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Bob McPhail 8:30 a.m., Aug. 17
Seen last week on Joshua Kmak's Facebook page:
"To the girl that was sitting across from me at Rubio's, I was going to say hello, but I didn't and have been kicking myself in the ass ever since. I was smitten with the way you had on an Iron Man shirt while eating a huge burrito. Please be there again next time I go to Rubio's."
Kmak, 22, fronts an alt rock trio called the Nformals.
He is still kvetching about his missed connection with the burrito-eater when we meet up in the La Mesa village a week later and wander up to Moze guitars. Kmak likes his own guitars to be fairly roached, and Moze has some nice used stuff hanging in the guitar room but today, none catch Kmak's eye. He admits to already owning a dozen or so.
"But only two cases. Maybe I should start looking at those instead."
We wander over to McCrea Music for good measure. On the way, Kmak hands me a copy of the Nformals first full-length CD, but with a grim admonition:
"Play this as loud as you possibly can." He makes eye contact. "Promise me."
And so I do, and later, by the sixth time or so through the 10 original songs I am struck by two things: that this record could very well be the shining jewel of the Kmak family dynasty, and, just how much Joshua sings like Kurt Cobain.
"I used to be scared of singing. Something happened," he says, "when I was 18 or 19. I came out of my shell. I started yelling, and I liked it."
The Kmak family dynasty consists of Jeff and Joel Kmak, Joshua Kmak's uncles, from El Cajon. As such, the two have performed in some of the best and brightest projects to ever have been conceived in San Diego.
Bassist/vocalist Jeff Kmak played in a Beat Farmer's spinoff with Jerry Raney and Joey Harris called Powerthud, and then moved on with Joey Harris to become a member of the Mentals.
Joel Kmak was the founding drummer in the Penetrators and likewise drummed in the Crawdaddys and the Hitmakers and eventually the Beat Farmers, too. He currently performs with the Farmers, a post Beat Farmers act.
The two elder Kmaks are known among the best side men in the business. "They're really proud of me," says Joshua Kmak. "They come out to my shows all the time and they're, like, in their 50's."
I remark on the sounds of both depression and anger that swirl in and around the Nformals music like black eels in a night sea.
"I might sound angry," Kmak says, "but I'm really happy." It takes a few minutes, but he finally opens up about having had a rough childhood, about his dad's drinking, and about his mother's abandonment at a young age.
"I didn't have a whole lot of friends growing up or in high school. I got through those years by going in my room and teaching myself how to play chords on a guitar. It was the one place I could go where I didn't have anything to worry about."
That's a sense of what I hear in the Nformals, I say, Kmak being the band's chief song writer and singer and guitarist. The other members are Nayshawn Maddox on bass and drummer Cameron Sisti.
"The more I listen," he says, "the more I see that maybe subliminally, I'm getting something off my chest." For example, track five, "Never Odd or Even," a song Kmak admits is about a girl.
"It was written after the breakup of a relationship. But I didn't realize it was about her until after I'd written it. The second verse describes me hanging myself," he says, "which is the perfect metaphor for how trapped I felt at the time."
No, he says, he has no plans to hang himself, or do himself in by any means. I almost make a Cobain reference, then think better of it. "But maybe if I listen to the album more, I'll discover more about myself." He laughs, but only a little.
But by all outward appearances, Joshua Kmak appears to be even-keeled, even relaxed. He holds down a day job at Target, and he plays bass in a different band called the New Kinetics.
"I wonder about all that myself," he says. "By earth standards, I should be in rehab somewhere. Dad's an alcoholic, my mom took off. I don't know where my morals came from. Being alone in my room for most of my childhood, I pretty much raised myself."
He says his father has since cleaned up, gotten re-married, and is doing better. Has he heard the CD?
I wonder if there is a message to his mom written somewhere in those songs and he says no. "I'm not angry. I'd be happy to see her, actually, and I'd ask her what she's been doing. But nobody knows where she is. Not even her mother."
He pauses, as if measuring his own words before he says this: "Having a little struggle in your life makes you a better musician."
The Nformals will host an album release party June 15 at Tin Can Ale House