When Black Kids take the stage at Underbelly, topping a bill that includes Personnes and Kids, it will have been a while since their last show in the United States.
“If I'm not mistaken, I think our last show was July 2011 at Jack Rabbits, on a breezy night filled with the scent of Red Bull,” said keyboardist/vocalist Ali Gabut Youngblood, writing from the joint email account shared by the group.
“It was great. I was strangely nervous,” added her brother, lead singer/guitarist Reggie Youngblood.
What Black Kids accomplished in their first three years as a band raised the bar to a level even pole vaulter Sergey Bubka would balk at. The quartet already qualifies as one of the great stories of the local music scene, and the methods by which that happened will be noted by other musicians for years to come. They were among the first wave of American bands to effectively monetize their digital footprint, using social media and sites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify and Kickstarter to augment old-fashioned networking and traditional media to develop a practical business model that could be easily replicated, allowing new musicians to ply their trade on their own terms, engaging fans directly, independent of external structures.
Their acclaimed 2007 EP “Wizard of Ahhhs” drew them right into the vortex of indie-rock stardom, propelled by the single “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You.” With strong press from influential outlets like Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and BBC Radio 1, they punched their own tickets onto the festival circuit and made their name as a band that summer. They signed with Columbia Records, released the “Partie Traumatic” LP in 2008, received an A- from rock critic Robert Christgau, made best-of lists at Spin, NME, the UK Guardian and the New York Post, which ranked it No. 4, played CMJ, Coachella, Big Day Out and Glastonbury. And then they took a break. The usual crazy rock rumors floated — all false.
Bassist Owen Holmes (aka Owen Cohen) has always been a jack of all trades; he did radio and TV work in a past incarnation as a reporter for Folio Weekly, where he played a significant role in advancing the debate on climate-change in this region. He migrated to Brooklyn and began working on his upcoming debut LP, “A Prayer for Owen Cohen,” which also features Black Kids drummer Kevin Snow, who recently became a father.
“My state of mind with my own music is ‘I want to be [Divine Comedy frontman] Neil Hannon’; my state of mind with Black Kids is ‘I want to be [The Smiths bassist] Andy Rourke,’ ” Holmes said.
All the while, the band has been methodically putting together material for their second album, which is being recorded by Jesse Mangum in Athens, Ga.
“I kind of think of it like this: Black Kids = keyboards. Solo = no keyboards,” said Reggie Youngblood, who tends to take the lead in what is ultimately a fairly collaborative songwriting process.
“The newest BK material (because we did make an album, then scrapped it) is something we can be proud of,” said Ali Youngblood, who also does solo work, as Badminton. “We at first tried to write songs as a whole. We sorely realized it’s best to do it like we did the first time, let Reggie write the skeleton of the songs.”
Reggie Youngblood’s been piling up solo material as well, “basically an ode to the power pop that I love: Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Tobin Sprout, Big Star, Sloan … er, Ginblossoms.” He’s also working as a DJ, which makes for the occasional awkward moment with fans: “Occasionally, people will request a BK jam, and I politely decline. Don't look good. Besides, I'd rather play some KWS ‘Please Don't Go’ or KLF — which is basically the template for all our songs.”
Black Kids are returning to the road this August for a week-long swing up the East Coast, with eight shows in as many days.
“I'm ecstatic about playing live again, especially with BKs,” said keyboardist/vocalist Dawn Watley, who’s spent much of her time in Portland, alternating between music and medical work. “I can't wait to eat Wagamama in Boston, and I’ve always loved the crowds in D.C.”
The mini-tour begins at Underbelly Aug. 17, then proceeds through Atlanta, Raleigh, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston before ending with two nights in New York City, in venues Holmes is already well familiar with: “Mercury Lounge, being in Manhattan, is fancy, and a draft beer probably costs $7; Glasslands, being in Brooklyn, is not fancy, and a draft beer probably costs $6. Glasslands happens to be where Gospel Music (my other other band) has had its best show, a couple years ago.”
All those venues will be filled with the ravenous fanbase built up over the past few years.
“We've played all the cities except for Raleigh,” Reggie Youngblood said. ”Lock up your kittens, Raleigh.”
As the band and its members initiate this next phase of their careers, it makes perfect sense that the tour begins where everything began.
“We've had great experiences in all these cities and expect more of the same,” Youngblood said. “But Jax is going to rule, duh.”