Q&A with Kyle Evans of Breathe Carolina
It started out as a simple phone interview for a feature commemorating Breathe Carolina's participation in this year's Warped Tour, which rolls into Invesco Field at Mile High on Sunday, August 9. But it turned into something considerably more unexpected when, during our conversation with BC's Kyle Evans, his partner in rhyme, David Schmitt, appeared, his face dripping with blood.
What happened? Get the whole story in a sprawling Q&A on view after the jump:
On July 13, the day of our interview, Evans and Schmitt were enjoying some rare time off from the Warped grind by Jet Skiing in Delaware; Evans had just returned from a ride, while Schmitt was still on the water. After some joking about potential loss of limbs, Evans gabbed about the friends he and Schmitt had made during the tour to date and Denver's growing reputation as a musical scene of note. Then, shortly after moving on to some basic biography, Schmitt appeared, revealing that his Jet Ski had taken revenge on his forehead. Some back and forth followed, with Schmitt vanishing for a time, only to return when BC's driver insisted that he head to the hospital to make sure he hadn't done even more damage that he realized.
Fortunately, everything turned out fine for Schmitt, and the interview went on, with Evans detailing the unusual sound the two of them developed; the immediate acceptance of their approach by friends and then fans on MySpace and in person; his realization that they'd actually have to pay a manager, as opposed to having someone handle the group's affairs for free; their path to Rise Records and the release of a full-length dubbed It's Classy, Not Classic; a subsequent deal with Fearless Records; their fondness for the Miley Cyrus ditty they cover on the big-selling Punk Goes Pop Volume Two compilation; a preview of their forthcoming long-player, Hello Fascination; and the beauty of doing something different.
And he's not talking about Jet Skiing.
Westword (Michael Roberts): You guys were both out on Jet Skis?
Kyle Evans: I was, and he just went out.
WW: Are you Jet Ski pros? Or is this the first time for you?
KE: I've ridden a few times before, but this is David's first time riding a Jet Ski.
WW: And no loss of limbs so far?
KE: Not yet (laughs). Just mobbin' it hard. It's fun.
WW: Where are you guys?
KE: We're in Delaware, but I don't know what city. [He asks someone else in the room.] What city are we in right now? [Back to WW] It's called Dewey Beach.
WW: This is an off-day for you?
KE: Yeah, this is like our first off-day we've had since Warped Tour started. We've been playing one-off shows. This is well needed. That's why we're Jet Skiing and chillin'. Trying to get away from the show atmosphere and just rest our minds a little bit.
WW: How warped has your Warped Tour experience been so far?
KE: It's been a lot of what I expected to be, but also a lot more chill and mellow than I thought, surprisingly. It's hectic at first. Don't get me wrong: When you first start, the beginning of it is crazy. But now that we're kind of getting used to it, we're getting in the groove. It's actually really easygoing. It's nice.
WW: So you guys get prepared to play your show and then you can relax afterwards?
KE: Oh, yeah. There's barbecues a lot of the nights, and everyone hangs outside their buses and parties. I think that's what I look forward to the most, for sure.
WW: What are some of the bands you've met so far that you've connected with?
KE: The bands we hang out with consistently are, like, VersaEmerge, and the bands that we knew from before, like A Skylit Drive and Jeffree Star, Millionaires, brokeNCYDE, those guys. We had known them before. Dance Gavin Dance, we've been hanging out with them, and the 3OH!3 guys here and there. We're good friends with their backup band, Kam [Mohager] and Adam [Halferty], who play drums and bass with them. They're from other local Denver bands, the Axe That Chopped the Cherry Tree and Chain Gang of 1974. So we've been hanging out with them and, kind of, everybody. We've been walking around mingling with as many people as possible. It's weird. Last night... have you ever heard of a game called cornhole?
KE: It's this beanbag game, and I was playing it last night with [El] Hefe from NOFX and Grant [Brandell] from Underoath. It was kind of crazy. And we've actually became pretty good friends with some of the guys from A Day to Remember also, which is kind of cool. We're having fun.
