Friday, March 31, 2023

An Interview with Kicking Bird (And a premier of "238!")

When you have a music blog, you sometimes get to hear new music early. I got to hear Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, the upcoming new album from Wilmington, NC's Kicking Bird, and was instantly smitten. Some albums just seem perfectly made for my specific tastes, and that's how this one feels. The songs on Original Motion Picture Soundtrack have that perfect mid-90's power pop sound with a little retro 60's cool. It's like a less ironic version of Fountains of Wayne and Weezer. I got the chance to interview three members of Kicking Bird (Shaun and Shaylah Paul as well as Robin Cooksley) over email, so we discussed North Carolina, their upcoming album, and the song we're premiering, "238." 

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is due out May 19 on Fort Lowell Records, and can be pre-ordered here. For more on Kicking Bird, check out the band on Facebook and Instagram. You can listen to "238" below the interview.

Your sound seems to invoke the early 60's and late 90's/early 00's. What are your favorite bands from those time periods?

· Shaun: I definitely think we take a lot of inspiration from garage rock. The Kinks are one band specifically that has been a major influence on our songwriting energy. They are also a band that made it ok to write any type of a song, and not be limited by any one "sound". I know that for me personally, Bob Dylan is the mountaintop for lyrical work so that is definitely a mile marker for quality. I also love his ability to only have a flirtatious relationship with melody, he can cram three extra words in any time he needs and no one is the wiser. When Shaylah and I first started playing together Arcade Fire was making really amazing records, so I think that kind of vocal interplay over really fun instrumentation became something we always worked towards. One of the most life changing concerts I ever went to was when some friends took me to see The Walkmen and I was able to watch Hamilton Leithauser sing in person.

· ShaylahThe Beatles and Weezer. The two greatest bands ever!

· Robin: I'm glad you can hear that, as my go-to music is 60's garage music and mid 90's indie. I love Bends/OK Computer era Radiohead, their guitarist, Jonny Greenwood is a genius, I lay awake at night dreaming of being able to make the insane sounds that he makes on the guitar ha! I used to play in a 60's mod band, so my love of 60's garage rock bands is strong, the Kinks probably most influenced me from that period. I can only imagine what it must have been like to first hear the rawness of the guitar sound and vocal swagger of You've Really Got Me, when most everyone else was doing bubble-gum pop in 1964. I love Ray Davies' storytelling, he can really set a scene and take you there, I think Shaun can pull that off in his lyrics, but instead of a 1960's rural England village scene, he's trying to take you to the moon on a rocket ship or riding on the shoulders of a bear, or some other crazy shit.

A lot of bands with your sound seem to cloak their songs in irony, but as fun as your songs are, they sound completely earnest. Is it tough playing songs that are so heartfelt?

· Shaun: We do feel it. At the end of the day we write fiction. We get to tell fun stories over jangly pop music and I truly love it. I really do connect with every member of the audience when we play live. It's great to feel like we are all at a party just dancing together. If something we've written resonates then that's amazing but I really want those narratives to be the soundtrack to someone's night, not something for reflective introspection.

· ShaylahThat's really interesting that that's the impression the songs give off, because literally not a word in any of Shaun's songs is true. Except maybe the distance to the moon. I think that's at least an accurate estimation. All of my songs are very specific and it is tough sometimes because people figure things out. All I can about Tom is he's a hopeless romantic.

What's the Wilmington, NC music scene like these days?

· Shaun: Building constantly. Post covid there was a real explosion of rock bands in this town. Up until that, it was starting to feel like if you weren't a punk band or alt-country there was no place for you. That has totally changed. A ton of different sounds are coming from the bands in this town now. There is some really great heavy garage stuff from bands like Narah and Cancel. Pleasure Island is consistently one of the best bands I've seen recently. I think the songwriters are getting better too. Mark Jackson of morning news is a phenomenal lyricist and has the best voice. The greatest part is the DIY feel that the music community has embraced. James at Fort Lowell records is a perfect example of that. He's totally been a really important part of the support structure that's allowed local music to get so good.

· Shaylah:  It's great and you know what would make it better? More venues with bigger stages and full sound!

· Robin: It's really cool, there's a decent number of venues and more keep coming up. I love being able to play outside shows at Tiki Bar at the beach and downtown at Satellite/Palate. There's a ton of bands, and they're all really good, which means everyone keeps striving to be better, it's a very healthy scene.

Any plans to tour for this album?

· Shaun: Not yet, but we'd love to find ourselves at some of the awesome street festivals that happen this summer.  We're also open to trying to make it up to Raleigh and or the mountains, do some long weekends.

· Shaylah: No. We would love to do a mini regional tour out to Asheville and back or something, but it's hard because we have kids and jobs and whatnot. It would be so great though. Maybe one day.

Your songs invoke a joy that sounds like it's a blast to hear live. What's the Kicking Bird live show like?

· Shaun: Loud. Sweaty, Lots of eye contact.

· Shaylah: Chaotic and barely held together. Shaun has always been anti-senseless banter. Like, he hates when songwriters do the thing where they tell you what the song's about instead of letting the song speak for itself. I agree. His sense of pacing drives a lot of the momentum of each set, and the rest of us try to keep up. It's exciting. It's definitely a dance party.

· Robin: I think everyone's main reason for being in the band is to play shows, that's definitely where the band are at their happiest. It sounds a bit corny but we really do try and make our shows a bit of a party, there's always good energy that typically gets people up and dancing. Shaun and Tom are always giving it all they have, Tom can usually be found dancing in the audience playing his bass. 

What's the first album you bought?

· Shaun: Weird Al-Even Worse.

· Shaylah: With my own money? Probably something off one of the listening stations at Borders.

· Robin: I think when I was about 9 or 10 I bought Run DMC's "Raising Hell" with my own money. Shortly after, my brother played me the "Help" album by the Beatles, and then I immediately started to buy every Beatles album. I bought them pretty much in order of release date and I just remember being blown away every time I got a new one, and the feeling of really discovering and falling in love with great music, that was such a great time.

How do songwriting duties work with having three vocalists?

· ShaunThere are some occasions when one of us will show up with a completed song, beginning to end, all the parts, ready to go. More frequently one of us will show up something that is incomplete to some degree and we will work it out all together. Each of the five of us have different tendencies and skills that make for a really wonderful outcome. Lauren is a really great example of that. Robin showed up to practice with this really fun riff, Shaylah and I banged out the basic chords and words, and then once Greg and Tom threw in the rhythm dynamics the whole thing turned into a complete jam. We are very collective and I really couldn't feel luckier that I get to be part of a team that works together so well.

· Shaylah: Historically: Shaun will write most of a song, and then show it to me and I'll help write a hook or a bridge if I'm singing on it. If not, I'll come up with something on the piano. When I write, I'll knock it all out and then Shaun takes over on guitar. A few times, I've written the progression and turns out it was better suited for him to sing. When it's one of those great times where we all collaborate on a skeleton in the practice spot, I feel like it's usually Shaun, Robin, and Tom working out the chords, structure, and dynamic. We'll argue about whether a certain chord should be minor or major. Robin will often lead the process with a cool guitar riff.

· Robin: Pretty much everyone comes up with their own ideas and brings them to practice and we just jam around on the idea/song, sometimes it's a fully formed song and sometimes it's just a bit that we all try to add too to make something cool. I love playing in a band with three very distinct songwriters, Shaun's lyrics are abstract and often weird in a fantastic way, Shaylah's are heartfelt or beautifully melancholy, and Tom's are about young love and just having fun, it gives us a well-rounded mix!  

We're premiering the song "238." What's the story behind the song?

· Shaun: I was watching a skate video at work and a song by Joel Alme that just floored me. I went home and just straight up started ripping off the chords and melody. The words came pretty quickly one night just thinking about how far away and beautiful the moon is. The sounds of words together is the first thing I start working with, and then any narrative or meaning kind of gets discovered after the thing is done. 

· Shaylah: I guess it's a love song to the moon. Or our dog, whose name is Moon. It's one of my favorite songs to play.

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