Kids On A Crime Spree


Being a revisionist isn’t new. In fact, today one can be a revisionist inspired by revisionists of decades past. Mario Hernandez of Kids On A Crime Spree isn’t just a revisionist, he’s an originalist. Hit over the head with a copy of the Phil Spector box set Back to Mono while in Sweden, this Oakland songsmith has made a perfect record for anybody sick of digital interpretations of arch top classics. He explained to ION not just why he made his new album We Love You So Bad, but how he made it with the help of one mic and one Mike.


You’re from Oakland and have been in the scene there for a long time. Do you know legendary zine writer Aaron Cometbus?

My ex-girlfriend, who I adorably refer to as ‘Pigface’, and Aaron were friends. He gave her his old dreadlocks so she could Super Glue them to her scalp. Every time I ran my hands through her hair it would be super rough and would creep me out because I knew I was touching Aaron’s hair.

Apart from the music, what’s the greatest difference between this band and your previous bands Ciao Bella or From Bubblegum To Sky?

I really love these songs. I hate saying these things because it’s cliché, but sometimes you have to shed things that you really believe in in order to assert yourself as a songwriter. I think that’s what I kind of did. The songs in Ciao Bella and From Bubblegum To Sky, that’s the way I naturally write songs, but these other songs that I was writing are more kind of like a less-is-more approach. I was trying to write really good, ballady, really simple chord progressions and record them well.

I stopped writing how I naturally write and tried to write in a different way. It was a little harder for me, but I enjoy these songs much more than I do the older ones even though the older ones are great, it’s just that they’re much more immediate and more fun to play on stage. You can jump up and down when you play them because you’re inspired to do that, whereas Ciao Bella and From Bubblegum To Sky were just more thought out or something. It didn’t have the same sort of energy.

Do you worry about running out of gas as you get older?

I do sometimes but here’s a great example: Mike Slumberland puts out this record. He is getting older, in fact he’s a couple years older than I am, but his taste in music is getting better, or at least he still has that ability to figure out what is good. And sometimes I think writing songs is like that too. You have to have great taste. I guess if I lose that and start listening to Bob Marley, then I’m in trouble.

Is eight songs an EP? Doesn’t this count as a full length but without three songs of filler?

I don’t like recording songs I don’t believe in, so I just thought ‘These songs are good, let’s put it out,’ and I definitely wanted to do that. Mike said ‘Hey I’ll put out the record,’ and it was out three months after that.

What’s your experience so far being on Slumberland?

Because we’re both [Mike] from the same area of Oakland, even before all this I’ve liked a lot of his bands like Rocket Ship and Henry’s Dress and stuff back in the nineties and I’ve really been a fan of his label. You know when you’re a kid and you have these fantasies of being on a label that you’d like to be on and be proud of and not like you’re ‘on a label’? Slumberland is that kind of label where you’re like ‘Yeah, I’m on Slumberland’ and I know that sounds kinda weird but for me it is a point of pride.

Do Slumberland bands or sixties pop acts inspire you more?

I’m a bigger fan of his older stuff. I mean there are great bands on his label now, I just don’t listen to other people that much. I like listening to older things and try to think ‘That’s the classics I wanna be more about’ than what’s happening now. I like sixties pop more, and American pop stuff and so I really tend to like that classic songwriting. Even though I know Mike is really into Sarah Records and stuff like that, I’ve never listened to it. I’m not very inspired by British eighties stuff, which I think a lot of Slumberland bands are.

What’s the secret to Kids’ production? How do you corral those raucous sounds into a sugar sweet song?

Mostly in the past I was really into making sure everything was mic’d correctly and all this sort of stuff, but what I did with this was that with the drums I mostly recorded everything with one mic and everything was recorded from far away. I really got into the old Beatles recordings where everything is close mic’d, like every snare is close mic’d, every guitar is mic’d close with a mic right into the speaker and I did none of that on this record.

Literally I used one mic, that was my expensive mic, and I put it four feet away and just did all that far away recording reminiscent of back in the day when people would actually try to get the sound of the room instead of the sound of the guitar amp itself. That’s what I think the trick is. It was hard for me to get the right kind of distortion sound. I wanted it to sound like over-reaching amps but like back in the day when amps weren’t made very well, so when you push those amps they have a certain sound, where a new set of amps can’t do that.

They just sound clean. What I mean by ‘clean’ is ‘sterile’ and I definitely didn’t want that. I wanted everything to sound like it was older equipment and how beautiful it can sound to get that room sound and then add a little reverb. Everything was recorded in one take. I wanted to record a performance versus recording cuts like people do now. I heard some stories of big bands who when they record and are trying to sell millions of records, when they record the bass drum they get the best bass drum sound you can possibly get then they use a trigger to make that sound. So if the drummer is even a little late or didn’t hit the drum in the right volume it doesn’t matter because it’s all the same sound. Basically it’s kind of like digital recording.

