Old-soul music

Budapest One is a brand-new band making some venerable -- and tremendous -- rock and roll

This acclimation/self-actualization has, in time, led Killoren down two merging paths. One: a highly developed sonic sensibility that culls as much from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht as it does from the Jam and Elvis Costello (though with a gritty-crooner vocal style that evokes the early, snarling bellow of Joe Jackson). And two: the founding of his own band, Budapest One, last spring. Right now the lineup consists of Killoren on guitar and vocals, bassist William Pollard (of Cornhole and, in the interest of full disclosure, the author's ex-husband) and, until they find a full-time replacement, drummer Steve Barnett of Baboon.

"It's a here's-my-songs-you-play-them deal," Killoren says. "It's a little less democratic than a normal band is. So it took a while to find people. Most people wanna jam. They get together and write a hodgepodge song. But with us, I'm like, here's a language, and they get to choose the dialect, though I've gotten to the point where William has become very necessary. I'd be lost without him."

Killoren and Pollard, with contributions by free-agent keysman Lee Tomboulin and guitarist Ted Wood and a few others, recorded the demo last July with Dave Willingham acting as engineer. The first track, 90 seconds of velvet and bile, is titled "Comfortable," and the sound is a fair warning of things to come. The initial bars are a dark, Antonio Carlos Jobim-style tease. Then come the words--"It will never be as comfortable, as when you were alone / It will never be as comfortable, as when you could go home"--and the song rips into a bloody collision of guitar and vocal roars; yet the song never strays from its glorious hook. Finally, it concludes: "I could pray every day that the decisions made will put you up in family way!"

The tape's fourth track, "Sir David: Hope of Woman," is a perfect example of Killoren's narrator-literary leanings. The song borrows part of its title from an obscure play called Murder: Hope of Woman, though it's about a substitute teacher Killoren once had--a hairy middle-aged misfit who still lives with his mother and obsesses about women and guns. Comparisons to Beowulf's Grendel--at least John Gardner's version, told from Grendel's perspective--pervade the whole: "He dreams of the end / He dreams of going home to his mother again." The chorus kicks in and drags us back to the best of 1978-era British new wave--punchy guitars and staccato toms over just-buried caustic lyrics. It's an exercise in catharsis, even if not directly Killoren's.

Religion and family and romance all get the same jarring and satisfying treatment: scatological, ambivalent, poetic. Then there's the case of the hapless lamplighter, circa 1910. "The Last Lamplighter" is another short burst of a song (this one with a cheerful, sing-along flavor) in which the poor non-union worker lights his last lamp, and in the face of the "electric revolution," kills himself. But not without Killoren's references to Greek tragedy and Thomas Edison: "So when you yearn for the golden years, remember this," Killoren sings. "Freedom cannot exist in shadows / So watch where you were laid to rest / What an awful mess, to keep yourself anachronistic." It's as though Killoren is writing a cautionary tale for himself.

This demo tape, available at Budapest One shows, will be followed soon by the band's contribution to three compilation EPs to be released by Chris Lewellyn's local indie label Clandestine Project Recordings (see Street Beat, page 86). The band will record nine new songs for the project in the next few weeks, again with Dave Willingham, and the EPs will likely be available early this spring.

Right now, Killoren has the lyric sheets to these new tunes hanging, clothesline-style, in the music room of his house. Tacked under each white, scribbled-on page is a piece of old sheet music--Rudy Vallee, or a 1920s Tin Pan Alley tune--all original and sepia-toned with age. He's hoping the wisdom and character of the old music will rub off on the new music--a spiritual transfer of integrity and color. In the corner sits his Rickenbocker six-string, one he claims he bought new off the wall less than a decade ago, though the once-white guitar looks at least 40 years old. It's faded to yellow and worn and cracked, as though it has passed through the hands of several hard-playing generations. The old-soul thing comes to mind again. One young man playing, thinking, and composing music with the weight of several lifetimes touching everything he does.

With that aura, it's no surprise that Will Johnson, one of Killoren's roommates, has asked Killoren to preside as minister over Johnson's upcoming wedding ceremony. For the event, Killoren had to go through with some kind of ordination. "It's from the Universal Life Church, over the Internet," he says. "I do feel like a little bit of a charlatan about it, but I'm trying to be utilitarian about the whole thing, for the greater good of the marriage. It would be an absent ceremony if they had some minister who knew nothing about them. So I'm acting as a ship captain, marrying somebody I know. It's an honor."

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