Inquiring Minds

Animal Data: An Interview with Distant Worker

If you haven’t yet heard Distant Worker, fret not, we’ll fix that shortly. These beatnik dub-punks work from an esoteric playbook, favoring auspice over practice, and they’re 66 percent not from around here anyway. Jen and Richard Kimball, both formerly of the Fiskadoro group, live in greater Angleton and offer their guest worker skills to the city of Houston's burgeoning arts and entertainment industry. David Robinson sharpened his ears in the Entertainment System, Springfield Riots and SARS, before submitting his considerable guitar prowess to a protocol of systematic unlearning and rigorous degradation. And if you do know Distant Worker already, you still mightn’t know Animal Data, their new eight-song album, released digitally on March 21 of this year. We’ll fix that too.

Here’s Animal Data, in its amazing and confounding glory:

On the occasion of their appearance supporting The Wiggins (who celebrate the release of a new album, Greater Minds, this Friday, April 1, at the Satellite), Distant Worker spoke to the Houston Press about Animal Data, regional pride, teleological dread and the rest of the usual stuff.

Houston Press: First. What kind of band is Distant Worker?

Jen Kimball: We are a techno band with loud guitars.  Our music is put together like a good outfit: layers.

Richard Kimball: Distant Worker is a dance band. We make reggae music for the kids.

David Robinson: This band is a noise band with a rock and roll attitude. Or a dub band with a noise attitude.

Would you say your music is representative of the greater Freeport, Surfside, Angleton, North Matagorda music community?  Or do you consider yourself a Houston band?

Richard Kimball: I would say our music is representative of the greater Freeport area, but not the music community. Distant Worker is a Houston band. I work here. David lives here. Most of our friends are here. So many of the songs we make are about Houston. As it is, Houston is so big it’s not really a place. I’m not sure it even exists.

David Robinson: I have no firsthand knowledge of the musical scenes as they were or are in Freeport, Surfside, Angleton or Matagorda, but I would say Houston, for all its cracks and crevices, is a place unintentionally and perhaps self-uncomfortably exploding with diversity, or at least people and neighborhoods spread apart. I would say we are a Houston band; I would think but don't know that that self-descriptor might come close to encompassing disparate scenes outside the supposed city limits. I sing of and play to Gulfgate, and to the weird, wild, old neighborhoods on the northside I saw whilst looking for a house this past summer. In particular, there was a great abandoned shopping center — all white against a poison nicotine sundown, and I imagined a trio of outsider girls I knew of in junior high grown, living lives together as witches slipping through the quiet anonymity of the shadows and fading lights. I sing of and play to the chlorine and scorched white summers.

Jen Kimball: You guys surf down here, you know how you have to drive by all the chemical plants to get to the beach. Distant Worker has all these spooky sounds and menacing basslines over lyrics about cats and lettuce. Sinister sunniness. You make casual friends with nice people who are also doomsday preppers and secret haters. Conversely, Distant Worker’s sound is abrupt to someone who only listens to the radio, but Rich’s lyrics, when they’re not related to politics or the end of the world, are about things everyone knows: friends, vacations, ourselves.

Nobody has heard of where we’re from, so we’re a Houston band. For a while I tried telling people that Rich and I lived near Galveston, instead of Houston, but it didn’t take, plus "Galveston band" makes me think Beach Boys covers.

Bachelor number three: Do you ever feel the hand of doom on your neck? Is futility a turn-on? I am prone to a deep-set feeling of complete isolation, here in the swamp, but I people this void with a trust in the future, as I don’t like to promote fatalism or quietism of any sort, within or without. What motivates y’all to work?  

David Robinson: I'm motivated to work by the premise of meeting folks with whom I can share a conversation, musical or otherwise.

Jen Kimball: My simpleminded sense of denial about the state of the world means that I have no sense of the future past the end of the week. “Just imagine, President X.” “What about when you get old?” To quote Jim Kelly in Enter the Dragon: “When it comes, I won’t notice…I’ll be too busy looking goo-ood.” Which in turn is my motivation for most things.

Richard Kimball: In 1976, Emile De Antonio, Haskell Wexler and Mary Lampson made a fascinating documentary called Underground about The Weathermen. There is a scene in the film where people are interviewed about the feasibility of a revolution in the United States. And they seemed hopeful that this was a real possibility. And I’m not talking of some new political revolution we hear about every election year that never amounts to anything. I’m talking scrap the system and start over. These are cynical times. Idealism used to be alive and looking for action. This is why we got so involved in the Civic TV Collective scene. We could sense the idealism. And we wanted to support it and be a part of it.

Could you be so kind as to put yourself in a context, musically, with a mind to listing and possibly discussing the music, books, art, political events and general swish and spit that move you to make the music you make?

David Robinson: Distant Worker is a band born out of time with no choice to be anything other than Distant Worker, as no one else is to be trusted. That having been said, I contribute to the band with poisoned sugarplum memories of the old, reasonably fancy Jewish neighborhood I grew up in, the old cinema nearby in which I saw all the animated movies of my youth that eventually yielded to Bollywood, the apartment complexes we were forbidden to go near, and the old burned-out buildings that, rarely enough for Houston, were allowed to stand.

