We caught up with Steven Milne from Aberdeen indie disco pop band The Little Kicks. We asked them how “four friends with similar music tastes” got together and what their plans are for 2017
You must have been quite young when you got together, did you meet by chance or were you friends? What made you form the band?
The band ultimately began because four friends with similar music tastes wanted to create and make their own original music and that’s still our main goal. The four of us have all been friends for a long time and know each other via playing in other bands on bills together or just hanging out within our city’s music scene. It’s been a long time since we first formed and our line-up has changed drastically since those early beginnings but I’m really pleased to say that the few previous members we have continue to be friends and still support us. I’m even pretty certain they would agree with me that the line-up we have now is our strongest and that we are finally achieving the sound and production level that we have always wanted. We all really enjoy hanging out together and playing gigs on the understanding that ultimately it has to be fun or what’s the point!
Is there any particular band/artist that inspired you to write your particular genre of music?
I think every band member would give a different answer to this question which I think is a really healthy thing but while we all probably have different influences there are some we share. Bands like Local Natives, LCD Soundsystem, Fleetwood Mac, Foals, Hot Chip, Talking Heads, David Bowie, The Beatles and Arcade Fire come to mind as mutually appreciated production reference points on our new record. In terms of writing we never want to sound like another band but we certainly take influence from hearing sounds on other records when in the studio or practice room. The bands mentioned above all also care greatly about things like artwork and how any physical product is designed, marketed and produced too which is something that is very important to us too.
You’ve performed in lots of venues and festivals throughout the UK, Europe & Japan? What are your favourite and least favourite venues? Is there anywhere you haven’t played that you would like to play in the future?
Playing in Japan is something I will always remember as it was so surreal but I have to say the crowds in Scotland and Germany take some beating. My favourite gig that comes to mind was on our last European tour when we played a pretty random campus in Luneberg, Germany with very low expectations. People were dancing from the intro to the first song, and to play so far from home to such a response is an amazing experience. We have played some big venues too which is always a rush but I have to say I love the small sweaty intimate gigs just as much as the big venue shows. It doesn’t seem fair to name and shame a least favourite venue so I’ll pass on that but trust me we have plenty bad experiences we could talk about too! For me the dream venue to play would be the Glasgow Barrowland. It’s just an amazing room with so much heritage and going to a gig there now is just as exciting as when I first went there as a 14-year-old, so that would be a bucket list show for sure.
Is there a main songwriter in the band or do you all collaborate together?
I generally write the songs at home and bring them into the room for us to work on together. Sometimes they come pretty fully formed and I send them round via a demo or if it’s a more complicated idea that can’t be put across adequately via solo guitar or piano. Other times perhaps when the idea is in its infancy and before I have worked out where to go with it (or maybe don’t know!) I just come in with a song and we play through it and test it out. I feel very lucky to be in a band and have three other very talented guys that are prepared to give up their time to work on my little ideas. So I have to say that while I would claim to be the main songwriter the material is certainly always all the stronger for the bands contributions and creative input.
As a band, has there been any big or tough challenges that you have had to overcome? Is so, how did you overcome them?
Obviously we live in a time now where less and less people buy music. So I think for many bands such as ourselves who don’t have a label the biggest challenge is to make high quality recordings of our music, then get it released and somehow convince people to buy it. We are quite lucky to be at a similar age to our audience so it is our understanding that like us our audience doesn’t want MP3s but they will be interested in things like vinyl and limited edition merchandise, etc. So for our last record, when we launched the album we decided to do things differently to raise interest so we put on the show deliberately in a limited capacity – normally non-gig – space and included a physical product of the album and limited edition print with every gig ticket. This meant the show sold out and created a buzz around the weekend of the release which helped the next show in terms of advance sales and building an identity (which is another massive problem!). With so many other bands to choose from or to go and see every night you really have to do your best to try and offer something alternative to stand out – I would like to think we have our own identity and sound now; but it’s taken a lot of time.
You obviously spend a lot of time in each others company during tours and practice sessions etc… Do any of you have any bad or annoying habits? If so can you share with what they are?
I think we have learned now to be pretty good at giving each other space in the van and if it ever gets tense for any reason a comedy film on an iPad or the stereo goes on! However, we haven’t toured in a wee bit so maybe if you asked me again in the spring I would have a list a mile long! The guys would say plenty about me I am sure (but it’s all lies of course). My pick is easy and goes to the other three who are obsessed with watching Class of ‘92 via an iPad with audio blaring via the van. I honestly think I have seen it 800 times and while it’s good, and I get it, I am 100% sick of it. They know this of course. I think because I can’t drive I am being punished for being an idle passenger and if that’s so, then that is probably fair enough!
Since your debut album (Boxing Clever) in 2009, you’ve released on average an album every two years until 2013, is there any particular reason that you’ve waited four years to release your fourth album?
