STARK vs. KEVIN SNOW of THE BLACK KIDS
Black Kids - "I'm not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend..." - mp3
Black Kids - "Hit the Heartbreaks" - mp3
Stark caught up with Black Kids drummer Kevin Snow at a monumental time in his musical career. For Snow and a bunch of twenty-somethings hailing from Jacksonville, Fl., signing to Columbia, touring Europe, playing Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel Live, and releasing their first full-length LP seemed phantasmal. Yet this seemingly unattainable reality takes shape as the Black Kids begin their tour of the world behind their debut LP Partie Traumatic. The blitzkrieg of fame hit the band as they struggled to find themselves, maturing from show-to-show. The Black Kids' rapidly successful evolution mirrors that of a new, emerging music-market place, where a five-song EP can get you signed.
The Black Kids epitomize new-media marketing and promotion. Remember when this quintet was staggering for shows, giving away their EP Wizard of Ahhhs for free, all while trying to mature as a cohesive band? Well you should because it was about a year ago. Today, it can happen that quickly. In speaking with Snow, he traces the band's immediate fruition point to one moment in time — one moment where the right person, with the right blog, began to create the whirlwind buzz that would soon envelope the Black Kids. From a free EP, to a Pitchfork rating of 8.4, to a signing with a major, Stark joins Snow as he recounts the band's aspirations and musical maturation of necessity.
Here, Snow remembers that single quintessential moment in the band's career as he spoke to us via phone:
"It was our first time playing outside of Jacksonville as Black Kids. We played Athens Pop Fest in Athens, Ga. It was a really small show — I guess it was last August. That was the first time we had given away any demos, so from there I guess there were a few bloggers in the crowd and they started writing about us. It sort of snowballed pretty quickly. You know there were certain key interviews like I think Vice was the first one to contact us to do an interview —it kind of happened very quickly through the Internet."More Q&A with Kevin Snow of the Black Kids after the jump...
(Questions not in sequential order)
Stark: So the bulk of the band is from Jacksonville is that correct?
Kevin: Yeah. I think some of us were born if different places, but we all grew up there.
Stark: It was funny when I heard that I was like, ‘ there are not many bands with a sound such as yours coming out of Central Florida.’ I was wondering if there is some sort of kick ass underground music scene there we don’t know about.
Kevin: (Laughs) It's sort of like the least likely city for us to have come from. There is not much of a music scene there — it’s pretty small. It's pretty hard to support other bands. I guess it is the biggest city, land-wise in the continental U.S. It's hard to travel across town to see a band.
Stark: So where did you guys get most of your success? I know you played CMJ, and you released Wizard of Ahhhs for free on your website. Did you get a lot of press from that? I know Pitchfork did a review on you guys. Where do you think the bulk the success of Wizard of Ahhhs came from?
Kevin: Well there was a specific moment actually. It was our first time playing outside of Jacksonville as Black Kids. We played Athens Pop Fest in Athens, Ga. It was a really small show — I guess it was last August. That was the first time we had given away any demos, so from there I guess there were a few bloggers in the crowd and they started writing about us. It sort of snowballed pretty quickly. You know there were certain key interviews like I think Vice was the first one to contact us to do an interview — it kind of happened very quickly through the Internet.
Stark: Do you think that sort of “blogger buzz” that was created by that EP made the songwriting and recording of your newest album, Partie Traumatic a little easier?
Kevin: The bulk of the songs had already been written by that time. Actually, I remember at the Athens Pop Fest most of the tracks that were on the album, we played that day. That wasn’t really an issue at that point for the album. One thing we aren’t sure about yet, is writing the next album. For this album, it was written as we were just kicking about in Jacksonville.
Stark: Was it one of those albums where once it was released you were sort of past those songs and ready to move on?
Kevin: No I don’t think we have that feeling so much. The album just came out this month so I think we are fine just playing these songs for now. (Laughs.) Ask me again in a couple months.
Stark: Do you think about playing a song live when you are writing it and recording it?
Kevin: Yeah I think we are more of a live minded band, as opposed to ‘what kind of tricks can we do in the studio.’ It is very much like ‘OK we are five people behind our instruments. Like OK let’s build a song based on that.’ Where as a lot of albums are made with one guy sitting behind a computer. We may end up evolving into something like that at some point.
Stark: So you guys are getting ready for that big tour you are going on. That’s an insane amount of dates you are playing. You’re going from about now until November playing in and out of Europe and the States.
Kevin: Yeah. This entire year from January to the end of the year has been pretty much non-stop touring, which has been great for us. Much needed because we had just played like once or twice a month back home in Jacksonville. It has just been like developing our live show and of course playing in front of fans. That’s why we are here you know?
Stark: When you’re on tour do you ever get that feeling like ‘ wow we finally made it?’ You know, breathe a little sigh of relief when you step on stage sometimes or do you feel like you still have a lot of work to do?
Kevin: I think we still visualize ourselves kind of like looking ahead. I don’t think we have sat back and said ‘alright we finally made it.’ There still is a lot to do and as a band we are constantly trying to improve and get better at our instruments and be a tighter unit. Every night it’s a challenge and an opportunity to be like ‘ oh how can we work the crowd?’ It’s a different experience every night. I really hope we never become a band where it’s like the same every night. Where is becomes almost job and boring — at that point it’s like you might as well hang it up.
