The Kickback singer Billy Yost gives insight to life on the road

Interview by Allison Lee | Seeds Entertainment
Courtesy Photo

Originally formed by the brotherly duo of Billy (lead singer, and guitarist) and Danny (drums) Yost, the band The Kickback came to be with a little help from Craigslist and the addition of Eamonn Donnelly (bass) and Jonny Ifergan (guitar). Lead vocalist Billy Yost shared with Seeds some of the ups and downs of being an indie band on tour, and how these gentlemen are able to do what they do. Celebrating their upcoming debut LP release, “Sorry All Over the Place,” The Kickback will be pit-stopping at Vega on March 5th as presented to you by the DailyER and Seeds.

[title size=”3″ style=”options: default, sidebar”][[The Dailyer and Seeds Entertainment invites you to come see The Kickback at Vega on March 6!
Find more information about The Kickback and their gig on Wednesday at the bottom of the page.]][/title]

Seeds: You and your brother Danny are originally from South Dakota. What was it like moving to a big city, and why Chicago?

Yost: It was terrifying. I’m from a town of two thousand people originally. My wife was the reason I moved here. We were dating at the time. We were just talking about it the other night actually–she remembered me showing up to our new apartment, just moving in, and she said she’d never seen anybody look so scared in her entire life. She was pretty sure that I was going to cut out a month or two in; that I wasn’t going to hack it. Thank God we made it, and we’re married now, but I’ll never forget driving into the city for the first time. It was really overwhelming.

Seeds: What is the music scene like in Chicago?

Yost: There are a lot of bands, but there isn’t as big of a community, not like what we’ve gotten used to in Omaha and Lincoln. But there are a bunch of good bands. We play with a few of them pretty regularly, and we try and support each other. By nature, though, we’ve always been sort of private, do-it-yourself gentlemen. So, as good as it is, we’ve just kind of ridden solo.

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Seeds: I read somewhere that when you were searching for band mates, you put out some “oddly specific Craigslist pleas.” Could you elaborate a bit on what it was you were looking for in band mates?

Yost: It’s actually something you hear a lot: you’re not going to get what you want unless you ask for it. I think I just took it to heart, and rattled off this eight or nine paragraph, very detailed description of our sort of dream person that we were looking for. You’re essentially looking for someone to be married to for however long you wind up with them.

Being in a band with someone isn’t just about enjoying each other’s music or just getting along, there are about thirteen things that all kind of have to work out. I thought it would make it a lot easier, we’d probably get a lot less responses, but maybe the one or two that we got would be our person. I’ve gotten pretty good about asking for what I want, and we’ve been really fortunate with Jonny and Eamonn, both of whom wound up being the first guys that got a hold of us.

Seeds: Were you at all scared to put yourself out there so much?

Yost: Yeah, it’s sort of horrifying because the music scene is small enough around here to where people figure out pretty quick who it is, and it’s funny to have to be that honest. But we’ve sort of turned weird honesty into a part of our show, sort of “over-sharing”, and it has just gotten to be something that I’ve gotten kind of used to at this point.

Seeds: How has your music progressed from the time you were just getting together to now?

Yost: It was really weird; about half of our record was stuff that had been on the table for a year, at the most three, and the other half was stuff that we all got to write together. As different as you think those things would sound, it still all fits together really nicely. I kind of had to learn to write things a little more diplomatically; I was used to trying to write everybody’s part, and just asking people to play the parts. We’ve really managed to work together more cohesively, and I’ve managed to let go and trust some other people in my life. [Laughs] It’s nice, it takes a little bit of the pressure off, to know that you can trust the other guys in your band.

Seeds: I saw on your Facebook page that your brother Danny will no longer be touring with the Kickback. What has it been like to work with him?

Yost: It was awesome; it’s been kind of a rough month, with the four of us working in a replacement drummer to get him ready. But my brother was always the first guy I would bounce song ideas off of, and he always helped sand or sculpt my kind of skeletons into something a little more bodied. Whether he polished or not, he was really the one responsible for me learning how to write songs and finding my voice, and to be the kind of musician I wanted to be; that I’m trying to be. But it’s also your brother, so you also want to punch him in the face three-fourths of the time.

Seeds: So do you think it will be hard touring without him? How will it affect the band?

Yost: Yeah, I’m a little broken hearted about it; I think I always will be. The band has been through a lot of people in its history, and Danny wasn’t the first guy to leave the band, hopefully he’ll be the last, but I’m still going to see him all the time. We’re just going to hash it out, and I think we both are really aware of what the situation is. There weren’t like chairs thrown or angry statements made, it was just kind of an understanding. I think we all kind of knew it, after playing together for so long, I think he was just ready to live a more structured life. But yeah, it’s going to be weird, not having him in the back of the van; that was kind of his place.

It’s also really forced me to, I think, grow up a lot in a pretty short amount of time, and really take responsibility for my dreams, and my hopes and aspirations. Not that I have to do it all on my own now, because I’ve got the other guys, but there’s always a feeling  that you had backup when there’s family in the band.

