More than just child's play: The sincere idealism of KIDS

More than just child's play: The sincere idealism of KIDS

It’s 8.30pm on a Friday night in March, and I’m at the legendary Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles excitedly anticipating the return of Florida emo/rock band Further Seems Forever. I had travelled from Singapore across the International Date Line to the Sunshine State, taking me a grand total of 15 hours and over 14,000km just to watch them perform their second album How To Start A Fire in its entirety with Jason Gleason, my favourite vocalist. 

With the local opening band done, the swelling crowd is now just one more band closer to seeing their musical heroes.

“I wonder who these ‘KIDS’ are,” my gig buddy for the night quips to me about the next band, with every intention of implying the statement’s double meaning. I smile patiently as he goes through couple more puns about their name. I know nothing about them, and am just as curious to find out.

Soon enough, the curtain rises and standing center stage are six guys ready to give us a show. Then, they begin to play – and at some point, it dawns on us that these KIDS are much more than their name may suggest.

All children are artists

KIDS. L-R: Joshua Diaz, Christian Gonzales, Josiah Sampson, Matthew Barrios (photo courtesy of KIDS)

An indie rock band hailing from the South Florida beach town of Fort Lauderdale, KIDS was founded on friendship, cemented by brotherhood, and united by music and creativity. 

Since forming in 2012, with Josiah Sampson (guitar), Joshua Diaz (vocals/bass), Matthew Barrios (drums) and Christian Gonzales (guitar), the band has since expanded to include keyboardist/percussionist AJ Woomer and trumpeter Donald Johnson.

In 2011, the original band of brothers – already friends and jam buddies for a number of years – decided to take time away from each other as their musical journey came to a crossroads: feeling like they were losing themselves and their authenticity, they had begun to question the intentions and purpose behind what was supposed to bring them the most joy – making music. 

Were they then merely destined to pursue convention? That was precisely the question their respective soul-searching needed an answer for; and when they finally reconvened weeks later, each of them knew that innately, they could not turn their backs on what they knew they loved the most.  

The band elaborated on their mutual conviction in a 2015 interview with Groundsounds: “Each member had the same thing to say: You can’t quit who you are. It doesn’t matter how old any of us get, we are always going to write and play music. There’s no quitting that. Even if it’s not professionally, we will continue to be artists the rest of our lives.”

Armed with a Picasso quote that completely encapsulated how they felt ("All children are artists, the problem is remaining one when he grows up."), their revival as KIDS was spurred on by a collective desire for authentic expression and artistic freedom, taking a genuine love for their musical craft and sharing it with real people. 

“We want to love what we do, and if that speaks to people, then great,” shared Diaz in a 2015 interview with Myspace, “But if not, at least we will be happy.”

I didn’t know anything about KIDS when they took the stage, and not having heard any of their songs prior to their set meant that these fresh ears have had no expectations. So as the very first chords of ‘Man on the Moon’ filled the room, I knew that this set will be something special.  

Music influenced by adventure

Children, in general, have quite the mind of their own – wrapped up in varying dimensions of imagination, they tend to march to the beat of their own drum. Likewise for KIDS, rekindling a passion for their art meant doing things their own way. 

Despite the numerous musical influences shared amongst the band, ranging from country to 80s pop to hardcore – and even the all-fundamental, honest element that is simply ‘life’, as Sampson stated in a 2013 interview with Broward Palm Beach New Times – at the very heart of it all, they just wanted to sound authentic, to sound like themselves. 

After gaining attention in early 2013 through their debut EP, Sink or Swim (particularly this awesome underwater music video, aptly for the song of the same name), the band wanted to do more to ‘translate feelings into the music’, and to ‘convey emotion, rather than just a sound or a story’.

Diaz elaborated on the process that eventually charted the course for the creation of their new album. “When writing, we put ourselves in a place where we were cut off from influences so that our art can sound as authentic as possible. We wanted our music to be influenced by adventure, so we went on adventures. We wanted our music to be influenced by the mountains, so we went to the mountains.” 