WW: Not too long ago, there wasn't a whole lot of buzz around Denver. Now, do you feel that when people hear you're from Denver, their ears perk up, as opposed to them kind of tuning out?
KE: Yeah, actually. It's funny when you're on tour and people ask for your phone number, and I'm like "303" - and they're like, "Ha!" Because they already know it. I think that's the connotation with it, that's what's been hyped up. The Fray's done that, too. I don't know. It's cool. People are chill with Denver. A lot of people are like, "Dude, I love Denver. I love it. I love it." And I'll be like, "Dude, it's sick that you love it, because that's my favorite city in the whole world."
WW: Are you originally from the Denver area?
KE: I pretty much grew up in Littleton. I was born in Glenwood Springs, and then I lived in Aurora, and then my mom moved and I lived in Littleton. I went to Chatfield High School.
WW: What were your experiences like?
KE: Oh, I loved it.... [At that moment, there's a commotion as Evans' bandmate, David Schmitt, walks up.] Oh my God! What happened, brother?
David Schmitt [in the background]: I fell off it, and I fell into the water, and the Jet Ski smacked me in the fucking face.
KE: David! Oh my God! [Back on the phone] David's head is bleeding like crazy! Right after you asked me about getting hurt Jet Skiing. God, Dave! [Laughs.] Dude, where's the camera at? [Suddenly, a pause as his tone changes] You okay? Are you hurting bad? Damn, brother! J.J., can you take a picture of that? Damn, dude. I'm sorry, brother. [On the phone again] Dude, it's funny how you just asked about losing limbs and stuff and then David comes up to me with blood dripping down his face. He's just covered in blood right now.
WW: Does he seem dazed?
KE: No, he seems pretty chill. I think he just hit his head and it split it open. It's, like, running down his face.
WW: Sounds pretty punk rock. You're going to impress a lot of people back at Warped Tour.
KE: [Laughs.] Hopefully.
WW: Well, if you're still up to it, I think we were talking about Chatfield.
KE: Yeah. I had a great time in middle school and high school. Just hung out a lot. Like, I wasn't the best student, at all. But I had fun, and it set me up for this. Meeting with people and playing in bands. That's how I got into music I'm into now, is meeting people through Chatfield. I had fun, man. I loved it.
WW: How many bands were you in before Breathe Carolina?
KE: Let's see. I sang in choir in middle school, and I was more into hip-hop than I was into anything else. I'd listened to Blink and Limp Bizkit and those kinds of bands, but not really like the underground. Like, New Found Glory and the Starting Line, that's what started me out, listening to those kinds of bands and pop-punk and stuff. I guess I played in one, two, three, four, five... five or six different bands. But we only really recorded with three of them.
WW: Was David part of any of those bands?
KE: No, he wasn't. David played in some other bands as well. Probably the one he got most popular with was called the Autobiography. And I had met him in a band he'd played in before then, called As the Flood Waters Rose. That's how I met him. I was playing in a band called Rivendale.
WW: Did David go to Chatfield as well?
KE: No, he actually went to Arvada High School.
WW: Where did you guys meet?
KE: We played this battle of the bands for GrayMusic. It was a label and recording studio in Denver, and we had played the battle of the bands, and I'd known of his band. I'd heard them before. And I went up to him and said, "Dude, I love your band. I just wanted to tell you." And they came and watched our set later, and I watched theirs, and we just kind of became friends after that. Just kept in touch. I went and partied with them here and there, and we'd call each other and play show with each other. And that's kind of how we became friends.
And then there were these weird chains of events where we just kind of met up. This was three years before, and now it's three years later and I'm playing with half of his band. And then we formed a band, and I moved in a with one of those kids, and then I moved out, and David had moved in with that kid, and then I started hanging out with him again. He was just kind of going through a lot of stuff, and I was like, "Dude, you can just come and live with us," because I was living in another house. And he came and lived with me for a while, and that's how we ended up doing this. We just were sort of hanging out.
