Helsingor, Denmark isn’t as far away from home as the members of metal band “I Dont Konform” could have gotten, but it’s definitely a world away from Arizona where they grew up. From the Navajo Nation, this was their first trip abroad, and their story seems one in a million chance and a dream come truth, but luck had nothing to do with it. When Kyle started an online search last August, he never imagined where his initiative would take them one year later. On July 1st via phone from my location in Berlin, Germany, I spoke with front man and guitarist, Kyle Felter and bassist Brett Begay. Drummer Randy Billy was “under” the Danish weather, however.
Searching for producers who recorded to analog tape, an “old school” method preferred by some for its dynamics and range, Kyle came across Fleming Rasmussen, owner of Sweet Silence Studios, and legendary producer of metal über-giants Metallica. When he pitched their band to the musical engineer, they never thought they’d hear back, so were floored when they received a reply and eventually an offer to record a debut album.
“I liked their energy,” said Rasmussen. “They have a unique vibe, and of course, their background was intriguing.”
Self-described at Reverb Nation as “born out of the discontent and frustration of life on a Native American reservation”, there’s more depth to this native thrash metal band and their music than merely location and heritage. Of growing up in Window Rock and Fort Defiance, Kyle said, “Metal is the no. 1 genre back home. We grew up listening to Metallica, Iron Maiden, Pantera and others, so this influenced us. We’re not ‘Cookie Monster’ but our music is aggressive, that’s just how our songs come out. We believe metal is intelligent music for intelligent people, but it’s also about jamming and having a good time.”
“After ten years, often paying to play, we wanted something more, but it’s not about making money or being rich or famous. We wanted to work with Rasmussen because he’s known for his skill and was willing to let us show our own style, which is important for us. That can be a problem in the USA where they want to change your look or sound to increase sales. For us it’s about purity. It’s about character, something you can be proud of. Also, we don’t like where metal is now. It’s needed, and the fans are craving it.”
With Native Americans, stereotypes generated from centuries of misinformation and fabrications always seem to be a factor in how they are perceived. This includes inevitable expectations and assumptions about their music, as well as current conditions and life in Indian Country.
“Sure, our music has native characteristics sometimes, but we (as natives) don’t just play powwow drums and flutes, war songs. We show natives can do more than smoke a peace pipe. We’re progressive, live in houses, have jobs, have wi-fi. We feel this can be positive for everybody, our doing our thing.”
Kyle admits, however, this all might not have been possible 30 years ago. “There was prejudice against metal, that it was devil music or something. But the tribal government helped us fundraise to get here. We had to fund ourselves.”
Though the band has gone through ups and downs in the past, excitement can be clearly heard in their voices at this new opportunity. Their impressions and experiences of Denmark are positive also: “It’s very clean, very green, and beautiful. The food is healthier,” Brent shared. “I wish they had more healthy choices like this back home, people would be a lot healthier. I miss the grease though, the Spam.”
Kyle chipped in, laughing about their exploration of Denmark, “We were walking around with our guitars, and getting some freaky looks. We (should have) asked for Spam. We could have long conversations about Spam, but one woman asked us if our songs were about Jesus.”
On the topic of traditional beliefs and religion, when asked if it had an impact on their music or lifestyles Kyle explained, “I don’t go to church. I never will. I believe in universal laws. To respect people and what they like and believe in. Respect for Mother Earth. That’s where I’m at, just a human.”
“Though we’re not overly political, there are some messages in our music. We’ve one song ‘EPA’ but we call them ‘Environmental Punk Asses.’” The Environmental Protection Agency is the US government organization that failed to respond appropriately with help for the Navajo people after a disastrous gold mine spill in 2015 tainted a critically important river flowing through their lands. “Our music is about keeping the idea and meaning alive of being a ‘non-konformist.’”
And plans for the future, where does IDK see themselves heading? “Well, when we get home we’ll be heading back to jobs and everyday life, but here, we’re concentrating on making a great album. From the very first song, we want people to know us and what we stand for. We want our unique sound to come through. Making lots of money was never the goal, but it would be nice to travel and play shows for more than 20 or 30 people.”
When asked about possible concerts while in Europe, Kyle said the focus was mainly on the album. Though the studios has a venue room with seating for up to 200, it depended on how quickly they went through recording.
Living in Berlin as I do, I asked if they might consider a European tour. The band agreed that might be cool eventually or selectively but recent awareness of how their success has positively affected native communities influenced their plans.
“Around where we grew up, in places like Gallup (New Mexico) for example, the whole city makes money off Native Americans or ‘nativeness’ but they haven’t given one penny back to native peoples in my belief. So we’d like to play for indigenous communities first, all across North America. We’re doing this for all of them but especially the little ones. We want to help show that it can be done, that you can make it.”
The band are now headed back to the USA after a few weeks of hard work and fun in Denmark recording their debut album, which is scheduled to drop some time this fall. They announced on their Facebook fan page, with deep thanks to family, friends and fans: “Is the world ready for IDK? We don’t know but this music is powerful! Ready or not here we come!”