KaiserCartel Permanente 

Brooklyn duo skips school to bring its hopeful harmonies out West

Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel: Big in Ireland.
  • Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel: Big in Ireland.

Elementary school teachers Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel won't be returning to the classroom this fall. Instead of tutoring kids in music and art, they'll be continuing their summer tour into the autumn as indie-pop duo KaiserCartel. The two Brooklyn musicians started playing together to collaborate on an acoustic break from their separate, more rock-oriented bands.

"We just met by chance," Cartel says of their introduction by a mutual friend backstage at New York City's Knitting Factory 3 years ago. Idea-sharing led to falling in love, then touring together, signing with Bluhammock Music in January, and releasing March Forth, their first full-length album, in June.

"The first tour was about just supporting each other's music," Cartel says. "As we got into it, we realized that it became its own sound, a new aesthetic."

At birth, doctors predicted Kaiser wouldn't be able to sing because of extra skin around her tongue. Knowing that her birth mother had been very musical, her adoptive mom opted to have the skin cut out and had Kaiser singing and taking piano lessons by her third birthday. By adult life, she had added guitar and xylophone to her repertoire.

Coming from a dichotomous family of doctors and folk musicians, Cartel who counts drums, guitar and saxophone in his musical arsenal grew up jamming with his three brothers.

"We probably drove my parents crazy," he says, laughing.

The simple fusion of their surnames for the band name echoes the effortless relational air of KaiserCartel and the deep intertwining of their musical and romantic relationships.

Drawing upon influences as diverse as Simon and Garfunkel, the Ramones, the Velvet Underground and The Sound of Music soundtrack, KaiserCartel's songs feature slow-building cyclical guitar patterns enhanced by whistle and glockenspiel riffs.

"We've come to a lot of our sounds just because of the necessity of being two people, and trying to make the biggest rock band we can with two people," Cartel explains.

Their mellow, steady beats provide a surprising draw. Grant their tunes a full three-minute listen; their melodic choruses without fail deliver pleasant pop- and folk-influenced harmonies.

They incorporate a love of art into their work; Cartel's pieces have been used in cover art, and he is currently working on a coloring book of the KaiserCartel story. Components from the elementary school sneak into their music videos: tin can telephones, string games and cartoon art.

One of KaiserCartel's grievances with the music industry is its appreciation of flashy pop and rock over quality musicianship.

"We just played Ireland last summer, and the feeling was totally different," says Kaiser, "We had a standing ovation at one of the shows and I thought, "Gosh, we'd never have that in the United States' [from] people that had never heard of us before."

They may not make the biggest band possible with two people, but their sound is nonetheless commendable, expressing a summery ease with ironic overtones.

KaiserCartel has performed before at Shuga's, one of the two area stops they'll make in their ecologically responsible Toyota Prius this week.


Shuga's, 702 S. Cascade Ave.
Thursday, Aug. 14, 9 p.m.
Tickets: Free, 21-plus; $5, under 21; 328-1412.

Rocky Mountain Fair,
Norris Penrose Event Center, 1045 W. Rio Grande St.
Friday, Aug. 15, 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: Fair admission ($8, adults; $5, kids 4-12; free under 4); 866/99-FAIRS (32477).


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