If you’re a comic book reader, you probably know that “Kirby crackle” refers to the signature, spherical representation of “crackling” energy rendered prolifically by the great Jack Kirby. You should also know that Kirby Krackle is a nerd rock band with its own crackling energy. They’ve just released their third full album, Super Powered Love, and with songs covering topics from superheroes to video games, vampires to Transformers, there is something for every geek to love.
Kirby Krackle are Kyle Stevens and Jim Demonakos (founder of Emerald City Comic Con). Their new video for the song Nerd Money debuts today. Last week, Kyle and Jim were kind of enough to sit and chat with Costume Contumely from their homes in Seattle.
Hagop (for Costume Contumely): First of all, I just want to thank you guys for taking the time to talk. I’ve been listening to your new album Super Powered Love, and it’s pretty great!
Jim Demonakos: Thanks.
Kyle Stevens: Thank you.
CC: You guys just got back from San Diego Comic Con. How was it? You’ve attended the last few years, right?
KS: Yeah, we’ve been there the last couple years. This was our third year there, so every year we’ve gone there we have a new album, that’s something we try to do –make sure we get to Comic Con- it’s one of the biggest conventions of the year.
CC: You’ve performed there in the past – did you perform there this year as well?
JD: Yeah, we did two shows. We did one with our full band on Thursday night at a place called The Stage and then Kyle did a solo, acoustic show at Trickster which was taking place across the street from the Con.
CC: Speaking of live shows, I see on YouTube that you guys played a set with Joe Quesada (Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Comics). Was that last year’s Comic Con?
KS: That was last year’s Emerald City Comic Con and then it was also at C2E2 in Chicago. The first time we played with Joe, we had sent him an advance copy of the album (E for Everyone) – like we did the self titled album in 2009 –and we said, hey if you’d like to play with us, we’d love for you to play with us. We kind of had been talking about it a couple months off and on and he said- Ok, I like these three songs, and he came over and practiced in our space. That was fun. And we played at Emerald City and then we just repeated the same thing at C2E2.
CC: And he can play! I had no idea- he’s no joke.
CC: I want to talk about the new album Super Powered Love, but first why don’t you talk a little about how you guys came together to form Kirby Krackle? Your first self-titled CD came out in 2008?
KS: 2009 – is that right, Jim? We wrote it in 2008 and it came out in January, right?
JM: Yeah exactly. We released it in 2009, but we wrote it in 2008.
CC: How did you guys come to form the band? Had you known each other for a while?
JD: I own a comic book store in Seattle [The Comic Stop] and Kyle is, and continues to be, a customer at the shop. And that’s how we met. And we got to talking about music because Kyle’s a full-time musician, and I’m a full-time nerd, and we were talking about songs and about how there’s not really any good songs in terms of like “geek rock” or “nerd rock”. No one ever does songs that are really respectful from the perspective of the characters and actually takes the tack that the song is coming from the character. So we chat, and decided to try and see if we could write something together. And slowly but surely, it all came together. That was sort of the genesis of Kirby Krackle.
CC: That’s something that’s great about your songs. You are often referred to, and refer to yourself as, Nerd Rock. But when a lot of people talk about Nerd Rock they think of something more like Weird Al Yankovic or They Might Be Giants- either parodies or sort of quirky, techno music. But you guys are a straight-up rock band, and it just happens to be that the themes and subject matter centers on nerd-interest type things. So, as you say, you get songs that are really from a character’s point of view rather than a self-aware parody or send-up, and I don’t really know of anything else like that. So, that said, what are some of your musical influences?
KS: Well I’ve been doing music for a while in Seattle. Since I was thirteen. So, actually Super Powered Love is the tenth full album I’ve put out for, whatever– you know, from non-niche to niche stuff. So, I feel really good about the new record. As a song writer, I grew up in the early grunge times and I was thirteen, so everyone who was a part of the Seattle grunge thing- to me, that was like the coolest thing ever. We were like the Disneyland of…you know, reading the Seattle Times and even the stuff, I look back now- totally stupid, which was like “Hey! What To Wear If You’re A Grunge Rocker”. I salivated over that stuff. So I grew up on a steady diet of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, Screaming Trees. Then learning how to play guitar, I really started to get off on artists and song writers that put melody before anything. And so, everything from Annie Lennox to George Michael to Gin Blossoms or Jason Mraz; anyone who does kind of creative, rhythmic things, I really like. And so I think naturally, personally, I think where the music is going is where the music would go even if it wasn’t because of Kirby Krackle, but Kirby Krackle invokes the fun and puts everything in it that Jim and I combine together. So I think we have a good combination of my musical background and Jim’s non-musical background, but very intense comic book background. I think that’s what makes the team-up work.
CC: Speaking of the team up, how do you guys divide up the song writing and recording? Does one or the other of you come in with an idea for a song, or does it break down between music and lyrics? What’s the process like?
