One-21
Kenny Klein

Interview by: Luke Harlow

New Album Cover
The Philadelphia-based punk rock band One-21 has existed in one form or another since 1996 (and since 1994 if you include their time as Uzziah). Although they have gone through a number of changes, the current lineup features Kenny Klein on lead vocals, Tom Manns on bass and vocals, Vince Radcliffe on drums, Kris Klein on guitar, and Adam Garbinski on guitar. After a three-year recording silence, they have a new album coming out on Facedown Records early this September. For more information about the band, their website is www.one-21.net. On July 28, 2001 I sat down with Kenny Klein at LukeFest III to talk about his band and the new record.



Luke: The Dragon album came out in '98, three years ago, and that was your last record. I know a lot of people that were not from this area (Southeastern PA, Delaware, Jersey) thought that the band broke up. So what happened? Why hasn't there been a record in three years? What's been going on?

Kenny: Man. (laughter) I don't even really know. I went to Bible College before the last album came out, so that wasn't too bad. The band did a lot of touring and we didn't get a chance to do a lot of writing and recording. For some reason, we just slowed down and didn't do a lot of stuff. I couldn't tell you a reason why not. I think the touring and me going away and then getting married was probably part of it. Vince (Radcliffe) and Tom (Manns) are in school, college. Kristopher (Klein) joined Squad Five-O, which wasn't that long ago, but that might have been part of it, too. I guess. That might not have been a part of it as much, but there were definitely things involved.

Luke: The biggest One-21 news other than having your new record coming out on Facedown is that Adam Garbinski from Squad Five-O is playing guitar and Paul Sanders has left the band. Can you talk a little bit about why Paul left and the process of acquiring Adam? Why did you choose Adam?

Kenny: There were no problems leading to Paul leaving. It was kind of like, it was just time for him to go. He had been talking about leaving for a year before he actually did. Certain things would happen where we would play a festival or something and he would get really excited about the band again and want to stay and nobody wanted him to go. He just had some differences with the band, no real fights or struggles, just musically, I don't know how into it he was. He had some differences with some members, but again, I think it was just musically. It wasn't a bad thing for him to leave, it wasn't painful or hard, it was actually pretty cool. We didn't want him to leave, no of us wanted to see him go, but I think it was time for him to go and he just left. He chose to leave; it wasn't like we kicked him out. There was no bad blood there. I want to stress that. We still hang out with him, he came to the Memorial Day barbecue, he still hangs out. Getting Adam, we were just talking about who we could get to be the next guitar player and we were having trouble getting people. We talked about getting someone who could do it temporarily until we could find someone to do it permanently. The logical choice was Adam. We're all friends with him, Kristopher was playing with him in Squad and they play real well together, we've known him for a long time. It's great having him in the band. I wish it could be permanent, but we all understand that he is only in the band until we find someone who can be permanent, and Kristopher and Adam aren't. We need someone who can be there all the time to write and practice. I would love for it to stay like this, this is probably my favorite lineup ever. It is a lot of fun because everyone is really into it. Adam really enjoys playing with us, it is not a permanent well, right now it is not a permanent thing, who knows what it could turn into.

Luke: When Kris explained the situation to me, I think he said something like, "It isn't perfect, but who else could do it at this point?"

Kenny: Yeah. We were having a problem just trying to think of people who could do it. We've taken the process kind of slow, we haven't tried out a lot of people. We're comfortable with the situation now, we just wanted to concentrate on getting the album out. That was the first goal, and now that the album is going to be coming out, we will probably start searching more seriously for a full-time replacement for Adam. That isn't what any of us really want to do because he is a cool guy and we all like him, but it is stressful on the band to have both of our guitar players gone whenever Squad is gone. If we had one, we could still write and maybe even do a show. We love Adam, but he can't be around forever.

Luke: The band has kind of had their share of bad experiences with record labels. First, Flying Tart kind of fell apart. Then you were with Bulletproof and things clearly didn't work out there. The question is, how long ago did you officially leave Bulletproof? How long were you without a label? How did you come to decide on Facedown?

Kenny: We were ready to record a new album, we had new songs written and we had even scheduled studio time and things fell apart with Bulletproof.

Luke: What was the time frame for this?

Kenny: This was in May, maybe even earlier.

Luke: May of 2001?

Kenny: May of 2001. Maybe it was April, it was spring of this year. Technically, we weren't without a label for very long. We started having problems with Bulletproof, actually, it may have been December or January, because we were scheduled to record in January, I think. NoI don't even remember. Things fell apart with Bulletproof, we couldn't get the money, and so we got out of the contract. We had to get some legal help, but it was pretty painless, it wasn't that big of a deal. While that process was going on, Bob (Tomlinson), our manager, was talking to Facedown about getting us and Jason (Dunn) was interested in us. We talked about it as a band and he wanted to do a record right away, he gave us a budget, and we went ahead and did it. It has been great. Facedown is awesome. Jason is a really good guy. He really likes the band a lot and he works hard for us. Just having him excited about us is a cool thing. We've never had a label that is excited about our band, so that is a nice thing to have. We were only without a label for a few months, but while we were without a label, we were talking to Facedown.

