When mysterious Brooklyn goth-pop project MINKS released their first single — a grey-hued yet buoyant summer death knell called “Funeral Song” — the comparisons to The Cure and Joy Division were inevitable. Despite the omnipresent new wave/goth correlations, the brains behind MINKS, Sonny Kilfoyle, maintains that he’s not really inspired by that kind of music at all. Indeed, a closer examination of MINKS’ dark, jangly debut 7’’ “Ophelia” and you’ll find that Kilfoyle is more a kindred of cult musician Lawrence (the recondite genius behind British alt-rock groups Felt and Denim) than Curtis or Smith. Like Lawrence, Kilfoyle crafts reverby soundscapes that oscillate and glimmer like a pebble-disrupted pond at midnight. With his unruly mop of fedora-covered black hair, diminutive frame, pale delicate features and eccentric blue eyes, Kilfoyle cuts an indelible figure. “Every song is supposed to capture a certain emotion. It should make you feel something very specific,” the Boston-native explains post-performance, backstage at Brooklyn Bowl. A fan of photographer Robert Frank, whom he reveres for his skill at capturing narratives in photo form, Kilfoyle seeks to do something similar using the three and a half minute song as his medium. “With MINKS I just want to be able to make you feel something,” he muses “and lately I like the idea of sentimentality, nostalgia, and history.”
Formerly of the rock band Blonde Acid Cult — which brought a Madchester reminiscent sex swagger to 2000s New York — the music Kilfoyle creates as MINKS is decidedly darker, artier and more poetic. Live, he is joined by a loose-knit collective of musician friends (“everyone here is extended family!” Kilfoyle declared backstage. I had to later clarify that they were not all cousins or something) which gives new layers to his chilly pop dirges. Since we last spoke, Nico-meets-Marianne Faithfull-esque chanteuse/songwriter Amalie Bruun has now joined Sonny as the only other permanent band member. MINKS’ first LP “By the Hedge” is set to drop on January 11th with a planned tour with the Dum Dum Girls set for February. OAKAZINE spoke with Sonny about his first band (it was called Fire Child), favorite animal (it’s mink), favorite album (A Charlie Brown Christmas) and other super important matters. Interview after the jump. — Words by Marlo Kronberg. Photos by Emir Eralp.
I want to go back to when you first discovered music and when it kind of gelled that music is something that you want to do with your life.
I grew up with a piano in my house so I was very inclined to fuck around on it. But I guess my discovery of music was very natural. My parents both love music. They’re both very passionate about it. They were always playing records constantly and even now they’re very involved with music. I think its natural. If you come from a family that appreciates music and sound I think, more often than not, you’ll be inspired by music. When I was a child I played piano, then saxophone, then guitar. When you have an appreciation for music you start exploring every instrument because you have to find out what you can do with it. If you have a knack for one you can carry over onto another. I also have a brother who’s very involved in music.
What was the first tape you bought or band you became a fan of on your own?
When I was young I really liked Van Morrison. I liked to listen to his tapes that my mother had. My father had a Pretenders tape that he would always play in his car. I remember one trip we went on, driving through New Hampshire and Vermont, where we listened to the tape nonstop.
What was your first band?
My first band was called Fire Child. We were in sixth grade. I put on the show myself. I had my mom work the door to collect the money and the drummer’s mom baked brownies and sold them. We kind of sounded like Nirvana.
Did you have any formal training?
Not really. I’m still not able to read music, but I wish I could. At the same time it’s interesting to skip one step in the songwriting process. I like to be able to translate my thoughts or mood to music without having to write it out first.
When did you move to New York?
I moved to New York four years ago.
Why did you move here?
I moved to New York because the buildings seemed taller I guess. You know, I feel like to appreciate where you come from you have to go to move someplace else in order to appreciate coming back to it. Everybody needs to travel somewhere new in order to find themselves. You need to put yourself in an environment where you’re not familiar with anyone and you don’t have any friends, and you’re forced to find out about yourself.