And to the mountains they went: in the summer of 2013, the band went on a three-week long expedition ‘across the pines of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to the mountains of Northern Georgia’, to seek inspiration, solicit experiences and stir up emotions, all in preparation of breathing life into the songs they were yet to create. 

Barrios at the band’s cabin in Hawk Mountain. (screengrab from Trails to Tracks: A Film By KIDS)

Aside from "camping and hiking the Appalachian Trail", the foursome sought refuge and retreat in a cabin in Hawk Mountain, Georgia, where they sought to "lose communication with the world, and seclude [themselves] with [their] instruments". There, they also watched "classic Spaghetti Western films and Kung-fu movies on silent", while adapting a writing style "reminiscent of (poet) Robert Frost and (philosopher) Henry David Thoreau".

“It was magical,” Gonzales said of the entire experience in a 2015 interview with All Access Music, “Leaving our stressful lives behind, muting reality… just writing and hanging with your best mates, it can’t get any better than that.”

The band fully embraced their time in the wild, ensuring that no experience went unturned and untouched. “Art is an interpretation of experiences,” they reasoned, “We were experiencing the whole time; so we were writing the whole time. The simple view of the mountains always seems to inspire a certain type of melody… a moment [when] we were all racing each other down the Appalachian Trail, running and jumping gaps, boulders and creeks… the feeling of abandon you have to have when jumping off of a waterfall, or sliding a natural rock slide… all of this trip made it in the record somehow.”

“We couldn’t wait to get into the studio,” affirmed Barrios of the adventure’s aftermath in the band’s documentary The Making of Rich Coast, “The anticipation from us going to Chattanooga and experiencing everything that we did… we were literally bursting.”

The band as a whole seem to carry themselves not so much as performers, but as storytellers: coming before the crowd with a sincere desire to share their stories with anyone who would be willing to listen – and many in attendance might just have stood up a little straighter to play the role of an attentive audience.

Watching them in action was quite a treat too; it was easy to see that they love their songs as much as they enjoy playing them for us, no matter how many times they may have already done so on this tour.

The members stretch across the cozy stage, and even while their voices weave the musical fabric in the room, so much is happening around them at once: heads keeping time with the music, bodies twirling to the beat or hunching over a medley of varying instruments, fingers and fists flying fast, feet hardly keeping still. The experience may have been much to take in all at a go, yet it’s more fascinating than overwhelmingly cloying – in fact, I find myself rather enjoying it all. 


(L-R) Barrios, Johnson and Gonzales performing at The Social in Orlando, Florida.

Every one of them contributes to a vital part of the stories they tell, and they do, ever so fluently. We even got to witness a few switcheroos taking place in between songs with some of the multi-instrumentalist band members. Seeing the kind of unique instruments used to bring their song-stories to life – from flutes to dulcimers to a few others I couldn’t identify – I can’t help but wonder what would come next. 

Then again, I don’t want to think too far ahead; I’m just beginning to recoup the long-lost sense of wonder I’d feel when discovering new terrain, and I want to keep exploring.

Enriching the musical coast

After close to a year of writing and recording, KIDS’ epic adventures and experiences culminated in their debut full-length, Rich Coast, independently released in January 2015. The 12-track album, produced by Jeremiah Dunlap at Emissary Studios in Orlando, Florida, mixed by James Joseph Audio in Memphis, Tennessee, and mastered by Brad Blackwood at Euphoric Mastering in Nashville, Tenn., aimed to reinvent ‘the feeling of freedom that reminds [one] of wanderlust and adventure’.

The album art for Rich Coast.

As Diaz also puts it in the Myspace interview, “Rich Coast is about chasing hope, and not giving up no matter how many times you fail,” citing how much of the album was written during a time of ‘separation from someone that [he] had changed [his] whole life for’, and whom he had almost moved to Costa Rica with. (Coincidentally, the English translation of Costa Rica is – you guessed it – Rich Coast.)

“In a way, the album is about idealism,” Diaz continued, “Giving something your all, failing, and learning to do it again and again.”

