From the booming walls of their Chatswood Sydney studio, to the roaring American crowds of the international stage, Sydney band Middle Kids have certainly formed a name for themselves. But what we’re all keen to know is how they got there. I chatted to them about starting out in the industry, what they consider ‘success’ to be and their thoughts on Ryan Adam’s pinball machine.
The Sydney based, three-piece band Middle Kids have catapulted themselves onto a number of national and international stages over the past eight months. Their performance at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion in May supporting American folk/rock singer/songwriter Ryan Adams brought an electrified crowd, and a dynamic set, and kickstarted a long stream of gigs across America for the indie pop/rock trio. Four months later and the word is out that Hannah Joy, Tim Fitz and Harry Day will return to Sydney in November as support for the iconic singer/songwriter Paul Kelly.
When asked how the band initially formed, Middle Kids see it as a mixture of locality and musical taste.
‘As these things often go, we’d all met through living in a similar area and coming up through the various avenues of Sydney music… We didn’t really try to ‘construct’ a sound or style, but the Middle Kids sound is most likely the combination of Hannah’s songwriting and singing voice, Tim’s ear for guitars and production, and Harry’s drumming style.’
Their influences, like their origination is local and relevant to the Sydney music community.
‘Realistically, local bands that we or in our friends play in probably have just as much influence as big bands, but some more known bands that have influenced us in some way are The Cranberries, Sharon Van Etten, Broken Social Scene, Patsy Cline and Pavement.’
When the release of their punchy, melodic hit single ‘Edge of Town’ emerged through triple J Unearthed in 2016, the group had not yet performed one gig together under their band name. This track, and others like ‘This Love’ and ‘Never Start’, soon captured the attention of 3 million Spotify listeners and the US and British independent label Domino and EMI music in Australia and New Zealand. And so, the band’s international presence rapidly escalated, and the demand for live gigs began.
At their core though, the group connect with their personal experience with music making and have since they started out,
‘Obviously there are many barriers to being able to sustain a music career, but all of us were probably more just focused on what excited us and being good musicians. We’ve all played countless cover gigs, written songs, recorded our own stuff, but never have we ever auditioned for a TV talent show.’
Middle Kids work is clearly narrative driven, and in each song Hannah’s soaring lyrics tell emotive and creative stories in their entirety. ‘In our experience, the process of creating something that didn’t exist before (like a band, or painting, or even a friendship) is a bit like scrambling around in the dark trying to find your way to the light switch. But we are trying to do what comes naturally, and make what we love and what we think is great.’
When asked about their tour with Ryan Adams Middle Kids puts it down to Hannah’s knack for predicting the future, ‘We went one night to a Ryan Adams show and she said ‘I wonder if we’ll support him one day?’ and then 3 months later we got an offer to go on his tour!’ they said.
‘He’s one of those musicians who has really had a deep influence in our group of friends, and he’s written so many incredible songs (listen to the song ‘Lo-Fi Tennessee Mountain Angel’ by his first band Whiskeytown if you haven’t already, or his album ‘Heartbreaker’). He was really kind to us, and watched our set each night and said we could use his pinball machine.’
For them, the support of other musicians is very important. ‘We’ve all had people help us in our music journey growing up. Friends are important too, we have a good crew.’
The three musicians started out in music in different ways and from different walks of life. ‘We were all musical children. Hannah and Harry studied music at a university level and played in bands, Tim studied Medicine but did a lot of music on the side.’ As students, the group always considered a career in music. ‘Depends on who you ask in the band about a musical career – definitely it is something that all young people with a passion for creating music will naturally consider.’
When asked if they thought the Australian and American music scenes are supportive of new talent, the group turned their attention to the individual processes of what it means to really ‘get your stuff out there’,
‘As an artist, there’s a merciful lack of awareness that comes with ‘starting out’, a kind of joyful moment when you have no idea what you’re doing and so you end up creating ridiculous music without realising it, and sending it to every record label you know. Then you get rejected by all of them and have to start a new band under a different name and do it all again. And then again.’
‘Or maybe you just decide to keep doing your thing until someone notices. There is never a transaction of ‘if you do this, then this will follow’, It’s just doing the work, and loving what you do. I’m sure in this sense, Australia and America are equally as mysterious and exciting for any foolish young band like ours.’
Now, after only a year, the band is living the music industry in a frantic but rewarding way. ‘Day-to-day life for the past year and a half has been varied!’ With a finger in so many aspects of the live music scene, you’d assume right that Middle Kids would be constantly moving. But its not just the performances that keep them on their toes,
‘…one of the difficulties is probably the lack of a repetitive schedule. We just recorded our album, producing it ourselves, so that was obviously a significant investment of time and creative energy. Compared to that, touring is relatively simple! Although it can definitely be gruelling. We have a tour manager, which makes all the difference. The main thing is probably rationing energy so we can keep playing great shows and not burning out.’
While the process of working towards their musical careers was filled with uncertainty, it seems now, in the midst of international musical recognition that Middle Kids have found a way to centre their personal engagement with the work that they make. The band agrees that success as a whole is pretty difficult to define, and with success comes the power to pick and choose their own adventure. The fresh-faced trio leave us on a decidedly poignant and insightful note,
There is a lot of mutual trust, the nature of teamwork is that you have to give power away to receive it.”
Middle Kids are all set to perform with Paul Kelly at the Sydney Opera House on November 19th, and supporting The War on Drugs in Feburary. Tickets are available through Frontier Touring and Enmore Theatre. In the meantime, wrap your ears around their hit single, ‘Edge of Town’ below and let us know what you think!
Article published with the author’s permission.