Richard Kentopp is pretty much your typical punk frontman. He prowls the stage like a man possessed, giving little or no thought to the bodily harm that might result from his manic thrashings. Yawn. He’s not afraid to shred his vocals into a bloody pulp. Been there, heard that. He attended seminary in Los Angeles and now sings about Christian theology and biblical prophecy in Markov. Yep, just one big cliche. Wait. What? Kentopp’s vocal delivery borrows as much from Tim Harrington and Tim Armstrong as it does from St. Timothy. This might just make him the coolest punk rock pastor in Austin.
As Markov, Kentopp, Terry Irwin, Andrew Leeper and Forrest Allen have been turning heads and gathering buzz since last year’s release of This Quiet, the band’s debut full-length. Kentopp recently sat down to talk about the recording of the album, his take on the biblical apocalypse and the challenges of balancing a music career with families and day jobs.
Give me a brief history of Markov.
Kentopp: It all started with a spaceship in 2001… a hardcore spaceship…no. I’m kidding. I moved back to Austin from L.A. about in 2008 and I remember posting on Craigslist that I wanted to be in a heavy band like Refused — I think I put Refused, Drive Like Jehu and I can’t even remember what else. Oh, Les Savy Fav. It was like I wanted to sing in a band. I’ve sung in a bunch of bands but I’ve always played guitar also so I wanted to be in a band that I didn’t play guitar in. So I got an email back and it was Andrew who was in a lot of bands around Austin and he was like “Dude check out this posting” and they had posted it a couple of days before and it was like “Looking for singer-think Refused, Drive Like Jehu and Les Savy Fav.” The same exact bands that I listed is what they were looking for. And that turned out to be Andrew and Terry who have both been in like a zillion bands around town. We got together the first time and it was really cool and we basically wrote the first two songs that ended up on the record.
So you guys just put out This Quiet recently. What was the writing and recording of that album like?
Kentopp: It was really pretty simple. Andrew writes all the guitar parts and he basically writes all the music or all the structures of the songs and all the guitar parts and Terry and Forrest really quickly started making their parts and I just wrote the lyrics and we would basically finish one song and go over all the others. We got to ten songs and were like “Alright! Let’s record.” It’s like the magic number. Ten songs? Ok let’s record. So it’s really all Andrew doing the music and that’s really a release for me because I always have to be involved in the music process like in every other band I’ve been in I’ve had to be, if not the main guitarist the main musical component of it. It’s really cool. I trust Andrew to write the songs and cool parts. I just worry about the vocals.
It sounds like there’s a lot of experience within the band so does it ever get to be a too many cooks in the kitchen scenario where you have too many people bringing forward conflicting ideas?
Kentopp: It’s super smooth. It’s like how many bands have you been in and how many of them have lasted two years? It’s super easy and the cool thing is that these guys are super super pro. Not like stiff professional but like a responsible, no ego professional so there’s absolutely no “this should be like this, this should be like that” it’s like we play stuff and we say “We think this sounds good” and someone will say “No I don’t like it like that” “Alright, you’re the drummer, you do what you think sounds best.” It’s really one of the most amazingly low drama bands I’ve ever been in. Just super awesome musicians and super awesome dudes. I think it helps that we all have the same idea of what we want to do. We all have the bands that we wanted to sound like but we also have this — thing — this sound that we wanted to create that sounded like all those but make it our own. You know I’m sure with every band people hear you and they say “Oh! I hear Fugazi, I hear…whatever.” They list all the bands that they hear your music but at the end of listening to our record we hope that this is something that’s like all those bands but it’s Markov. It’s not Drive Like Jehu or whatever those other bands are.
Does your experience in seminary inform your song writing at all?
