Talking about Flint, Michigan band King 810 is undoubtedly opening of a very complex door that put us in a place where heavy music is accompanied with even heavier subjects. After a staggering and earthshaking debut, Memoirs of A Murderer, the band is back with a brand new statement. We talked with vocalist David Gunn about the band’s new album, la petite mort or a conversation with god, and a myriad of subjects that surround the band itself: from the influence of Dr. King’s work to the their own reality in Flint.
Your band’s name is a reference to a true hero that is Dr. King. As Dr. Cornel West and Nina Turner point out, Dr. King was a man that did pursue social justice and in doing that he organized the 1968’s Poor People’s Campaign that, arguably, sealed his destiny that ended on April 4th of 1968 after being fatally shot in Memphis, Tennessee. That campaign – which many people don’t mention when they talk about Dr. King’s work – demanded economic and human rights for poor Americans of diverse backgrounds. It was more than segregation, race, and nonviolence – Dr. King even once said, in a report titled “The Crisis in America’s Cities”, “Mass civil disobedience can use rage as a constructive and creative force.” You’re living in a poor city, with people of diverse backgrounds where rage is inevitable. Is there where you find a kinship with Dr. King’s work?
That’s one of many reasons, without diving into specifically what I believe. It was kind of all an understanding amongst all of us ‘cause that’s what the name means to me and then the 810 is where we come from. Some of the other guys might say that we call ourselves King because that’s the fitting word to call because musical things like Prince, or Queen, or things like that. Some of them say we just call it King because that’s what we believe we are but to me the most accurate answer is the kinship in the work of Dr. King, which to a layman or ignorant person it… a lot of people say, “You come from this violent place and you have this thing with violence, obviously not anti-violence or anything like that, yet you have a non-violent person here as the origin of your name.” I think it’s just kind of ignorant because, like you already cited, Dr. King associations were so numerous. He was a big member of the church, and things like that, but he also had friends that were radicals, or were violent, or did not do the pacifist kind of protest that he advocated, and yet they were still friends, part of his movement, and still after the same thing. So, there’s a real kinship, I think. What we are doing and what we did to me… it’s maybe an artistic counterpart because he, arguably, was not an artist in the traditional sense as far as a creator in the field of the arts. He did write, speak, and do a bunch of these things that are considered today artistic, but I think it’s important to know that back in his day that stuff was not considered art. Nowadays people look at anything as artistic but I think if you ask people if he was an artist they would probably say he wasn’t. He was a man, a religious man, an activist, a speaker, an idealist, and things like these. I just like to imagine that this is a kind of a counterpart of all of that stuff.
On “A Conversation with God” you say, “you know they keep us locked in these cages / they wanna keep us fighting over races”. Those words also reminded me of Dr. King because… well, the 1968’s Poor People’s Campaign and his belief that the issue was bigger than race.
Yeah. [sighs] It is much bigger. It’s classism and racism, and all the types of xenophobia that are kind of all-encompassing and… the messed up part about it is that nothing has changed. People still believe that one side is to fight another and if one wins then that prevails. Like right now with Black Lives Matter. People are actually believing that if this movement of BLM fights the powers that be, or whatever you might want to call them… they believe that bashing their heads together and creating a victor or some type of winner of the conflict is going to create change and… it’s common sense that doesn’t work, it’s never worked at any point of time. In the past, for example the Civil War in the U.S. when the North fought the South – since we’re on the topic of slavery. The South still has this bitter thing where they ride around with the Confederate flag. It’s still present today. Racism and things like that still exist because wars don’t solve these type of issues. Since we’re on the subject of Dr. King, he said, and this is paraphrased not verbatim, “Those who stand idly by evil is done, not by those who are against us but when great men stand idly by.” That’s basically what I believe. I don’t think that the BLM uprising and fighting against these wrongful killings, or whatever it may be, to be the answer or the solution that’s going to create the desired outcome. That’s not how things work. I don’t think that I have any grounds to sit and say that we shouldn’t do anything but I believe that racism is a white problem. I believe white people created it and white have to solve it. It’s not going to end through conflict of races. Conflict doesn’t end the problem. What has to happen is that white people have to ostracize one another for racism. These white people know that. They know that when the news is filled with this conflict and when there’s clash and all this turmoil, they know that’s a good place to have it because then you have a pigeonhole that you can control and it’s very primitive kind of bullshit that actually will never be solved. So, it’s good to keep it in this state of flux, and it’s good to have in this kind of facility to where is very controllable – and it is in control whether people believe it or not – and very compartmentalized. And it’s definitely in a desired state for all the rich white people that control it. This is exactly where they want it because it’s not ever going to be fixed in this way but if white ostracize one another for the way that they act then things will start changing. You know, there’s an obvious vendetta against white people from the black community because… well, for so many reasons. I just can’t find the reason for – to me is all a reactionary retaliation – whites to be racists against blacks.
