Freya Berkhout and Alyx Dennison of Kyü talk band comps, tardises and nice shoes before their first national tour.
Despite being friends and aware that both wanted to be musicians, Freya Berkhout and Alyx Dennison never thought to collaborate. The existence of Sydney band Kyü is a happy accident, birthed from a band competition and fortuitous circumstance.
“Alyx wanted to enter Sydney Uni Band Comp and she had deferred uni at that time. I had an Access card and was still a university student. So she said, ‘Oh you should come play with me and make it more legitimate,’” says Berkhout. “So then we had rehearsal and it was utter shit, and it was so bad we thought, ‘Oh my god, never again. We are never doing this again.”
“We were so sad because we had really high hopes for it,” says Dennison.
Of course, this wasn’t the end before the beginning, and the pair’s second attempt at making music together proved to be more fruitful than the first.
“On a whim a couple of weeks later we tried again, and we weren’t doing Alyx’s songs. She’d just written this one riff on the glock – ,“ says Berkhout before Dennison interjects. “While I was waiting for her to get there as well, it was five minutes before she got there!”
“Two hours later we had Sunny in Splodges, our first song,” says Berkhout. “After that we sort of wrote for band comp, so it was a good incentive for us because we had one song and we needed a twenty minute set.”
For the duo it was the start of a musical relationship that would result in their debut self-titled record. A seamless melding of experimental and classical elements with vocal gymnastics, the preparation for Kyü ’s first outing as a fully fledged band would be the foundation for their LP.
“We wrote the set kind of as one unit, and that’s why the album is like that. It’s really weird to have to pick singles out of it because it’s really one flowing piece, which is how they were originally written,” says Dennison.
Kyü ’s music has been compared to everything from the vocal heights of Fever Ray to tribal. Though the girls are not fans of having the latter word tacked on, their influences are different to what most may expect.
“We both grew up on a lot of classical music, which I think in term of influences sets us apart a bit. Obviously a lot of modern composers as well… and then stuff like Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear,” says Berkhout. “We get tribal a lot but our influences are Celtic and Indian. I was thinking about this the other day, the only African music I can think of is Karl Jenkins and he’s an English composer and writes his own language that his choir sing in and it sounds kind of African because it’s just very uninhibited.”
“I think there’s that tribal sound that people equate with Africa, but it could be from anywhere… so it’s really strange when people throw around that word, I don’t really like it to be honest. I don’t like the whole Lion King references. It’s strange,” says Dennison.
If their music’s geographic positioning debate wasn’t enough, the girls have also had to cop flack for being, well, girls.
“I think Freya and I feel that there’s a bit of a stigma attached to the fact that we’re women and that we’re doing something, or are in a realm of music, that is predominantly male,” says Dennison.
“Well almost all genres are predominantly male except for that skanky pop Rihanna type,” says Berkhout. “There are a lot of people that say ‘Oh they wouldn’t get the light of day if they weren’t girls doing that’ but half the time we get way more shit because we’re girls.”
The pair prefer to express femininity in their vocals and for anyone who has heard a Kyü song, the voices are instantly the most captivating and intriguing aspect of their music.
“I think what we really didn’t want to be a part of was girls who are really girly, singing in that wispy kind of voice,” says Berkhout. “The reason why we sing the way we do firstly is because it’s interesting, that’s how we experiment, more than with instruments. We don’t really do anything amazingly brilliant or experimental with instruments but with our voices, that’s where we try to do something different.
“ I think it’s not about sounding pretty all the time, it’s about sounding weird or ugly and finding something like ‘Oh, I can do this’.”
The duo’s music translates beautifully live and they’ve toured extensively with international acts including recently supporting Xiu Xiu and High Places. They stood out from their silent, brooding tour counterparts not only musically, but by displaying a fun onstage demeanour that lightened the mood.
“That was so much fun. That was a really big turnaround for us, with the Xiu Xiu/High Places tour, it was the first time we were on stage and literally had no care in the world what people would think,” says Dennison.
“I think before that there was always a bit of tension, especially me, I was petrified on stage, and those shows were really liberating. And that was the show where I was giggling so much…it’s strange that people take music so seriously, I mean I did too before, but I think I have a good grasp on it now. And Freya always did.”
As for bonding with tourmates, the experience sat somewhere in the middle when it came to the notoriously intimidating Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu.
“One time when we played we walked off stage and Mary and Rob fron High Places were like ‘Amazing show, that was so great!’ and Jamie – Xiu Xiu – was like, ‘Nice shoes,’” laughs Dennison. “It was like he was making a point not to say anything about the set! He’s such a character though, it was great to meet him.”
The duo will be embarking on their first national headline tour in the coming months and are keen to share their dream stage production.
“We want to enter onto the stage through a tardis one day,” says Dennsion. “My mum knows the President of the official Doctor Who fan club in Australia. She had a Doctor Who themed fiftieth and she contacted the President of the Doctor Who fan club who has a Tardis,” says Dennison.
The ladies have grand plans for said tardis to make its entry and then theirs. Ambitions which may be hindered by local venue limitations.
“Well it’s getting very complicated because we want it to come on, we want to have a projection and the ‘hoot hoot’ sound and then we have a trapdoor and make it appear,” says Berkhout.
For the time being though, they’ll probably leave the bells and whistles and let the music speak for itself.