The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"
The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.
Over the past 15 years, New York outfit the Reign of Kindo have risen to be one of the most reliable and remarkable acts in rock music. By infusing bits of funk, jazz, and synthpop into their art-rock DNA, the group rank alongside similarly ambitious and wide-ranging artists like the Family Crest, Bent Knee, the Dear Hunter, and Dirt Poor Robins. Always fun and catchy—but also deceptively complex—their music never fails to delight the heart and mind in equal measure.
Case in point: "Better Off Together", their wonderful new single and first public release since 2018's magical Happy However Ever. In celebration of the track, I recently spoke with frontman Joseph Secchiaroli about all things Kindo. Along the way, we also talked about how COVID-19 is affecting the music industry and the ironic ways in which America seems increasingly divided (rather than united) because of the pandemic.
Congrats on the latest single. It's great.
Thanks. Yeah, it feels great to have it out there finally.
How has the reception been so far?
Well, the patrons on Patreon seem to be pretty pumped about it. We've got a lot of positive feedback. I think that our fans tend to be kind; even if they don't like something, they won't be mean. I've seen a lot of excitement, though, and we're really excited. It's the first thing we've released in about two years, and we intend it to be the first of a cacophony of tracks that we'll be releasing. It's just the beginning.
Backtracking a bit, I know that many people are still wondering if the name of the band is now the Reign of Kindo or just Kindo? Or, is it interchangeable?
The official name is still the Reign of Kindo, but I don't think we have a preference. We started referring to ourselves publicly as Kindo because we've always referred to ourselves that way behind closed doors. It's a quicker way to say, "Oh, it's time for Kindo rehearsal" or "We have to work on the Kindo merch." But, yes, we're still the Reign of Kindo. Kindo is just easier to remember and an easy way to get to the Reign of Kindo. It seems like the most common response when people ask me what my band's name is, is "What?" It's not my favorite response [laughs].
The full name is more intriguing and probably what you'd expect from sort of jazz/art-rock group, but the abbreviation is snappier.
Your official statement explains that you guys wrote it "not knowing that the state of the world would be so different. But as we were producing it, we realized how much we need to come together more than ever. We as a species, do better as a whole." It has a very positive vibe, as do many of your other songs. What's it about, and why is now the perfect time to release it?
I started writing it pre-COVID, and I tend to be more introverted and reclusive when I'm going through hard times, or I'm depressed or in my head. I self-isolate, and that always reminds me of how much I need other people. If I don't talk to my friends or family for a few days, etc. I wrote it before the pandemic and just wanted to talk about being grateful for the good and the bad things in life. You know that neither will last forever and perhaps that realization is what we need to be grateful for in some sense. We can't expect always to be happy or have the life that we want.
That's very true.
Then, the pandemic hit, and we were all so isolated from people who are important to us. When we were finishing the song, the words really started to take on a deeper meaning, knowing how much I craved being with the people I couldn't be with. I was in NYC back then, in Queens, so it was particularly brutal and weird and post-apocalyptic. New York is a unique place, and seeing it so empty and desolate was creepy and ominous. The lyrics suddenly reminded me that even "normality" doesn't last forever. What we take for granted and our whole way of life can be disrupted. It deepened the reach and meaning of what I thought it could accomplish.
The strange thing is that I've been trying to navigate my sadness during this time. I'll review some of the older Patreon tracks that are unreleased—we're going to release them soon. We're working out album orders and stuff like that—and the lyrics of some of these songs now feel like someone else wrote them for me to hear now. It's odd. That's how I experience them now because the person I was before the pandemic is different. It's been very transformational, and I'm still in flux, to be honest. I can't say that I have my footing yet in any meaningful way.
Me, too. We can't assess how we've changed until it's over.
Exactly. It's weird to have your own lyrics speak to you like that. The person who wrote them didn't know what they were about to go through or what the world would go through. "Better Off Together" is no exception. It really speaks to me now, and I need it for encouragement during such a dark time. The world is perpetually on fire. That was a long way to answer that question; I hadn't thought of it until you asked.
I'm starting to feel like it's the normal way of life. Like, I don't even think about wearing a mask to the supermarket anymore. I just do it, and it feels normal. When I go to Barnes & Noble, though, it feels like an episode of Black Mirror. It's wrong in a cosmic sense. Something like this isn't supposed to happen. Hopefully, "Better Off Together" can help remind people to employ empathy and positivity, as hard as it may be. It's an upbeat message.
I hope that the track speaks to the divide amongst people. Or, maybe just a perceived divide and the importance of finding the best ways to close that divide. Nothing ends well when a house is divided against itself. We're all vulnerable to the most powerful and nefarious forces at work. We're too busy fighting each other and not trying to understand each other and heal, you know? I know it's complicated, and it's easier said than done. There's a lot of hard work to do first. If we remember that the goal should be to heal the national wound and that the people on the other side are human beings even if we perceive them to be the enemy. Any capacity that we may project on them to be monstrous, we also have that same capacity in ourselves. We do a lot of damage, pretending that we're more righteous than other people.
