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Karate and dog

Karate: Sweep the Leg, Geoff

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: October 10, 2002

w/Neva Dinova, The Mariannes
Wednesday, Oct. 16
9 p.m.
Sokol Underground

13th & Martha

The calculated groove of Karate's music is insidious in its simplicity. Don't be deceived. This is no mere soul-jam, no stumbling revelation, no product of blind improvisation.

As free-form and flowing as it may seem, Karate's music is the product of monumental precision.

"In a sense, it is exacting," said Karate guitarist and singer Geoff Farina by phone from drummer Jeff Goddard's Boston home on the eve of a national tour that brings the trio to Omaha's Sokol Underground Oct. 16 (drummer Gavin McCarthy rounds out the band).

Farina said he began writing the nine songs on the band's latest Southern Records full-length, Some Boots, two years ago. "We learn four songs, play them a couple months, then go on tour for a couple months, then learn four more. It normally takes about a year to pull it together. We toured on every song, using the performances to decide what sounded good."




It doesn't stop there. Farina says the songs' dense harmonies demand that he meticulously write out charts to share with his cohorts. "That way, we can make it happen right there during practice without having to go over it and over it," he said. "Jeff likes to have it laid out in front of him, while Gavin is more of an 'ear' person. By writing out the songs, we can bridge the gap between us more quickly and not have to articulate things via conversations.

"We'd like to jam more than we do," he added, "but it's in the nature of the music -- we're very structured in a lot of ways."

If Farina sounds almost academic in his descriptions, it's probably because he and the rest of Karate are products of the famed Berklee College of Music (in fact, Farina has an MA from the University of Massachusetts, where he wrote a thesis called "Humans and Hardware: a History of Analog Music Synthesis").

Karate's songs even sound more intelligent than their indie-rock brethren -- a rather snooty bunch to begin with. Each well-thought-out composition is like a perfectly sculpted gem. Take "Airport," for example, with its tightly cut rhythms, glittering jazz-tone guitars, and faceted, scatty vocals that combine in a Pretzel Logic-era Steely Dan sort of way (Farina's vocals even resemble those of an edgy, pouty Donald Fagin).

Ah, but amidst those well-groomed musical hedges is all that unbridled ivy -- the guitar solos. We're not talking solos like those behind-the-back, tongue-wagging axe-slingings of your favorite '80s hair band -- more like intricate jazz outings that slowly boil over with buzz and howl, releasing all the unrestrained tension. Farina says the solos are where the band stretches its improvisational muscle, and he relishes every moment of it. "All the guitar solos are improvised," he said. "When we recorded, I did five guitar solos for each song. It's a big part of what we do, but they're also structured -- we know exactly where to start and stop."

With all that rehearsed precision, you'd think their time in the studio would be a walk in the park. Think again. "When everything's going right, it's still not a quick process," Farina said. "You're talking 15 days and nights to mix and do overdubs. It's one reason why we have things so worked-out before we enter the studio -- if we didn't, we'd be in there for months."


"You're talking 15 days and nights to mix and do overdubs. It's one reason why we have things so worked-out before we enter the studio -- if we didn't, we'd be in there for months"



"I consider myself to be a citizen, a white boy from the suburbs. I want to deal with everyday issues, but I don't want to preach"


Instead, the band will be spending months on the road crossing the country supporting Some Boots. It's a fate that Farina, a road veteran since '94, doesn't relish. "As we get older and get more commitments, it gets harder being on the road," he said. "Karate could never be just a studio project. I don't think we want to hide away from people. Our live set sort of defines us. Half of what we do is make music in the studio, the other half is playing it live on stage."

Farina would rather be home rebuilding an amp in his Naragansett, Rhode Island, grange hall he and fellow musician/artist Jodi Buonanno renovated into a studio and art space, surrounded by the artists, writers and filmmakers that make up his life. "A lot of my inspiration comes from the creative community we surround ourselves with," he said, adding that his rustic home is a necessary escape from the hustle-bustle of Boston, just 90 minutes away where he lived for 13 years.

"I surf all summer and get to enjoy the foliage," he said. "I don't know if it directly influences the music, but there's a calmness and serenity there."

Another influence, though subtle, is politics, which Farina says he deals with abstractly in his lyrics. "I've never lived in less of a democracy in my life," he said, reflecting on the current state of national affairs. "What used to be a dialogue has turned into a monologue. I don't how to separate politics from my music."

Still, you won't find any fist-pumping anthems on Some Boots. Perhaps the most direct lines come on "Ice or Ground?," a dialogue between two long-time political activists over the then-ensuring war in Afghanistan: "Complaining's not gonna change things now / Let's get one thing straight: no one did nothing for your freedom."

"I consider myself to be a citizen, a white boy from the suburbs. I want to deal with everyday issues, but I don't want to preach," Farina said.

"I grew up with punk rockers who get up there and scream idealism. It hasn't helped me. I think the idea is to get people to think for themselves. Right now, there's a lack of information, a huge vacuum in a lot of ways. People need to question and talk to each other, not force their point of view -- that's not helpful."

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Published in The Omaha Weekly Oct. 9, 2002. Copyright 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.