K-Bros up the ante

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STEPHANIE MCKAY, THE STARPHOENIX  

K-Bro (verb) 1. To do a good deed without expectation of getting anything in return. 2. To pick up someone’s tab without telling them.

“I totally got K-Broed when my friend secretly paid for my beer.”

The Karpinka Brothers’ reputation proceeds them. Their generosity and kindness is all part of a package cultivated over seven years in music. They’ve started a small but powerful altruism revolution in Saskatoon.

“It’s very selfish of us to treat people because we get so psyched from it. The jokes on everybody that I bought poutine for,” younger brother Aaron said.

But with their latest album You Can Count on Me it’s time for the music to eclipse the niceness.

Recorded in two days at Full Color Studios in Saskatoon, the record is a big step up musically, treading into darker lyrical territory and upping the instrumental ante. It’s a polished effort, but doesn’t lose the spontaneity of their previous two albums.

“I think you can hear inside the tracks somewhere us having fun. We left mistakes in and didn’t worry about them and now they make me smile to hear them,” said elder brother Shawn.

It might seem like just another album, but a number of touchstones prove just how far the duo has come since starting the band in 2008. The duo (with help from Dean Summach on drums and Malcolm Whyte on bass) is about to finish its most extensive tour to date. They just played their 25th show at Parkridge Centre, a care facility where the band got its start. But perhaps the biggest milestone for the brothers will come with their Saskatoon release show.

“I remember a time when we were trying so hard to get a show at Amigos and Aaron would call the booker there every Wednesday afternoon. He had a ritual,” said Shawn.

“I want to publicly apologize to Brant Palko for calling him every Wednesday at 4:55 p.m.,” said Aaron.

It didn’t happen right away, but when Tom Wilson played the venue, Palko booked the Bros as openers. When it came time to book their current release show, it was Amigos that contacted them. “It was kind of full circle and it really meant a lot to me after that year of Aaron begging. We’ve come a long way,” said Shawn.

They’ve also made the decision to embrace music full-time. For five years, Aaron Karpinka worked 60 hour weeks as manager of a Saskatoon grocery store, using his holidays to tour and operating on little sleep so he could get to as many concerts as possible. It was much the same for Shawn.

“There were a lot of times when I played shows locally, went to bed at 3 a.m. and got up and worked at 5:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. You fall asleep in your work clothes,” said Aaron.

Both musicians felt like their work schedules kept them from spending time on music, so they made the decision to quit and focus on the band. Both admit it takes discipline to make it work.

“There was a time in my life when I could go buy a new Fender Jazzmaster every two weeks if I wanted. Now I just take really good care of the one I have,” said Aaron.

But it’s all worth it to grow the band. You Can Count of Me features the most even contributions from the brothers thus far. “When we started I would give Aaron a song and say ‘Here, add a solo,’ and that’s not very creatively fulfilling, but now he’s developed his own songwriting voice and sings lead on a couple of songs. I’m really proud of him,” said Shawn.

Aaron’s lyrics are darker than K-Bros listeners might be accustomed to, but his honesty is a refreshing change of tone.

“I was writing for the first time in my life to deal with things I had gone through, breakups and other things that were tough on me,” he said.

On the flip side, Shawn is a newlywed so his songs are full of joy. The contrast makes for a more satisfying album, without losing the earnestness for which both K-Bros are known. Music or otherwise, you can count on these brothers.