I still remember listening for the first time Memoirs of a Murderer. When in the opening track “Killem All” you scream repeatedly “Kill em’ all! Kill em’ all! Kill em’ all!”, it seems to come from the most pure and genuine state of despair. It feels like you knew that it was the only way and there was no backing off at that point. Is that a fair assessment?
That’s basically what it is. Exactly what it is. It’s hard to talk about it in a way that doesn’t kind of magnify because I always like to speak in terms of kind of a duality or the juxtaposing kind of manner. There’s a whole sphere and this is only a little bit of the story. This is just a magnified quarter or third of the whole thing that has happening. That’s how I usually like to imagine things. This is just a very specific kind of first account experience that I personally had growing up and it’s not really up for debate. A lot of people have a lot of things to say about it but everything I’m talking about I’ve seen and I understand firsthand how it works, so I feel I’m qualified to talk about it. I don’t think anyone can say or have an opinion about it if they didn’t have those kind of experiences or are not from those kind of places. Anyone with a half-brain doesn’t come at it from that angle where they say, “Oh, this is a glorification of violence. This is a glamorization. This is a sensationalism of a story or experience.” That’s not about what it is. This is actual, exact, factual account of what exactly is going on, what I grew up seeing, and is for the people that I know and have interacted with throughout my life. Even in the bridge of the song it talks about almost that third-party perspective where you are acknowledging an audience of some kind when it says, “I tried talking to you about peace / They only wanna hear about the beast.” That’s even taking quite literally on besides the fact every news broadcasting channel has a guy with a gun, a guy robbing a liquor store with a gun, someone that shot this person or that person, but doesn’t talk about the actual things that are ruining the world. Look at “Killem All”: a couple of million views on YouTube, the downloads, the streams, and all of that. But when you make a song called “State of Nature” about David Hume and John Locke’s philosophical debate about the state of things it’s just overlooked and kind of swept under the rug. “I tried talking to you about peace” – no one is interested in those ideas. They want to see someone’s head cut off, the guy with the gun, the bombings in Afghanistan today… it is just this propensity towards this kind of stimulation where they want – from the isolation of their own westernized home with their iPhones, wi-fi, Starbucks, etc. – to be entertained like some kind of fucking joke or some kind of movie. You can listen to our albums, you can see us perform live, but first and foremost we’re these people from these places, so we’re not really participating in all these things that you may expect from other musicians or groups. You’re not going to get the same kind of thing from us. It might sound like it because it’s songs on a CD and we play live shows on the stage like other bands. You might think it appears to be the same thing but it’s far from what you think is going on. It’s not for your entertainment. We are not trying to humor you. These are all real life songs with real people. The names of the people in these songs are their real names. These are real things that happened. In a sense is insulting to say it is artistic because that suggests that is metaphorical and poetic in a way that is not literal and factual… and it is. It’s verbatim. It’s not for you. Basically I’m writing some kind of journal, some kind of little thing to basically immortalize a place or a group of people. I couldn’t care less if someone thought it was good. You don’t have to think it’s good because it’s not about you. The few thousand people in city that is about… they think is great.
