Article by Charlotte Force. Interview by Nicolaia Rips and Charlotte Force.
Meet Gabe Paiano (guitar), Aaron Kisslinger (keys/trombone), Robby Jenkins (drums), Max Beirne-Shafer (bass), and Daniel Barbrack (vocals) of the Kinsey Scale. We sat down with four out of five members - Robby couldn’t make it - to talk about the band’s origins, accomplishments, and future. It all started with school lunch, The Bonnie Situation, and Dr. Titone’s Elementary Brass One class. Today, the Kinsey Scale has an eponymous album, and has played shows at popular music venues such as Webster Hall and Silent Barn. The issue of college and graduation lies ahead for the group, but the heart of the Kinsey Scale lies with its origins and antics: the soul that went into producing their marvelous album.
The name “The Kinsey Scale” begs answers - “We were originally The Zig Zags,” they say less than enthusiastically. The name they stuck with is much more suited to their current style – ‘Zigs Zags’ seems more the Warped Tour crowd than Burning Man or Woodstock. ‘The Kinsey Scale’ rings just right. As far as origins go, Gabe explained, “Our drummer – very handsome fella – Yabadum’s own Robby Jenkins, brought up the name. We all really enjoyed it,” but ironically enough, “now Robby kind of regrets it. I think it’s perfect.”
The (original) Kinsey Scale, or the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, was developed by Alfred Kinsey and Wardell Pomeroy for the study Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. It rates people on a scale of 0 to 6, the lowest being exclusively heterosexual, and highest being exclusively homosexual (asexuality is graded with an “X”).
The Kinsey Scale has a tremendous stage presence - Daniel rocks out like Ian Curtis or Mick Jagger on stage, singing into Gabe or Aaron’s mics as the lights cartwheel through the rainbow and the music rocks on. Robby plays deftly in the back, not only setting the beat, but contributing to the crescendos and slancio of the songs. Seeing them play live, at venues such as Webster Hall or Funkadelic Studios, is like watching a fireworks display. Gabe Garcia, a Laguardia junior saxophonist, plays with the group sometimes at shows (and contributed to the sixth track of their album). Aaron plays a similar role in bands such as The Bonnie Situation and Yabadum – “It’s kind of like a circuit,” he says, “I’m a horn player, and someone who likes to organize horn sections, so I end up playing with them a lot.” He’s credited on The Bonnie Situation’s two EPs, “Daze and Changes” and “Logical Debris”, as a trombone player. These bands play a lot of shows together – “We’ve kind of grown up together,” Aaron continues, “but they were bands before we started. I kinda saw them and was like, ‘We gotta get on this.’”
Gabe, a Junior instrumental major (who was told not to say ‘anus’ during the interview, so that’s been taken care of) and Aaron, a senior instrumental major, met in the 5th floor cafeteria - Aaron says, “The first thing that happened, band-wise, was that I met Gabe. I started sitting with him at lunch, because he looked like a cool dude, and I didn’t know anyone, really, and so I talked to him and we started a band. Initially I was playing bass, and he was playing guitar.” The band’s first singer was Johnny Colapinto, who was quickly replaced by Chris White, who later left the band to make way for current vocalist Daniel Barbrack.
“We all realized that we had to start making music together,” recalls Aaron about the beginnings of The Kinsey Scale, “But it’s kinda become a different band than it was initially.” Indeed, their biggest influence used to be The Strokes, and each member has since changed the original style of the group - now they stick to their own unique sound. “Initially I was playing bass, and [Gabe] was playing guitar… later we ‘animorphed’ and we got a Max,” says Aaron, who met The Kinsey Scale’s future bassist in LaGuardia’s music department, where they both play trombone. They were in Dr. Titone’s Elementary Brass One class three years ago, “where we put out trombones on our heads and stuck our feet out a lot. We still do sometimes.”
Aaron got Max to come jam with him and Gabe one day. “We banged our heads against each other’s a lot,” Max recounts about meeting Gabe. “We just stared into each other’s eyes and head banged really close. That’s a kind of cool way to meet your best friend. So we got really really close really really fast.”
Robby then joined the mix, Gabe having known him for a long time. “Robby lives in my building. We’ve seen each other since we were little kids,” Gabe says. Robby was later introduced to Laszlo Horvath, bassist and singer in Yabadum, and joined that group as well. Max says, “Robby’s also in another group called Yabadum who you may know. They’re kind of a big deal.” Yabadum is a band that The Kinsey Scale often plays shows with, and the members are all friends. Max, Aaron, and Robby are also in the Youth Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra – the “Fat Afro-Latin Jazz Cats” - with Arturo O'Farrill.
Then along came Daniel - he and Gabe were on the Stuy Town baseball team together, but didn’t know each other until middle school. They came to LaGuardia for high school, although Daniel came a year later as an incoming sophomore. Daniel and Gabe would have fun making music together before the current singer joined The Kinsey Scale - “Gabe and I would collaborate on songs while I wasn’t the lead singer, and then I came in and we did a song that we wrote first, called ‘Beggars’. The first rehearsal I went to, I wasn’t in the band yet,” Daniel recounts, describing his first experience with the antics of The Kinsey Scale rehearsals. “Suddenly, Aaron just takes off his shirt, and then everyone, in their minds, thinks: ‘Oh yep, that’s the thing we’re gonna do.’ Except for Robby. Even though he’s the best looking one of all of us.” Eventually, Daniel officially joined the group, and his song “Beggars” is now on their album.
