Kite Flying Society has hit the big time. Well, big enough that frontman Dustin Illingworth has quit his job to focus on the band, which has scored a residency at the House of Blues, playing every Wednesday night this month on its side stage. The gig continues tonight with a Valentine's-themed show.
Last week, Illingworth sat down for a Q&A at the Little Italy coffeehouse below the apartment where KFS made it's debut album of Shines-style pop, "Where is the Glow?" to discuss his new job, album No. 2, what's missing in the San Diego music scene and what his band has planned for tonight.
Baby Heisman: Congratulations on the big and scary move to becoming a full-time musician. How did that happen? Was there something specific that sparked that?
Dustin Illingworth: It was a combination of a bunch of things. Kite Flying just started out as a musical project and I didn’t know how far it would come along. But then we started getting a decent amount of blog press and we won the award (“Best New Band” at the 2006 San Diego Music Awards) and I started to really dislike my job, so those three things sort of came together. I thought, “might as well give it a chance” so I don’t regret it later.
BH: What line of work were you in?
DI: I was a clerk in downtown, a law clerk. They were nice people there, but I wasn’t too thrilled with what law they dealt in. It was a cubicle job, kind of a mindless-drone thing, so it wasn’t the most inspiring place for writing. I would write when I came home on my lunch break for an hour and I would try to write after work. But often times I was exhausted or just felt spiritually dead.
BH: Did your coworkers know that you were also in a band, or was that something you kept separate?
DI: No, they were great. The people who worked in my general vicinity, they all knew. ... When we found out we won the Best New Band award, everyone bought a CD. We sold probably 40, 50 CDs. They’re really supportive. (The job) was just something I didn’t see myself doing for a long period of time. But coworkers would come to shows. Even if it wasn’t quite their type of music, some rock people or some whatever people, hip-hop, they would still support it even thought it’s pop. They were very cool.
BH: What have you been doing to keep motivated now that you have all the time in the world to write?
DI: I guess what I’m trying to do now is to just get it all out of me. I’m writing a ton of songs, and those come naturally enough. I’m kind of prolific — I’m not trying to sound arrogant at all — I just write a lot of songs, and some of them are bad and some of them are good, so I’m trying to get them all onto at least a basic four-track and then, when it’s time to choose for the album what to master and what to add, choose 10 or 11 of the best ones. So the free time is motivating. ...
And I feel like we still have something to prove. Nationally, we’re not that well-known yet, we still have much to prove. We didn’t get a South By Southwest invite, for instance, which I was really hoping for. There are places I want to go and I still feel like the songwriting can continue to get stronger if I want to reach those places. So there’s still quite a lot motivating me.
BH: Do you see it being much of a struggle financially to be a full-time musician?
DI: Yes, I do, I do. I had a decent amount of savings, luckily, after leaving my job, and my rent is really cheap at this new place that I’m living at. It’s a nice place; the woman supports my music and is giving me a cheap-rent deal. But still, rent goes fast, I have student loans I’m paying back, bills. Obviously I have no medical insurance or anything like that right now. So there are worries. But it’s definitely worth it. ... I can’t go out to the bars with my friends as much as I’d like to or go out to nice dinners. But I’d rather be poor and doing this than vice versa.
BH: How is the work on the new album going so far?
DI: It’s going really, really well. I started writing some of (the songs) immediately after “Where Is the Glow?” was released (during the summer), so I’ve been really excited about them for a long time now. But we were playing shows and we wanted to give time for that album to sort of permeate and get to people. ... (KFS keyboardist/guitar player Derek Rast) just moved into a place in Mission Hills and we have a basement studio, so I can go over there everyday, which I do, and record. So we’ve got about five (tracks), and I’m just thrilled. We’re thinking a June 1 release date.
BH: It seems like a pretty quick turn around from one album to another.
DI: I think it is a quick turnaround. But as much as we love playing live, and we do love playing live, we’re also a studio band in that we like the soaring harmonies and we like all the keyboard effects. To make that true on stage you’d need to have 30 people and all sorts of equipment. And it’s so much fun to go into a studio and layer, and layer, and layer. ... So it might be a quick turnaround, but an album a year is what we’re going to try to do.
BH: How has the last album done? What sort of response has it gotten?
