Interview with Kenny Boothby of Little Kid

Noah: Alright so we are here at WKDU interviewing Kenny Boothby of Little Kid. My name is Noah.

Trent: My name is Trent.

N: Alright let’s get this started. So do you have a first question you want to ask?

T: Sure, yeah. So I guess as a good introductory question, when did you first realize that you had a knack for music?

Kenny: I I don’t know I think when I was in grade six, I started playing guitar and I don’t think I was great at it. But there I think it was probably more around grade 8 or 9 for me. I don’t know if I was thinking I was great at music from this but I went to a thing at my church about reading or how to play music by ear and the pastor taught me some stuff about the circle of fifths. In that just half hour-hour session something in that clicked in this big way and I could kind of play music or understood it in some deeper way. I have no idea- I wish I knew how he taught me that so fast but something really clicked and I got pretty obsessed with music after that or just kind of deeper into how it works and how to play it.

N: What were some early influences that you liked when you were that age?

K: At that age? Oh nothing cool, I mean not that much that was cool when I was that age. I mean I liked The Beatles when I was really young. I guess that’s pretty timeless like kids like it and it still rocks when you’re older. But I was into like Reliant K, like Christian pop punk like Christian Ska. It’s like it’s just like excruciatingly uncool music, but that was what I liked back then. I loved the Bare-Naked Ladies. That’s a Canadian rock band, I don’t think they crossed over too much to the states.

N: I know the Barenaked Ladies: you know… “If I Had a Million Dollars”

K: Yeah, of course, yeah. That was the first band I nerded out about, got all their CDs. Yeah, definitely not cool. And those were what made me want to learn guitar and those are some of the first songs I learned

N: Awesome.

T: So outside of music are there any other artistic influences that you have?

K: Yeah, in recent years I’ve been much worse at reading books. I used to read a lot of books. I think I’m addicted to my phone and I’m also burnt out from working a job so I don’t find I read as much. But I definitely think reading was helpful for, you know, words. Getting better with words or finding words I like and hearing different voices I guess. All that to say it’s not much of an influence now unfortunately. Maybe it’s purer this way. It’s just musical influences. But I feel like I read a lot of Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy was a big one. I liked JD Salinger when I was younger. Yeah so, I used to read, I like short stories, I like short story collections. I think that might be the most similar thing to albums in a way they have the kind of interconnected or feel like they have a theme or vibe.

N: Yeah no I can totally see that influence. I feel like your lyrics, especially on the new album, are very narratively driven so yeah, it’s awesome.

K: Thanks.

N: Speaking of that, how do you decide on topics for your songs and where do you pull from for these ideas?

K: I wish I could pinpoint it better cause lately I’ve been kind of struggling with writing a song or finishing a song. Just because I’m stuck at that part of like, what do I want to write about? I don’t have anything write about. Like that kind of feeling. But I have to remember that more often it’s a musical idea that kind of starts a process and you kind of chase a melodic thing. At least I do this. and then repeating that melody, playing guitar over and over again, saying nonsense words. Then I kind of start coming out of that and I start writing down words. I think for me at least. I got to remember I don’t usually know what I’m going to write about too well when I start and then the words will start to come together. Sometimes it’s not totally until the very end of the writing that you go “oh there we go,” there’s a line that can be the hook of the song. It can be the thing where I can approach this certain line a bunch of different ways and that will crack something open and connect all the verses. So yeah, I think some of it is subconscious or some of it is just following an impulse and trying stuff out. Once in a while, I have an idea for a song. My partner and I were joking around about the rapture and someone coming home and their partner’s clothes are on the ground and they think they’ve been raptured. That was kind of a joke and we thought it was funny. Then like a couple weeks later, I was like “that should be a song” and turned it into a song. So sometimes it works out that way.

N: Yeah, I do that a lot too. Sometimes when my friends say something interesting, I’m like that could be a song right there. Boom.

