- September 2015 -
HAVE A BEER WITH THE KICKBACK
The Kickback’s debut record, Sorry All Over The Place (Jullian Records), is an invigorating 10-song collection that fuses ‘60s bubblegum sentimentality with modern indie rock’s quirky confessionals and wiry musicality. The album also represents vocalist/guitarist Billy Yost’s seven-year odyssey, as he shifted from being a small town songwriter living with his parents to writing music on his own terms, putting together an acclaimed band, and earning the respect of one of his primary influences.
The story begins in 2009 when Billy, a recent college graduate, decided to leave his rural South Dakota home and move to Chicago. Since then, The Kickback have released a clutch of EPs and singles and have garnered praise from Rolling Stone, esteemed tastemaker Jim DeRogatis (Sound Opinions, SPIN, Chicago Sun Times), You Ain’t No Picasso and the Chicago Tribune, among many other outlets. The Chicago-based quartet has built a robust and respected live profile through incendiary gigs and tours with artists such as White Rabbits, Smith Westerns, Here We Go Magic, Tapes ‘n Tapes, and Telekinesis.
We sat down with the band the night of their record release show at The Hideout to discuss working with producer Jim Eno from Spoon, the long-awaited record and the importance of Rock N Roll McDonald’s. Be sure to grab tickets to their Oct. 23 show at Schubas and check out their new record by clicking here.
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: Of course, we always start with your drinks of choice. They don't have to be beer or even alcohol for that matter.
Jonny: I’m actually an avid home brewer and I like bold beers. But most of the time when I want to take it easy and relax on a porch, hang out or read a book, I like to drink New Glarus.
Kristen: Home brewing. That’s pretty awesome. When did you start that?
Jonny: About three or four years ago. I lived in a small little apartment with my girlfriend and I had bought a little brewing kit. It was an all grain kit, which is pretty crazy, because usually you start with those little buckets of extract. It was an eye opener for me; it really gave me insight into what it takes to make a really good beer. I started reading books and trying to get really versed in to it. I became kind of obsessed with it and started spending all my money that I was making at work on equipment and stuff. Luckily we moved to a nice little space in Logan Square where I have a man cave. My girlfriend's really cool and helps organize the whole room. I do all grain, anywhere from five to 10 gallons each.
Kristen: So you do this on a consistent basis.
Jonny: Yeah, when time allows.
Kristen: Well, cheers to that. How about you, Billy?
Billy: I'm a teetotaler and I prefer to smuggle Mountain Dew into the venue we're playing because I do not trust bar soda.
Kristen: Why don't you trust bar soda?
Billy: Always a varied consistency.
Kristen: You mean in terms of the carbonation, or the flavor?
Billy: Both, but especially the flavor. I prefer to go straight out of the can because the sweet nectar of the Dew tastes better.
Kristen: There is something about drinking out of a can. Nothing like it.
Billy: Yeah, I'm an avid consumer of that, which is probably why my teeth keep falling out of my head. I'm trying to keep them intact. There's a very rigid brushing schedule.
Kristen: Hence the toothbrushes on your merch table, right?
Billy: Right, right. Some of those are being used currently.
Eamonn: I'm one of the fellow beer aficionados in the band along with Jonny, though not to his extent. One of my favorite beers is also a New Glarus beer called Two Women. I feel really unoriginal but I just have to say it because it's honestly one of the best beers I've ever had. So, there you go.
Jonny: It's so good that I remember the first time we tried it together. We were at a bar in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was on tap and we just looked at each other and our eyes lit up. It was like he'd just seen the Holy Grail.
Kristen: They don't distribute that. You have to go up there, right?
Eamonn: Yeah, I made sure to buy a bunch the last time we were there. Jonny and I dragged these guys into a liquor store and I think I bought around $50 dollars’ worth. I had to have the cashier help me bring out the beer to my car.
Kristen: I think a lot of people probably do that. I've heard of a lot of bands doing that with the Spotted Cow.
Jonny: Oh yeah, people just love it. It's so hard to find, so why not?
Kristen: Ryan, you’re up.
Ryan: My drink of choice is a Daisy Cutter these days. I like the tall boy cans. They’re pretty tasty.
Kristen: That’s one of my go-tos. Tonight we’re at The Hideout for your debut record release, which was streaming yesterday and drops tonight at midnight. How are you feeling about everything?
Billy: We've been sitting on this record for two years. That's probably why I seem so stressed out tonight. We're trying to figure out a way to make the release pay off after two years of waiting. It's a good feeling. Or I hope it will be.
Kristen: Was there a reason for the two year wait?
Billy: We were actively touring, actively soliciting and trying to cover a lot of ground. I wanted things to happen a certain way. Fortunately, these guys also agreed. We were obstinate and waited until the right opportunity presented itself. I wish it would have taken three months, but it took two years, in which we had plenty of time to bank God knows how many songs. In that sense, we're kind of ahead of schedule right now.
