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My Friend Kevin

05 Mar 2015

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Kevin Micka: The Self-Contained Collaborator

I met Kevin Micka in the early-to-mid-1990s in Connecticut. He had made the trip down from Newton, MA to Hartford where he was practicing with a band fronted by a mutual friend. I happened to be at the mutual friend’s house hanging out when Kevin arrived and, somehow, after another few chance meetings, we became friends.

Kevin was and is a smily, disarmingly soft-to-medium-spoken, non-hyperbolic conversationalist, which makes his zany, hysterical physical antics and unique sense of humor all the more effective.

Kevin has played in musical projects of all sorts for many, many years and has engineered albums for a ton of bands (including his own) throughout the Boston area and the general Northeast (here‘s a discography).

A life-chnaging electronics course taken at a nearby university in the late-nineties took his enthusiasm for and already-above-average understanding of circuitry to a new level and led to a part-time job fixing amplifiers and, more importantly, designing and building his own custom gadgetry to better realize his musical and artistic goals.

Kevin is, by pretty much any definition, a multi-instrumentalist and his knack for writing and layering interesting, intentioned melodic figures pokes through the surface of all of his compositional endeavors. I was first getting to know him right around the time he started a band called The Common Cold, for which he played drums. His playing had a lyrical quality that almost added a third melodic line to the already super-present guitar and bass, while at the same time earnestly propelling the band’s songs forward.

Here’s “Spiders” from their first full-length (2002):

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After the demise of The Common Cold, and looking back on years of touring (and sometimes roady-ing) for bands and personalities of all types, Kevin decided that the best way to make music was to be able to control all of the variables himself, which led to an early incarnation of what has grown to be a near regional empire at this point: Animal Hospital.

Employing a drum kit, a vocal mic, a guitar or two, and enough looping pedals and electronics to cover a medium-sized card table, he whipped up a set of deeply textured, melancholic jams, recorded an album, and hit the road for the first of what would be many national and world tours.

Here’s “Memory” from the album of the same name (2009):

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Since Animal Hospital’s original debut, Kevin has pared down his live set-up even further in an attempt to fit everything but his guitar into a back-pack, eventually wiring all of his pedals and electronics together, drilling a bunch of holes, and encasing the whole thing in this special, custom box (the drum kit was replaced by a contact-mic mounted just under the surface):

Kevin's Special Box

 

Though he sculpts his compositions with many different tools, Kevin’s primary instrument is the guitar; historically, a meaningful component of my relationship with him has been the sorts of jokes he and I make to one another involving guitar-playing. We both, to greater or lesser degrees, grew up listening to a ton of metal, a background which has inspired many joke-y answering messages and one-off, in-person knee-slappers over the years.

A few years ago, his mastery of the guitar, his community-mindedness, and his eventual nostalgia for performing in a band with other people all collided and gave him the idea for The Animal Hospital Ensemble — a variably-sized group of his friends playing arrangements of his solo music in a live environment. I’ve joined him for two or three shows over the years and each time I was one of twenty or thirty guitar players.

Here’s a short promo video that sums up the Animal Hospital Ensemble:

As we’ve gotten older and busier, and despite both of us living in Boston, our schedules don’t line up as much as they used to, but Kevin remains one of, if not THE, most like-an-actual-family-member of anyone I know who isn’t actually in my immediate family. And while we don’t call each other to “shred through burning leads” over the phone anymore, we do try to write each other silly birthday songs when we have the time.

This past Sunday, March 1st, in fact, was Kevin’s birthday and it just so happens that I was able to bang out a birthday song this year — which I excitedly emailed to him at 6:39am in an effort to be his first birthday greeting.

Complete with the requisite idiocy of the birthday songs that came before it — and enhanced by a cluster consisting of the Petrushka chord on top of the opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night” — I leave you with:

“Happy Birthday, Kevin 2015 (Hey Hey Hey)”

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