So far this year, the Jacksonville five-piece known as Black Kids has followed up its 2007 EP, Wizard of Ahhhs, with a smash hit (“I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You”), sold-out shows in the United States and abroad, and even the much-coveted respect of critics. Here, singer/guitarist Reggie Youngblood discusses — in mostly soft mumbles, often punctuated by easy chortling — about musical influences, the band’s debut album, Partie Traumatic, and how god (sort of) brought the band together.
You’re touring the United States with Cut Copy. Have you been surprised by the crowd reactions and all the buzz you’ve been getting, considering your first album isn’t even out yet?
Definitely. It’s always a very pleasant surprise to get a favorable crowd reaction. On this U.S. tour, everyone’s been very kind to us — just energetic. We keep hearing, “Oh, yeah, the crowds here are very fickle; they typically stand there with their arms crossed,” but every gig has just been a party. It’s been really amazing.
How did band first get together?
Me, Kevin [Snow, drums], and Owen [Holmes, bass] have been playing in groups back home for about a decade. Mostly I’d be in a group with Kevin or I’d be in a group with Owen, so it’s the first time all three of us have been in a group, and the first time I’ve played music with my sister [Ali Youngblood, keyboards/vocals] and with her best friend, Dawn [Watley, keyboards/vocals]. We’ve all known each other for ages, so it’s a very organic thing. It just seems like we’d experiment each time we’d try a new project: “Okay, that didn’t work — what if we tried so-and-so on drums and what if we tried it with a preprogrammed track this time, or what if we added some talent this time around?” [laughs]
What are your biggest musical influences?
It’s funny, this group seems to be a conglomerate of everything that each of us has loved ever in music, from the early ’80s on. We’ll be playing a song, and I’ll be like, “Oh, Christ, this is like that New Edition song I loved when I was little,” or “This is akin to a fuckin’ Pavement or Guided by Voices song that we used to dance to.”
Does everyone in the band come from a slightly different place musically?
Definitely, yeah. Ali and I have similar taste to a point, but there’s a period where we just kind of diverged musically. Kevin started off on gospel music, and the only thing he could get away with in his house that wasn’t Christian music would be the Beatles, so he’s very fond of and enthusiastic about them. I think Owen is really into Jimmy Buffett.… There have just been so many phases, and this group seems to be where it’s all gelled together.
What are you listening to these days?
It’s strange, because when we weren’t doing the band full-time, I’d made it my job as a DJ to be up on things going on in the music scene. But ever since we’ve just been doing Black Kids, I’ve kind of become this, like, crotchety old man who doesn’t know what’s new or what’s hip. It sounds like a cop-out, but I really adore Cut Copy, who we’re on tour with. I feel like we come from a lot of the same places musically. They’d probably deny that, but …
You both kind of have a love for pop mixed with indie sensibilities.
Yeah, we both love New Order. I used to love just going on and on about who I liked, but I just find myself looking back these days to stuff I loved when I was younger. Like, for the past couple of weeks all I wanted to listen to was Operation Ivy’s Energy. That was the best thing in the world for like two weeks.
You’ve been compared vocally to Robert Smith and lyrically to Morrissey. Do you find that flattering or would you rather not be compared?
I’ll take it as a compliment, but I feel horrible for Robert Smith. His voice is amazing — he’s got such a profound and distinct voice and I don’t think it’s that easy to imitate. I think it’s kind of odd. I don’t think anyone who makes that statement has actually put a Cure song back to back with one of our songs, because if they did so, his voice is just so much more powerful and pure. I take it as a compliment though — they’re people that I do admire.
So any similarity is not intentional?
I can understand why people [make those comparisons] — it just makes it easier to convey to readers, I suppose. Then again, I’ve spent a lot of time with the Cure, and I have spent loads of time with Morrissey and the Smiths, so…
It seems like the majority of indie-dance acts today are coming from abroad — the U.K., Australia, France, et cetera. Why do you think we’re not seeing more of it originate from here?
When we were in the U.K., everyone over there was saying that all the exciting music was coming from the States, whether it be us or the Cool Kids or MGMT. They were very enthusiastic about American groups, actually. I don’t know if it’s a case of the grass is always greener.
Black Kids have a very diverse makeup compared with a lot of other bands today. You have members of different races and sexes, and some of you are siblings. Is the fact that you’re not just a bunch of white guys something that helps set you apart and relate better to the audience?
In a way it does. I’m not sure why, but people have always kind of gravitated toward sibling groups. I think some people are just attracted to the fact that we’re all quite different but we look like we go together for some reason, so I’ve been told. I guess that’s what they mean by chemistry, there kind of is some appeal there…. And then when you just match it up with the killer music, it’s just domination. [laughs]
Some of your lyrics have a blatant sexual ambiguity, like the line, “You are the girl that I’ve been dreaming of/ Ever since I was a little girl” from “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You.” Is that just to be provocative, or is there a deeper meaning behind it?
