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November 10, 2005
The drive from Corner Brook, Newfoundland to nearby Stephenville is approximately eighty-five kilometers, or roughly forty-five minutes; a solid hour during winter, a season that can last up to seven months in Newfoundland. That stretch of road is one which Neil Targett (bass/snyth/samples), Brad Robertson (guitar/vocals) and Dennis Keough (drums) of Kuroda trek more than once during the calendar year.

On one such trip Clancy's, a small locally owned pub kept alive by the pockets of college students and their taste for chicken wings, is the trio's destination. For some, Clancy's is the Thursday night hub of Karaoke. Others are drawn in solely by the cheap Canadian beer. Either way, Clancy's has become one of many bars in Newfoundland that have played steward to the staggering, mercurial sound of Kuroda - Newfoundland's trio of electrifying jolts, torrid jabs and dense atmospheres.

Just over a year ago, in October of 2004, the aforementioned pub was near capacity, with locals and college students alike have long since claimed the venue's best vantage points. The night's line-up was to include the St. John's band Coast Guard, who had made the grueling eight hour drive from the capital city to open, and the much anticipated Kuroda. Most that were in attendance were there on hearsay, knowing only that Kuroda packed a mean punch of instrumental ingenuity, and that they were "that band from Corner Brook." Up until then, aside from a few elated Trans Am fans already wedged up front near the stage, no one knew what to expect.

An instant later, jarring, swelled guitar lines pushed through the front row, with pulsating bass and fervent drums on its heels. The sound was dense, leaving little to no room for air, and it collectively shambled the room with fragmented melodies, steadily crafting a cavernous, sonic distinction. Tracks such as "Hypnic Jerk," "Barcode Birthmark," and the title track from the band's first full length, I Woke up This Morning, were played to the once skeptic crowd, ultimately drawing applause.

On that October night the proverbial cat was let out of its un-recycled bag, subsequently adding a load of Stephenville cynics to an ever-growing Kuroda bandwagon. But for the Corner Brook trio, having built their sound upon loaded textures and familiar grooves, conquering places like Clancy's is a common feat.

The members of Kuroda met in their hometown of Corner Brook in 1997. Upon realizing their likeminded musical orientation, they decided almost immediately to jam in Neil Targett's basement, where tunes would be crafted and calculated into what they warmly refer to as "a basement hobby that we eventually took to the stage."

Brad Robertson and Dennis Keough have played music together since high school, when they were incorporating hard rock and heavy metal elements into an ever-changing sound. During that same time, Targett played bass for a local punk group.

"When you come across other people in a small town who are actually into some of the same bands that you listen to- meaning music that isn't in the mainstream- there is an instant bond," says Targett. "One night we ended up hanging out and I hardly knew the guys at the time, other than knowing they played in other bands, and it turned out they were listening to bands like Tortoise and Trams Am, bands that hardly anyone else around here had ever heard of, and it was an instant connection with the discovery that we all liked similar music."

The trio's connection was cemented when Brad and Dennis spent time away at University, encountering and ultimately surrendering to a new world of indie music, one dissimilar to their din roots in heavy metal. Neil had discovered Sonic Youth at an impressionable age, which became apparent two minutes into the Clancy's show. Neil was a bass player, Brad was a guitarist, and Dennis was a drummer, each from the same small region. They made plans, jamming in their basement until the evolution of their sound eventually produced Kuroda.

"It took a couple of years before we actually had enough songs to play a full set, simply because it was still more of a hobby and we rarely got together to practice and work on new material. It was more of a random improv sort of thing [where] we would have fun and play music with no real direction," Targett explains. "What set us apart from other basement bands in the area was that we had no singer and had no desire to find one. People couldn't believe that we didn't want a singer, and folks would constantly offer to sing, or say things like, You guys are good but you'll be better with a singer."

Targett admits the initial response may be an underlying reason as to why the troupe was partial to seriousness in the beginning. Heresy and protests aside, however, the band trudged on and carried their intentions, in the process turning the early naysayers into future vote-givers, if and when they decide to run for a Canadian election. But politics seem like a long shot, with touring being a far likelier endeavor.

"Eventually we were asked to play more and more shows, and over time we even started getting paid, when our songs became better and we could play a full set of original music."

Since their formative days the band has traveled across Newfoundland extensively in support of their material and to open for friends they've met along the way. It didn't take the trio long to realize that their beloved province, beautiful scenery aside, wasn't exactly the best terrain over which to tour; in many ways the geography of Newfoundland prevents outside bands from ever setting foot on it's soil, and traps Newfoundlanders from setting foot elsewhere.

