Kaiser Architekt is a fictional group of spies set in the fantasy world of old-school 60’s Cold-War espionage. It’s a world of Morse code, dead drops, numbers stations, and covert operations. Formed by “The Kaiser” in 2011, the concept was simple – What if the TV show “The Monkees” had been set in the world of “The Man from UNCLE”? The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and the hero always gets the girl. Sharp suits, trilbies and 60’s fashion fused with up-tempo feel-good Pop-Rock songs, with diverse influences ranging from Steve Reich and Bach, to Yes, Peter Gabriel and Sting. Their first album “Spies Like Me” was released in 2013 and tells the story of a spy, the “Kaiser”, and his search for the mysterious and beautiful femme fatale known as “Doctor 11”, who is in the process of taking over the world. “Spycraft 101”, an EP of 4 songs, followed in 2015 and carried on the espionage theme. Kaiser Architekt is a band that does not really exist. Its members have codenames and their true identities are not known. It’s playing make-believe, musical escapism, and it’s designed to bring a smile to people’s faces.
All Kaiser Architekt’s songs are written by The Kaiser, a multi-instrumentalist, who began playing and reading music at the age of 3. Having won a number of music scholarships during his school days, he went on to study classical music in university, specializing in the pipe organ. It was the pipe organ that started the Kaiser’s love affair with the music of J.S. Bach, but it was his introduction to the music of Steve Reich that really sowed the seeds for the future sound of Kaiser Architekt.
How would you describe your style?
Kaiser Architekt is all about feel-good Pop-Rock, making people forget the mundane reality of life and escape to a fantasy world of heroes and villains. The music is predominantly pattern-based, with each rhythmical pattern locking into and working with all the others, like the cogs in a swiss watch. We use a lot of pianos as part of the rhythm section (most of our songs have between 3 and 8 distinct piano lines in them) and we have a lot of orchestral elements in our songs, both structurally and instrumentally. I knew what the layout of a symphony orchestra looked like long before I knew what elements made up a Rock band, so fundamentally I write music for large numbers of instruments, rather than for just 5 or so individual players. All our mixes are complex. I tend to write music “horizontally”, with the interaction of the various patterns dictating the chord progressions. It usually starts with a repeating 1 or 2 bar pattern – often on the piano. I loop this pattern and put harmonizing patterns over it. It’s like assembling a Swiss watch, adding one cog after another, all syncing in with each other. Once the piano patterns are in place I’ll add guitar parts using the same principle and let the song evolve from there. It’s a challenge for anyone mixing our music and we have to use a lot of backing tracks if we’re playing live.
Why do you do what you do?
It’s about escapism and having fun. The music makes me feel good, and hopefully, there’ll be people out there who also feel the same when they hear our music. When you’re pretending to be spies, you really can’t take yourself too seriously! To some extent it’s also about legacy, being able to point to what we’ve done and be proud of it. I’ve written and played music all my life and for a long time, I had nothing physical to prove it. It’s a good feeling to know your music is available for people around the world to hear and hopefully enjoy.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to you?
Talent is more important. Putting together music that you feel has merit, playing with other talented musicians, doing things that other bands don’t do – whether lyrically, thematically or instrumentally, finding a “sound” that makes your music different, taking a song from an initial idea to a finished piece. That’s where the job satisfaction is. Obviously, it would be nice for the music to sell well, but it’s more important that I’m happy with each of the songs, that I can stand over the musical decisions that were made, and that each release shows some sort of growth. Proof that I’ve learned something from the last venture.
What inspires you to create music?
Each of our releases, whether our debut Album or our various EPs, tells a story. “Spies like me” and “Spycraft 101” are stories from my fantasy world. When I was putting together the music for the first album “Spies like me”, I happened to be doing some heavy training, in my other life, with a number of current and ex-members of the intelligence community and some close protection and special ops guys. Pretty serious people that you don’t meet every day. Anyway, the training was real, but the situation inspired me to indulge my childhood dreams of being a secret agent, and get back into writing music, which I hadn’t done for a number of years.
The “Pilgrim” and “Pilgrim II” EPs are different. To some extent, they break the “4th wall” actors talk about. The 6 songs on “Pilgrim” tell the story of my parents, who both died of cancer within 7 weeks of each other in the Summer of 2018. They tell stories I would have heard as a kid, about their first date, that sort of thing. They were together for over 50 years, so when we buried my mother on my father’s birthday, he said it was my mother’s way of calling him home. In that regard, unlike our other songs, Pilgrim is genuinely personal, which is why it has an unmistakeably Irish feel to it. It’s about love, life, and coming to terms with mortality. But it’s definitely more of a party than a funeral, as the songs still focus on the all-important feel-good factor. I always want the listener to feel positive.