Seeds: I know you guys talk a lot about your struggles on the road. Was he kind of over the pressure?

Yost: Yeah, I think I said it in our Facebook note, but he was touring in bands when I was still in high school. There was enough of an age gap where he already had kind of had a whole musician life before him and I even started playing together. Touring is grueling, and if you’re not in a bus or you’re not flying to your gigs, it’s a really hard, hard life. It’s a lot of gas stations, and it’s twenty-three hours of a day where you’re just sort of ground down, and you’ve really got to make that forty-five minutes on stage really worth it. I can’t speak for him, but I’m sure that there’s a time when that isn’t worth it anymore, or you just don’t feel the same about it, or you’ve grown in a different way and a different direction. I don’t know how I’ll feel, you know, six or seven years down the road either. I can’t really argue with him about it, because he’s been at it for a really long time, and had been before he even joined our band.

Seeds: So what’s it like for you? You mentioned that you have a wife at home. Do you guys have jobs and stuff too that you’re leaving behind whenever you go on tour?

Yost: We are all basically in fields where we’ve dug out our niche and we can kind of leave whenever we need to for tour. For Eamonn, our bass player, it’s a little harder, but Jonny and I can kind of walk away whenever we need to, which works really well. But everybody has a significant other that they’re leaving for weeks at a time. My wife knew me when we were a year into the band and I was a freshman in college, so she’s seen this whole thing play out, and kind of knew what she was getting into, and has stayed with me. Her life is not based around me; she has a lot of amazing things that she does, and she’s in graduate school.  As long as the people in your life have the things that they love, it seems to work out pretty well.

Seeds: So I watched a few episodes of your “Disastour” podcast…

Yost: Oh, I’m sorry.


[Listen to the Kickback’s “Disatour” podcast here.]


Seeds: No, I found it very refreshing. You don’t always get that aspect from famous people, like what it’s actually like to be on the road all the time.

Yost: Yeah, and if you’re referring to us as famous that is probably the funniest thing I’ve heard all week. [Laughing]

Seeds: So what keeps you guys motivated to keep going when your bus breaks down, or when you’re up at four in the morning trying get to your next gig?

Yost: I don’t know [Laughing].  I really don’t. If whatever is in me breaks down, I don’t know what I’ll do. It’s never really been a question. I don’t know what it feels like to not do this anymore, and not have the urge to do this anymore. We’ve been in the middle of Cincinnati, where our last van blew up, and we’ve been in Memphis when a van exploded. We’ve been through three, four vans now?

These terrible, horrible things happen, but they make such great stories later on [laughing], and you just have to hope to God that you get through them in the short term. But there’s some kind of fire–I don’t know what it is–but it’s probably delusions of grandeur and a little mental illness thrown in that makes us do this. But you just don’t do this unless you love it, because otherwise you can’t hang.

Seeds: When you guys get to song-writing, what is the process you guys go through?

Yost: I usually come in with some kind of melody, and the other guys, depending on how definite of an idea that I have of how the song should be, will pitch in and it can undergo a lot of substantial changes or it can just sort of become what it’s set out to be.

Regarding lyrics, those are still something that I really keep to myself, and just kind of focusing on personally. I wind up having to explain to the guys why something is called this, or what the heck I’m trying to say because most people have a hard time understanding what I’m saying at all, like audibly, I don’t enunciate very well [Laughing].  But our song writing process has really matured and grown, and I think everybody gets a say at the table. Lyrics are just something that I tend to be a little more protective of.

Seeds: Are there any specific messages that you try to convey in your music?

Yost: We tend to focus more on death than we probably should. I went through a pretty weird time in like my mid-twenties when I instantly became aware of my mortality and was convinced that I was going to die pretty soon and that I had no control over it. I just basically lost it [laughing] for a little while, and wrote a bunch of songs about trying to control it or having some sort of control over it.

A lot of our songs tend to be my giving credence to parts of myself that I don’t like at all, you know, sort of the worst parts that people aren’t really willing to share. We have a chorus, “I want you to hurt like I do,” which I think is really funny, but it’s also really based on a human emotion that no one has really learned  to say–that when you’re feeling bad, you want everyone else to feel bad, too. I think I need to move our songs in a little more of a positive direction; there are good things to write about. We got a whole record out of anxiety and terror, so we’ll see what the next batch brings.

Seeds: Your debut LP, “Sorry All Over the Place,” is coming out soon. What does an accomplishment like this mean for you guys as a band?

Yost: It took us longer than maybe any band in the history of music to get their first record; I think that might be a minor accomplishment. I started saying back in 2010-2011 that I wasn’t going to put a record out until I was sure it could sound the way we wanted it to sound, and it’s now going to be the summer of 2014 [laughing]. It literally took that long, it really did take that long.

But it’s something that I can be proud of and something that I can really stand behind. If it takes three more years to put something out that I can really stand behind, then it’ll be three years or ten years or thirty years. I’ve sort of made a problem of talking smack about our older stuff, that I didn’t like the way it sounded, but that’s not fair. After you put stuff out, it kind of belongs to everybody else, and there’s no point in talking smack about it. I really like being able to have this thing that’s my baby, and thinking it’s a cute baby, and not some kind of three-headed monster from the devil.

