photo by Daniel Muller
by Chance Solem-Pfeifer | Daily Nebraskan
The Kickback may be the closest thing Lincoln has to an honorary band.
The rock four-piece, which hails from Vermillion, S.D., by way of Chicago, will play its second Lincoln show in less than a month when they take the stage with The Renfields at Duffy’s Tavern tonight.
On Oct. 24, the band debuted their third live one-take video produced by Nebraska’s Love Drunk mobile studio. The recording of “Little Teach” was picked up later that day by Paste Magazine. Following the conclusion of their North American tour this winter, The Kickback will take their shimmering rock music into the studio to work on their first full-length album with producer Dennis Herring of Modest Mouse and Elvis Costello production fame.
The Kickback’s lead singer, Billy Yost, spoke with The Daily Nebraskan from Chicago via phone, recapping the band’s Lincoln Calling performance, detailing the in-studio highs and lows leading to the band’s forthcoming LP and discussing the personal anxiety that shadows honesty in songwriting.
Daily Nebraskan: You said on stage at your Lincoln Calling set that (your drummer and brother) Danny (Yost) was really sick. How was he doing after the show?
Billy Yost: He went straight to bed but, honestly, we had such a good time, the adrenaline rush takes over, and you’re good to go for a couple hours. But he then crashed pretty hard.
DN: Did you have to talk him into playing that night, or is it always “never say die” with you guys?
BY: No, he had been sick all week, so he basically rationed cigarettes and Mountain Dew in a way that wouldn’t have impacted him too much for the show on Friday. He tried to cut down … so that was probably half a 12-pack and half a pack of cigarettes.
DN: Hey, that’s good. You have to exercise some restraint.
BY: (Laughs) I miss Lincoln Calling. We missed it last year because our van exploded about a week before we were supposed to make it out, so nothing could’ve kept us away this year.
DN: I think a lot of Lincolnites’ first exposure to you guys, mine at least, was through a very early Love Drunk video where you played “Sting’s Teacher Years” on top of Sandy’s. How did the ongoing connection between The Kickback, Love Drunk and HearNebraska form?
BY: Originally it was all facilitated by Jeremy “Dub” Wardlaw, who is kind of a powerhouse in the Lincoln music scene and one of the people who helps to keep the Lincoln music scene fresh and amazing for us, at any rate. He hooked us up with Django (Greenblatt-Seay) who does Love Drunk.
DN: And that’s a good working relationship, it seems.
BY: Django and I are both cut-to-the-chase sort of people. Neither of us drinks, and we both swear an awful lot. So we’ll do videos with those guys until the proverbial cows come home.
DN: You guys are in Lincoln quite a bit.
BY: Well, saturation is our game.
DN: (Laughs) Sure. You want everyone to get tired of you and then surprise them.
BY: Right, and then we won’t be back for two years and act slighted and broken-hearted. We’re trying to be like abusive boyfriends. First we shower you with too much praise, and then we accuse you for a while and then we have a loving reunion because you keep coming back.
That was the dumbest analogy I ever could have made.
DN: (Laughs) I understand. Do you think the relationship between The Kickback — with homebase in Chicago — and Nebraska is a unique one, or is the music community in the Midwest smaller than people realize?
BY: I think it’s both. Lincoln reminds Danny and I a lot of the town where the band started. It’s like a bigger version of Vermillion. We’ll be unloading equipment, and we’ll immediately recognize someone we know. It’s like a giant little town, if that makes sense.
But, also, the music scene in the Midwest is also a lot smaller than people give it credit for. It’s fun to play kind of across the plains and pull up to a bar and see posters for other bands and think, “Oh, I know those guys. We played with those guys. And we had to sleep next to those guys one night and their drummer tried to touch me in ways I’d like to forget.” I like that about it.
DN: With The Kickback podcasts, your work with Love Drunk and your use of social media, you guys seem pretty comfortable in your skin as a 21st century band. In 2012, is that by choice or is that a necessity for bands like you guys to embrace technology?