DI: We had a pressing of 2,000 copies and we’re just about out. I think we have about 100 left to sell. So in terms of having your first album out and not being signed to a record label we did very well. We met and exceeded our expectations. We were able to pay for all album expenses, printing, the discs, etc., everything with the presale money already. So it was basically no money out of our pockets and then we began to make a profit on it. We have money in the KFS bank account; we’re doing fine. We’re able to hit the road and have gas and food. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, I think. We still get iTunes checks every month, so I know people are still downloading the album or downloading songs.
BH: Has there been any label interest or interest on your part to be signed to a label?
DI: Some small labels have shown interest in us, but I think we want to do as much as possible on our own. We kind of enjoy the DIY approach. ... So I think until Subpop or Merge or someone like that, if that ever happens, we would accept.
BH: How did the House of Blues gigs come about? Either as an opening band or as a main band, it seems like you guys have played there a lot.
DI: Jamal, who books for the House of Blues side stage, just likes our music. He has asked us to play just because he enjoys the music and thinks we have a good live show. We’ve created a relationship with him and after we played two solid shows there he wanted to give us a chance with the residency. So we had a meeting with him there and he was very supportive.
BH: How did the first show go?
DI: It was awesome. For the first one, they just opened the doors on the side stage. Usually they keep them closed and charge. This time they opened it up to the bar so anyone out there could come in and listen, just because they were trying to get people aware of the side stage and to keep people later buying food and drinks. There was a mixture of our friends and fans and random people who knew nothing about us who were there to see a Latin pop star on the big stage. And after the show they would come in and listen to our tunes. I’m so excited about the next three weeks. We have three amazing shows. Grand Old Party (tonight), and then Oh No! Oh My! the third week, which is going to be so fun, and then Princeton the last week. It’s so nice having control of the bill, too. We just sent a bunch of letters out and we’re very pleased about who responded and who we got.
BH: The show for Valentine’s Day, is there anything special planned because of it?
DI: There is! We’re going to take it to cheesy new levels, I think. There’s talk of a kissing booth. I know (violinist/keyboardist/vocalist) Kelly’s going to bring candy, roses, valentines for people who show up. We’re talking about, which I’m going to keep a secret for now, but we have several love song covers that we’re going to do that are just terrible and great at the same time.
BH: Each time I've seen you play, you seem to throw in a cover, which a lot of young bands do because they don’t have that much material yet. But yours seemed really thought-out and unexpected. Is that something you’re going to keep doing?
DI: Yes! Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of pretension in the indie scene, there really is, and when we do something like an Ace of Base cover, for example, I feel like we’re hammering through it a little bit and showing that we’re goofy, we’re nice, we’re approachable. ... We try to give it a KFS touch either with harmonies, “Oooh-ahh’s” or a special keyboard.
BH: How has your band been received in the San Diego music scene?
DI: I like the music scene here. I think it has a lot of room to grow. I still think there’s a lot of Jack Johnson-ey or Sublime-ish stuff that I don’t really care for, but the bands that I go and see are great. And people talk about how competitive it is, but everyone been super supportive. ... I love going to local shows. I love Old Man Hands. Gabe's such a great songwriter. Grand Old Party (who are also playing tonight) is awesome, UV Tigers. I think there’s room to grow but I think we’re putting ourselves on the map a little bit because we’re always sort of in L.A.’s shadow constantly in terms of music. And now I feel like several local bands are starting to get national blog press or attention, and that’s huge. That definitely makes people interested about what’s going on in San Diego. So I have nothing but good things to say about it. And playing the pop music in a town that doesn’t play much pop music I think, if anything, people are into it because it’s different and there aren’t a lot of bands that are trying to do the 60s psych-pop or indie pop stuff.
BH: You mention there’s room for the scene to grow. Where might those areas be?
DI: The main reason I say that is the music scene is very, very, very incestuous. If you have one bass player or drummer, you can do seven degrees with any other band that’s worth mentioning in San Diego, and that is a little scary for a city that’s so large. And so when I say room to grow I think there could be so many diverse elements. There are so many socioeconomic groups. There seems to be a set group you see at the Casbah or going to TNT. I just wish for some fresh faces and fresh tastes and music, when you start adding that in, that’s when you get new branch-offs and new sounds, and I think we could use a dose of that. So that’s what I mean when I say room to grow. Because I think everyone’s very supportive, so the community aspect is pretty good, but we could use some fresh blood.
Kite Flying Society — 6,000 Shipwrecks (MP3) (Highly rec.)
Kite Flying Society — This Shadow (MP3) (Highly rec.)
Kite Flying Society on MySpace
Check back Thursday morning for a review of the show.