Seeds: Does it ever get frustrating re-working a piece, and is it hard to keep holding it back until it’s perfect?

Yost: I mean, it’s never going to be exactly like you want it to be. I think the only time we do decide to move on, usually, is when I’ve exhausted every possible outcome. Every song is a battle, and I need those other guys to tell me that things are good because I get really lost, very quickly. I will judge a whole song based on hearing my voice falter at one part of one verse; then, for me, the song is over, and a lie, and I can’t imagine how anybody in their right mind would want to listen to it, let alone respect me as a human being [Laughing]. So I really rely on the guys to bring me back to reality; it’s a really nice balance.

Seeds: What does a normal recording session look like for you guys?

Yost: The way the record went this time around, we all got to actually play together in a room, and recorded 90% of the track that way, which I really prefer. You really got to play with everybody, as opposed to everyone doing their things individually, and kind of built upon each other.

I think that we still need to learn as a band–well mostly me, I tend to go all or nothing really fast and get really discouraged if one little part isn’t exactly the way I envisioned it after months and months of planning. I think our recording sessions tend to be a lot tenser than they need to be. I need to find a way to more positively convey hopes and aspirations and less panic and anger [Laughing]. It can be such a joyful process, especially at the end when we got to hear everything, sounding the way I really hoped that most of it would sound. I feel like the road to it can be a lot less bumpy, and I think I may have created a lot of those bumps unnecessarily.

Seeds: Do you guys use, or avoid, any musical engineering techniques when recording?

Yost: We worked with Jim Eno, from the band Spoon. The Spoon recordings have built my temple of what recording sounds should be. I mean in the Pantheon of recorded music, I revere Spoon recordings as sort of the upper echelon of the potential for especially rhythm and bass sounds. Jim was an idol for me, and being able to work with him was a dream come true. A lot of our recordings sound sort of far away and really reverbed out, which I don’t mind, but when you see us live, it’s sort of an entirely different animal. We wanted to try and find a way to track the immediacy of the way we perform. I think this record sounds like we’re playing about two inches away from your face, and that makes me happy.

Seeds: So what is it like working with Jim, when he has had so much success himself with Spoon, and producing bands like Telekinesis and The Shins? How does it inspire your band?

Yost: It took a minute for me to realize that he didn’t think of us as lesser people. He’s such an equal opportunity producer; just because he’s worked with other people, that didn’t make us any less in his eyes. After I was able to overcome the shock of realizing that he actually thought that we were people [laughing] and not just some kids that he could push around, it was really amazing. There wasn’t any yelling; [there] weren’t any weird control issues. I would make another record with him in a heartbeat. He brings out the best in you, and only through positive reinforcement; he doesn’t need to tear anything down to get what he wants, which is a pretty unique production style, I think.

Seeds: What is your favorite part of touring and making music?

Yost: My favorite part of making music is usually the first practice where a song idea that you had starts being played, and you can tell right away that it’s going to work. After that, it’s all sanding down this block of wood, but when you first put that block of wood on the table, everybody looks at it and judges it, kind of plays with it, maybe picks it up to make sure it’s the right weight; that’s the best feeling in the whole world. It’s usually the drums that do it for me; if you find the drum part quickly enough, and it fits, there’s no other feeling like it; it’s like a reason to live. If I could have that feeling every day, my life would be about perfect. But that sort of feeling is so rare that you do need to appreciate it when you get it, because you don’t get it every time you work on a song or a part. We spend a lot more time, I think, than a lot of bands do, knit-picking and trying to perfect by practicing and rehearsing, because we’re all a little tightly wound. That initial spark is the greatest part of making the song I think.

Touring…you know I don’t love touring, we can just skip that. We tour so we can have that forty-five minutes on stage, and if that’s worth it, then the whole day is worth it. There are nights where you’re in Texas and they’re having an unusual cold spell, but they don’t have heaters because it’s Texas, so the whole band is playing in coats on stage; but then you have nights where you’re playing for five hundred people and you can’t imagine leading a better life.

Seeds: For my final question, what sort of advice would you give to a new band, experiencing similar struggles on the road, and wondering if it’s all worth it?

Yost: If they’re already wondering if it’s all worth it, that’s a big problem. But just play as many shows as you can right now, and make sure that your band is good. It took me three or four years to realize that the music we were making I wouldn’t listen to, so why were we making these songs that I wouldn’t want to listen to myself? Make sure you’re doing, not what you think you love…but you have to make sure that it’s worth nobody seeing you for long periods of time, and all the hardships that come with it.

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  • Keep eyes and hears open for The Kickback’s new album, “Sorry All Over the Place.”
  • The Kickback is on tour now! They are playing at Vega in Lincoln on March 6 as presented to you by The Dailyer and Seeds Entertainment. R.S.V.P. here!
  • Listen and download The Kickback’s single, “When I Die,” on their Bandcamp page and on iTunes.
  • The Kickback’s Tumblr.
  • The Kickback on Facebook