissie's brother suggested we met. No one knew what we wanted to do at the beginning."
The pair soon realised they had common ground, Nicolson explains. "We both liked Beefheart, but there was so much subconsciously and consciously that influenced us."
While Skinner may not have aimed to follow Hince's approach, I wonder if certain people are better at working with someone from the opposite sex. "It might have some bearing," he responds, "but if people understand each other, then they work well together. You're gonna be able to produce something worthwhile."
Nicolson comes from a highly musical family. Her mother played clarinet and her father, a champagne salesman turned vicar, joined in on piano. Along with two of her five siblings, she formed a group called Hector's House. Her sister Claire, a renowned session singer, has released an album while Tom has set up a label, on which Kiosk put their debut single.
Kiosk are putting the finishing touches to their album ahead of its release early next year, and have been working together for four years. Nicolson was the youngest member of her family band, while Skinner was introduced to the music business by the Teardrop Explodes founder and all-round eccentric Julian Cope.
Skinner grew up in Tamworth, the hometown that Cope returned to after his adventures with the Teardrops in Liverpool. In his autobiography Repossessed, he tells how the teenager turned up at his house one day. Cope was charmed by Skinner, and introducing him to his own tastes added impetus to his own solo career.
"My girlfriend had dumped me and I was playing things that depressed me, one of which was the Teardrop Explodes," Skinner says with customary dry humour. "He only lived down the road, so I went to see him."
After Skinner spent a year hanging out listening to psych and post-punk, Cope invited him to work with him on the 1984 album Fried. Skinner has stuck with him ever since, co-writing for further albums and playing bass in Cope's touring band.
Apart from a project with Cope's younger brother Joss, Kiosk is the first band where Skinner has been involved in writing all the songs. Skinner knew Tom Nicolson through his brother Hugo, the studio assistant on Cope's 1988 album My Nation Underground, and one of the few sound professionals able to deal with Cope's unpredictable behaviour. "The producer was kind of highly strung, so Julian said, 'Why don't you sit back and let Hugo have a go?'"
Skinner briefly joined Hector's House, when Krissie was just 16, but it was in 2001 that Tom suggested they work together. Since then, the pair struggled to put together a line-up they can trust. Nicolson's sister came and went, but Tom was on hand to put an advert in the NME.
A single released in April was Kiosk's calling card. It gained interest on the indie scene and earned them an Xfm session, but failed to gain widespread attention. This was despite it having the longest title of a song since Marc Bolan wrote poetry on record sleeves. "One day I'm going to go STRATOSPHERIC on you and, chances are, you'll thank me for it." You just know Cope would approve. Indeed, "Stratospheric" had an immediacy and simple pop charm that brought to mind his most accessible work: imagine a more intense Cardigans, or a more upbeat Kills.
At the studio, I get a taste of Kiosk's forthcoming album. The band's bluesy feel is even more pronounced as layers of sound have been stripped away to leave more space for Skinner's edgy riffs and Nicolson's pouting vocal style. While their sharp, punky attack may gain them attention, it is Kiosk's quieter numbers that should win them long-term devotion.
This was seen on the "Stratospheric" EP, where among Skinner's own compositions lay the simmering resentment and violent imagery of "Daylight Robbery".
Skinner admits that he is a film buff and that that informs his writing. One title stands out in particular, "Sparrows with Machine Guns". It's a line from the original Batman movie, where the Riddler asks, "What's small, grey and dangerous?"
"I'd been out with Claire for a little while, so it's about dangerous birds," Skinner says.
You could pose the same question about Kiosk themselves. Skinner and Nicolson come across as fragile birds, yet together they form a formidable unit. Get ready, then, to watch them fly.
Kiosk play Buffalo Bar, London N1 tonight
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