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Thursday, October 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 42.0° F  Fair
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Kitty Rhombus deconstruct their herky-jerky new album
Spazz cats
Another way to say off-kilter.
Another way to say off-kilter.
Credit:Daniella Echeverria

Local band Kitty Rhombus is one of those groups that thrive on finding the layer of order that exists in chaos - then cracking its shell and unleashing an even more spectacular version of mayhem.

The two-year-old quartet's new CD, When the Walls Fell, can leave you scratching your head for hours, getting distracted by visceral reactions to the music - heart-clutching, headbanging, dancing - as you try to pinpoint which other bands each riff, chord change and special effect remind you of.

Isthmus got its coffee fix with Kitty Rhombus - Lee Chato (guitar), Ian Stenlund (guitar), Matt Styrwoll (drums) and the mysterious character known as "The Wizard" (bass/vocals) - last week to chat about the making of the new album, why four-square is awesome and, of course, how they got to be called Kitty Rhombus.

First things first: What's the story behind your name?

The Wizard: Ian kept saying "kitty whompus," which means "off kilter."

Stenlund: I don't think we'd ever heard of it before, but my cousin from up north would say it a lot. I had the idea that our music would be somewhat off kilter, and I thought it would be a cool name for a band, so we put it on a list. Then somebody came over and read it wrong and was like, "What is 'Kitty Rhombus'?" Everybody liked it right away.

What do you remember most about your first few shows?

Styrwoll: For a while Ian would spoof a German accent.

Stenlund: It was supposed to be French.

Styrwoll: Oh, really? It sounded German. [Laughs.]

Stenlund: It was really convincing, I guess. [Laughs.]

The Wizard: Oh man, we used to play four-square all the time when we started, too.

I've heard a few bands say this. Is there some kind of four-square revolution going on among musicians?

Styrwoll: I think it's more of a mass revival. We were playing it for a while and then went to the first Pitchfork Festival and all these hipsters were playing it. Now we play bloodsquare. [Laughs.]

Your music seems to draw from a lot of different styles. What are some of the other bands that have influenced you, especially on When the Walls Fell?

Styrwoll: As far as the stuff we like, it runs the gamut from real sludgy death metal to really poppy stuff. I love '80s New Wave; [The Wizard] loves nu-metal.

The Wizard: It's the tones, dude. Seriously.

Stenlund: I think the jazz sensibility is certainly there. But it's closer to say we have an ear for the rhythm of jazz and the modalities of jazz - or even the free form of jazz. We're not purists.

Chato: I feel like Matt and I bring more punk music to the mix compared to some of the other people in the band, too, and all of it finds its way into the music.

Styrwoll: Yeah, there's a lot of other stuff, too. Sonic Youth is one band we all really admire. We've taken a few cues from them in our noisier stuff, and we aspire to their attitude toward experimentation. King Crimson is a big inspiration for the way they syncopate rhythms and change modalities. Local music is a big influence, too. You begin to form a relationship with your musician friends that fuels creativity, whether their music is similar to yours or not.

How do you make so many different kinds of sounds work together?

Chato: We mash it all together a bit: jazz and metal and other complex music. We're all really interested in experimentation and improvisation, and we don't feel the sound has to fit a certain genre, which really works for us.

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