I am a bit of a girl somewhat [laughs]. I just like the idea of toying with language — I’m a bit lazy, so it’s an easy way to make what could be a very mundane and boring, dull lyric into something slightly more interesting. I think it’s worked much more than I’d anticipated, because so many people ask that question, “Why do you use ‘girl’ instead of ‘boy’?” I don’t know. It just seems very obvious to others who are familiar with Bowie and Morrissey and Prince and stuff like that. I guess for most people, the shift is very odd.
I like using that as a tool — you can only use it so many times. It’s just too easy, really [laughs]. It is fun, because “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend” is such an elementary pop song — it’s just verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge — just pop, the most basic elements. If you’re gonna present it that way, there has to be something in there somewhat twisted or not quite right.
I think we try to do that in a lot of our tunes. Since everything is presented in a very straightforward pop fashion, we just want things to be slightly askew, whether it be lyrically or something we do instrumentally. Just to bother people. [laughs]
The video for “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend” has been getting a lot of attention. Did you have a lot to do with the concept?
Strangely, we usually have lots of ideas, but we didn’t have any ideas for it. That concept was the director, Chris Boyle’s.
Were you happy with how it turned out?
I think Chris did a wonderful job. It wasn’t quite what we envisioned, but I kind of like the way it’s just kind of wonky and silly in an Erasure/Pet Shop Boys kind of way. I’ve seen some of those videos and they’re just absurd — I spent an entire day once with a friend back home just smoking dope and watching Erasure videos. When I put it in that context, I was just like, “This is great!”
Will you be doing more videos?
We’ve already made a video for “Hurricane Jane.” It’s gone in the completely opposite direction. It’s made by Rozan and Schmeltz — the gentlemen who did the Justice vs. Simian “We Are Your Friends” video. They made a very cinematic video for us — these very beautiful, elaborate sequences for each one of us, basically each going off on some weird trip. It’s beautiful, really amazing.
Will you be putting out more remixes of future singles? The Twelves’ remix of “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend” has been really well-received.
We enjoy the remixes because it just gives us a chance to connect with artists that we’ve previously admired, like the Twelves. We asked this group in Toronto called the Cansecos to do a remix for us for “Hurricane Jane.” It’s brilliant; I love it. We’re also trying our hand at remixing things. We did a remix for Lykke Li for her song “I’m Good, I’m Gone,” and I think we’re going to attempt to do a remix for MGMT, who were kind enough to do a remix for “Hurricane Jane” as well.
Your debut album is coming out this month. What can you tell me about it? We’re gonna call it Partie Traumatic, after one of the songs. I didn’t really realize this until we were nearly done with the record, but it’s kind of like having a night out back home in Jacksonville. We all used to go out to this one very specific night — I guess it was just an indie-dance night — you could hear anything from old-school hip-hop to ’90s Chapel Hill indie rock, Detroit disco, Brit pop, just whatever. That’s what the album reminds me of — it sounds like we took every one of those classic hits and just rewrote it and said, “There’s our album!”
In that way it’s kind of pastiche, but the songs go into each other abruptly and awkwardly, which I don’t know how I feel about yet — like someone’s just made a mixtape and didn’t leave any space between the tracks and didn’t bother to beat-match. It was actually a creative decision, but I don’t know, it might have been a bad idea. We’ll see.
What would you like people to get out of it?
We would love for it to be a fun, party record. If you were just hanging out with your good friends in your living room and you put it on, you guys could have a little dance amongst yourselves. Also, Kevin and I were obsessive Weezer fans in high school, and the “blue album” kind of ruled our lives. There’s just, like, ten solid tracks — you loved every single one and you could listen to it from beginning to end. It was all about chicks, and you didn’t know anything about women but you just couldn’t wait to have your heart broken — it just seemed like the best thing in the world. We just wanted to do that once — make an album that we felt good about from beginning to end, the quintessential teenage record.
Tell me something surprising about Black Kids.
Half of us used to be very conservative fundamentalist Christians. We were gonna be like missionaries and Sunday school teachers.
So you were one of them?
Yeah. I am somewhat taken aback that this is where I landed.
I’m assuming your sister was also one of them, since you would have had a similar upbringing?
No, no, actually. It was just an odd self-inflicted thing. That’s actually how I met Kevin and Owen — we met at Sunday school.
When did you diverge from that path? As a teenager?
When I was much older. It was odd, because it was a very gradual decline in my spiritual convictions — it didn’t happen overnight. Logically, Christianity, and most religions in general, just didn’t hold up with me anymore. I guess it’s a common experience for a lot of people. We were still playing music, so in a lot of ways our music is still about the same things, but I think whereas before I would have probably tried to express some remorse or guilt, we just kind of cut that excess fat off. So now there’s just a smut.
Anything to add?
No, I’ve said way too much.