The Kickback’s debut, Sorry All Over The Place (Jullian Records), is an invigorating 10-song collection that fuses ‘60s bubblegum sentimentality with modern indie rock’s quirky confessionals and wiry musicality.
The album also represents vocalist/guitarist Billy Yost’s seven-year odyssey, as he shifted from being a small town songwriter living with his parents to writing music on his own terms, putting together an acclaimed band, and earning the respect of one of his primary influences.
The story begins in 2009 when Billy, a recent college graduate, decided to leave his rural South Dakota home and move to Chicago. “I was terrified about making the move,” Billy confides. “I loved where I grew up. I spent a lot of time there writing songs for this record, and figuring out what I had to offer. But I needed a bigger pool of musicians who I had things in common with musically.”
The Kickback have released a clutch of EPs and singles and have garnered praise from Rolling Stone, esteemed tastemaker Jim DeRogatis (Sound Opinions, SPIN, Chicago Sun Times), You Ain’t No Picasso, the Chicago Tribune, among many other outlets. The Chicago-based quartet has built a robust and respected live profile through incendiary gigs and tours with artists such as White Rabbits, Smith Westerns, Here We Go Magic, Tapes ‘n Tapes, and Telekinesis.
The band furthered their reach and appeal with their podcast DISASTOUR, which, with barbed wit, self-deprecating candor, and warmth, peels back the shiny veneer of the rock n’ roll life, revealing the humor and struggles of what it means to be a contemporary musician. Since 2010, the group has aired over 100 episodes of the popular series.
The Kickback, composed of Billy Yost (vocals, guitar), Eamonn Donnelly (bass), Jonny Ifergan (guitar), and Ryan Farnham (drums), is influenced by a broad array of irreverent, cerebral, and sometimes outlandish, cultural references. They cite Hunter S. Thompson, post-post-modernism, an inflated sense of self-importance, large families, David Foster Wallace, The Wire, big sounds and then quiet sounds, David Lynch, harmonies, Michael Keaton, and entitlement, as their conceptual inspirations.
Upon arriving in Chicago, Billy assembled the band through Craigslist ads, weathering a series of changes until the band solidified with the current lineup. Despite Billy’s status as the founding member and primary songwriter, The Kickback is a truly collaborative effort built around each member’s artistic vision.
A milestone moment came when the band, with humor and bravado, sent their demos to Jim Eno from Spoon (one of Billy’s primary modern artistic inspirations). Jim responded favorably and got in touch with the band. “I remember I was standing in a friend’s kitchen when I got his message,” Billy recalls, laughing. “I called him and I was breathing so heavy, and I talked at him for 10 minutes about every song he’s done. He mercifully let me finish my diatribe before asking about my music.”
To record Sorry All Over The Place, the four-piece decamped to Jim Eno’s studio, Public Hi-Fi, in Austin, Texas. “We spent three weeks sleeping body to body to body to body. It was like trauma bonding,” Billy says laughing good-naturedly. “We bonded together through making a lot of sacrifices, working hard, and navigating everyone’s feelings to make something we all feel really good about.”
The Kickback’s debut album is named after a fictional footnote in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. In a similar spirit to Wallace’s multi-layered literary tour de force (which includes 388 endnotes), Sorry All Over The Place is rife with a fascinating array of references and revelations. “I like the idea of contrasts. Like with David Letterman you had a late night personality that seemed unhappy to be there, or with the Muppets—they can warm your heart as puppets or terrify a child as monsters,” Billy explains.
It’s this infatuation with juxtaposition, beamed through the lens of Billy’s life, that makes the album both comforting and disquieting. “The rule I make for myself is that the more disconcerting a song is, the more upbeat and dancey it should be,” Billy says.
“Scorched Earth Brouhaha” lops along with catchy, propulsive guitar riffs and balmy power-pop passages. It recalls a summer when Billy returned home from college to work at a summer camp, and his parents ended up getting a divorce at the same time. The dreamy “When I Die” is a torch song for the megalomaniac terrified of death, who even in his fearful obsessions seeks to control everything. Here Billy sings, Without me there, you just live a life decayed/Press and fold all my clothes but don’t give them away/I’m coming back someday just to spite my enemies.
The new-wavey “Sting’s Teacher Years” sonically alludes to The Police and Sting’s former life as a teacher, while more directly citing Billy’s prior path as a college graduate with a teacher’s degree confronting the next era of his life. “It’s a scary time after you graduate and it took me a long time to learn ‘normal people’ adult things,” Billy says candidly.
The song epitomizes the band’s journey from South Dakota to the driven days in Chicago. “I’m really grateful for how everything has turned out. I’ve never felt stronger about a batch of songs I’ve written. We felt so strongly about sharing this music that we were going to hand out albums on street corners. I’m glad it didn’t come to that,” Billy says laughing.