K: I find it hard though, I find it more difficult to do that sometimes. I have a couple ideas I’ve had for a while where I’m like that should be a song. I want to make that song and then it might take me years to actually find the right way to do that. So it’s sometimes easier coming the other way of just following some vibe and it turns into something.

N: Do you feel like this process has changed over the course of your career at all?

K: Definitely yeah. It’s more collaborative, I think. This one, just by the nature of COVID, went back to being a bit more starting with the Kenny demo for a lot of the songs. I think those have generally been written in a pretty similar way from the start. But at times, like some of the ones on the new record too, we made them in the room together. I was just at that point of just the melody, knowing there was some kind of spark I wanted to chase there and was able to build it in the room with Brody or Paul or Liam and like whoever was there. We kind of turned it into a song that felt good even though the lyrics weren’t there. Then I would write lyrics to that. Which is really hard I find. I don’t like doing it sometimes cause I don’t meet the deadline. Like we want to start recording, we have this day and I’ve got one song done but we just played around with a couple others. So that could be more difficult. It’s kind of fun, it’s like a brain teaser – you got a certain amount of syllables and you gotta build something useful out of it. But it’s a lot more difficult and less enjoyable in certain ways.

N: Yeah, I feel the same way because I write in a full band context and also personally. It’s definitely very different in that sense.

T: Yeah definitely writing is like poetry for me. I find when I read poetry more, I tend to get better at writing music.

K: It makes a lot of sense. I love lyrics and I’m pretty turned off by music if the lyrics are bad like pretty quickly. I mean there’s major exceptions to that. I like stuff sometimes just because it’s fun or whatever. But for me, I don’t really enjoy reading poetry. I’ve had trouble kind of getting into it. I really like rhymes, like very much I’m excited by rhymes. But I don’t like perfect rhymes or stuff that feels too nursery rhyme. And so, with poetry, it’s either not going to rhyme and I’m going to have trouble accessing it for that reason or it’s going to rhyme and it’s going to feel corny more easily for some reason if it’s not to a melody. But I’d like to dabble more with reading. Dan Riggins from Friendship has talked to me about poetry in some interesting ways. I think he taught some course up at University of Iowa and he was saying poetry is like instrumental music which would sound very counterintuitive to me but I tried to maybe keep that in mind when I was reading some of his stuff after. It was an interesting way to think about it, just kind of more of a washing over you than trying to analyze it.

N: Right yeah, I feel like when I want to read poems I lose concentration easily because it’s not part of a larger story or anything. It’s just kind of like containing itself and – especially if it’s long – it’s just hard for me because I feel like I have to really analyze every phrase. But maybe, I should take that approach as well. I’m in a poetry class right now…

T: Oh really?

N: Yeah, in the winter – I was stuck in a lyrical rut, and now I’m stuck in like a musical rut, so I’m hoping to use my poems as actual lyrics at some point.

K: That’s great, it could be cool.

T: It’s funny because for me poetry is like music, like when I read it, I just love how the sounds of the words flow over my tongue when I say it. I don’t know, it’s interesting.

N: Want to ask the next question?

T: For sure. So why do you make music at all? I mean what motivates you to make music? Is it fun? Is it therapeutic?

K: Good question. I think I’m also at the weird spot post-album release, wanting to make new stuff where you also wonder about that. Or like if you’re in that rut, like I’m not writing a lot, well why am I trying? If nothing’s coming out what’s the point? What am I after by making a new song you know? It’s hard to say. I mean, I love music. I have since I was young. I love albums. I love that sort of form of making a bunch of songs and finding a way to fit them together. I don’t know, the stuff I’ve enjoyed the most in my life has been listening to albums or getting to know albums so I guess it’s just rewarding to be like “I can make those sometimes.” So I don’t know, does that mean it’s like vanity or pride or something? Probably, but everybody who’s ever made an album is kind of doing that. So I guess it’s fine, I don’t know. I wish I had a better answer…

N: I think it’s valid

K: Obviously it’s a therapeutic process, or you can put a story to your life or something that helps you make sense of it. That can be really powerful. But when I’m actually just playing the guitar and thinking I want to make something, it’s usually not such a nice reason. It’s hard to articulate.

