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Kids in the Way

Flicker Records

CBN.comGive us your tired, your poor, your pubescent and pretentious screamo lightweights—seriously, hand them over. We know they’re boring you. In exchange, we offer Kids in the Way, a relentlessly hooky Indianapolis quartet inoculated against the hissyfit plague infecting so many of their peers. Their third full-length, A Love Hate Masquerade, is a throwback testament to earnest, rogue, stripped-down rock and roll, and it couldn’t come at a better time. The new school has failed—Kids in the Way have the conch, and they’re not planning to let go.

“The album title kinda sums it up,” says guitarist Nate Ehman. “It’s basically about good and bad relationships and the way we hide the bad to make it look good. I would say the theme is definitely very romantic... and the opposite of that.”

Love and hate are obviously polar ends of the emotional spectrum. Frontman Dave Pelsue drags himself from end to end on this record and, somehow, beyond. At various points on Masquerade he both despises himself for self-destructive infatuations (“My Little Nightmare”) and delights in indulging them (“Sugar”). He invents a variety of plainspoken, expressive characters struggling to find their footing in the whirlwind, and while he declines to detail specifics, one can guess the real man is uncomfortably wandering somewhere between them all, fighting every day to see through the darkness. 

“Basically the record is about realizing that you’re in a state of self destruction and hopefully finding your way out of that,” Pelsue says. “It’s like you’re in a relationship and you know it’s not gonna work out for either of you, but you’re at a point where you don’t want to start over so you’re just kind of hanging onto whatever emotions are still existing.”

The band found themselves in a similar state of desperation while composing Masquerade. Ehman, Pelsue, bassist Willie Bostic and drummer Eric Carter put themselves on a Herculean songwriting regimen last autumn, vowing to deliver a new tune every day for five weeks in their modest living room rehearsal space. That sort of prolific is hard enough under optimal living conditions—imagine doing it with popsicles for fingers.

“Times were really tough,” Pelsue remembers. “We weren’t making any money at all and were barely surviving. It was the dead of winter and our heat was shut off. That stuff shows up on the record, too. I was like, ‘I’m hurting and in a dark place. I need to write about the moment I’m sitting in right now.’ So there’s a song called ‘Far From Over’ basically about holding on and making it through tough times, knowing hopefully tomorrow will be a little bit better... and a little bit warmer.”

Luckily, the quartet’s chemistry was as scorching as ever, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Bostic in his first full-length Kids writing cycle. Both Ehman and Pelsue credit the bassist with forwarding the infectious “straight-up-the-middle pop-rock and roll” that makes Masquerade far and away their most inclusive, accessible effort yet.

Consequently, the band’s ravenous, mushrooming admirers are in for one thrilling live rollercoaster. Kids have always delivered the goods onstage, feeding off and reciprocating their fans’ frantic energy, but now, as if the sharp staccato riffs of “Your Demon,” “Better Times” and “Winter Passing” aren’t immediate enough, all are bolstered with shout-along gang backups destined to deliver audiences into fist-pumping rapture.

Do the math on a group generating a song a day for five weeks and you’ve got quite a behemoth to whittle down before hitting the studio with vaunted production team David Bendeth and Kato. Yet, amazingly, when asked to pare Masquerade to 10 cuts (not counting “Fiction,” the undeniable, urgent addendum to last year’s Apparitions of Melody: Dead Letters Edition) all four members’ wishlists came out the same. There were deceptively simple mid-tempo slow burns like “The Innocence” and “Letting Go” (Carter’s hypnotic, unfaltering drumming on the latter was an intentional nod to Coldplay) counterbalancing celluloid-inspired epics about dysfunctional relationships (the unhinged protagonist of “Sugar” references Carrie and “Winter Passing” revisits a criminally underseen Will Ferrell indie). Yet despite the varying subject matter, Pelsue took unprecedented steps to make his lyrics as universal as possible.

“I very intentionally tried to write in as broad of a perspective as I can, which was tough for me because I tend to write in the abstract and breathe poetic license,” the frontman confesses. “The cool thing about our band is we’re never opposed to the creative direction of where the music goes.”

Such open-mindedness should serve Kids well. Every track on A Love Hate Masquerade is a hit waiting to be discovered, bursting with honesty and passion. All it took was the perfect convergence of four distinct—if occasionally frozen—voices.
“We wanted to make a record where you can hear the personality of each of us really well,” summarizes Ehman, simply. “It’s not strings and keyboards. It’s just us. It’s exactly what we do.”


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