Jack’s Mannequin fans were saddened with the 2010 departure of bassist Jonathan “Dr. J” Sullivan. But the free-spirited musician is roaring back into music with a new project, Kid Is Qual, who are releasing their debut EP, Damn Son, on Dec. 6. The trio are about as far from JM’s piano-pop as it gets: Buoyed by a drummer, two basses and Sullivan rocking a voice-distorting talk box, their music is staticky synthrock with insistent robotic grooves in the vein of ‘80s funk pioneers Zapp, futuristic electro pioneers Devo and dance-punk faves Crystal Castles and the Faint. In advance of Damn Son’s release, Sullivan answered a few questions about his new band, his musical influences and the influence of his former band and bandmate “Drew”—who you might know better as JM frontman Andrew McMahon.
Also check out the exclusive premiere of the Kid Is Qual song “You’re A Crumb, I’m Ole,” which features Virginia rapper Trew.
How and when did you meet bassist Mike Bryant and drummer Chris McClish? How long have you guys been collaborating? When did Kid Is Qual formally start?
I have known Mikey since high school when we were in orchestra together. And with me being a bassist, but playing lead bass in KIQ, I have a hard time handing off the low end to just anybody. Mikey is definitely one of the only dudes I know I can trust to hold it down each and every night. He is also KIQ's resident metalhead, having played in Alabama Thunderpussy and toured with C.O.C, Gwar and Lamb of God.
Chris and I met about five years ago through a mutual friend. My old band was doing some reunion shows, and I needed a right and tight drummer. Luckily, my ace drummer lived only two miles from me! He's a former member of the famed Blue Devils drumline, and he spent the last decade touring on the punk rock circuit with his band, Single Spies. He is one hell of a musician, and I'm really lucky to have such an awesome rhythm section.
We began working together in the summer of 2007 after I had begun demoing out the first batch of KIQ songs. At the time, I was living in L.A. and was super busy with recording the second JM CD, The Glass Passenger. But I would fly back and forth from California to Virginia, and we eventually put a live set together. Luckily, my sons in the Audition would let us open for them whenever they could, and we slowly started playing shows whenever I had a free moment in my schedule.
Were guitars ever in the equation with this band, or was it always understood that you wanted this instrumental configuration? What made you want to go this route?
Guitars were never in the equation for KIQ. Quite honestly, I'm bored with most of today's rock music, and I wanted to do something a little different. Besides, I cover what most guitarists would do, and I do it on a bass.
The project is about as different from Jack's Mannequin as it gets, at least on the surface. How did playing in that band prepare you for this project?
I learned so much by playing in JM, I can't even begin to tell you. The one thing I learned, or shall I say realized, was that you can actually make a living playing rock music. I have been playing bass for 25 years now and have always made my living in music, but it was through playing salsa, jazz and teaching bass. JM proved to me that success can be had in rock ’n’ roll.
And let me tell you, getting to watch the band grow from our very first show at Molly Malone’s to seeing Drew do his thing nightly...wow! It was an amazing time in my life, for sure. Drew is a beast, and I have the upmost respect for his showmanship. I was definitely taking notes on a nightly basis. He showed me how to connect with the crowd and how to be a good frontman. On the other hand, I learned a lot about the non-music side of the biz. I got to travel the world and play with some of the biggest bands out there, and I was able to meet a lot of amazing people. Let's just say I asked a lot of questions and shook a lot of hands.
Your influences--Ernie Isley, Trans Am, Devo, Zapp--are definitely different than many bands today; they reveal a sense of history and musical sophistication. What's been the biggest challenge as you've composed and recorded music in the vein of those groups?
I love all of those bands, but at the same time, I wanted KIQ to do its own thing. Ever since I was a little man in the early ’80s, I have always loved [Zapp frontman] Roger Troutman's songs. I loved "Computer Love" and "More Bounce to the Ounce," but I never knew how Roger created that vocal sound. I always thought it was a vocoder, but when I finally discovered it was a talk box, I was determined to try to replicate it. I first tried doing it on a keyboard, but I suck at keys. It wasn't until I tried it on the bass that I started to get better at it. Five years later and I am still trying to improve my talk-boxing, but I am definitely getting better at it.
That being said, the Damn Son EP is very diverse; its influences range from the Faint to Outkast. What was your aim with the EP?
My goal with this EP was to write the best songs I could and make the best-sounding recording possible. I wanted to create a new, bass-driven sound, but also wanted to make music that people could like and dance to. We tracked at the best drum room in the U.S. (Sound City Studios) and recorded with some great engineers (Joshua Smith and Jason Finkel). We also added some East Coast grime when we tracked and mixed in Brooklyn. When people ask me where KIQ is from, I say Richmond and L.A., because it is a little bit of both, East Coast and West Coast.
What kind of terms are you on now with the rest of Jack's Mannequin?
The dudes in JM are my brothers. You don't go through all the stuff we did together with people you don't love and respect. I studied music at VCU with Bobby Raw [Anderson, guitarist], and I have known Jmac [drummer Jay McMillan] for over 13 years. And Drew, that's my dude. I will always have love for him for giving me the opportunity he did. Their new CD, People And Things, is great, and I am excited for them. I still go to their shows and drink all their booze. [Laughs.] We also have been playing shows with [Jack’s Mannequin side project] Bikelock. It was just time for me to bust a move and do my thing. I have seen how it is done, and I believe in our music. Bass is the new black, my son.
What does 2012 hold for you guys, in terms of more music or shows?
Our goal is to promote our EP and get on a real tour with like-minded bands. We are also writing and recording as we speak and hope to release another three-song EP in February. Other than that, we are going to keep writing and playing shows while drinking as much Jager as possible. alt