When you hit play on the video for KOLARS’ 2017 single “One More Thrill,” you best strap in. Within those three minutes, you’ll find a kinetic mix of sequins, eyeliner, color, towering sculptures, and tap dancing—all of it charged with a wild, room-shuddering jolt of rock‘n’roll. It’s a fantastic introduction to the husband-and-wife duo of Rob Kolar and Lauren Brown, who bear a restless sound, style, and raw power that can’t be easily contained within a video, a genre, or really, a paragraph.
Rob and Lauren found each other when they shared the stage as part of LA folk outfit He's My Brother She's My Sister. It’s there that Lauren developed her unrivaled style of full-body drumming, a method of percussion that sees her manning a stand-up kit, while tap dancing on a bass drum. That dynamic throb galvanizes Rob’s compositions—pulsating through “Dizzy,” setting the sensual groove for “Haunt Me,” and keeping pace with the razor-edged riffs on “Turn It Up.” Add to that sound a wardrobe that’s as glam and gleaming as a meeting between David Bowie and Gram Parsons, and you get a band that’s an all-round jolt to the senses.
Of course, the best place to experience KOLARS, if not on their 2018 eponymous debut, is in their natural environment: live and onstage. Want proof? Last month, the pair landed on South by Southwest and delivered a glitter-coated performance of their new track, “Who Owns Your Rights,” for Jam in the Van. It was pretty stunning. See it for yourself below.
And KOLARS keep rolling. Now on a month-long tour that’s fast selling out, Rob and Lauren nonetheless found time to catch us up on all that’s happening in the band’s orbit. What proceeds is their take on being creative together, instructions on finding your way with tarot cards, a brief history of “Stand By Me,” and the joys of dimension-traveling while playing live.
Hello Rob and Lauren. How do you feel your current tour will be different from previous runs?
Lauren: We’re selling out shows! That feels pretty damn good. We also are trying to visit as many hot springs as humanly possible. I smell like a hard boiled egg.
What is one unlikely or unusual thing you’ve packed for this tour, and why?
Rob: We packed our favorite set of tarot cards. When we get lost or confused, we tend to consult with the cards and usually we get some good advice. Just to clarify, we don’t use our tarot when we “get lost” on the highways.
Lauren: Sport salts, bath salts, and cholula.
What goes through your mind when you’re playing a KOLARS show?
Rob: Ideally nothing. The best shows seem to be when we escape physical reality and get lost in some other dimension when we play. When thoughts do come, it’s usually, “What’s the sound guys (or girl’s) name again!?”
Lauren: I travel somewhere else. Before and after a show, I’m my normal, neurotic, insecure self—but on stage that seems to all go away. I don’t give a fuck about anything but the beat.
Your live setup sees you two standing side-by-side, sharing the spotlight. How does this shape or affect your dynamic onstage?
Rob: Even though Lauren doesn’t have a mic, she commands the stage like a lead singer. This allows us to share the challenges and the rewards of being centerstage. No single front person. We’ve had a lot of fans say, “I don’t know where to look.” We love hearing that.
Lauren’s full bodied drumming is an amazing sight and sound to behold. How did she come to invent the particular form of percussion? And how does it feel to use your entire body as an instrument?
Lauren: I love it. When I use my whole body, my mind stops thinking, which sounds strange… but it’s true. I also don’t have to go to the gym anymore, thank god! It all started as an experiment and a necessity. We were in another band where I was tap dancing percussion alongside the drummer, and then the drummer quit. To have more space in the van and more money in the bank, we decided I should learn how to play the drums and combine the tap dancing with it. I’ve never looked back.
What were some things you learned from He's My Brother She's My Sister that you brought to KOLARS?
Rob: HMBSMS gave us the opportunity to tour nationally and internationally, and taught us the value of building a grassroots fanbase through touring. We’ve seen it with bands we’ve played with like The Growlers and Shakey Graves. Even though neither band had major radio hits, they developed a massive and loyal following by touring relentlessly and delivering great live shows.
What drew you to work together as KOLARS?
Lauren: Well, we were already married! It was shortly after our wedding. We’ve always liked being creative together, and see things in a similar way (most of the time). It just made sense to start this project, felt natural and easy and right. Plus, we both like to rehearse naked.
Rob: I had several bands before KOLARS... Lemon Sun, HMBSMS, Colour, and Listen. All bands had pretty heart-wrenching breakups and disappointments in not continuing. Before KOLARS, I was about ready to throw in the towel. I went back to making music just based on being creative not as a career. I started working on a “solo” record, just wanted to be creative for the sake of being creative. Lauren expressed interest in continuing to play and perform so we said, well, let’s try and make it work for both of us. A solo record soon became the first KOLARS album.
Your sound gives such a thrilling, contemporary kick to rock‘n’roll. How did you both arrive at this blend of genres and why is it important to your sound?
Rob: Thanks. Love hearing that. I think for the most part, we just create what we love and are excited about. We aren’t too fussed about what sound Pitchfork is getting behind this month. It’s more about what moves us as listeners and musicians. We love music from all eras, whether it’s the ‘50s rock‘n'roll of Chuck Berry or Howlin Wolf Blues, ‘60s clever pop of The Kinks or the soulful Motown of The Four Tops, the ‘70s infectious glam of T.Rex or political punk of The Clash, ‘80s yearning of The Cure or blue collar anthems of Bruce Springsteen, ‘90s alternative of Pavement or Britpop brilliance of Supergrass, the 2000s innovation of bands like The Walkmen or The Raveonettes, and so on and on.
Your fashion choices are a similarly exciting blend of styles. What are some musicians or artists whose wardrobes you would love to raid, and why?
Lauren: I love fashion. Love fashion photography, the history of it all. I would love me some Blondie, Anita Pallenberg, Cher, Grace Jones.
Rob: Definitely Bowie in the ‘70s when he was influenced by the cutting-edge Japanese fashion of the times and exploring space age themes! Would love to time-warp into the wardrobe department of Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.” We recently went to Graceland and the Nudie style Elvis suits are incredible.
Your 2018 self-titled debut was downright electrifying. What do think it tells us about KOLARS?
Rob: It feels a like a good intro to what we can do. There’s variety and different moods on that album. We blend genres and you can hear hints of glam, new wave, punk, folk, pop, psych, garage rock, and R&B. Feels like the natural first step in us exploring our sound as a band.
Your latest single “Turn It Up” lovingly details the redemptive power of music. What’s one particular song that’s been a constant source of comfort for you, and why?
Rob: “Stand By Me.” The melody and lyrics are so stirring and reflect love in such a powerful way. Also, Ben E King tried to shop that song around to other artists and no one would do it. Labels didn’t think it had that “thing.” So he decided to do it himself. The raw emotion and vocal delivery in that song is just incredible. It was as though fate knew he was the one that had to sing it. Love the redemptive story behind it and the redemptive quality to the music.
What are your grandest hopes for KOLARS’ future?
Lauren: I just want to be able to keep playing and seeing the world. Pretty simple, really. Making music and friendships is the ultimate dream.
Rob: Reach new audiences and connect with new fans. Bring an electrifying experience around the world.
What does a Big Break mean to you?
Rob: It’s always wonderful to be recognized and have the help from a great platform like Bandsintown. We’ve built KOLARS ourselves without a manager or label so having Bandsintown get behind us like this is huge. We also feel very aligned with what the Big Break program stands for, getting fans in touch with the bands they were destined to fall in love with.
Lauren: When dreams turn into the real deal...