Far out — wherever may reside this welcomingly vague and infinitely desirable destination of hippie cool, Killer Kaya will take you there. They’re making music from the liquid light show era, accentuated with the positivity of a Santa Barbaran sun. First, there’s singer Apoorva Chiplunkar’s goose-bumpingly glorious voice that rings in the lineage of Grace Slick and Janis Joplin. Add in the unique guitar sounds of custom pedal-crafter Zach Rengert’s guitars, pair it with buoyant reggae-inspired brass from saxophonist Josh Sheltzer and trumpeter-keyboarder and fellow pedal manufacturer Cory Lund, and round it out by bass and drum grooves from Alex Pavellas and Eric Engel — there’s a reason they’ve shared a show bill with fellows such as Shuggie Otis.
Killer Kaya will make an appearance at this weekend’s Starry Nites Festival, but to kick things off, you can also see them here in town with an official launch party at Velvet Jones on Friday, March 17, at 8 p.m., with Royal Suns, The Love Dimension, The Spiral Electric, and Afishinsea, a solidly rocking lineup of psychedelia grown both near and far. The show syncs up with a string of new singles from the band that burst forth in February with the Playback Recording Studio–minted piece “Understood,” released a month before the show.
You could say the band formed because they had good chemistry. Rengert moved to the area in June 2012 to finish his chemistry PhD and study solar energy at UCSB. There he met Engel, a chemistry tutor, and the two would jam together along with Pavellas. Engel shone a light on a student of his, Chiplunkar, who could sing, and while she admitted she “wasn’t the best chemistry student,” there was certainly a chemical reaction. The band started trading recommendations, from the best ’60s psychedelia to deep, dubby reggae cuts, and a love of music glued them together. “We are a fruition of science geeks and cat lovers,” Chiplunkar said. “For all of us, music has always been something that’s collaborative; there’s not really a band leader,” Rengert said.
So good is their chemistry, in fact, that the band members share a house. Their art is their life. “All of us live communally,” Chiplunkar said, with hangouts morphing quickly to jam sessions, and vice versa, and guitars breaking out on couches and in living rooms. The true matriarch of their abode, and inspiration behind the band’s name, is the mystical and large house cat, Kaya, who inspired the band with her enigmatic feline aura. Live, the communal experience of the band’s home extends to the audience, and Killer Kaya strives to engage. “We want people to pay attention,” said Chiplunkar, whose commanding voice took form under opera training before she found an expressive equivalent in the women of rock ’n’ roll.
In their somewhat transcendental leanings, Killer Kaya brings to mind Ken Kesey hijinks aboard magic buses, but just as well in the straightforwardness of their recording; the elements are kept separate and equally prominent, the instrumentation up-front and direct. “There are clean lines; you can hear it,” Chiplunkar said. “The trend right now is to over-saturate with 50 layers of reverb. With us, the sheer number of people gives you a big sound while being able to showcase the different people.” To that end, Rengert and Lund build their own pedals, primarily a variety of custom phasers and delays. “I love electronics and physics, and effects are very electronic,” said Rengert, who was “raised by a hippie,” a single mother in Florida, before moving westward.
The lucky recipient of all this chemistry, of course, is the audience, as Killer Kaya irradiates the love-is-all-you-need ethos of bygone times with enough sonic updates to sound fresh. “I’m able to make music with people I love in a space and world we’ve created together,” Chiplunkar said, and the affection is felt. It’s an invitational in the way the best psychedelia is — a lure for loves untouched and realms unexplored.
4·1·1 Killer Kaya plays with Royal Suns, The Love Dimension, The Spiral Electric, and Afishinsea at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) on Friday, March 17, at 8 p.m., and at the Starry Nites Festival on Saturday, March 18. See velvet-jones.com and www.starrynitesfestival.com.