Simply put – we wanted it to be right. After “Put Your Love in Front of Me” came out in late 2013 we did several tours and quite a lot of gigs for the whole year after and it was only when that was finished in late 2014 that I started to write again. We spent a lot of time in our practice room getting the songs and sounds perfect before looking to hit the studio and then we decided the best way to record the album would be to set up our own studio in a cabin on the banks of Loch Ness and live there for two weeks recording 24/7! That took a fair bit of time to prepare and set up so we did that in spring 2015, and following that spent that summer doing overdubs and additional strings and percussion at The Depot Studios in Edinburgh. The album was then mixed there over the Autumn last year and mastered at Abbey Road in early 2016 and here we are. It has been difficult to sit on it for so long when all you want is for people to hear it but we felt it was important after spending so long on the music that it got the release campaign it deserved. So we used some more time this year to prepare and plan a full release campaign, film videos, record B-sides, court remixes and also consult some peers on advice for lead singles as we couldn’t agree as a band! Now we are on the verge of the second single coming out and it’s very exciting indeed – but as you say it has been a long journey!
Has your music changed since you started playing together and how has it evolved since your debut album?
I would certainly say our musicianship has improved over time. I certainly feel I can sing better than at any point previously which is probably health-related, but also thanks to the fact I now spend time looking after my voice which I hadn’t in the past. I also feel like I rarely write on guitar now and for two records have found piano and synthesizers much more melodically interesting to the writing process as opposed to our early jingly pop guitar sound. Two or three albums ago we wouldn’t have dreamed of using samplers live or having scores made for a string quartet to play on our recordings but those kind of additions are fairly commonplace to our arrangements now. The musicianship of the band has evolved the sound of the band too as we now have a very versatile drummer in Scott alongside the option of three part harmonies thanks to the dulcet tones of Adam and Andrew – so our palette of sounds and styles is certainly much more varied. I also feel like we know our way around a studio and its capabilities much better, which opens up a much more creative process that feeds into the music.
Your new single “You and Someone Like Me” was only released on the 24th of October and has received a lot of airplay, now it is featured on the Janice Forsyth Show as Single of the Week, what has the response been like so far?
It’s been really well received which is brilliant and also a relief as we did in the back of our minds wonder if everyone had forgotten about us. It’s been nice to see that people still care and when we did the single launch shows over four nights in Scotland they were really well attended. There were plenty of new faces alongside some familiar old ones so that’s a positive sign too. We just recorded an acoustic session for Janice and hope to go back full band in the spring so that kind of support is fantastic.
You have an interesting and great (motion captured) video for the song with four skeletons portraying the band. How did the idea come about? How difficult was it to make?
We decided quite some time ago that for this album we wanted to make a video for every single from the record and felt it was essential that our first single video be very strong and ideally something we have never done before. To achieve this, we decided to work with a great video production company based in Aberdeen called Kreopix / Crow House Productions whom we have worked with previously. We went to the guys with the track and it was a very fun, enjoyable collaboration. Often as an artist you can be too close to your own material so it’s always interesting and worthwhile to get someone else’s take on your work and in this case the guys picked up on several aspects of the track we hadn’t considered which was great. The video designers really picked up on the robotic, relentless, driving nature of the song and initially really liked the idea of a more story-based concept. For example, using the theme to make a video where a robot can’t work out/understand why he is different to humans was one idea which we really liked. However, the option to utilise a green screen studio became available and this then immediately turned our focus to a more performance based vision. One problem was access to prepare as we only had a day available in the studio and none of us had used the technology before so it was a learning experience all round! On the day we had a great laugh in the suits as in order to appear more pronounced on screen every gesture you make needs to be doubled. So that was quite a challenge for us and took several takes to get right. Thankfully my sister, who is a professional dance teacher, stepped in at the eleventh hour to add some freestyle dancing which really was the secret weapon to the final production. Our only brief to the team was that the video be colourful, fun to watch and suit the song and what the guys came back with was awesome. The robots became an army of skeletons and then by pure chance we released the single the week before Hallowe’en! We are currently working with the team again on further videos for future singles from the record so we’re looking forward to letting everyone see several more in due course!
Your new album, is due for release in spring of 2017, is there a set theme to the album? Does it differ from your previous albums? Are you able to tell us the name of the album?
The new album is called “Shake Off Your Troubles”. I think it’s probably the opposing partner to our last record in that it’s much more full of confidence, has a bigger sounding production and lyrically it’s a much more assured record in its tone and subject matter. I love our last record (“Put Your Love in Front of Me”) but it definitely came from a more vulnerable place, at a difficult time for me, so while this new one is not any less personal I am probably a different person to the one who wrote “Girl” and “Better Things”, or a trilogy of songs about heartbreak, three years ago. If there is a theme it’s probably just a sentiment of not to worry about things, try your best and whatever you’re doing is fine. Don’t beat yourself up, basically, and don’t let things get you down. We tried to write it using as many interesting sounds on it as we could, to warrant repeat listening, but also I guess we tried to make it quite an uplifting record to bolster the lyrics too. I’ll never forget the day the strings went down and really put the icing on the cake – we can’t wait for everyone to hear it.
Apart from the release of your new album, what other plans for 2017?
We will be touring in the spring to support the album’s release and then over the summer hopefully lots of festivals! The general idea is that we want to gig everywhere and anywhere we can to spread the word of the album as much as possible! Other than that we have some pretty nifty alternative versions of tracks, some great remixes, acoustic versions and various video things we plan to release in the coming months, so that will keep us busy too!