Heat is an apt metaphor for the The Kickaways’ career arc since their formation early last year; their most recent triumphs include a well received month-long residency at MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine and the March release of their official debut album, America! America!, on The Recording Label, the free music label/website founded by Pop Empire’s Cameron Cochran. After seeing The Kickaways tear through a live set at downtown club Mainstay, Cochran offered his services and the foursome (vocalist/guitarist Austin McMahan, guitarist Devyn Glista, bassist Jake Ittel and drummer Adam Lambchop) readily accepted.
“It was little things, like that night we just decided to wear black pants, shirts and ties,” McMahan says. “It just caught his eye.”
Even when things have gone wrong for The Kickaways, they’ve turned out to be positives. For example, a poorly managed gig had them playing at 2 a.m. to only a handful of people one night, but their resultant anger translated to a furiously visceral gig … which earned them a plum opening gig.
“We were saying, ‘12 people are going to get a hell of a show,’ ” Lambchop says, laughing. “But one guy was there who said, ‘Holy shit, you guys are really good. I want to book you for this Greenhornes show.’ ”
The Kickaways coalesced last year when the four childhood friends from Dayton, who had played together in various combinations — McMahan and Glista had been friends since elementary school, as had Ittel and Lambchop — decided it was time to pool their talents.
“We hadn’t played music in awhile and one day Austin came to me and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna start a band,’ ” Glista says.
“It wasn’t really an option. So we did.”
They began playing a much more subtle form of Country Rock which quickly morphed into the rootsy Garage Soul that marks America! America! The band’s old sound was evident on their initial recording, a demo they titled Desert Days.
“It was a piece of shit,” McMahan says, laughing. “It started out as this Country thing and it wasn’t very good. We listen to too much Punk Rock to do that.”
The members bring a wide variety of influences to The Kickaways’ sound, but it’s clearly the four of them working in tandem that channels those influences into the band’s chaotically cohesive direction.
“We all listen to different kinds of music, but it’s all Rock & Roll,” Ittel says. “It’s a hodgepodge.”
“But it works because we each bring our own twist to it,” Lambchop says. “And once we did, it was like, ‘Wow, this is actually an interesting combination.’ ”
Although The Kickaways have largely abandoned a purely Country Rock sound, it still informs the band’s underlying sensibility without leaking out through the amps. McMahan counts Wilco as his favorite band and among the adornments on the walls of the Kickaplex, a massive poster of Johnny Cash’s infamous middle-finger photo is one of the most prominent. It’s all part of The Kickaways’ secret formula.
“Johnny Cash was a punk,” McMahan says. “That’s why we wear black.”
The Kickaways certainly work with Punk speed. America! America! started out as a proposed EP with Cochran’s estimation that recording five songs would take them two long weekends. Things went slightly better than that.
“We got done with every song on the album instrumentally by the first Saturday,” Lambchop says.
“Cameron wanted to do three tries, but by the end of it, we had done some of them on the first take,” McMahan says. “Plus, you get the little mistakes and treats that you get live.”
There is a muscular maturity to The Kickaways’ unhinged Garage Soul assault, a gritty psychedelic tumult that suggests a back-alley rumble between The Strokes, The White Stripes and The Greenhornes. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that only McMahan is legally allowed in the bars they play, and he only recently achieved that milestone. With so much road stretching out in front of them, and America! America! poised to become one of the year’s most memorable albums, The Kickaways’ success seems little more than a stomped gas and/or effects pedal away. They’re working toward amassing a slightly larger fan base, but that might require them to tweak their stage banter just a bit.
“Austin will be on stage and be like, ‘Hey, we’re The Dopamines,’ ” Glista says. “At Mayday, he was like, ‘We’re the Frankl Project,’ and after the show, somebody came up and said, ‘You know so and so?’ And we’re like, ‘No …’ And he’s like, ‘You’re the Frankl Project, right?’ And we’re like, ‘No, we’re not...’ ”
“That’s an anger drawn from not playing shows,” McMahan says. “We’ve been Oasis. We’ve been lots of bands.”
Download THE KICKWAYS’ debut album at therecordinglabel.com for free. The band plays the Down Under in Covington Friday and on Fountain Square June 24 as part of the free MidPoint Indie Summer Series. Find info on the June 24 performance here.