JUST A LITTLE BIT, IS WHAT YOU NEED Kids of 88

New Zealand breakout band mashes
up New Order, Pet Shop Boys, MGMT, and even some Goldfrapp – with electrifying
results.

 

BY GIL
MACIAS

 

Certainly,
one of the standout bands at SXSW was the Kids of 88. Not long after the
festival, a well-deserved buzz began to spread and it’s no surprise why. The
Kiwi electro/synth/pop/rock duo (Sam McCarthy and Jordan Arts) definitely knows
how to make some infectious and addicting tunes, and better yet, they put on
some killer live shows. Their electrifying debut, Sugarpills, is not yet available in the U.S., but it will be coming out
sometime this summer. In fact, the album is so ridiculously great, we highly
recommend that you lose all patience, let your temptation get the best of you
and just find but the import online—it’s that good. They’re like some sort of
blend between MGMT meets Goldfrapp, with a dash of Pet Shops Boys and New
Order.

 

In late
March, the guys did a small tour to start promoting the album and played their
first ever show in Los Angeles at The Satellite
in Silverlake, California. It’s a small intimate venue and
we were lucky enough to catch the show. Based on what we saw, it won’t be long
before they replicate the popstar status they have back in New Zealand
start playing larger venues here in the States. The guys know how to put on a
great show, get the crowd amped up and definitely ooze with talent both in the
studio and onstage. Sam’s energetic stage presence is impressive.

 

Before
the guys took the stage, we were able to talk to them about their album and
their experiences in the U.S.
so far. Both 23-years-old, Sam and Jordan were charming, laid back, instantly
likeable, and truly passionate about their music. 

 

***

 

BLURT: Your album was not
simultaneously released worldwide and has already been out for sometime in your
home country. I imagine some of the songs might be getting “old” to you by now
and you’re probably ready to move on and record something new. So in a way,
you’re hitting a reset button and starting to promote your debut album all over
again, which still isn’t even out here in the U.S. yet. How do you keep the album
fresh in your mind and onstage?

SAM: It
seems to be refreshing to me. The way I see it is, when you meet someone new
for the first time, you don’t go, “Oh God, here we go again. I got to tell them
everything I’ve told a million times before.” You just don’t have that approach
to meeting new people. When we’re playing to a new audience, it’s almost like
these songs feel like we’re playing them for the first time. Also, the types of
songs we have are really enjoyable to perform. There’s something about them
that’s slightly challenging. So next to that freshness, there’s also that
appeal of absolutely nailing the song as good as you possibly can each time.
There might be different aspects of the song that you kind of feel you need to
work on. So there are different aspects we always try to build upon. 

 

How have U.S. audiences responded to your
shows? We hear you blew away SXSW.

JORDAN: Really well, surprisingly. We’re
from the other side of the world so it’s crazy to think we can come here and
make people clap, smile, and talk about us. It’s an amazing feeling to have.

SAM: It
is. That’s also something refreshing in itself. I think you would really start
to get bored with what you’re doing if the people you were playing for aren’t
reciprocal. We are playing to new audiences and they are amazingly excitable,
so why would I even begin to think that this isn’t a good thing? So that’s why
we keep running with it. Going back to your question earlier about the reset
button—we are writing new songs as we go. We want to feel that we have
momentum as a band. But we’re proud of our catalogue and we totally don’t mind
still presenting that in front of people. As that’s going on, underneath the
table, we’re still writing new stuff and preparing it, and we can release that
as well. It almost gives you another chance to make a release and make another
impression.

 

How are audiences here in the U.S. versus
back home? Is there a difference in vibe or energy?

SAM:
People here are much better looking.

JORDAN: [Laughs]

SAM: Very
much so. The girls here are much tastier here than they are in New Zealand.
No, no, no. [Laughs] That’s only half
true. I find that they’re a lot more vocal.

JORDAN: Yea. They let you know if you’re
good or bad, where in New Zealand, they only smile or nod and you would never
know if you were good or not.

SAM: Yea,
you really got to win them over in an arduous fashion, where here in the
States, you kind of put your soul out there and present what you got and they
laugh it up quite quickly. Which is really nice, being a performer—having
someone who is really quick in the initial stages of the performance to get
behind you and enjoy it. That’s very encouraging.

 

Do you plan to add additional
tracks for the U.S. version
of the album or will it be the same as the New Zealand version?

JORDAN: There might be something a
little different but I think it will pretty much be what it is now.

