In Kirby Krackle‘s discography, you’ll find songs sung from the point of view of Mario, Thor, a vampire, a Fallout vault dweller, a free-agent henchman, and Tony Stark’s life coach. There’s plenty of that in the band’s new album, “Sounds Like You,” which comes out July 9, but there’s also a good bit of sincerity. In advance of the release and a West-coast tour of the United States which kicks off July 14 in Seattle, ComicsAlliance chatted with frontman Kyle Stevens about lyrical honesty, not trying to be cool, and, of course, Spider-Man.
ComicsAlliance: Let’s start with a topic very close to my heart: There’s a Spider-Man song on this album, from the perspective of the titular web-slinger. Is it Peter or Miles?
Kyle Stevens: It was spring of last year and we were all psyched up for the new Spider-Man movie, so for “Web-Slinger/Hope-Bringer,” it was Peter all the way. That said, I’m enjoying the adventures of Miles way more in the comics these days.
Part of our MO is diving deep into psyche of the characters we all know and love to try to bring an original slant in perspective for our songs. We aren’t good at writing comics, so this is our playing Bendis, if you will. All the years of challenges and set-backs that Parker has endured add up to what must be a huge weight, but still he clings to hope first and foremost. In real life, that’s the only choice we all have as well. That, or give up. This is the main reason I think so many for so long identify with Peter Parker.
As the lyrics go, “I was born in the middle of the night, when I went and did the wrong thing right.” I think we’ve all felt like that from time to time; when a low point is reached, that’s often when you have to decide which path you want to go down. Peter chose the path of light to try to make peace with what ended up being a life-changing choice. He paid the price, and now everything he does is a result of that.
CA: You seem to go out of your way to avoid saying the name “Spider-Man” in the song. Is that your way of differentiating your song from the famous 1967 cartoon theme, which was famously covered by The Ramones?
KS: Since we started Kirby Krackle in 2008, the rule has been to not spell things out for the audience. To us, making sure we say “Spider-Man” would do a disservice to the people who take the time to listen to our music. We want people to get out of the song what they put into it.
The reference to “Web-Slinger” gives it away if you’ve been reading comics for any time at all, but for someone who doesn’t know who Spider-Man is, it’s kind of cool to think maybe they enjoy it for other reasons. For us the goal is emotion and purpose to the theme behind the songs first, and subject matter second. We love comics, video games, and pop culture in general and because of that we’ve found that to the pill in which our message is best delivered.
In the case of “Web-Slinger/Hope-Bringer”, that message is continuing the focus of hope no matter what. Getting back to the choice we make for not spelling it all out at first or not, I often remember an article I read many years ago regarding a director’s decision to not show the main character crying at the funeral, and instead just show the back of his head. He stated he thought it as much more moving to have it be implied, that the weight of what you know is happening becomes something in your brain much more powerful than if you were shown an image. I keep trying to chase that with the songs we write.
CA: OK, enough Spider-Man questions, or I’ll keep going all day. I mentioned how that song is from the perspective of a character. That’s something you guys have done a lot on previous albums, but I get the sense that a good many of the songs on this one are being sung as, well, yourself. Or at least as a regular person rather than a fictional character. What led you in that direction?
KS: Singing from the perspective of myself for many of the tracks was something I had an ongoing war with myself about from the first day of writing the new album. Obviously, we’ve created a niche for ourselves in the world of geek culture being a band that tries to provide the soundtrack for geek life. That was a choice we made when we started; to write songs from the perspective of the characters and the pop culture subjects we love in a way we felt hadn’t been done before. It was a scary thing to do, and luckily for us paid off in not only having more commercial success in six months than I had achieved in the total of recording and performing the 15 years prior, but more importantly in developing a intensely loyal and passionate fan-base over the past five years.
Over any kind of commercial success or cool opportunities, we’ve been lucky enough to have, that relationship with our fan base is by far the most important thing to me. These relationships with fans and talking with them the past five years at the con table for 10 shows a year led me to write these songs on the new album. We decided to name it “Sounds Like You” from the get-go because the songs aren’t only sung from my perspective, it’s written about this common bond that we all have in geek life and beyond.
For example, when we’re at the convention booth, instead of just focusing on what awesome print a fan had just had signed by an artist, it became more interesting to find out and ask why that artist means so much to that person. In some cases, it was an artist their recently passed father had really liked and it was a way for the fan to connect with them. Other folks who we see every year come by the booth saying they’d love to support us, having purchased every other album we’ve released, but they just got laid off and are having a hard time financially. They could only buy a convention ticket to come by and say hi to everyone.
There is so much passion behind all of us who enjoy this medium, and so many stories to tell of how we all got to this place that we’ll never know all of them. This new album is made up of bits and pieces of those stories and truly is meant to reflect the lives what we feel is the overarching state of life today in how it relates with the over-accesibilty of everything and how in tandem we are all aching for more connection more than ever. I realized that as a songwriter, it’s my responsibility to say the things we might all be thinking that we never say to each other. Everyone is trying their best. Never in the history of the world are we trying to keep up with as much as we try to do right now. I’m hope we’ve captured all of these things and that it translates to the listener.
