Sound Check Kay Kay’s Kirk Talks Carson Daly
posted by December 5 at 12:52 PMon
The fictional everymen, Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground are playing tonight at Neumos with U.S.E. They offer scenes inside a canary cage. A songbird perches, vaudevillian. Brass is tarnished but designated with anthem.
This past June, Kay Kay played on Carson Daly’s show Last Call. Singer, guitarist, Kirk Huffman tells us all about it:
What is it like to play a big TV show like that?
Kirk: First of all, I’m not even really sure how we got the opportunity to play on the show. Somehow our live record Live from the Pretty Parlor floated into their hands and we heard Carson made a push for us. It was definitely the biggest bit of exposure for anything musically that I’d ever been involved with. Getting all 13 of us down to LA was an experience in itself. It was $5,000 in plane tickets, a bunch of weird paper-work, and forms to sign. (Apparently television corporations really don’t like illegal immigrants and do everything within their power to make sure your tuba and bass player aren’t Chiclet selling, job-stealing, drug smugglers from Cabo.) I was just crossing my fingers that all of us would get to the airport by 5 AM to make the flight.
Was it tricky? Did you all have to change anything up for the taping?
The preparation for going down to LA was probably the most difficult part. And yeah, we had to change the songs around on the spot so they would be shorter. When we first went through the song “Hey Momma” during sound check, cameras were still being placed and shots set-up. Our manager was standing next to the show’s producer chatting and looked a bit frazzled. At first I thought maybe we sounded like balls, but they both came up and said, “Man, it sounds great, but do you guys realize you played for 5 and a half minutes and the maximum time limit you have is 3:45?” Instantly, I got testy cause they’re fucking with my songs due to precious advertising time. Phil Peterson (cellist) and I had to figure out what sections to cut from the song without confusing the hell out of the band. In order to do all that we had to play the song for about an hour over and over and each time we finished it was, “Nope, 4:45, nope, 4:28, nope 4:07.” Finally after some deliberation they budged on giving us 4 minutes total and all we had to cut was the guitar solo during a breakdown.
(See video of the show at the end of the post.)
How did playing Carson Daly differ from playing a radio show?
Well, of course there is the obvious, everyone sees you. There isn’t a director during radio shows, and you get to look and smell like shit, but really jam-out and sound great. This time we had to look decent plus sound great with the added pressure of 8 cameras pointed at you. One thing that surprised me was how much the director is involved in shuffling the band around the stage. Granted we were a handful to deal with, but we usually set up the stage so that the band aspect of the group, i.e. drums, guitar, bass, and keys are all on one side so they’re all vibing off each other, holding the grooves while on the other side of the stage, the vocal and orchestral elements i.e. cello, violins, horns, and tuba can all be closer to each other. That didn’t really fly with the director, because he was seeing us from a TV broadcast point of view, you know, tall people in the back, drums on a riser, horns separated from strings. Basically, he wanted to make sure that cameras had good shots.
Talk about gear. God, please talk about gear. I need you to talk about gear right now.
We didn’t really have to bring much of anything. The television studios have access to just about any musical instrument you could possibly dream of, plus all the techs in the world to show you how to use the stuff as well. There was not however, a tech there who knew how to work a Korg Triton. That’s like open-heart surgery and not even worth the effort. Tritons eat it. Anyway, they provided us with Fender Twin Reverbs, an Ampeg Combo Half Stack, and a beautiful Slingerland Kit for Garrett. We all just brought essentially what would be in our hands - guitars, cellos, violins, tubas, bass, trumpets.
What was the sound like, for you guys? Monitors? Was it good sound?
We had the fortunate pleasure of having Tom Pfaeffle there with us. He mixed the Kay Kay full-length and because he is so familiar with our songs, also does our house sound at our live sets. Tom’s real specialty outside of mixing, mastering, and maintaining his own studio, is live sound. He was Nirvana’s monitor guy on the In Utero tour as well as being a handful of other bands sound tech for their world tours. We were also going to be playing a show at the Knitting Factory on Hollywood Blvd a couple of days after the Carson taping and decided we really needed him in charge rather than some house dude. Funny story, the Carson house sound guy made up something about how nobody could touch the sound-board but him - yada yada yada. But quickly, it became evident to him that he didn’t want to fuss around with setting up all 13 of us. He wanted to be outside scratching his balls and smokin’ doobies, so he was a bit stand-off-ish at first, but as Tom began to really be of assistance, they got to talking. He asked Tom who he’d done sound for and Tom began listing off the tours he’d been involved with. I swear to god this is how the conversation went:
Tom: Gear talk, gear talk, gear talk, this many inputs in your board.
