Black Kids (Reggie Youngblood): Interview
“I am a black man and if I want to call my group Black Kids, then please, if you have a problem with it, just fuck off.”
One Sunday morning, I sat at the breakfast table reading a Spin article about Vampire Weekend. Rather than present a normal exposé on our favorite cable-knit sweater clad group du jour, the article focused on the recent phenomenon where bands built up by the internet (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Tapes 'n Tapes) would only be torn down or ignored soon after any modicum of popularity had been attained. Granted, CYHSY's second album felt lackluster and Tapes 'n Tapes never lived up to the hype, but there is truth that sites like your dear old TMT contribute to the rapid rise and even faster downfall of so many bands these days.
Another group mentioned in the article was Black Kids. As the writer describes “reams of breathless praise online for Florida-based Black Kids' scrappy pop,” he couldn't help but point out that “nothing can change the fact that they only have a four-song EP completed. Nothing, that is, except the one thing bloggers have no sympathy for: time.”
Reggie Youngblood, lead vocalist and guitarist, was kind enough to give TMT some of his time before a co-headlining gig with Cut Copy in Baltimore. Besides discussing his music (I picked the group's free EP as one of my top ten albums of 2007), Youngblood and I examined whether the group grew too big, too fast. And now, dear reader, here is the internet beaming this conversation out to you.
So how have things been going for you so far?
Wonderful! The tour has been amazing, but it also has been kicking our asses. We're ready for the brief break coming up.
You guys were scheduled to play Bonnaroo at first, but now you're not on the schedule. What's going on there?
I'm not sure, to be honest with you. [Laughs]
You don't do your own booking?
No, we don't. It's kind of sad, in a way. We're not very hands-on with a lot of things outside of the creative bit. We're bummed out that we're not doing any of the Southeast on this tour, but I think that will be rectified later this year.
So this is your first big tour?
Yeah. I would say so. We did two tours in the UK earlier this year, one supporting Sons and Daughters and one supporting Kate Nash. This has, by the far, been the most extensive. We've pretty much gone coast to coast. It's amazing.
You said it's kicking your ass. Why's that?
You tend to have a little too much fun. We're sharing a bus with Cut Copy. It's a sweet setup: you play the gig, then the bus calls early in the morning so you can hang out all night. Then you get on the bus and you sleep and wake up in the next town the next day. We've just been enjoying ourselves.
How did this tour with Cut Copy come about?
While we were working over in the UK, someone suggested that as a possible match-up. We're supposed to be co-headlining, which is kind of funny to us because Cut Copy have two records and we don't have a record yet. We eagerly agreed to tour with them because we've admired them for quite some time now. Especially Kevin [Snow, drums] and I. We used to DJ back home and we would spin their records often.
Is it everything you thought it was going to be?
Better. The groups we have been with are the best people you could pick to travel with. Cut Copy are just very sweet. They are cute, as well. Nice eye candy.
Let's talk about your music. You signed with Qwest overseas?
Qwest is our management company, worldwide pretty much.
You've put out an EP or single?
In the UK, we put out a single for “I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You.” That's been out for quite some time now. I guess a little over a month. That went down pretty good. It charted, peaked at number 11. It's mind-boggling. We're still trying to figure out how that happened. We're also signed to Almost Gold over in the UK, which is pretty much Qwest and we're signed with Columbia over here in the States.
Do you have a schedule in terms of what we can expect in physical form?
Stateside, our album will drop on July 22.
Is this an LP?
Is that going to include the four songs you put out on the web?
Yeah, the four songs plus six others.
Do you have a title for it?
It's called Partie Traumatic.
Since you're a new band, I would like to hear you talk about the genesis of the group.
The other gentlemen in the group, Kevin and Owen (Holmes-bass) and I have been playing in groups in Jacksonville for over a decade. We're not just fresh-faced teens like we just picked up guitars a couple of weeks ago. We've been playing music for awhile, though it doesn't really sound like it. We've been playing in various groups. Typically, it would be Kevin and I in a group, or Owen and I in a group. But it would never be all three of us. After my last project with Owen disintegrated, I thought it would be great to get two of my best friends in the same band. I also had never played music with my sister [Ali Youngblood, keys and vocals] before. But I knew she was very talented, so I was eager to manipulate that situation. But I had to make a concession in allowing her best friend Dawn [Watley, keys and vocals] to join. We're really just a group of best friends. It was kind of painful at first. It still is kind of painful.