N: For sure, yeah. Do you feel like mental health and using music as a therapeutic tool affects your creative process at all? And in turn, do you think your creative process and your creative output affects your mental health at all?

K: Yeah I think so. That might be an interesting thing in the last few years. I’ve gone to therapy since like 2018? I want to say… maybe 2019? I just had a couple albums since then. But I think before going to therapy and just also being younger person on the first album, I’m not sure how healthy it was to process stuff that was so intense for me. I was writing about my whole faith crisis in songs, and stuff that I hadn’t really talked about with my friends or talked about with people that were close to me. I was just putting it into a song. And where I was at in my growth as a person, maybe that was all I was able to do, and it was a way to process it and it was helpful. But maybe I could’ve talked to my friend about it, you know? It might have been nice. Rather than this weird thing where I have a really intense performance of this song and I’m feeling kind of screwed up because I’m singing with this stuff and feeling very strange. Now hopefully I’m processing these things that are intense in therapy and that is also helping me improve my own communication with my loved ones and my own identification of what’s going on with myself. I think I’m just a bit better at doing that kind of work. So hopefully that’s not happening with songs the same way. But maybe there’s a plus side of that kind of clarity? I definitely have written songs now about stuff that I worked out in therapy or already kind of processed I’ve actually got insight or more of a big picture look at stuff. That might help with the writing being more mature or more of a different perspective. I think just an older person’s perspective helps. The person who’s done a little more work on themselves and a little more emotionally healthy.

N: Yeah that’s always been kind of interesting to me. Because I do the same thing. Like I write songs about stuff that I don’t talk to my friends about. These are things that are going to be released for everyone to hear at some point. I think it’s just because writing music is a very- especially if you’re doing it by yourself – singularly focused process that it creates a zone for you to do that.

T: Yeah for me there’s some things where I try writing music about it, and it does nothing and I realize I just gotta talk to people about it. And then there’s some things where I talk to people about it and it does nothing, and I’m like I just gotta write this down and do music. So I’m always bouncing between talking to people and writing music for a lot of things that I’m going through.

K: Yeah hopefully now, at least, there’s an order to it for me of like, I want to talk about it with the person before and have approval for it being a song, or like, you know, that kind of thing. A little more like where am I in this, this careful with that then when I was younger.

N: What’s the divide between songs you write that are based on like real events and feelings, and more fictional?

K: I think all of them are kind of both. I don’t know if I’ve had any that are that are fully one or the other. I don’t know if I’ve had any that are not fictionalized at least a little bit, is probably what I should say. I think there have been some that are probably pretty purely fiction, but even those are often an image or a theme or something that’s still connected to something in my life. But I don’t know, I guess the most narrative ones are Raptured or Two Invitations as well. Two Invitations has some autobiographical things stuck in there but it’s also just a totally made-up story.

N: that’s a good answer for sure. Inevitably, every song is going to have a bit of yourself in it, even if it’s completely fictional, because it’s just coming from you.

K: Yeah

T: You mentioned the way you’d write music when you were younger versus now. What are some ways that you think you’ve grown as a musician? And perhaps more broadly as a human being, since you first started Little Kid?

K: As a musician I think I’ve always wrote pretty repetitive songs. I like repetition, I think that’s something I’ve just embraced. It’s a barrier for me to listen to music that doesn’t repeat a lot. If I like the melody, I like to hear it a bunch. So that’s always been pretty constant, but I think there was a point maybe where we first were like “oh we can put some weird chords and it’s kind of fun.” For some reason, I really don’t think were any accidentals on the first 3 albums. Everything was in the in the key. I don’t write the wackiest music that way, but we did start thinking to put some weird chords in there. I don’t know if I described them, we have a way we describe these chords sometimes.

N: I know what you mean.