Kentopp: Yeah. Definitely. I was talking to Don (Vanderslice, pastor of Mosaic) about this. He doesn’t ever listen to heavy music but he loves the Markov album…at least he says he does. He’s listened to it enough to talk to me about it. A lot of it is kind of vague but, for example, the song “Rain Inside” is about the dangers of equating nature with God’s will. It’s like saying everything natural that happens is God’s will and that’s dangerous. Theologically I have ideas about that but that songs about me thinking through that and trying to write a song about it. There’s a line in there “We are the lightning rods of the gods” because back in the United States less than 100 years ago, lightning rods were illegal because they thought that if someone was going to get struck by lightning, it was God’s will and putting a lightning rod on top of a building would obstruct God’s will from happening. And also the whole Katrina thing, where people said that a judgment upon New Orleans and I think that’s really bad theology and that’s a really bad way to look at God. And then the last song on the record “Prophecy Temptation,” is kind of a song about sensational eschatology where you think the whole end times are laid out in the Bible and I think that’s not at all what the Bible talks about it kind of skews how a lot of people see the world these days. So I wrote a song about it and it’s the loudest most rocking song on the record.
Are people ever surprised to hear that you are a pastor at a church? A rock ‘n roll pastor?
Kentopp: Yeah well now I’m actually on staff at a church. I’m the worship leader at Servant Church so I do church music so that setting is like I basically just do Hank Williams-type music like old school folk or old school country so I think when people hear that they are surprised. But I think if you get to know me, it doesn’t become as strange. Hopefully. It’s just like your guy at work who you only see at work on a computer and you have that as your view of him but then you see him out and he has a racecar. And you’re just like “What the fuck? What’s that?” I think the more you get to know people the most of the dudes who know me and the guys in Markov, they aren’t really coming from the same perspective in the band but they’re totally supportive and they like what I have to say, whether they agree with it or not.
You’ve said before that you would like Markov to play about one show a month right? Is that just because of everyone’s schedules outside of the band?
Kentopp: Yeah. You know how it is with the plusses and minuses of playing a lot of shows and knowing which shows will be for 20 people and which ones are going to be to 500 people and which ones are going to be to people who actually like us and which ones are going to be to the wrong crowd. We’re just trying to play good shows and if two good shows come up in a month we’ll take them usually. And Terry and Andrew both have kids and I’ve got two jobs and Forrest is a busy man so we just want to make it worth it, you know?
I was going to ask how big of a priority Markov is. You’ve got two jobs, band members have families to think about. Where does Markov fall on the priority list?
Kentopp: Well I think we’re all at the point where we need to put our energies where we’re making money. As far as me, I get hired to record in praise bands and to play guitar in bands sometimes. But I don’t make any money from Markov. Any money we make, we put back in the band. But Terry, we should be paying him $200 a show but he obviously doesn’t take any money out of it. It’s all of our main projects right now. At least me and Forrest play in other bands and Terry is a hired guy, it’s all of our main bands. If you asked us what’s your main artistic outflow, we would probably all say it’s Markov. So if we got to the point where we could live off of it and make money off of it, sweet, ya know? And it’s really easy right now because the three of them are such good musicians that we really only rehearse like once per show, ya know?
So how feasible would touring be for you guys?
Kentopp: I think at this point it is feasible and it is something we could do but just like shows in Austin, I think we want to make sure it’s going to be worth it. I’ve done enough touring and I actually just got back from a great tour with this band, Brazos, they hired me to play guitar. It has to be worth it. We’ve all done shitty tours to nobody and we want to take time off work and do all the promotion or whatever we have to do.
So what kind of things can we expect from Markov in the future?
Kentopp: Well, we’ve got some shows and hopefully by the end of the year we’ll be recording the next record. We’ve already got about half and album’s fragments going and I think it’ll just be time before we have a full length or whatever going. We’ve been talked to by a handful of smaller labels but hardcore labels. If they want to put money behind us and will do some of the legwork for us, then we’ll probably go with the best option, but I know that one of them is in Germany. But I’m probably the worst person in the band to be talking to about that. But I think the idea is that this year we will be working on recording. I have a recording studio at my house which is where we did the first record and we’re going to probably just do another one here. I think there’s a 7-inch in the works too, but again, I’m the worst person in the band to talk to about that.
Live photos of Markov at The Parish taken on May 15, 2011.
Made in Austin is regular Red River Noise feature that showcases some of Austin’s best up-and-coming independent bands. Check back often to see what undiscovered talent we’ll interview next.