Luke: You worked on the new record at Clay Creek Studios, and it is kind of close for you, since it is in Delaware. A lot of bands have recorded there, probably most notably the Huntingtons, who have done a ton of their albums there. Was there any particular reason that you went to Clay Creek?

Kenny: I think a lot of it had to do with location. It was only about an hour and a half from our house. We had worked with Nick (Rotundo) before, we actually recorded the In the Year King Uzziah Died EP there and we liked Nick a lot. When we started to record a little bit more and get some more experience as a band, we realized the quality of that EP wasn't what we thought it was. When we recorded it, we were real excited about it, but it isn't that good comparatively. But, we started hearing the Blaster the Rocketman CD, even the Fred and the Savages CD, just a lot of the recordings that came out of there started to sound really good. As a band we just decided to go back. Nick is a cool guy, Cliffy (Huntington) was always trying to tell us to go back, telling us Nick had all this new equipment, telling us to listen to the newer Huntingtons albums. We just decided to go with it. I would consider Nick to be one of our friends. It is fun to work with him, he is a nice guy and easy to work with. Plus, he really liked our music, so that made it even better. As we were recording, he was really excited about everything we were doing.

Luke: I want to ask you about the artwork on the new album. Facedown sent out a catalog this summer and for the cover of the album it has the classic One-21 "bones" logo over top the American flag. Is that the cover?

Kenny: Yes, that is the cover.

Luke: The reason I ask is because that was going to be the cover for the King Uzziah EP, but you changed it. Why are you resurrecting it?

Kenny: That was the original cover for the King Uzziah EP and personally, me and Tom really liked it the first time. The reason we changed it for the Uzziah EP is that it didn't fit any of the themes. It just seemed weird. I felt uncomfortable with it because I felt like it would say something else, other than what the content of the songs was. The American flag is a pretty strong symbol politically and socially and the EP didn't even touch on any of that stuff. I just felt like that cover wasn't a very good representation of what was in the EP. This new album comments a lot more on politics and the culture of the United States, where we are socially as a people, American Christians and Americans in general. It seems to fit a lot better. We always like the artwork, but it just didn't seem to fit for the EP. Only one ad ever came out with that cover, so it is kind of funny that you would bring that up. We were kind of hoping a lot of people wouldn't have known about the old cover for the EP. (laughter) Anyway, it is a lot more simplified for this album, there isn't any writing, it is a self-titled album, and so the cover just says "One-21." Me and Tom are really happy with it, I think everyone is really happy with the way it looks. It is something we made a long time ago, but I think it looks really cool. Caleb (Olsen) is doing the layout, putting it to film, and he sent me some of the proofs, they look good. It is going to be packaged in cardboard digipacks, so we are looking forward to that.

Luke: Not having heard the record yet, but having seen you play live a few times recently, your music definitely has a different feel than some of your older material. Not only do you have two guitar players that do leads and solos, but the way some of the music is written, it just seems to have an "older" punk sound with much more of a rock and roll sound. I don't want to pop off and drop certain band names like The Clash, because it doesn't really sound like The Clash, but there seems to be a lot of influence there. It has just has a good rock and roll/punk rock feel to it. What sound were you aiming for with the new songs?

Kenny: Well, thank you. You can compare us to The Clash anytime you want. (laughter) I think we learned how to write tough or aggressive songs that didn't have to be fast. (laughter) I'm not trying to say that we're tough or aggressive. (laughter) We learned how to write better songs, I think. There are fast songs on the album, but before, when we'd write a fast song, we'd automatically put a fast beat to it. We wouldn't even try anything else. I think we really pushed the limits of our abilities on this album. I don't want to say especially me, but there is a lot more singing on the album and stuff like that. Kristopher was listening to it the other day and he said we all performed really well, we all did out best job on this CD. Everybody did a great job, everybody did a perfect job and he's really excited about it. It is exciting when the band members, everyone is pleased with the whole thing. Everyone is pleased, no one has any complaints about it. Like I said, we learned how to write a better song, I think. Like I said, we're not confining ourselves, we're really trying to branch out, whatever we want to do, we're doing it. In the past, where we might have said something was too poppy or we can't do this or that, we're doing it. We're trying to step out and be a little more diverse in terms of our approach. We're definitely influenced by The Clash, though. For me, Kristopher, and Adam, The Clash is definitely our favorite band. Vince is real influenced by The Who, which was a big influence on The Clash, actually. Tom likes The Clash and he writes a lot of the music, but every song is a band effort, and The Clash influence comes through, I think.

Luke: Can you talk about the lyrical content of the album? You alluded to it a little bit earlier. There is definitely some social commentary, references to America, and so on. Is One-21 anti-American now? Is there any message you were trying to get across lyrically?

