On an upward trajectory – Interview with Kites’ Matthew Phillips

7 Nov

As 2011 draws to a close, thoughts amongst music journalists and fans alike will naturally be turning towards acts that will be expected to break out in 2012. One band that will surely have a huge year is Kites, the London based quartet making waves with their 80’s tinged, synth infused progressive indie pop. That’s a lot of labels but with a band replete with a wide range of musical backgrounds and bristling with talent, it’s hardly surprising.

We caught up with lead singer Matthew Phillips to talk about their debut single, “Brother” and its video (which when we spoke had been finished but not yet released), the importance of being honest as a songwriter and performer, his and the bands influences, his willingness to perform almost anywhere and a potential lucrative sideline as a wedding band.

One thing that is abundantly clear from talking to Phillips is that he is an extremely intelligent, focused and professional young man. A traditionalist at heart, he is someone who takes pleasure in all aspects of music, not just its aural qualities. Answers are considered rather than parroted back from a script and he exudes a warmth and charm that is beguiling. When we spoke, he was noodling away with some ideas in a cafe, surrounded by the clink and chatter of everyday life; this would be superstar enjoying the trappings of normality while they last.

”I’m hoping it’ll be quite iconic”

We begin by talking about their debut video. “The filmmaker has an incredible eye for beauty” explains Phillips, “it’s looking terrific and kind of ethereal”. This is the first video Kites have made and they were keen to have input into the finished product. “We were really involved with the filmmaker, with George Harvey, in trying to get something we were both happy [with], and that kind of complimented our aesthetics.
“We’re trying to break it down and make it pure, much like our music and I’m hoping it’ll be quite iconic as a result but we’ll have to wait and see what the public think”.

The video for “Brother” is now out and the single itself is due for release later this month; given that he has talked previously about the expectation and pressure on the band, he would later describe it as being “…like this bomb that’s getting ready to explode…”, so we were keen to know how Phillips was feeling now. “That hydraulic press continues to kind of squash me beneath it but it’s not all negative. You know, I think that’s what any artist, regardless of whether they are a musician or an actor or a painter, every artist has to have like the kind of the courage of their convictions to put themselves out there and actually put them under the cold scrutiny of the public”. So surely, given that the bomb is about to go off, he is taking every opportunity to relax and recharge? Not exactly he explained, “I get very restless and agitated if I spend any moment in the lotus position or engaging in any forms of relaxation whatsoever. I am most at peace, paradoxically, when I am keeping busy at all times of the day and night”. He sounds like a perpetual motion machine. “I think you have to be! I think like, I don’t think it for myself, because I’m not quite that arrogant, I think that being in any kind of media related industry is extremely competitive and I think you have to have the right kind of determination and ambition to think it through”.

The conversation moves along to the band name and the reasons behind its choice, as well as potential problems its simplicity may cause with search engines. A quick Google will bring back a few variants on the name, including a wedding band called The Kites. “(laughing) It seems that with a little bit of detective work, you’ve uncovered my sideline”. But is he worried that this may be problematic in the future? “Obviously we chose such a seemingly generic name and we knew the consequence of that would be that it provides complications particularly with search engines but I was determined to choose something simple and that I thought said something about our aesthetic.
“Now, mostly, when you go and search “Kites the band” and everything else, it’s usually more often than not, coming up with us. But when we were just starting out about a year ago it was a complete nightmare”.

This is just another example of the professionalism and focus of Kites, the name isn’t just something that sounds cool, or was seen on a sign in the doorway of some random shop somewhere, it has been chosen purposefully to be something simple and elegant, something the band can define and make their own. You would reasonably expect then that their sound had gone through a similar sort of quality assurance process but that has actually come about much more organically due to the diversity within the group. “We all have different backgrounds in music”, Phillips explains, “whether it be classically classical or electronic, kind of how we’ve been brought up and I think that’s made the sound quite dynamic”.

That diversity extends beyond musical background, with an 11 year age difference between the eldest and youngest member of the band they sound more like a pseudo family than a collection of peers. All indications are that they all get on famously, but no family goes through life without some bust-up along the way. “We’re all quite English, polite kind of chaps as it were so [..] there are so many issues that are curtailed in the construction of a Kites track or indeed any track so we try and discuss it in a semi-civilized fashion and tensions do occasionally bruise to the surface but generally like we do get on famously”.