SAM: It
will be true to the album. If we did want to release new songs on top of it,
then I think we’d hold off on them and release them in a different fashion. It
would feel like us as a band with more of a catalogue and these extra facets
that people can explore as opposed to combining them. You know, when you search
other band’s discographies on Wikipedia and they have the Japanese release, the
European release, the U.S.
release, and they’re trying all these different things. We just want to have Sugarpills as this physical kind of
entity that you just throw on the table and see how it goes and release stuff
thereafter.

 

I was really blown away by the
5-track Sugarpills EP. “Nerves” and
“Home” are amazing. Will these make it to the States too?

SAM: Yes.
We hope so.

JORDAN: Those tracks seem to be more in
the direction we’re heading in as well. They’re the most recent songs we’ve
completed.

 

They’re very mellow. I love what
you guys did. They all sound like some sort of cosmic lullabies.

SAM:
That’s a good way to describe them. That’s exactly what we were trying to
achieve. The way that our band came about was off the back of a couple of songs
that were definitely more upbeat, so when we came to release the album, we felt
that it needed to be very physical, energetic and engaging. I’m really into
albums that kind of have a current and particular theme throughout that still
have a bit of diversity in them. So that’s why it was really exciting when the
opportunity of having an EP came along. We could kind of just do what we wanted
to. We thought we could show people a different side of us and be a little bit
more worldly.

 

What’s been your most surreal
moment during your first U.S.
tour so far?

JORDAN: I think our whole trip to the U.S. so far, in the last week or
so, has been very surreal. We’re just sort of taking everything in and we’ve
met some amazing people and played with some amazing bands that we’d never
thought we’d play with.

SAM: At
SXSW, we were thrown into some pretty amazing line-ups. The moment we figured
out we were being added to the bill was when our manager sent us this email
with a list of our favorite bands and he just through our name underneath.
Those names on the list turned out to be the list of the bands we were playing
with at SXSW. So that was freaking us out.

 

What was it like touring with
Scissor Sisters?

SAM: That
was cool. It was amazing. It’s refreshing playing to a whole new audience. I
mean, let’s be honest, Scissor Sisters are a really festive sounding band. So
the audiences were pretty reciprocal. There were people in the crowd dressed in
full golden lycra suits and enough hair and make-up for the universe. For us,
we felt slightly more liberated as well. We exploded a little bit more when we
were playing. It was really fun in that aspect. And we hadn’t played to a large
size venue before, so that was also a massive step up.

 

Speaking of massive venues, where
would you like to see yourselves go in the U.S.? Is becoming one of the
biggest bands in the world or fame your main interest?

SAM: It’s
definitely not a fame thing.

JORDAN: It never has been.

SAM: I
think it’s because of our upbringing. In New Zealand, we have this kind of
self-deprecation that makes us feel quite comfortable. We’ll come over here,
and sometimes I’ll open a conversation with a joke that’s making fun of myself
and I notice people think I’m hard on myself. And I’m not doing that, I’m doing
it for my own enjoyment.

JORDAN: I think we play things down
quite a bit too. If someone comes up and tells us we did an awesome set I’ll
go, “Oh, you know, we could’ve done better.”

SAM: I
think what we really want to achieve here, if anything, is to be an outfit that
creates songs that are enticing and provocative both musically and in a
production sense as well—and still just as accessible as pop songs on radio.
I can’t say we’d ever be labeled as a true indie band. It’s not like we write
music that we don’t intend anyone to hear. At the same time, we do love pop
song format. We’re not trying to write Lady Gaga songs or these really big
banging tunes. We want to write songs people can approach in a friendly way and
take it however they want.

 

What decade of music would you say
influenced you the most? You guys are both young, born in 1988, grew up in the
‘90s, yet there seems to be a lot of influence from the early ‘80s.

SAM:  It is quite true to our name, I suppose.

JORDAN: Our parents used to listen to a
lot of ‘80s stuff. But I think, more recently, we’re influenced by more early
‘90s than anything else.

SAM: And
‘70s stuff. I find there’s kind of a correlation between a gap of twenty years
or so. Say for example, like a lot of early ‘90s psychedelic house music is
quite reflective of early ‘70s psychedelic. So we kind of work with those
things. I do like the ‘80s, because geographically, it was so diverse. You got
early ‘80s like Joy Division and very dark kinds of sounds, but then you got
very bright and jazzy late-‘80s Michael Jackson and these other progressive pop
productions. There are so many things to pick out of it, but it still has this
nostalgic edge to it people from our generation understand and look back on. I
think the ‘80s is a thing that would kind of sum up our band, but there’s so
much good music, that comes from the ‘70s and ‘90s, and also the ‘60s that
matter so much.

