Two polar opposites work together to create the firekid sound: acoustic bluegrass roots and a unique layer of chiptune beats made on a retro gameboy. Founder Dillon Hodges recognized that this unique sound called for a new beginning. Previously performing solo, he created firekid in the spring of 2015 and added Josh Kleppin and Heidi Feek. The trio’s first album, self-titled, came out soon after in September 2015. Firekid performed at their first Lollapalooza Thursday night at the BMI stage.
Emily: What’s going through your guys’ head right now with playing at Lolla? Anything?
Dillon: The immediate thought going through our head right now is – I hope the rain stops.
E: Yes, that’s true. What’s your plan if it doesn’t stop?
D: Well fortunately we’re on the BMI stage, which is sort of shrouded in tree cover, so it’s one of the few stages where the crowd won’t get terribly wet. But other than that, we’re really excited to be here. This (gestures to the artist tents) is a big difference than some of the other festivals – that will remain nameless – that we’ve done. This seems like much– they actually care about the artists here.
E: You guys went to Hangout Fest (Gulf Shores, Alabama) – is that right?
D: Which is awesome.
E: So how was that compared to this so far?
D: It’s very similar; I would put them in the same category. Hangout’s amazing. The difference is is that you’re on the beach, which is tough to beat.
Josh: It’s hard to beat the beach.
E: Well you’re kind of on the beach. Lake Michigan is right there – come on.
D: Right, Lake Michigan, which is beautiful. And the BMI stage doesn’t have a backdrop, so you can see the ships. It’s awesome.
E: Yeah, there’s pirate ships out there this weekend.
E: What are you feeling for your performance? Is there anything you’re going to do beforehand? Do you have a pre-performance ritual?
J: We don’t really, we don’t really have a pre-performance ritual. We kind of just–
D: We just make eye contact. Lots of eye contact with each other.
E: All of you? All together?
D: Yeah, just silence. You have to look at a middle point to make three-way eye contact. You kind of have to like divert your two eyes.
E: Amazing, amazing.
E: You guys have played a couple festivals – do you play festivals more than solo gigs, or is it kind of half-and-half?
D: We’ve toured a lot this year. We did a tour with Kaleo earlier this year, and we did a tour with Brett Dennen. The summertime is good for us, we do festivals, that’s what we do during the summer. We’re working on other things, too, like other new music.
E: Do you prefer festivals over solo gigs, or what’s the difference for you?
J: Festivals are great. We’ve had a really good time doing them. It’s cool to see crowds kind of gather that sort of know the music–
D: People come from all over. We’ll see people from Indianapolis, where we have a good crew, and even like Detroit, Chicago.
J: So that’s nice to see how you’re doing in the grand scheme of things. When people who may have never seen you before, or seen you before, come and find you at the festival. So that mean’s a lot, so that’s kind of fun. And it’s all right here, which is kind of nice. Touring is a lot of driving and stuff. It can be fun in different ways. You get to see different cities and stuff.
D: This way we get to see acts we always want to see but never have time to see. Like we’ll go see J. Cole tonight. We would go see Radiohead, but we’re playing the same time as them tomorrow.
E: That’s really sad, but I mean, that’s pretty special. Who else would you recommend people see while they’re here? Anyone else?
D: Heidi, who are you going to see?
Heidi: I’m going to go see Lana Del Rey.
E: She’s headlining tonight, right? That’s exciting.
E: So what can we expect from your performance?
D: Well, it’s sort of a hybrid of a lot of things. I grew up playing bluegrass music, so it’s a lot of like acoustic roots elements, but Heidi plays gameboy during the set. It’s a lot of chiptune music, and Josh has got quite a rig of his own back there. It’s a bit electronic and acoustic hybrid music. It’s kind of unique. I think that’s what you would expect.
J: Pop music too, it’s pop songs.
E: Both things you brought up: You’re from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Obviously there’s a lot of musical history past there with the Rolling Stones, Otis Redding and Bob Dylan recording there. Has that influenced your music at all, the history around you?
D: A little bit. It more influenced the way I sing more than anything. I didn’t even start singing until I was like 16 years old. I was playing acoustic guitar before that, mostly bluegrass. But growing up in Muscle Shoals, of course soul music is a big thing. I didn’t know it existed until I was 16, that’s about the age I started singing, so it really influenced my singing more than anything.
E: About the Gameboy … that’s really cool. How did that come to be that you do that?
D: Well we are a combination of acoustic and electronic music, and so we get offers all the time to get these solo acoustic things, which we hate doing because it just sounds like a bluegrass band. And so I figured I could actually bring a gameboy to a solo acoustic performance, and it would still feel solo acoustic but would have electronic elements. We tested it out for the first time at Hangout Fest, and everyone loved it, so we made it a permanent part of our sound.
E: Is it a normal thing that people play on a gameboy?
D: No. It’s a special cartridge that you have to, you can either modify it yourself or have somebody else modify it. It’s a special cartridge called LSDJ, if anyone wants to look it up.
E: And how did you come to hear about that?
D: There was a movie called “It Follows.” The guy who did the music on that is called Disasterpiece, and I liked the music so much on the movie. I went to look it up, and I read on his Wikipedia page that he’s a chiptune artist. I didn’t know what that was so I looked it up, and it’s people who make music with retro videogames and computers. And I was just like, “I’ve got to have some of that.” So that’s how I got the sound I like so much.
E: You released your self-titled album in 2015 under firekid. I know you switched – right? – from being under your own name to firekid? Can you talk a little bit about why you switched, and what’s coming up in the future?
D: I switched going from my name, Dillon Hodges, to firekid, mostly because the music I was making was so different. Firekid was just a nickname I’d been given, so it felt appropriate, and it’s kind of a band thing as well. That’s where the name came from. As far as what we’re doing next, we’ve had a lot of pretty big life changes in the last year or so, so we’ve sort of been hibernating a little bit and making new music. I don’t know what the timeline is for the release of it or anything, but I think some of our best stuff is not far ahead of us.
E: And you guys are all going to be together on the album?