“I don’t think that I have any grounds to sit and say that we shouldn’t do anything but I believe that racism is a white problem. I believe white people created it and white have to solve it. It’s not going to end through conflict of races. Conflict doesn’t end the problem.”
But your music is more than Flint. You’re talking about Flint but there are a lot of other places where the same things happen. Listening to your music and you talking about Flint, I always saw it as you trying to create awareness for all those problems that exist in Flint and, unfortunately, in many other places.
That’s misunderstanding. I never said I was only talking about Flint. I’m talking about people that try to assess this as if it’s not a very literal and factual thing. I know people that don’t live in Flint and know this story because they live it every day. Yeah, it’s not a centralized geographical place, 99000 people, called Flint, Michigan, in the United States of America and that’s only who’s for. But when you try to assess it without any kind of understanding… tell someone in the Southside of Chicago, or tell someone in Kiev, or tell someone in Calcutta… these people are not the people that are commenting on this stuff. You have some kind of white suburban square from some town in Omaha who’s bored on the internet, in his parents’ house, participating in some kind of publication for critiquing records and that’s basically what I’m talking about. All the things that you talked about of not being just Flint and that it happens all around the world… yeah, those people don’t have a problem with any of this. They fully understand it, it resonates with them, and they understand it because they live it just the same. The problem with the community is that you don’t have those people in any real positions. Those people are not the gatekeepers. Those people are not running the show. If you and I understand what’s going on here, just like this whole conversation and everything we’ve talked about has been a minority belief. This is not the everyman’s belief. 9 out of 10 people don’t think the same way we are here sitting thinking or else the world would not be this way. This is minority belief, this is minority thoughts. It’s the same way with this music. When you listen to most music it is fine. If you listen to pop music and you say, “Oh, I really like that melody”… it’s not dealing with any complex situations that make you appreciate that melody. They’re not dealing with heavy political issues that make you understand what it is they’re talking about and you don’t have to have that understanding to be able to understand what it is that this music is saying.
When did you start understand that writing “the right line” wouldn’t save you – financially or otherwise? “And I thought I could save all of us if I wrote one line, you know, the right line” (“I Ain’t Goin Back Again”).
I realized that when this whole thing happened with the record deal, releasing the first album, and going on world tours… almost like, “Uau, this is nothing like I thought it would be.” Because we used to have these fantasies and all this shit when we were kids before we knew better – I’ve been writing since I was 7 years old and we’ve been playing together since we were 13/14 years old. In the 90s when we were coming up with these ideas – before the Internet and Napster – you could have just a hit song and you go on a tour with all these bands. One of my favorite things that we’ve ever done is a mixtape called Midwest Monsters 2 and it has a few songs that really dive into that type of stuff. There’s one there called “I’d Love To Change The World” and that deals with the same thing. It says, “The magazines the world tours the traveling the shows / I go home I still carry fuckin guns in my clothes”. There’s no silver lining. I still come home here. I didn’t move out of this place. I still come home, put my gun in my pants and walk around town. I still live in the same house. I still do the same things. It wasn’t exactly like what thought it was and “I Ain’t Goin Back Again”, that’s what it is about. It’s talking about not going back to believing that, I ain’t going back again into thinking in this kind of way that all that has to be done is this one thing and all of us will be kind of set free.
I know that for Memoirs of a Murderer you had to memorize the lyrics since you didn’t have paper and pen… and it made me remind of Nick Cave. I once saw an interview where he said that he would go to an office from 9 to 5 to write music in a room where there was only a piano and a couple of books, and during those writing sessions he would not record a damn thing. He said that if it wasn’t good enough to remember then it wasn’t good enough to record. Thinking about it… it’s kind of a natural selection. Did it feel that way for you?