K: But anyways, I think we dabbled in more musically complex stuff. It’s not very complex still because that stuff doesn’t excite me too much, but I think I’m prouder of some of the chord progressions or some of the ways we snuck in some weird little chords and harmonic stuff. That would be the musical growth kind of thing. Lyrically, I’ve challenged myself to kind of just write better. Try to make every line something I work at a little bit more. I think there was a long time where I’d have songs that I mostly felt pretty good about but I’d maybe still be like “I wish I fixed that line.” I try to be a little more focused to make the whole thing something I’m proud of. But yeah, as a person, that piece around therapy or just trying to try to be better at identifying what my emotions are and why I’m feeling this way, and not leaving that up to someone else to discover that for me and tell me you’re behaving this way. I just think that’s maturity and I think it’s also doing some work around figuring yourself out so you’re not hurting somebody else. I don’t know if that comes through in the music, but in terms of my own, maybe try and just be better at communicating and better at identifying what I want or what I should do.

N: I think that’s a valuable thing to have and that’s something that everyone could work on for sure. And I’m glad that you feel like you’re a place where that’s something you’re good at.

K: better at.

N: Yeah better at. Alright so for this new record what were some of your biggest influences during the creation process?

K: I think it’s died off a little bit now, but I was definitely riding this “Bob Dylan at his most intensely productive” era. I just love the classics by him like Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61. Just that pace of writing and the ambition of these long form songs was pretty inspiring, and I think we were trying to make records really fast, partially inspired by that and by some other bands and projects. That looseness and that pushing forward. It’s still kind of there, but I think by nature of the pandemic and all of a sudden not being able to record together, I was forced to not try to have that energy anymore because it wasn’t possible. I guess that’s been a shift. If anything, the Bob Dylan influence might be more present in other ways just because of the length of the songs and playing with folk forms. Obviously I’m sure the music I listen to is influencing the stuff. I feel like we now have a big discography and for live shows we’ll play a lot of our stuff from older albums. I feel like we weirdly can be like “I’m making this song that is a Little Kid song.” I’m not so much thinking “I really want to do a Leonard Cohen type song.” So for better or for worse, I feel we’re sometimes just reacting to or being influenced by them before and being “let’s try to do something like this but better,” or try to pursue what we liked about this thing. But yeah, I don’t know if I could point to many musical influences. I think also because it was such a long span of time. It’s what was I listening to in the period of 2019 through 2003? I don’t know, a bunch of different things, bunch of different phases, yeah maybe more rap music to be honest. I think that’s exciting me in certain ways with the lyrics.

N: What’s your taste in rap?

K: I really like Billy woods lately. I think that’s the best writing I’ve ever heard in my life. Like just in terms of the rhyme schemes and the humor mixed with really biting social stuff and mind-blowingly intense rhymes going on in there. The way that he sneaks in these syllables and stuff is super inspiring but also super embarrassing. You’re just like “oh man I thought I was getting pretty good at this, but this is this is a whole other thing.” How does someone do that kind of vibe you know? I also just like more carefree summertime drive stuff. I honestly like Drake. Vince Staples is one. I really liked Vince Staples’ more recent albums. Really low-key ones like Self-Titled. It’s like 20 minutes long. That one I listened to a lot that one summer. But I mean not very deep cut stuff though. I really like those artists I mentioned but I don’t have my ear to the ground very much.

N: I’m always curious to see what artists listen to like outside of the genre that they make themselves. So I’m glad you shared that with us. How long does it take you to write a song? And do you consider the recording process part of the writing process or is that a separate thing?

K: In the past honestly, I’ve written almost every song that I’ve released in a day, like the lyrics, in a session.