Tell me about the formation of MINKS.
MINKS is a solo project for the most part — it’s mine. I started it in January of 2010. I have a recording studio in Brooklyn with some friends and I started recording music and it evolved from there. Amalie, who I had met a few months prior to starting MINKS, would come down and sing and sometimes other friends would be there when I needed a drum track, a guitar line, or whatever else.
What’s your vision as MINKS?
For me, nostalgia is big. My philosophy is to make music that blends the past and present. Anything that straddles the line of one thing and another. I can’t listen to music that doesn’t make me feel anything. My thing with music is that I really have to feel something on a gut level. I can listen to some punk band that pisses me off but it makes me feel something, you know? With MINKS I just want to be able to make you feel something and lately I like the idea of sentimentality, nostalgia, and history. I like the idea of somber beauty. There’s no grand vision though. Whatever I feel inspired by at the time dictates the way I write music.
Why did you name this musical project MINKS?
Because it’s my favorite animal.
I know your 7” is entitled Ophelia. Are you inspired by literature and poetry or any other art-forms?
As far as literature goes I don’t know what literary sources directly infiltrate my inspiration. I could say that Camus or Shakespeare are inspiring to me, but I don’t know how direct it is. It’s a fascination or slight infatuation while I’m reading it. As for art, I like Robert Frank. He was a photographer who was able to capture moments and Americana in this little vignette. He’s very inspiring to me. Right now I’m reading Walden by Thoreau and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I’m obsessed with anything historical. I love Mark Twain and at the same time I can really get into Sartre. I love Man Ray’s girlfriend Lee Miller. Her art was beautiful. So many things inspire me and I really appreciate all sorts of art in every way. I really try to absorb everything.
That idea of capturing a moment or vignette that you mentioned with Robert Frank — is that something you seek to do with your music?
Well, I think that’s what it is. Every song is supposed to capture a certain emotion. It should make you feel something very specific. I guess my vision as a musician is not about what anything is elementally, but more about amalgamation. It’s about the presence that the music has. I believe that everything should be evened out and push towards one emotion or feeling. I don’t think that the guitar should stand out or the vocals should stand out. These aspects are the glue that hold together the whole that makes you feel something else. You can say — I’m trying to think of a band I can reference that makes me feel like that. My Bloody Valentine for example — that’s just a very obvious inspiration though.
What new bands are you listening to? And can you go into some older musical influences?
Lately I can name about fifty bands that I like. Right now my direct inspiration would be the Vince Guaraldi Trio. They’re an older band. I’m friends with Jack from Wild Nothing and I really like his music. I like Beach Fossils. I like Twin Shadow a lot. For me music is very personal. I don’t like to see bands live. I like to listen to music in the moment and feel the way it accents my life. Old bands I’m really into are Current 93, Can, The Cure, anything on Factory Records. Felt is one of my favorite bands. People try to compare Minks directly to new wave music — I’m not really inspired by it at all.
What’s the most perfect album of all time?
Do you see yourself as a part of any musical movement?
No, none whatsoever. I don’t make music with anything in mind other than what I think in my own head. I use music to get to transform what I’m thinking into where I want to go.
Do you ever write a song and learn new things about yourself through it?
No. Never. Songwriting is a very unique process. Some people write lyrics first and then the music. For me, I usually write the music that I like and decide the way it makes me feel. Think of a mood. I’m obsessed with nostalgia — that’s what I like. Whatever brings back personal memories is what I tend to write about. The music will come first, and depending on how it makes me feel while writing it, that’s how I will write the lyrics afterwards.
What do you see in the future for MINKS?
We just recorded a full-length called “By the Hedge” that is coming out January 11th. But the future, as far as I’m concerned, is about recording more music that I enjoy. Beyond that, the rest is just details and whatever happens happens — I don’t care. I’m the kind of person who will make music forever doing what I do. I don’t really care what else goes on.