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Seattle’s Secret Weapon: Red Lehman Interviews Kimo Muraki

Posted by May 22nd, 2009 No Comments »

Q&A with Kimo Muraki

Kimo Muraki is a Seattle rock star whose name may not be familiar to you. Like many good musicians, he lends out his talent to a multitude of projects that pique his interest. You see, Kimo is the secret weapon who gives bands an extra edge. He’s the dude in the corner of the ring who tells the boxer which punches to throw.

Thanks to his mastery of several instruments and on-stage charisma, he’s managed to land gigs with local bands as diverse as the Super Sonic Soul Pimps, Bre Loughlin, Shawn Smith and Michael Vermillion.

As a fellow musician who has appreciated Kimo’s contributions to the local scene for nearly a decade, I jumped at the opportunity to interview him. We decided on a common point between our dwellings – The Wayward Coffeehouse in Greenwood. It’s a quiet, unassuming venue where I could switch on my tape recorder and not worry about the D&D guys getting too loud. When did you first start playing music?
Kimo: I started playing saxophone for the school band in fifth grade. All through my teenage years my Grandmother and I were a Catholic wedding singing duo. She would play the organ and I would sing. She was a jazz piano player and my parents are both singers.

Kimo Muraki


NM: Do you think musical ability is inherited?
K: Depending on how you look on your family, you are going to take those things that are most important to you. Unless it’s out of defiance, which is of equal importance.

NM: When I first met you… you were in 100th Monkey. Then we played and toured together in Late Nite Menu. A few years later I saw you playing with Nu Sol Tribe and Trwst & The Puget Sound Machine. Now you’re in 17th Chapter, The Bre Loughlin Group, Lonesome Rhodes & the Good Company, Hallways, Funkscribe (w/ members of P-Funk), Lost Dogma and Surrealized. Whew! What else do you have cooking?
K: I’ve been really busy the last couple years with the Super Sonic Soul Pimps. Nu Sol Tribe’s manager happened to be Johnie from the Soul Pimps’ wife. Over the years I developed a great relationship with him, so when they decided to get back together minus their keyboardist, Wonderbread (who’s busy playing with Maktub), they asked me to play. So I came in with my guitar and developed my own character.

I just recorded a record with Shawn Smith (Brad) called The Diamond Hand that has a whole bunch of talented musicians on it. Shawn always has something going on. He’s such a talented, malleable guy. I’ve also been playing banjo, lap steel and coronet with Michael Vermillion (Vendetta Red).

Oh…and recently I got back in touch with some childhood friends in Idaho and started a band called Go Engine Now. Our album should be out soon.

Kimo Muraki

Kimo, seated

NM: You’re from Idaho then. How did you end up in Seattle?
K: When I graduated from High School I went to college in Portland for awhile. Then I dropped out and followed The Grateful Dead. After Jerry died I was a bit of a floater for awhile, then I moved up here to be closer to a guy I grew up with – a musician who goes by Trwst.

NM: In addition to all of your projects, you now have your own band with Rob Anonymous called Surrealized.
K: I never thought that I would do a main project like Surrealized. Everything is new for me. It’s a trip. The lyrics and melodies just come so naturally with us.

NM: I saw Surrealized at ToST and it was an amazing show. My artsy friend I brought said you were making sounds that Radiohead makes, but with two people. He was blown away. He mentioned you guys to his friend at KEXP.
K: That’s great. I’m the worst business man ever. I hate schmoozing. To set out and try and convince somebody that you’re the shit? What’s that all about?

NM: Yet on your old business card it mentioned “free sex.” Did you ever get a call?
K: I got one call back from a guy at the airport.

NM: When we played together you played sax. Then I heard that you had picked up the guitar. What are you learning now?
K: Shakuhachi, which is an ancient Japanese bamboo flute. It was used by traveling komuso who believed if you played the perfect note you would achieve Zen. I’d been interested in learning it since I played the taiko for music theater work. Years later I was researching shakuhachi players in the states and found a teacher that was the first westerner bestowed the honor of master. He just happened to live in Seattle. I’ve been studying with him for almost three years now.

About this time the Wayward Coffeehouse is setting up for their Sunday night Open Mic. A manly-looking woman is getting ready to tap dance and a psychic has sat down near us. A 15-year-old kid flanked by his friends sits on a couch with a guitar case between his feet.

NM: What would you like to see change about the Seattle music scene?
K: Right now I’m more excited about playing music here than ever before. I’m not sure if that’s because music thrives during tough economic times or not.

I went to Reverbfest this year. All three bands I was playing in were at the Tractor. The place was packed the entire time and the music was really good. I didn’t get a chance to get anywhere else, but I heard that all the other venues were having the same experience. A lot of local festivals have been moving away from supporting local bands. The thing is local art and music is what uniquely defines a city so it’s a shame that’s happening.

Other genres of music should take notes from Seattle’s huge hip/hop community who all work together as a unit. They all help in putting on shows and events bigger than just a Saturday night at the High Dive. People just need to get out from under their ego.

At this time the table of role-players seated in front of us gets up leaves and various people clutching instrument cases start arriving. We are asked a few times if we are playing tonight and where the sign-up list is. I’m starting to realize that we are sitting where the stage will be.


Kimo, this time on banjo

NM: Any advice for bands just starting out?
K:You have to be willing to play Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. or midnight. You have to play shows anywhere you can, guerilla marketing, friends, don’t be an asshole, you never know when that break is going to happen.  Just play a lot. Unless you have money…then promote yourself.

NM: Worst show that you ever played?
K: Marmalade played a show up in Mill Creek. The booker is a great guy so we’re there because someone wants us to be there. But there’s no one there except for the bartenders and some stragglers, and the entire time there’s a huge TV screen with UFC going on. I don’t smoke pot anymore, something happened to me years ago when I just biologically couldn’t take it, but that night I forgot. I decided it would be a good idea to use it to help distract me from this crazy sports bar with UFC going on.

Instead of distracting me it became this whole David Lynch thing. I forgot how to play my guitar and I felt like I was the loudest noise in the room. UFC is still going on and all ten of us are trying to play this inspirational funk music. Luckily no one was there to hear me.

NM: What’s the best show you’ve ever played?
K:  Piecora’s Backroom earlier this year.17th Chapter played everything acoustic and introduced a whole bunch of new songs. In that room you could hear a pin drop. I brought my sitar and we rocked the whole thing acoustic campfire style and the crowd was with us the whole time. It was a beautiful experience.

At the end of our interview the psychic came over and wanted to read us for free. I’m not sure what she quietly whispered to Kimo, but a contented smile broke out over his face. It’s the same smile I’ve seen (and will continue to see) on stage at his many shows.  

Two of the bands Kimo plays in, Michael Vermillion and Go Engine Now, are out on a West Coast tour that ends at the Sunset  in Seattle on May 24. Check out his Website for other dates.

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