Richard Kimball: I was a kid in the early 1980s. We lived in Hamilton, New York, which was also home to Colgate University. I despised rock music. I didn’t understand it. It wasn’t speaking to me. The only music I liked back then was Christmas songs and carols since they were so haunting and

scary. One night I tuned in to WRCU, the Colgate station, expecting to hear some old-time radio

show like "The Shadow" or "Bob and Ray." Instead, a DJ named Mark Sullivan played "Bloodstains" by Agent Orange, and songs from Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys. That changed everything. I wasn’t the same person after that. He also played "Is that all there Is?" by Christina. This was like a cabaret number. And I think it helped keep my definition of punk rock as inclusive. Because I had heard the term "punk rock" before. And when I finally heard it, I instantly knew what it was. And it was for me.

  A few years later, I went to high school in Cranford, New Jersey. There was a ton of college radio

stations around me. I knew when all the punk shows were on. And, of course, The Reggae

Schoolroom on WFMU Sunday mornings. That was my church. And after church I’d go to the

Hardcore Matinees at CBGB.

   Back to the radio, Linton Kweesi Johnson was real popular at this time. The dread in his music

was also being felt in books by Don DeLillo and Denis Johnson and William Gibson.

And all of this was happening because it felt like the world was coming to an end.

Jen Kimball: I grew up happily listening to FM radio with my hippie parents, and Casey Kasem’s Top 40 was the highlight of my week. Kind of the opposite of Rich. By the time I started high school, I was a Duranie, but I had a Loverboy poster that I took to boarding school that may or may not have briefly made it onto the wall. I had come from a small town in Delaware, and there were five girls in my dorm from New York City! One of my roommates while I was there had a sister who hung out at Danceteria and Palladium and was friends with Marc Almond, so she was kind of my idol. It was through those sisters that I started listening to some of the deeper New Wave bands that influenced my beloved Duran Duran, particularly Japan and Roxy Music, as well as the 2-Tone stuff and the Liquid Sky sound track. When the sister that I went to high school with got married, I made her a mix tape (because it was the format available, not because I was an underground hip-hop artist) as an engagement gift, with a note thanking her for her influence.

More superficially, what groups first inspired you, and which groups inspire you now (if there’s a difference)?

Jen Kimball: I spend a lot of time driving my vehicle around Brazoria County, so I’m back to FM radio and I won’t even consider upgrading. I liked pop music for a while during the Justin Timberlake/Bruno Mars eras, but the stuff I hear today is terrible. The “alternative” station is some kind of mishegoss of early-’90s nostalgia and the same eight bands that all sound like one band that I don’t care for, but I tune in for the stray Deftones song. I steal a lot of basslines from the classic classic hip-hop station, and I love trap music; the creepy synth sounds and ticks and the beneath-the-ocean floor bass all sound just like drugs. I don’t even have the equipment to jack those basslines.

David Robinson: Every band or song I've ever loved has influenced me, but strictly guitar-wise, a mixture of Johnny Marr, Kimberley Rew, Ron Asheton and especially Andy Gill has served me well here. Percussion-wise, it was mostly Bow Wow Wow and the sound of metal on metal.

Richard Kimball: The music that inspires Distant Worker is all over the songs. We’re dropping hints and inside jokes all the time. Mostly reggae music. And trip-hop. Smith & Mighty. Massive Attack. And the current stuff out in Bristol, UK — Young Echo, Ishan Sound, Gorgon Sound.

What’s the diff between Distant Worker and Fiskadoro, fundamentally speaking?

Richard Kimball: Distant Worker is much more deliberate than Fiskadoro. We plan things out a lot more. We’re a lot more flexible. I barely play guitar in Distant Worker; that’s pretty much all David. Jen is stealing basslines in ways you couldn’t even imagine. And since we live so far away from each other, our get-togethers revolve around recording. We rarely practice. And there is plenty of room for improvisation within our songs. We sound different every time out.

  I think we’re more of a party band than Fiskadoro was.

Jen Kimball: Even though I know I’m not using some of these terms correctly, I feel like we went from Fiskadoro the post-punk duo, to FSKD the noise trio, to FSKD the noisy pop trio+the occasional others, to Distant Worker the techno glam trio. Everyone who’s played with us has been a mad genius in some way; David is our glam genius, among other things.

Could you please tell us about the Animal Data record, when it was begun, what it means to you and how it was made?

Richard Kimball: We kind of started recording the Animal Data record last Memorial Day weekend. We recorded the "the best dressed man in town" b/w "cdstumm87 (intro)" single a few hours before the floods hit. That’s how it all started.

We had planned for Animal Data to be an EP out last Thanksgiving, but as we kept recording

more and more music, we realized it was time to shoot for a full-length.

There are a couple more EPs planned out for the next few months.

Jen Kimball: It’s been a strange year for me, so I defer to the guys on this one. I showed up where I was supposed to most of the time, when I wasn’t too busy looking good.

What kind of activities do you wish to prepare in the future?

Richard Kimball: We want to play Sunday brunch shows. Jon Read and I have been talking about this idea for two years. This has got to happen!

Jen Kimball: I would like it if Distant Worker could play the National Anthem at the first game of the NBA Finals.

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Tex Kerschen is a Houston based gadabout, dilettante, estimate reviser and the Houston Press music listings editor.
Contact: Tex Kerschen