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FILTER 49: Getting To Know: Floating Action

By Loren Auda Poin on November 22, 2012


FILTER  49: Getting To Know: Floating Action

“I really don’t like music that doesn’t have a groove,” says Seth Kauffman, mastermind of Floating Action, a lantern-lit pop-rock one-man band from Black Mountain, North Carolina. The groove on Fake Blood, his latest, is so thick you can cut it with an oar and fuels the songs so powerfully that, days later, you are powerless to evict them from your skull. 

A unique tic, Kauffman creates the beat first while writing a song, taking care to conjure a certain aura. Everything else comes slowly out of that, so that each track thumps and warbles with an exotic dynamism: “I think it’s cool just because it’s never contrived, it keeps things really primal.” The hazy, primal swirl, the proto-reggae bump and swing that Kauffman loves to spin into his music is the result of the infinite and closely kept faith in doing things by his lonesome. “I love playing with other people. But I’ve come to grips with the fact that when I play everything myself, a different kind of sound happens, and different kinds of ideas make it to the finish line. Floating Action is what happens when I’m by myself. A weird chemical reaction happens.”

Photo by Sandlin Gaither

That weird reaction has been chaining steadily since the young Kauffman was forced to take violin lessons from ages 5 to 15, a child-rearing tactic that has spurred the development of countless music wizards. On a mission trip to Mexico in his early teens, Kauffman permanently interrupted his classical education by purchasing his first guitar and intuitively learning to play it better than most. He eventually joined his best friend’s band, where he stayed for years until moving on to play with blues frontman Abe Reid, whose struggles with substance abuse ended that partnership.

Since stepping out on his own, Kauffman has recorded five albums: Ting, Research, Floating Action, Desert Etiquette, and the soon-to-be-released Fake Blood. The sun-melted, dust-scratched vinyl grooves of 2011’s Desert Etiquette made fans of the musicheads in nearby Asheville, as well as the members of Dr. Dog and Band of Horses. Through these connections, which Kauffman describes as “bromanships,” Floating Action’s sounds eventually made it to My Morning Jacket auteur Jim James, who offered to release Fake Blood on Removador, James’ piratical, “anti-business model” record label. “Working with Removador has been great,” Kauffman effuses. “I think both Jim and I hate money and just want to give it all away, so it’s all about how overly fair you can be. It also feels kind of like Lewis and Clark, like we’re exploring uncharted territory.”

Exploration is what excites Kauffman most about the new situation. Fame and accolades are not really on his radar, though he admits he’d welcome them happily. The Removador partnership is a match made in heaven, as their mission statement is concerned not with profit margins but with “yielding the highest annual percentage of aural joy.” In “Not What I Came For,” a song from Fake Blood, Kauffman croons, “Your destiny’s chosen, and it is what you think it is.” Floating Action is living proof of the efficacy of this inner trust, and the record is drenched in this self-assured yet pliant philosophy. 

Of his songwriting process, Kauffman says, “I just build the beat, then I have to use—what’s the word, ‘kidgloves’? I need a delicate touch when the song is being written, and so I just try to let what happens happen, that’s pretty much all I do. For me, it’s about the overall wisdom to know what’s gonna be a good idea.” He smiles and cracks wise: “‘Wisdom rock’ is my genre.” Although Kauffman would never seriously, for fear of seeming self-laudatory, agree to this appellation, it suits the sound in that it’s best to let these songs come to you, on their own terms. Striding up to them and demanding an explanation would be akin to yanking open an orchid’s petals, shoving a telescope between them and, after a moment’s examination, declaring all the earth’s flora “underwhelming.”

Although Floating Action songs sometimes come on slowly, they’re sharpened by speed. In his 20s, Kauffman excelled at skateboarding extremely fast down massive hills, and has carried this thirst for action sports through his adulthood by snowboarding and mountain biking in North Carolina. The fluid, millisecond decisions he makes on the trails hone his ability to tap into a nascent song’s innate turns and movements: “Choosing the right lines on the trail when you’re going really fast, minute delicate things and choices you make, staying really loose and not over-thinking anything...all those primal concepts really go into my music.” Seth Kauffman is a practiced guide of rock music’s rare and iridescent mists—he may not lead you to coffers overflowing with doubloons, but rest assured, he’s got the choicest rainbow vistas all mapped out. F