Navajo band to record with Metallica producer
FARMINGTON – Kyle Felter had enjoyed a long and successful ride with his metal band I Dont Konform, but by late last year, he felt the group’s momentum was winding down. So he figured that putting out a full album of new songs would be a nice way to wrap things up for the group before it faded into memory.
“I had been doing the band thing for about 10 years, but you have to spend a lot of money making music these days, and I was broke because of it,” the Window Rock, Ariz., resident said. “You pretty much have to pay to play nowadays. … But I wanted to put out an album before I hung it up, just to have something for myself and to be able to say I did it.”
So Felter began moving forward with plans to record IDK’s farewell disc. But a funny thing happened on the way to rock ‘n’ roll retirement.
When Felter began surfing the Internet, researching music production ideas, he came across a site that listed some techniques that caught his eye. He quickly realized they were the production notes for an album by Metallica, arguably the most successful metal band in history.
Intrigued, it didn’t take long for Felter to uncover the contact information for Flemming Rasmussen, the album’s famed Danish producer. As an avid metal fan, Felter knew a lot about Rasmussen, who, in 1984, helmed Metallica’s breakout “Ride the Lightning” album that eventually went platinum in the United States and is regarded by many critics as the greatest metal recording of all time. Rasmussen also produced “Master of Puppets” for the band in 1986, “ … And Justice for All” in 1988 and “One” in 1989, for which he won a Grammy. He also produced work by such acts as Morbid Angel and Blind Guardian.
On a whim, Felter drafted an email to Rasmussen asking for his help, knowing it was the longest of long shots but figuring it couldn’t hurt to try.
“I have been searching high and low for what I want as far as recording,” Felter wrote in an email dated Oct. 27. “Your work on Metallica’s albums has inspired me to play music and create my own style. We are a Native American band from the Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona. We just want the best possible person to help make our vision a reality. No care for fortune or fame but something amazing that we as musicians can be proud of.”
Felter included links to his band’s Facebook page and some of its music via reverbnation.com. He concluded by writing, “So I’m contacting you to see how or if it would be possible to have you record our album. I’m sure the price is high for your expertise. We do not have much money but if I never ask, then I’ll always wonder haha. Thank you.”
Felter did his best not to get his hopes up after he hit the send button.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect a response,” he said.
So he was stunned when he received a response from Rasmussen three days later.
“Thanks for You mail, and all the nice word,” the producer wrote. “I went to reverbnation, and have heard Your songs a couple of times. I think You have a great thing going, all though I can see a lot of room for improvement. I am interested, but as You say, I cost some money.”
Rasmussen recommended he and Felter talk about the band’s budget and asked if I Dont Konform had enough material for an entire album.
“I'm pretty busy the next couple of days, but let's write here, and see if we can get this white boy, hooked up with some native american Navajos,” he wrote before signing off.
That was all the encouragement Felter needed. He and his bandmates — bassist Brett Begay and drummer Randy Billy — quickly made a plan with Rasmussen to travel to Copenhagen, Denmark, in July to record the new album at Winding Road Studio.
“We’re excited on this end,” the band’s manager, Jerold Cecil, said last week. “It’s kind of reinvigorated the band.”
As big as the opportunity is, it also has presented the members of IDK with a sizable challenge. Cecil said the band will be paying $900 to $1,000 an hour for studio time at Winding Road, and it also needs to pay for the travel, room and board costs associated with the project. The group has established a bare-bones budget of $15,000 to make the trip a reality, and as of last week, its fundraising efforts had netted only about $7,000. Anyone interested in helping the group can donate to the cause at gofundme.com/IDontKonform.
“We are prepared to take out loans, and we might go into bankruptcy because of this,” said Cecil, who joined the group as its manager in 2013 when Felter relocated the band to his native Window Rock from Phoenix, where it had become one of the more highly regarded metal bands in the valley. “But when you’re invited by Metallica’s producer to record your debut album, you go forward. He’s one of the guys who created the modern thrash sound. It’s a tremendous opportunity, and we cannot not jump on it.”
Felter said the group will find a way to make the project a reality regardless of how much money it raises, explaining how influential the albums Rasmussen produced for Metallica have been on him.
“Those are what got me into metal in the first place,” he said last week while driving back to Window Rock from Albuquerque.
Felter views the planned recording as a lasting symbol of his music career.
“That’s what I consider my life’s achievement,” he said.
Felter has written eight songs for the disc, which will be the group’s first full-length recording, though it did release an EP, “We R IDK,” a few years ago. He and his bandmates are rehearsing diligently in preparation for their trip to Denmark this summer, doing everything they can to be well prepared so they can make the most of their time with Rasmussen. Felter figures the $15,000 IDK has budgeted will secure the band 10 or 11 days in the studio, and he figures that will be enough to get the eight songs recorded in a way that makes himself, Rasmussen and the band happy.
Cecil said the band has reached out to the Navajo Nation for help, and while government officials have said they are unable to provide direct financial assistance to the band, they are working with the group to line up some fundraising shows over the next couple of months. Felter said IDK will be meeting with representatives of the president and vice president later this month. In the meantime, it has a show booked June 11 in Newcomb as a bit of a send-off for its trip abroad.
Felter said he‘s humbled by all the help the band has drawn already in its quest. Perhaps the best thing that’s happened since word got out about the project is the communication that has poured in from supporters outside the country, he said, explaining that the group has drawn firm offers to perform in locations like Canada, Germany and Russia — even Greenland — once the new album is finished.
For a guy who just a few months ago was planning the end of his music career, all of that has been a bit overwhelming. Felter said he’s doing his best to keep things in perspective.
“It’s always been about the music,” he said of his approach to his craft. “When I first started playing, I didn’t care if people liked it or not. But now we’re hearing from lots of indigenous (people from various) countries around the world who have been emailing me wanting to see us play. I think we’re showing people that somebody from the middle of nowhere, who lives in what people think of as poor conditions, can really accomplish something. You can do it if you have a passion. It makes me want to do better, to be a better songwriter, performer and presenter of myself.”
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.