August 11, 2007 was a day that changed Black Kids
forever: The yet-to-be-“discovered” synth-pop-rock group—comprising vocalist/guitarist Reggie Youngblood, his keyboardist sister Ali, her friend, and two of Reggie’s old bandmates—played Athens Popfest in Athens, Ga., and the show was quite the underground hit. Within days, the blogosphere was aflutter with positive buzz, which led the band to post a demo EP, Wizard Of Ahhhs
, later that month on its MySpace page. Pitchfork
awarded it an 8.4, and praise from Rolling Stone
and The New York Times
followed shortly. Then, after a whirlwind UK tour in early 2008, the band signed with Columbia and recorded Partie Traumatic
, a full-length that included most of the EP’s songs; this time, Pitchfork
gave it a 3.3, with an accompanying “review” consisting of a picture of two pugs (one white, one black) and the word “Sorry :-/.” The term “backlash” started getting thrown around shortly thereafter. But 28-year-old Reggie Youngblood doesn’t mind—he has grown in the last year, to the point where the criticism doesn’t seem to phase him. In anticipation of Black Kids’ set on April 15 at the Oriental Theater
, opening for Mates Of State
phoned Youngblood to get his take on the very nature of the band’s hype.
Decider: Were you surprised by the near-instant feedback you got after the Athens show?
Reggie Youngblood: Yeah, we were immensely surprised because we didn’t have any huge expectations. It’s so weird to think of it now, but a year ago our contact with the media and the industry was just … insane. It was just like an avalanche. It was really … unreasonable. [Laughs.] Not to say that we didn’t enjoy it.
D: Hear a lot of false promises?
RY: Naturally, yeah. [Laughs.] That’s just the nature of the business.
D: Do you remember anything specific?
RY: I think it happens to maybe two bands every year—they get insane buzz, and then labels just kind of descend upon them and offer them the moon. But the thing is, it was probably wasted on us. We didn’t ask for anything; bands ask for outrageous things just to string labels along, but we were too dull to think of anything.
D: Was the buzz the reason you immediately started working on your LP?
RY: Immensely. We recorded our record in, like, 17 days. We didn’t really like that bit. We like to take our time and do things. We were advised that this was a situation where, if you take forever to record an LP … I don’t know, basically, take advantage of whatever momentum there is. I didn’t really enjoy that, but I saw where they were coming from. Once you get in the machine, and if it’s something that you’ve never done before, it would take a lot of assertiveness to just say, “Hey, can we just slow it down a bit?” [Laughs.]
D: Did anything specific about all the media attention catch your attention?
RY: Well, it’s funny because in the early days, when things were beginning to take off, we were officially recognized as being a really great live band. Then people would share the demo, and they’d prefer the demo. Then they’d come see us live and they’d go, “Whoa, they suck live.” [Laughs.] Other people were just like, “No, no, I enjoy their recordings, but they’re no good live,” and then other people would be like, “I enjoy them live but these recordings are shit,” and you’d get this reverb off of it. We were just kind of working from this mentality that it was about fun and enthusiasm, and that was kind of an indie mentality. And then we realized that these indie blogs were really a stickler for straight performance.
D: In another interview you called the album “cursed.” What did you mean by that?
RY: [Sighs.] I don’t remember saying that, but if I did, the reason would probably be that, for people who picked up on us from the EP, that’s what they’re going to like. The majority of the LP is just the EP re-recorded, so there was no way it was going to be embraced by people who heard it on the radio. It was fucked from the beginning—and I guess with that in mind, we just figured, “Well, this isn’t really for people who’ve heard our demo. This is for a new audience.”
D: That’s an interesting shift.
RY: Yeah, it is a bit odd. I suppose it’s just that decision to go from being indie into what we became. We signed onto a major label. I’m not sure if it was the best decision. I don’t know. I’m not a kid anymore. [Laughs.] None of us are, really.
D: Pitchfork loved your EP, but completely slammed the LP. Where do you see that sudden shift coming from?
RY: I don’t know what to think. I mean, I don’t really know anything about them. It’s like this faceless entity. [Laughs.] That’s the one thing I don’t really like about that site. Ultimately, I think it’s fine. I mean, if you are going to accept praise from someone, you have to be ready to accept the criticism as well.
D: Well, in this case, it's more like positive criticism versus a total lack of criticism.
RY: [Laughs.] Yeah, yeah. It’s a mystery to this day. It’s kind of like, they were so put off by it, they couldn’t even describe what it was about it that bothered them? It's kind of worrisome. But I guess … it sounds like a really obvious thing, but the record is for people who like it.
D: As your band gained buzz, did your fans change?
RY: It went from people who enjoy being the first to hear something new to just casual music fans. I said several times, when it was all happening, that I felt like there was a knob that adjusted through formation—that it was on, like, 10—and I would have preferred it to be on 6, maybe 6.2.
D: Almost every blog post or article about you says either, “They lived up the hype,” or “They failed to live up to the hype.” It’s almost a 50-50 split. This may seem obvious, but is there a middle ground?
RY: Yeah, it’s funny. Though, every time an article mentions “hype,” it’s like it invents itself and is perpetuated by it. I just try to think about why are we being thought of as this hype band. People think, “The only reason these kids are anywhere is just because an article keeps saying ‘hype, hype, hype,’” and that’s what’s propelling us forward, But what’s frustrating is that we have written some songs here that, whenever we perform, people seem to enjoy, so isn’t that just … skills? What the fuck? [Laughs.]