Yeah. I mean, when King first started I was in jail, so I didn’t have a pencil and a paper since I was in solitary confinement. I memorized really complex passages and then when I got out – I was only there for a week or something – I went to write them on paper and I realize, “Well, I really didn’t have to do it a few days ago. I probably don’t have to do it now. I will do just fine memorizing these things.” When I think of things and I remember them, I just basically practice and work on that. Now, at this point, it’s not even about coming up with words and deciding if they’re good or not. At this point when something starts coming I just know that it’s good coming out the pipeline and I get that feeling that that something is coming and I know that’s to pay attention and to remember what’s coming down the pipeline. Like these spoken word “Anatomy” tracks that are on the first album, and there’s a few more on video form… Those are just turning the microphone on and that’s it.
On “Alpha & Omega” you talk about child abuse made by Catholic priests, but it isn’t the first time such subject finds way in your lyrics. I remember that on your previous album, on a track called “Best Nite Of My Life”, you say “I’m still that defensive child that can be touched by no man / Not even the preacher, I’ll saw off his fucking hands,” and you often mention the institution that’s the Church on your lyrics. I’m curious about the Church’s role in a city like Flint, that has suffered immensely, and your relationship with that institution throughout the years.
It’s kind of a complex relationship. My grandma was a minister in the Church. If you remember on “Fat Around The Heart” it says, “I grew up in the church on Sunday”. That’s basically it. I grew up being exposed to all the singing songs on the Wednesday church, Saturday church, and Sunday service. I grew up in that kind of environment for a handful of years. Once I turned 10 or 12 I kind of started making my own choices but… It’s just one of those things. It’s touched down in “Alpha & Omega” in the video a bit… it goes back to what we first started talking about where the confusion of what exactly we’re talking about. If we’re talking about religion and the church then that has nothing to do with God. Being a theist of any kind is the belief in God and that has nothing to do with religion. Religion is a whole separate thing doctrine, kind of. To me you have to make a few things clear when you talk about what exactly it is people are talking about. It gets very confusing because they’re dangerous things. They have shed more blood in the world than anything I can think off – pretty sure than anything in history. With me it was just… I have a bunch of problems with it, I guess. But a lot it is just… the same way that we grew up, even outside of the church, where you don’t have a solid male role model in your life or something and you have this foolish pride, you’re foolhardy even, and you’re the guy and it’s just how you live. I touch on being a kid in a lot of songs. Nostalgia is in all of the songs, even where it doesn’t seem like it. It just goes back to life, I guess, on a couple of different levels. When I address the Church it’s just me addressing the Church as the person I am. The person I am is not always… doesn’t always have to do with the preacher. I also talk about the father figure or maybe not having one, or something like that. It’s touched down in a bunch of different outlooks, I guess. I can tell you what I was like as a kid and how life was but basically I can through also and say, “This is what the Church was to me. This is what politics were to me. This is what family was to me. This is what friends were to me.” That’s basically what it is doing.
“9 out of 10 people don’t think the same way we are here sitting thinking or else the world would not be this way. This is minority belief, this is minority thoughts. It’s the same way with this music.”
Since we’re talking about the Church… what did you want to convey with the title of this new album, la petite mort or a conversation with god?
That’s a lot of things. The layman can think is just the literal “little death”, “small death”, or whatever. Continuing on with the French theme of “memoirs” being obviously a French word. They believe it’s the sexual precipice, kind of, or the orgasm itself, or being in touch with some kind of deeper God or consciousness. This subtext of a conversation with God is exactly what’s going on on the record when it starts and it kind of comes out of the gate all crazy, it has settling in the middle with the title-track, and comes out on the other side and there’s a lot of female voices introduced. The record is almost a kind of a prayer and that’s why it’s called that. And then it parallels itself with sexual communion being some kind of conversation with God. There’s a hundred different meanings that it takes on. Every song, I can tell you a hundred different things that it means. It’s thoroughly vetted and thoroughly worked. There’s no accidents, basically. We were never in the studio and went, “Oh, that was a cool noise. Let’s put that in there.” Everything is by design and it is well thought out and if everyone has any kind of issue, question, or problem, I can always break it down and defend it because there’s definitely a thought behind it. And if you don’t think there is I can enlighten you whereas many other groups… they don’t have the same thing. They’re basically… [laughs] they make cool sounds and they call them songs.