The record was recorded in only five days (overall). They recorded the live parts first – guitar, bass, drums, and occasionally keyboard – and dubbed additional sounds afterwards. LaGuardia junior Henry Munson engineered the album, and helped the band produce it - “This guy’s a wizard – a wiz kid. He wants to be a sound engineer,” the band says about their friend. “We all had our hand in mixing it, we put it out, and it sounds alright,” says Daniel. The production process, unlike recording, took a long time – but it was worth the effort, because the finished product is more astounding than alright.
The Kinsey Scale’s process for writing songs is haphazard, but obviously productive - Daniel says, “It’s crazy. We show up at practice, and Gabe says, ‘I have a riff, and Robby you should do this’, and then Robby just does a different thing. Then Aaron, Max, and I contribute our piece.” Essentially, the writing process is intuitive – they all write lyrics and music together. Aaron, for instance, wrote the lyrics for “Drone” and Gabe contributed the guitar riff that transformed “Death Aquatic” into its current form.
Because LaGuardia music majors have to learn music theory, it’s a factor in their writing process – “At first when I was learning it,” Aaron begins, “I was like, ‘Damn, I can’t write normal songs now.’ Now, I’ve figured out that I just understand what I’m hearing and know how to do different stuff around it. It’s really cool.” Max amended that, adding “I think with the songwriting process, the best things really come spontaneously when you’re not thinking about it.” However, they agree you can build to those ideas using music theory.
The album was recorded at Max’s grandfather’s and aunt’s art studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Bill and Brenna Beirne, both remarkable artists, have a space in the Beard Street Warehouses, “right across from Fairway”, which is where the magic happened. “They so generously lent us their studio for a week or two,” Max says gratefully. Daniel supplied a lot of recording gear, which he acquired thanks to an office job he did over the summer. Offices pay well apparently, but this desk job helped fund rock n’ roll. “I spent it effectively – it all went into music, and now I have a full studio amount of things… which is great, because I have them forever.” With Daniel’s equipment and the space in Red Hook, they had complete creative control.
The album art was done by Niki Giokas – not a LaGuardia art major, but a Beacon High School student. “She is fantastic – a great artist, great person. She was really amazing about the art, and really fast. We’d say, ‘Could you do something different?’, and five minutes later we’d get a text saying ‘How do you like this painting I just did?’” They were awed by her talent, and love the album cover. She even painted the additional back cover, which you can see on CDs available at shows for $5.
The Kinsey Scale has played their album live many times since its release. They’ve been working with Will Mosko and Luke Steinberger of the band ‘Luke London and the Lucky Ones’, who’ve started a music management company. Will and Luke are helping The Kinsey Scale book shows at venues such as Palisades and Silent Barn. They’re also playing shows with some New York rappers (there was no name-dropping, but they seem excited) – at these shows there will be art galleries, so look out for announcements about art on their Facebook.
Despite the upcoming excitement of shows, The Kinsey Scale has one tiny problem: practicing. When asked how often they get together to rehearse, they answered in a chorus of -
“Not often at all.” “We should more…”
Aaron elaborated, saying, “We fall into this habit of – we play a show, we’re like ‘Oh that was awesome!’. Then we don’t play a show for two months, we don’t practice until the week before that show, and we suck. Then we play the show, and go ‘Oh, that was better than we’ve ever played before! We don’t need to practice!’”
Max summed it up: “It’s a vicious cycle.”
When they do get together, it’s usually at Rivington Studios on the Lower East Side – they give it good reviews, saying “It’s a really good space; they have the weekend deal.” They used to go to Funkadelic studios, which is low key both for practicing and booking shows. The drawback, however, is that: “You leave smelling like you don’t want to smell. Like your parents don’t want you to smell.” It’s true – any article of clothing you wear to Funkadelic Studios will stink of cigarettes. The Kinsey Scale therefore sticks to the easier-on-the-nose Rivington Studios; not to say that Funkadelic is a bad space, it just requires stronger olfactive resilience.
Three singers, one album, and a few guitar picks later, The Kinsey Scale is a band to remember. Hopefully, Aaron and Robby’s upcoming graduation won’t spell the end of The Kinsey Scale. Reflecting on their experience as a band, the boys answered a few more questions:
What’s the best part of being in a band?
Daniel: “Y’know man – the community. You do it for the community, and you stay for the good vibes.”
Max: “Come for the food, stay for the music man.” “What more could we want.”
Aaron: “I wouldn’t be in this band if I didn’t love these boys so much. I love you guys. I get to hang out with these great boys.”
The worst part?
Daniel: “The girls man. The girls, the money, the attention.” (Well, who needs all of that?)
Aaron: “The worst? The worst is that it’s ending.” Robby and Aaron are graduating. More light-heartedly, he added, “We have this awful Facebook chat. It’s finally started to simmer down, but for months and months…”
What are your hopes for the Kinsey Scale?
Daniel: “I hope we reunite.”
We all do boys, we all do.
Find The Kinsey Scale on social media:
Other projects and affiliated bands:
the LaGuardia Christmas Band (“We’re like a Mariachi brass band for hire”)
Aaron, Robby, Max
The Fat Afro-Latin Jazz Cats
Gabe, Daniel, and Max
A Compilation of "Shout-outs" from the interview:
72 Warren Street
Bill and Brenna Beirne
RapGame Frog and Toad