BY: I don’t know if we have any choice. Honestly, the things I love — like Batman and comic books and Muppets — I have such a problem keeping that to myself anyway. Things like our podcasts and our Facebook page have been another way for me to force those things on other people. And people seem receptive to it, but for better or worse we are kind of relentless that way.
DN: Sure, but as a supplement for you guys as a touring band, is it a benefit? Do situations arise where you get to a gig and someone feels like they know you or something about you because or what you post on Facebook?
BY: That’s kind of the biggest deal for me. I feel if you can give people an opportunity … I apologize — I’m literally parallel parking while answering this one. It could be an amazing acrobatic feat.
DN: No worries.
BY: But I think people can connect to us if they like Michael Keaton as Batman or have watched the movie Mallrats 369 times. I just like making friends. And maybe the band is just a terrible way of doing that.
DN: I don’t think it’s so terrible. Now, looking at your influences, there’s a mix of more melodic acts and some much heavier. A lot of your songs in their last movement or in the third or fourth minute tend to break or crack. Do those breaking moments come out of the natural accumulating emotion of playing or is that planned in writing?
BY: Weirdly enough, I think it’s kind of a reaction to early on, in the first year or two of the band, a whole song could be that way — go until something breaks. And I think as the years have gone on you start trying to include more finesse. That part of the song still exists, but you have to vary it. I can’t be screaming until I pass out.
DN: So it’s not so much a moment that breaks out of a song, but taking that raging feeling and putting a limitation on it?
BY: Yeah, I think that’s a good way of characterizing it. I’m kind of a high-strung sort of guy and I think the ends of songs feels like a natural place to expel some of that energy. You’re not as afraid you’ll mess it up.
DN: Makes sense. Are you all parked? All good?
BY: (Laughs) I’m good now. Sorry.
DN: Nah, no worries. I just have some really heady questions and I didn’t want you to crash trying to think them over.
BY: (Laughs) No, let’s go with those.
DN: Do you have an inkling right now of how this forthcoming LP might compare to what we’ve heard on the EPs? How will working with Dennis Herring play into it?
BY: I hope our arrangement skills can finally be felt a little more viscerally. That’s going to make a terrible, stupid quote.
Dennis can almost look at music like a giant Tic-tac-toe board, and you can reach out and touch the part of his music that you love and we’re hoping he can do that for us.
DN: My question more generally then, Billy, would be what do you want from a producer? Those kinds of orchestration talents?
BY: Danny and I, for sure, need someone to tell us when to stop.
DN: Stop what?
BY: Just stop. Stop adding so many parts or stop trying so hard or stop screaming at each other. We both go into this sort of tailspin of not being terribly confident in what we’re doing and wanting so badly for things to be perfect. I remember one night this summer we did 57 vocal takes of the same half-verse.
We got four in and I knew we weren’t going to do it, but I was trying to prove to him I could and he was trying to prove to me he was willing to waste two and a half hours. We just kind of had this brotherly shootout and we could’ve used someone to step in and tell us to go get some water.
And likewise, we don’t just need a referee. Dennis has an insane knack for arrangement, and that’s one area where we’re strong and he could make us stronger.
DN: You guys have had two EPs out since your formation in 2006, and this will be your debut full-length album that’s still forthcoming. Why the wait? Was waiting important to you guys in putting out this LP?
BY: At first, we were really sure wanted to do (the album) by ourselves, but after a year we weren’t happy with anything, and we decided we needed some help. Not that our EPs are terrible, but if I could go back and redo them I would, and I think that’s how I’ll feel with anything I ever make. But for our first record we don’t want to have to feel like that. And I was willing to wait for as long as that would take, and it wound up taking a hell of a while.
DN: If you’ll let me nerd-out on you here for a second — I’m an English major — I know you’re an English teacher —
DN: (Laughs) I saw that post-post-modernism was in the band's interests on the Facebook page —
BY: I think I need to change that. I had a recent revelation. Maybe you and I can maybe talk about.
DN: Absolutely. What’s that?
