There are any number of reasons to put a band together; Black Kids have one of their own. Ask Reggie Youngblood, Black Kids co founder, what drives this much talked about group and he replies. “Our goal is to create music that would incite one to dance and to cry.”
On their much-anticipated Columbia Records debut Partie Traumatic, Black Kids -Ali Youngblood (vocals/key), Dawn Watley (keys/vocals), Owen Holmes (bass), Kevin Snow (drums) and Reggie (vocals/guitar) hit that goal dead on. Produced by ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, Partie Traumatic is an infectious fusion of heart and hips; ten songs as energetic and pop injected, as they are emotional and reflective; albeit with a knowing if not sardonic twist. “We've been getting the impression that the record appeals to people of all ages, “ Reggie explains, “but really, it's a teenager's record. Those perfect pop records, which deal with women? That inspired us. It made us anxious to get our hearts broken. We want to pass that disease on: chronic, unnecessary heartache and lust.”
Witness “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You”. Offers Reggie, “I’m Not Gonna…” is by far, the easiest song we've ever written. I conceived it while working in a miserable call center, presented it to the group at our first rehearsal, and we played it then exactly the way we play it now. I've read that it's the kind of song every band dreams of writing. Rightly so. I think the title existed long before the song did.” Much like Partie Traumatic, “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boy Friend How To Dance With You” is a nod towards and subsequent reinvention of Black Kids eclectic influences; i.e. The Smiths, Beatles, disco, New Order, 80’s Hair Metal, New Wave, Prince and Neil Young. Or as Reggie sums it up, “Every Goddamn thing”.
Flat out cool and peppered with New Wave guitars and synths “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You”, was released in the UK Spring 2008. Shortly afterwards the single was embraced by the notoriously harsh British press and then made its way on to the UK charts and radio, debuting in the single sales charts at an impressive #11. The song took them from sold out performances around the country to national television, appearing on top music show “Later…With Jools Holland” in April before they returned to the US for a jubilant coast –to-coast tour with Cut Copy. There’s not really too much difference between fans over there or here, Reggie says. “Except that US audiences tend to exclaim, "You guys were fuckin' AWESOME!" While UK audiences prefer "fuckin' WICKED!" Even so, Black Kids status as musical exports did throw the kids from Jacksonville, Florida for a loop. “I’m not quite certain why the English took to us so fast, although I secretly hoped it would occur that way, but now, I’m confounded that it has. We were on (talk show host) Jonathan Ross’ show recently, and he was convinced that we were English. But if you dissect our lyrics, there’s the kind of slang that only an American who grew up in the 80’s would know. “
Ranging in age between 22 and 28 years old, Black Kids’ story begins with Reggie and his younger sister Ali. As Navy brats, Reggie and Ali moved frequently, living in three continents before the family settled in Jacksonville in 1986. The siblings met Jacksonville natives Kevin Snow and Owen Holmes in the late 90s and as the guys came into their teens they joined a string of rock groups. Owen and Reggie’s last musical incarnation was titled Mata Hari and when they broke up Reggie, “through force and coercion” started the process of putting a new band together. First he reached out to Kevin and then “proceeded to bully” his sister Ali who, in turn, insisted on bringing in her friend (and youngest Black Kid) Dawn Watley. Ali and Dawn met a few years earlier, on a “sunny day in the park”, and bonded over their shared love for music and crafts. Ali, a guitarist, and Dawn, a pianist, were already collaborating together on songwriting when Reggie came looking for new band mates.
The newly formed group called themselves “Black Kids” a decision, which Reggie explains, was “a clue from the Universe”. The significanceof the name? “It means quite a bit, and not much. On the trivial side, we think it sounds badass and looks cool. We like how it can be seen as contentious, but is actually innocuous; Besides, at any given moment in pop history, it's young, black people who are the innovators. Who are underground. Ali and I are black and being a black man, I have no problem with copping that imagery.”
In 2007 Black Kids put Wizards of Ahhhs on their MySpace page. Along with a demo of “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance” the EP featured early versions of “the anthem for womanizers” -"Hit The Heartbrakes”, “Hurricane Jane” and “I’ve Underestimated My Charm”-all included on Partie Traumatic.
A little more than year after Wizard Of Ahhs became available, Black Kids were in the studio, and playing sold out gigs in the UK and America, and a spot in Rolling Stone’s “10 Artists To Watch” issue; a heady career trajectory to be sure. “I mean, we did expect some sort of reaction,” Reggie says, “but not so sudden. We've seemed to skip many steps. Like, touring regionally, signing to an indie label, releasing an album.” That zero to sixty successes has caused critics to dub them Next Big Things but as many know that title can be a double-edged sword. “That’s true”, Reggie admits, “but one side is too dull to matter and the other so sharp you don't feel a thing.”
Black Kids road from there to here might have been fast, maybe too fast for some folks liking but at the end of the day, as clichéd as it might sound. It is all about the music and the experience, which gives you the freedom to take that music anywhere it needs to be.
“It's immensely gratifying to play music for a living,” Reggie says, “but you don't really get to "clock out". I pursued music as a means to avoid mundane and unsatisfying work. I work now more than ever. Thankfully.”