The Kick Interview
  + Luke Harlow - 11.1  
Louis James is the frontman for Florida’s The Kick, a band that he started in 2000. The Kick has independently released a full-length, “Last Look” (2000), and an ep, “Rumors, Rumors” (2003). They have toured all over the country in support of bands like Squad Five-O, Legends of Rodeo, and Noise Ratchet. I caught up with Louis in Elgin, IL, on October 7, 2003, at a show they played in a barn with One-21. Louis has a reputation for being abrupt and direct; these characteristics are evident in this interview. However, before he is written off as an overweening personality with an arrogant disposition, it should be noted that Louis was both an engaging and disarming interviewee. The band’s website is www.thekick.us; check it out for more information on the band.

Luke: So you guys have been around for about three years now.

Louis: We recorded our album in 2000, that’s “Last Look” our first album. So this is really our second year, it’s been almost three.

Luke: You’ve been on the road almost fulltime since you started. How has that been?

Louis: We’ve been out as much as we can. Our first tour, Squad Five-O took us out three months after we were a band. That tour was Squad Five-O, Norma Jean, and the Kick. Then we went and recorded an album four months later and we’ve been trying to hit the road as much as possible since. We went out with Legends of Rodeo, and then we toured with Noise Ratchet. We went out with Squad Five-O again and then we did a few weeks with Blindside. We did a week or two with Anberlin and now we’re out with One-21.

Luke: Does it bother you or do you find it problematic that you don’t get more attention? There doesn’t seem to be much of a buzz out there and you don’t have a record deal.

Louis: I don’t know, I think there is kind of a cool buzz. I think it is under the radar and I like that we’ve done everything ourselves. When we play Cornerstone, we have a bunch of kids there to watch our show. We always sell a bunch of merch. I guess we’re just trying to be a good rock and roll band and whatever God has in store for us will happen. To me, everything is on the up-and-up. I don’t know [laughter], maybe there is a different perception; maybe there isn’t much of a buzz [laughter].

Luke: Before you played “All the Way” at Cornerstone this summer, you told a story about your wife making you start the band. You talked about how she told you that you needed to think about being a frontman, even though you didn’t have any experience in that role. You’ve been in bands for a while, how has your wife shaped your goals?

Louis: I was in Dear Ephesus from 1996 to 1998 and we toured constantly. But we broke up right before I thought something was going to happen. Next I was in a band called Tenderfoot for a year or two; then I got kicked out. I was really heartbroken. I decided that I was done with music and that I would just get a job and that would be it. But my wife told me that I had to give it another shot; I didn’t really know how to sing or anything, but my wife really encouraged me to do it. My roommate at the time was Dave Peterson, who is in Squad Five-O and we just started writing some songs. I decided to try to get together a band that would just play around town, and then all of a sudden we were on tour. Then we decided to make a record. My wife’s thing was if I was going to do it, I had to do it all the way. It couldn’t be half-***. If I was going to do it, she didn’t want it to be a hobby; she wanted me to go for it. That is probably why people haven’t heard from us. We refuse to sign to some little indie label and stay small. We want to make it big, we want to do something big. We don’t want to settle. We don’t want to sign some six-album deal to just some label.

Luke: Louis, you sort of have this reputation as a loudmouth, as a guy who will say just about anything from the stage. You’ve been known to use profanity on occasion, which is not quite the image people want at some of the shows you play – the kinds of shows that different church youth groups might be at. You have a song called “All the Whores,” and you’ve taken a little heat for that. Talk a little bit about your persona as a frontman and what that is all about.

Louis: I really have no filter, I just talk. I think I have gotten better. We just played CBGBs and we recorded the show and as we were listening to it I had to apologize to my band. I just had to tell them, ‘Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t even realize that is what I say from stage.’ I guess I’m kind of known for being off the cuff, but I think that is part of the charm of the band. We’re not known for putting up a front. Sometimes I’m a goofball, sometimes I’m serious, it’s just me. The bands I like, they are themselves on stage and that is what I try to do. I get a bad rap and it annoys me sometimes. I wish that people would come talk to me instead of talking about me. I’m pretty easy to talk to. I just go up there; I like to have a good time. Like tonight, that kid was razzing me and I like to give it right back. I’m from New York, my language sometimes isn’t very appropriate. But I don’t think I’m ever profane, I’m just harsh.

Luke: Sure, you’re direct. You’ll make comments about how you’d rather be having sex with your wife at the moment than playing the show.

Louis: I haven’t said that in a while. And…

Luke: But the reputation is out there.

Louis: Well, I see people on decapolis.com talking about how all my songs are about having sex with women and I always sort of feel like, ‘Where is this coming from?’ [laughter] Of course, then I do the thing I shouldn’t do; I go get a screen name and post things like, ‘What are you talking about, that song was about the record industry, it’s not about me trying to bang some chick!’ Look, I joke around sometimes. Sometimes, when we play “All the Way,” I’ll say ‘Who wants to go all the way with us tonight.’ But I never mean sexually [laughter]. Look, I just had my two-year anniversary, you know? I talked with Jeff from Squad Five-O and he told me, ‘You know man, everyone knows you’re married, they know you’re hitting it. You don’t have to tell the crowd.’ I guess I just say what comes to the top of my head. I’ll be playing and thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m playing here to twenty kids when I could be with my gorgeous Asian wife at home.’ The Asian J-Lo, I call her [laughter].

