Kids Of 88, aka Sam McCarthy and Jordan Arts, were never shy about coming forward. With their sugar-coated synth-pop nuggets and dancefloor-filling live shows, the Kids were quick to break into the New Zealand singles chart and win over tastemakers both there and abroad – most notably influential blogger Perez Hilton.
But rather than rest on his laurels as a hometown hero, McCarthy followed the lead of his Grammy Award-winning mentor (and Lorde producer) Joel Little and relocated to LA, starting a new project, psych-pop trio Strange Babes. The Red Bulletin finds out how McCarthy gave wings to his musical ambitions.
THE RED BULLETIN: When you traded in Kids Of 88 for Strange Babes, you swapped synths for guitars and sitars, and Auckland for LA. Sounds like a gutsy move.
SAM MCCARTHY: It definitely felt like it. But at the same time it felt like a natural progression: one thing had ended, so something new had to begin. Kids Of 88 had played in LA a bunch of times, and we always loved visiting California. The Naked And Famous were already here, so I knew I’d have familiar faces to hang out with. Being linked with them has created great opportunities for us, including a support slot on their tour of the States.
So you weren’t totally alone when you relocated to LA.
Not at all. Funnily enough, when Aaron Short [of The Naked And Famous] picked me up at the airport, Lorde’s Royals came on the radio in his car and I remember thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ Aaron was like, ‘Yeah, man, it’s taking off!’ That’s when I knew things were about to go big for Joel [Little].
Before you formed Kids Of 88, Joel was your bandmate in Auckland pop-punks Goodnight Nurse. Did his success with Lorde give you the kick you needed to put Strange Babes on the map?
Joel’s success felt like this portal into a tier of the music industry that we had all been aspiring to reach, and here was our friend doing it. There was definitely a sense of competition. I remember having lunch with Joel and saying, ‘You bastard! You’re doing exactly what we’ve all set out to achieve!’ But being so close to someone going through that experience gives you an insight into how you can turn your dream into reality. That’s a blessing.
How has Joel’s recent hit-making run helped your own songwriting process?
When a good friend achieves what he has, you can’t help but feel those primal urges to do the same. But you have to create your own recipe. As much as I’d like to wake up in the morning with the lyrics and melody to the next number one song rattling around in my head, I’ve learned that the only way I’m going to do it is through my own natural progression as opposed to just expecting it to happen. That, to me, has been the coolest part of this whole experience.
Has the success of fellow LA-based Kiwi musicians set new benchmarks for what you’d like to achieve with Strange Babes?
First and foremost, I’ve just got to write the best songs I can and allow them to manifest wherever – that’s what Joel’s success with Lorde has focused me on. We’re getting a lot of interest from the UK and Spain, interestingly. It’s been fascinating to see where people are picking up on Strange Babes. I feel like our fans will be very spread out rather than that support being concentrated in one country. To me, that’s way more of an achievement.
You moved to LA to pursue your American dream. Would you now be up for relocating to London to further the band’s fortunes?
Having lived in a city that gets 320 days of sunshine a year, I’d probably be fine about moving to a place that’s freezing for the same amount of time, just for the experience. Having to set up shop again does take a lot of energy, but I’m up for going wherever it takes to see Strange Babes fly.