CA: This album has plenty of nerdy topics — Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Star Trek, cosplay — but I really notice themes of romance and companionship, too. The opening track, “Parachute,” feels pretty radio-ready. “Take You Out Tonight,” too. Do you think your audience is ready to go there with you?
KS: Again, it’s kind of scary to try something new when you’ve created an expectation. No matter how self-conscious I’ve been to get a little more personal on this record, I know I owe this to our fans and to myself as an artist. We can’t do the same thing every time, and I feel that that is something that our fans don’t want, either. We’re still a nerd-rock/geek-rock band, but you know what? There are more than a few songs like those you mentioned that truly don’t have anything to do with comics or video games, and I think our fans will be OK with that. That’s the dynamic I value with people who enjoy Kirby Krackle songs; we’re honest with them, and they’re very honest with us.
Yes, I think our audience is ready to go there with us. I believe in them that much in they way they’ve always believed in us. Sure, there will be a few folks who say because not 100 percent of our songs are about comics and video games that we’re not a “nerd band” anymore. If there are, that’s OK. More than that, I believe that people will connect with what we tried to do with this album in making it a reflection of their lives amongst the world of geek culture. In a big way, it feels like it did when we first started KK; not sure how it will be greeted but very confident in achieving what we tried to do.
We’re all wanting companionship. We all want to feel like we belong to something/someone that values us like we deserve to be. All around me I see more options made possible by technology than ever before, but also more than ever before, a need to be simple and connect. The songs on “Sounds Like You” are a reflection of that.
CA: This album is funny as well. There’s a pretty hilarious song about partying at grandma’s house. Another one is all about wearing your most comfortable pants when you get home. One focuses entirely on tacos. It’s like, comfort comedy. Kind of not caring about what people think and enjoying life. There’s a sort of maturity to it. Do you think you would have written songs like that even a few years ago?
KS: When I first played a few of the demos from the album to some close friends to show them what I had been working on, one of them said dryly, “It sounds like someone in their 30’s wanting to chill out and relax.” I laughed forever about that one. What he meant was someone not trying to be cool; someone being OK with who they are and saying whatever they wanted to say. If that’s what that means, then I don’t think he was that far off.
Listen, I’ve been extremely lucky with Kirby Krackle to experience situations and opportunities that are often only a right of bands much, much bigger than us. That is due in a very, very huge part to our fans being extremely passionate and showing us love that in many ways non-“niche” bands don’t ever get to experience. I’m talking bucket-list stuff from being a part of marriage proposals at the booth, to fan letters sharing what your music meant to them going through a health scare. This is stuff you can’t buy, and stuff I’ve been very fortunate to have had in my life since we’ve started this band. If there is a maturity to it, it’s come into form by these interactions with our audience.
So much personally and professionally has changed for me in the past five years since KK started. No, I don’t think I would have written these songs a few years ago. I couldn’t have, because I didn’t know some of these things I’m singing about now. I hope I can always say that for our albums in the future because that would mean I’m always learning. Sometimes that learning is very hard, but I when I look back I can always say that it was for the better. I’m beginning to see that’s how this all works.
CA: I mentioned your Game of Thrones song that closes out the album. Have you guys read all the books or are you strictly TV fans?
KS: I haven’t ready the books but most of my band has. I love the show and can never get enough. Sundays seem pretty boring now, until fall.
What a world George R.R. Martin has created that has been able years later from its debut to reach so many people around the world who are as enthralled and fanatical about it as I am. It’s very cool to watch, and has made fantasy cool again to the masses. I’m always talking about “gateway drugs” for people who normally don’t describe themselves as being fans of geek culture, and GoT is a huge one. I hope as always and as I did with The Avengers that all these movies/shows push folks into the comic shop and get them digging deeper into what geek/comic culture has to offer them.
CA: That GoT song is basically thrash metal. You guys play around with a lot of genres here. “Grandma’s House” has a kind of “Moves Like Jagger” sound, for instance, and you’ve done parody stuff in the past. That’s got to be pretty freeing, not feeling limited by one genre or style of rock, right?
KS: Totally, man. And it’s also something we wouldn’t have been able to do if we were signed to a major label. Loving to write in many different genres is something that has been a fun ability and a curse for me for a long time until this band. Before KK, I would approach labels and they said they liked my stuff but that I didn’t have “one sound.” It was frustrating, but also I get the game and how it works.
Still, I just love trying new things and to see what I can get away with. My biggest joy comes to me in the inception of a song. Does it make me laugh? Does it make me feel cool to think of being on stage playing that song? Do I feel like I’m getting away with something? That last one is a big one for me more and more, and how I felt when I wrote “Grandma’s House.” It was so perfectly weird and after doing a bit of digging found nothing like it anywhere theme wise. That for me is a big thing these days; whether or not I’m doing something that is purely creative and coming from a place of exploration either musically or thematically.
Again, in tribute to the fans, KK is the only place where I’ve felt rewarded and cheered on by writing in different styles. The “Kirby Krackle sound” is just that, a mix of all sorts of things and whatever is inspiring us at the time. I’m learning to be true to that more and more and it feels better and better when I allow my songs to go there. We’re just trying to write the best songs we can and I’m really excited to see where “Sounds Like You” lands.