The Unlikely Candidates are the biggest rock band that nobody's realized they’ve ever heard of.
Rebel Noise sat down with Kyle Morris, lead singer of the enigmatic Fort Worth indie rock band The Unlikely Candidates at Bottlerock Festival to talk about where the band has been, and where the band is headed. Already garnering a cult following with several successful EPs, their tastefully curated music video catalog has gained them not only over 160K subscribers on YouTube, but an extremely devoted and highly sentimental fanbase. On the eve of their west coast tour The Unlikely Candidates are finally on the verge of regaining some of the very likely success headed their way, with a brand new album and a brand new perspective to go along with it.
The Fort Worth, Texas based outfit were just getting their bearings back in 2019 after making a solid name for themselves with a string of hit singles like “Bells,” “Oh My Dear Lord,” “Violence,” “Your Love Could Start a War,” and “Call My Name.” Released over a span of a half dozen years or so, the tracks are all off several EPs from an assortment of major record labels, but shifting from label to label stopped them short of ever being able to release a full length studio album.
By February 2020, they were riding high off the breakout success of single “Novocaine,” a track that was garnering nearly a million video plays per day, and what was assumed to be the one record that could catapult them into their biggest year yet as a band. Just weeks later, however, their ambitions were brought to an excruciating halt by the pandemic. After a full decade of experiencing both the highest of hopeful highs, down to some of the most frustrating lows: label hopping, experimenting with different sounds, a music video with a near fatality, one robbery, and several EPs later, could this latest chapter finally be The Unlikely Candidates' big comeback?
Rebel Noise sat down with enigmatic and amiable vocalist Kyle Morris, to talk about the band’s viral music videos, tour “initiation” in San Francisco, what bands they're into right now, plus updates on their forthcoming album.
RN: Do you think there’s a lot of Britpop influence in your music?
KM: Without a doubt. I was a big fan of Blur, big fan of Oasis, love the Kinks. Really just dope, super heavy, all the Brit bands who just had a super big influence–Kasabian, The Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks, like I have a very, very big British music collection.
RN: What would you call your style of music?
KM: For lack of labeling, we'd really just be like alt rock, but like melodic based, everything is very melodic. But we've had a hard time sticking with any one sound, we kind of just go with the song over the sound. I have a song that sounds like a Tame Impala disco song…
RN: I love that song.
KM: “Gemini.” I've got kind of a '90s rock, Weezer/Nirvana song, there's another that's like Gorillaz and '90s hip hop, it's hard to nail down exactly, so I just say alt rock. A medley of alt rock. Thankfully my voice is pretty distinct, it ties everything together.
RN: I was quite surprised when I looked at your YouTube and you have a huge following. In fact there's a large contrast to the amount of followers you have on Instagram compared to the amount that you have on YouTube, and it's because your videos are excellent.
KM: That “Novocaine” video like, blew up. We were getting a million plays a day at one point…
RN: That was the song I recognized, I was like, I know this song.
KM: It was like a number one hit in 2019, and then like 2 months later the pandemic happened, so we were about to have like the biggest year in our career and then like…
(Morris paused to shrug his shoulders, and look off into the distance for a moment)
What can you do? What can you do. It took everyone by surprise.
RN: So does that explain the “Catholic Gap,” so to say, with your releases?
KM: The releases have always been strange because we have hopped around to so many labels, it was almost like we could only get an EP out at a time, so that's why it took us so long.
It took like 9 years to get an album out, which is ridiculous, but it's literally just ‘cause we got signed to Atlantic, did an EP, got signed to this other label called Another Century that was owned by Sony, and put out an EP, then we were on Sony Red, and put out an EP…
RN: So they were playing with you.
KM: Yeah. So it just kind of like never, we never got the full album. So we've had so many songs over the years, but like if you add up all the EPs it's kind of like we put out like a second and a half album?
RN: Yeah I recognize “Bells” too and that's like an old song. Like, I've been knowing these songs.
KM: Yeah we've been around for a while, it's just that we've never had one song like unite us all besides “Novocaine.”
RN: Now with your music videos, the production, they're excellent. The production quality is so high. Do you think they're like a visual representation of the sonic work that you do with your music?
KM: We try like, “Novocaine” was great because it really captured that whole slacker kind of like - that whole slacker-y kind of world of sleeping in late, rockstar thing of going to work at bars at night. That whole world. The other songs, the other videos not quite as much. I think maybe “Gemini” nailed that one because it's like disco.
RN: It was your pop star moment.
KM: I thought that the whole roller skater - this is great, that's what I immediately imagined for this video was like roller skates. But the other videos, yeah they're good. We've had a lot of weird luck with videos.
KM: So if you capture a music video and it ties with the song super well, that's built a whole world. People can understand the song so much more, like so much better.
RN: I've noticed the very high production level even with just color theory. In the way that your sets are decorated, and with art direction. It's way far above most band’s music videos. Where does that come from?
