A Q&A with The Unlikely Candidates

·7 min read

Jun. 25—The Unlikely Candidates, led by frontman and primary songwriter Kyle Morris, have certainly taken the road less traveled as a recording group.

Founded in Fort Worth, Texas in 2008, the Candidates have undergone the trial and error of releasing three short EPs under three different labels before finally dropping their debut studio album, "Panther Island," in May.

Known primarily for their chart-topping 2019 single "Novocaine," the Candidates are making their first-ever stop in Cheyenne — or in the Mountain West region, for that matter — at The Lincoln Theatre on Tuesday, as they make their way up to Canada for a series of tour dates.

At the time of this interview, the band was making its way to St. Paul, Minnesota, when Morris took a call to discuss the release of their debut album, the band's creative output and what it takes to find success as an indie pop-rock band on the rise.

Q: You said you've bounced around some labels. What was going on there, and how does it feel finally getting a studio album out?

A: "It's weird. We've hopped around a lot in our career. It only seemed like we could get an EP out before we had to kind of move on to the next label. That's that's the main reason why we haven't put out an album."

Q: What went right this time to where you finally got an album out?

A: "We just had some time. We've been on our label Another Century for a while, and we've already released a couple of singles off of it. They did pretty well, so they were like yeah, now it's time to put out a full album. We had the time during the pandemic, so it just kind of came together that way."

Q: What was the process like when making "Panther Island?"

A: "I think we started sometime in early March. We had to write all the songs over Zoom sessions, and that was pretty difficult. That was a nightmare. Then, on top of that, the whole recording process, I just made a makeshift recording booth in my closet, and our producer would be on FaceTime.

"I probably wouldn't do it again if I had the chance. The mood of that isolation definitely seeps into the songs and lyrics and the mood of the entire album. I think that that definitely affected everything to an extent."

Q: Did it turn out how you wanted it to, considering all the difficulties?

"We just literally just wanted to sit down and have time to write. When you're doing an EP, every song is poised to be a single. But finally we got to do an hour, so we got to kind of just do things that we liked. We did a bunch of cool sounds and stuff that we really enjoy.

"Because our ears are always kind of in that hit-making mode, that kind of got on top of those tracks, as well, and it just kind of ended up being a really nice medium between creativity and going into big songs."

Q: It sounds like you did kind of work outside your boundaries, compared to what you guys usually do.

A: "We just had more time to develop what we wanted to do. We're one of those bands that never stuck to a style, we just kind of play with genre and hop around because, honestly, we're always just hunting the next big song.

"It's not really about like having one specific type of sound or song and then just doing that over and over and over."

Q: What makes you not want to stick to that style? It seems hard to work in a bunch of different genres and fuse them.

A: "I literally think it's the easiest thing to do. With all these styles that we like — we have a pretty eclectic taste — you don't have to limit yourself. If we're just doing one sound, it's great because it's easier to market us, but it just puts a limit on our creativity and what we can do with sound and voice and kind of jump wherever we want to."

Q: It does seem like if there was a common theme, it would be that you do have a lot of stuff on the album that is relatively upbeat.

A: "It's kind of like a Trojan horse a lot of times. If the lyrics are a little depressing, putting it in that kind of format is a nice way to hide it. I'd say some of my lyrics are definitely pretty melancholy, so its a nice way to get the best of both worlds.

"There's a song that we have called The Ringer that everyone literally gets married to because there's a thing about a ring. But it's just straight up about a gangster, and people have no idea."

Q: Your biggest hit so far is Novocaine (2019). Do you see the "Trojan horse" idea in that song? Did you expect the positive reception?

A: "I really try not to even expect anything. But I think the thought in that song was relatable because it's just about me being a slacker in my mid-20s, just living paycheck to paycheck kind of thing. I think a lot of people either are living that or have lived that. It's pretty self-deprecating, open and honest."

Q: You said earlier you're always writing for a hit. Why do you feel like approaching songwriting and music creation that way?

A: "I think a lot of our favorite bands just wrote big songs like that — the Beatles, Oasis or Blur — a bunch of those bands, they were all sort of aiming to write big songs. Obviously they had their own style, but just big songs that a lot of people would enjoy or could relate to.

"Also, hits are what drives your career. That's kind of what gets you through the legs of your career. You put out a big song or a big album, and it brings people back into the fold and gets new listeners."

Q: Writing big hits is obviously a tactic, but it just seems so difficult to break into the streaming charts.

"When we began our career, it was all about radio hits, and now streaming has really become a primary focus. Streaming hits and radio hits are different. With streaming, you can have weirder stuff. You can play with structure, and if it works, it works. I think we're definitely trying to aim in that direction, as well."

Q: When you step on stage in Cheyenne, what do you think people expect from you? And, conversely, what are you trying to deliver for them?

A: "I have no idea, really, what people expect when they come to our shows. If you've been to our shows, then you definitely know what you're about to see, because it's pretty dramatic. I don't think a lot of people would anticipate that out of us, necessarily.

"The drama and the energy is a pretty wild set, compared to our recordings. I love the big persona, big energy frontman. Those have always been my favorites. Our show is very much in that vein."

Q: Do you feel more comfortable going live or being on record?

A: "Live. Live is way more fun. People don't realize some recordings you're gonna do 40 takes. You're almost more like an actor when you're doing that because you have to get into that mood again and again and again as you're doing take after take after take. It's pretty exhausting. Live is very in the moment. It's just an expression of the sounds.

"There are some songs, like the more rock-inspired songs, that are always just going to sound more interesting live. It's really hard to capture that on record. They're two completely different worlds."

Will Carpenter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's Arts and Entertainment/Features Reporter. He can be reached by email at wcarpenter@wyomingnews.com or by phone at 307-633-3135. Follow him on Twitter @will_carp_.