On The Cusp: Black Kite
Vicki Tippit of Black Kite. Photo: Courtesy of Artist
Right now, the city feels and sounds better than it ever has in my entire adult life. Houston’s active bands have been dropping some of the strongest and most inspiring material to come out of any city in North America, let alone our own. The thing I like most about the Houston music scene is that many artists here take the conventional and make it unconventional, but they also make it their own. No one in Houston right now exemplifies that sentiment stronger than Black Kite. The dark electronica duo has been making waves since they released their debut album Bird in 2013 and they’ve garnered quite the fan base since they started performing in 2014. After a heavy year in 2015, the group took to producer Dan Workman at the famed SugarHill studios to create what might be the best album to come out of Houston this year with the upcoming Soft Animus Heart. Even after brief flirtations as a three piece before returning to a duo, the group proves that you can’t keep a good band down. Free Press Houston reached out to Black Kite’s Vicki Tippit to find out how the band started, what they have planned for the future, and what we can expect from their upcoming album release party.
Free Press Houston: You guys have been together since about 2013, correct? How did Black Kite become a thing?
Vicki Tippit: Our collaboration started when I hired James to produce some of my songs — he was a friend, and I was a fan of LIMB. After we released that EP in 2013, we continued working on a new group of songs. At some point in working together we realized we were both inspired by what we were doing, so we decided to try the songs out in a live setting with James on drums. It developed from there. We didn’t know we’d ever play them live, so the way they were written wasn’t conducive to a really dynamic live show. It was just fun to create them.
FPH: The first album, which I know you’re aren’t the biggest fan of nowadays, is a pretty strong first album for a new band. How long had those songs been knocking around your head before you decided to record them?
Tippit: I wrote “Ghost“ and “Sunday“ that year — just a few months before we produced and recorded them, but I had “Into the Depths” for several years before it decided it needed to be reincarnated.
FPH: You started off as a duo with LIMB (James Templeton) and you ventured into being a three piece with birdmagic last year. Since he left the group to focus on his own music, what did you learn about yourself and the dynamic that you and James have by trying the group as a three piece?
Tippit: I learned that a band dynamic is a fragile and sensitive thing. It’s not enough to work with the people you vibe with — it’s difficult to get right. I also learned that I’m really lucky to have James as a band mate, as well as a friend. He is a rare human being.
FPH: You two have become known for an intense live show. Has that always been the point, to put on the best live show you can? Are you two conscious of the fact that you leave a lasting impression after each live show you play?
Tippit: I wanted the shows to be interesting. I like to have fun with make-up and costumes, but we never consciously meant for it to be intense, really. I connect to these songs on a deep level, and performing them puts me in a place that’s, well, intense. Anyone who has ever seen James as LIMB knows that his performances are fierce. I think we are both just exorcising demons on stage.
FPH: Last year you contributed to the NextWave compilation, which lead to you recording your new album with SugarHill’s Dan Workman. What was it like working with Dan and were you intimidated by the fact that your second album was being done with a Grammy winner?
Tippit: I was totally intimidated! James and I both were at first. Working with Dan was amazing. Besides the obvious fact that he is extremely good at what he does, he is so much fun to work with. His humor and humility put us at ease pretty quickly. He was a lot of fun in the studio, and he’s a good fucking human being. I learned a lot from Dan, and I hope I get to work with him in the future.
FPH: That new album, Soft Animus Heart, is one of the most eclectic and beautiful albums I’ve heard in a long time. What was your focus when you started working on it? Was there something or someone who inspired the subtle changes you incorporated in it?
Tippit: Thanks! Our focus was really just to get these songs to a place we were both excited about. We brought Ed on because we wanted someone who could help make these more interesting to play live and because we wanted a new ear. We ended up making some changes to some of the songs once we got him in the room. Overall, I think all of our work is inspired by what we like and our own experiences.
FPH: What’s your favorite song on the new album and were there any hurdles to making the album or any new things you learned from working with Dan?
Tippit: The hurdles were pretty typical: time and money. I learned quite a few things from Dan Workman, actually. I learned more about recording good vocals, songwriting, why you should kill some of your darlings, and a few new slang terms that are totally the tits. My favorite song right now is “Terror,” but ask me again in a month and it will likely be different.
FPH: You’ve recorded at two world renowned studios, your new video is something that few people have attempted to do for a music video, and bands consistently cite you as an inspiration when I talk to them. Did you think that things would come together like this when you decided to flesh out this project? What’s the “five year plan” for Black Kite?
Tippit: I had no idea how things would come together when we started. It’s important to both of us that we stay challenged and inspired, so that’s really all I was hoping for. I also have no idea what the next five years will be like, other than we keep working on it as much as we’re both able and inspired to.
FPH: This year B L A C K I E said he thought that Black Kite was one of the best bands in Houston right now. Does such adulation from other artists or the fact that you have gained quite the following at your shows add any pressure for you as an artist?
Tippit: Dude, that is a ridiculous compliment. B L A C K I E is such a fucking rock star — in that anti-rock star kind of way. No one makes me feel the kind of pressure I put on myself. Anytime anyone tells me they like what we are doing, I am excited, grateful, and inspired. Especially when it’s another artist. There are so many great bands in Houston right now. To know that anyone connects with what I’m doing is a pretty cosmic feel.
FPH: Your live shows are always a mix of energy, intensity, and sheer beauty as far as next level performances go. What do you have planned for these new songs and for your album release party in September?
Tippit: You’ll have to come to the album release on September 17 at Walter’s Downtown to find out.
Black Kite is definitely on to something with their approach to the music they make in the electronica world. If you’ve never seen them before, the intensity and passion alone in their live sets are enough to make anyone a fan. You can catch Black Kite when they perform their album release party on Saturday September 17 at Walters. The band promises a super limited edition packaging of their new album as well as a cassette version from Miss Champagne Records. The all ages show will also feature sets from Rose Ette, MOUTHING, and DJ Alexo with a $10 cover and doors at 8 pm.