Interview: Kid Is Qual

joe zorzi speaks with the drum-and-bass band, who release their new EP today ….

Kid Is Qual is: Jonathan Sullivan — lead bass, vocals; Mike Bryant — rhythm bass; Chris McClish –drums

New Release: Damn Son EP
(On iTunes beginning today)

Track Listing:
1. Knights Of Ole
2. Motel, No Tell
3. You’re A Crumb, I’m Ole
4. Qual Is Qual
5. Me Gu
6. Damn Son

As the first official release from Kid Is Qual, Damn Son really shows what these guys are all about: having a hell of a good time. With two bass guitars and a drummer, Kid Is Qual is quite a unique band with a sound of their own. They take advantage of a talk box and synth-rich bass sounds to create songs that are perfect for getting any party started.

With digital music taking over, it’s hard to succeed as a band these days. But Kid Is Qual takes all the dance and pop elements that you’d find on your clubbin’ playlist and mixes it with a grungy rock sound. Their use of bass guitars is far from the norm. I mean, who was the last band you’ve heard with a lead bass player?

All of the sounds on Damn Son are strictly created with bass guitars and effects pedals. Although this may put some restrictions on how diverse their music might get, it really gives them a rare sound. Tracks like “Knights Of Ole” and “You’re A Crumb, I’m Ole” really highlight Kid is Qual at their best, showcasing the band’s high energy and mind-ripping bass leads. The dance-ability of the songs on Damn Son tends to lull a little bit after “You’re A Crumb, I’m Ole”, but by no means is that a bad thing. It allows for the bands more experimental tendencies to shine through. The EP ends on a great note, with the title track picking back up with the same energy as the first few tracks.

Damn Son is a great starting point for Kid Is Qual. It’s a rockin’, experimental, and dance-y EP that’s quite refreshing to hear. It’s hard not to get excited when thinking about what these guys will come up with next. When did you guys start up?

Jonathon Sullivan: Probably about the summer of 2008. I was in this other band called Jack’s Mannequin, so that was taking up most of my time. But I started writing around then, started writing songs. I think it was probably in August or September of 2008.

PB: So you were in Jack’s Mannequin while you were doing Kid Is Qual?

JS: Yeah, I was the original bass player in Jack’s, you know what I’m saying? So I did that six years, until last year. And we were working on the second Jack’s record (The Glass Passenger), and that’s when I started working on the stuff — you know, just kind of on my own.

PB: Is Kid Is Qual the reason you departed from Jack’s Mannequin?

JS: Yeah, yeah, exactly. You know, it was just one of those things, man, where it was like, you know, kind of went out there, did my thing with the band, had a great time. Love all those guys, but you know … if I was gonna do it, it was a good time to get on it.

PB: Did it have to do with creative control and stuff? I know Jack’s Mannequin is mostly Andrew McMahon doing a lot of the writing.

JS: Yeah, but we all worked on Jack’s Mann. I mean, Bob [Anderson, guitar] writes stuff and I wrote stuff. So yeah, it’s definitely Andrew’s baby, but we were involved with that as well. But you know, obviously, I had fun doing that, but you know, I had a different child on my hands at the same time.

PB: They’re like completely different sounds and everything. Do you enjoy both types of music? What is your main type of music to jam to?

JS: Honestly, you know, I’ve been playing bass 25 years, so I’ve played in a lot of different kind of bands.

So I studied classical and jazz in college. I mean, I’ve been in jazz bands, I’ve been in metal bands, rock bands. And Jack’s was my first pop band, you know, so that was fun too. So, I’m always trying to get into something a little bit different, you know?

PB: That’s very cool. And Kid Is Qual really have an interesting sound. I read that you guys have been influenced by Death From Above and stuff like that.

JS: Oh yeah, yeah. I mean that record was awesome. I actually saw them, I guess in 2005 or something in this little place in D.C. But it was cool, man, I liked them. The guy had a dirty sound, dirty bass sound, and I liked that.