It's odd. Sometimes things are very easy. But some of the stuff is hard goddamn work, man. We just present very basic pop songs, but it's a craft that we're still learning.
"I prefer to be left than to have to leave someone."
Where did the name of the group come from? I'm sure you hate that question.
That shit's kind of boring. It's kind of long, as well. It just kept popping up everywhere. I think someone wanted to call the group something really lame like Kids Who Play Basketball, which is a euphemism for young, black males. It's not a euphemism that anyone in the group would use, but something we heard someone else say. I think Ali said, "Why don't you just call it what it is: Black Kids." We liked it, but we weren't too sure about it. We put it to the side, but it kept popping up everywhere like in articles and songs. It popped up in a Hefner song. It kept popping up in conversation. I took a hint from the universe and went with it.
The funny thing is people who read blogs are so jaded that whenever I mention your group, people say, ‘I bet they're a bunch of white kids trying to be funny.' Have you heard that before?
I don't know. I've even met people who've seen our photographs who will have a go out at us. Ali and I are black. I guess some people just don't get that. I am a black man and if I want to call my group Black Kids, then please, if you have a problem with it, just fuck off.
That's a good attitude to have. I like the name myself. It's simple and straightforward.
Cheers! I think that's probably what won out in the beginning over all the other things. We just thought it sounded cool. [Laughs]
You're pretty big for the four-song EP you put out on the web. What I would like to do is talk about each song. Let's start with “Hurricane Jane” then.
“Hurricane Jane” is a song that took a couple of years to become what it is now. I often try to develop little stories for each song. I had this idea of these upper-class kids that would go to the ghetto and treat it as their playground. You know, fuck shit up without consequence. You know, not worrying about consequences but relying on their money to get them out of whatever. I'm not sure where I got this idea from. Maybe it was just from going out and seeing kids like this in areas where they don't belong. They feel like they own everything. It went from that, this club culture type thing and I personalized it more by boiling down to a guy and a girl and taking all the social shit out of it. It took forever because it evolved from one thing into a pop song about a guy and a girl.
Have you heard “Common People” by Pulp?
It sounds like it has the same kind of message.
I am a big fan of that song. Yeah, you're not far off there. What I retained from the original idea is some of the despair of taking drugs. You know, “I put what I want, when I want in my body” and just not giving a fuck about what occurs from that. There isn't a specific Jane, but I took traits from various friends of mine.
What's the lyric, "I took something and it feels like…?"
Karate. Not being wise with the substance. Taking something to excess where your head's on the bar and you can't lift it to save your life.
Have drugs played a big part in your songwriting?
I wouldn't think so. That's probably the only song where drugs play a role. All the other ones are the standard penis and vagina type.
Moving on to penis and vagina: “I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance.”
I don't like the idea of writing true songs or songs about me because that's kind of boring. But I guess if there were going to be that sort of song, then that one would be it. Christ, I don't know how many times I would go out and be minding my own business. Having a dance by myself... to “Common People.” I'll stop gazing at my feet and catch some girl looking at me and we'll start getting into it. We'll shut the place down and then she'll walk off with some guy who I thought was lurking, but was apparently her boyfriend. [Laughs] It's the story of my life.
So being a “rock star” hasn't helped you on the woman side of things?
I do about the same. [Laughs] Don't get me wrong, I was doing all right, but it hasn't really helped or hurt.
Not getting panties thrown at you during shows?
[Laughs] That's not sanitary now, is it?
Cool. That song seems to be the one that's caught on the most.
Yeah, it's pure pop. There's not a whole lot of guile to it to it at all. It's just one of those absurdly silly pop songs like “She Loves You.” It doesn't try to trick you at all. But some people do get hung up on the line “Every since I was a little girl.”
Androgyny has always been a big thing in pop. Look at David Bowie.
