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Kid Smoko Interview: Great music doesn’t come from being ‘conventional’

While streaming services introduced a vast, incalculable access to music both new and old, rising artists can evidently be influenced by anything and everything all at once.

Genres can be blended together to create something entirely new, and artists can innovate their sound thanks to numerous inspirations from virtually any time period. No other fresh-pressed talent exemplifies this more clearly than the genre-mashing, New Jersey-bred Kid Smoko.

Hailing from Maplewood, New Jersey, the indie-alternative band is comprised of five life-long friends who originally found each other in elementary school. Matt Salort (vocalist), Michael Burke (vocalist) Sam Berkley (guitarist), Michael Ferranti (producer/sound engineer), and Declan Martins (guitarist) all grew up together and eventually turned to music as a way to feed their friendship. However, it wasn’t until 2018, their sophomore year of college, was when they decided to join forces to form Kid Smoko.

“A couple of us were playing music at the time. I was making music with Michael. Matt was kinda doing his thing on his own. And so we just figured to do it together. Sam and Declan were both starting to pick up the guitar so we were like ‘f**k it lets just be a band. “

Michael Burke on how the band began

The band’s name was derived from simply liking the word “Smoko” and figuring out what else would sound cool next to it. They eventually settled on “Kid Smoko,” though the name did lead to some confusion from new listeners. The members remarked how they’ve gotten some DMs from potential fans referring to them simply as “Kid” or thinking that the band was one singular person. Nonetheless, the name was overwhelmingly liked and they started making music together as one.

“We clicked like instantly,” Burke said, acknowledging that their arrangement was a much better situation compared to making songs solo. When Burke first started his musical journey, he was more focused on his solo career. However, that soon changed when he realized just how tight-knit the chemistry was within the group. Their strong bond allowed them to easily work and bounce ideas off each other. Those first two months of recording resulted in the very first project Not Your Son.

“We had a group chat with the five of us. I think the first song was “Good Looking? Declan had recorded this guitar a while ago. Matt put vocals on it with Ferranti. All of a sudden it was like ‘Well, we’re making music now’ as a unit.

Sam Berkley on the band’s first songs

That 2019 debut was just a glimpse of what was in store for the genre-hopping quintet. From the hyperpop production of Charli XCX to the aggressive and punkish attitude of the late 2010s Soundcloud wave, Kid Smoko has taken what they’ve learned from their musical hereos and developed a unique sound — making it personalized and different from anyone else.

Berkley hones in on the strange, experimental aspects of the music he listens to, striving to turn it into something more poppy and catchy. Salort wants to have “pop sensibilities with pure expressionism” like the new wave and post-punk bands he’s currently listening to. Each is an integral puzzle piece that fits together perfectly to create this unified “Kid Smoko” sound.

“We don’t really care about any conventional rules. We just wanna make music that’s catchy and fun to listen to. I think that’s the thread that kinda ties our music together”

Michael Ferranti on the music of Kid Smoko

Their apathy toward one conventional sound has led them to test the waters in other genres, leading to some of their biggest songs. Smoko’s 2019 track “Tommy Boy” is a light, vibrant indie pop ballad driven by its earworming hook and infectious guitar riff. At first, the song performed modestly during its first few months on DSPs. However, that soon changes when “Tommy Boy” found its way onto Spotify’s influential Discover Weekly playlist.

Since its addition, “Tommy Boy” has racked up over 2 million total streams on Spotify, as the video just cleared over 150,000 views. Later on, a fan edit of the popular anime series “FLCL” included the song and extended that reach even further. Thanks to both of these inclusions, the band’s popularity quickly shot up to the next level. Each member was surprised by the sudden rise in views, but was ecstatic to see that their music was reaching an audience. Yet, they didn’t stick with that particular sound and tried to copy “Tommy Boy’s” success. Instead, they traversed several different genres on a series of songs that they’ve released since 2020 like “So Bad” and most recently “Hate Myself (for Hating Myself).”

The ability to easily shapeshift and traverse entirely new genres is something they pull off with relative ease. Not Your Son featured tracks like “RIP Xer” and “Can’t Hear.” The latter is a guitar-driven alternative song with a light melody and catchy hook while the former is a hard-hitting, bass-boosted track that could’ve easily found itself alongside Soundcloud’s prime punk-rap scene years ago. Their single “Come With Me” featuring their former high school classmate and fellow musician Mia Gladstone is more akin to a pop song thanks to her vocals and its danceable production. Yet all three tracks fit right at home in Smoko’s discography.

“We create as we consume. With the whole streaming era and the ease of access to music, it’s so easy to consume a million different genres and a million different types of artists with different sounds. We grew up during that era. This is what music is to us. That’s what we enjoy listening to. We like blown-out distorted s**t just as much as we like soft boy indie pop s**t. We make the music that, us ourselves as a third person would wanna listen to. Those are just both two different types of genres that we love to listen to so why not make both of them? Why constrain ourselves to one of another?”

