photo credit: Mike Ragogna
A Conversation with Kids Of 88's Sam McCarthy
Mike Ragogna: Sam, after catching your act at the One Night In Austin party at SXSW, my friend commented to me that Kids Of 88 was like The Rolling Stones meets electronica.
Sam McCarthy: Interesting, I haven't heard that one before, but I'm not going to turn that down.
MR: It was meant in a good way. (laughs) Now, you're from New Zealand, right?
MR: Is this the first time your touring the U.S.?
SM: Well, I guess you could say it's the first time we've done a tour. We have been to the States at the end of last year, so it's not the first time we've played or performed or whatever. We played at SXSW, then we went off and played in L.A. and then San Francisco, and now we are playing in New York. I guess it's the first time you could say we've done a run of shows.
MR: So, the title track of your new EP is "Just A Little Bit" that also features "Downtown" and "Sqrl" in addition to remixes of "Just A Little Bit," one by Tony Senghore, and another by Allen Walker. Allen's is titled, "Allen Walker's 1997 remix," implying something about it relates to 1997. What was it, I'm not exactly sure?
SM: I'm not too sure we weren't given a giant explanation to the "1997" part. We were kind of seeing what other people could do with the song and how they could skew and mix it around. Those two were the ones that came back with the more contrasting production ideas. I suppose that's what he is meaning, but I can't remember anything sounding like that in 1997.
MR: I guess you'll be touring to support your album.
SM: Yeah, it's going to be released through Sony in May.
MR: Will you be coming back to the States?
SM: I mean, fingers crossed. Every time we've come back to the States, we've always been greeted amazingly warmly. It's bizarre, actually, to be in New Zealand and to be isolated from the rest of the world. It's hard to kind of keep tabs on how your band is doing in all of these different territories. It is really nice to kind of pop over and play a few shows and have them be really successful, for us at least. I think it would be nice to have any excuse to come over and play a few shows.
MR: Great. Now, "Downtown," also featured on the Just A Little Bit EP, apparently was another Top Ten record for Kids in New Zealand.
SM: I don't think "Downtown" was, but "My House" and "Just A Little Bit" were.
MR: Ah, we have to scold those nasty chartkeepers for listing that one.
SM: Oh, goodness gracious. Well, if it's making people believe that we are chart toppers, then hey, let's just go along with it.
MR: Apparently, you're much more successful than you believe.
SM: Maybe (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Anyway, your debut album is titled Sugarpills.
SM: Correct, yeah. We released it in New Zealand last year. It was quite a concentrated writing period. I've been a part of writing albums in the past, but nothing was like this. We were kind of having to run with what we had going on in our country and in Australia as well. So, we were trying to have to knuckle down and get focused on this town. I guess it's why it has such a cohesive sound to it in regards to the production and the mixing and everything. We did everything ourselves in our studio at home in Auckland. It's a nice little beast that's its own thing. It's very cathartic, at the same time, because we hadn't really thought about the project a gigantic amount. It was just really going off of a few songs like "My House," and we had been writing a couple of songs around that point as well. Then, we had to go write a full-length album, it was intense for a certain period of time. We are really happy with the outcome.
MR: So, what's behind the name "Kids Of 88"?
SM: It's quite simple. Jordan and I had been friends for a while, and we were both born 1988. We are both Aquarians born around the same time of the year. We wanted to kind of start off with this little project, and we didn't really know it was going to turn into quite a production. The kind of whole "88" thing sort of summed up the kind of cultural references and the bizarre things we enjoyed throughout our lifetime. We grew up in kind of a cool time and culture with film and TV. We wanted to accumulate that into one branding. That's why we called ourselves the Kids Of 88.
MR: Is it you current album, Sugarpills, that's finally coming out in the States?
MR: Are there any "new" tracks that on Sugarpills' U.S. release?
SM: Well, it's very consuming because, since we've released the record in New Zealand, we have been writing and kind of shaped a few new songs and what not. We are trying to consider if we want to include a few bonus tracks on it to let people know where we are going and where we have been headed in the mean time. I kind of like looking at an album like its own entity and its own singular release. I always feel a bit funny when people release the album in different countries and it's altered just to kind of set whatever is going on at that point in time. I think when it comes to an album, it's a release for a reason. For us, we were releasing what was going on in our heads at that point in time. It's strange to alter that. There may be a few other additions, but in regards to the whole album, I don't think we are going to want to be changing it much.
MR: You've already won awards for this project, and at the 2010 New Zealand Music Awards, you won Single of the Year for "Just A Little Bit." Plus, you received a Music Video of the Year statue.
SM: Yeah, that's right, it was kind of amazing, I must admit.
MR: How do you react to releasing a debut album and it winning awards?
