By Clare Fuller
In the culturally arid climate of the Southwest, Austin has always offered a compact but thriving art scene thanks to its community of fresh-faced, eclectic young musicians. One of the city’s most promising new faces is Kid Scissor, an indie electro-pop effort from 23-year-old Josh Ben. After years of playing in Michigan with alt-rock collective Motel Model, a desire for a new sound and direction drove Ben to solo pursuits. His debut single, “The Ones That Don’t Care,” embodies that exact eclecticism that Austin takes such pride in; though under the guise of a synthesizer-heavy pop anthem, the song takes cues from retro ’50s bass lines and Brooklyn beats, creating a sound as wonderfully weird as the city that spawned it.
Five Cent Sound sat down (i.e. exchanged cross-country emails) with Kid Scissor and talked about Austin’s music scene, the new single, and the frighteningly exciting process of going solo.
Five Cent Sound: What prompted you to go out on your own and form Kid Scissor? What sound are you trying to pursue that you felt you couldn’t within the context of a band?
Kid Scissor: I played with some amazing musicians in my old band. And it was a really exciting project at the beginning. But we reached a point that I think a lot of bands come to where it was like, “Okay, what’s the next step here?” I think we all just had different ideas of what we wanted for ourselves, both musically and personally. So, when the band dissolved, I felt a sort of freedom to push my music in a new direction and explore some sounds I had been interested in for a while. Artistically, a clean slate can be terrifying. My first inclination was to just write, write, write. I consciously stopped listening to the radio when I was in my car. I wanted to hole up in my room with a drum pad, a guitar, and a keyboard and go to work. I put myself on a writing schedule, and I took it seriously. I ended up writing about 25 songs in about a month and a half. Funny enough, I don’t think any of those songs will ever see the light of day. But fucking with process and form like that is hard to do within the context of a band—at least with a young band, and at least with our band. Bands do it, but usually after they’re a few albums deep. And once you go down that road as a band, you don’t really know if you’re going to come back to the common ground you’d been operating on. As a solo artist, you’re kind of free to roam, which again, can be scary. I want to push my own boundaries with Kid Scissor. I wrote this new single, and the EP that will be coming out in the next few months, on an acoustic guitar. The recording revolves around synths and drums. You won’t hear any guitar. How can I make a song I could have written without any electricity something you want to dance to? That’s a fun task.
FCS: What’s the music scene in Austin like? How does it differ from Michigan’s?
KS: At the moment, Detroit has this organic-feeling EDM scene emerging. I think that’s awesome and poetic really for a city that’s seen almost all of its energy vanish. For the bands that want to play live the songs they’ve written in their garage, though, it’s a bit of a struggle to find clubs that want to bring in a band for a Saturday night show. That’s a shame too, because there are some amazing bands in Detroit and Michigan in general. It’s not impossible, but it does feel like there’s a glass ceiling thing going on for bands there.
Austin is through and through a music city. It’s just the life-blood of the town. You could walk down the street on a Wednesday night with every intention of avoiding live music for the night. You wouldn’t be able to. And the talent here is no joke. You can walk into an open mic and find an artist who might be headlining their own show in just about any other city. It’s a really fertile scene in that sense. You don’t want to play a lazy set when people can literally walk across the street and see someone absolutely destroying.
FCS: You cite both ‘50s rock and modern indie pop as some of your influences. How do you try to blend these two contrasting genres in your music? How do you marry Buddy Holly with synthesizers?
KS: ‘50s pop and rock had almost the opposite intent of indie pop today. You got these really straightforward, three- to four-chord love songs with mind-blowing melodies and harmonies. There was no irony in the lyrics or the song structures for that matter. Today with indie pop, you might get the same three- to four-chord love song, but it’s going to be dressed up with unexpected chord changes, nontraditional rhythms, lots of layered instrumentation, etc. But now it also feels like theres some movement back to a minimalist approach. I want to get caught in that wave. I want my songs to have a weird rhythm section with rolling bass and all that, but I also want them to be melody-centric. A song like “Everyday” by Buddy Holly feels intimate and charming but you’re not going to hear it at the club, and if you do, you’re at the wrong club. It’s hard to achieve that charm and intimacy—the “simplicity” thing—when you stick a synth pad under a fuzz lead, but I want to do it.
FCS: What’s it been like going from working collaboratively in your former band to taking things into your own hands with a solo project?
KS: Complete 180. In a band, you have to lobby for your opinion of where a song should go. If you want your guitar to shine through during the bridge, you’re simultaneously telling the singer to sit back. If you want a melody-focused chorus, you’re telling the drummer to settle for a boring kick-kick-snare part. These aren’t easy dynamics to master. You can’t get three roommates to agree on late-night delivery food. Band politics are weird. But there’s a huge payoff. It’s hard to beat rocking a stage with a band. It’s just a contagious energy, and then you have your buddies to rip shots with after.
Working solo, you have nobody to take shots with after a show, but you also don’t have any lobbying to do while you’re writing the songs. It’s like that in all aspects. You can see your vision for a song through entirely, but you also don’t have anyone telling you that the snare should hit on the two instead of the three. You can end up with option-anxiety as a solo artist. I can have the chorus one way or ten other ways. With a band, you’ll have one of your bandmates leave practice before it gets to that point.
It took me a while to realize what exactly I was trying to do with Kid Scissor. I’m still not entirely sure, maybe like 85%. But that’s a good thing, I think. I wrote that batch of 25 songs, then I recorded about 12 songs for an LP. Then, I settled on about five songs for an EP and finished them. Then, I was like, fuck, these songs are finished and the best they can be, but something doesn’t seem quite right. So I scrapped that release. Then I wrote and did initial production on four songs over the course of two days and felt like I had arrived somewhere. One of those four is “The Ones That Don’t Care.” Five months of writing and recording, this first single, and the accompanying EP were all written in about two days. That’s dreadful and exciting.
I did work with an amazing producer on this single and EP. This was my Xanax to option-anxiety. It’s a production duo called John Cyrus (johncyrus.com). Their work is well worth checking out.
FCS: Describe your sound in four words. Go.
KS: Jesus. The elevator pitch used to be 30 seconds. Now I have four words? Fucking Twitter. Okay, here I go: Nostalgically forward-thinking pop. Did I sound like enough of a douchebag there?