N: That’s crazy

K: I’ll be excited enough about an idea to sit down and do it. It will be like maybe 8 hours or something. Sometimes I have the whole day to do something. I’m usually recording with the four track or I’m listening through the four track with headphones while I’m singing. I picture how it’s going to sound recorded a little better. I’m usually demoing actively on the four track while I’m writing. I make the song, do a rough recording with the four track, maybe do a couple counter melodies on the piano or on a little keyboard or whatever and I have that version that I send to the band and we will restart it, generally. Sometimes we’ll keep a little piece from the demo and mix it into the intro of the song or something. But usually we redo it, and in that time between, I might tweak a couple lyrics if I’m like “that line is not sitting great with me.” Usually it’s like that and then otherwise it’s the flip side where we write it together and I have to then build the lyrics. And that process can take forever, like months and months because I don’t have that same spark of like “I’ve had the idea.” But yeah, this thing has happened where I find the right hook for the song and not necessarily a hook like a melodic banger of a melody, but just what the verses can come back to at the end. That’s what the chorus could be about, and then something will click then things fall into place. So yeah, generally, the actual writing process is in a many hour window but sometimes just doing that on an idea can be months and months. And honestly, I maybe just have to give up on those ones that take that long. I’m learning I don’t usually finish them, so I think it’s got to be that hot in the moment thing.

N: Do you write a lot of songs that never see release at all?

K: Not that many. On the last few albums, we maybe had one or two B-sides that we finished. I start writing a lot of songs. I got a lot of notepads that have a few lines or something, or just a couple of words I realized had a pattern to them or something that don’t ever quite turn into a song. So yeah, I guess when I’m talking about that 8 hour span it’s like when I realize this song’s going to work. I think that there are lots of little starts of things that don’t end up finding the hook and just will stay that way but if we finish it, we usually release it. There’s a really small amount of songs being fully recorded that we didn’t end up wanting to put out.

T: How comfortable are you with people hearing your music while you’re still working on it? Would you ever think of releasing those demos on Bandcamp or something?

K: Yeah I think now I’m pretty ok with putting demos up for the people who want to hear it. The people who don’t want to hear it won’t listen to it and that’s fine. But there will be a few people who might dig it. We have released demos once in a while. I surely will do more of that whenever it’s the good time. But I think for something I’m currently working on I don’t generally post it publicly. My friend Aaron from Fog Lake, he’s always hearing stuff that’s partially done. I’m always sending him stuff. Anybody who’s my closer friend, especially musicians. I value their opinion. I generally like to send them stuff. He will send me some stuff sometimes. He’s a little more personal about it or protective. But I think honestly, getting a bit of validation earlier in the process can be helpful. I want to know I’m kind of onto something. So sending it to someone whose opinion I value and being like “hey this is great, I would I listen to that a bunch of times,” you’re like “ok, if Aaron likes it, it must be pretty good.” So yeah that can be nice.

N: Awesome, you know, Trent’s a big Fog Lake fan

T: Yeah, I saw Aaron in concert at Philamoca.

K: That’s great, yeah.

N: Have you ever played in Philly before?

K: No. I was just saying to Trent though, we’re planning a tour for August and we’re going to come to Philadelphia. We got to figure out the venue and all that. But we are just kind of finalizing our routing with the other band.

N: Awesome

K: We’re just starting to let people know and whatnot so I’m pretty certain I’ll be there. I’ve never been to Philadelphia. It’s been on my list for a while as a place to visit so I’m excited to see it at least for a day. And there’s lots of good music there so hopefully we’ll play with cool band or something.

N: Yeah make sure you get a cheesesteak. Don’t bother with the liberty bell, its just a bell.

K: I guess as a Canadian I don’t really know the significance of that.

N: Alright I think Trent has one more question.

T: Yeah this question is probably as personal as you want to make it, but this is something that I’m pretty interested in. I mean maybe the context helps: I was a Christian for over 10 years and I listened to some of your earlier stuff while I was still a Christian. Maybe about like a year or so ago, I kind of fell out of the faith so I don’t know, your music has always helped me while I was a Christian and sort of after I was a Christian, so I’m interested to know, are you religious? And if so, how does the interplay between the music you make and your faith work? Like does one support the other?