But seriously, I think this is where the Lord has me so this is what I’m doing. I love the group of guys I’ve got. And what bands did for me, I want to do for kids. I want kids to get into Tom Petty, and The Clash, and The Who. Bands that I grew up listening to, like Pearl Jam, then got me listening to Neil Young, got me into The Clash, and bands like The Who. From researching what they were into, that’s what got me started. That’s pretty much what I want to do, I want to be a good rock band that exposes kids to better music that they haven’t heard. I feel like ‘The integrity of the scene…’ [laughter], to quote Kenny Klein. Look, it’s been pretty lame lately.

Luke: You’re known to have strong opinions about “Christian” matters, especially the relationship between faith and music. You’ll have long conversations with the kids at your shows. Does that ever work its way into your music?

Louis: Well, I’m a Christian and I think people that are Christians will look into our music and see it. What I write comes from Christian perspective but anyone can relate to it. I have a lyric that says, ‘F*** New York and L.A.’ That’s about the New York and L.A. lifestyle. I think it’s s***, I hate it. I hate that rock and roll, phony attitude. Yes, it’s harsh and I do want to get people’s attention. That is why I use those sorts of words.

We played this one bar all the time, it’s closed down now, but it was called Midtown Tavern. We were the owner’s favorite band and he was an atheist. He used to say that when we played he felt something inside of him, he felt like there was hope. If that’s not Christ shining through us, then what is it? I’d have a beer with him and he would say, ‘I should hate you, but I love you. I believe totally the opposite of what you believe.’ But we would sit there and talk about it.

We’re just normal dudes, and I think for the most part Christians aren’t “normal dudes.” They have some kind of suburban agenda. I don’t think we’re supposed to have an agenda, I just think we’re supposed to do everything we do to the best of our abilities and God will be worshiped through that. We need to love God with all of our heart and love our neighbors as ourselves; I think it is supposed to be simple like that. I write what’s on my heart and trust that it’s the right thing. I can’t ever sit down and say, ‘Ok, I’m going to write a song about whatever.’ I write about what’s on my heart, be it politics or whatever else. Like our song “Kiss Off,” I think that is the most Christian song I have ever written, I wrote that after church. The lyric is, “Where’s your passion, where’s your soul? If you don’t give up, then I won’t let go.” That totally can speak to a believer or that can speak to a person with no purpose in life. I think it is pretty heavy lyric and I think people can get a lot out of it, but they just hear “F***” and they freak out. I should have known better, but it’s in there, so what are you gonna do?

Sorry. I don’t know if I’m answering your questions.

Luke: No, no. I think you’re answering them fine, I’m just not sure you want all of this going out with your name attached to it.

Louis: I don’t care [laughter]. The conversation we’re having now, I’ll have with anybody. I’ll have it with a pastor, I’ll have it with a pagan. I think that is part of the charm of this band. Are we a Christian band? Sure. All we play are clubs and bars, on this tour it is a little different because all of my prior connections get us in Christian types of shows. When we get back home, all we play are clubs and places like the House of Blues with bands like the Rollins Band, the Buzzcocks, Papa Roach, whomever. I want to shake it up a little bit. I want to spice things up.

Luke: Five years from now, where do you see this band at?

Louis: I see us being pretty successful, to be honest. I see us making records for a long time. I don’t know how successful, but I see a band like MxPx and I think they’re pretty successful. They’ll play to two thousand kids at the House of Blues. Or I look at somebody like Pete Yorn, someone who has a core following and sells a couple hundred thousand records and is doing what they want to do. I think we can do that. I don’t think our sound is trendy, I think it is good music. That may sound pompous, but I think it’s the truth. I see us making music in five years. [laughter] Maybe this is why people don’t like us. [laughter]

Luke: Do you make any money from the band?

Louis: Nope. I’m $12,000 in debt. But God’s provided this far. I’ve kind of given myself a limit, that is when my wife graduates college in two years. We’ve got a lot of cool things happening right now and we’re not jumping on anything that is s*****. I think we’ll stop when we’re not relevant anymore.

Luke: How do you gauge that?

Louis: Obviously, we don’t want to be playing if the kids don’t dig it. But kids dig it. Unless I’m just oblivious and there’s a bunch of people that don’t dig it… We like what we’re doing. I think we’re honest. I think we’re good. I don’t think we’re great, I just think we’re good. We’re not the best musicians, we’re not the best songwriters, but I think we’re good. I probably sound really cocky, but you’ve got to have some confidence to do this. We’re not playing to lose; we’re playing to win. We’re playing for kids to like us. And all my freaking friends’ bands are on major labels so it’s got to come to me! [laughter] I sound like the biggest a** [laughter].



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