Sydney three-piece band Middle Kids--one of our bands to watch in 2017--are dropping their first release, a self-titled EP of six tracks that ride together narratively on the back of singer Hannah Joy’s absorbing vocals and the band’s instrumental mastery. On Middle Kids, folk-tinged indie-pop does the softly powerful piano pleas on “Doing it Right” just as well as the adventurous rock-driven wandering of “Edge of Town.” The songs travel from one to another, from hook to hook with autonomous unity that begs you to sit down and listen to it front to back, uninterrupted.
Despite this being the band’s first EP, the members have lush individual histories in music, and the power of joining forces bleeds through each track. We talked to band member Tim Fitz about the forthcoming release, getting signed to Domino, their EP release through Vinyl Me, Please, and what it’s like to play music with the people you love most.
VMP: So your Middle Kids EP is coming out through Vinyl, Me Please. How does it feel?
It’s cool, we listened to to test pressing and it just feels cool that it’s actually physically alive in the world, so we’re super excited about that.
How long did it take you to record this EP?
We did it in bits. It’s hard to say. Some songs were done at different times and then sat there, but when we actually sat down and did it, it was probably a few months of picking the right songs, and it just kind of came together near the end really nicely.
Talk me through your songwriting and recording process.
Hannah will write the songs and she’ll even start recording some of the stuff in a demo form. Then I’ll generally add a whole bunch of guitars and choose a production direction for the song, like the vibe we’d like the song to be. And then we’ll get Harry to put his thoughts into the drums and play the drums on it. So it’s kind of backwards, because often when band are recording songs they’ll record the drums first.
The EP as a whole is incredibly cohesive from track to track. Do you think anything in terms of your writing or process contributed to that sense of cohesion?
I think part of it is Hannah’s narrative voice, and and her actual voice—it carries the thing through. You can just tell that the same sort of spirit is in all the songs. I think part of it is the fact that a lot of it was home-recorded. We were going for a certain sound, and I think when you’re recording in the same place you get a similar kind of sound. With the sound and the way it was mixed, we have a strong production view in the band, we have a strong idea of how we want the song to sound, and I think that comes through in the EP. But I’m kind of mystified as well when I listen to it how cohesive the whole thing sounds because it’s hard to make something that sounds like it’s telling one story the whole way through.
You and Hannah are married. Did that influence the album and the songs on it?
I mean, I think it definitely influenced it somehow (laughs). But it’s not an EP about marriage. Hannah actually writes quite universal songs as well, and I know that those things are influenced by things that are going on in our lives, but you know when she writes a song about love, I don’t think she’s writing about her experience think she’s writing a bigger song, hopefully that other people can sort of relate to. But it’s been cool because we live together, and we’ve recorded some of the songs on the EP here in the house. And that’s been cool, because we can work together on them.
What were you actually listening to around the time you were recording and writing this?
I remember listening to a bit of Sharon Van Etten. I listened to more like Sonic Youth kind of stuff, more like ’90s guitar bands. When I’m mixing tunes, I’m thinking about bands like The Pixies. Even though the song may not sound like a Pixies song, I’ll be sort of trying to find that Pixies guitar tone to put in there. Hannah’s been listening to Andy Shauf; we’ve been listening to his album a fair bit.
You just got signed to Domino, before your debut EP is out. What it’s like to be signed so fast? Do you feel like there’s some real pressure now?
I think there’s always pressure when people have invested in you to create something really great. I think we put that pressure on ourselves first and foremost though. I think there’s a feeling like it happened fast, but Hannah and I have both produced a lot of music before and Harry’s been in bands before, so we kind of feel like we’ve been working toward this for quite a few years, but it just kind of happened with this project. I’ve produced four EPs before, Hannah’s produced and written for a bunch for different artists. The pressures always there to make something really good but I guess now it’s just more of it.
You all had separate music careers before this, what’s it like to join forces?
Personally, my experience was a solo performance in my project, and it gets a bit stilted and a bit lonely. It’s good to have other people to talk about ideas or direction or concepts so you end up with a more rounded view of things. I think it’s easy for musicians to have tunnel vision and be sensitive and protective and all these things that are involved when you’ve got a lot of ego, which i think is all creative arts. So it’s good to have a few egos to bash against each other until they soften over time .
Y’all are doing a lot of shows in Australia, how are the shows going?
We love playing live so much. It’s the best part of this whole thing. They’re going well. I think people are engaging with the songs. It’s always about learning how to be comfortable up there as a band to help everyone else feel comfortable. And it’s cool to see people singing along. I mean, we’ve only got two songs out from the EP and people are singing along to them at show, which is just mind-blowing. It’s like the the first time people have cared about our music so that’s a good feeling (laughs). It’s cool.
Have you guys been to America or are you going to be touring here?
We as a band have only been to New York and LA earlier this year. But we’ve got heaps of dates starting in late February in Seattle, and then we’re joining up with Cold War Kids for their national tour. We’re also talking about maybe recording over there, but those conversations are on-going. We’re super, super excited. We love being over there. We love the food. We love the people. Hannah used the live over there in the States, so we love it.
You all are playing shows at SXSW in 2017, right?
That’s right! That is going to be so fun. We were absolutely over the moon. See, we’re over here in Australia and we just see what happens over at SXSW and it’s like “The Big Leagues.” So we’ve been observing from afar with shiny eyes, but now we’re gonna be apart of it.
What’s next for Middle Kids, are you working on a full-length album?
We’re getting all geared up. We’ve got a whole lot of songs to start producing and work through for the album, and we wanna release that later next year. We feel like we’re gonna be busy for the next year at least. We’ll just be touring and writing and recording—all the fun things. And hopefully having fun while doing it and not descending into madness (laughs.)
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, the Head of Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.
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