Courtesy of Prospect PR

Kicked up a Notch – The Rise of Rebel Kicks

Rebel Kicks is riff-centric, but not overpowering, an indie rock band with more layers than first expected, and energetic in a way that makes them fit for a live setting. 

The furthest thing from basic are these brothers. Uniquely equipped with talents on both the lyrical end of things and the musical, the duo that make up Rebel Kicks are far too humble for their own good. Hundreds of thousands of streams, a new single out today, a NYC gig this weekend… Why isn’t everyone a fan? We don’t know, so we’re changing that now. Anthony and Steven Babino create music from the ground up, let their sounds evolve within themselves, and release songs left and right to keep that flow going. Chatting with The Aquarian last week for the interview below let us into the inner workings of their more than budding musical career. Check it out and listen to “Past Life” when you’re done.

Since we’re talking today ahead of the Cutting Room show, which is one of the best clubs in the city, what are you looking the most forward to that night?

Steven: I love the Cutting Room. The sound in there is impeccable and I can’t wait to play our new songs. We have a whole bunch of brand new songs to unveil for people, so I can’t wait to see how it translates live, because we never got to play these songs in front of people before. I’m very excited about that.

You’re debuting songs, and obviously you love them, but having that back and forth within them for the first time might even change how you experience these songs going forward. A song like “Electrophoria” might have that, I think.

Anthony: Absolutely, and it’s funny because sometimes the songs you think are going to connect, don’t, and then the ones that you least expect are the ones that, after the show when you talk to people, are the ones they’re bringing up. You just never know what’s gonna connect with an audience. It’s really fun for us to try things out and see how it goes over.

Are there songs in your catalog thus far that have been played live before and have had some of those surprising moments? Songs that make you think, “Wait, this is actually a staple,” and you didn’t see that coming?

Anthony: Yeah, I would say two songs in particular: “Silhouette” and “We Should Go Missing” always seem to go over really well. Especially “Silhouette,” as that one just gets people ramped up. It’s really fun to play.

That’s a good song, and one that has great artwork too, by the way. I love so much of the Rebel Kicks artwork and the visual aspects that you have. It feels really cohesive and just fits it really well. 

Steven: Thank you so much. We try to be in the surreal – I guess that’s the only way I can describe it – with most of our artwork, because we’re weird, sure, but because it connects to the song in some way.

Outstanding. Now with “Silhouette,” which we talked about and is your latest song, what made you put it out as a single? When did you know this is gonna be a single release and that you wanted it out in the world to have its own little life?

Steven: Well, it originally started out as a song for a short film. It was going to be a horror film, but it just never happened. I loved the Trent Reznor-ish type of beat. I brought it to Anthony and then we finished it together. We were like, “This is in the realm of what we’ve been doing, but it’s kind of a new direction,” which made us love it so much. We just knew we had to put this out and it had to be a part of our catalog.

Anthony: Especially with the latest releases, we’ve been straddling the genre lines of like electronic, indie, pop rock, and then more straight-up indie rock kind of stuff. We’ve been marrying those two styles together with all the releases that we’ve been putting out over the last year or so, and so “Electrophoria” kind of falls into that more electronic leaning sound that we have started going with. I think the [release] before that was “Hamartia”, which is sort of in that same kind of space, so when Steve brought this to me, immediately we were just like, “Oh, this definitely fits the vibe.” It follows “Hamartia” and follows “American Dream” and even “Paints with Music” has some of those elements. 

Some of the comparisons that I felt listening to your music, being a fan, preparing to talk to you are: Jet, Ultra Q, Two Door Cinema Club, and The Black Keys. All of these influences are in your music, but it doesn’t wholly sound like any of them, so it’s cool to hear that from you Anthony, knowing that the evolution is noted on your end, intentional, and always a continuation of what you’re doing.

Anthony: Well, thank you for saying that. We love all those bands.

Steven: Yeah, and we’ve seen most of them live. I was just gonna say thanks for bringing up Jet, because they were phenomenal live.

I love a good live band. Going off of that, being performers but also going to shows as music lovers, are you picking out different sorts of things that your favorite artists are doing on stage – whether it be interacting with fans or with their instruments or something – that you wanna kind of impart on your own shows?

Anthony: I think that’s always in the back of our mind just because of the nature of what we do, and we’ve always been doing it, so even if it’s a subconscious recognition, it’s just always there. I think for both of us, we love live music so much and we love performing on stage, and so inevitably going to see our favorite artists is going to inspire us in one way or another, whether it’s incorporating elements of what they’re doing on stage and parts of the show, and if it’s the lighting or what’s going on behind them on the screens or whatever, and even sonically… I think it all goes into that collective consciousness we have as a band, to try to make what we are presenting the best version that it can be.

While on the topic of live shows, The Aquarian has caught Rebel Kicks live before at the Bowery Electric, absolutely loving your performance from the jump. For you two, what is it about these New York shows and these New York venues and this New York crowd that you love specifically? New York City has such an iconic history and culture in and of itself.

Steven: You can feel the electricity in the room. We always get the vibe that New Yorkers don’t care, they don’t give a shit or whatever, but you know what? They love music. We all love music and you can tell how into it people are, even if they’re just standing there. You can feel like, “Oh, man! This is a vibe right now,” and you feed off of that as a musician. I always love playing to a New York crowd. I always have and I always will. There is electricity between you, the performer, and the person watching the performance. That is the best way I can say it.

