In a Northeastern Pa. music scene dominated by hard rock, jam bands and post-punk, Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms stand out.
“Well, one of the reactions we get is, if you can picture the facial expression of like what would be a gasp: ‘Whoa, what is this? This is different.’ That’s one of my favorite reactions that we get,” says Jami Kali, who fronts the dream pop band. “People will appreciate us and say it’s hard to characterize.” Indeed, the band itself, which recently turned two years old, “doesn’t even know the words for it either.”
Two years since its formation, KMGA is prepping for its first tour, which will launch April 12 and take the band through New York state and New England (dates below). Without a booking agent, the band planned the tour itself, with Kali reaching out to likeminded bands the group had played with before and researching venues using Indie on the Move and other sites.
“Once the dates were locked in, I started to do some research online and looked up the towns and searched for bands in that town,” she says. “I’d listen to their Soundcloud, check out their Bandcamp and Spotify and try to find out who would align with us best genre-wise and get in touch with those bands and see if they were interested in joining the bill. It was a very complicated process but I would watch things fall into place.”
Kali, who previously played in Mock Sun and counts Cherokee Red as a local inspiration, said some of the band’s local favorites “who are not only wonderful musicians and interesting people but also great friends” include Little Star Run, Family Animals, Das Black Milk, Gods of Space, Charming Beards and Earthmouth.
“Being creative people, I think we’re all very internal creatures and we’re very sensitive and our hearts are open, and when your hearts are open you can be vulnerable and put your art out there,” says Kali. “So you’re definitely taking a chance.”
In NEPA, “there are a lot of people that just want to hear Top 40 and things like that. Also, you’re not going to make money at first so we have to juggle our passions with making money to survive.”
The group — Kali (vocals, synthesizer), Ray Novitski (vocals, guitar), Matt Chesney (drums) and Shiny Montini (drums) — is also working on a new album, a follow-up to last year’s debut.
“I started out with using my loop machine and coming up with basic percussion and rhythms, either on a synthesizer or drum machine, sometimes looping along with my voice,” Kali says of her writing process. “Now I’ll mostly sit down with a synthesizer. For instance, one of the songs [‘Navigate’] on our album, I was actually walking on Main Street in Wilkes-Barre and someone yelled out of a window, ‘I like the way you navigate.’ That stuck in my head and the rhythm of my stems, I was saying that phrase in my head and I realized it sounded cool going to my steps.”
The band is working on the new tracks in its home studio.
“We’re constantly upgrading it. Ray is always upgrading his knowledge of recording,” Kali says. “We’re actually going to be taking recording classes this summer to lean more and broaden our horizons. Recording ourselves, it’s not like it’s saved us money; in the long run it’s definitely cost us more. But I think the way we hear it and want it to sound comes out.”
The tour and the recordings are both aligned with KMGA’s overall goals:
“We want to just continue or creative flow and keep getting our music out there,” Kali says. “I want to make the most of every day we can as a band unit together.”
April 12 — Boulder Coffee Co. Rochester, NY
April 13 — Monkey House. Winooski, Vt
April 14 — Radio Bean. Burlington, Vt
April 16 — News Cafe. Pawtucket, RI
April 17 — unchARTed Gallery. Lowell, Ma
April 18 — Strange Brew. Norwich, Ct
April 19 — Deep Thoughts. Jamaica Plain, Ma
April 20 — (Homecoming) The Keys. Scranton, Pa