KM: Well, all the newer music videos, like there's the one for “How I Am” and the one for “Grenadine,” and that was literally, we just did it with our photographer at the time. We were like hey, we’ll give you a budget from the label, I will give you all the time that you want to develop your first real music video.
And it took us like 28 days of shooting to do the “How I Am” video, like it was ridiculous, I almost drowned. It was like, he had me in a lake that was really gross, yeah. (He laughs)
I basically used every outfit that I have in the video because I was like, okay this is your video, do whatever you want. And I did, and it turned out good. But we shot for so many hours, it was awful. He knows that it was awful too, we hated each other by the end of it. But then I got to walk away and he had to edit me for like the next month, so I was like, ‘hahaha’.
RN: They say you can never have too much content… you can.
KM: Oh yeah.
RN: There's a saying that I think about a lot as a writer, “the winner of the pie eating contest just gets more pie,” and sometimes there's a fine line between being gregarious and open to possibilities and just being like, “uuugh!” (Exaggerated hand gestures)
KM: Oh yeah, that's my favorite.
RN: So going back to the last music that you released, because of the stall out that you had during the pandemic–did you pivot and shift the focus of your priorities? Did you feel burnt out?
KM: That’s honestly when we decided to write the whole album, so that's what I did the entire time.
And then we also did this thing called “Flatten the Hump Day,” because initially we thought like everyone else, the pandemic was just going to be like a couple months. So we started doing a thing for our fans where every Wednesday we would do a live show, almost like a podcast with music type thing, like we talk and play songs and whatever, just keeping them entertained.
And like, as the pandemic went on we were like, should we keep doing this? And we did it for 20 weeks straight. ‘Cause we were kind of like, I don't even know what day it is anymore except for this one day, and basically we were all the only people that we were hanging out with. We were like okay let's do this so that we don't go crazy.
So we did some cool stuff, we went to some people's houses and played outside, we did a drive-thru where we played for a kid in a drive-thru, it was like a fan. We went to Safari Park and played for the animals and stuff like that, we just did a bunch of… anything we could think of. We did like an 80s themed one, an emo themed one, it was fun.
RN: Have you ever come to the Bay Area before?
KM: Yeah we have, we've been to San Francisco like eight times?
RN: Any memorable experiences?
KM: Yeah, we've played like the Bottom of the Hill a thousand times, the first time we were here we got robbed, that was pretty dope.
RN: Oh so you were “initiated” early then?
KM: Yeah, we played at the Fillmore opening for Blue October and they watched the band vans, but I guess we were like 30 minutes over the watch time, and they broke in and stole all of our money, all of our laptops, everything.
And it was so sad, I remember we were driving over the Golden Gate Bridge and that song “If You're Going to San Francisco” or whatever, started playing as we were driving away and I was like, it was the saddest moment ever.
RN: It's traumatizing isn't it?
KM: Oh, it's terrible.
RN: Oh, I've had this consolation conversation so many times. I mean I could be at the Grand Canyon parking lot and still be securing all my items out of sight because I am from San Francisco. I'm not going to risk it.
KM: Fair fair, I mean this is the only place I've ever been robbed.
RN: I hope that the city's been good to you otherwise.
KM: Yeah it has been! We did an acoustic set at Amoeba–and San Francisco's awesome, we played there a bunch. We love the Haight Ashbury, it's a great city. The hills are terrifying to drive in a van, that's the only downside.
RN: What's the difference between The Unlikely Candidates back then, because the pandemic was such a large demarcation line for everyone. So what was the band before the pandemic, and what is the band now?
KM: I think that we really did change. I think that we were kind of like that rambunctious, typical hard drinking partying rock band, and just like over those years we kind of grew up. We're just more mature, it's not as much as, oh hey I'm a late 20’s rock guy.
RN: Perhaps the new album will be considered a coming of age for you all as a band?
KM: Yeah, definitely a new era brought in for sure. I mean these new ones are going to be even more different, I'm not even sure. So far it's just a lot of dating stuff, because that's what I've been doing a lot of like, this past year, because I need to have some more experiences.
Because a lot of these songs are like, I mean you write about what you know, right? So there's a lot of that like, I was like I need to go do some other things. I need to go read some books or something.
RN: Options is my favorite word, because you don't always have a lot of them.
KM: Yes, it is always good to have options.
RN: Tell me about your first band.
KM: This is my first band, this is my first band since I was 18.
RN: So a gold star?
RN: Wow. The last time I heard somebody say that was the guy from KMFDM, and they've been around for 35 years. It's very rare that I hear that answer.
KM: Yeah, it's super rare. It really is. We started as just an acoustic duo and we've built it up over time, but we've had our set lineup since 2013, and me and Cole the rhythm guitarist started it in 2008.
RN: How old are you?
KM: I'm 33.
RN: That's a lot of work for somebody…
KM: It's a lot of time. It's been a long time.
