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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Local band Kicking Bird turns punchy pop-rock into a party, debuts first album

Kicking Bird will perform at Reggie’s 42nd Street on Friday, 8 p.m., for the release of their debut album “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.” (Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — A band that has traversed states and found its nest in southeastern North Carolina is releasing its first full-length album this week.

Kicking Bird will give fans a live taste of “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” Friday night at Reggie’s 42nd St. Tavern. The 11-track release is a testament to the band’s talent and thriving creation of punchy pop-rock.

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“We’re just a sweaty dance party band,” guitarist and frontman Shaun Paul said Wednesday during a break from working at Hot Wax Surf Shop, his family’s business.

Shaun is the primary songwriter with his wife Shaylah (keys), whose collaboration is going 15 years strong. The two met in Chicago and first played in a band called Chaperone. That partnership — and eventual marriage — led Shaun to jamming with Shaylah’s brother, Dylan, in the first incarnation of Kicking Bird, a name that has its roots firmly planted in dance and cinema.

It’s a reference to the Kevin Costner movie “Dances with Wolves,” specifically the Sioux Indian from the Pawnee tribe known as Kicking Bird, who is friends with Costner’s character.

The Pauls are joined by Robin Cooksley (lead guitar), Tom Michaels (bass) and Greg Blair (drums), whose expansive soundscapes — fuzz guitars, pedals, driving ‘90s rhythms — are a bit cinematic as well. Though “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” isn’t a direct reflection of the Costner movie, Shaun said each track coalesced in a way that could be a musical short film of sorts. 

“Like a day in Carolina Beach — on someone’s vacation,” he suggested. “You could write a whole story around it if you wanted to.”

The band was playing many of the songs live by the time it started recording. However, during the process, three new tracks were added into the mix: “Hickory River,” “Stuck” and “Talking to Ghosts (IRL).”

Shaylah wrote the latter on piano first and brought a loose representation with few words to Shaun, who added in the guitar melody. He said the G-flat note stood out, so he ran with it to blanket the song’s haunting vibe.

“I think that kind of permeated all the lyrics from there,” Shaun added.

On the song, Shaylah sings:

“Slip away/You can visit when the moon grows/I’m still on your mind/Slide away/It’s a mirror on a tightrope/I’m still on your mind.”

“It’s one of my favorites, as far as lyrical content,” Shaun said. 

The husband and wife approach songwriting differently, but the polarity is what makes it work — along with mutual respect and constructive criticism.

“Her concept of music structure and kitsch and melody are far superior to mine,” Shaun said. “And my knowledge of chord structure and what makes a song move to the next part is something that she benefits from.”

Shaun writes from fiction, Shayla from personal experience.

“I like the sound of words first,” he explained. “And the meaning of them will come later. But this record is a fine mix of both.”

A lot of Kicking Bird’s lyrics center on proverbial rock ’n’ roll inspiration: love. Whether it’s online dating (“Talking to Girls (on the Internet),” which has a hard open conjuring ‘90s Brit rockers Hefner) or moving past an old flame (“Stuck”), each is punctuated by a solid hook. It’s one of the quintessential elements needed to make a pop song … well, pop.

“It has to draw you in and keep you singing, or humming it later that day or week, month if it’s really good,” Cooksley said. 

He references “Talking to Girls” and “Just to Be Here with You.” The latter is Cooksley’s most beloved song on the record, due to the dynamics of guitar work that crescendos into noise. 

“It has a killer drum beat, ripping guitar leads and gorgeous backing vocals — a bit of everything,” he said.

The perfect pop song, according to Shaun, comes with two verses, three choruses, and a bridge, and it must not exceed three-and-a-half minutes. Only one, “Talking to Ghosts,” from the album does so — by 11 seconds.

Shaylah finds herself drawn to the “melodic component” first, ensuring it’s an instantaneous attention-grabber for the listener. But it also must have “heart” and an “addictive quality, so you can’t help but play it again and again.”

