Hailing from Washington State, Kye Kye is a self-described indie band, if their sound and mission can be called only one thing. A group comprised of family members, the band chooses to do most things themselves, and thus depend upon beautifully unique vocals, an unforgettable live show, and an unwavering vision to get the word out. It’s working, and they were kind enough to grant Mars’ Hill some of their time to talk about home, T.V shows, the music industry, and the driving force behind it all. Introduce yourself/yourselves and any members not participating in this interview, and tell us what you each do in the band. Hey everyone. We are Kye Kye and we consist of Olga (vox/guitar), Timothy (programming/guitar), Alex (piano), & Thomas (drums).
Kye Kye is a family, literally. What is your family dynamic and how does it influence the band? Olga is sister to Tim and Alex, and married to Thomas. Being family in a band is actually really amazing. Being able to create music and share passions with the ones that we love most has been quite an amazing experience. Since we are all such close friends anyway, being in a band really has been a hidden blessing for all of us. It has really solidified the foundation of what we do. Plus, tour stories make for good Thanksgiving family dinner ;)
You identify as being Eastern European. Can you explain your roots there and how it has influenced the band? Our parents came to America from Estonia when we were babies, so we pretty much grew up speaking a different language around the house, immersed in that culture. Everything from what we ate to how we spent our time was different. We stayed up late while our dad and mom sang songs they had written or hymns they brought with them from Estonia that we really knew very little about, but that we got a very strong feeling for in our home. It was normal for the accordion or piano or guitar to be played into the early hours of the morning. Now later in our lives we really reach down to those roots. We turn to music for comfort, to get us through things, to express our feelings, to feel a connection. That upbringing was huge for us in our musical lives and it obviously left some lasting impressions on us.
Now you’re based in Vancouver, Wa., so you’re very close to Portland. How would you describe your involvement in Portland’s music scene? Portland has been really good to us, which is awesome considering it’s a very competitive music scene. The environment here in the Northwest is incredible. The people are friendly, honest, and open to new ideas and sounds. We always say that the downside is that it can get over-saturated and eclectic; especially in the live music aspect—too much can actually hurt you more than help you. But then I guess surviving Portland should make everything else a breeze. :) We love the Northwest and are proud to make Portland our home show on tours.
Are there any other up-and-coming local bands we should know about? One local band that we have always loved is Garage Voice out of Centralia, WA.
What music do you listen to as individuals or as a band that might influence your music writing? Or that you simply think we should know about? We never had some kind of loyalty to a specific type of music. Be it folk, R&B, or anything classically 80s or 90s, it was always about the connection and about listening for honesty in the music, and I think that most people can somehow feel it without really being able to explain how. Our influences are kind of all over the board.
You did a cover of U2’s With or Without You in 2011 that’s gotten a good amount of attention (and it’s awesome). Why did you choose this song? Yeah, it’s been great to see such a great response from the cover. We really just did it for fun and more for us than to get big exposure or anything, but it has turned out to be a really great tool for people to come to know our own music. With or Without You is an amazing classic that we grew up with. We also really wanted to pick a song that challenged our range and sonic palate, and we thought that this song would be a fun choice.
Your music is featured on the soundtrack for the upcoming film Renee, which tells the story of the non-profit organization, To Write Love On Her Arms. How were you connected with being a part of the film? We were actually asked out of the blue by a guy named Josh from Florida. He worked for a licensing company that was doing the music production/licensing for that film and he heard about us through Relevant magazine. We built a relationship with him and learned what the movie was about and actually got to screen it while we were down in Florida on tour. It is one of the weirdest/coolest things to hear your music in a motion picture, really humbling actually. After a couple years, we ended up building a great relationship with Josh and now he manages us.
Kye Kye has come up in an interesting time in the music industry, with more and more bands remaining unsigned and opting to navigate the music world themselves. You’ve also chosen this path, so enlighten us; what are its advantages and disadvantages? I guess we will start out by saying that it is a crazy time in the music industry and also a really exciting time as well. Our business model and mentality has always been to go in the direction that we feel our music needs, not where someone else wants to take it. We aren’t the type of people that are opposed to labels and won’t get near the smell of a corporation in music, but we also aren’t one of those bands that thinks our only option at getting our music out to fans on a greater scale is by signing our life away to a label. We really think that it’s possible for you to do what YOU want to do the way YOU want to, especially with how accessible music is these days. Whether that’s with a label or not.
You should never compromise what you want to do because people tell you that you won’t “make it” if you don’t sign with a label, or that you can’t be yourself if you DO sign with a label. Labels have done some really great things for bands in the music industry, and “indie” bands have gone to radical new heights without labels in the past decade. Both can be a great thing, if used in the context of what your music needs. We don’t think you should ever compromise your music for anyone, so if a label is trying to make you become someone that you don’t want to be, sound like someone you don’t’ want to sound like, then you are far better off doing things yourself. For us, we are not opposed to a label, and if one comes along that meets our list of demands :) then we will take that opportunity from there, but for now we are just believing that our music will do some great things in the industry and are putting all our effort and resources into doing it on our own and building our own team to help us.
