Kings Go Forth rule Milwaukee
Decider talks with one of the city's most popular bands
Kings Go Forth are the new darlings of the local music scene. In February, the band took home an armful of Radio Milwaukee music awards, including Best New Artist, Song Of The Year, Artist Most Likely To Blow Up, Live Performance Of The Year, and Listeners’ Choice Artist Of The Year. Not bad for a group with only two singles to its name. (The band’s first full-length album is scheduled for July.) Kings Go Forth’s popularity is due in large part to its raw and retro R&B sound, which employs funky backbeats, big horns, three-part vocals, and naturalistic, lo-fi production. It’s what you would expect from Andy Noble, co-owner of the old school soul vinyl shop Lotus Land Records and a popular club DJ known for The Get Down dance party at Mad Planet. But there are nine (sometimes 10) other people in Kings Go Forth, including drummer-percussionist Jeremy Kuzniar, a local scene vet who also plays in Latin jazz group De La Buena, among other local ensembles. In advance of Saturday's show at Mad Planet—the band's last Milwaukee show until July—Kuzniar talked about Kings Go Forth with Decider.
Decider: Kings Go Forth has been tagged as a retro soul band. Is that an accurate label?
Jeremy Kuzniar: It seems like we’ve kind of morphed into that sound. It’s not something that we set out trying to do. Andy Noble’s original thoughts were that the band would be steeped in Jamaican music, namely heavy Jamaican soul. While that is some of the stuff that we have covered, the idea is that we’d be genre-undesignated, just that the emphasis would be on vocals. But because of the rhythmic aspects of the band, retro soul is sort of a label that is applied. The original concept was to put together a group that would allow for constant three-part harmony and unison vocals. Basically, we want to create vocal tapestries of sorts.
D: Milwaukee is a segregated city, and so is its music scene for the most part. Is the racially diverse makeup of Kings Go Forth part of the band’s appeal?
JK: We’re starting to see that as we continue to play venues that are in different neighborhoods. As a result of Milwaukee’s segregation, I think certain people only come out to see shows in certain neighborhoods. We play a lot in Riverwest right now, which is a place that has the potential to be pretty intermingled. And I think our semi-partnership with 88.9 is something that facilitates a more diverse crowd because that’s one of their goals in terms of the station’s format—they say stuff like “diverse music for a diverse city” in their tagline. But we’re not consciously setting out to do that. If it happens that would be fantastic.
D: Diversity isn’t something you can force.
JK: One of the problems that I’ve experienced in trying to play music for a certain ethnic makeup, age group, niche, demographic, or whatever is if you consciously set out to try and do that, no matter what, you’re going to get something totally unexpected back in return. If Kings Go Forth set out to play hardcore, we’d look pretty funny doing it and might be able draw that kind of audience. In actuality, we’re just 10 or 11 guys playing the way we play together, and what we get back is what we get back in terms of audience makeup. And if it’s integrated, that’s great. And we have seen that. We’ve done shows with De La Buena, and we’ve seen some of that audience carry over, so there’s definitely crossover happening.
D: Does the retro soul revival have staying power, or will it go the way of the swing revival of the '90s and fizzle out?
JK: I think it has the potential to have staying power if the artists that are making it aren’t hokey about it. If they’re setting out to be like, “We’re gonna make soul music!” it’s going to be perceived as a throwback thing instead of an original thing. If you can’t figure out whether something was recorded in the 1960 or in 2009 after a couple of minutes of listening, it says to me the artist isn’t trying to make something heartfelt, but rather create something that’s a total throwback. And it’s those throwbacks that will be more of a flash-in-the-pan. But music that has modern relevance will leave its own mark creatively and artistically.