She cites “Lauren” as a good example. 

“There isn’t exactly a chorus that repeats multiple times; the catchiest part of the song is the verse near the end, where the band drops out besides the bass and handclaps,” she said. “That moment has the kind of energy that pop songs have, where they can move the energy in the room.”

Shaun was listening to a lot of Ty Segall and Bruce Springsteen during recording, which infuses influence even if subliminally. Power rhythms are aplenty on the album, tipping its hat to ‘80s and ‘90s bands. Particularly, he named The Clash and The Ramones as music that perfectly blends in tandem pop sensibilities with rock edge. 

Though Motown girl groups, The Ronettes and Chantels, also are inspirations.

“There’s simpleness in the lyrics to those songs that kind of convey a lot with a little and that’s hard to do,” he said. “Where we have fun is turning the music into a party. We’re not looking to make anybody think too hard, but at the same time, we want everybody on the same wavelength.”

He said each member plays a critical role in reaching that end-goal. Shaun called Blair an “emotional empath” of a drummer, who secures the vibe of a song without much direction.

“I don’t know how to explain how to play the drums,” he said. “But Greg will just pick up the sticks and be like, ‘OK, I get you.’”

Michaels is the “wonderkid” when it comes to recording and electronics, and made the album “sound good,” Shaun praised. He added Cooksley runs checks and balances to make sure everyone and everything is in order. 

“He is also an amazing guitar player when it comes to making a song better — by adding a part or just some riff where you wouldn’t expect it,” Shaun said.

The band is conclusive that recording “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” was smooth sailing. Kicking Bird has been working on its debut LP since 2020; the band released a five-track EP, “The Covid Tapes,” during summer 2021. Only one song, “238,” appears on both.

The band captured the intensity of their music in a shed in drummer Blair’s backyard — “where we practice and get loud,” Shaun said. It took roughly nine months to record, a process Shayla called “extremely fun.”

“It was the first time I truly heard the intricacies of what everyone is doing during the live show,” she said.

The group intrinsically works well together and feeds off each other with an ease of flow. 

“So anytime Shayla wanted to do eight vocal effects on top of each other, Tom was like, ‘I’ll layer them together,’” Shaun said. “He was cool. Or anytime Greg said, ‘I want to do bongos here,’ it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s do that.’”

They sent the final record to Seattle to be mastered by Frank Mazzeo (Fleet Foxes), who Shaun said exceeded expectations: “Frank really bumped it up to the next level.”

Most of the challenges the band faced came over decisions in aesthetics or promotion — such as the record’s artwork. 

“We all have strong opinions, so agreeing on something subjective like artwork was … interesting,” Cooksley said with a laugh. “But we got there.”

“Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” showcases Cooksley’s daughter swimming in the Atlantic Ocean on Carolina Beach — a photo captured by local photographer and Cooksley’s pal Shane Keenan. 

The tight-knit nature of the band spills over to their families, wherein their kids play with each other while the adults are at band practice.

“It’s going on eight years,” Shaun said, noting they’ve already begun plotting record number two.  

Many news songs have been penned in the last month or so. Though it won’t be a total departure from the vitality of sound Kicking Bird envelops, Shaun said a Brit influence is likely to find more impact on their sound.

“I’m listening to a lot of Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura,” he said. “The new stuff is going to still be poppy and snare-snappy forward, but I think there’s going to be a little bit more subtlety.”

The setlist for the “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” show at Reggie’s (1415 S 42nd St.) Friday night will feature tracks from the band’s new record, older songs, plus some of the new ones that have yet to be played in front of an audience. 

“Everybody’s gonna be dancing and singing along,” Shaun said.

Roughly 100 vinyls have been pressed for “Original Motion Picture Soundtrack,” with the release for sale at the show. It also will be available on Kicking Bird’s Bandcamp page.

Joining the bill will be Pleasure Island and Cool Jerk.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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