Kenny: No, it may seem that way, some of the songs might come across that way, but we're not anti-American. In "Pacified," the chorus says, "you've been Americanized." I wrote it looking at my own life. I know it says, "you," but I wasn't really trying to point any fingers, it was really written about myself. That song is just talking about different things. It mentions TV, which is a kind of generic Christian, not even Christian, thing to talk about, a lot of bands talk about television, the evils of TV. That song is really talking to believers about how much time we waste doing other things. The song says, "striving to be amused." When I come home from work, I just want to relax, on the weekends, I just want to hang out with my friends. Not that those things are bad in and of themselves, but an overindulgence in them, striving to be entertained and relaxing our minds and not thinking when there are things to be done can't be good. "Pacified" is about wasting our time when there is so much to be done. There are people dying everyday and there are things that we should be fighting for that maybe we aren't because we are too busy watching TV or trying to have fun. It is kind of a harsh thing, I guess, but it is called "Pacified" because things like that are silencing us. We are silencing ourselves. I heard a preacher one time say that God created us as believers to be a peculiar nation unto him. That is really what "Peculiar Nation" is all about. We are sinners from all walks of life. There are drug addicts, liars, prostitutes, people dealing with pride, you know, whatever your sin is, God unites us through Christ. There are all different races, but we are a family united by one blood, the blood of Christ. So in that respect we are a peculiar nation, a family that shouldn't fit together, but it does through Christ. That song also talks about the struggles between different denominations that shouldn't really be there. I mean, obviously there are things that you might believe in that I don't agree with, or the other way around, but as long as we are both saved, we should still be able to stand side by side and fight for Christ. I think we allow ourselves to be divided by doctrines that are really minor instead of concentrating on Christ.

Luke: It seems like the musical taste of underground kids is really not oriented toward punk anymore. The big thing right now seems to be indie rock, post hardcore, post punk, what people are calling "progressive" music. Do you think One-21 even has a shot anymore? You're not playing the sound that is hot right now, not even in the MTV sense of popularity, but just within the subculture.

Kenny: I mean, I hope kids listen to us. Kristopher said we play what we like and we like what we play, or something like that. We're not necessarily doing it to gain legions of fans, this is what we like to do, this is the kind of music that we like, and this is what we're writing. The scene shifts, the rock thing is definitely bigger now, and that is kind of the direction we are going, not that we are just a rock band, but we are more rock and roll punk and less hardcore than we were in the past. Maybe we have a shot. Jason says he gets orders everyday and he's pre-sold a bunch of copies, so we'll see what happens. He's got some major distribution now, so hopefully we'll be accessible to people that we weren't before. He has distro through Lumberjack, Nailed, he's got a couple of different ones. It is going to be available at Tower Records, Best Buy, Virgin Megastores, pretty much anywhere. On the Facedown website it says that if you buy one of their releases at one of those stores and send a copy of the receipt in, you will get a free gift. I don't know what the gift is, but it's a pretty good deal and it is important that people go out and support Christian bands in the mainstream. I mean, if I see a Christian band on sale at one of those big stores, I try to buy them there, other than at Christian stores or even at their shows. P.O.D., MxPx, bands that are out there in the big stores, when you buy it from a store like that, they will order it again, and hopefully people will recognize these bands as valid musically, not just cheesy Christian music. Everyone thinks Christian music is sub par, but I think there are Christian bands out there that even better musically.

Luke: Are there any plans to tour?

Kenny: I think we'd like to do something in the winter, in December for a few weeks, when everyone is off from school. We're trying to play out as much as possible, but work and school schedules make it hard. We'll be trying to do some weekend things, for example this past year we went up to New England a few times for a weekend and played shows up there, just little things like that. We'll be trying to do that as much as possible. When all the guys are home, we try to play as much as possible, five, six times a month. We try to play every weekend, plus a few times during the week at places like the Pontiac Grille.

Luke: You have been playing a lot of shows that aren't necessarily "Christian" venues, like the Pontiac Grille, 21+ clubs, etc. Obviously, there was a conscious decision to play those types of shows, are you trying to get away from Christian shows? What is the story there?

Kenny: We're not trying to get away from Christian shows, we are just trying to broaden the scope of places to play and we are trying to make some connections. We met a lot of people playing those shows and a lot of people really liked the band and have been into it. We're just trying to make a name for ourselves in the area and get more established in Philadelphia. We've been away for a while. We used to play a lot of shows with a lot of secular bands, but after we got signed we went out touring a lot, and stayed away from our scene a lot, pretty much only playing Christian shows. Not that that was a conscious decision, but it kind of just happened that way. We like to play bigger shows at bigger clubs.

Luke: That is all the questions I have, do you have any final comments?

Kenny: Thanks to Decapolis. I read a review of one of our shows with Squad on there that called us one of the most underrated Christian punk bands. I was pretty excited to see that, that was a pretty nice thing to say. Also, I'm sorry that Vince could not be here. I know he wanted to be a part of the interview, but he's working today. Kristopher is away, Tom is away, and Adam is away. So thanks a lot for the interview.

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