I couldn’t help noticing that in both your records there are recordings of you breathing heavily. I wouldn’t believe it to be a mere coincidence. Can we also see it as a point of connectivity? What do you want to translate with it?
Yeah. I mean, it’s just basically turning on the tape recorder. It’s connectivity between the two records because… you’ll learn as we make more pieces that they’re all connected, but on top of that is an intimacy kind of thing where there’s a person on the other end of the line. When we are here talking you can hear me starting my car, putting the alarm on, going to the store, etc. When you hear the breathing, which is mostly cut out of people’s recordings making them seem kind of this don’t-make-mistakes/”perfect” kind of thing. When you hear the breathing you hear a human and there’s a connection. A lot of the songs are done one take and we keep errors in, and I keep some of the swear words… I’m just talking in there. It’s because it’s not written down. I’m not reading a script. I’m just saying it into the microphone. Every take is going to be different. When you hear these breaths and these things in there, most of the times is because I did the song in one run through. For this album, which I think is an hour long, it probably took me about an hour to record the vocals for. It’s just me on there and that’s what I wanted to convey.
You’ve said, numerous times, that you don’t want to leave Flint. You could have in the past but you decided to stay. And on “Vendettas” you say, “But I promised my whole city I wouldn’t let the world forget us”. Doyou feel there’s a sort of mission for you in Flint?
I guess just intrinsically. It’s inherent. It’s nothing I ever thought about. I only just realize it after people told me it was. I never made it my business to have that as a goal, to try make it my purpose with this. I mean, with my group yeah, I was always the person that told stories, I was always kind of the bookkeeper, if you will, and that was just who I was. But it wasn’t until it was revealed to me, basically… we always just thought it was for us. Once we seen other people that were into it as much as we were we were like, “Oh, I guess this is everyone’s thing.”
On the title track you say, “I was born to die here in Flint and I haven’t done that yet so in turn I ain’t done shit.” I’m sure some people in Flint can and do feel that way, but it seems that you’ve worked to change the fatality of your destiny, or at least you’re trying to. Would it be fair to assume that?
I don’t know. It goes back to the idea kind of that you’re nobody until someone kills you or something like that, which I also touch upon on the mixtape with “I’d Love To Change The World” and even with “Devil Don’t Cry”. I got shot a couple times in life but the last time was when I was 27 and I always thought that maybe I was supposed to die in that time and it was supposed to be it, this one record and this one thing. I always had this affinity for death because half my friends are dead. I have more dead friends than the ones that are alive, so it goes back to what we were talking about where people think that this is one thing or the other when really, like I said in the last King TV episode, these albums are just things we are making while waiting to die. I’m not better than anyone out here. I’m still, like I said, riding around in the same car, in the same house, and I’ve been shot twice… and I can get shot a third time in head and die. To me it’s just part of it, that’s why I say that “I was born to die here in Flint and I haven’t done that yet so in turn I ain’t done shit.” Because that’s what this all means to us. I mean, there’s a purging and redemptive quality in the songs, yeah it’s there but that’s something we do first and foremost. The band is called King 810… our home is in the name of the band and this is what we are though. The music is piece of who we are. The music doesn’t encompass… I have friends that I know for 15 years and they don’t even know I’m in fucking King. They don’t even know anything about music. It’s just one of those things, you don’t feel like your work is done because you out survived. It’s almost like survivor’s guilt.