RN: Tell me about a band that you've toured with recently that you think other people should know about.
KM: Brick and Mortar is an amazing band. They have insane live setups like, there's a guy who dresses up like a gremlin, they have giant inflatable hands, he dresses up like the Pope at one point, and they have crazy, Adult Swim type visuals made for all of their songs.
Almost think like, a grosser Flaming Lips on a smaller stage. It's awesome, they are awesome. They definitely need as much respect and shout outs ‘cause like, they deserve it.
RN: What's the timeline on the new album and what should we be expecting out of it?
KM: It's probably going to be sometime from now to next spring, so probably about a year from now sometime. On the sound, we're still like bouncing in between three: there's this shoegaze like, whatever this new rock shoegaze kind of stuff.
Ecstasy you know Ecstasy like the artist, Pity Party, bands that are more like that, more like droney and then we've got this other, it's kind of like 90’s rock a little bit, the brighter side of '90s rock.
And then we've got another style that I don't even really know what it is. I guess we have four. We came up with this, almost like pop-ish thing that doesn't really sound like anything else.
RN: I hear that though, because it's in the way that you sing, and you remind me of in all the best ways, like Adam Levine. You have a falsetto that's very special.You could be like a pop recording artist if you wanted to.
KM: I've heard that. But this is almost like bedroom pop mixed with sounds of like, The Weeknd–like how The Weeknd would make a bedroom pop album. It's all in one place, I've got to right brain it in, I've got to right brain it all in over the next year.
RN: Most of life Is trial and error.
KM: Yeah there's been a lot of that. We're also going to try to find a producer at some point who could help hone it in, because we need that. It would be good to have someone to like, hone it in. Because we're like that, we just like to write whatever we feel like. It would be good to have someone be like okay, this one's the best.
RN: Yeah and sometimes it's not even about picking which one's best, sometimes it's just about like hey can I hear this up an octave? Or can I hear this flat?
KM: Yeah it's so great reading all the production notes, it's something that can turn something that's average into something completely amazing. Working with someone, working with other people is something that's like, I enjoy it. We like doing stuff insular, but we also like doing stuff with a lot of other people too.
RN: Is there anything that you're afraid of?
KM: Yeah, everything sort of open right now, it's weird. I think we're finally going independent after like 10 years on labels so, that's going to be interesting where we pivot from there. That's exciting, because it's nice to have some running room to decide where we want to go.
Like if we're going to stay independent, if we're going to go to a label, if we're going to do distribution, like whatever we're going to do, and then just figuring out a sound is always terrifying.
So it's less scary, but always good stuff. Scary good.
RN: Congratulations, thank you for sitting down with me.
It's interesting from an outsider’s point of view that Morris struggles to label or name the sort of sound that his band produces. One good comb through their catalog will allude to the fact that The Unlikely Candidates have less of a consistent running sort of sound, but more that each EP seems to represent a specific, (if not brief) creative period for the band.
Commitment issues? Perhaps. But who's to say that a band has to commit to one sound for any set or defined period of time? Perhaps not immediately rushing to define their sound is a cornerstone of this band’s particular creative process, and in that way, they never paint themselves into a corner by being tied down with restrictions.
When I think of bands with a similar ethos Paramore comes to mind, not that they are similar in sound or style per se, but that they’re another artist who uses their albums to uniquely mark chapters within their catalog of music, stylistically speaking at least; almost as if they were creating a softly nuanced concept album with each one.
The one positive thing about having several false starts as an artist is that it primes them well for the future. And despite being a band for over a decade, The Unlikely Candidates finally have all the keys and tools they need for success so that they can get back going, and (most importantly) keep going in the long run.
Morris on stage is almost like watching a stand-up comedian perform, which is anecdotally why Britpop was initially brought up in the beginning of the interview. His jovial stage presence and cheeky demeanor is oddly similar to that of Jarvis Cocker from PULP, with more than a touch of The Strokes' Julian Casablancas thrown in for good measure.
Constantly cracking jokes, rolling around on the ground, climbing down off the stage to sing in the middle of the crowd, (all while holding an open bottle of wine like a landline phone) do not mess with this Texan, as he is clearly born to entertain.
If this tour is pulled off successfully, it will solidify this new album from The Unlikely Candidates’ position as one of the most anticipated indie/alternative rock albums of 2024.
Will this new album finally push The Unlikely Candidates over the tipping point and into making not only a comeback, but also regaining the burgeoning space they once occupied--this time even bigger and brighter than before? It’s very likely.
Also likely is the possibility of nearly every song on the album being single worthy, plus the bonus of the visually stunning music videos they’ll be paired with. Combine all of that with their charm and energy packed live shows, and the odds are, well, not so unlikely.
The Unlikely Candidates' 2023 west coast tour officially kicks off on Thursday, August 31st in Tulsa, Oklahoma at The Vanguard.
Follow them on Instagram at @theunlikelycandidates.