Our latest release “Pilgrim II”, also deviates from the norm in that there are 5 purely instrumental pieces on it, a move away from writing lyrics, which is where I’m probably most comfortable. The songs are loosely based around old traditional Irish jigs and reels. As on the first “Pilgrim” EP, we brought in Martin Nolan, a traditional Uilleann pipes player, to play the pipes part, as he had done on the first Pilgrim EP, which gives it an authentic Irish sound. “Pilgrim II” is more of an instrumental soundtrack to my childhood, growing up hearing various styles of music, from classical music to various eras of rock music, while always being conscious of the traditional Irish music that was never far away – the music you might hear as you were passing by the older pubs in Dublin. So, the inspiration for what I write about comes from whatever stories I want to tell.
How did you find the scouting process in Rehegoo?
Initially we got a mail out of the blue from a Rehegoo scout saying they liked one of our songs in particular, and would we be interested in signing up. We liked what they were saying about getting our music out to a wider audience around the world. The guys in Rehegoo are really helpful and friendly, which makes things run more smoothly.
How did you feel when signing a contract with Rehegoo?
There’s a nervous anticipation that comes with signing any sort of contract, mixed with a certain amount of pride, that someone has listened to your music and thought it had some sort of value. It’s not the same thing as when your mom tells you your song is good! The idea that people anywhere in the world might get to listen to your music is definitely an exciting feeling.
What is the greatest achievement of your career so far?
Sometimes it’s the simple things that mean the most. A message arrived a few months ago on our Facebook page from a guy in Aurora, Illinois, saying that he really liked “Worlds Apart” from our “Spycraft 101” EP, he really loved our sound and said we were his new favorite band. That sort of thing is gold for me. That’s a connection with someone thousands of miles away that was made through our music. Prior to us signing with Rehegoo, it’s hard to see how he would have ever come in contact with it.
What has been the biggest obstacle?
In reality, the biggest obstacle in life, whether that be jobs, kids, money, pandemics, whatever. Everyone is busy, everyone is getting older, priorities change. It’s harder to find a time when everyone is available. But that’s just the way life is. We can still get together, it just takes more work.
On a professional level, one of the biggest obstacles is getting national/ international radio airplay and access to music supervisors for TV and movies. There’s so much music available that it’s hard to get your music in front of the right people and music supervisors are an elusive breed.
What is the best and worst gig you have ever played?
Oddly enough our first gig was probably our best. The venue was packed, the audience was great, and it was the first time I’d been on stage with Mr. Webb on vocals and Mr. Templar on rhythm guitar since we were kids, so there was a bit of an emotional component there too. With Mr. Smith on lead guitar and Mr. Lynch on drums, it really was my ideal line-up. Playing my songs on stage with those 4 guys was a really special thing for me.
Our worst gig was probably our last one. The desk we had for running the backing keyboards and arpeggiator tracks packed it in on the afternoon of the gig, and because those parts are integral to the gig, there was no way we could play without them. Luckily Mr. Smith, our lead guitarist, managed to find someone at the last minute to lend us a desk for the night. It was all a bit panicked. Then the sound we had on stage for the soundcheck and the actual gig was completely different. When your songs have a lot of tight harmonies, you rely on a good sound on stage so you can hear yourself. It’s probably for the best that we didn’t record that one.
What is a favorite song of yours?
It’s hard to pick out one song, as each song has its own associations and means something different to me. If I had to pick one, it would probably be “Kuryakin” from our “Spycraft 101” EP, as it was one of the first 2 songs I wrote for the Kaiser Architekt project, (the other being “Playing with Dynamite” on the “Spies Like Me” album). I like the build of the 3 harmony guitars at the start, the multiple piano patterns, and the cross-rhythms in the vocals of the verse. To some extent, it’s the song that defined what the Kaiser Architekt sound would be like.
The song I’m perhaps most proud of is “The Providence” from our latest EP, “Pilgrim II”. Working a Bach-influenced song under a traditional reel, which has been slowed down, was fun to do, though something of a challenge. It’s the one I wish my father had been alive to hear.
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