Rich Coast tells a story of… adolescence and abandonment,” added Sampson in the same interview, elaborating that its ‘eclectic indie rock sound’ was created ‘by way of electric guitars, drum circles and an array of bizarre instruments from all over the world’. A sampling of these said instruments include Eastern ones like the güseng, shruti box, zither, melodica and casinets, and Western ones like the hammered dulcimer, ukeline, banjo and Nashville guitar.

Aside from the aural experience, KIDS also wanted to take their story one visual step further. With some of the members working in the production industry, the band produced a number of album-related videos, including a short film titled Trails to Tracks: A Film By KIDS, three album trailers, and a music video for ‘Second Star To The Right’, to create ‘a cinematic journey to connect with listeners and evoke powerful emotions through music’, with ‘imagery to spark imagination’. 

The greatest testament to the whole process is how the band finds themselves reliving the moments that inspired the songs on Rich Coast, each time they’re on stage. 

“Having gone through the process we did writing this record, it can’t be helped,” shared Gonzales in an e-mail interview with Bandwagon. “From the moment the first tom hit comes in ‘Love’s Song’, I feel like I’m back in the mountains of Chattanooga with my best mates – and we show that on stage. We show what those weeks together made us feel."

Diaz best summed up what Rich Coast means to the band in an interview with, “This album is the four of us finally committing to ourselves. Knowing what we value. Knowing who we are.”

Listening to KIDS makes me feel like I’m being whisked away on a musical and sensorial journey, layered with textures and leavened with heart. 

From the very first beat, the ever-so danceable ‘Second Star To The Right’ evokes feelings of youthful freedom – running down endless lush fields of wildflowers and chasing the dawn. My personal favourite comes in the form of ‘Paved Paradise’ – a bold anthem for stepping out of your comfort zone with the guys collectively declaring, "Ride out, ride out of this town / hesitation behind".

“Love, will you work for love?” Diaz follows by asking in ‘Love’s Song’, a thoughtful number that subtly juxtaposes an analogy of the work needed in tending to a garden – but what if the garden is already flourishing? Does the work to it then cease? Likewise, if love flourishes, do we then stop working at it?

There is also an essence of the Wild West that interestingly comes through songs like ‘Lone’ and ‘The Standoff’, accompanied by rich imagery of cowboy face-offs, horses dashing into the sunset, and even one of an old-timer ranch herd’s story told through the ages. 

The sense of wild liberation in their songs is so freeing, it changes the atmosphere in The Roxy.

My gig buddy, who earlier made several pun-filled comments about their band name (“We know that it’s hard to find us on the Internet,” Diaz quips to the crowd at one point, “Searching for us on Google also turns up some… interesting results.”), now stands listening in muted awe at their deft musicality. 

“They kinda sound like Arcade Fire, huh?” he yells over the music at one point, a comment that I’d imagine would be quite a compliment to any band. I quickly agree and turn my focus back. There’s not a moment to lose.

A soundtrack for success

The acclaim for Rich Coast has been rather unanimous. Aside from crowning it an ‘accomplishment’, The Huffington Post also called it ‘the soundtrack to your next great adventure’. New Jersey’s The Aquarian Weekly described the album as ‘vibrant’ with ‘a beautifully articulated persona… brought to life through vividly intense passion and sincere musicianship – a breathtaking effort that brings justice to their simplistic, yet powerful style’, while Infectious Magazine struggled to point out anything that needed improvement, hailing it ‘one of the most perfect albums of 2015’.

If all those words weren’t complimentary enough, then maybe a higher compliment was paid through having their song ‘Sunshine’ featured in the television trailer of the 2015 movie Woman In Gold, which starred Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds and Katie Holmes. 

They also managed to score stellar opening slots for bands like Dashboard Confessional and Metric – but going on the road with Further Seems Forever on their most recent tour to cities like Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco would definitely be quite the highlight. This was particularly so since Diaz (a fan of theirs since high school) got to share the stage with them each night as their touring guitarist, an experience he said was ‘most nostalgic… humbling and rewarding’. “However, [what] surpasses all is [being able] to call them my friends,” he said of the pioneer band.