Stark: So you are finding hard to sustain on this tour? Do you guys think you are pretty prepared to go on the road like this?
Kevin: There are definitely times where it feels a bit overwhelming. We’ve learned that the most important thing is to take care of ourselves physically. Get a lot of sleep, or get a good amount of sleep and eat well. There’s been moments where we have just felt like physically exhausted. But yeah it is all for a good cause. We’re willing to sacrifice our well-beings.
Stark: So, you don’t feel like the band was unprepared in anyway for the sort of sudden influx of press you received after the EP was really picked up on the blogs and Pitchfork gave it such a great rating of 8.4. Did it hit you guys kind of hard or was it like ‘let’s step back and attack this thing head on?’
Kevin: It was funny — it was the thing we were always working towards, but we kind of expected it to be much longer. You know, sign to a smaller indie label, tour the U.S. for two or three years before anyone started caring. (Laughs.) So we didn’t expect it at that level of intensity, but all five of us were in it for the long haul.
Stark: That’s what you strive for.
Kevin: (Laughs.) We were like you know ‘bring it on.’ (Laughs.) We would rather take on everything we can.
Stark: So what was the experience like signing to Sony? Did it live up to your expectations, signing to a major record label?
Kevin: Of course coming from, you know being fans of indie labels, there was that certain amount of skepticism. But after talking with the guys at Columbia and Sony, we felt real good about…we had the impression that they were actively trying to combat the bad reputation the labels have had over the past 50 years (laughs.) Seems in recent history that they have been signing more exciting acts and have been involved with the Internet and what not. But it felt like a good match.
Stark: Well you guys are perfect for them then.
Kevin: (Laughs.) Well thank you. Ultimately we're not interested in being a ‘small indie rock band.’ We write pop songs that we want people to hear.
Stark: What’s the pulse like in the UK for you guys? Is there a real strong draw maybe more so there than in the States, or vice versa?
Kevin: It’s a different atmosphere for us. It’s strange, like over there we’re actually on the pop charts. Our first single the “Boyfriend” single was number 11 on the charts over there. And “Hurricane Jane” was top 40. So it’s weird — we still feel like this kind of small band, but I guess more people have heard of us over there. We play these festivals and there are these big crowds and people know the words. (Laughs.) It’s a very strange feeling for us. Coming back to the U.S. it's just different. We are hoping that of course people will get the album and like it and learn the words — as time will tell.
Stark: So sort of a stock question but how did the name Black Kids come about?
Kevin: You know there is the initial challenge of course when forming a band for coming up with a good band name. The majority of good band names have been taken up already. That one was suggested when we were talking about potential names and we weren’t sure about it at first, but it sort of kept popping up in different places —in a song that we had heard by this band called Hefner — it was in the chorus — in a couple conversations. We’re not really superstitious, but…
Stark: Everything kept circling back around to it.
Kevin: Yeah, yeah in a Freaky Friday sort of way. So we decided to take a hint from the universe and just got with it.
Stark: It has worked out pretty well for you guys.
Stark: So, what have you been listening to lately? Anything good come across your way?
Kevin: New stuff?
Stark: Anything you have been listening to on tour, or anybody you think is of note.
Kevin: I typically draw a blank when I am asked that question (laughs.)
Stark: Yeah me too. I am a music writer and people ask me what I am listening to and I'm like ‘ you know what I don’t know.’
Kevin: (Laughs) That’s a great question. For me I tend to go through cycles where I’ll listen to a lot of newer bands for a few weeks and then I’ll just kind of stop and listen to nothing but like ‘60s music. Right now I think I am still in a phase where I am just listening to…I don’t know Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits. (Laughs.) Just like random stuff. Lately I have been listening to Magnetic Fields a lot. We went to a show of theirs while we were in London a couple weeks back. I mean I was a fan before that, but that was the first time I had seen them live so that caused me to pull out a lot of my Magnetic Fields records... sort of been listening to that a lot. Also Jens Lekman — I am a huge fan of his.
Stark: What are you looking forward to the most in these upcoming weeks? What are you most excited about coming up?
Kevin: We're excited to be back in the U.S. after being overseas for so long. I think all of us…we just love it here. I mean going across country is a great way to spend most of your time. Also we have been doing a lot of those festivals in the U.K. and Europe and those have been fabulous and we love doing those.
Stark: Do you have anything else you want to add? Anything about the album? Anything on the album that you are most proud of?
Kevin: Our album in general, is one that we purposefully didn’t want any filler on it. I mean I doubt any band trys to put filler on their album, but we approached it with a mind set of we wanted ten solid songs where each one could be a single potentially. We're very proud of it.
Stark: You think you definitely achieved that?
Kevin: Yeah. We are proud of it. But we are already thinking about the next album. We’ll probably never feel like ‘OK we’re done,’ maybe a couple years from now. We're very proud of this album, but we’re excited about what we can do with the next album you know.
Stark: You guys have already started doing a little writing probably. Is it tough to write on the road? Is it easier?
Kevin: It’s tough. There is actually no time for us to get together as a band and you know write. We're just constantly busy. We aren’t really sure yet how that is going to pan out. We're wondering like ‘when are we going to write the next record?’
Stark: Thanks a lot for speaking with me and I really dig the album.
Kevin: Well thanks a lot. Play it really loudly.