Exactly. Bowie, Prince, Morrisey. It's no news to people who are fans of pop music. I think for most people, they just can't wrap their head around it. To be honest, I say the song is without guile, but I knew that it would fuck with people when I wrote that line. [Laughs] So I did it. Because it was easy.
"We just present very basic pop songs, but it's a craft that we're still learning."
Do you like to fuck with people?
Not necessarily with people, but with language. I'm lazy, but if I can switch the gender and that makes a line that much more interesting, I'll do it. I can get off my ass to do that much.
There's a saying: that if you wait long enough shit will come back into style. It seems like you guys are riding the wave with groups like Cut Copy and M83, where in the 1980s we had shimmering pop songs, but then we moved away with grunge, but now that sound is coming back again. Do you think there is anything going on, like in the '80s we were in the midst of a Republican administration and the economy wasn't that great, that ties us into the resurgence of this type of music?
Black Kids and Cut Copy are kind of similar that we just grew up listening to a lot of the same things. What we do now is cherry pick all the stuff we've loved about pop music. Not just '80s, but dating back to the '60s and '70s as well. I don't know. We're coming into our own right now. I don't really think about it that deeply, to be honest with you.
Cool. “Hit the Heartbrakes.”
I think it's interesting how in love you will find yourself the victim or the culprit. I like exploring both sides of that. I'll just feel so sorry for myself one week and then the next week I'm apparently causing someone a lot of suffering. To me, that's endlessly fascinating: the laws of attraction and repulsion.
“I've Underestimated My Charm Again.”
That song is sisters with “Hit the Heartbrakes.” It's just from the perspective of a bastard who has this person in his life who can just take it or leave it.
Which side of the equation do you find yourself on more often?
I prefer to be left than to have to leave someone. I don't know why that is. I just feel horrible I'm the one who has to sever the relationship. Yet at the same time it does take a certain amount of callousness to do that. Dichotomies like that I constantly try to suss out.
It seems like relationships are good fodder for most songwriters.
Yeah, it's funny because that's what most pop songs are made out of. That's what 99% of the population dealt with. It's not going to get old anytime soon.
Let's talk about the power of the internet. If there was no internet, we wouldn't know where you'd be right now. It seems like the internet can give one day and take away the next. I don't how much attention you guys pay to the tastemakers, but it seems when you're a new band that you're under such tight scrutiny that you can fuck one thing up and all it takes is some writer to ruin you. Of course, it was your talent that you got where you are, but if it wasn't for Pitchfork, we probably wouldn't be sitting here. I don't know if you agree with that or not. It seems the internet has so much power these days. The process would have been a lot slower for you guys.
Yeah, definitely. It would have been slower. I never imagined that all this would have happened at the rate it has. I always assumed we would press something ourselves, then we would play regionally and then get on a cute, little indie label and then maybe tour nationally, and then maybe, just maybe tour the UK. But we've skipped so many of the steps. You really do have to give credit to the internet. But the funny thing is we had to physically go somewhere for that to occur. We had never played outside of Jacksonville. We had to stick our head out of the door and go all the way to Georgia. [Laughs]
That festival in Athens?
Yeah and people had to physically see us. It was a coupling of technology and actually being there.
Do you regret the fact you didn't have the pressing yourself-indie label-club experience?
Not really because, like I said, what most people don't know is that Owen, Kevin, and I have been playing music for 10 years. Not with Black Kids. We've played shit shows to like 10 people and we've struggled. I don't how many demos I've recorded and how many CD-Rs I've made with special-edition covers that no one's going to give a shit about. So it really seems to upset people that we seemingly came out of vapor and now we're signed to Columbia. [Laughs] I can understand where they'd be like "What the fuck?" They think we're bucking some tradition, but actually, if you think about it, in the '60s, shit like that probably happened all the time with probably as much speed. Basically, it's just some A&R guy going to a club, seeing them to play once and going (snaps) “All right, you're on Capitol,” (snaps again) “All right, you're on Columbia” and making it happen.
If you could say something to your critics or those jealous of your rise, what would you say? What do you want them to know about you?
I kind of just don't care about them. They are really the furthest thing from my mind. As much as they despise us is as about as much I'm not even thinking about them. [Laughs] There is no you and I.