Karma To Burn Share Crazy Drug Stories

Yesterday, you read an update on John Garcia’s plans to take his new Kyuss-covers project on tour. Today, here’s a 2001 interview – online for the first time – with Karma to Burn, a band that Garcia almost joined.

Incidentally, K2B are back out there too: The reactivated group has a new studio record – crafted with help from Gutter Twins’ Mathias Schneeberger – coming this spring via Napalm, and it’ll be burning through Europe in April. On that tour, the guys’ll be playing with Year Long Disaster, a seemingly unlikely partnership between K2B bassist Rich Mullins, Third Eye Blind drummer Brad Hargreaves and Daniel Davies – son of the legendary Dave Davies of the Kinks.

Without further ado, here’s that antique Karma to Burn interview:

“It was a bottle of Absinthe that was given to us as a present by this Swedish band Awesome Machine. We immediately chugged [it] and downed [it] with a crate of mushrooms,” says bassist Rich Mullins during a phone chat October 9.

He and his band Karma to Burn are on the road, headed from Columbus, OH to their home state of West Virginia for a night’s rest before taking off again in support of Clutch. In divulging how he and his pals Will Mecum (guitar) and Rob Oswald (drums) arrived at the artwork for their new album, Almost Heathen, he adds, “Under that kind of influence, we were all staring at the bottle going, ‘You know what? That’s the cover!’”

The artwork in discussion contains the image of a gaunt, wild-eyed man wielding a Bible and stepping on a topless woman who lies on the ground with a cross-shaped sword plunged through her chest. On the back cover of the album is a drawing of a pentagram with a cross-eyed bunny in the middle, and inside is a horned demon beast toting a rifle and a can of booze and surveying an expanse of burning fields. Judge a record by its cover? Always.

Karma to Burn's Almost Heathen

The uniquely mordant humor inherent in West Virginia threesome Karma to Burn (a.k.a. the “Playboy Pallbearers”) is furthered by their new album title, a play on their native state’s motto, “Almost Heaven,” and appendixed by two other policies: a restriction on vocals and allegiance to numerical song titles – “Nineteen,” “Thirty Five,” etc.

Representing the order in which each song was conceived in the K2B catalogue, Mullins finds the numbers more appropriate than words: “People ask why we don’t name [the songs], but with no vocals, I don’t think they really need to be saying anything.”

K2B’s novel approach to making heavy-rock music – similar to grunge in its classic and punk-rock footing – is hardly eclipsed by the top-notch musicianship that has landed them opening spots with hard rock elite Metallica, Clutch and Queens of the Stone Age. And while their seven-year career has yet to be endowed with that “breakthrough” moment, K2B has been living it up the whole time.

The band formed from the remnants of the Red Oak Conspiracy (formerly the Red Oak Social Club) by Mecum (Admiral, Tooling for Bovines) and then-drummer Nathan Limbaugh. The two were accompanied by second guitarist Jim Davison and vocalist Karim Chatila, though Chatila soon departed and the band abandoned vocals altogether.

A number of prominent musicians – including, among others, former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted and Kyuss cofounder John Garcia – offered to take up vocal duties, but K2B regretfully declined. (Recordings of Garcia and the band do exist, however, under the moniker Nino Brown.) The band then regrouped with current members Oswald (Jade) – who coincidentally played as part of Mondo Generator, a side project formed by present Queens of the Stone Age and former Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri – and Mullins.

Mirroring the turbulence that has accompanied the K2B lineup over the years is the sporadic array of their releases; K2B had not seen a domestic release since February 1997, when Roadrunner delivered Karma to Burn. A handful of poorly documented demos, singles and 10-inches exist, but Spitfire’s release of Almost Heathen – along with the reissue of their second effort, the U.K.-only Wild, Wonderful … Purgatory – has finally crystallized the band in the record bins.

Fittingly, both Mullins and Oswald maintain that their new LP is the first example of something the band’s truly satisfied with. Says Mullins, “We got the sound that we wanted to – low end, that kind of stuff. [And] we were able to work on it for seven days instead of three [in which they recorded their debut].”

Oswald talks at some length about the commanding work by producer/mixer Michael Barile: “I met the guy and I was thinking, ‘This guy sort of reminds me of Gene Simmons.’ Then we started talking about Deep Purple, and I knew it was going to work out.” Oswald feels that Almost Heathen benefited greatly from Barile’s suggestion that the band record sans headphones, a tactic that successfully captures the K2B’s live sound over the course of the 10 tracks.

Recording, however, is not necessarily K2B’s task of choice, especially when touring is involved. “It was a blast writing music,” says Oswald, “but when you’re on the road having a blast touring, it’s like, ‘Eh, we gotta write another record.’ But it turned out to be really cool – once we got in the mode of it, [Almost Heathen] pretty much wrote itself. And once we got done with that, we were all psyched to get on the road again.”

The gang graced Europe three times last year, is headed there again this November after their domestic Clutch support and are already solidifying plans to tour the U.S. in January with cosmic rockers Atomic Bitchwax. As is the case with many fledging indie acts, K2B has suffered their fare share of road mishaps; most recently they’ve been plagued with van problems.

“This is the icing on the shit cake,” says Oswald. “I got a new engine and did the tour with C.O.C., then started this tour and the serpentine belt broke. Then the fuckin’ starter went out. Then the alternator. I assumed when you get a new engine put in a van all that shit comes with it, but we found out that it doesn’t.”

Nevertheless, K2B are keeping their chin up and their spirits alive, even in light of recent world events. While Oswald says he is not looking forward to increased security at airports (on being searched at baggage terminals: “I got it really bad … before all this happened”), he notes that the concerns might actually “make it kinda fun. Add a little bit of a risk factor in there.”

Perhaps it’s the art of the risk that keeps K2B’s music – and artwork – so fresh. Of the racy Almost Heathen art, Oswald acknowledges that some might be offended but proffers, “Some people can’t take a joke, I guess. It might be kinda dangerous.”

But what better source of risk than the road? When not touring, Oswald says the band is usually stuck playing video games, watching movies and doing drugs. He then declares, “Me personally, when I’m not playing music, I’m thinking about playing music.”

Originally published in October 2001.

If you dug this, dig these:

• “Getting To Know Mark Lanegan
• “Iggy Pop Transcript, 7.18.03: ‘I Was Shooting Dope At The RIAA Awards When It Wasn’t Chic’
• “John Garcia Announces Kyuss-Covers Tour Plan; ’05 Gig With Josh Homme Is Remembered

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