Kristen: What has been the biggest payoff in waiting?
Jonny: It’s funny because there'd be days we'd just be pulling our hair out like, "What are we going to do?" We really felt like we owed it to our fans, to everybody and to ourselves to do it right. We really wanted to get it out the right way and try to build a team around it – a team of people that actually really cared about it as much as we did. I think that's why it took so much time to get it out there. Now, here we are and it was definitely worth it looking back, seeing that we built up a really good team of people that really care about the music we’re putting out.
Billy: It feels completely worth it now, but if we ever have to do it again I'll jump off a building.
Jonny: Maybe, possibly.
Kristen: You worked with Jim Eno, the drummer of Spoon, on this record. I read that you initially solicited him as sort of a joke, thinking he would never agree to it.
Billy: Jim is a musician who, I could talk to you at length about his drumming. I studied him in-depth and I was a big fan. Imagine sending a message to a person never thinking we'd hear back and never thinking that there's anyway it could work – this person who has sort of defined your idea of what good music sounds like. Spoon has great songs and what makes the songs even better is the production.
Kristen: What was it like initially talking to him?
Billy: I'll never forget the first time I talked to him on the phone. It was just ridiculous. I'm from a really, really small town…
Kristen: South Dakota, right?
Billy: Right. Seeing a celebrity was out of the question. It’s always either east coast or west coast. I remember when Hootie & the Blowfish came through and played Jefferson Speedway. It was such a big deal and you would wait to see if the lead singer would sign your program. So, now, when you come across someone like that and realize they’ve played an active role in your life, it’s still just so bizarre.
Kristen: It's perspective.
Billy: Yeah, and now I can text Jim dumb inside jokes from two years ago. Getting a text message from Jimmy is hilarious.
Kristen: What was it like working with someone you look up to so much?
Ryan: Right away I think he had a very clear idea of how we wanted to do the record. And since we respected his work so much, there was no questioning his judgement. It was like, "This is what I think you guys should be doing and this is how I want to do it." And we were totally on board. All of us were blown away by how enthusiastic he was. Other experiences we had had in the studio had typically been very furrowed brows and very quiet intense situations.
Billy: I'm pretty actively negative about recording.
Ryan: And Jim was always there to lighten the mood and be like, "Guys, you're making a record! Have fun. That's what it's all about."
Kristen: I think when you're a musician or an artist of any kind, you can be really hard on your own work. You put a lot of pressure on yourself.
Ryan: He told me later that no band had ever worked him harder than we worked him, which I took as a sick compliment.
Kristen: Yeah, for sure. So it was a largely collaborative process then.
Ryan: Yeah, at the end of the day, he wants to make the record that the band wants to make and will only step in when there's a problem. Everybody works in different ways, but we really only went at it on this one piano part, on like one note of one piano part that was like our last stand. But there's very little we would disagree upon.
Kristen: Tell me about the title of your record, Sorry All Over the Place.
Billy: It's from this big ass book by writer David Foster Wallace called Infinite Jest. It’s full of these fictional footnotes in the back – 250 pages of fake footnotes. The character’s dad was a filmmaker, and there are references to a bunch of his film titles. One of the unfinished ones was called "Sorry All Over the Place." I found it really funny, thought it was a great title and I thought I'd try to make something out of it…
Kristen: Do you feel like everything you create is unfinished to a certain extent?
Billy: Eventually you have to walk away. We tend to labor on very small things.
Jonny: I think that goes back to the outside perspective of working with Jim. Billy had written some of these songs years ago, so to have an outside influence come in and be like, "Maybe you guys should think about doing this differently," was really valuable. There were things we overlooked or things we didn't even think about. It was nice to have that fresh perspective to give us a guiding hand, to tighten things up a little bit where we didn't think they needed it, or where we knew it needed something but we were unsure. Some of the songs we had worked to death, and we were unsure where to go with them. Since we respect Jim so much, we knew he wasn’t taking us down a road we didn’t want to go down.
Kristen: For sure, that's important. Let’s shift gears here. What’s the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you've done in the last year?
Ryan: We left a show last night and we had a hotel room to stay in, but instead we came home because we all had to work at like 7:30 am. So the least cool thing we did was probably today.
Billy: Probably every day is a new stab at that one. But yeah, that's pretty bad.
Kristen: How does that play out – working the full-time gig and trying to do this on the side?
Billy: We like to think about it as doing music full-time and doing the full-time job on the side.
Kristen: It’s always good when you can half-ass your full-time job. We won't tell your employers that, by the way.
Eamonn: Inevitably, there's always an awkward conversation with an employer for the first time. You have to say, "Hey, so the reason I have to be gone for so long is because I'm in a band and this is what I like to do." Some people are flexible and some people aren't. I think for the most part we've been lucky enough to find people – or at least jobs – that are flexible enough to make it happen – or at least have jobs that are flexible enough to make it happen.
