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Spotlight: Kyle Balkin of Leisure Sport

Leisure Sport
(Image credit: Megan Elyse)

KYLE BALKIN

HAILS FROM: Baltimore, Maryland USA
PLAYS IN: Leisure Sport
SOUNDS LIKE: Summery, sepia-toned emo thrashed out with authentic passion
LATEST DROP: Title Card (EP out now independently)

What’s your current go-to guitar?
Right now, I find myself playing my Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster more than anything. I played Telecasters exclusively for years because I love their twang and they’re relatively inexpensive, but they can sound too brittle for high-gain tones which had me frustrated. I’ve always liked Jazzmasters, and luckily my girlfriend bought me the Mascis Squier for my birthday last year. I’m planning on swapping out some pieces, but it’s a great guitar out of the box too. The P-90s it comes with are pretty hot, at least compared to my Telecaster. I also think it retains some of that typical Jazzmaster sound, but maybe purists would disagree. Offset guitars are pretty expensive right now, so that guitar scratched the itch without being prohibitively costly, and I just haven’t looked back.

How did you initially fall in love with the instrument?
My first instrument was the clarinet, but my dad had an old '70s Epiphone in a closet somewhere, and once I found out I just gravitated towards it. My first guitar was a Yamaha Junior acoustic. I was so young that I can’t give a detailed account of buying it, but I vividly remember going into a local shop with a giant bag of loose change. My dad showed me how to play “Pinball Wizard” by The Who that night, and pretty soon I was just obsessed with getting better. I still have that guitar and refuse to get rid of it. I don’t play it, but it’s a keepsake and I like the way it smells.

What inspires you as a player?
Big influences on my playing would be Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, Daniel Rossen, Nick Reinhart and Blake Mills. I’ve always loved harmonically interesting guitar parts, and I think a lot of those players make use of unusual, dissonant chords that serve a melody, so the whole thing feels more like a chord melody in the jazz sense. I think that’s a big part of my playing – I like to play with shapes to see how I can play the melody and harmony at the same time. I’ll usually drone higher strings and move the lower notes to give a progression a sense of movement. I prefer to do that than have completely disjointed tracks that are distinctly 'lead' or 'chords'.

Are you much of a gear nerd?
I am a huge gear nerd with one exception: the guitar itself. I’m not terribly precious about having really nice guitars, as there’s a lot you can do to help a cheap guitar sound great. I’m certainly more nerdy about recording gear and pedals. My favorite piece of gear right now would have to be my Blue Cloud amp. Blue Cloud is a small company run by my friend Bryan here in Baltimore, and he recently built a clone of the Dumble Overdrive Special for me. It’s monstrous, and super responsive. I also cherish my LA500 Opto Compressor, made by the Australian company JLM. It’s a beautiful-sounding compressor on anything that can have a slow attack. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with my Shallow Water K-Field Modulator from Fairfield Circuitry. I also love my ELA M 251 clone, which sounds great and was built by another friend of mine. That got used for some of the vocals on our EP. The custom stuff my friends make for me feels more irreplaceable and unique, so those are my favorite pieces.

Do you have any ‘white whales’?
Nothing really comes to mind as something I’ve always wanted. I obsess over one thing, and eventually lose interest and obsess over something else – it’s neverending like that. For a while I wanted to get a Guild T-50 Slim, which is kind of like a Thinline Jazzbox looking thing. I searched for it for ages, but they’re pretty hard to find in brick-and-mortar shops. I’ve still never played one, but would jump at the chance. I’d also like a chance to try out the Island Instruments Forty-Four.

What would your signature model look like?
I wish I had the perfect guitar figured out, but I really don’t. Like I said, I’m not precious about guitars the way I am about other things. It would probably be a Jazzmaster body with some really hot pickups and a thin, flat neck. I like the neck on 'shreddy'-feeling guitars. Maybe it would have a killswitch and you could control the output of each pickup individually, like on those '70s Telecasters.

If you could jam with any guitarist, dead or alive...
I’d play the Power Rangers theme with Buckethead. It’s short, so we’d play it twice.