WRAPPED IN SWEETNESS
interview with GOOD KID
by SONJA KATANIC
The summer hadn’t been very hot yet, but when I was invited by a friend out to the park, the weather gave us a break. We hadn’t seen each other in a while so we were enjoying the sun on the grass, eventually getting a bottle of wine and chatting there for too long. We had plans to go to a show of a band she had seen a couple days before and had gotten to know, and suddenly the sun was almost gone and we were late. We saw a couple sitting on a bench near us kissing hard and in a hurry gave them our bottle half full and ran off as they called their thanks.
We showed up at a little joint on the west side of the city and my friend introduced me to the people I would come to know as the band and their friends. The way they all moved together was fluid and chaotic, all pulling and pushing. It took me until the band went on stage to fully understand who the members were: Jon on Drums, David on Guitar, Michael on Bass, Jacob on Guitar and Nick on Vocals. If they were chaotic before, it was only to prepare me for the rowdiness of them on stage: all fast footwork, big jumps, messy movements.
When I met up with them a week later (minus David, who was, unfortunately, in New York) at a little pink pizza joint before their practice, I was wrapped up in their sweetness. While they’re programmers by day and musicians by night, they are adamant that Good Kid isn’t just a hobby but something they truly pour their hearts into. I talked to them about their process of creating music, why they like playing together and where their sound comes from.
I followed them to their rehearsal space afterwards, a labyrinthine basement of hallways and carpeted walls, and sat in on their practice. The interview has been edited for clarity.
SONJA: Do you find a connection between the way you think about programming and math versus the way you think about music? They’re pretty different spheres.
NICK: They totally relate to each other. Some of the way we approach problem solving and programming is the same way we approach problem solving in music, like in songwriting.
JACOB: We just learn how to solve problems through programming and then apply it to music.
MICHAEL: I think that at the end of the day, writing a really good song is akin to writing a really good story. When you think about a story, and how you structure it, there’s going to be like the introduction, climax, conclusion, and all these parts are going to get people excited and then feel gratification for if the ending is right. Figuring out which pieces are optimally placed into the story is very much problem solving, and what we do at work is pretty much structuring decisions in a way that code is going to flow, so a lot of it is just logical and creative.
S: It’s interesting that you guys do it in such a formulaic way, because on the opposite end I know someone who plays piano who just messes about until they’re like - yep I like that.
JACOB: I was just about to say, that’s kind of what I do. Like as I much as we talk about how we can apply programming, most of my best stuff I’ve ever written has been me just sitting with my guitar for like two hours with something on loop and just playing it over and over and over until I like something.
MICHAEL: And I don’t think they contradict each other. I think, just like when you’re telling a story, you’re not like “oh what’s going to be my conclusion to this story” it’s just by doing it a lot you kind of figure it out.
SONJA: I guess by experimenting, you’re going through the same process albeit maybe less consciously.
JACOB: I guess that’s just not the way I really do it [when I’m programming], cause it’s more like you sit back, take a big broad picture of what’s out there and you try to like, figure out a solution before you start implementing it. Whereas for music, I just start implementing it, I just start going with it, and then the solution comes. I can’t really do that at work.
SONJA: Is it important then to have different types of creative methods within the group?
JACOB: If we all thought the same, we wouldn’t be playing with each other. When you’re in a band some people might disagree sometimes, but the reason why we like playing with each other is because we want and we like influence from other people.
MICHAEL: Very often some of the cool stuff that’ll happen is us just playing around and nothing really makes sense and Jacob’s like “structure: how are we doing this” and then sometimes the exact opposite happens where we’re so focused on structure and then Dave plays something cool on guitar and we’re like “stop everything” that sounds cool, let’s just go with that.
JACOB: You need that mix of everyone, or else you’d get stuck in one pattern of songwriting and do that every time. Actually, none of our songs have a pattern of how we came up with them or anything.
SONJA: You guys have said before that you all have really different tastes in music. How do you think that affects your music?
NICK: We all come from a different background. Like say I listen to Sting for the whole day, that means when we go to practice tonight, I’m going to write stuff with Sting on my mind, but that’s not going to be what’s on their mind and we’re going to end up with something that’s like some combination of what we all brought, and that’s fun.
JON: Back to studying other music and trying to bring that in, that song we’re releasing, we stole the-
JACOB: The riff from the Strokes?
JON: No - structure from Asian Kung Fu Generation.
JACOB: Oh, yeah. So for me, the things I listen to and my influences definitely go right into this band. I don’t know if people would agree, but I think if we sound like anything, like I think we sound like an anime opening. Very riff-y guitars and pop-y vocals. When I learn a song, I end up using something that I learned from the past. They aren’t like rip offs, but they are inspired by other bands or other guitarists. We have this one line in [our song] Nomu in the second verse, the guitar line I do is inspired by a guitar line from one of my friends’ bands. I didn’t have a recording, I didn’t ever learn that part, but in my head, I knew that it sounds really good in the context of that song. Now we’re writing this thing and I want something that achieves a similar vibe. Or like we have a new song coming out that I did a similar thing with with a Strokes song, Razorblade, and I learned the guitar line ten years ago when I was in a Strokes cover band.