Evidently, Richard (Baldwin – no relation to the Hollywood dynasty presumably), who is 6 years Phillips’ senior, will often make pop-culture references and talk about bands that the others have no knowledge of, “but he doesn’t know the new bands that we’re talking about so I think it makes it fun for us and we learn a lot from each other that way”. Which new bands are they? Who is on the Kites radar as new bands to watch out for?

“There’s a band called Look, Stranger! who we’ve played with recently, […] they’re kind of a combination between Wild Beasts and Foals.
“There’s another band called Waylayers that we’ve played with on a number of times which again, are brilliant and have a much more synthetic quality but have these kind of anthemic choruses which gel their repertoire which kind of works really well”.

“I don’t think it’s right that people can stand on stage and perform a song about the loss of a sibling and then tell the fans that never actually happened.”

Choruses are something that Kites too specialise in. We have already eulogised about “Brother”, their amazing art-pop debut, and were keen to learn more about the song writing process. Phillips has said in the past that he does take in outside influences but you can’t write a song like “Brother” without having a factual base to build on. “I have to write from a very personal perspective in order to really get the emotion that I’m trying to channel into the music”, he agrees, “and also into the kind of performance that I want to deliver when I’m on stage and for me to, to really be able to draw on those emotions it has to be something that I feel personally, so yeah, many of the songs, although incorporating observational elements, are also kind of direct transmissions from my life and “Brother” is kind of loosely about my uncle and my own brother, it’s quite transparent in that respect”.

Honesty in his music is of paramount importance to Phillips, that the lyrics come from within and are drawn from experience. “I’d be horrified if people thought that it wasn’t, I’d feel like a liar, like a fraud and how could… I don’t think it’s right that people can stand on stage and perform a song about the love, about the loss of a sibling or whatever and then tell the fans that never actually happened, I’d feel kind of cheated.
“I mean artists can become abstract if they want to, but they always need to pin it back to something real in their lives otherwise, personally, I can’t see how they make it believable”.

That traditional approach to song writing, is also reflected in his hopes and plans for a Kites album. “I don’t really want to be in the position where I am kind of self releasing an album which is probably quite anachronistic of me and quite old fashioned, but I’m happy with self releasing and putting music online,” but embracing digital isn’t all that make him happy. “I still have that kind of childish, kind of joy I think of adding to my vinyl collection and looking at the art work and I know that its redundant to think such things in our digital age but for me, although I will release the album through all the kind of modern digital channels of communication I do want it to be on a label and I want it to incorporate the right kind of world of art work and artistic package that I personally can be proud of.
“Vinyl sounds beautiful! With all its imperfections and I think that, you know, life isn’t perfect and I think that, kind of, vinyl reflects that in some way”.

”I will be the village bicycle of the musical performing community”

As we said, everything is looking good for Kites to really kick on in 2012 and establish themselves as the hot new act. Their debut video is in the books, their debut single will soon be following, and hopefully we will have a full album next year. But what of the live shows? While they have ventured out and about from time to time, Kites are a London band and the majority of their shows have taken place in our nation’s capitol, can we expect to see them around the country in the near future? “Absolutely! I am not fussy!” he laughs, “I will be the village bicycle of the musical performing community. I will perform anywhere and indeed in any venue!” Performing live is something he clearly gets a buzz from, “I think if you’re a musician, I think you have to kind of acknowledge you’re a latter-day troubadour. I think it’s the same when you have a lot of these film actors that are determined to always act on film you know behind a screen and then you have your stage actors, but often we think of the real actors as the ones that you know, even if they have gone off and had their kind of glory, they come back to the stage and they perform and they kind of get amongst the people because ultimately that’s really what it’s about”.

Surely it won’t be long before a full UK tour is in the offing in the meantime, you can catch them in London in December at The Silver Bullet on the 2nd, and 93 Feet East on the 10th.

Catch up with Kites;

On Facebook
On Twitter
On Soundcloud


2 Responses to “On an upward trajectory – Interview with Kites’ Matthew Phillips”

  1. Name (required) November 21, 2011 at 15:49 #

    i love these, 2012 is the Chinese year of the Kite. true story.
    good feature article too btw. you write these very well.


  1. ‘L’ Is For Look, Stranger! « Alphabet Bands - January 25, 2012

    […] really been digging band on the rise, Kites of late, so much so that when singer Matthew Phillips recommended Look, Stranger! to us, we just had to go check them out. We’re glad we did too. They may only be in their mid-twenties […]

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