SM: It was an amazingly positive surprise, it was cool. You just kind of have to be able to accept this award that other people were contending for that have been in the industry for quite some time. For us, it was our debut material, it was amazing to set that as the benchmark so early on in our career. It was very cool to stand up there and say, "This is amazing, thank you so much. I don't know if we deserve it, but we are going to run with it anyway."
MR: (laughs) I want to read you what Perez Hilton said about your performance: "Without a doubt, Kids Of 88 provided the most explosive set at our One Night In Austin event. We can safely that Kids Of 88 were the break out act of this year's SXSW."
SM: There are quite a few intense words in there. (laughs)
MR: It has to be pretty exciting to see your act on this kind of wave. What are you going to do if you have a hit in the States?
SM: Well, I'm not too sure, everything seems to be slightly mysterious at the moment. Basically, just from SXSW, it was this very gradual exponential build up throughout the week. We played some small showcases to start off and it kept on building and building, and at the end of the week, it was the Perez show, which was fantastic. The reason that one went so good wasn't so much the size of the venue and the capacity, it was more that we had the confidence of the guy who was running the show. He liked us. It was very securing to be able to walk out on stage and know the organizer is a fan. In regards to the States, there is hype that was built up from that Perez show as we were traveling through L.A. and up to San Francisco. It's hard to say, but we are definitely going to go back to New Zealand after this run of shows and make sure everything is well packaged and we're well oiled.
MR: You guys seem to have so much energy, are you already thinking about the next album?
SM: Yeah, definitely. It's not so much a sense of boredom or not being into what's currently going on because the release has been out in New Zealand for quite some time. It's more kind of the idea of us wanting to continue the momentum as a group. I wouldn't want to feel that it was broken up into stages, I would always want to see a constant development and growth. I guess that would be a better of explaining how we are going about wanting to work on new material. It's always cool to just exercise these little demons from being on tour, being in a hotel room or in a van and having these ideas, and it's always good to vent them regardless of whether they turn into new tunes or not. The thing about the songs we play live is that we still aren't really sick of them. We have been playing them for over a year now, and we have been playing them quite often. There is something about these songs that when we play them to a new audience, the audience helps to refresh their shelf life. We are not really in that period where we are getting a little bit worried or bored, we just want to see how things go and keep on moving onwards and upwards.
MR: Will you continue to have "groove, mood, and slutty arrangements" as your press release reads?
SM: (laughs) That is an excerpt from quite an early bio, but the groove and the mood will always be a part of it. Our earlier songs had those sexual connotations because we were these young kids and we wanted to get up in peoples' faces. So, we still like to keep a sense of a kind of social edge to it, but at the same time, we really came to explore different areas of human kind in our song topics. It's always going to be a surprise at what's going to come next.
MR: You were also in the band Goodnight Nurse right?
SM: Yes I was.
MR: Have you parted ways?
SM: Not really. I mean, yeah, I was in their band for a couple of years. They actually were around a lot longer before I joined. We keep in touch as songwriters. The singer of that band is one of the main songwriters for Kids Of 88, and the drummer from that band drums in this band. Yeah, it is a slight fragment of that band from the past in some way. The people are still around and we are still working together.
MR: Maybe it's a bit premature to ask this, but what advice do you have for new artists?
SM: Oh, goodness gracious, I don't know if I feel in the position to offer advice because I'm seeking it out at the moment. I suppose it's always just trying to refresh yourself. Whether it's your perspective on things, you know, if you're jaded about something or upset about what's going on, you always have to be positive. You've always got to kind of refresh what's going on in regards to your skill, you need to keep on working and never settle for anything. You always have to better what's going on. Even with songwriting, it's always try to develop and move. At the end of the day, it's so you don't stand still. It is a developing act, I mean that in every sense of the word.
MR: What does the immediate future hold?
SM: We are going to be going back and writing some new tunes. We will also see how things in the U.S. are going, and that will determine if we go back and how long we are here for. We also want to see if we can still keep Australia cooking and obviously New Zealand.
MR: Where do you want Kids Of 88 to be in about five years?
SM: I don't know. I mean, we would like to achieve quite a bit, whether that's having to be able to run your own U.S. tour or run your own European tour. I think those would be some nice things to achieve. But at the end of the day, I just want to be in a comfortable position where I can work on music full time, and make a living and enjoy it as much as I can.
MR: I wish you and Jordon Arts a lot of luck. Speaking of Jordon, he isn't hanging around there, is he?
SM: (laughs) No, he's not. I think he's lost somewhere in New York trying to get some Wifi to contact his family back home, so you're stuck with me. (laughs)
MR: (laugh) Not at all, this has been fun. I really enjoyed your show, and I agree with Hilton, I think you were one of the most exciting acts that performed at SXSW. Thank you for taking some time to talk with me.
SM: No problem at all, Mike.
1. Just A Little Bit
4. Just A Little Bit - Allen Walker 1997 remix
5. Just A Little Bit - Tony Senghore remix
(transcribed by Theo Shier)