WW: Do you remember the first time when you sat and started making music together and realized that you were coming up with things that were different than anything you'd done before?
KE: Oh yeah. I remember the moment where I was like, "I wonder if we really can do this. If this could really be something." It wasn't the first time we recorded. The first time we recorded, I was just having a good time, and I was pumped on the song. We recorded it and a couple of others. Then, one day, some friends were over, and one of them was like, "I want to hear your song. I want to hear your song." They put it on downstairs, and we'd played it for a couple of our friends. They'd listened to it and stuff, and they were, like, dancing in our living room. And then the next song came on, and everybody cheered for it. And I stopped on the stairs and sat down and was like, "What was that? What was that about?" People were singing the words, and I thought, "That's kind of weird." They were my friends, which is even better.
WW: Was that the first time you had an instant reaction between a song and the people listening to it?
KE: Kind of. I'd had people singing some of my words, but it wasn't that many people who'd known about my previous bands. But to not even play a show and have people know your words. And the first time we ever played a show, the response was way more than I could ever have expected. [To someone else in the room] Ah, Cap'n! Kill that, cap'n! Kill it! Finish the rest of it. [On the phone again] My bus driver just brought me a margarita.
WW: Sounds like David may need a couple of those....
KE: I know. Poor guy.
WW: The two of you came up with a fairly unusual style, with the electronic music combined with screaming vocals, plus more standard singing. How did it happen?
KE: I think we just tried it and we were like, "We like it!" [Laughs.] I don't think we were trying to be that. It just kind of happened that way. That was what I felt like I was good at, I guess. David had known I was a singer, and a screamer, too. So he said, "Come and scream on this and we'll see what happens." It was the song, "Put Some Clothes On," which is kind of poppy and upbeat, but with screaming on it. It's a hidden track on our record. It's actually track eleven, so it's not really hidden.
WW: Did you immediately think you'd come up with a unique combination?
KE: I just really liked the song a lot. I didn't know it would really escalate to this point at first. [More commotion as David returns] Are you all right?
DS: [In background] I'm fine. I don't feel bad. I'm gonna be fine, but they want me to check it out. I just need to use the phone.
KE: I'm talking to the Westword, dude.
DS: [In background] Could he call you on your phone?
KE: Do you have your insurance card? You can call your mom for all that. [On the phone again] Hey, would it be all right if you called me on my phone. I guess our driver wants David to go to urgent care, just kind of check it out....
[Three minutes later, the conversation picks up again as David, bleeding from a wound in his forehead above one eyebrow, seeks treatment]
WW: We were talking about the band's sound. Going into that first gig, did you wonder if the crowd would get into it right away because it was different? Or were you pretty confident?
KE: I think I kind of expected it. I wasn't afraid of anything. But I was only expecting to play to, like, twenty kids.
WW: How many were there?
KE: I don't know. Maybe a hundred. We'd been putting up tracks online, and I think that's when we really started getting excited about it. We hit over 700 plays the first day, and we were pumped on that, and the next day, we had over 1,000, and it kept growing. Every new song just kept getting bigger and bigger, and now it's like in the thirties, forties, fifty-thousand plays a day. That's what we based everything off at first, plays, because we weren't making money, we weren't doing anything like that it. It was kind of different. Crazy.
WW: Where was that first gig? And was it just the two of you? Or did you have people helping out?
KE: No, we've always had people helping us, playing keyboards and doing lights. We've been doing light stuff from the beginning. They were just work lights at first, and we put gels over them. Had them hooked up to a power strip we'd flip on and off. That's how we did it at first. But we had a keyboardist and somebody doing lights, and us two. It was at LIFEspot.
WW: I know you guys played a lot at LIFEspot early on. Could you feel your popularity growing there every time you played?
KE: Yeah, yeah. It was fun. I love playing at that venue. We actually did a show there recently. I don't think we really even posted it on our MySpace until the day of, or the day before. And the show was awesome. It was right before Punk Goes Pop 2 came out, and we played our Miley Cyrus cover. It was actually right before the Take Action tour. That was the last time we played there.
WW: That venue is sponsored by a church [St. Andrew Methodist Church], so some people might think it's an all-Christian crowd. How would you describe it?
KE: It's definitely a younger crowd, more so than anything. But it's fun.
WW: And there's not an overtly Christian vibe to it.
KE: No, not at all. No way.
WW: How did you go from building a local following to having a chance to put out your stuff nationally?
KE: We played a show with a band called Mayday Parade in Colorado Springs. We'd met those guys and talked to them. And we'd hit up a management company called the Artery Foundation, which we'd known through another Denver band, Drop Dead, Gorgeous. One night we were like, "Let's hit them up and see what happens." So we sent them a message on MySpace, of all things. They read it, and our manager now, his assistant hit us back. He said, "We love what you guys are doing. Send us a demo, let us know what's happening." Two days after that, Brooks [Betts] from Mayday Parade said, "Hey, we want to help you guys out. I just want to kind of have credit for it. I don't really need to get paid or anything." And we were like, "Cool, man." We were pumped on it, super-stoked. And two days after that, Eric Rushing, who's our manager now, hit us up and said, "Hey, man, I want to manage you guys." And we're like, "All right."
We were kind of stuck in this limbo, wondering what we wanted to do. So we talked to Brooks, and he really helped us become comfortable with the idea of having to pay somebody to do that. That was a hard step to take at first. We were barely able to pay ourselves. We were surviving off shows we were playing once every two weeks. Going from that to, "We've got to pay a whole other person? Do we really have to do that?" That was kind of different. But he really helped us through that, and we decided to go with Eric, and Eric was really cool. He said, "You don't have to pay me until you get signed. We'll just go for the flow, make this what we can make it." And he got us our first offer pretty much right after that. Rise Records had given us this offer almost immediately.
Our manager was like, "Let's sit on this," because it was the first thing, and we wanted to see what happened. And there was actually an agent from the Agency Group, and we really liked all the bands they were working with. But we still decided to wait, and then he hit up our agent now, David Galea, and David had sat with it and said, "I'm going to think about it." And Eric basically said, "You can have until tomorrow and then I'm going to go with the next guy." And Galea hit us back and said, "Okay, let's do it." So we had an agent pretty much right away, which was trippy. It was like, "That's insane." We had basically just started touring a month after we had our manager, and it's been pretty much fulltime from then on.
WW: How long was it from you guys deciding to send the MySpace message to when you signed with Rise?
KE: It was about... four months. We were talking with other labels as well, and it was right after South By Southwest of, I think, 2008. He basically signed right after that. They gave us the deal our manager was looking for.
WW: Tell me about the making of your first album for Rise, It's Classy, Not Classic.
KE: We had an EP, and basically Rise just bought our EP. They were like, "We want those songs on the record, and we just want a few more to make it an LP." And we were like, "All right." The hardest part of the whole thing was doing it on the road. We had to record and do all that while we were on the road. It was hard to find time. We finished it in Louisiana in a hotel room. It was tough. I know it was a stressful time for David, because there was all this pressure.
WW: You had a deadline when you needed to finish it.
KE: Yeah. Which made it even more stressful. But it was fun. I had a good time. We'd been working on those songs for about a year before.... Well, maybe not. Maybe not that long.
WW: But it wasn't as if when they said, "You need more material," you didn't have any....
KE: No, there was stuff that existed. Instead of doing each song one at a time and putting them out, like we'd been doing, we did it differently. We had been recording a song, putting it on MySpace, record a song, put it on MySpace. And then, we had to do four or five songs and just keep them and see what happened later. That's kind of the weird part now. We just finished our new record, and we've listened to the songs over a hundred times, but nobody else has heard anything except for what we've put on MySpace, and what we've played live. That's it.
WW: How would you describe the differences between the new stuff and the last album?