Michael Burke on how they mix genres and different sounds into their music

On one of their latest singles “I Hope Ur Miserable” the group found inspiration from two opposing sides of the musical spectrum. The high-octane, hyperpop-infused track features synths that call back to Far East Movement’s “Like a G6,” but the dizzying music video includes a reference to Radiohead’s iconic visual for “No Surprises.” In order to recreate the shot of Thom Yorke in the water-filled astronaut helmet, the band had to hang upside down as the water rose. This led to an expectedly hectic shoot. However, the results paid off and managed to make a lasting impact on new fans.

In terms of new music, the band has plenty in store for the future. They all collectively agree that the best is yet to come. They’ve gone back to the debut album and worked out any kinks they had before. They know exactly what they want to do with their eventual follow-up. Dozens upon dozens of songs have already been stored in the vault just waiting for the right time to be released — and almost all of them are said to be some of the band’s favorite tracks they’ve made. “Tommy Boy” may be their most popular song, but the work they’ve put into the new material has the potential to be even greater and lead to some bonafide hits.

I feel like we’ve taken a lot of the elements of the stuff off the first album. I think we’ve fine tuned a lot of it and made fuller songs out of those elements. They’re just a little bit better produced and a little bit more realized in the songwriting of it.”

Sam Berkley on the music the band is making now

That sense of growth and improvement can be heard in their newest single “Paradise” (Aug. 12). The brand new track features a softer, more melancholic sound that is unlike the previous singles Kid Smoko has released over the past few months. However, the infectious melodies remain in tact and the lyrics. The band is aiming to create music that everyone can enjoy, but at the same time, they strive to make something that is truly lasting and has emotional depth to it. They already know they can make something catchy and listenable, but they also want to make sure what they’re saying gets through to the listeners.

“Our past two releases have been a bit more experimental and venturing out of the indie lane,” Burke said. “This one is definitely a return to form but not in a basic way. It’s definitely the music we want to make, but it’s a little bit more up the ‘Tommy Boy’ alley.”

When talking about the lyrics and overall sound of the newest song, the band agreed that the aim of it was to sound joyful and optimistic until listeners take a closer look at what vocalists Salort and Burke were saying. The track deals with heavy themes like mortality and existentialism yet is presented in this light, beach-ready package. Similar to songs like Outkast’s “Hey Ya” and Foster the People’s “Pumped up Kicks,” the band wants to entice listeners in with the joyful atmosphere, but highlight essential and relatable issues that can connect to any audience.

Though the band’s career is still in its early stages, the potential for something greater is already on each member’s mind. Career expectations ranged from globe-trotting tours to worldwide recognition and fame to simply having a discography full of great songs.

“I wanna go on a world tour just to travel and play shows around the world. That’ll be sick. As for my legacy, I just want to have a discography of good ass music. I want to be proud of the music we make and know that only we can make it together as a unit”

Michael Ferranti to OGM

“Similar to what Ferranti said, I just want to have a discography of music that I personally enjoy and like and want to listen to. And then just be able to tour that music and do shows for as long as possible ideally. The idea of being able to live your life and make music and then play it live is the dream.”

Declan Martins to OGM

“It’s just about having fun. I make the best s**t when I’m enjoying myself. It’s all about enjoying myself. And learning. Cause everyone in the group has knowledge that I don’t have.”

Matt Salort to OGM

“I want to see the world through our music. The idea of being able to go on a world tour and experience that with these guys and learn how to live my life through it would be amazing. I feel like we’re so young and there’s a lot for us to do. I’m looking at it in the vein of how Matt said it. The best music we’ve made is when we were just having unfiltered fun with each other and really enjoying the process, not trying to do anything in particular….This is something special. We wouldn’t be able to do it on our own.”

Sam Berkley to OGM

“In a perfect world, my pipe dream is to be one of the goats. All of my favorite artists are worldbuilders. I wanna make a world filled with art that people can live inside. That other people can call home and escape from whatever is going on in their life….[I just wanna] make great music. Make really great art that I love and am proud of. [Music] that people can relate to and can help them in tough times like my favorite music has helped me. Eventually when we’re too old, I wanna get into the music industry. Maybe start my own label under Smoko Recordings and start signing acts to help independent artists on their journey.

Michael Burke to OGM

Of course, dreams of overwhelming fame and fortune are included in the every artist’s potential end goals. The idea of headlining grand stages like Glastonbury or a Super Bowl halftime is on the minds of each member and they have their sights set on making it a reality. Above all, the group wants to be able to share their vision of the world through their music and continue creating music that they will enjoy just as much as their fans would. Making those songs and reliving the process means more to them than only trying to make someone’s “favorite song.”

Though, with the trajectory they’re on, it seems destined that at some point, a Kid Smoko song will eventually become everyone’s favorite.

Listen to “Paradise” by Kid Smoko below!