Today we sat and discussed the songwriting process with Bryce Barsten (BB), Kevin Chang (KC), and Michael Steiner (MS) of Noble Kids. Enjoy the interview!
How do you usually write the lyrics of your songs?
(MS) The lyrics were written both in response to music/ideas that were shared usually via quick demo, or completely separate from any musical context. A lot of the lyrics are written in transit from one place to another (it’s the perfect time for deep thought), but many start as frantic iPhone notes of single lines or paragraphs when I finally figure out an effective way to describe an idea or memory.
In your opinion, what is the most important thing in songwriting?
(BB) The foundation of the song should be strong enough where if you stripped back all the elements, the song still works and stands on its own. All the elements, and glitter you add on top is important, but secondary.
Are you ever scared of revealing aspects of your personal life/experience to strangers through your music?
(MS) ‘Messy Pretty’ was really the decision to let go of that fear. It’s one thing to reveal personal aspects of previous or ongoing relationships, but what was harder for me was writing about times when you were wrong, and cementing that in a song. A lot of the songs on messy pretty talk about admitting truths that at the time I wasn’t willing to accept. I think it’s unfair to equate a song about being sorry to an actual apology, but if anything they can be a lesson for the future.
What is the best lyric that you ever wrote (the most meaningful for you)?
(MS) I love the line in St. James that says “I’m praying now to St. James, She’s living off the R train, He’s living out of bags” It feels vague and specific at the same time. It talks about being in love with a man and a woman simultaneously as a detail, not a profound concept, and it sets the scene geographically in a place a lot of the audience can relate to; small rooms in New York. It’s followed up by “I never said he was perfect but St. James he was worth it” which is offered to the listener with a tinge of sarcasm that aims to say “I’m only now realizing that this may have not been the best but it was definitely good”.
What inspired “Rain Hat”, part of your latest album “Messy Pretty”?
(BB) Feeling the need to push the envelope. The record was almost done at the time, and Rain Hat felt too easy. It was folky, and well within our comfort zone. I started humming the melody over a driving root bass note one night, and it had me. I spent the next couple hours in my little home studio re-recording the song from the bottom up, adding side chained synths, electronic percussion, and other elements that were outside of the records palette. It was quick and dirty. And fun! Sometimes you get too serious recording, and you forget about the feeling that made you fall in love with music in the first place – getting lost.
And “St. James”?
(MS) St. James was built off of the memory of a painful realization: laying in bed next to someone at the moment you realize how much you care about them and at the moment you realize they don’t care about you anymore. The chorus recounts trying to silently will them to turn over and look at you, the reality was ending up in the bathroom recounting the situation to a friend on the phone.
Do you remember the day you wrote “Fuse”?
(MS) Lyrically, Fuse spawned from a text conversation with a friend about writing music about politics, but more specifically from an ongoing conversation about the hope that our generation could get to a place where we confidently disavow people and movements that don’t actually have our best interests in mind. The mention of brand loyalty and being resented by “the center” speak to the way our generation is evolving away from the social norms of our parents and grandparents generation. When I say “we have another year” it’s both a call to action but also a dig at the idea that we’ll always have an infinite amount of time to solve the problems facing our society.
(BB) Around the time I recorded the first demo, I had been writing a lot of playful guitar riffs (was in a deep deep War on Drugs hole). The demo had a long noodly guitar intro (was cut), and then a jam over a simple driving kick/snare beat. We recorded some vocals the following week, and then from there (two years ago), the song took many twists, turns, and alternate forms. We tried adding a keychange, and a wacky bridge, but in the end we settled with something simple, and true to the original vibe.
Is there a link/a common theme among the songs of the new album?
(MS) Collaboration, the sense of pushing and pulling and working together as a group.
What is the best suggestion your producer gave you?
(KC) – Hammond organ! Greg first suggested we use it while we were recording a piano rendition of our song ‘Ghosts’, and it just gave such an incredible vibe to the song
(MS) Working with Slow Machete (Joe Shaffer) who helped twist tracks and sounds to help us hear our songs in a different light. A lot of the ambient, peculiar sounds on the record came from Joe running sounds trough tape machines and other tools we’d ever heard of before! Joe is a friend of Greg Giorgio’s, and early on, Greg encouraged us to listen to his work and give him an opportunity to show us his style. We were hooked after the first demo!
(BB) Double what Michael said. Also, Greg connected us with Kit Karlson who has worked on a number of stellar records. He brought some massive sounds to a few songs (Jaws & Mirabeau).
What are your plans for 2019?
(MS) We want to focus on getting as many people to hear this record as we can! ‘Messy Pretty’ taught us about making sounds and songs we didn’t know we could and writing about things we didn’t think we should. Hopefully this experience will push all of us to keep pushing new boundaries.
To conclude the interview a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes to your mind:
- Define in one word your album “Messy Pretty”: (KC) – Open!
- The best show you ever played: (BB) – Our recent record release show (at Mercury Lounge). / (KC) – The first show I ever played with Bryce and Michael at a rooftop farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
- The one thing that you must have in your backstage: Indigestion.
- The soundtrack of your childhood: (MS) – Jimmy Eat World, No Doubt, nsync, the Wicked Soundtrack. / (BB) – Brand New, Deathcab, Coldplay. / (KC) – Wham, No Doubt, Classical Music.
- Your favorite song lyrically speaking, but not written by you: (MS) – I Am Not Waiting Anymore (Field Report) / (BB) – Not sure if they’re my favorite, but – ‘Okay, I Believe You, but My Tommy Guns Don’t’ by Brand New – are perma stuck in my head.
- Last question is “unusual”, we want to know your best relationship advice: (BB) Find someone to build up with. Be vulnerable. Don’t take cues from mass media. Don’t take advice from us.