The world twinkles in Jack Killen's eye like light glinting off the edge of a switchblade. To him, the mundane struggles of romance, success, and failure are tales populated with renegades, hustlers, and the destitute. These are the smoke shrouded stories he depicts in the pulp lyricism and back alley guitar licks of KILLEN.
Formerly the frontman of Brooklyn party band WORKOUT, Killen now spends his days putting foot to pavement, knocking on doors and selling goods, an occupation that's given him a ground-level view of New York City. Out there in the rain soaked streets, he encounters all orders of winners, lovers and losers, characters whose sagas he redirects in his music with one goal: "I just want to be a good storyteller."
"Lyrics used to be super important in rock," Killen recalls. "When I was playing a lot of shows, the most popular bands, you couldn't understand what they said. It was like lyrics didn't matter and you couldn't hear anything anyone said. Rappers, though, they got to tell great stories. So in my music, lyrics are the focus. The rest is just chords and orchestration."
And what orchestration it is. Muscular riffs flex with the strength of big-haired rock bands decades gone as smoldering synths sustain memories of music made with madcap joy. It's an uninhibited style Killen credits to a particular riff from ELO's "Evil Woman". "You know those guys were in the studio like, 'No, we can't do that. That's the stupidest lick I've ever heard in my life,'" Killen imagines. "But people were smiling, and I guarantee they were like, 'Well, we gotta do it now.' Because people were smiling. My philosophy in music matches that in a lot of ways."
Even as he belts out seedy songs of loneliness and defeat, Killen dares you not to grin. "Pound for Pound", the standout track on his new EP, may be about one's past discretions catching up with them, but the keys defiantly climbing the hill to a triumphant chorus are filled with the resilience of a '70s sports comeback film. And who cares if that's seen as corny if it brings you pleasure? "All those things are great," Killen asserts unironically. Besides, he continues, there is sincerity in those lyrics. "But the truth is, fight each fight pound for fucking pound. What more can you do in life?"
"Tired of Being Broke", its booming chorus perfect for turning up the collar on a worn leather jacket, is the anthem for unapologetic dreams of wealth, while "Terrible Criminal" is the realistic fantasy of anyone who's ever been desperate for a few extra clams. The unrequited admirer will find synth solace in "Invisible Guy", just as the troubled paramours will dance through their tensions with "Blood on the Floor". These are storylines we've all lived, shaded grey and blood red with pulpy glory. They're parables from the edge, populated by perps and detectives, miniskirts and stubbed out cigarettes.
For those at the bottom looking for company, look no further than KILLEN.