Black Kids Are Back

by BONNIE THOMAS
I got a whiff of something that will make Drew Barrymore and 104k other people (most of them not living in Jacksonville) pretty darn happy when I was poking around on Facebook. After many years of dormancy and rumored death, Black Kids are stirring. The five bandmates are gearing up for a tour along the Atlantic seaboard, and while you can expect to hear hits from Partie Traumatic, their debut album, they’ll be testing out new material as well.
Reginald Youngblood, the band’s lead singer and guitarist, and Kevin Snow, the drummer, sat down with me one innocuous morning in Bold Bean’s back garden to discuss the lull, their fame and their new music. I got a torrent of information while I observed some of the play between these longtime friends. Throughout the interview my stereotype of band dynamics wavered; although a voluble Reggie often spoke first, mostly they riffed upon each other’s themes.
When Black Kids were first a thing seven years ago, they skipped the normal progression from a local, regional, national to international name. They played a fair number of shows here in 2006, but then a friend “bullied” them into taking a spot at the Athens Popfest in 2007. One year later their first single ‘I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You’ debuted at number 11 on the U.K. charts. Their ensuing album debuted at number five in England and at 127 in the U.S.
“We were so obviously influenced by British bands, and they devour music over there,” says Reggie. The cultural cohesion and the dense infrastructure of a small island let them tour the whole thing, figuratively exploding on their scene. “Here, it’s more about what the radio station is playing,” says Kevin, noting that L.A. people would listen to their stations and other cities would listen to theirs. On their meteoric rise to fame missing their hometown, Kevin says, “We’re known as Kevin and Reggie, not those guys in a band.” “I would say that is preferable,” adds Reggie.
So, there the Black Kids were, unbeknownst to Jacksonville, yet poised to melt the face of the music world. And then nothing, no sophomore album in five years, not even a show for three years. “I think it’s natural if you don’t hear from a group for forever, you assume it didn’t work out. We never said it’s over–never broke up, never did anything official,” says Reggie. “We heard the word ‘momentum’ a lot,” says Kevin. “There is this perceived idea that you have to strike while iron is hot, [but for us] it has been a slow burn,” says Reggie. They regularly get messages saying, “Hey, I just heard your album for the first time,” and new fans add them on Facebook in a steady stream.
Although they started work on a sophomore album right after Partie Traumatic, they were just not feeling it. “We love each other, but we’d been around each other too long. There was a feeling of trying too hard,” says Kevin. During the hiatus, Reggie says his sister Ali Youngblood, who plays keyboards and sings backup, has been writing a lot. Bassist Owen Holmes has been the busiest musically, creating an EP and two records, with Kevin on the drums. (Find his stuff here: www.facebook.com/owencohenmusic.) Reggie worked on some mostly unreleased solo stuff, saying, “I don’t know what I want to do with [it…maybe] press a vinyl and leave it at that?” Kevin also did the videography for Reggie’s song ‘Taylor Swift’ (www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Q6ct3opjpk). Oh, and Kevin and his wife had an abnormally adorable baby.
The Black Kids have given each other not only time to do their own things but also space. Owen moved to Brooklyn, while Dawn Watley, who sings backup and plays the keyboard, moved to Portland. Reggie jokes that to make the diaspora complete they need someone in Austin. But a few months ago, they broke their interminable lull, convening in Athens to record. They met at a “brilliant” studio, The Glow, created by D.A.S.O.T.A. graduate and good friend, Jesse Mangum.
“Athens was a space to write and play,” says Reggie. Although they hadn’t done anything as a unit for three years, “It came back like riding a bike. It felt fun again,” says Kevin. But surely, after all that time apart, the band had changed? “It seems like it’s a little more…,” Reggie trails off, and they both burst out laughing. “I wanna say it’s a little more relaxed, but it’s kinda the same,” Reggie finishes.
They make new tunes much like they always have: Reggie brings in a skeleton of an idea that may have been lying around forever, waiting to be mixed with stuff on the spot, and then they jam a bit to see how to flesh it out. In the early days they created material because they had already booked a show and needed new songs to play. The deadlines of being in a studio similarly took the pressure from abstract to concrete.
“Our hope is to get some new music out there soon. We look up to My Bloody Valentine though, so–next album in 20 years,” Kevin laughs. Fans will be gratified to know that new recordings actually exist, but what should they prep their ears for once a full album is made? “The music will be similar to Partie Traumatic, but lyrically it will be different–not as absurd,” says Reggie. “I sang [one of our old songs], and I was like, ‘That’s the fucking lyric?’ I’m not in that same frame of mind anymore. We didn’t bring a cello in for it, but it felt like our version of a ‘mature’ second album.” “Maybe one and a half,” banters Kevin. “Yeah, no cello,” says Reggie. “Aren’t we bringing in a gospel choir?” asks Kevin, and Reggie answers, “They bailed.” I am still not sure if they were joking.
Not only was new music born, but the act of playing together catalysed a tour. Reggie describes the humble eight dates in America as “low key,” but there are plans of future dates in Brazil. “We are genuinely looking forward to being together and playing music. I think it’s exciting for everyone to go out and do it again, us and the band’s fans. I was just thinking about Underbelly. There are going to be a lot of people who have never seen us. I’m most excited about playing in Jacksonville this time around,” says Kevin.
tour dates
SAT 8/17 JACKSONVILLE, FL Underbelly
SUN 8/18 ATLANTA, GA The Earl
MON 8/19 RALEIGH, NC King’s Barcade
TUE 8/20 WASHINGTON DC DC9
WED 8/21 PHILADELPHIA, PA Johnny Brenda’s
THUR 8/22 BOSTON, MA The Sinclair
FRI 8/23 NEW YORK, NY Mercury Lounge
SAT 8/24 BROOKLYN, NY Glasslands

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