 

At what age did you know for sure
you wanted to make music? Any particular moments that sparked it?

JORDAN: I started off playing the pot
and pans when I was 8-years-old. I was literally in the kitchen, I had the
frying pan, the deep dish, and I would put the cooking paper over the crock pot
as drum skins. I was especially playing to my dad’s records. I guess that’s
where my rhythmic journey began. Then I started playing the drums for real
until I was about 18-years-old. I haven’t been on a kit for a while actually.
Sam and I met when we were about 13-years-old, so we’ve both grown musically in
a sense.

SAM: I
don’t think there’s ever been a moment where I said to myself, “I can’t do
anything else, so I think music is going to be it.” It has always been a
natural progression. It’s like something you start you play around with and it
just snowballs from there. And over the course of that journey, you start to
meet the other people, like our management and labels, and they solidify
everything for you.

 

You’re a duo and record all your
music in the studio, but use a band for live shows. Does your live band or
anyone else contribute to the writing or studio recordings?

JORDAN: It’s a bit different each time.
There’s about four or five of us that all bring different things to the table.
It’s quite interesting to see how someone can come in with a little idea and
watch it get blown up.

SAM: Say
for example, it could start off with me having a little loop or whatever and
we’ll build on the song from there. Or Jordan will have this rhythmic
thing that’s completely vibing and we’ll build melodies on top of that. We’ve
also got a good community of people we like to work with and it’s just whoever
is free that day. And it’s not really who is there that’s going to determine
how the song comes out, because usually they turn out pretty good in our own
opinion, but it’s also good to have the different dynamics because they bring
out the different colors and stuff and bring their own personality to it. So we
prefer it to be collaborative, if possible.

 

What would you say is the
strangest incident, personal experience or thing that ever inspired a song or
lyric you came up with?

SAM: Oh man,
there’s too many. Goodness gracious. We were in London one time and we were at our friend’s
place during the last day of a tour. And we were a little messy from all the
touring and our guitarist Luke was sitting on this couch petting a Labrador. His rap name is Clams, that’s his rap project,
and he’s this pretty hardcore kid, covered in tattoos, but a really nice,
smiley, good looking guy. Anyway, he’s petting this dog and we were trying to
come up with ideas, so we came up with this rap for his project, and it’s
called “Clams, Denim Jackets and Dogs.” And it goes, [Singing along with Jordan]
Clams [snaps fingers], denim jackets
and dogs, [snaps fingers] Clams [snaps fingers], denim jackets and dogs.
[Laughs] So, you can’t just sit down
in a studio and come up with that sort of crazy rubbish, but it’s the
spontaneity that adds to the idea, you know? So we try to put ourselves in as
many weird locations as possible.

 

I know you’re album is fairly new
and still not out in the U.S. yet, but have you started recording a follow-up
to Sugarpills yet?

SAM: It’s
definitely on the cards. We have really solid plans to make another album but
we wanted to see what was going to happen with the live band first. Last year,
we wouldn’t have thought that we’d actually be here. So when we get home after
a 3 week trip and find out we’ll be going somewhere else, we have to fill those
things into the schedule. Also, there are all those other positive things to
help build our career; you have to run with it. You can’t go, “oh no, I don’t
want to go play some shows in the States.” Of course you do. I think it will
come to a point where we’ve made some good dashes around the planet and we can
actually sit down and go, “Ok, now let’s do it, we’re ready,” as opposed to
doing it for the sake of doing it.

 

I know you’re a young band, you’re
both 23-years-old, but have you ever thought of how long you might be doing
this? Can you picture yourself like Keith Richards, still rocking out when
you’re older?

SAM: [Laughs] I don’t think if you asked Keith
Richards the same question when he was 23, I don’t think he would’ve known how
old.

JORDAN: He probably didn’t plan it.

SAM: We
don’t know. I think we definitely love the idea of production and studio
environments, just slightly more so than performing live. I think as you grow
old, you can only jump around and get sweaty so much. I think we would like to
head towards the direction of producing for other people and utilizing that as
a career as to just making music only for our band. I think we would want to be
a little bit more broad than just the music we were creating.

JORDAN: At the moment, we just want to
take each opportunity as it goes.

 

***

 

Online
(of course): http://www.kidsof88.com/

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