Nerd out with Kirby Krackle
By Jarret Keene
When the world’s greatest comic-book nerd-rock band, Kirby Krackle, returns to the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival on Nov. 5, brace yourselves for what’s sure to be a fantastic live performance. The Seattle duo, which consists of Kyle Stevens and Jim Demonakos, will unshackle your brain from the Phantom Zone with escapist songs from their recent album Super Powered Love, as well as from their two previous and acclaimed discs?2009’s self-titled debut and 2010’s E for Everyone. Indeed, the Krackle pledges to crush your bad mood with tunes about your favorite comic heroes?Wolverine (“On and On”), Green Lantern (“Ring Capacity”), Thing (“One of the Guys”), and more.
We recently had a chance to talk with Stevens about the growing legion of Kirby Krackle fans, the band’s new musical and lyrical approach (evident in Super Powered Love), and the future of the nerd-rock genre.
VVCBF: What Kirby Krackle-related story sums up the massive fan growth your band has enjoyed since forming a mere three years ago?
KS: The thing we see growing year after year is the number of fans who come up to us at the conventions and tell us what their favorite songs are, what song they used in their wedding, what songs their 4-year-old child has memorized, etc. Those are the most special moments to us, because it means the music has tapped into their lives and hasn’t just stayed on their iPod. It’s a big compliment when people come up and share those things, and just really warms our hearts, or the places where our hearts should be! We love to rock, but we love the band/fan connection even more. It’s really important to savor those moments, because I have bands I feel like that about and I know how important to me it’s been when I’m able to express to them how much I love their music.
VVCBF: Did you ever imagine KK would be successful enough to play Las Vegas and release three well-reviewed albums in just three years?
KS: When we started KK, we had the attitude of, “Let’s just see how this goes,” and since then, we’ve been rewarded by nerds and music lovers alike. It’s hard work, but more than that, it’s a lot of fun. The past three years have equaled three albums and it sometimes just seems like a blur! We’ve been pushing really hard trying to spread the nerd-rock gospel, and playing Vegas last year was a blast. We’re excited to be back with our new album and are looking forward to meeting fellow freaks like us!
VVCBF: Has the recording process gotten any more glamorous over time?
KS: I think that, for me at least, it’s gotten less glamorous! That doesn’t equal less fun, but I used to see the studio as this big intimidating thing in the making of music. I always felt good in live settings, but the studio made me a little nervous. I think the fact we’ve put out three albums in as many years has made me, as a songwriter, more confident in what I know I can do in the studio and simultaneously makes me realize I have a long way to go! There was a lot of laughing during the making of this record, and I hope it sounds like we were having a great time, ’cause we were!
VVCBF: What’s a song that best represents what KK sets out to accomplish?
KS: It seems half the time we have a specific goal of what we want to accomplish, and the other half we have no idea where we’re going! We just want to make ourselves laugh, and trust that nerds like us will laugh, too. We also want to hit subject material from an unexpected angle and hope that we and the listener both feel something. Songs like “Booty Do Math” are supposed to be funny, but we deliver it with a dry tone that gives it an added dimension. For a song like “Needing a Miracle,” we mean what we say about longing and hopefulness. I think what we set out to accomplish lies somewhere in the middle of those two examples. Also, we want you to smile when you put your earbuds in!
VVCBF: The new album, Super Powered Love, is just as funny and clever and quirky as the previous ones. But it also has more heart and more of a positive and larger message regarding nerd culture in general and comics fandom in specific. For instance, the lyrics from “I Wanna Live in a World Full of Heroes” include “I wanna tuck my kids in tight and read ’em stories of superhuman glory while their sleepy faces beam.” Why is this?
KS: Let me be clear, Super Powered Love is not our last album, but in some ways I think we went at it like it was. To clarify, I think we wanted to swing for the fence and back a little away from specific subject matter and get to the grand view of why we love comics, video games, and nerd culture. We all love these things, right? And there you go, the answer once again is love itself. We wanted to challenge ourselves and our fans to show that nerd-rock could be more than just a song about the cool comic of the moment and that there’s much broader, and maybe at times more interesting, roads to explore. During the making of this album, I was also planning a wedding, looking to the future, and Jim and I were thinking about our places in our personal lives. I think those tones made their way onto the record and probably play a big part into why, across the board, fans say the new record has a lot more heart and earnestness. That’s a big compliment for us.
VVCBF: “Rainbow Bridge” is a great rock song that captures the epic scope of Thor comic books. How did that one come about? Did you submit it to the recent movie’s producers?
KS: Ha! We wrote and recorded “Rainbow Bridge” right as the last promo wagon of the Thor movie was being rolled out, so sadly, no. We’d been talking about a song about Odin’s favorite son for a while, and I had a riff lying around that I thought sounded like an Asgardian drinking song. Jim thought so, too, and the result of a few days is what you hear on the record. It feels like a sea shanty to me, and that’s always fun!
VVCBF: “Hunt ’em All Down” is a killer Transformers tribute. Are you guys fans of the old cartoon series/movie/toy line?
