A third of the way through their set at the venerable Los Angeles venue, the Satellite, The Kickback frontman, Billy Yost, announced his intention to finally make it through one show on the tour without breaking something. If guitar strings count as “something,” then Yost (vox, guitar), Eamonn Donnelly (bass), Jonny Ifergan (guitar) and Ryan Farnham (drums) failed. But that’s the kind of failure one could chalk up as a success because it’s a testament to how all in the Chicago-based band goes when performing. The indie rock that they punch out is clever and confessional and full of artistic promise: their press release describes them as, “The Strokes meets The Griswolds meets The Gills meets a brainy, punchy unique swag all their own.” How’s that for a mental musical picture?
By the time their set had ended, blood had been spilled…or more like trickled due to the mysterious cut on Yost’s hand. There’s an intelligent and pleasantly easy charm about the South Dakota native: he didn’t seem to mind the blood. He also didn’t seem to mind being asked to chat…
High Voltage: As many musicians do in this new age of “How To Form a Band,” once you settled in Chicago, you sourced Craigslist for bandmates. How long did it take for you, Eamonn, Jonny and Ryan to come together and officially form?
Billy Yost: After a few crummy experiences with ads like “Looking for a guitar player” and getting responses from both occasional players and a lot of guys who had played a guitar at their cousin’s one time, I thought it’d be a good idea to get hyper-specific and see if anyone responded. I think the ads may have insulted a lot of people but I was trying to find really specific musicians and, fortunately, Eamonn and Jonny were – I think – the first or second people who responded. We found Ryan through our buds Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and owe them eternal gratitude. It’s hard to put a date on things but the four of us have been together for about two years now.
HV: Well, it sounds like a fairly civil process. You always hear about horrible Craigslist ads and even worse people who respond to them: were there any particularly awful Craigslist experiences?
Billy: In the ads I posted looking for what turned out to be Jonny, I think I may have casually insulted both people who wear ear gauges and a handful of very shredder-esque guitar amplifier companies – along with, I think, several other musical communities – so all of the responses to the ad aside from Jonny’s were a play on the theme “Go fuck yourself, you elitist douchebag.”
HV: Ha! You’re a veritable poster child for “How To Make Friends and Influence People.” At least you knew what you did and didn’t want and that’s never a bad thing. Was there one particular something that made it feel like this combination of humans was THE band? Was YOUR band?
Billy: We all have lower-back tattoos that say “Property of The Kickback,” so probably that day. We should actually do that. Nope. We should not.
HV: Oh dear God, no, you should not. If it’s even possible, describe The Kickback in one sentence. Not the music: the band.
HV: Points for creativity. Any chance that you remember what your first official show as The Kickback was like? Where and when and how it went?
Billy: Yes. It was in Vermillion, SD at a place called Open Mike’s. We packed the place out with absolutely everyone we knew. No standing room. Full. When we played the five songs we had, everyone left and the owner told us he’d made absolutely no money because no one was drinking. I think I was wearing white shoes.
HV: Memory and recall: on point. Cool. Now this is where we describe the music because you guys throw quite a bit into the pot, let it cook and serve it up seemingly without reservation. You’re the same band who recorded “Scorched Earth Brouhaha,” “When I Die” and “Nately” and can volley between the lines of classic rock into shades of weirdly new waved pop. What accounts for your ambitious sounds and charmingly clever lyrics?
Billy: To me, those aren’t all that weird or disparate, but I think a lot of bands’ first records are an amalgumation of everything they’ve put together since getting together. We had a lot to choose from. I just want to make sad songs people can dance to, really.
HV: Well, that’s a distinctly unique goal and I believe you succeeded. For your full-length debut, Sorry All Over the Place, you managed to secure the production assistance of one Jim Eno (Spoon’s drummer). Why did you reach out to him? What did his producer’s hand and ears lend to Sorry All Over the Place?
Billy: We sent an email that we assumed would either not be returned or politely declined. We didn’t really think we could actually work with the guy. I’m obsessed with the sounds Spoon gets in the studio, particularly their bass and drums. I wanted Jim’s beautiful mug all over the rhythm tracks. “Headhunter” features a snare drum that I’ve requested Guinness survey for “Fattest Snare Drum 2015.” I’m willing to draw blood over the drums sounds on our record.
HV: You guys have become notorious – in a good way – for your live shows: you’re pretty balls to the wall and, as a music fan in the audience, that’s a beautiful thing. That type of performance energy: has it always been the band’s natural state or has it been something that you’ve had to develop and hone over the years?
Billy: The shows have always been a little messy. I didn’t used to talk really at all, and I think that’s something that has maybe changed over the years. It started becoming important to convey that the bleeding guy is also capable of not acting like a rabid wolverine for 30 seconds. But when we play, I just want to break things. It’s childish. I’ll probably get over it eventually. The other guys are so fun to be around when we play. I maybe come off like the unleashed cousin from out of town who immediately starts asking about your mom’s prescription regiment. I’m not really like that.
HV: The breaking things can get expensive but – hey – you seem like you’re having fun. Billy, it’s always interesting to hear when a singer discovered they had a voice and could actually sing, as well as when they “figured out” that they WANTED to sing. Do you remember those particular moments in your life?
Billy: I don’t believe I’m particularly good at singing. My mom helped me figure out how to sing harmony, and I remember that like it was last Tuesday. We were in our blue Plymouth van and she was excited and encouraging, “That’s harmony! You’re singing the harmony line!” We were on Interstate 29 heading to Sioux Falls, SD. It was great.
HV: I swear, the mental image of that genuinely makes me smile. Now, incredibly, you guys are up to 130 episodes of your podcast, DISASTOUR w/ The Kickback, which examines life from the perspective of an up and coming, young band. How did you wind up doing a regular podcast? And what are your listeners hearing that you believe needs to be heard?
Billy: We don’t have a tour bus. We don’t have guitar techs. We’re still a little underdog doing whatever it can to get from Point A to Point B. I felt like it was maybe an interesting perspective – albeit an exhausting one – to either encourage people who want to do something stupid with their lives or to encourage those who have made much more secure and intelligent life choices to be assured in their decisions.
HV: There’s something to be said for caring enough to want to be a source of encouragement and guidance to a generation. Now you’re currently on the road and, with two shows in Los Angeles, you got to spend a few days in LA. What did you do with yourselves while you were here and if it any of it was illegal, we won’t judge.
Billy: I know Jonny hung out with his brother, too. Ryan wound up at the same bar with Ron Jeremy. We hit Meltdown (the comic store) and Eamonn may or may not have wound up on some cake-themed reality show. I think he signed a release saying he wouldn’t talk about it, but I’m talking about, so I think it’s fine?
HV: I can honestly say that if you visit LA and don’t run into Ron Jeremy, you’re doing it wrong. Looking back, what did you accomplish in 2015 that you are particularly proud of?
Billy: We finally put our record out. It was a ludicrous journey. But it’s finally out and we get to start looking at making the next one. My friend Ken also taught me how to grill meat.
HV: So very, very manly meat grilling. We’re only one month into the new year so what are you looking forward to in 2016?
Billy: Surge in cans slowly returning to convenience stores.
HV: Any questions, comments or concerns?
Billy: I remember you having really great hair.
HV: Amazing. Of all the things to remember from the Satellite: my hair! Again, memory and recall on point. Sidebar: “White Lodge” is playing and a friend who has very little interest in discovering new music walked by, literally stopped, came back and asked what I was listening to. I’m telling you this because that’s a sign. Just had to throw that in.
Billy: Playing that song is like church and a ritual beating for me. I really enjoy it. Thank you for saying that.
Photo Credit: David Burlacu