Writing Songs and Evolving Rock: An Interview with Middle Kids

An interview with one of the unquestionably best upcoming acts in Indie Rock.

Middle Kids at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng

Australian indie-pop rock stars, Middle Kids, really came out of nowhere earlier this year. After getting a shout-out from Elton John, they took off running. They toured the U.S twice, appeared on Conan, played at SXSW, and finally appeared at Austin City Limits.

Shortly after their set at ACL this year, I sat down with them and talked about writing songs, realizing fame, Australian rock music, and the necessary evolution of rock.

Having played at multiple other festivals, including South By Southwest on your first tour of the U.S, how does ACL compare to other festivals?

Hannah – Well, we’ve been amazed by the just the sheer size of this in one space. I think this is probably the biggest one we played at. But also, just the real positive energy at ACL, I feel like has been so awesome.

Harry – I really enjoy it. It feels kind of mellow in a way that’s surprising for the amount of people here. It’s nice to be at a festival where no one is really pushing you around.

Tim – Yeah, it’s a good energy.

Hannah – Totally.

So how would you describe your sound to people that haven’t heard of you before, and what are some of the influences that helped define that sound?

Tim – We’re a guitar rock band, probably influenced by some stuff that was happening in the indie music scene in the early 2000’s as well. The guitars are sort of influenced by 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s rock. And the drums are influenced by – Harry likes blur and other Brit-pop bands. And vocals – what are you influenced by Hannah?

Hannah – Um, what am I influenced by? I don’t know like, Fiona Apple and Angel Olsen maybe a little bit.

Hannah, you play guitar upside down and its very unique. Was that due to necessity or was that inspired by an artist like Jimi Hendrix? Especially since you seem to exclusively play fender guitars?

Hannah – Actually, it started as an accident, cause my dad had a right-handed guitar at the house growing up. So, I just kind of picked it up and taught myself, not realizing it was upside down. By the time I realized it was upside, it was too late to turn back.

Middle Kids at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
So, I understand that Hannah and Tim are married. How does the relationship between you two effect the songwriting process?

Hannah – That’s interesting. I think its brought a lot more depth to the songwriting, because we share so much space. Then we can kind of work on the songs together in a cool way. And we kind of take turns with the songs, they’re like our little babies. And like, I’ll give it to Tim for a while and then he’ll give it to me.

Tim – We get better writing songs as we get to know each other. Also, as three we’ve been getting to know each other better and becoming better friends, and that helps the songs as well.

You guys wrote edge of town before you formally got together as a band. So how did the song writing process change from that song to now since you’ve added Harry into the mix?

Tim – Well, Harry’s playing drums from the recording so he was there from the first recording, but the songwriting process is pretty similar then to now. In terms of Hannah writes the songs and we get them at a later stage and we work on them. Then we record them. So yeah, we don’t write the songs together, Hannah writes the songs.

How does this tour compare to your first U.S. tour?

Hannah – Well it’s been really cool, because we’ve been back to some of the same cities we were in February. And just seeing the growth of the shows, like bigger crowds, has been really fun. Also going to some new cities and finding more fans from cities we haven’t been before has been such an exciting experience to kind of see the growth very tangibly in the shows.

Harry – Yeah, every time we come here it’s like a little less foreign. We feel like we have a little more to relate to people on. And we feel like we belong here a little more, so it’s nice for people coming with us on that journey and keep coming back to the shows.

Middle Kids at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
So, at what point did you guys realize that you were indie pop rock superstars?

Hannah– I don’t really know. I think probably, I’m not sure if we fully realize that.

Tim– Yeah, we find it hard to think about that kind of thing.

Harry – I’m convinced this is all a dream

Hannah – I definitely think probably in the last few months, we started feeling like, “aw man, we can really do this, and this is really fun.” The more we do it, the more it feels really good.

A lot of older rock musicians like Gene Simmons say that rock is dead and there’s no place for rock in modern music. How do you feel about that as popular rock musicians in 2017?

Tim – Well they have an incentive to say rock is dead because then people buy their albums, and not from new bands.

Harry – Music has to evolve. And so many musicians now have grown up listening rock music and are still influenced by rock music. So, it’s alive and well. Its presence is in all kinds of different music, which is so cool.

Hannah – And I think that one of the challenges, cause rock has been here for so long, is to try and like create rock that is also modern. That is not just regurgitating old stuff. But is very much influenced by that but it’s got a newness with it. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Tim – But also the stories of songs that are new, are going to be new. Because time changes the context of people’s lives. So were telling stories and were using rock music as the vehicle. It’s like the same as classical or country or jazz or whatever. It’s a vehicle.

Australia is known for its great modern rock bands like Jet, Wolfmother, Tame Impala, and King Gizzard the Lizard Wizard. Of all those giant Australian acts, which would you pick to be on tour with.

Harry – For me probably Tame Impala, because his evolution over the last 7 or 8 years from like a very bedroom kind of like producery vibe, which is kind of Tim who started out as our producer, to like the sort of production he has now and the way he produces his songs, I think is just an amazing thing. And It would be cool to get of that.

Tim – Yeah, they’re pretty inspiring, Tame Impala.

Harry – Yeah, for us as Australians, particularly as a band who came to America and their music resonates with so many people. For a couple Aussie boys from the west coast.

Tim – And girl. And that note, Courtney Barnett is an amazing Australian rock artist, who we are quite inspired by.

Middle Kids at ACL 2017
Source: Mason Cheng
So now that you guys released a debut EP, the clock is ticking for that debut full length LP. Do you have a clearer idea on when we can expect it to come out, maybe 2018?

Hannah– Yeah definitely, we finished making it, it’s ready to go, we just got a…

Harry – I got it on my thumb drive.

Hannah – You can have a listen… So, it’ll come out early next year sometime, spring time.

What advice would you give budding rock musicians who are told by rock legends that rock is dead, and they don’t feel like they have a place.

Hannah – I would say, just keep working on your songs and find your own voice. I think that regardless of the genre, if you have a strong message and a strong voice, people want to listen. And I think then that’s how we can kind of keep rock alive.

Harry – I would say find musicians you like playing with and play with them. Play songs you like. Write songs. Write the bad songs before you write good songs.

Mason Cheng

Music Intern

I like music. Sometimes I write about it.