Debut Album /
Artist Bio /
Kevin Kimberlin is the force behind Daredevil Falls, an ambitious new song cycle that’s the culmination of a lifetime of lessons learned, both creative and personal. In his day job, Kimberlin serves as chairman of Spencer Trask & Co., where he discovers and supports amazing innovators in science and advanced technology. He is also an experienced and gifted singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist.
Just how did Kimberlin go from writing and performing progressive hard rock in the glam/punk scene of 1970’s New York City to building one tech breakthrough company after another and now, swinging back to music with Daredevil Falls?
Once his career was well-established, he returned to music with new purpose and urgency. The challenge was carving out the time to create music while continuing his demanding work. “I squeezed in moments of writing and reflection in order to get away from my logical world, away from the real world,” says Kimberlin. “As riffs came together and meaning emerged from the chaos of dreams and weird ideas I had, it became obvious I needed to put some structure in there. Since I didn't have any time constraints like the deadline of a tour or a record company launch dates, I could take the time to give each song its own uniqueness and story, and weave them into this longer drama of a relationship and how it evolves and survives.”
The journey of Daredevil Falls started with a song called “Fragrancia,” which Kimberlin describes as the story of “a Leonardo da Vinci-type born into the ultimate male dream and also the ultimate nightmare—an island mostly populated by women.” But he points to “Sail On to Ceylon” as the turning point in the album’s direction. He was recording with Los Angeles producer and bass player Kevin Augunas, who has performed with Sting and Alanis Morrissett. “Augunas sat on the floor, cross-legged with his bass guitar and went into a trance and came up with this incredibly cool bassline. After listening to the track, he looked at me and said, ‘We just entered a new dimension with this song,’“ says Kimberlin. “That inspired me to try to do that with every song—make every one totally original, a sonic movie with its own atmosphere and make it really meaningful and hopefully say something that has never been said quite that way.” The results are complex, unpredictable—from created chords and unconventional structures to samples of Bill Clinton on sax and four Academy Award actresses in the throes of ecstasy.
Kevin Kimberlin has never been short on determination. Growing up in Indianapolis, his life was changed when he saw Cream on their farewell tour. He bought a cheap guitar, practiced until his fingers bled, and then told his parents that he was going to delay going to college. Teaming up with some talented friends, his band won a local battle of the bands, earning them a slot to open the city’s first all-day rock festival. They decided to follow another Indiana kid named John Mellencamp and move to New York.
Piling eight people into a loft on lower Fifth Avenue, a block from Max’s Kansas City, a mecca for the emerging punk scene, the band was thrown into that maelstrom, seeing Iggy Pop rolling in broken glass on stage and hanging out with the Ramones. Soon Kimberlin’s band was opening for The New York Dolls and KISS, trading guitars with Paul Stanley, and dating British pop singer Ruth Copeland, and one of the singers in an early version of Blondie.
But his musical aspirations lay elsewhere. “We played much more complicated, experimental, progressive hard rock material than the cynical punk music of that time,” he says. “They were hostile to our style.” So he set his sights on working with the biggest band in the world and “basically bulldozed” his way into a meeting with Led Zeppelin’s lawyer, who was sufficiently impressed to set up an audition with Jimmy Page for the band’s new label, Swan Song Records. Unfortunately, Page told Kimberlin to keep practicing and check back in a year, signing Bad Company instead—who in turn delivered a Number One album within months. This "almost famous" let down made Kevin question everything about his musical ambitions. His transformation began at that moment.
“Cutting off music was like cutting off an arm. It really hurt but I had this feeling that I’d lost several years since I was behind everybody my age when I entered college, so I didn't pick up my guitar for years. I didn't know what the hell I wanted to do, so for the next several years, I was just a seeker, thinking that there must be some place where I can be creative, make a buck and make a difference.”
Driven to make up for lost time, Kimberlin earned three degrees while attending five colleges in six years. He became a teacher of Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and graduated from Harvard Business School. After school, he began creating what he calls life-supporting, science-based ventures with “obsessive missionaries.” He started his first company with Dr. Jonas Salk, the beloved designer of the polio vaccine, which patented and developed the first FDA-approved cancer vaccine. More importantly, he went on to co-found Ciena Corp, the venture that first developed and deployed the optical amplification technology that powers 99% of the world’s internet traffic.
Kimberlin’s experience with Salk (whom he calls “a true saint”), along with the impact of the global pandemic, informs the song “Northern Star Shines” on Daredevil Falls, in which Salk himself is sampled. “It’s about the last airplane ride he ever took—we flew from New York to California together. And the entire time on the plane, Jonas did not sit down; he was punching me with questions and prodding me, like, ‘Don't stop, you can’t stop, just keep going,’ with unbelievable energy and urgency. He passed away about a week later. I turned the song into an ode of gratitude for the scientists who came up with the Covid-19 vaccines that saved this country and many around the world from a much greater catastrophe.”
After he co-founded another venture that discovered the breast cancer gene (BRCA1), which has saved the lives of many women, notably Agelina Jolie, Kimberlin found himself drawn back to music. “Once I had my feet on the ground and understood my mission in life, I could look at music completely differently,” he says. “No ambition, no aspirations, just playing for the joy of it, to change my brain channel and engage that creative side.” He started performing with local musicians and backing up his daughter, a talented singer. He composed the soundtrack for The Winthrop Woman, a documentary on the role of pioneer women in early American history, and recorded the album Grounded in Heaven.
“I wasn't really satisfied with that record,” he confesses. “So I maniacally studied production and orchestration and studio equipment, and taught myself a lot of different instruments so that I could obsessively work on my vision of a song until that vision was manifested.” The outcome is Daredevil Falls.
Kevin Kimberlin’s world-changing career and his musical experimentation may seem miles apart, but to him, they’re closely connected. “It’s the same creative process. With music, you start off with some vague idea—a riff or a motif or feeling—and you try to get it out and put some structure on it,” he says. “And once you've got something with a vibe, you put together a group of people and try to make it work. Then you take the big risk of introducing it to the world. In terms of the ventures that I have started, we take a complicated technology or science idea and try to understand how it might touch people. It’s exactly the same, at a high level of abstraction; a new idea is basically just a riff—you're banging it around and then you collaborate with a team to pull it together. It doesn’t always work, but every once in a while, you get this magic a-ha moment where everybody says, ‘Oh, my God, we've really got something here. Same thing with a piece of music.”
With the release of Daredevil Falls, Kimberlin shows that he can swing back and forth between his life-supporting ventures and his origins in music. He says. “With this record, I wanted to create something different, and hopefully say something meaningful in every song that would speak to my generation.”