KIDS performing at the launch of ‘Rich Coast’ in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The guys from KIDS still seem somewhat amazed at the acclaim Rich Coast has garnered since its release. “The amount of love and support we have received from our fans and the press… has been overwhelming,” Sampson shared with Bandwagon via e-mail. “It's been somewhat contagious throughout the United States as we've been touring, and we can't wait to bring it to the rest of the world.”

Fast forward, and the show at The Roxy comes to a triumphant close by 11pm, with Further Seems Forever setting the City of Angels and many present hearts ablaze (mine, especially) with energy fueled by passionate fans that sang along to every word. I couldn’t have been happier to be there in person, to hear the very songs that made their mark on me since my days in school, and even to have met them up close and personal at a meet and greet earlier in the evening.

As my gig buddy begins to walk out into the crisp West Hollywood air, there’s a nagging feeling at the back of my mind. My night didn’t seem quite complete. The moment I walk out of here, I wouldn’t be able to come back in – so, it was now or never.

“Hey, you go ahead,” I yell to him over the horde of other leaving patrons heading for the exit, “I’ll catch up with you in a bit!”

I turn on my heels and skitter back into the inner room of The Roxy, heading in the direction of the merchandise area. I see two members of KIDS (guitarists Josiah and Christian) chatting with two other patrons in front of me, and I patiently wait my turn in line.

“Hi,” says a tall, bearded guy with a small side plait, standing diagonally on my right, reaching over to greet me with a handshake, “I’m Matthew, the drummer from KIDS.”

I return the greeting and tell him I’m from Singapore. He does a slight double take. Eyes widening, he breaks into a surprised grin, immediately wraps me in an enthusiastic hug and tells me excitedly that it’s the band’s dream to play in Asia. He interrupts Josiah and Christian’s ongoing conversation to tell them that I‘d come all the way from Singapore to watch Further Seems Forever play, and though it wasn’t KIDS I had come for, their reactions were just as incredulous – maybe even full of wonder.

I tell the guys that my gig buddy and I both thought the band sounds like Arcade Fire, and Matthew’s eyes light up like a kid at the amusement park. 

“That is quite a compliment,” he grins, “And I’ll take it!”

A future fueled by passion

Now that their feelings have been translated into the labour of love that was Rich Coast, what comes next for KIDS? 

“Being able to tour this record and share it with people is something that's very important to us,” said Barrios to Bandwagon via e-mail. “We want to continue pushing and playing this album as much as we possibly can in the U.S., but hopefully we can take the show on the road overseas sooner than later. And maybe release a cheeky video or two before the end of the year.”

The band doesn’t rule out a similar creative approach to their next album; while it’s important for the place to be one that speaks to them and where they can ‘disconnect and be in the moment’, it would be special for them to spend time in places like Iceland or Malaysia, amongst all the ‘wild and fantastic places on this earth’. 

KIDS contemplating their most recent tour, against the sunset of California’s Big Sur.

No matter where they choose to go, it seems like KIDS will never stop pursuing the very craft that they were close to turning away from, all those years before.

“We have no choice,” admitted Sampson in the Myspace interview, “Music is our oxygen, and passion is the only thing that fuels us. We would have given up long ago, but the way we feel on stage, the way we feel when that perfect melody matches that story that was burning under our chests… then, [there’s] the thought that someone, somewhere would relate to it, and hopefully use it to get through a similar situation that we were in when we wrote it.

“…We still get goosebumps when we rehearse for tours,” he continued, “It’s the equivalent of having butterflies for your spouse after 10 years of marriage. It’s just right. It keeps us going. The passion and the brotherhood.”

Michelle was in California in mid-March 2016 to attend both the Further Seems Forever show in West Hollywood and Self Help Fest in San Bernardino. She has not stopped listening to the KIDS album since returning home.

You can listen to Rich Coast on iTunes or Spotify (search: Kids Rich Coast).