Kye Kye’s lyrics have obvious roots in scripture, which would traditionally put you under the label of “Christian Music.” It’s a big question, but what’s your reaction to that? It is a loaded question and we run into it a lot, and there is no way to answer that in a simple way. But, here is our reaction. Honestly, we think that this will be a question asked less frequently as we move forward. We believe the reason for that is: making money as its main priority, a lot of the "Christian music industry" has become somewhat irrelevant to everyone, except maybe some church members. When we say "Christian music industry" we don't mean all of it. There are artists that are doing great things, but all in all it’s rare for music that’s produced by the "Christian music industry" to find its way to people other than church members, which we think is unfortunate. Not necessarily because we think that Christian musicians are missing an opportunity to evangelize or anything like that, but because sadly most of it just can’t compete artistically. More disturbing is that somehow there is at best a limited connection being made with people who are going through the same things we Christians are going through: love, hate, pain, hope, searching for meaning and purpose and God, and all the other realities of life that are usually expressed and connected to through music. Somehow a lot of the time those genuine expressions are not there. So unless something changes in the near future, I believe that "Christian music" will eventually phase out completely. And hopefully it will rebuild into something where artistic expression can be made not for money or the acceptance from others but rather out of the acceptance that we have in Christ. Hopefully more music with genuine heartfelt experiences is made and supported by this new music industry of the future.
At the core of what we do, of what we sing about, and the driving force behind our passion for music is our faith; our honest expression of it, and that will never change. However, we don’t tend to sound like what’s playing on Christian Radio. We fit somewhere closer to and along the lines of the general market, so we often find ourselves at a crossroads.
It’s not an easy place to be. We try to be positive through this and know that our music has its place, and we have seen a demand for similar bands like us that neither the Christian industry nor the general market are supplying to listeners. So we will do the best we can to market this album, our music, and our message to reach as many people as we can without cornering ourselves and turning people away from our music.
I recently wrote an article about how the worship music industry has become a strategic organization in which labels dictate the direction of artists’ music. As Christians, how do you feel about this? We whole-heartedly oppose this tactic that the worship music industry is using. It’s obviously sad to see an industry throwing their artist through an “assembly line” type process to create a specific end result. We believe that this basically strips the artist of the ability to make honest art that can connect with people. So in the end they're just shooting themselves in the foot.
It’s sad to see this happening in an industry that is supposed to support their artists and allow worship music to be this passionate, changing, spirit-filled movement, when in reality, a lot of the time those artists aren’t even writing those songs. For us, it’s almost inconceivable to make music and be true to ourselves if we are stripped of the freedom to be able to express ourselves both lyrically and musically. Like we mentioned in the question before this one, we think that this process can only go on for so long before it collapses on itself.
Another thing that’s worth mentioning is that this doesn’t just happen in the Christian industry. We see it happening in the mainstream market every day. At the core of the decisions that lead to this is fear. The music industry in general has been freaking out because of all the changes happening in the way music is distributed, so it’s trying to kill all elements of risk. The problem with that is the extreme that it’s being taken to. The music industry 10 years ago was taking bigger risks on new upcoming artists, and now if you don’t fit their “mold” you are too much of a liability for them to invest in you. In the process, the honesty is removed from the music, and that’s the one thing we always say is the most important element in someone’s art. Like we mentioned above, you need to stay true to your calling for your music. The moment that you let a label, fan, producer, and your mom dictate who you “should be/sound like” you begin to cater to them instead of letting your art naturally flow out of you. This is not to say you can’t get advice from people who have been doing this a lot longer than you, but often we find that it’s the motivation behind the advice that you need to guard yourself from.
You guys just got back from Nashville where you recorded your sophomore album. How was that experience? We spent the whole month of January in Nashville recording this upcoming album and it was just a great experience. We definitely learned a lot about the recording process and ourselves as musicians and how we work/write best, which is something that every musician needs to learn and refine. Working with our producer and some musicians that make some guest appearances on this album was such a beautiful creative force to be a part of. We can’t wait for y’all to hear it!
How was this recording process different from that of Young Love? This record had 3 years of maturity pushing it forward, and we definitely feel that made its way into the music. Not only does this album reach a new depth and understanding musically, but we all have gone through a lot personally and as a band over the past 3 years that, content wise, this album really hits home for us and speaks to our hearts. We feel will really hit home with listeners out there as well. Young Love was our very first real recording experience, so just the process in itself was a little more refined for this record.
Which producer did you work with? We had the privilege of working with our now good friend Chad Howat (Paper Route, Joy Williams, Brooke Fraser, etc). His insight into our sound definitely helped mold it to where it needed to go. And if you haven’t checked out his band Paper Route, please do yourself a huge favor!
When can we expect the new album? We are still working on an exact release date, but we are aiming for Summer/Fall 2013!
Any tour plans? We have been getting some tour offers that are still up in the air. We’re working on building our live production for 2013/2014. As many of our live fans probably know, we are huge on making a Kye Kye concert more than just the music, but creating an experience. We feel like this album has even more to offer musically which will flow into a greater use of production and visuals. We are soooo excited for our live show in the next year, and equally excited to share the stage with some mind-blowing artists!
And just for fun: What’s been the best touring experience you’ve had so far? We toured with our good friend John Mark McMillian in the SE and the SW and that was by far one of the most fun tours. Those guys are some of the kindest southern gentlemen you will meet. They have such genuine hearts and have an amazing passion for what they do. And some of those nights at our hotels hanging out with them by the pool just chatting were some of the best times for us on a tour. Every show was truly amazing, the crowds were awesome and kind, soaking in the music, and wanting to connect with us and chat after the show. We love when we get passionate fans at our shows; it is so encouraging to us!
Do you have a favourite city to visit while on tour? Nashville hands down is our second favorite city, behind Portland ;)
Anything else you care to tell us? Favourite restaurants? Portland travel advice? TV shows we should all be watching? Favoruite SNL skits? Etc. etc. Some of our favourite TV shows right now are Breaking Bad, Homeland, we love SNL, Jimmy Fallon, eating Pho & Thai (not on the road though, you can never trust Yelp! or the Midwest with random ethnic restaurants haha). Come see us on the road this year! And thank you for the interview.
Check out Kye Kye at http://kyekyemusic.com/