To me, all those new bands, their drums and everything sound like movies; so produced that it doesn’t have any life, whereas I think me and a lot of older records, you hear some notes that are out of tune and you hear the drums jumping in and not sounding compressed. You can hear some things louder than another, and you can hear the voice flex. Today a lot of music just sounds flat, like watching a flat screen TV. It’s lifeless. I wanted to do the opposite, but I also couldn’t afford to do any of the other stuff anyway because I’m recording everything on reel to reel tape. I just wanted to make sure that it sounded like what a band might sound like, because it’s definitely not overproduced.

There are some surf elements on the album.

That’s what people have been saying.

So it wasn’t intentional?

No, not at all. I wanted it to sound like “Loco-Motion.” I wanted it to have that vibe. I was actually listening to the radio and heard Dick Dale and those guys doing a live set and when they do it live it sounds punk rock. It doesn’t sound like the recordings sound, like cheesy, but when they play live, the guitars were distorting, the guitars were pounding. At first when I heard people say it [the album] sounded surf-y, after I heard those live recordings I thought ‘Cool!’ because those recordings have guts.

Well a lot of those bands that inspire you were trying to make everything sound perfect with sessions musicians but with some of the recording artists, like the Sonics or Jerry Lee Lewis the live stuff is better. So it makes sense that you would try and capture performance rather than perfection on this record.

Absolutely, because the truth of the matter is that I’m not that great of a player anyway, and nor am I a perfectionist so I wanted to capture what I do best. What’s missing in a lot of contemporary bands is you hear the coolness of the band but you never hear the urgency of the band. There’s an urgency when you’re very desperate to prove what you’re trying to do is good and that comes across in the playing. I definitely want to record that. I want that to be displayed on the tape. I actually am a little desperate and I’m trying to do a good job.

I guess there’s a desperation when recording to a tape machine rather than a computer.

Oh my god, absolutely. The thing is people always say ‘Just punch in.’ When you start punching in you really can hear that you’re punching in. People can’t hold notes that long and I think it’s really important to try and do one take. If you compare one take to another full take then you have the best of the urgency, instead of something sterile and so square which I think happens a lot now and I can’t really get into that. Most of the time I like when the band plays live anyway, and I like their live interpretation of it.

If you’re trying to capture a performance on this record, does that mean that you’re more partial to playing live anyway? Is that what you think of when you start a band or start a record?

No not at all. I don’t particularly like playing live. Playing live isn’t my strong suit, but to capture it on recording is kinda cool. When you’re recording you have these moments where you get goose bumps because you do something beyond your ability and I like to capture that on tape for myself. When I write a song and hit a note I get this feeling that’s really special when you’re playing it on tape. I’m using the recording to write songs so I’ll put down a drum track first then I’ll put a bass track down and guitars and start figuring out what will go on top of that. I’m kind of making it up as I go along so basically as soon as I discover something, I’m putting it on tape.

That way you have the best, newest feeling, and that way I feel you can tell that it’s not something that’s practiced and has been played for twenty months. Something real is what I’m trying to go after. I used to be in bands with people who just wanted to rework stuff and it just never sounded great. Something that you have a spark for should immediately be put down and put on to tape and not worked on so much until the life flies out of it. You know what a really great example of a song is? Do you know “Common People” by Pulp, and how it speeds up? Throughout the whole song it starts slow and then it goes into this fiery, speeding crash that happens.

That’s great and it’s so real and they didn’t use click track on it because it’s speeding up and the band is rushing through. It’s almost to a point where you think they’re rushing a little too fast. But because of that, the song really works in that way, and I think that a song hasn’t been written in a while that has that sort of feeling. You can tell that the band is so inspired because it’s a great song and they want to hurry up and put it on tape. I think that’s what I’m trying to go after. Imagine the first time Carole King showed the guys ‘Hey this is my song Loco-Motion, what do you think?’ they must have gone ape shit. That’s such a great song.

So I think when you write that kind of song you wanna hurry up and get that recorded and because I record everything and write at the same time I am always trying to get that feeling onto tape. Sometimes I miss it, sometimes it’s recorded poorly, and sometimes I hit it. With this record I feel like I did that the best out of all my records.


Photography: Claude Cardenas

Leave a comment

ION Magazine 170-422 Richards Street Vancouver BC Canada V6B 2Z4
© Copyright ION Publishing Group 2013