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.

Karpinka Brothers Reaching New Heights

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Karpinka Brothers reaching new heights

Shawn, right, and Aaron Karpinka have found enough recent success with their band, The Karpinka brothers, that they have made music their full-time gig.

Photograph by: Liam Richards, Bridges

The Karpinka Brothers — Aaron and Shawn — feel their careers are at an all-time high.

“It feels like we have an upward trajectory more than a downward spiral. It feels like we’re more in the sky than in the toilet. Its feels more like we’re succeeding than failing,” Aaron says.

The Saskatoon siblings have shared their sound at dingy bars, festivals and even a local care home. Now, with a new album release just weeks away, they are preparing to take it further than ever before.

Their third full-length offering, You Can Count On Me, comes out Sept. 4.

“It’s drastically different from anything we’ve ever done,” Aaron says.

This is true both for sound and lyrical content. It’s the first time one of their albums has featured electric guitar.

“I just want to hear the notes sound a little different and ring out a bit more,” Aaron says of the choice.

It’s also the first time Aaron has shared lyrical duties with his brother.

“It shows both of our personalities,” Shawn says. “We have very different personalities, and I think it reflects that.”

They only had two days in the studio, which Aaron chalked up to budgetary restraints. Even so, it was plenty of time.

“It was actually closer to one, but we booked the studio for two so we thought we might as well go into the studio and hang out,” Shawn says.

Their no-nonsense recording schedule is nothing new. The brothers like to have all their ducks in a row before heading in to lay anything down. They’re also willing to let a song come out however it was played, even if it’s not note-perfect.

“If there’s imperfections — and there were — we just left them in. Now when I listen back they make me smile,” Shawn says.

The accompanying tour starts Sept. 10 and will take them as far west as Vancouver, as far east as Charlottetown, and south of the border for their first time ever in New York City. It’s a massive undertaking, so big that both brothers have quit their day jobs to make music their full-time gig.

“I just found I didn’t have time. I’m married, with family and a life beyond music, and getting ready for the album release was taking up all my time,” Shawn says.

For all the new venues they’ll see, there’s one Saskatoon spot they don’t plan to start passing over. Later this month they’ll play the Parkridge Centre Special Care Home in Saskatoon for the 25th time. It all started when a local promoter suggested them as a good fit for the venue.

“We’d never done anything like that before, and we went and gave it a try, and it turned out to be some of the best musical experiences we’ve ever had,” Shawn says.

Aaron remembers one man who could barely speak beckoning him over and whispering, “When you were playing, my ears are open.” They consider the shows a great learning experience.

“You have to pull emotions and responses out of people who maybe weren’t even expecting to see music that day,” Aaron says.

The love of performing in whatever venue they find themselves in drives the siblings. Even with music now being their only source of income, they don’t let themselves feel the pressure on stage.

“I have to have the blinders on from anything financial, or exposure-wise, because it will take away from what I’m doing it for,” Aaron says.

Karpinka Brothers Charm Sask

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Duo shows where there’s light

By Stephanie McKay, The StarPhoenix October 11, 2012

The Karpinka Brothers might just be the nicest band in Saskatoon, and they’re proving what you can do with a few good songs and some gentlemanly charm.

Indie music kids wear their T-shirts and seniors tap their toes to their songs. After four years of hard work, their sophomore album is ready for fans young and old.

From their gentle music to their matching shirts, it’s easy to see why the pair of Aaron and Shawn Karpinka are finding fans all over Saskatoon’s music listening community.

“We’re not hard guys to get along with,” Aaron said during an interview at a Broadway coffee house.
Their album, called There’s A Light, doesn’t officially come out until Friday, but the Karpinkas have been handing out lots of copies ahead of the release.

“We get accused of giving it out too much,” Aaron said with a laugh.

The band is headlining at Amigos for the first time on Friday, but you’re more likely to see the duo playing at the Parkridge care home.

“I think we learn how to be performers by being able to capture their attention,” Shawn said of the care home audience. “Those are our favourite shows actually because you hear them singing along when they can’t speak and you see them clapping and dancing when they don’t move very much. It reminds you what music is about.”

The brothers say they get a great response from the audience and some feedback. Often listeners ask them to play a favourite song.

“We started doing Snowbird by Anne Murray because of that. That’s their jam,” said Aaron.

The Karpinka Brothers’ debut album, One Brick At a Time, came out in 2008.

The siblings and best friends, separated in age by two and a half years, have learned a lot since that first album, which was recorded in a single day. It began circulating, thanks in part to their mother.

“Our mom peddled it. She promoted us like she was Don King or something,” said Aaron.

On There’s a Light, the band “spoiled” themselves, taking three days in the studio with help from musicians, Ryan Drabble on drums and Enver Hampton on bass. Though the album was recorded a year ago, it’s only now getting an official release because the brothers had to wait for the vinyl pressing. Both musicians are huge fans of vinyl and were excited to hear their music on the re-emerging format.

“Hopefully it sounds like we’re standing in your living room serenading you,” Shawn said of the record.

There’s A Light is a warm and upbeat collection of eight originals and two covers. Though initially reluctant to put covers on a record, Aaron said the tunes are a way to showcase their musical interests and “maybe show people we don’t just listen to the Everly Brothers.”

Both brothers write songs for the band, splitting lyrical and instrumental responsibilities down the middle.

“We both have lyrical input, because if I did it they’d all be about staying up late at night playing video games,” said Aaron.

Once you meet the pair their music makes perfect sense. Both men are every bit as positive as their music.

When the Karpinkas aren’t making music themselves they are out at shows, cheering on their musical peers.

One highlight of their career so far was playing for the VIP ticket holders before the Gordon Lightfoot show in Saskatoon in December 2011. The Canadian music legend was there to listen to the set.

“We had to beg for a long time to even get a show. As an acoustic duo it was hard to get shows in bars. So to get asked to play for your hero is just amazing,” said Shawn.

The Karpinkas introduced their parents to Lightfoot after the show where he asked their mother: “Now, tell me honestly, are these guys any good?”

She said yes, of course.