Paul Cantor Interviews buzz band The Kickdrums
Music is like the movies in that there’s only so long certain characters can remain in supporting roles. Ask the The Kickdrums. The Cleveland-bred duo, comprised of singer/songwriter/producer Alex Fitts and DJ/producer Matt Penttila played the background in the hip-hop world as beatmakers for a number of years, crafting tracks/remixes for artists like 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Ray Cash (peep this XXL review from ‘06, where I was first drawn to their sound), Kid Cudi, Joe Budden and Little Brother, among others. But it wasn’t until 2007, when they decided to fall back from producing others, and start working on their own material, that they began to see the cameras shift in their direction (well, sometimes they still play the background). Earlier this year, The Kickdrums left Cleveland and settled in New York, and in June they released their debut project, Just A Game. The album was well-received and by September they were opening for Miike Snow at Mercury Lounge. Earlier this week, the group teamed with URB.com to release their second project this year, the EP There Might Be Blood. We recently talked via email, our conversation follows.
Your new EP’s title is a play on There Will Be Blood. What’s the story behind that?
Alex- Originally the EP was going to be called “no-fi” but after watching that flick I thought of that play on words and it stuck in my head. It ended up being a solid theme for us as the songs developed. Almost like a concept.
Matt- The name matches the tone of the album and definitely grabs your interest when you hear it. It sounds threatening and kind of reckless, like the music.
This record is noticeably darker in tone than Just A Game, the riffs are faster, everything is just more aggressive. A little more heavy metal than soul rock. What influenced that change in sonic direction?
Alex- After Just a Game we wanted to do something a little heavier and faster. Just to blow off some steam. I guess playing that fast in general will make the songs come out more aggressive. Just A Game had a lot of dark lyrics too. The music was just lighter.
You’ve said the project was inspired by trying to create something containing natural noises- reverbs, echos, distortion, feedback- an effort to use these things in a musical way, to have them be instruments unto themselves. Do you think that you achieved your goal, were you able to successfully pull this off?
Alex- I was always a big fan of Sonic Youth and the whole Lo-fi movement while growing up. They would build their own stomp boxes while recording to create weird effects and crazy distortion tones that would define each project. I thought that was the coolest fucking shit you could possibly do as a musician. I can’t really build my own stuff like them but I really wanted to try and create some signature tones for the album. I wanted everything to be somewhat distorted but still listenable. I also wanted to incorporate a lot of vocals that weren’t necessarily saying anything like “la la la’s” ect. That’s where a lot of verb and echo came into play.
I think I’m most proud of the guitar distortion I designed for this album. It was so intense that the second I stopped playing it would feedback like crazy but I kinda learned to control it and strategically cue it up. In my opinion it’s terrible sounding in a beautiful way lol. It happens through out the whole album but the best example might be the eight bars after the chorus in “Walking Dream.”
A song that really jumps out at me is “Watch for White Noise,” which doesn’t even have any real song structure from a lyric standpoint, but has these sort of repeated chants and the words “bring out the dead” taking center stage. I can’t even tell if that’s your voice or something you sampled. Talk to me a little about that song, how it was conceptualized and put together. It’s such an interesting piece of music, I feel like I can literally see it in concert while I’m listening to it.
Matt – When searching for samples you look for things that sound good or for things that make sense. In this case, it sounds good and makes sense, which is the best possible scenario. This record works in so many ways. It contains a sample of punk garage rock pioneers, MC5’s classic, “Kick Out the Jams.” Our album leans in that direction so it feels right to pay homage to the originators by respectfully flipping one of their cuts and adding our own Kickdrums twist to it. Besides, it just makes sense for The Kickdrums to flip a track called “Kick Out the Jams.”
Besides the obvious answer (”just something cool looking”), is there anything more to the EP artwork than meets the eye? It’s a very striking image.
Matt- I heard a quote once that if it’s not about life and death, it’s not worth talking about. I think Alex does a great job tackling the subject in his lyrics without spelling it out for you. I wanted the cover to be the same way. If you read between the lines, you’re staring Death in the face, you’re life and possibly your soul is on the line, and you’ve gotta make a move. There “might” be blood, or there “might” not be, depending the choice you make. What do you do? I kept it simple to leave more to the viewers imagination. On a lighter note, we were releasing the album on Halloween and we wanted something spooky looking.
Was the record’s release around Halloween a planned approach or was that something that just happened coincidentally?
Alex- That idea happened in one of those “light bulb” moments. It wasn’t planned very far out though. We we’re looking for a cool way to release it because it had been done since June and we hate hanging on to music (or even worse, potentially never putting it out.) With our next major album Meet Your Ghost slowly wrapping up the window was closing. Halloween seemed to fit just right for it.
How did you link with URB.com to present the project, and what went into informing your decision to go ahead and do it with them?
Alex- We were introduced to Joshua [Glazer] over there through Mick Boogie. We’ve always been fans of their magazine and thought it would be a good home for the album. I think partnering up with a site/publication is a win/win for everyone. They get some cool exclusive content and get to introduce people to a new act and we get exposure in a different demographic.
This is your second project that you’ve given away for free. What are your goals moving forward, will you be continuing to give away free music in attempt to get more shows and so on, or are you looking to start charging for the music at some point?
Alex- This project was kinda short and sweet. I guess we didn’t see the value in going super hard for sales on it. Although we did team up with a great distro company, Foundation Media to make sure it was on all the digital sites for the people who wanted to show us love or get the high quality WAVs. The plan is still to take a chunk of our first months iTunes sales and dump that into limited edition 10″ vinyl. To us that’s where an album like this belongs.
Meet Your Ghost will be our first pure retail album. We’re hoping that through these first two releases we’ve made a lot of fans and gained people’s respect. We’re gonna really step up the number of shows as well. It’s been so busy that we had to adopt a “one step at a time” approach to manage everything. So we’re just getting around to the full production of our live set. We’re putting together our performance like an album in itself.
Should people expect some Rik Cordero-directed videos from this EP?
Alex- Yeah we’ve talked about it! I guess the right answer would be “Walking Dream” but to be honest, I’d rather do “Merry Go Round.”
What’s going on outside of The Kickdrums as a band? You’ve both moved to New York, is anything in the pipeline production-wise?
Alex- Ironically, we really moved here to be a band. We’ve had a ton of people reach out for production but its just not as appealing as it used to be. We rather just keep building our own brand as artists. But I’m sure well end up producing a few tracks next year.
Props: Paul J Cantor