JD: A lot of times we both have strong ideas for the direction of a song or for the subject matter, and then we see if that’s something that both of us have something to say about. Really that’s where it kind of falls apart for a lot of songs. You know, maybe we do want to write a song, let’s say about…Hello Kitty; neither of us might have enough invested in the Hello Kitty characters to actually write a Hello Kitty song. So, using that as an extreme example- plus, that will be the theme of our next album: “Hello Kirby Krackle” and it’s just Hello Kitty related songs. Fourteen tracks. It’d be awesome.
JD: That’s where it kicks off. And then we just continue to figure out, from the subject matter, what we want to do, what twists we want to take. Because we try to think of it from a perspective that hasn’t been taken before instead of…like when we did Zombie Apocalypse, it was a song about the idea that wouldn’t the zombie apocalypse just be annoying? If you were just a dude who was like; my cable’s out and I can’t get my Netflix, and you know, the internet’s down. And then from there, we start developing the song and Kyle gets the all music together and then we write the lyrics, the two of us.
KS: It’s so weird that we’re on the third album right now, because I think when we started the first one it was just kind of like, “Ok, let’s see if this works” but we were really dealing with the idea of how could this work and would people like it? And we were lucky enough that people got into it. the self-titled first record was very general and it was kind of like a vague mash-up of different subject matters all together and I think that was what was appealing to people. And then we put out the Ring Capacity song in the summer between the debut album and E for Everyone, and that was the first time we did something from the point of view of a real, established character. And so on E for Everyone we kind of ran with that ‘cause we thought that was working well. And then I think for Super Powered Love we’re trying to blend the two together; do the general mash-up but have a couple of the character-driven, biopic songs.
CC: It does seem to have a good balance in that way. There’s a lot of diversity in terms of the music, but it still hangs together as a cohesive album. There’s everything from straight rock and roll to hip hop with Comic Shop, and Rainbow Bridge almost has a Jethro Tull sort of feel that really goes well with the fantasy aspect of Thor. And then even a song like In Another Castle where it’s just Kyle on the ukulele, it works on two levels for me; it has the simplicity and genuine-ness of a sweet little love song from Mario’s point of view but then also something about the ukulele evokes that old, 1980’s midi file video game music in a way.
CC: Was that something you thought about when you were recording it?
KS: I think Jim and I, well I won’t speak for Jim- we might have different ideas about it- but I think, growing up and me doing albums and other stuff before Kirby Krackle, I feel like part of my blessing and also a curse as a songwriter is that I just can’t write one kind of thing. So for a while, when I was having bands that were before Kirby Krackle, I would shop around to labels and they would say, “Hey, we like these songs but, what are you? What is your style that defines you?”. I understood where they were coming from, from a business standpoint, but I always felt like it would be kind of boring to do that. And I feel very lucky that with Kirby Krackle our fans, just like you’re saying, they embrace the super-produced Bootie Do Math kind of thing and then they allow us to do the stuff like In Another Castle. I don’t know, what do you think Jim?
JD: Well, I agree. I think we’ve come from a really diverse background in terms of our musical tastes and that’s informed the kind of music that we actually record. So when it comes to it, we feel like we don’t have a problem going between something like an Elton John and an R. Kelly; those are a couple of extremes in terms of style, and yet we’re comfortable because those were the kind of songs, and those are the kinds of artists, that we grew up on and so those really inform decisions of our musical tastes. So when we’re creating music we don’t think of something as necessarily fitting into a box, like a “Kirby Krackle” box. Instead, we’re just; well, if this is good music, and if this is something we have a passion about in terms of the subject matter, then we want to write it. So we simply think of it like that and not as, “Well, what is Kirby Krackle?” Are you rock or hip hop or rap? We know we’re rock but we’re able to bring in all these other influences and give ourselves some diversity and I’m happy that our fans kind of are along for the ride.
CC: For me it feeds back to what you were saying earlier about doing songs from the character’s point of view. Being able to utilize so many different musical styles really helps tell those different stories. You have the option of using whatever music is best suited to the story of that song.
Bootie Do Math is a fun song, maybe the catchiest hook on the album. It really gets in your head.
KS: That’s good to hear.
CC: In a bit of a departure from nerd subjects like comics and games, it takes on math- which is a whole other subset of geekdom- and girls (or guys for that matter) who are sexy by virtue of their mad math skills. It reminded me a bit of Team Unicorn. Are you guys familiar with them?
JD: The video gals out of Los Angeles?
CC: Yeah. They have that song Geek and Gamer Girls.
KS: Their stuff is really cool. We love seeing people who can take a great song and turn it into something super nerdy and put it out for our geek community to enjoy
CC: You cover a lot of geek ground on this album- it’s not just superheroes. You’ve got a song about vampires, and you’ve had songs about zombies and video games, but there is a lot of superhero material. It’s pretty well balanced between DC and Marvel. What are some of your personal favorite comics and superheroes?
