A passing listen to Black Kids’ debut album, Partie Traumatic, a collection of good-timing, bratty bangers that combines a Bowie-esque utilization of the synthesizer with the co-ed quintet’s genuine musical chops and wry wit that would make Morrissey grin, provides a peek into the band’s cheeky, vivacious personality.
Still, the avalanche of effervescence that is Ali Youngblood, the Black Kids’ keyboarder and vocalist, comes as a bit of a surprise. She greets me with the kind of enthusiastic “Hello!” that is usually reserved for sorority sisters and favorite cousins and chats easily about everything from style pointers (she has garnered attention for an on-stage look that resembles some permutation of a vintage hipster housewife) to the striking all-male bands -- like The Virgins, who Black Kids are soon sharing shows with -- that she has the good fortune of sharing a tour bus with. She is, not unlike her band’s LP, charismatic, accessible and sweet without being saccharine. Black Kids, a Jacksonville-based fivesome whose electrifying performance at the 2007 Athens Pop Fest paved the way for widespread acclaim both in the States and abroad, quickly became one of the most hyped bands of the year, earning Rolling Stone’s distinction of being one of their ten “Artists to Watch” in 2008. Feasting on salacious lyrics like, “And you, you’re not doing too well / All the blogs are about you, girl / They caught you in the park after dark / Giving head to a statue, girl”, musical tastemakers perpetuated a steady stream of publicity and set up what could have been a harrying standard to play to. The term “buzz band” – not a negative, but certainly connoting something not quite laudatory – has been applied routinely to the group, something that Youngblood insists, with her typical disarming humor, does not concern her.
“I figure throughout the history of music, a lot of great artists have been called something, and they’re still around. So I’m hoping even though we’re called ‘buzz’ that that buzz just continues going. Like the longest, most annoying buzz you’ve ever heard in your life. And we can get even hype-er.”
And for Black Kids, or at least for Ali Youngblood, getting “hype-er” does not seem to be much of a stretch from the norm. Even while discussing the potentially sticky subject of expectations, Youngblood is at perfect ease, treating me to a spot-on rendition of the 1980’s funk classic “Word Up” while naming the band’s influences, which span from Cameo to the Magnetic Fields. Still, she acknowledges that she and her bandmates – her brother Reggie Youngblood, the group’s lead singer and chief songwriter, drummer Kevin Snow, fellow keyboarder Dawn Watley and bassist Owen Holmes – did experience a hint of anxiety as a result of the early notoriety.
“It puts a little bit of pressure, but a lot of us [in the band] had been waiting for some type of pressure, something, to ever happen in the music industry for us, so we were prepared, but not prepared. We didn’t know it would happen this soon.” But Youngblood credits the indie rock groundswell generated by other bands for taking some of the burden off of the Black Kids.
“It’s like we’re all under one little spotlight in a dark room, so it’s other groups standing there in the spotlight with us, like doing the same thing we did, like, ‘Oh, we don’t know what label we’re with yet.’ It’s the new fad. The new i-i-indie,” she remarks, drawing out the last word charmingly.
Given the band’s composition, it’s difficult not to credit the group’s evident chemistry and poise with its familial feel since, well, two of the members are actual siblings. Ali defines her and her older brother’s in-band relationship as “definitely like a Joan and John Cusack thing” with an outpouring of mutual respect between them, but points out that it would be hard for Reggie -- whose far-out falsetto front man tones and brooding brown eyes have made him the object of some amusing female advances -- to single her out since the entire band has such strong, long-standing ties.
“We work together just fine. He treats everyone else the same as he treats me. The boys are his personal friends that he hung out with before the band, and Dawn being my friend makes her like a little sister by default. There’s always a line of professionalism, like, ‘Yeah, we’re working right now.’ He’s always professional.”
Big brother isn’t the only one who carries the torch of professionalism. Though their song lyrics may skew towards the jaunty and flip (“When the clock says stop / We’re all gonna drop / I don’t care if we get caught”), the more I talk with younger Youngblood, the more I realize that the Black Kids are nothing if not ambitious. According to Ali, the band is currently focused on fine-tuning its live performances, recognizing that, having been formed in 2006, they are still relative novices on the touring scene.
“We’re still working at making sure it’s the best live performance ever, because we still feel that we’re a new band, and we’re trying to catch up with what other people have in years of experience and perfection on stage.”
By Erin Gaetz
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Black Kids Tour Dates:
Oct 13 2008 8:00P - Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
Oct 15 2008 8:00P - The Mayan, Los Angeles
Oct 16 2008 8:00P - Belly Up Tavern, San Diego