Carson dude: Oh yeah? Gear talk, gear talk, gear talk, wait…whose sound did you do?
Tom: Listing of credentials, listing of credentials, listing of credentials… (sound guy stops tom in mid-sentence.)
Carson dude: Wait, you did Queensryche and Megadeth at the Palladium in ‘85?
Tom: Yeah, that was me.
Carson dude: No way dude! That was the greatest live show I’ve ever heard! That was you?!’
Tom: Yeah, that was me.
After that the guy couldn’t get enough of Tom’s help.
How many donuts did you eat in the green room?
I was nervous about getting there on time, hoping the plane wouldn’t be delayed, making head-counts so nobody got left somewhere, just trying to do that whole ‘make a good impression on em’ thing’ I thought. We flew into Burbank and if you’ve ever flown into Burbank, you know how small that airport is, there is only one baggage claim tressle and as we came around the corner to it there were valet’s with big white signs that said ‘Kay Kay and his Weathered Underground’ on them. I think that was cool for everyone to see. We really looked like rock-stars for the 5 or 6 Korean tourists in the airport.
People loaded everything into the NBC vans and drove us down to the studio which sits below the Time Warner building among the sets for the Office and the Ellen Degeneres show. Being prompt is apparently no big deal, cause we sat in our three green rooms drinking coffee and eating donuts and bagels for an hour and a half until finally someone involved with the show stumbled in complaining of being ‘super-hung-over’ to inform us they’d bring more donuts, coffee, and cheese plates. It was very LA and the staff were very LA. Oh great, I just categorized every person in Los Angeles. Anyway, they were all very friendly and accommodating but I felt like I was in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive a lot of the time. I tried to soak up every second.
At one point, Phil complained that he wished he’d have brought his real cello, instead of the electric, and a camera man assured him, “Hey, no stress dude, with these babies (he then patted the back of the tv camera like a master pats his dog) we can make anything look good.”
Did you feel like it was a smoothly run thing?
Kind of. I mean everything went off without a hitch, but it was way more relaxed than I had anticipated. The house band for the week, who play in between shooting takes for the show to entertain the live crowd, was getting everyone stoned back-stage, including James Morrison, who was there shooting a song for the show that day and Keyshawn Johnson, former NFL wide-receiver. Keyshawn and our keyboard player, Kyle O’Quin, were like two pea’s in a pod. Keyshawn was saying, “Hey little man! I like ya’ll, ya’ll hot! Hi-five!” That type of shit. Keyshawn was a trip. Come to think about it, Kyle made friends with just about every celebrity back-stage. At one point he personally thanked Dr. Drew from Loveline for “being an integral part of his achieving man-hood.”
The show’s staff was super young so they let us make a ton of racket and fed us full of beer at 2:00 in the afternoon. While we were rehearsing in the green room, a bunch of the staff came in and just sat around listening, apparently not having a whole lot to do.
I watched a really tall and really thin Carson Daly go through his comedic routines and monologues in rehearsal extremely meticulously. He asked the shows writers and producers after every joke, “Was that delivered dry-enough? How can that be funnier? Is the prop a good addition to the joke?”
I don’t know if this is true or not, but watching all that gave me the impression that Carson knew he wasn’t naturally funny or for that matter a natural at being a late night host, but deep down he really really really wanted to be a successful tv personality. He rehearsed 10 minute sketches for what seemed like 4 hours or so. When he finally did talk to us, and I guess I wasn’t expecting him to, he was very charming and complimentary.
He and I chatted a bit about how the music industry was in shambles because no one cares about content anymore and how the day before, the guest rock band on the show didn’t run through their equipment, instead opting to lip-synch over the studio album track and how he’d fought to get us on the show for a long time. He said he wants to have us back when the full-length drops. It was all very surreal. But a total blast.
Here’s “Hey Momma” from the show: