Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Black Kids band feature

The Black Kids preview ran in the North County Times (San Marcos, Calif.) in October 2008. The band plays LA alt-rock station Indie 103.1 FM's Xmas show with The Pretenders and Bloc Party at Club Nokia on Dec. 10.

By George A. Paul

Watch the entertaining music video for Black Kids’ “Look at Me (When I Rock Witchoo)” on YouTube and you’ll immediately be transported back to the late 1960s, when animated classics like “Scooby Doo” and “Speed Racer” were popular. The band is inserted into various cartoon scenarios and shown wearing silly costumes throughout.

Bassist Owen Holmes had doubts at first about how everything would turn out. “It was surreal. We really trusted the director on that one. You’re standing in front of a green screen wearing a dog suit, jumping around, doing crazy things and have no idea what it’s going to look like. You feel like an idiot. I would be horrified if the raw footage of that was ever released, it was so absurd.”

The clip fits perfectly with the celebratory and hedonistic alt-dance aesthetic heard on Black Kids’ arresting debut disc “Partie Traumatic” (each members sports bunny ears or devil horns on the cover photo). Produced by Bernard Butler of ‘90s UK Britpop sensation the London Suede, “the influences are all over the place – the B-52’s, disco, Motown, synth pop, Britpop,” said Holmes. “Obviously Bernard was good at cultivating that.”

From adopting a feminine guise on a joyous “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You” (complete with Go! Team-styled cheers by keyboardists Ali Youngblood and Dawn Watley) to the risqué lyrics of “I’ve Underestimated My Charm Again,” singer/guitarist Reggie Youngblood tends to write subversive lyrics. No surprise there – he cites Pet Shop Boys as an inspiration and name checks Sparks in one song.

Holmes helped arrange “Charm,” best described as a Pulp-meets-Phil Spector girl group mash up. “It was my suggestion to put two song halves together and not worry whether they matched perfectly, which is something the Beatles did a lot on ‘The White Album.’”

Black Kids’ seeds were sown during Baptist Sunday school in Jacksonville, Fla., where Owen, Reggie and drummer Kevin Snow first met. They toiled in different bands (Christian ska and punk) for a decade until 2006, when the guys decided it was time to do something more fun. Reggie asked sister Ali to join; she invited her friend Dawn along.

At the time, the city was best known for spawning pop/punk and aggro rock (Yellowcard, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Limp Bizkit). Black Kids sounded like nothing else in the area. That gave them a leg up when it came to club bookings. “We were really one of the few indie pop bands in town, so we’d always get to open for the cool big bands that would come though. That was one of the benefits of being different.”

Black Kids self-financed and released the “Wizard of Ahhhs” EP and streamed the tracks on MySpace in 2007. Word spread quickly among the blogosphere. “We played a festival in Athens, Ga. that summer and things took off for us. We started getting attention in the States first, but it quickly became apparent that people in the UK were up for it on [another] level.”

Although Black Kids have taken a lot of flak from their indie fans for making the EP songs sound more polished on “Traumatic,” Holmes said “there’s a world of difference and that’s how we wanted to do it. We’d already recorded those songs [raw]; we wanted our record to sound good this time.”

The Brits “seem less particular. I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing, but people in the States are a little more critical.” Still, the CD has been received plenty of college and specialty airplay at stations like KCRW FM in Santa Monica. For the past few months, it has been lodged in the upper rungs of the main College Music Journal chart.

Last spring, the album debuted at No. 5 on the British charts and “Boyfriend” made top 20 on the singles tally there. You could draw parallels between Black Kids and Scissor Sisters - another revelry-minded American group who found success abroad first. The quintet made the European festival rounds over the summer and opens for Kaiser Chiefs at London’s Wembley Arena in February.

“It still blows my mind that a band that plays music [like us] can be considered a mainstream band over there,” exclaimed Holmes. “Our CD was in the charts next to Madonna and Coldplay!”

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