Totally. You'd think that all of those reasons for division would sort of melt away since we're all susceptible to this virus. We're all human, so things like racism and sexism and transphobia and everything else related to bigotry seem that much more unwarranted. Even things like ideological beliefs, I guess, although part of the division comes from some people not wanting to do what needs to be done to make this virus go away. *Sigh*
How would you say that "Better Off Together" builds upon what Kindo sounded like before while also moving into a fresh direction? It seems like a bit of a throwback to earlier stuff when compared to the slightly more accessible and synth-heavy last album, Happy However After.
That's a good assessment. It has some classic Kindo elements, especially with the B section, where it breaks down with a Rhythm, Chord & Melody  vibe. But, the A section—where the chorus is and the galloping and guitar and piano arpeggios—has some new elements. Like, there's a bigger focus on the pulse and heartbeat of it. When I was mixing it, I was referencing R&B tracks because I wanted it to have a thump! with the bass and kick drum. Also, I guess we've always broken formats, so the format isn't a traditional verse/chorus/verse/chorus set-up. It has more sections. We're staying with the utilization of synths, particularly during the A section. It's like coming back to center a bit, though. We explore a bit and take what we find for the next song. "Better Off Together" is a really good amalgamation of the things we like to cover. It's rocky but also chill and open. It's high-energy, and there's a lot going on. Rocco [DellaNeve, keys, and backing vocals] said it sounds like it's from outer space [laughs].
Photo: Courtesy of the artist
That makes sense.
It does, for sure. Also, lots of big harmonies, which have always been a big part of our production. Some of the other songs that'll be coming out will go even further away from our center, whereas others are more of a return to our roots. We're marrying our extremities with our core, and a lot of them will have new musicians. "Better Off Together" is the first one we've released with a fresh line-up. We now have Rocco playing keys and synths, Kendall Lantz on drums, Amit Peled on guitar, Jeffrey Jarvis on bass, and Rodney Flood on percussion. There's an interpretation of the spirit of the band that each of them is bringing to the writing room. It's really cool. Kindo's music very much has a spirit to it, and it's tough to describe what the genre of it is. But each person who's written with us has brought unique interpretations of that spirit. I love that.
It's no wonder why you guys shift styles so easily, then.
Right. The next batch of songs will be a mixture of songs that this new line-up has written and produced, and some from the older line-up. We have tracks from the past two-and-a-half years, you know, so it's quite a hodgepodge. With the new iteration, it'll be evolved regardless. We're not trying to repeat anything that we've done intentionally.
It'll always sound like Kindo. I've seen references to you guys when looking for suggestions based on other bands they like. There's a certain approach you have that people recognize. I was going to ask you about the seemingly flexible line-ups you've had. As you say, it's a benefit because it regularly leads to new creative voices. It's reinvigorating.
I think so. Everyone who's played in the band has done so because they dig what the band do. It's easy to be on a similar page while also integrating new blood and energy and perspectives. It truly keeps it exciting.
I'm sure. What was the process for putting "Better Off Together" together? To what extent was that affected by COVID-19? How much was done remotely vs. in-person, for instance?
We wrote it at a writing retreat almost a year ago. Then, we did the Patreon production demo near the start of the year, I think. As far as the process of recording it, we started with Kendall's drums at my old studio, which I don't have anymore. From there, everyone laid down their own stuff because—well, before the pandemic hit, it was just easier to do it that way in terms of workflow. After it hit and we were doing the final track, we had no other choice. Everyone was forced to record their own stuff anyway. I got all of their tracks and edited them, and put them into the production. We'll decide [as a group] what should stay and what should go because not everything will vibe together. A lot of decisions are made in the editing room before mixing.
I did a lot of experimentation, like playing with the bass line. It used just to follow the kick pattern during the A section, but then I wanted the bass to be something that you'd want to sing along with as much as anything else. I love it when you want to sing bass lines, or at least when they make you really want to move and keep you on your toes. We workshopped some of the production, and I bought an analog summing mixer, which is awesome. This is the first song I've produced with that, and I'm pumped with how it sounds. It's the sound I've been missing [laughs]. So yeah, it's been a mostly remote process. Even the writing was.
We wrote the skeleton of it together, but then I wrote a melody on my own, and they worked on their own. In the editing room is where the final thing comes together, and we decide how it should be laid out. We're always just trying to create special moments.
You do. It sounds like you're still sort of the leader, but it's a democratic process overall.
That speaks to one of the benefits that I've found many musicians see with the pandemic: more time to work on projects and more eyes on those completed projects once they're released because fans have fewer new releases to focus on at a time. It's also good that you already have a built-in support system for situations like this via Patreon, and you try to give back to fans.
That model—whether it's Patreon directly or some other sort of subscription model for supporting artists—is going to be a huge part of how artists survive in the immediate future. My wife just started her own Patreon, so she's on the path toward being able to put all of her focus there. That's the ultimate goal with a model like that: to work on what you want to, and if people are willing to help, that's even better. What's also so wonderful about it is the connection to fans. That's so meaningful. Being in this band—and not because of the people in it or anything like that—but just being in a band has been very difficult over the past 15 years. I wouldn't trade it for the world, but when I reflect on it, it's so much work. At this point in my life, if I didn't have the fans, I don't know if I would have the strength to keep grinding and piecing it all together.