BY: Have you read at all about "the New Sincerity”? David Foster Wallace was a big champion of it … about really owning emotion and trying to overcome irony, which is so easy to give into. And I realized about a month ago that there are some bands in the new sort of folk thing — the fake folk thing — that are really based on that. You put on a bolo tie and sing about experiences you never had and do it with meaning. And you have a mandolin.
I realized this post-post modernism thing is going to come with unwanted baggage; that everything you love has to come with something kind of shitty attached to it.
DN: So prior to this revelation, was sincerity a big aim for you in your songs?
BY: I don’t think so. I think I inject … my absolute worst fears or biggest hopes and then sort of cover them retroactively with some nice window dressing because it still does feel kind of silly.
I don’t really want to scream, “My mom and dad got divorced. For Godsakes, somebody try to make sense of this.” I would much rather make a joke about it before we play a song and then play a song that doesn’t mention it explicitly.
I think we get a lot more honesty covered in between the songs than in them, which isn’t — I don’t think — a recipe for success.
DN: So it seems like we’re talking about personal insecurity in writing a little. How do you move away from that if you want more honesty and to achieve that “recipe for success?”
BY: Where are you from?
BY: So you’re kind of right in the middle of it. I think there’s especially a Midwestern bootstrap mentality where you think, “I’m not going to sing about this. I’m either going fix things or suck it up and be a man and sing about something where I don’t want to cry at the end of it.”
Bright Eyes took a huge gamble. You can see where singing very honestly and very sincerely can be both very appealing to people and incredibly off-putting. Maybe it’s the fear of that kind of backlash, even though we don’t have the fanbase for that kind of backlash.
I don’t know. I feel like I’m tremendously unimpressed with myself and always asking myself to evolve, and that’s really all I can ask right now.
DN: Ducking back to post-modernism or what comes after it, what’s your take in the band on shooting for originality. What role does chasing newness play in your songwriting?
BY: I think the best thing you can do is try to rip off things people haven’t heard before.
I think age plays into that a bit. It’s very easy to get jaded and once you see one trick, it can be very unimpressive the next time you see it come around in any capacity. But the trick is not to let it get you down.
But I don’t know. I’ve really stopped worrying about trying to be so incredibly original that it blows people away. God, I don’t know. I haven’t thought about this in awhile.
photo by Daniel Holtmeyer, Daily Nebraskan
DN: Well, from a fan’s perspective: for the average person who was in Duffy’s for Lincoln Calling, did they want “original” or did they want what you guys gave them?
BY: I don’t if anybody wants real originality because that means ignoring all the civil institutions that have governed us forever. Real originality probably involves breaking some laws and taking some hostages.
But I think people are most impressed by something they know or thought they knew or forgot, when it’s reinterpreted a way they never imagined. The popularity of mash-ups really demonstrates that.
DN: And lastly, I don’t know if you’ve seen it — this is so much less important than what we’ve been talking about — but have you seen the YouTube comments section on the Love Drunk “Sting’s Teacher Years” video?
BY: No. YouTube comments make me really sad. Seeing thoughtful comments that get shat upon by people who can’t use the right “you’re” gets me down.
DN: Sure, sure. I only bring it up because the comments have to be well-over half high school students exalting Mr. Yost as the coolest substitute teacher ever.
BY: (Laughs). I don’t know if being the coolest substitute teacher is something to aspire to.
DN: Is that a little bit of an oxymoron?
BY: I think so. I’d rather be the most respected or the most feared. But I look like I’m 17 still, so it’s hard to instill any kind of fear that wouldn’t be based on creepiness. Maybe in a few years I can get the fear of the devil in them. But I appreciate that they don’t write “Mr. Yost sucks balls.”
DN: (Laughs) No, none of them think that.
BY: As long as they’re spelling “balls” right.
DN: I don’t know if their apostrophes are in the right place, but their hearts are.
BY: It’s funny. I just came home from school today and every time we leave for tour, it’s a little hard. I do like being around them and doing a little bit of good for one day for a group of kids. But the rock is calling.
DN: The rock?
BY: Yeah, if you can put “the rock is calling” in a quote — maybe right at the end — it could make me sound like an ass. That would be amazing.