"For touring bands from outside the province, the ferry is the killer. Unless you are really huge, you probably don't make a whole pile of cash from touring, it's more about hopefully making enough to cover expenses. When a band comes to the Maritimes, they rarely want to dish out another $200 or $300 to cross the gulf on a seven hour ferry ride and then drive ten hours across the island to St. John's," says Targett. In the past couple of years word has been getting out that bands can play Corner Brook along the way, and even Stephenville during the school semester.

"As for bands in Newfoundland, the distances once again pose a problem for the bands in St. John's, which is the only real 'city' in the province, and therefore the best known for original live music," Targett continues. "Who wants to drive ten hours and then take a seven hour ferry ride just to get off the island?"

Targett says the proximity of the ferry in relation to their hometown is fundamental in their reasoning for not flocking to the big city, an avenue many of their friends and fellow musicians have strolled down recent years. This past spring, with the help from the Music Industry Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (MIANL), a government funded organization committed to the development of Newfoundland music, their logic started to make perfect sense when they toured the Maritimes for the first time... by ferry, of course.

"It was quite the experience for us because we had no idea what to expect, being our first tour and all. But the response was just incredible and every show was a positive experience. Best of all, people really seemed to enjoy our music."

Funding from MIANL also presented the group with the opportunity to travel to Toronto and take part in NXNE festivities this past June. The festival's hefty line-up offered only one scheduled performance for the group, but at the end of their set they were offered a second gig later that day. In culinary terms, it was the icing on the cake. Sure, their encore performance may have been at one o'clock in the morning, but for a band from Newfoundland playing at NXNE for the first time it was a chance they couldn't sleep on.

"NXNE is one of those events that many bands consider just to be industry slime, really only doing anything for the bands with current buzz while tossing aside the smaller bands like us, but I really have no complaints. After all, it was our first time playing Toronto, so at the very least it was a foot in the door."

A strong contingent of Newfoundland acts backed Kuroda during their freshmen NXNE experience, with Coast Guard, Lizband, Faster Miles Per Hour, and Chris and Dave Picco all lending support throughout the festival, spreading the word that Newfoundland's underground is alive and kicking. For a province that is largely known for its roots in traditional folk music, it's a world hardly known and seldom explored.

"I think I am fairly safe in saying that this was the most Newfoundlanders they have ever had at this festival at once. I know there have been Newfoundland bands that have played there in the past, but six at once? That's history in the making," remarked Targett. "I think people are aware that there is an underground scene in Newfoundland, it's just something they are rarely exposed to."

In the last year Kuroda have taken their sound to relatively uncharted territory, by adhering to some of the advice hecklers heaped upon them in the early days. Yes, they have added vocals. The group had always favored the idea of staying a trio, finding themselves unable to see Kuroda as a 'four-on-the-floor' act. And so it was that a pact was sworn: No more members were to be allowed in. With that in mind, the soft-spoken, gritty guitarist Brad Robertson worked up his confidence and, before they knew it, the group found themselves a singer. In hindsight it all worked out rather well because Robertson, according to Targett, "just so happened to be a decent singer."

Kuroda's unbound, slanted psych-prog rock may have taken its time escaping Newfoundland, but their fastidiously deep-seated textures and drawn-out grooves made the band's escape an inevitable one. Looking back as far as the days in Targett's basement, it was only a matter of time. As for new material, Targett admits they have a well-known producer in the Canadian underground scene on board for their next release, but for it to come to pass depends on time and the prevalence of Robert Bordens - the Canadian equivalency of Benjamin Franklins. That and if they're ever satisfied enough with home recordings to let other people in on them.

"I guess we are our own worse critics because every single recording we have ever done has been rushed for one reason or another, so we have never taken the time to try and do something as well as we can. It's more a matter of getting down some rough demos of the songs so that we don't forget them. Everything we have done so far has been a home recording. We are getting better at the home recordings, and some incredible bands can build careers on home recordings, but as soon as we finish recording something we start to regret it, and wish we actually put some time into it to get a better drum sound, bass sound, or whatever. We do have new material, but lately the time just isn't there for us to start recording something. When that time arrives, we will definitely do our best to put out something that we are happy with."

The two years of journalism school I spent on the West coast of Newfoundland was more than just dangling modifiers and cold weather thanks to Kuroda. After stumbling upon them one night at a local pub, I felt as though I had discovered a secret waiting to get out, a secret for everyone interested in small town dreams and music bent on cut-and-paste ideas, and those simply looking for a sound improvised with impenetrable atmosphere and verve. Kuroda have put Newfoundland on the map, and they have also convinced many that their little island, tucked so many ferry and van hours out East, has something worth tuning in to. It's safe to say they're anything but a secret now.

SEE ALSO: www.sonicbids.com/kuroda
SEE ALSO: www.reasony.com

--
Matt Elliott
A J-school student at the U of King's in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Matt Elliot is a contributor-at-large for LAS magazine.

See other articles by Matt Elliott.

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