JD: I grew up mainly a Marvel guy. Green Lantern was about the only character I liked from DC, as a kid. So I’m a huge Fantastic Four fan, I read X-Men since I was a kid as well. So many books that are legacy for me that I’ve been reading it feels like for years. The best thing about having a brother that was also into comics was that we would be able to swap books. So I would pick up any number of books and then I would read his. He was a big Iron Man guy and Batman as well, so I would read those characters. These days I read a lot of indie books; I love The Walking Dead, and Invincible, and Hellboy. I just checked out the new Rachel Rising from Terry Moore; you know, Strangers in Paradise, and then he did Echo and now this. In more mainstream, I’m enjoying Deadpool and Fear Itself and all the Flashpoint stuff from DC. I’m kind of a comics omnivore. I truly like comics; I’ll try anything. I have the luxury, since I own a store, I’m able to- even if it’s just to flip through some books- I’m able to check out some stuff and it’s really nice to read kind of, everything. So I guess my answer to ‘What comics do you read?’ is: comics.
KS: I have a different path than Jim a little bit. Jim and I met when I got back into comics. I was really hardcore into comics from like ten to fourteen. And then I started playing music and I had this ignorant thing that I thought that OK I was into music now so I can’t read comics; like this is my thing, you know? And then time went by and I really got into comics like a fever, more than ever. That’s when I met Jim at his shop. I’m with Jim- Walking Dead I really, really enjoy –I’m staring at my big stack right now; I’m just re-organizing my trade shelf. Really like the Grant Morrison X-Men run, that got me into X-Men again. Looking forward to Schism and all the new stuff coming up. I’m enjoying Fear Itself right now, I really like Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman run and just flipping through some old Nextwave stuff too- I forget how fun that is.
CC: What do you guys think about the big DC reboot? Especially Jim, being a retailer, I’d love to get your perspective on it. Obviously, there’s been a lot of controversy throughout fandom about that. What are your feelings on it?
JD: I think a lot of fans need to relax. That’s what it really boils down to. I’m totally excited. As a guy who owns a store, I actually welcome the opportunity to try and get people into reading any number of the DC books that they haven’t been reading before. I don’t think it’s one of those “number” things – you know a lot of people were saying, “I don’t want to start Action Comics because it’s at 860” –anyone that reads comics knows that it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s kind of the beginning of a new story arc or whatever. Superman just keeps going. But I think that’s still a hurdle in terms of trying out a new book and now this opportunity where- in the minds of anyone who doesn’t think of it like that- where I can just say, “Listen- it’s number one. Get in from the ground floor. You don’t need to know anything. Just pick it up and roll.” I hope that DC takes their responsibility seriously in that we’re trying to not only reach the current customers that we have, but we’re doing a lot of outreach into our community through theater advertising and print advertising and all this other stuff, to say, “Come in and check out these books, you won’t be disappointed”. And then it’s up to DC to fulfill their end of this bargain which is: now you need to make a book which someone is going to come in off the street and enjoy. So overall, I’m really excited. Even for myself, there are a number of books that I’ve not really touched before that I’m going to check out.
CC: I share your hope that they put out some good books. Because that’s the bottom line, right? If the stuff is good then people are going to stick around, however they want to market it.
JD: Correct. Nice and simple.
CC: Is the new video for Nerd Money animated like your previous videos?
CC: By the same artist?
JD: It almost feels like she’s our house animator. Betsy Lee. She’s done almost all of our videos till now- all or our animated ones except for Zombie Apocalypse. She did Nerd Money and I think the amount of Easter eggs in Nerd Money is going to blow people away. They’re going to love the visuals and how much cool nerd stuff we’ve managed to cram into this one.
CC: Even in the lyrics for Nerd Money you manage to cover quite a bit of stuff, so I can only imagine. Nerd Money, along with the song Comic Shop, share a theme of spending a lot of money on geek merchandise. Do you guys drop a lot of cash on stuff like action figures and whatnot?
JD: Oh yeah. We’re both big collectors. We love statues, I love the Bowen stuff, action figures, I’m a big original art fan- a combination of all that.
CC: Ok, I need to know who is who in these Halloween pictures in the CD insert.
KS: I’m the little blond kid. Jim is Sylvester and I’m Superman.
CC: I love the boxers on over the pajamas. Striving for comic accuracy even at such a young age.
KS: It’s funny ‘cause you’re the first person that’s even ever mentioned that. People take the CD out and look at it and we always wait for someone to be like “What…?” And no one has ever said anything.
CC: I saw it right away and thought, “That is perfect”. We all have pics like that! I could probably dig out a photo of my sweet, vinyl C-3P0 costume from 1978.
Super Powered Love is now available from Kirby Krackle’s official website or through iTunes. They also have live dates coming up at the Toronto FanExpo in August, New York Comic Con in October, and the Vegas Valley Comic Festival in November in Las Vegas. Details can be found on their site.
Check out the new video Nerd Money below!