One night a little over a year ago, two young men burst into New York City’s Lower East Side mainstay Katz’s Delicatessen and held the joint up. Sort of. Brothers Isaac and Thorald Koren, musicians who, along with drummer Shakerleg, make up New York City band The Kin, were looking to rob ears, not wallets. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a musical robbery!” shouted Isaac as he strode in with Thorald on his heels strumming a guitar. The duo launched into an original song, “Downtown Train,” for the restaurant’s patrons, winning them over with their energetic performance, rich harmonies, and sheer nerve. By the end, the Korens had the restaurant’s unsuspecting patrons whistling and clapping along — no easy feat as anyone who’s ridden a NYC subway and tried to ignore a spectacle unfolding in front of them knows.
The Kin have launched several of these “musical robberies” over the last year, including at the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW, Soho House in Los Angeles, and even at a French airport. “We’re looking to surprise people and give them a musical experience,” Isaac says. “Or maybe we’re just adrenaline junkies, because it feels like a drug the body is releasing when we make that connection with other human beings based on our music. Even if it’s just for a split second, it’s a rush for everyone involved.”
That rush also extends to The Kin’s proper live shows, including a much-buzzed-about Thursday-night residency at Manhattan’s Rockwood Music Hall the band played for seven months last year. So transformative are their live performances (one of which has been recorded and released as the CD/DVD Live At Rockwood Music Hall) that Interscope Records A&R executive Barry Williams courted them for two years, eventually dragging his colleagueJames Mormile to a show at The Stronghold in Venice, CA. Two weeks later, Mormile attended a show at Rockwoodand witnessed people in the crowd watching The Kin with their mouths hanging open in amazement. Interscope signed the band shortly after.
The Kin are currently capturing their impassioned delivery and gritty pop-rock sound in the studio, working with legendary producer Tony Visconti (best known for his work with David Bowie and T.Rex), as well as former Record Plant staff engineer Jack Douglas (John Lennon, Aerosmith) and Nic Hard (Joey Ramone, The Church) to record the songs that will make up the band’s major-label debut album to be released by Interscope later this year. (Pre-Shakerleg, The Kin released two albums, 2007’s Rise and Fall and 2009’s THE Upside, independently.) “The question becomes how do you bring to life something that is so explosive live,” Thorald says. “It’s like taking a picture of a full moon. It’s so big, how do you get it all in the frame?”
One way has been to showcase not only Isaac and Thorald’s dual lead vocals and familial harmonies, but also the raw power of Shakerleg’s stick-free, bare-knuckle percussive stylings, which the Buffalo, NY, native honed through years of trying to get the attention of apathetic commuters while performing on NYC subway platforms before he agreed to join native Australians Isaac and Thorald in The Kin. “Tony really put a magnifying glass on Shakerleg’s sound, as well as on the guitar and bass, and encouraged the right vocal attitudes,” Isaac says. “We’ve always wanted our albums to feel like what we’d hope to feel if we sat in the audience ourselves and felt the energy coming from the stage. Tony knows how to hear the pieces of a sound as it’s forming. You can hear it in the work he’s done with Bowie and T.Rex — just that raw moment when something new is being created.”
The Kin’s first shot across the bow is the single “Gemstone,” a rollicking tune about a young girl “who is swallowed up and loses her innocence to the world in every way,” Isaac says. Another highlight is the love song “Miracle,” which Thorald says is about “when you meet someone and everything gets turned around in 24 hours. You haven’t called people back and it’s been four days. You’re just undone. We use our stories to tell the stories of others,” he adds of the band’s lyrics. “We use both lenses.” Says Isaac: “The songs are stories about being human — about transformation.”
That The Kin are drawn to telling such tales feels authentic given that each band member’s life has been personally altered by discovering music. For Thorald, inspiration struck at age 11 when he saw a teacher’s daughter play the guitar. “It was never about listening to records, it was all about playing and realizing it was a haven — an escape,” he says. “It was also the first time I realized that something I did could have an effect on someone.” Isaac got the bug when a high school friend asked him to join his band. “Seeing 250 kids jumping up and down, it was this feeling of freedom,” he says. “I started teaching myself how to play piano and write lyrics. It was hard because so much has been done before but you try to reach into your own heart and hear the music in there. That’s the place I like to write from.”
Shakerleg began playing drums in junior high but got derailed at age 17 when he saw a video of Buddy Rich. “I started crying while I was watching it,” he says. “Like, ‘This guy is so good, I’ll never get there,’ so I moved to New York to become an actor. When that didn’t pan out, I took a job driving hookers around.” Not surprisingly, Shakerleg did not have a future as a chauffeur. Needing a way to make cash, he took his hand drum into the subway and was soon earning $300 dollars a day, a fact he apprised the Koren brothers of when they approached him about joining the band. “We had to figure out a way to pay him the first year,” Isaac recalls with a chuckle. “But I don’t think we truly became The Kin until Shakerleg joined. For the six years before that, we played with great musicians but it always felt like we were putting together an ensemble. Whereas now it feels like we’re a unit. He’s helped us make sense of being a band, of being The Kin.”
This year, The Kin will continue to play live as they finish up recording their upcoming album with Visconti, Douglas, and Hard. ”I like the idea of peeling back the layers and sharing our experiences in such a way that everyone in the room becomes ignited themselves,” Thorald says. “To inspire people to express themselves back is absolutely our mission.”