Kirby Krackle Urges You To ‘Mutate, Baby!’ With New Album
Nerd-rock group Kirby Krackle has been making geek rock and roll for years now, and is releasing their fifth studio album, Mutate, Baby today. The band sings about a little of everything related to geek culture: comics, video games, genre television, and general geek experiences. Their newest album has a lot in common with their previous albums, but it's also about putting a positive spin on geek life.
ComicsAlliance spoke with KK frontman Kyle Stevens to talk about this new album and the band's evolution and inspiration.
ComicsAlliance: So this is your fifth album, correct? What sorts of things have you learned between the first Kirby Krackle album and Mutate, Baby?
Kyle Stevens: Sometimes I can’t believe this is our fifth one! I feel so thankful for the experiences I’ve had since Kirby Krackle was released in 2009 and continue to have in this weird nerd-rock world we created. What have I learned? Sometimes I think I’ve learned a lot and other times nothing at all! Our business of music and geek culture is always changing and I’ve learned to constantly adapt as best I can.
I guess you can say I’ve had to learn on the job how to run a band like a small business, which is what KK is in a lot of ways, and all that goes with that. I’ve learned a lot about what it is that I feel that I do that connects with others in my music, and especially in the writing of the last album I’ve really tried to nurture that and dig deep.
One of the biggest things I learned was how to interact with a fan base that is amazingly supportive and smart. When Kirby Krackle was released, it was all a big experiment into what it might be like if an entire musical project was focused on what we enjoyed in geek culture, its characters, etc, and what would happen if the topics were taken as seriously in song as they are in comics. I felt like it was something that was missing that I wished was there, and I’m sure from talking to creatives everywhere ... that must be a common theme you find for the inception of any creative project that runs throughout.
Since I was a little boy, I’ve always wanted to be involved in the comic book industry, but didn’t have the drawing chops to make being a visual artist happen. Music was what I found my voice in, but still never stopped being a huge fanboy. Kirby Krackle was my experiment in seeing if I could sneak past the gates of the comic industry by doing something that was more in my wheelhouse.
CA: What can people expect to find on this new album?
KS: We are mostly known for doing songs about, and from the perspective of, our favorite comic book and video game characters. There is more of that for sure on Mutate, Baby, but as with every new album we do, I wanted to turn the dial a bit and explore some things from a different angle.
One of the most fascinating things for me looking back on the past six years is how much the comic book industry and geek culture has changed in general. We grew up with comic books, video games, and geek culture as being “our thing” … and now our medium rules the world. Geek culture has become pop-culture, and you have to ask yourself what that means to millions of people who once prided themselves as identifying with something that wasn’t popular. That to me is the biggest trip ever.
I’ve also heard a lot from fans over the past few years that KK songs make them feel good, and that they consider the listening experience to be positive in and hopeful lyrically. That is something I’ve always tried to write for and present in the way KK does things, and there are a few songs on here that I hope continue to inspire people to find their inner truth and happiness, no matter what that is.
CA: What message do you want listeners to walk away with from Mutate, Baby?
KS: Mutate Baby to me is a sort of call to arms from the first moment I thought of it. Something I want people to interpret for themselves as a call and challenge to evolve.
Our culture is changing. We’re changing. They way we interact with things is changing. You and I are on Twitter a lot, and I’m sure you know as well as I that you can make a job just keeping up on all the things going on and how much is changing just day-to-day. It’s both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. I think many in geek culture --- and I know I have my moments as well --- have trouble adjusting to letting go of the ways things have always been done.
You can look at it from multiple angles; from the strong voices and perspective shifts in equality for women across the comic book industry and geek culture in general, to all the changes happening from storylines and traditional character development for relaunches of the comics and movies we all know and love. Everyone has a voice, and everyone chooses to use theirs in a different way.
At first glance the internet is filled with so much fear and anger that it can make you want to stay away in general, but if you look at it in a different way then you can see there never has been a more exciting time to be alive if you love our culture. I want people to walk away after listening to Mutate, Baby feeling inspired, excited, and wanting to evolve in how they might be able to contribute positively to moving the entire conversation forward.
CA: How do you pitch the general idea of Kirby Krackle to new listeners when there’s so little to compare it to?
KS: Honestly, I still don’t really have a way that I know works in every situation! I do totally understand, though, that the first time you hear about it that it might sound really weird. I get it, and also hope that it makes people want to look into what we do more.
For us, it’s about the song first and the nerd-angle second. Though we will always be a “nerd-rock” band, if the song sucks I don’t expect anyone to care at all what we’re singing about. From the very beginning the mission statement has been that even if [the listener] doesn’t know anything about comics or games, that he or she should be able to enjoy it still. Everything is about serving the song for us. But if you do know what characters and geek culture issues we’re singing about? Well, then we hope we’re you’re favorite new band and you tell all your friends!
CA: This album features a couple of songs that aren’t specific to a particular property or even medium, but rather are general topics that I think everyone will understand about consuming media --- specifically, stuff like, “No Spoilers Please,” and, “Geek Culture Is Dead.” What’s the motivation there?
KS: These are the kinds of tracks and overall subject material that is really fun for me dive into these days. For “No Spoilers, Please” I was going through a time of trying to plan everything in a way that was leaving no time to experience random chance or make room for the happy little accidents that can be inspiring to all of us. For that song, it was almost a mantra to myself that I thought others might be able to relate to as well, and a reminder that though we want to know how everything will work out, that in reality that would be pretty boring.