I can't imagine how much work it is to keep it going.
It's a lot. It really is. The fact that we have such a meaningful connection with our fans—through Patreon in particular—and that they've enabled us to keep doing this because of their support. That is so humbling, man. Without that, there is no Kindo. It's hard not to be humbled and super grateful for all of the people who make it possible to do my favorite thing. This is my favorite thing to do. I think about that a lot; I'm really appreciative, and if artists can find that appreciation and that connection, it becomes a very meaningful relationship.
Absolutely. I think that many fans need to hear that because—well, so I've gone to so many concerts with friends and they'll see a musician walking around the venue, and they'll be afraid to go talk to them. I tell them that we're all just people, and artists need fans as much as they need artists. We can all just say hello to each other and hang out.
Plus, the audience is just as much a part of the live show as the performers. It's important to realize that. We're in it together. I perform because of them; that's why I'm there, so I want to talk to them [laughs]. I think that that distance thing is a hang-over from the early record industry days when they needed a golden calf to sell records. That golden calf was hidden behind closed doors and had to be larger-than-life.
Yeah, there's not as much need for such mystique, I guess. So, in the past, you've released alternate versions of records. Specifically, there's This is Also What Happens and Play, the 8-bit/chiptune renditions of 2010's This is What Happens and 2013's Play with Fire, respectively. Any plans to do that for Happy However After?
Yes. When? I'm not sure, but probably sooner rather than later, because we're setting up to push a bunch of new music now. Honestly, getting this new music has been so time-consuming that I haven't been able to give a lot of resources to it. It's going to be on the docket at some point, though, for sure.
I figured. You have to keep to the pattern, right? It's an interesting way to reexperience the music, too, as much as it's also a novelty.
It showcases the compositions in a different way, and we all grew up playing the NES, so there's a nostalgic element to it as well.
There's certainly an interest in it, too. You have people like Mega Ran who take those old video game soundtracks and give them a hip-hop treatment. Speaking of This is What Happens, how do you feel about it ten years on?
Man, it's so wild. I was just in Buffalo, New York, two weeks ago, and I went to where the old studio used to be. I recorded and mixed most of the album there, as well as most of Rhythm, Chord & Melody. I was reflecting on who I was then and what my life was like. I get snippets of it, like how I was walking down the sidewalk that I used to walk from the parking lot. It was so strange! I feel good about it, though. I have fond memories of that time in my life and of working on that record with the guys. Kindo was a very different band then; we were such different people. It's like someone else made it at this point. It feels that way, but I'm happy with it. It turned out cool and I still stand by it. It was the best that we could do at the time.
It's quite the best effort, then. It still holds up.
Thanks. That's the thing—I'm really happy with it, and I don't know what I'd change. Maybe I'd mix it differently now? But you can tweak things forever, so that's no surprise.
I once asked Devin Townsend a similar question about looking back on his past work, and he said that however he feels about it now, he stands by it because it's a statement of who he was at the time he made it. Each album is like a time capsule or photo album.
Right. It's a document of sorts.
Obviously, you've been busy with "Better Off Together" and the other tracks you're gearing up to get out there. Have you found time to listen to other people's music?
Sure. I got hyper-obsessed with this R&B artist named Lucky Daye. I referenced him with the mix for "Better Off Together". I've been listening to a lot of R&B lately; I really dig the way the bass and drums groove in that music and how there's an energy to it that makes you want to move and dance. I like it when music calls that out of you. So, him and another artist, BJ the Chicago Kid. Specifically, his album In My Mind. I've listened to it a lot. Beyond them, just a lot of stuff that sounds good on my new studio set-up. Pink Floyd's The Wall, for instance. I'm just enjoying the brilliant mixing. I've been revisiting some older Radiohead, too, like OK Computer and Kid A.
I can't think of two consecutive albums that are as different as those are outside of maybe ones by the Beatles. Like, Radiohead changed from album to album in ways that virtually no other band had since the Beatles. It's remarkable.
Totally. I listen to a lot of lo-fi or house music when I'm dealing with emails because I can't listen to music that's very complex if I'm working. I'll want to listen to it and forget about working. I just listened to our founding drummer's new quarantine EP. Steve Padin is his name. It's really good. He always impresses me with his solo stuff.
I'll have to check it out.
My regular rotation has been, like, the band Air. I've always loved their stuff. They're pretty chill, and their albums sound so good.
I'll look into them, too.
Just keep an eye out for the new stuff. We're planning to release new music regularly, but I don't want to announce what the next single is just yet. That will all lead to a new full-length that we're hoping to drop next summer at the latest. We have about twenty-one unreleased tracks that we'll be focusing on getting out into the world now. We'll be writing along the way, too, of course, and we'll refine everything we have into the best records. All we can really think about is producing and making music, so we're going full steam ahead there.
- Kindo - "Human Convention" (premiere) - PopMatters ›
- The Reign Of Kindo: Rhythm, Chord & Melody - PopMatters ›