JON: There’s this song, Cousins by Vampire Weekend, and the part I play on drums in a song in the bridge, where I go on the rim really fast, that’s cause I heard it in Cousins.
JACOB: I think it’s important to take inspiration. I was watching something with Conan O’Brian once, and he said you’ll never be like your heroes but through your attempts at imitation, your own lifestyle gets put in there and you create something new. Like my attempt to recreate Albert Hammond Jr., or Nick Valensi, or Kelly from Bloc Party.
SONJA: What are the main styles that you each pull from, personally?
JACOB: Well there’s a difference between just our influences and what we bring into our songs. Because like Nick for example, not a lot of Nick’s personal taste makes it into the music, I don’t think.
MICHAEL: I think Dave loves the National and that comes into it a lot.
JON: At least for me, listening to music and making music is very different. You don’t necessarily listen to the stuff that you make.
SONJA: It’s cool there’s a dichotomy to your experience though.
JON: Yeah, making, composing and playing music is very different from listening to it.
MICHAEL: I have spent a lot of time studying certain songs, checking out what’s different about this song structure from another song I really like. I speak many different languages, and when I was originally listening to music in English, I didn’t speak the language but it still sounded really appealing. So I really like to focus on syllables and what flows well.
SONJA: So you’re more audio focused than lyrically focused?
MICHAEL: Oh for sure, I still don’t know what Nick’s saying any of the time.
JACOB: Yeah, I don’t know what Nick sings either.
NICK: [laughs] I know what I sing.
SONJA: Is your process really collaborative?
MICHAEL: Some of the best things come out when somebody has an idea of what they want to do and they bring it to the band and then there’s enough of a structure for us to start pitching in. Some of the messiest things that happen is when someone doesn’t really have an idea of how to present something, and then everyone has something to add or say.
NICK: It’s much better when there’s a skeleton and everybody can add onto it.
JACOB: It’s better when there’s a focus, cause when you’re starting from scratch, we all having different influences and when you don’t have a direction, everyone just puts whatever their perception of the song into it.
SONJA: So it becomes chaotic?
JACOB: Yeah it becomes this Frankenstein’s monster.
SONJA: Do you ever get anything interesting from that?
JACOB: Sometimes! Our second song kind of came out like that. It’s completely different from what it originally was.
SONJA: In the way that you write music, do you look at it like, you really love music and are really digging for experiences and content to make the music with, or is it more like you’ve got shit to say and this is the best medium you can find to say that?
NICK: Well, implicit in your question is that all art is always about personal expression, and is always about trying to communicate some truth. I don’t think that’s what real art is. I don’t think that’s what indie pop rock is. Don’t get me wrong, we write something sometimes, especially when writing lyrics, and I think like, yeah this is totally expressing something that’s been on my mind, or been pressing or salient to me in the past little while. But we’re also about to release a song where all the lyrics are just jokes I think are funny. I mean sometimes it’s just about enjoyment, it’s just about fun and having a good time.
SONJA: Is that mutually exclusive though? Couldn’t a song that’s made about some jokes still reveal something about the writer?
NICK: Oh, yeah totally. You inadvertently, any time you do anything, you reveal something about your current state you’re in, you’re experiencing.
JACOB: And that song, the lyrics are jokes but they’re about something real that happened that day. The song is about something, and though you took the lyrics and you made them into something else, it started from an experience.
MICHAEL: I also don’t think our music, or any music, is independent of the other music that comes out in the genre. Any time we release a song, in a way it’s a nod to all the other bands that are doing similar things and what we’ve learned from them. Also I honestly think for me, the reason I play music and I started playing music, and a lot of the stuff I do for music today is because I really look up to certain songwriters and musicians and I try to figure out how I can become more like them.
JACOB: I play guitar, I write melodies and chords. I think when you write lyrics and poetry, that can be a lot more self-expressive, but if you’re just writing a part of a piece, you can write something that’s in a certain mood but a lot of the time I just find the process of playing and jumping around and playing my guitar really hard- that’s the expression. And writing these fast upbeat songs, that’s the kind of stuff I like playing. I grew up playing punk rock not because I was angry but I really enjoyed it and it’s like a relief. I know one time I was in a fight with my brother and then I had band practise at 15 with my punk band and after practise I was like, happy.
NICK: We get catharsis without there needing to be about-ness.
SONJA: In terms of live performing, is there like a persona or something you tap into?
MICHAEL: I think for me it’s less about a persona and more about getting the most hyped version of me. I think playing live requires an incredible amount of focus for me , so it’s about playing live and not looking like an idiot. I don't see the crowd, I’m totally in the zone, I’ll jump around and kick things around. Often I’ll unplug people’s guitars by accident.
JACOB: Yeah, we always have to put Michael on the left so that he can’t hurt anybody. One time he was in the middle and it was a disaster.
NICK: the thing I like about live music is, if you wanted to hear the best music you could just stay home and listen to it there. the reason why you go to a live show is to have a dialogue with the people performing. it’s so that they can do something and the crowd can react and then they can react to that. and there’s an ongoing experience. If people wanted the atmosphere they could just go to a club but they come for a certain reason to see a band and I like it’s for this dialogue.
You can find more about Good Kid at their website goodkidofficial.com, on social media as @goodkidband and anywhere you get/listen to music.
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