At the time, of course, I didn’t see things like this, but looking back at major milestones of struggle in my life now years later, I see them as the best things that ever happened to me. I would bet there are more than a few of us that feel like that, and have built confidence knowing that you can survive situations of hardship and even come out the other side better than you ever thought possible or were before. That song is a documentation of my daily struggle with wanting normalcy and craziness simultaneously, and a reminder that both are needed.
CA: You’ve also got a song about something that is ostensibly not geeky, “The Yellow King.” Is that, like the songs mentioned in the last question, part of an evolution from “geek band” to something else?
KS: “The Yellow King” is a tribute to the HBO series True Detective, and the looming presence of that character in the show. I lost my mind in mystery and excitement in that show in a way I hadn’t since Lost. It’s so creepy and mysterious, and I wanted to write a song that felt like that story and character to me.
The series takes place in the swamplands of the south, and to me feels like it in the claustrophobic and humid treatment our producer Don Gunn gave the arrangement. It’s also arguably the heaviest song we’ve done as a band given the tempo and that literally there are over 10 guitars layered in that chorus. We were hollering devil hand horns when we first heard that!
CA: “Geek Culture Is Dead” stood out to me as a great commentary on the people who act like new fans getting into geeky stuff or attending conventions is the end of the world. Why did you write that specific song?
KS: I was really nervous to write that song! The whole subject is just too sensitive to so many people, and though it’s titled, “Geek Culture Is Dead,” it’s not me saying that, but more of a commentary on people who do.
It’s changed for sure, but then doesn’t everything naturally try to evolve to the next best version of itself? Like I said earlier, I truly believe that geek culture is now pop cutlure, and we all just need to learn to live with it. It’s all perspective, and what I’ve been preaching for years is my hope that we can exercise some demons as a community by rising to the occasion and now including those who didn’t include us in this new world of fandom and cultural shift.
There are so many ways to be a geek or nerd, and none of them are better than the other. There’s way too many awesome fandoms to be 100% knowledgeable about, so let’s bury that expectation and just share the love for what we do enjoy and how we enjoy it. When I sing, “G-Double-E-K Culture Is Dead / But Hey, I’ve Got Some Questions When They Forget To Mention / The World Went And Changed And They Took It Instead / But Hey, There’s Nothing Ending / I Think It’s Just Beginning”, I’m singing exactly what I truly believe. We didn’t choose it, but it happened, and now we have a choice in how we react to it. It starts at the individual level and radiates out.
CA: What are your biggest musical inspirations? Based on your sound, I’m guessing you were a fan of late-90s alt-rock. Would that be correct?
KS: I was 13 years old, living in the suburbs of Seattle, when the rock scene blew up here in the early-90’s. At the same time, the Image Comics explosion happened and you wouldn’t be far off to say that all those musicians and artists were my gods. It was an extremely formative time for me as an artist, and what I value in music and presentation to this day.
My musical DNA is tangled up in a love of big choruses, harmonies, and loud guitars. I like lots of music from rap to pop, and when I can I pepper that in where appropriate, if it serves whatever song I’m working in. I think that when we as a culture now use the term “late 90’s rock,” it’s become synonymous with the last time bands used guitars as a centerpiece. That’s both sad and funny, but we joke all the time that when the all the folk beard bands realize that guitars are cool again --- and have always been cool --- that then we’ll show them what amps to get.
CA: What are you listening to a lot right now?
KS: When bands are asked this question leading up to a record, the honest answer you never hear is mostly their new one, because they’re trying to figure out how to play it! That was me until last month, and now I’ve been listening to a lot of D’Angelo, a great nerd-music songstress named Danielle At A Sandwich, and this week some Biggie. I’m really into interesting rhythms lately, and I tried to incorporate a lot of what I like about rap and R&B melodically into this album. You might not hear it, but know it’s there.
CA: You’re doing an album release party during Emerald City Comicon, right? What are the details for that?
KS: Yes! Every year at ECCC we have a nerd-rock variety show called Kracklefest on March 27th ,the Friday of the convention only a few blocks away. It’s our fifth year doing this and is a tradition at this point for us and the ECCC attendees. Tickets can be found at Ticketweb for the advance sale of $10, and this year we’re featuring nerd-core rapper Megaran, Sci-Fried, and nerd-burlesque. The show also doubles as the Mutate, Baby Record Release Party, and copies of the new album will be on hand.
Also, I brew beer under the name Charging Hippo Brewing Co. in Seattle, and did a collaboration with the band for a new beer to debut on limited draft the day of the album’s release on March 17th. It’s a tribute to our fans called “Kracklehead Imperial Pale,” and the first 20 people who order a pint receive a copy of the album.
CA: Finally, what’s your favorite song on this album?
KS: I really like singing the song “Reverie.” That surprises me, because it was a song that was always on the chopping block of being cut from the album until the very end. Everyone had a great part, but my vocal melody was really lacking. One day in the shower it came to me, and now it’s one we all love as a top tier KK song. It’s about loving yourself, finding out the true 'you' in all those atoms formed made of starlight, and that it’s all going to be okay.
That’s what I want people to walk away feeling after listening to this album. We’ve always known it, but these days more than ever we need reminding that it’s true.