Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Kyp Malone does not stand still. When his band TV on the Radio finished up its most recent tour, multi-instrumentalist Malone kept pushing forward. He released a strange, even unsettling solo album under the name Rain Machine and hit the road again both in the states and in Europe. When he was recently invited to perform solo at the “Howl in the City” event—-at which the poet Anne Waldman will read Allen Ginsburg‘s iconic “Howl” and other musicians will perform works inspired by the poem—-Malone didn’t consider saying no. He recently spoke with Arts Desk about solo work and his love of the Beats. He performs for free outside of Busboys & Poets at 5th and K streets NW Saturday at 10 p.m.
What drew you to this event?
The invitation drew me to the event, but I was happy to accept the invitation because I like Ginsberg, I like the cultural space that he occupies and what he represents, and I like D.C.
Do you have a favorite piece by Ginsberg?
The first thing I was ever introduced to was “Howl,” and I’ve revisited it several times over the years—-it’s made me feel different each time. “Father Death Blues” is one I like, too. I’m also just particularly fond of the person he presented as a personality.
In interviews and arguments…I wasn’t alive with him as a contemporary in the ’60s, which is what period I was introduced to, but it seems like it took a lot more to stand up and live your life outside of societal norms in a loud and vocal way, especially in terms of sexuality. The queerness he identified with and celebrated is starting to be accepted more in the mainstream today. Living a creative life, it takes a form of bravery in a lot of ways. His life and how he led it—-at least what I’ve seen in his writing and hearing him read—-it’s heroic in a sense to me. I only ever saw him read one time, and it was the day Kurt Cobain‘s body was found, so I must’ve been like 21 or so. It was a very weird moment in time. A lot of my friends were pretty upset. Kurt Cobain was for us in that moment a poet, and someone we identified with. Maybe not everyone, but I certainly did; his songs were undeniable to me. His death was a pretty big shock and a blow to me. To see Ginsberg that day and hear him read and speak on things in regards to mortality and death and the continuation of the spirit…it was very healing.
Did he speak purely with his work or did he talk about death outside of his poems, as well?
He, more than anyone I can think of who has a listenership, he synthesized and then translated a lot of Eastern spirituality for a lot of people. That’s in a lot of his writing, and he talks about these metaphysical things in his writing. If I remember correctly, and it’s hard to remember because it was a long time ago, I believe he did address the situation for a moment outside of the poetry. It was a respectful, mourning moment.
At the Ginsberg-inspired event, will you be performing Rain Machine?
Yeah, probably. I try to have a plan, but sometimes it’s whatever the moment calls for.
Do you have more than is what’s on Rain Machine?
I have a lot of songs that aren’t on anything, and then there are some TVOTR songs I wrote that I play solo if I feel inspired.
Does Rain Machine draw inspiration from the Beats or their legacy at all?
I feel like anyone who is writing verse is connected somehow to all people who have written verse. So, I feel an affinity toward them. But also, they were doing that in their time and living their lives on those specific paths. That might not be my path. As a younger person I remember trying to emulate that and recreate those experiences. We’re all given our own trips, but I’m a father and I’m pretty square now. I still like psychedelics and everything, but I’m not in a position to drop everything to go to North Africa. But of course, I find [Ginsberg] and the Beats were an inspiration.
The Beats often interacted with the social issues of their time. Do you feel like your work connects to broader social issues as well?
I know people who are living their lives as activists, but the music I make—-it’s a commercial endeavor. It gets tricky to combine the two. It is still what I do for my vocation, so it is still a commercial endeavor. I’m working on some things, and there are some things in embryonic stages that I don’t want to talk too much about, but I’m working with some friends to organize a concert to bring attention to the perpetual trampling upon of native people’s rights, particularly in regards to mining corporations and extractions in the Southwest. I’m talking to people from the band Blackfire from Arizona. People in that band are in a Navajo tribe. We’re trying and protest that and raise money for people in that situation.
But lyrically, these things do come up in the context of songs that I’ve written. Lately, I’m writing right now for a project, and there’s a lot that I feel like deserves questioning and condemnation for what’s going on. In this world, and in this nation in both foreign and domestic policy. That stuff is coming up in songs, and it’s easy to come up as a complaining blowhard Jeremiah…you could go hoarse telling civilization how fucked up it is, but the list of complaints would just never end. Still, I don’t want to shut up about it, but I don’t want to just write and just sing about it. That’s not the entirety of my experience, and I don’t want it to be my only reality. That would be a pretty narrow field of vision.
Kyp Malone performs for free on Saturday, July 24th at 10 p.m. outside Busboys & Poets at 5th and K streets NW, following an 8 p.m. performance inside the venue by Anne Waldman and others ($10). “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg” runs through Sept. 16 at the National Gallery of Art.