Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Brad Kopplin
Charles Westmoreland is a restauranteer. The Kingdom lead singer knows food - good food -- and he knows presentation. He knows that parsley, while serving no working purpose except for the antiquated breath enhancing operative, is a staple on most dishes, simply for its aesthetic qualities. With his day and almost every night job, he must cater to tastes. He must give people what they want -- what they're hungry for, otherwise, the tables stay empty. He knows that presentation and the little flairs add up to satisfied customers with big, full, and warm bellies that will have memories and bring back their masters for encores.
Done right, the showmanship and the look of a particular main course or side dish enhances the flavor of the meal and it goes down as the eyes willfully close, the chin goes up and as the fork or spoon is slowly pulled from the happy mouth, the tongue gliding across the lips with complete satisfaction. The going is good. The body and the mind are sated for the time being - partially because of the actual taste (oftentimes it's a deception, these artificial tastes) and partially because we saw the deliciousness dressed up for the ball in its finest gown.
Westmoreland's band doesn't use the smokes and the mirrors that others might. They don't really use the parsley to any kind of effect for garnish isn't needed. The Kingdom makes up the difference with dramatic feverishness that trims all of the fat off of its songs and makes them into streamlined pockets of flare gun light and full-throated offerings of impatience. There would be no place for the garnish in songs that hate longevity. It would be like putting a grand piano or a pool table in a one room apartment.
The songs on the band's latest record -- K1 -- are quick, but they aren't flighty. They know their purposes and the way Westmoreland writes - with an eye and an ear for the storytelling of a novelist - he's one of the shortest fiction writers working at the moment. He bridges these imaginative tales of epic and consequential journeys to airports and NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks from mining country locking horns with all of the celestial beings for a football game in the sky that involves a laser arm that slings comets and the like instead of pigskin.
These aren't songs that cover familiar ground. He writes in ways the way Ben Marcus wrote The Age of Wire and String, where the mind is allowed to make up its own rules about plausibility and reality and construct a story any way that it sees fit, but there's a healthy dose of someone more conventional odd, but rational like a Vonnegut or someone of that ilk. When all is said and done, Westmoreland and his band are still playing songs about the depth of the human heart and soul and they explore just how far down people are willing to reach into them, pulling out what they can get their hands on like a magician feeling around for that bunny at the bottom end of his or her hat.
What's so striking about the songs that Westmoreland writes and guitarist Gavin Todd, drummer Evan Railton and bassist Zach Okun pull off is the way that they kick and scream, but still retain all of the pleasantries that could come if Frog Eyes' Carey Mercer and Elton John ever collaborated. There's a glistening and sharpened sheen of both "Caravan Breakers" and "Benny and the Jets"/"Rocket Man" in much of what happens when they plug in.
There are little tiny happenings that remind one of catharses - lots of them - and there are more than a handful of moments that sink into a joint venture between living it up and the colors and flashes and stars that appear when all that living clocks you across the head. That's when the choruses kick in. That's when the eyeglasses that are at home on the bridge of Westmoreland's nose start sliding down closer to his mouth and he is forced to push them back into place with a pointer finger. When those stars and flashes start, what good would garnish be? You'd just trip on it and there goes your buzz.
The Daytrotter interview:
*Are you a sports guy? What of Unitas? Can you speak on Peyton Manning's (the present-day Unitas) turn on SNL last Saturday night?*
Charles Westmoreland: I'm kind of hit and miss with the sports. I don't think I've watched one football game since the Raiders lost the Super Bowl four years ago. I stopped liking basketball when Vlade Divac retired.
*Are you a competitive fellow? If you could pick how you would most successfully challenge someone, what would the game or task be?*
CW: I'm pretty competitive. I like to play tennis with girls.
*What is it like being a restauranteer? How long have you been doing it? What's your joint called? Has the remodeling been a bitch?*
CW: Yeah, that remodel was pretty fucked up. The kitchen looks beautiful now, new hood, replaced the entire hvac system, new floors, got a pressure washer and had a cook dressed up in a ski suit blasting all of the equipment outside. He spent eight hours out there in the rain having the time of his life, said the highlight of his childhood was his mom taking him to the carwash. He got everything looking like new. My partners and I are opening up a new restaurant this summer in north Portland called Miss Delta.
*Have you ever been beat up?*
CW: I've been punched in the face a few times, but never really got my ass kicked by anyone. I do a pretty good job of that myself falling down flights of stairs and shit. A couple years ago I fell out of a car and broke an arm.
*Are you working on a new disc or are you just too busy?*
CW: I am. I've got about sixteen new songs. I'm gonna start posting some demos up on the Internet soon.
*How do you consider your musical life? Is it secondary or primary?*
CW: It's all kind of the same. Bands and restaurants are really similar.
*You've lost one member of the band to Adult Swim. Bet you didn't see that coming. Which cartoon do you hope she's involved with there?*
CW: She's working on a show called "Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job."
*How was that Viva Voce/Silversun Pickups tour for you guys? The iron was hot for both of those bands at the time.*
CW: It was great going out as an unknown band and playing 30 sold out shows. I love both of those bands and they're some of the most genuine and beautiful people I've known.
*What's K1 about? I could probably think of about a trillion things and not ever be right.*
CW: K1 is about a race from Albany, N.Y. to JFK airport in which the vehicles change in order to cross the various terrains. The pilot, or driver, changes identities, in order to reclaim something he is missing.
*What's your favorite thing about Portland? Having morning coffee with Sleater-Kinney and The Decemberists every day?*
CW: Yeah, it's great. We have a secret clubhouse hidden under a waterfall. Colin and I like to hold hands and skip down Burnside together on Sunday afternoons.
*How were you as a child? Active imagination?*
CW: I don't really remember. Seems like kids in general have really great imaginations. I think I was into drawing pictures of castles and hanging out with my dog.
*Have you continued getting up early in the morning - at 5 a.m. and stupid times like that? What do you do that early? Write songs?*
CW: Yeah, exactly.
Click here to visit The Kingdom's myspace page.