Jonny: It's just funny because if we were doing this 10 or 20 years ago, it would be…
Billy: Yeah, we could pull it off.
Jonny: I think we've always been under the mentality of making this a slow grind. Baby steps.
Kristen: I interviewed another band and we were discussing this exact concept. Would you rather have the slow grind and the long-term payoff or a sprint and major success?
Billy: I've been grievously envious of at least a dozen bands I can tell you who got huge and are no longer bands. So I'd rather be here right now. Taking nine years to record an album.
Kristen: And now you also have tons of material for your next record.
Billy: Yeah, we're getting there.
Jonny: Yeah, it's always good to be ahead of the curve.
Billy: We have what I think a lot of people consider an old-school mentality a lot which is: play a lot of shows, practice a lot and put in the hard work. The bands all playing with us tonight are all of the same build. They just…
Ryan: Grind it.
Billy: Yeah, you just have to grind it sometimes and hope that the rest follows.
Kristen: I know a lot of the bands playing with you tonight because of that simple fact – because they’ve played so many gigs in Chicago, and I’ve seen them on so many different bills.
Billy: All these guys are people that we’ll see in Columbus, Ohio, or in Dallas, Texas, or somewhere in Oklahoma where you're playing for the third time and can't remember the club name…You run into these same people on a consistent basis and you start to feel like a family.
Kristen: Aside from the cliché of “work hard,” if you had to come up with your band’s mission statement or philosophy, what would it be and why?
Ryan: Live free or die hard.
Billy: Batman forever.
Ryan: Oh, always.
Jonny: Yeah, Batman always.
Kristen: Word on the street is that you have a Batman obsession.
Billy: Yeah, I'm a big fan of Michael Keaton. He was kind of my main Batman.
Kristen: So I’m guessing that’s why your release party tonight is superhero themed.
Billy: Yes, I love Batman. I let the things I love have way too prominent of an impact in our whole band. And that's my cross to bear. You guys have to deal with it…
Billy: We all have different interests but it's funny because Batman is something that we can agree on I feel like. I also like the Muppets. I think they’re cool, too. Both of those things are terrifying to most women.
Ryan: It is funny that we have different backgrounds and listen to different things but we come together and we can agree on Batman…And this band. Right?
Kristen: Deep moments with Ryan.
Billy: We're a band that's like, "Hey, if you love music and you love Michael Keaton, this might be the band for you." And it helps to narrow the scope and set us apart. I've found that if we talk to someone after a show who is like, "Hey, I love Batman, too,” you have something else to discuss, something else to talk about, and it goes deeper. It helps when people congregate around something other than just your music. Eamonn tolerates a lot, for sure. Eamonn is very tolerant.
Kristen: I have to say…I don't know you guys all that well, but you do seem like all extremely different individuals.
Billy: Yeah, we couldn't really be more different. We argue – not in the sense of pushing each other out of windows – but every poster, every shirt, every sticker…
Ryan: …It's a battle.
Billy: But what you end up getting out of those battles and out of those differences is really neat. Especially when it comes to the music. I know what Ryan does well, and I know what Eamonn does well, and I know what Jonny does well…And in the context of a two-minute pop song, some bizarre shit can happen. And that makes me really happy.
Kristen: You’ve done more than 100 episodes of your podcast DISASTOUR, which is pretty impressive.
Billy: It is if you want to hear about four people making terrible decisions…And if we tell you how long we've been doing the podcast it's not that impressive…It's actually kind of sad.
Kristen: How long?
Billy: Five years.
Jonny: It's really weird. You'd think that during the times when it's not busy there wouldn't be anything to talk about and so there would be less podcasts. But it's the opposite. When there’s nothing to do or the band’s not doing much, there ends up being a lot of podcasts.
Kristen: And apparently a lot of disasters. What’s your number one favorite podcast you’ve recorded?
Billy: There's the one that took place at the Rock N Roll McDonald's in Chicago after our van exploded in South Dakota.
Kristen: Wait, your van exploded?
Billy: We've been through multiple vans. Our other former guitar player had to take a bus from Omaha to Chicago. My brother and I had to rent a U-Haul and drive everything back – all the desperation and brokenness.
Kristen: And then you met at…
Jonny: Rock N Roll McDonald's
Billy: We got together a few days later just to talk about it. It can never get that bad again. We had no record…We had no way of making a record. We didn't know if we had songs to make a record. We had no van.
Jonny: We couldn't really be a touring band.
Billy: Right, it was the worst. And things will never be that bad again. -
Kristen: Well, you know what this means? That after this record comes out and you make it big, we’ll go back to where it all began at the Rock N Roll McDonald’s. Have some fries, drink some beers and reminisce.
Jonny: That would be unbelievable.