KS: I was, yes! My parents never forget to tell me I also cried and freaked out when I wasn’t skilled enough to “transform” them right away, but that’s a different discussion for another time. We wanted to write something that sounded very war-like and mechanical, and “Hunt ’em All Down” came out of our nerdy musical birth canal. I loved the old series, but after taking many years off from viewing it, both Jim and I were rusty. We turned to IDW’s The Transformers: All Hail Megatron writer Shane McCarthy to learn us anew.
VVCBF: The new album’s title track, “Super Powered Love,” is pure, candy-sweet power-pop, a tale of love told from a powerless boyfriend. Which is different. Safe to call you guys feminist nerd-rockers?
KS: We love the ladies. They smell better than us, are much cuter and are, for the most part, way smarter. I guess that means you could call us that! How cool would it be to have a super-powered girlfriend? Assuming she didn’t physically threaten you if you didn’t put away the dishes. Hey, even the hero ladies have bad days, too. If they were into us? You know we’d listen to their troubles, and then have them take us into space for a date. Hear that, hero ladies?
VVCBF: I bet they do. You get your Stones/Black Crowes on a bit with the wicked, vampire-themed blues-rock of “Bite of Another.” Was that your intention?
KS: Hells yeah! I’m a huge fan of Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, and the vibe that was then transferred to the Stones/Black Crowes. “Bite of Another” is completely self-indulgent. I wanted to have a song like that on the album, so damn it, we we’re gonna! I love singing like that, and it’s a jam I look forward to every night. For three minutes, we get to pretend we’re way less dorky than we really are and get our swaggering strut on. Well, it’s still a song about vampires, but you know what I’m trying to say.
VVCBF: Indeed, I do. “Comic Shop” is a hilariously clever duet and hip-hop jam about impressing ladies and men with the size of one’s subscription stack. How did you think of it? Did you guys write the lyrics?
KS: After he did such an awesome job vibing up “Roll Over” on [last year’s] E for Everyone, we know we had to bring our buddy Louis a.k.a. GMK the Great back again. “Comic Shop” was a last-minute addition to SPL that I’d been bugging Jim about for some time. We’d never done parody, and in fact we’ve always tried hard to let people know that that’s not what we are. Still, we had to do this song before someone else figured out the spoof potential. After realizing that I was really gonna suck on the rapping, we called up GMK and our new friend Kristina Horner to take care of the song for us! Live, I do the rap, and it’s really a new stretch for me as a performer. It’s good to push yourself though, and as long as 50 Cent’s lawyers don’t push on me, it’s all good!
VVCBF: What is up with “Booty Do Math”? My kids love singing along with it, but it has a ’90s R&B sound to it that gives me Boyz II Men flashbacks.
KS: Exactly! “Booty do Math” is me trying to make the mess that’s in my head a reality. Not being sarcastic here at all, but the song is the song I’m most proud of in my musical career thus far. I have a big affinity for late-’90s R&B, especially R. Kelly, Montell Jordan, and Ginuwine. I also think their lyrics are totally ridiculous, and for years have been fascinated with what can be sung to and by the masses without thinking, as long as it has a catchy hook. I probably just really love to sing this song from a primal place because of all the trouble I had in my school years with math. Before- and after-school tutoring was my life for a long time, and I just really wished something magical would come in and save me from it. Maybe the song is my Freudian wish fulfillment realized? I also just really get off on seeing tons of folks smiling and singing, “I wanna see that booty do math!” at the top of their lungs. I feel like I’m getting away with something. And that’s always fun!
VVCBF: How has the landscape of nerd-rock changed since you guys arrived on the scene?
KS: That’s a great question and one that we’re trying to stay on the pulse of daily. Three years ago when we started KK, we knew about nerd-core, which is rapping mostly about nerd culture and 8-bit gaming. We knew about MC Frontalot, who is the reigning king of the genre, as well as Jonathan Coulton, who along with Paul and Storm have their corner of the nerd-folk side of things. We saw the landscape pretty vacant in the vein of nerd-rock, so we stepped in to try to make something happen. After a year of doing what we do, a band by the name of H2Awesome came out of New York City with more of a slant toward what we do but with much better theatrical skills as their strength. To bring the game between nerd-core and us, Adam WarRock busted out making something new by combining rap and comics. A few things have changed, but we’re really surprised that more folks are not out there doing this. Other than H2 and Adam, we’re still the only band at the cons year-round. We’re a band that enjoys community, and right now there seems like there are these little pockets of folks doing their own thing instead of altogether. What we hope changes soon is for all of us to start working to build a united scene that will be better for everyone as a whole. We always encourage fans to start their own nerd bands and we’re eager share what we’ve learned both good and bad in the past three years. There’s room for everyone, and the hope of more and more community is what excites us. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing in the meantime!
VVCBF: Check this out, Kyle. My favorite Vegas nerd-rock band is symphonic black metal wizard rock Harry Potter tribute group Muggle Death Camp. What do you think?
KS: Whoa! All of a sudden I feel like Yanni.