K: A lot of people will ask about it. Obviously it’s very present in the music so it makes sense. I think my path has kind of been that I grew up very Christian. I would have identified as a Christian still for the first couple little kid albums, even though I was going through stuff, kind of questioning things on the record itself. I think the path was kind of confusing and kind of sad and that turned into kind of angry and very much rejecting the whole thing. I think that probably comes throughout some of those albums too but in more recent years I value some aspects of growing up with those stories and with some of the values. I wouldn’t identify as a Christian now at all. I don’t go to church, I don’t have really a spiritual life to be honest, hopefully that’s not disappointing. But obviously, I’m thinking about it still a lot. I think there’s some beautiful stuff in the stories and there’s some beautiful stuff in the ideal kind of life that you could live with some of those teachings. I don’t really see that happening very much so it is definitely a turnoff to the idea of using the title of Christian or being involved in the church. But yeah, I think the overall journey has been to push away from it really hard and be like “no way” and very angry. But in more recent years I appreciate that part of my life and I would enjoy any time I have crossed paths with going back to church with somebody or going to a service. I’ve enjoyed the comfort of it in certain ways and there are certain things about the music and other communal stuff. There are some things that are just so beautiful you can’t explain them, about existence and about just like I don’t know, music and for me math and things that blow my mind and excite me. And I can see how you want to explain it with something like God. I feel like that makes sense and I respect it and I kind of agree with it in a way. I just don’t super know that the Bible is really true or want to participate in that culture really actively. But yeah, it’s clearly made a real impression on me. I find that stuff pretty inescapable to write about and I frame stuff through some of those images or some of those kinds of ways to think about the world. So yeah culturally, I’m definitely Christian. I can’t really help it now. But just in terms of the deeper practice, it’s not really present. I would definitely not be like “I’m an atheist” or I don’t want to be one of those… what’s the name from the office… Ricky Gervais like that kind of “I’m smarter than everybody because of logic or whatever.” That stuff totally repulsed me too. So yeah it’s a complex answer complex question. I’m sure for everybody I would hope it’s a complex answer

N: Yeah so you’re a big math guy as well?

K: Yeah I’m a math teacher. math and music. Just started teaching music but yeah I’ve been a math person forever. I love it.

T: Oh wow! I’m a math major actually.

K: That’s great yeah, I have a math minor. My math knowledge only goes to like second year calculus. I loved it and my appreciation of math has grown in teaching the stuff we do in grade 9/10/11 of high school. I know that stuff. It’s not very useful math, but I enjoy it very much.

T: As a math major, I can confirm that the higher up you go in math it really isn’t that useful but it’s really cool.

K: Yeah it blows your mind in a great way.

N: Do you ever use math in your songwriting or do you, Trent, ever use math?

T: I don’t, no.

K: We do. We say we got to do some math sometimes when we’re working on something. Often, it’s that we’re going to slow down a tape and transpose a note to match the key. It’s like very strange, specific math. It’s like we want to make the drums sound slow on this song so we’re going to record them fast and slow the tape down, but the bassline was there in C now it’s in A so we got to do transposition. My student today was realizing on the guitar. We were talking about semitones and tones and the student was moving a rift up and realizing “oh you can play the riff here” and that same student was in my math class that day and I was like it’s just like the K value on the on the parabola and it’s moving it up one.” It excites me that the student was like “they’re almost the same thing right?” And they’re both beautiful in a kind of spiritual way to be honest. Music is obviously more. It’s more apparent to everybody that their music is beautiful and spiritual but I think there’s something that happened that it gets out the same thing if you don’t have your walls up.

T: I did not expect to talk about math today during this interview.

N: I think we might be I think we’re done with the questions but, anything else you want to say to the people who might be listening to this?

K: I guess well to you two thanks for having me. I know I posted that I want to be on podcasts. You can tell like I could be chatty if I have the chance so yeah thanks for the chance to be chatty with the music itself. I appreciate it.

N: Of course! this was a really insightful conversation. I’ll definitely be listening to a lot of Little Kid after this interview.

K: Try to catch the math.