PB: You guys have two basses. How does this work? You don’t usually see that.

JS: I grew up in the ’80s. That’s when I started playing bass and everybody was playing metal and stuff. So everybody was into Eddie Van Halen and all that kind of stuff. I was always trying to shred too, even though I was the bass player. But like I said, I’ve kind of been working on this sound. And actually, I would use it with Jack’s too. Like, I’d have solos and stuff with that kind of high-tech sound. So, I’ve been messing with it for a while, but I just finally started just writing some songs. All the bands now have guitar players, but they don’t have bass players. I’ve seen a lot of bands like that. I was like, ‘Well shit, we’ll just be a bass band.’

PB: So you’re doing mostly leads and Mike Bryant is doing rhythm pretty much?

JS: Yeah, he plays the low bass. We go through a lot of effects, though. We try to do different kinds of sounds.

PB: And do you guys use synths too, or is that all just from the bass?

JS: Oh yeah, everything recorded is all bass.

PB: Really?

JS: Yeah, it’s kind of like a limitation too because some stuff that you wanna do doesn’t really, doesn’t translate through like the pedals and all the stuff. So it’s kind of like figuring out how to do it, like … kind of running a marathon on one leg, you know? Our sound is different, you know what I mean? We just try to be minimal with our sound.

PB: Yeah, and does that change the way you play live?

JS: Naw. I mean, every sound that’s on that we use live.

PB: That’s awesome. And you guys do another interesting thing: You use the talk box, which you don’t see as often these days. When did you start picking that up?

JS: You know, I was always a big fan of this guy Roger Troutman in the ’80s. He was in that band Zapp. He’s like — people say Peter Frampton. See, I was always a Roger Troutman guy. He did like ‘California Love,’ he did ‘Computer Love.’ Everybody thinks that was a vocoder, but it was really a talk box, so I was always trying to figure out that sound — what that was. And then when I found out that was a talk box, I tried to do it on a keyboard, but I’m not that good at piano, so then I was like, ‘Oh let me try it on the bass,’ and then after that it actually kind of made sense. So I’ve been kind of messing with that probably for about the past four years or something. I’m pretty much trying to copy Roger Troutman, essentially.

PB: That’s still sick — it’s still an original sound.

JS: Oh yeah, no doubt. It’s a minimal thing ’cause if I’m using a talk box, then I can’t play anything. So then it’s like, just bass and drums. So it’s more of a minimal style. But we’re just trying to get a different sound, you know?

PB: Yeah, definitely. So how’d you guys get together?

JS: Well Mikey, me and him went to high school together. He’s the only bass player that I know. ‘Cause I have a hard time handing the bass off honestly. But Mike is really good, and I know him. You know, he knows what’s up. So, I’ve known Mikey forever, and Chris, I met him probably about four years ago from the band — it was a horn metal band called SaU. Anyway, he kind of came in and we were doing some stuff with that on the side and then I was like, ‘Hey, well I’m doing this band,’ so, you know, it was kind of cool.

But like I said, it was a little frantic ’cause I was so busy with Jack’s, I was never really around. You know, we would just kind of get up and practice and then go play some shows. We played with a lot of bands that I met on tour with Jack’s, like the Audition and Valencia and bands like that.

We’ve been playing shows the whole time. We just haven’t really toured, toured more than like a week.

PB: What would you say is your biggest challenge as a band so far?

JS: To me, I’ve always felt this way about music in general, is that the music is the fun part and the easy part. It’s just everything else. You know, it’s just behind-the-scenes music bullshit. It’s just a lot of politics, man, you know what I’m saying? It’s like, it’s just all who you know, and I know a lot of people and stuff, but still. You just gotta get up there, man, and wade through the cheese, you know?

But once you actually get that money out of your playing, and you got through all the rest of the bullshit, then, even with Jack’s, that’s what I always liked about it, playing. The rest of the day is just boring, kind of hassled, doing this, doing that. But you know, when you’re up there playing, man, it’s always worth it.