KE: I think you can feel a different vibe, for sure. It's way more eclectic, way more broad. Our horizons are way more spread out, our influences are way bigger. Every song kind of has its partner, but after that, they all sound completely different, in my opinion. Vibe-wise, influence-wise. The first track, our title track, is guitar-driven and it's still techno-y and pop. Kind of a mixture of everything. And then it goes into a darker sound, but then after that, there's more of a Daft Punk feel. More club, more techno-ish. We have full band songs, more like a New Found Glory feel. I don't know. You kind of have to hear it to feel it out.
WW: Sometimes bands worry that if they put out an album with too much variety, it'll confuse people. But it sounds like you guys felt the opposite. That people would be more interested if you didn't just stick with one sound.
KE: Yeah, yeah. We just wanted to do whatever we wanted. We didn't want to close ourselves into a genre. What we had done before, that just happened the way it happened. So we wanted to do the exact same thing. Like, not even think about it. We didn't want to focus too hard on the songs. We just wanted to go in and have fun, and that's exactly what we did. We did fourteen songs in a month and a half. Just busted it out, made it real. Like, every song was recorded in three days or less. Lyrics, music, everything.
WW: And this album is coming out on Fearless as opposed to Rise, right?
KE: Yeah. We did a one-off deal with Rise. We did our one record, and six months later, we could do whatever we wanted. We weren't tied down to the label when the contract was up.
WW: And the people at Fearless endorsed your idea to widen the range of your sound?
KE: We just did whatever we wanted to. We weren't really talking to them about anything. We just went into the studio. We were just talking to our producers, and that was it.
WW: What was their reaction to it once they heard it?
KE: We did three songs with Matt Squire, who did 3OH3!'s record, and the label loved those songs. Then we went in and recorded with Mike Green, and the label listened to them, and they kind of weren't feeling it. We were like, "These songs aren't mixed. They aren't even close to being done." And Mike, he did Paramore's first record and a bunch of other stuff, he was like, "All right." He took the weekend off and he sat and mixed three songs, and sent them the songs. And the label called back and apologized for giving us grief about the tracks. We were like, "Hell, yeah." I guess it's just that we were feeling it super-hard, and we had the vision for it, but they didn't see what the end result was going to be like. Now they say they're super, super-excited about it, and I hope they really are.
WW: Earlier, you mentioned the Miley Cyrus cover, which is obviously very different from your last album, too. These Punk Goes Pop compilations have been huge. Is it fun to hear what the other bands, in addition to you, are able to make out of those kinds of Top-40 radio hits?
KE: Yeah. It was fun listening through them all and hearing ours with it. It's like, "These are bands that we listen to, and we're part of this little circle. We have a connection with all these bands." It was definitely cool to see how people interpreted things. They did their own thing, and we feel like we did it our way.
WW: Would you describe yourselves as fans of Miley Cyrus? Or at least the song?
KE: For sure. We like that track. We wouldn't cover a song that we didn't like or listen to.
WW: You wouldn't be interested in taking on a song like that to satirize or make fun of it?
KE: No, no. We like that song. I really only know two of her songs. That one and, I think, "7 Things." Those were the two tracks I listened to. I don't know. We thought it would be fun, and we thought it would fit us. That we could make it us, make it new.
WW: On the Warped Tour, are there are any bands that sound like you? Or do you feel that you stand apart?
KE: I guess there are bands people could lump us in with, but I feel like we've got our own little thing happening. I feel that way, but I don't know. I can't see it from outside of myself. I only see it from the stage, and I can't see it as a show.
WW: At any Warped Tour, though, there are a lot of bands that fall into similar sound categories. For you, is it a positive that you guys aren't so easily pigeonholed.
KE: Oh, yeah. I think it's the evolution of music anyway. Like the Beastie Boys doing what they did. It's kind of the same thing. They just did something their way. They took what they liked and they did it their way, and it worked. I'm not saying we're the Beastie Boys' status or anything like that. I'm just saying, doing something different is nothing to be afraid of.
WW: Not like Jet Skis....
KE: Yeah, straight up! [Laughs]