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MUSIC : The Circuitous Flight of the Kinmans : Brothers' current incarnation as Blackbird moves them from stints at punk and country rock to 'one indecipherable sonic mess.'


The group Blackbird is no radio programmer's dream. They get about as much airplay as the great speeches of Mao Tse-tung. Too bad. Blackbird has a better beat, and they'll be opening for their pals, Firehose, at the Anaconda Theater in Isla Vista Saturday night.

Blackbird is the latest (and loudest) incarnation of the Kinman brothers, Chip and Tony. In the late '70s the Kinmans moved from Carlsbad to the Bay Area, where they formed a political punk band called the Dils that did songs like "Class War" and "I Hate The Rich."

A few years later, peeved at punks, they changed 180 degrees and formed Rank and File, a country rock band. Their 1982 debut album on Slash Records, "Sundown," was widely hailed as the next big thang. The band made a few more critically acclaimed albums and did the tour thing, even stopping by Santa Barbara a few times for barroom brouhahas at places like Oscar's.

Blackbird has been the Kinmans' thing for the last five years, a longevity record for them. Naturally, this band is nothing like the other bands. Blackbird is a feedback-crazed, wall-of-sound operation, more powerful than a locomotive, slower than a freeway possum, but with the trademark Kinman harmonies.

After a 1992 big label release on Scotti Brothers Records, the Kinmans are back on their familiar little label, Iloki, with new singles threatened. Chip Kinman, clearly getting itchy wings as a Blackbird, discussed their music and all that during a recent phoner.

How did the last album do?

It didn't do that well for all sorts of reasons. For one, we didn't do anything new because the people at Scotti Brothers kind of wanted us to do the old songs. The album wasn't really representative of Blackbird because it was too clean, too nice. Whenever we don't follow our basic instincts, we always get our butts kicked.

How long since you played Santa Barbara?

Not since we played at a little bar around 1985 as Rank and File. We've been playing since 1977, so sometimes it's kind of hard to get excited about playing in a bar. It's archaic, almost old-fashioned to play these days. You get the gig, make the poster, the fans shake their heads and we get all sweaty in the face. We've never even played in L.A. as Blackbird. But it will be different playing with Firehose. They do one of our songs, "Quicksand," and Mike Watt is our pal.

Do you guys have day jobs?

I work for an L.A. tattoo artist, but we stay alive off our publishing. I keep track of every note. The Dils, and Rank and File still sell and Blackbird is steady. We still get some airplay, plus we were on a lot of movie soundtracks, so we're getting by on that.

Is being stubborn and doing it your way helped or hurt your career?

Our orneriness really works for us because we're always wanting to do something different. It's gotta be a challenge. A lot of people want rock to be safe. There is a lot of B.S. in the business--there's hundreds of rules. Don't release a record at Christmastime. Don't release the record in the summer. Don't release the record at spring break. None of them are true. If everybody knew how it worked, everyone would be rich.

You guys did punk, then country rock, now whatever Blackbird is; so what's next, polka?

We just recorded a single for Iloki, but right now we're thinking, "Do we still want to be Blackbird?" It's been five years, which is longer than any of our other bands. We sort of did Blackbird just to wipe the plate clean from Rank and File. We're just getting back into the swing of things. Maybe we'll change our name to the Grunions. Then we can say "We do it on the beach."

So does Blackbird do the Dils and Rank and File songs?

Yes, we do, but probably not at the Santa Barbara show.

What's the story on the Dils?

It came about because of something in the air, not because we read about the Sex Pistols or the Ramones. We knew that rock was dead and we were right. Punk rock changed everything. It made it safe for Michael Jackson to wear zippers and for spike-headed women to sell stuff on TV. But when punk rock turned into all these rules, we thought "Hmmm, let's see; country music--everybody hates that." Right now, we're thinking about making another Rank and File album.

Describe Blackbird music.

Gosh, I dunno. It's really kind of like hell. It can really be like one indecipherable sonic mess. We usually only do half-hour shows because it's so demanding. It's really not for everybody. Yet, Tony and I are slaves to pop, and there's always a sense of tune in there.

How did you get started in the music biz?

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