Anthony: Really, there is nothing like the relationship between performer and the people in the audience, especially when you can tell people are really digging what you’re doing. There have been times when we’ve debuted new songs and still there’s that vibe in the room, even when all of a sudden no one’s ever heard the song before, but when you get to the second chorus, people are singing it with you. There is nothing like getting that visceral, immediate feedback. I can’t even really describe how it feels. It’s the best.

Absolutely. Now I wanna ask you guys this: Rebel Kicks’ debut album comes out in 2020, which was a very interesting time to do anything, let alone release an album. What was that reception and experience like for you given the year it was? 

Anthony: That’s a good question. The process of recording started way before, in… what was it, Steve?

Steven: 2018, when we put out the first single.

Anthony: Yeah, so we’d put out a few singles before the eventual full-length album, but it’s something that we were working toward for a long time. Then COVID hit and everything shut down, the whole world shut down., and so we had this plan to release the album earlier in the year. We pushed it back and we kept pushing it back. Steve and I were just having phone calls with our management at the time, and were like, “You know what? Let’s just put this thing out there just so we have something out with our name on it. It’s ready to go, so why not? People are releasing music right now and no one’s doing anything else!” [Laughs]

Steven: It was kind of a feeling of “It’s now or never, so we might as well [release] it if this is the way the world is gonna be forever.” At that time it felt like that, and it felt like it might be forever so we might as well. This is who we are after all. I grew out a huge beard, though, [Laughs] and it was an interesting time, but we needed to release music. It’s in our blood, so we needed to do it

Anthony: Even just to, in a way, clear the pipeline to move on to the next thing, because we’re always creating stuff. For us it was like, “Alright, let’s clear the decks. Let’s put this thing out there so people can hear it finally, and then we can move on and just keep releasing stuff consistently,” which we’ve pretty much been doing. It has been great and we got great feedback from that record, so even though it was a weird year, it was worthwhile to just get our record out into the world.

Steven: It was cathartic. It was definitely cathartic.

That’s a great word to describe it. It was so exciting to see a release and for me, to tell you that you could provide something wonderful and rocking to occupy our minds and our ears, which you did. There was no real reason why you shouldn’t, and as you said, you were not sitting on it for longer than you had to, especially when you were so excited to put a debut album out. 

Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. Especially at that time, but always, music is important. You never know how it’s gonna connect, but it will eventually. There are two albums that really stand out in my mind that are representative of where I was at and how they hit me. One of these is Taylor Swift’s folklore, which was a huge record, and then the other one was McCartney III by Paul McCartney. They both came out within weeks of each other at the end of that year and it was a very cathartic experience for me just to sit down and lose myself in those records. You just can never underestimate the power of music and what it does.

I wholeheartedly agree. And that perfectly leads me into my last question for you two, which has to do with releasing a cover of “Please Please Me.” As a lifelong Beatles fan, I have always had mixed feelings on covers of Beatles songs, and nowadays there are just so many different ways you can take a song and people are so much more excited to explore what the Beatles have inspired and what comes out of it. However, I wondered, why that song of all Beatles songs? How did that song come together, pun intended, with an official release and video and the whole wonderful shebang? You did it really cool, simple, but somehow epic justice!

Anthony: Believe me, we’re very aware of that being lifelong Beatles fans ourselves as our parents love The Beatles. I mean, it’s something that’s been with us literally our entire lives, so it’s not something we take lightly and we’re well aware of how, for me, The Beatles are the holy grail of popular music in the second half of the 20th century. They wrote the book on what modern music is and shifted the entire landscape of everything. Covering the Beatles is always interesting, but I just happened to be listening to that debut album, Please Please Me, maybe a few days before we actually recorded that cover. The title track came on and I was listening to it. I was in my car driving to a gig, and I just couldn’t help but be struck by how there was just such a palpable, visceral energy that you can hear in that recording from 1963. It’s just these four guys in a room just rocking out and just creating this huge sound – especially for when it was made in ‘63. It’s huge. You can feel the energy coming through the recording. Right before that, for some reason, I was connecting stylistically where we were at with that song and listening to “Please, Please Me,” sort of hearing how it could be adapted in a similar space to where “Silhouette” and some of the other things that we were doing were. I didn’t even tell Steve then, but I went into my studio and laid down a basic arrangement for what was interpretive (as far as where the arrangement sits, because it’s close enough) of the original. We’re not straying so far away from what they’d originally done, but I also don’t like the idea of recording covers without putting our own spin on it. For me it’s like, why would you stay so close to the original when people can just go listen to the original? It has to strike that balance of remaining true enough to the original intent while still being representative of who you are as an artist. 

Steven: I think this has much more of a punk rock feel.

Anthony: Yeah. So I laid down a basic version of it and I sent it over to Steve and I said, “Hey, I just sent you something. Listen to it, I like it, I think it’s cool, but you let me know what you think.” And he said, “Alright, I’ll call you right back.” Then, just 20 minutes later, I had an email in my inbox that was a Dropbox link with his tracks that he added to it. He was like, “Yeah, this is great. We should put this out.” And then that’s what we did.