Shooting the breeze with Kaddisfly
By Naughty Mickie
Kaddisfly formed in 2000 in Eugene, Oregon and offers out a blend of
progressive, post hard-core, experimental and alternative. The quintet,
vocalist/pianist Christopher Ruff, guitarists Aaron Tollefson and Kelsey
Kuther, bassist Kile Brewer and drummer Beau Kuther, are not noted only for
their unique sound, but also for their lyrics which speak of altruism, natural
settings and the power of the human spirit, as well as their cover art that
strives to represent their intelligent and complex lyrical content.
In March, they released "Set Sail the Prairie" (Sub City Records), which
features 14 tracks with 12 of them assigned to a specific month of the year
and two that are named after solstices from the Gregorian calendar- winter and
summer. Kaddisfly has used the tagline write.influence.change.live since 2002
and they have left their material open-ended since they began.
This year, they saw their sixth "Take Action Tour" a punk rock event that
promotes awareness for the issues of suicide and depression in young people.
All of the tour proceeds benefited the 1-877-YOUTHLINE (968-8454), founded by
the Kristin Brooks Hope Center to help young people in crisis with
peer-to-peer counseling and education about mental health issues. Sub City
Records is the charity component of the indie label Hopeless Records.
It was armed with this information, that I pick up the phone to chat with
"Aaron, our guitarist, and I were playing together for a long time," Ruff
recalls of their beginnings. "We started playing in high school and it just
evolved into what it is now. And Kaddisfly has a group has been around a
little over five years."
"So what's with the name?" I ask.
"Actually the caddisfly is an insect that is native to the Northwest where
we're from, there's no significance to it, but it's what we chose to go by,"
I remark that caddisflies are used by fishermen and Ruff tells me that the
band members enjoy fishing as well.
"I sang when I was younger a little bit, but then I didn't for a long time,"
Ruff goes on. "This band is actually when I started singing and learning, I'm
still learning how to sing. I've been playing piano for a long time. I think
it helps out with a lot. I had been taking classical and jazz."
Ruff majored in business management at Portland State University and, although
Kaddisfly is gaining notice, he still has to keep a day job to make ends meet.
He has worked in teleresearch, landscaping and at ski and snowboard shops.
"When we're home we'll pick up a job. One of our friends' dad's who lives in
Portland owns a wood shop where he does restoration, we all work there when
we're home for some extra cash," Ruff says, adding that they save their gig
earnings too and hope that the new effort will make things easier.
"Music is really a large chunk of what I do," Ruff shares about his free time.
He is also into snowboarding, road biking and hanging out with his friends.
Kaddisfly has received many accolades for their writing, so of course I want
to know more.
"Traditionally the majority of our songs have started from a guitar base,"
Ruff tells me. "Usually Aaron will have some different riffs and whatnot,
he'll bring them to the table and we'll usually just jam on them for a while
and it will develop and we'll all know pretty quickly whether or not they're
sure. I can say just about everything he's brought in to the table has become
a song, I don't think he's ever written a bad riff."
Ruff pens all the lyrics for the group.
"Life in general," Ruff says of his inspiration. "It's a combination of all my
life experiences. I try to make it meaningful and try to fill a gap that
hasn't been filled. I don't feel the need to write a song that's already been
written.I steer away from that.
"I've always written poetry and I was big into English in middle school and
high school. I took a couple of writing classes in college. College is
actually wrote the bulk of the lyrics for our last album and the previous one
before that," he goes on. "A lot of the lyrics for songs come from poems that
I've written and sometimes the poem fits with the song that we've written and
other times I'll take pieces of it or chunks of stuff and form a song out of
I prod him for some insight into "Set Sail the Prairie."
"Before we started we had an idea of what we wanted to do and so wrote it as
such, the songs were written specifically for the album, it's not like we
wrote a bunch of songs and just picked from them," Ruff offers. "As far as the
theme of it all, the way we laid it out it's written from the perspective of
someone on a year-long journey and each song takes place at a different place
in the world, so each one is in a different country. Also each song applies to
a month of the year and so the songs are the feeling, our interpretation of
that month. And certain songs are about the native geographical location of
the city where they take place."
The song titles are very visual words and the months are written in the
language of the region where the song takes place.
"At the end of the work if you plot out on a map where each song takes place
it forms something symbolic to our band. We try to write good songs because
we're a band and we write music, but for those who want to go a little deeper
we have that," Ruff says.
The "Take Action" tour is a good fit for Kaddisfly, as they already donate
partial proceeds from their albums to charity. A portion of "Set Sail the
Prairie" sales is slated to go to the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, which
brings music programs and instruments to underprivileged children. In this
case, the donation will be geared to Oregon schools.
Next, I ask Ruff for his take on today's music scene.
"I don't know if I have an opinion, I don't think we really know what that
term means- music scene," Ruff replies. "I know that independent music is
getting less independent in a way, it's kind of weird. We have major labels
signing bands and giving them a big backing and then putting an indie label
tag on it trying to dupe kids that's it's really independent. I don't really
Ruff states that not enough is happening at the grassroots ground level where
bands do their own tours, record releases and other necessary things.
Kaddisfly has worked hard for what they've achieved and he feels many bands
don't care to do that.
"There's a lot of good music out there as well. But the whole industry is
really saturated, the good ones always rise to the top though. There's a lot
of the stuff, you just have to work harder to get to it," states Ruff.
Kaddisfly is working on an animated video and will continue to tour throughout