In their tenure as a band, The Unlikely Candidates have seen some things. A lot of it has been bad, but nothing like this. For the whole world, this is an unprecedented event. We're all waking up and wondering what the latest forecasted shit storm is going to bring, and for bands like The Unlikely Candidates, there's not really that big of a difference between them and us. We're all in this together. Recently Alternative Addiction talked with The Unlikely Candidates' Kyle Morris about the band's last couple of shows before they had to cancel the rest of their tour, his plans while he's at home for however long he's going to be stuck there, and their single "Novocaine" hitting number one at alternative radio right before everything shut down.
“We really tried to keep going as long as we could,” said Morris about the dates toward the end of the tour. “We went as long as it made sense. Then we saw that every other band that was hanging in there dropped out and we were the last one, and we decided it was time to be done. We didn't really know how bad it was going to be. If we knew that things were starting to close and people were starting to freak out, we would have done it sooner. It still wasn't super-visceral for us because we hadn't seen it. Then when we realized we were like the last band, we figured out it was time to go home. The bands that we were touring with dealt with it too. RHQ dropped out three days before we finished. Castlecomer - they're from Australia - they were worried about not getting out of the country and their guitarist was set to get married three weeks after, so he was terrified of missing the wedding. He was sweating bullets the entire time and I felt so bad for him. The whole thing was so weird.”
The band’s last couple of shows were in Wyoming and Colorado. They weren’t going to be the most normal shows anyway, but when the circumstances surrounding them made them that much more of an oddity.
“Cheyenne was the second to last show,” explained Morris. The venue we were going to play is also a coding school. A doctor owns the building and he shut that down. He was outspoken about it and he shut it down immediately. So, we went out to this dude ranch and played a show. It was snowing a ton that day. There's a pandemic. We're inside this cabin on the dude ranch. It felt like The Hateful Eight a bit. We played our show and it was fine. There wasn't a ton of people because apps kept redirecting people.
“The last show was Fort Collins the next night and we had 75 presale tickets not show up. The vibe was so strange. Everyone was stoked that we were doing it. People who showed up were thankful, but they were like, 'this is the last one, let's have a good time, this is the end.' That's what it felt like. It felt like the end of the tour for everybody.”
A week or so before they had to cancel the rest of the tour and before the whole world went into quarantine, the band scored their very first #1 song at alternative radio with their track, “Novocaine.” Obviously, it was a huge win, but also a win that got cut short.
“We got to number one. We hit the peak before all this happened. Before everybody was freaking out we went to number one. We had our big celebration and then one week later the storm cloud had descended, and everything was done. It killed the after-party, but it didn't kill us on the way there. At the same time, we did a lot of support tours and you don’t get a lot of income from that. This tour was our headlining tour. This was supposed to be us reaping the fruits of our labor. This was our victory lap, and we got shut down 12 dates in.”
The conversation shifted from the band finally getting to number one to what the song is actually about. Turns out it’s a pretty apt song for the state of a lot of the populous right now. A huge chunk of people are just hanging out at home, sitting on the couch watching Netflix. It’s kind of like an unintentional anthem of quarantine.
“It was really casual,” began Morris explaining how their hit song was written. “I went up to New York to write with Gregg Wattenburg and his squad. We've done that for a longtime. I was living this bar rat life. The service industry life. I had a long-term girlfriend and I was just a musician. I was just doing what I could, on the road, working, back on the road, working. I have a lot of friends in the same situation. Everyone's life is kind of fun and kind of depressing at the same time. We're all slackers. We're all doing art stuff and trying to make it and have a good time, but there's a stagnation that sets in with that lifestyle.”
“That's what this song was. It's about being a slacker, part of you celebrates it - it's comfortable and enjoyable. But at the same time there's downsides, you can be disappointing to your girlfriend. You're spending all of your money as soon as you get it. Everybody's got a lovable screwup, that's this song. I think everybody can relate to the slacker side; we've all got that in us. It was one of the easiest songs I've ever written. It was a time and a place thing for me. It all just kind of floated out of my brain. It was just honest, and it came right out. I think that's why people relate to it.”
The song is relatable. It’s produced and performed brilliantly. It’s also catchy. Those are primary reasons why the song wound up going to number one for The Unlikely Candidates, but they’re not the only reasons why. The song dropped in the middle of 2019, and it wound up going to the top spot in March of 2020. That’s a lot of faith by businesspeople that usually don’t put that kind of support behind a song.
“It's bizarre, but it's awesome. There's always that fear that everyone will get fatigued. But the thing is, it was reacting well from the beginning. We released this cool video and it got sucked into YouTube’s algorithm and it kept getting millions of plays in a month. Everybody realized that there was something going on with the song. Then we got picked up for this Veronica Mars promo and that helped a ton too. There were a lot of things along the way that stoked people up, but it was bizarre how everyone hung in there. I really do have to give all the props to the label. We grinded it out on the road for sure and we did that, but they hung in there and really fought for the song and us. It’s as good of a label situation as you could have with the current deal we have. I'm giving them a lot of the props for making this happen.”
Morris started the band roughly a decade ago, but they became a professional touring band in 2013. Everybody in the group was young at the time and they’ve all kind of grown and learned in that time together. They’ve been on multiple labels and they’ve released music in multiple ways. They’ve gotten where they are by just keeping their nose to the grindstone and working. They’ve also stayed relevant because they can morph their sound to fit in with different eras of music too.
“We're all over the place. That honestly has been one of our biggest advantages and disadvantages,” explained Morris on the band’s sound. “We skip around from sound to sound so much. Everybody can have a different favorite song. We're not just one song or one type of song. We've got a song for everybody. That makes it hard to package a band. We've got this folk anthem, but then we've got this cool, psychedelic blues song on that first EP. Then, later we were modeling songs after 90's hip hop with chords and rhythms and melodies, then we wrote like a neo-soul dance song. Then we wrote a big arena rock/soul song. We've basically done whatever whenever. I feel like we can pivot in any direction and it's not that weird.”
“My voice ties a lot of stuff together. As long as a song is good, I feel like that's all that really matters. We'll never have the follow-up lag probably because we won't put out another song that sounds like that. So, that will keep it fresh. It gives us more space and opportunity to do whatever we want. We get bored writing the same song. When there's a new sound coming out, we can try it. There's a lot of bands that can do that - great bands - like the Beatles and Blur - that's who we want to be.”
Everyday people don’t always know this, but bands that don’t have a massive following lead normal lives, at least half the time. Morris is stuck at home hanging out just like the rest of us, and like a lot of people – he works multiple jobs too.
“The dichotomy of it is funny. We go on the road and play these big shows and we're this larger than life band that's on the radio, then we go home, and everything is super normal. We're still working other jobs because success isn't what it used to be in music. You don't get a big song and party with models and have houses and stuff. That's kind of what ‘Novocaine’ is for me. You're on top of the world but at the same time you're on the couch… hanging out.”-aa