Smile Politely

Four guys, one Kickback

Prior to their trip into Champaign-Urbana for their show on Saturday evening, I had the opportunity to get to know some of the neighbors to the north — The Kickback out of Chicago. We spoke about their formation, family, performing, and more.

Smile Politely: How did you all meet and start to make music? 

Billy Yost: I moved to Chicago in 2009 from South Dakota with the sole purpose of making a band work. Craigslist is primarily responsible for our coming together. Eamonn Donnelly (our bassist) was the first to respond to an ad, and Jonny Ifergan (our guitarist) joined about eight months later. I still credit the extreme specificity (the guys might call it “laundry list of requirements”) of those ads for helping me find those two. After my brother Danny left the group, we contacted a bunch of bands to see if they had tabs on anyone that might be up for a pretty complicated drumming gig. Phil from Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin suggested Ryan Farnham, who thankfully lives in Chicago, too, and has rounded out our lineup. 

SP: Where did the band name, The Kickback, come from?

Yost: While we’ve only been together a short while, the band name is something I’ve been using since college. I was studying for a criminal justice test and I remember reading this little textbook aside about the Enron case which had wrapped up just a couple years prior (frankly, I was shocked to see something so recent in a social studies textbook which tend to still refer to Jimmy Carter as the current president). They mentioned high-ups in the company receiving kickbacks, and I thought that would make a pretty great name for the crew I was trying to assemble. My roommate said, while it was a stupid name, it would be slightly less stupid if we made it singular. Thanks, Randall. For some reason, the singular thing tends to be hard for people to catch and we get [billed] as “The Kickbacks” about every sixth show.

SP: I’ll admit, that’s what I’ve been doing! What inspires you as musicians/people? Is there a difference?

Yost: I’ve realized recently that a lot of our songs have a common theme that tends to be a.) something I really love combined with b.) something that seriously jacked me up. We have a song about Twin Peaks because it really means the world to me. But it’s in relation to a post-college temporary-ish break with reality I had when I’d moved back in with my parents and tried to form some kind of life philosophy around the main character of the show, Special Agent Dale Cooper. I use a lot of stuff written by David Foster Wallace as a sort of camera filter for my words, but so much of that stuff became really important to me in the middle of my parents’ divorce while I was stuck at home, working a summer job, watching this really, really ugly thing bloom right in front of me. I’m still working on a good love song, because it doesn’t really fit the pattern so well right now. But I’ll get it.

SP: What is it about music? Why this and not, say, painting?

Yost: Eamonn can do both. He has that option in the band. He’s a brilliant illustrator. I don’t know how anyone can juggle two equally massive talents like that. Music, for me, was presented as a wholly acceptable pastime when I was little because I had five older brothers, four of whom were dedicating the better part of their existence to bands. In the same way teaching or construction or medicine was seen as a neat way to spend your life, music was also, if only because it seemed like something everyone was doing. As weird and stressful as this sort of trajectory can get, people remind me a lot that I should be damn grateful for knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Many people spend decades trying to figure out what that is. It’s hard and terrifying and rough to be the poor band guy, but at this time in my life, I have absolutely no desire to do anything else. 

SP: What’s your stage show like? What can people expect from The Kickback?

Yost: For as focused and detail oriented as our practices can be, all of that tension seems to come out when we perform. We’re probably an overly-animated band, but that tends to come with being cooped up in a van for 12-hours. I’ve had the misfortune of finishing a last song and knowing that I had more energy and it was a really ugly feeling. The other guys, I think, move because they’re having a good time. I always feel like an idiot because I think I’m mixing enjoyment of the show with some weird masochistic streak where I want to be reduced to a heaving pile when we’re done. We try and push people from both sides. “How’s everybody doing tonight?!” meets “What kind of cancer do you think you’re going to die of!?”

SP: Do you have favorite bars/clubs/basements you play? What’s so great about that those places? Is it the chicken wings or the vibe? The staff or the town?

Yost: Having originally started playing in South Dakota, we really hit the college town of Lincoln, NE hard coming up, and that makes every show there really special. There’s a vibe among the music community that’s incredibly supportive and we really look forward to those shows. In Chicago, I know the guys really love playing Schubas. The staff is always really great, the sound is usually excellent, and it always feels like kind of an honor to play there. I think most bands will tell you, if people are there, it can be a blast to play a public bathroom next to a meat processing plant during a full moon. You sort of develop a “tour family,” those people that you only see when you’re out on the road. Those are the people that make those shows worth it, and you just keep hoping the family expands.

SP: What’s next for you all? What can we look forward to?

Yost: We’re hoping our debut album comes out before an Obama daughter is eligible to run for office. We just want this record to come out. And then make the next one. Until then, we’ll be on the road. We’re just getting ready to practice in Eamonn’s mother’s basement in Washington D.C. right now, so the neighbors have that to look forward to.

Check out the Kickback tonight with The 92s and Tara Terra in Urbana.

Photos courtesy of Jim Vondruska.

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