meet Natural Born Kissers, a band inspired by NYC DIY scenes + Mac Demarco costumes
interview by coco lashar
NBK is singer and lyricist Mika Itkin Weinstein, guitarist Jacob Levine, bassist Matt Tellstone, and drummer Jake Murray. These four come together to make music that they describe as "picnic punk". We interviewed them about their origin, the DIY scene, being queer, and everything in between.
Coco: You're a band born and bred out of your local DIY scene. How did you get your start? How did Natural Born Kissers come to be?
Mika: Once upon a time, I was a college girl and I was like, “Let me download tinder so I can make lots of friends”. I saw these two profiles, and they were playing instruments in their pictures, so naturally I was like I’m going to court these guys and make them be in a band with me against their will *laughs*. I was at a college radio Halloween party a few weeks after and I saw these two boys, both of them dressed as Mac Demarco. I was dressed up like an art teacher and I went up to them and started a conversation with them, casually pretending I had not seen them on Tinder, but slowly somehow convincing them to be in a band with me. We met to practice a few days later and Matt brought his friend Cory, who would drum in our band for a little bit, and we all played Frankie Cosmos covers. That day we wrote our first song, “Holiday Inn”. Afterwards, I bought them all carrot cake, hoping they would want to stick around. They ate the carrot cake, they drank the Kool Aid, and natural born kissers came to be. Almost a year later, we parted ways with Cory and met Jake at another radio event, where we organized an audition for him that weekend. We had other five people lined up the audition, but we were so happy with his audition that we didn’t bother auditioning the rest.
Jacob: There’s an on campus organization run by some of our friends called OPEN that puts on open mics, and we played a lot of those. Each time, we had to carry our gear, drumset and all, up a giant hillside to the open mics, and then we played the open mics, and schlepped it all back. Eventually that turned into house Shows with all the other Binghamton bands, and then NYC venues.
Coco: What's been the most difficult part of making your way in the DIY scene? And the most beneficial?
Jacob: Time balance, because while we’re trying to write and practice and play shows, we’re still all full time students and here in the summer me and Mika have full time jobs. We wake up early in the morning, take our trains to work, work the full day, takes our trains back, we practice, or if we’re playing a show, we play that show and then get back at 2 am, and then do the same thing the next day.
Mika: I think it’s that we worked really hard to be known in the scene. People come up to us on campus and they’re like “oh you’re in that band right?” like they know us, and I think it’s really empowering and special to be recognizable in that scene, but it’s also really hard to grow beyond the scene. Like this summer we were trying to play shows in the city: we’ve played at really great venues like Elsewhere, but getting other people to know us who aren’t in Binghamton is really challenging because it’s such a contained scene. Also, being a woman and queer person in the diy scene is really hard specifically in Binghamton because it is a male dominated space. In a lot of diy venues, I get stopped a lot and people are like “Oh are you someone’s girlfriend? Are you a groupie?” A lot of , “Oh, why are you here early, you need to buy a ticket”.
We’ve found a really great community full of really great bands of all different genres: the Landshark Committee, Elephant Jake, Stand and Wave, POOL. Binghamton house shows are our favorite shows to play: everybody sings along, everybody knows the words, it’s very positive and communal, lots of dancing. It’s really good vibes, and it’s such a small college scene, there’s like maybe six or seven bands that play actively. People come up to us and says things like, “I am really excited to see where you go.” And that warms my heart.
Matt: Another thinks that’s difficult in the scene is sound guys who don’t know what they’re doing. A lot of them don’t treat the bass as an instrument but just as a low end that they don’t actually care how it sounds.
Coco: I read you worked with Hunter Davidsohn on your most recent record (really into sheer mag rn, btw). What was the transition like from being in your own studio space to working with Hunter? How did you grow as a band, regarding production + recording?
Jake: Going from recording demos with one mic in an attic to recording in a really nice, really open and accepting DIY studio space was a huge step up. We are really enjoyed working with Hunter. He really put us on our a game in terms of creativity. For most of us, it was our first time recording in a studio, and he made the experience really enjoyable and informative.
Mika: For a lot of people that record, it seems like vocals are an afterthought. But I felt taken seriously as a vocalist, and he would be like “No, try it again with more emotion.” He gave us a lot of suggestions, a lot of creative input. Like we changed the ending of one of our songs to what he suggested and it just changed the whole song and now we play it that way. Also, y’know to work in the same studio as artists we really admire, like Frankie Cosmos, Porches, Sheer Mag, and Poppies, is such a memorable experience. For up and coming bands, it’s always a struggle to be taken seriously but Hunter took us seriously and legitimately took interest in our music and wanted it to be the best it can be. He believed in us and that felt really good as a band who had like 400 likes on Facebook at the time and had only played shows in Binghamton. The fact that someone who is in our eyes a great took us seriously is really encouraging.
Jacob: His main goal he said himself, and I’m badly paraphrasing here, but he said he doesn’t want to make just any old record, he wants to make special records in like a comfortable space with like good people. And I think that’s the best goal you can have and that he’s done a great job of achieving it.
Coco: What's your advice, or what would you preach to people who attend DIY shows? How can audience members be the most supportive and energetic for y'all and other bands? I feel like audience engagement is huge in DIY scenes and for people just getting into their own scene can be at a loss with how to support touring and/or local bands.
Matt: Never stay inside your bubble. Don’t let people convince you there’s a limit to what DIY music can be. Don’t let people tell you that it’s 4 guys, one bass, two guitars, one drumset, one of the guitar players sings. Don’t let people tell you that’s all that a DIY experience can be. That’s important.
Mika: I saw a tweet about this, cause I follow all those twitters that are just DIY memes, I went like, “you know what’s really underrated? Dancing at DIY shows.” This is so cheesy, but like people don’t dance enough at DIY shows, they’re too like, “I need to be cool.” You’re not too cool to dance, no one is too cool to dance. Also, tell small artists that they’re good, we make a point of doing that. Give people positive feedback and positive energy, cause I think DIY scenes as a whole can be really competitive and it shouldn’t be, it should be a community where everyone is working together and uplifts one another.
Jacob: If you’re gonna go to a show treat it like it’s a legit show, treat it like it’s your favorite artist. These artists are doing a lot here and they’re obviously not getting anything for it cause they’re in the DIY Scene, but like if you’re gonna come to a show, don’t be on your phone, don’t do that talking stuff, don’t put headphones in. Show a little respect, because I guarantee that artist would show you respect if the roles were reversed.
Coco: What do you want people to take away from your music?
Mika: I think there’s a diy aesthetic that like anyone can do it, and I want it to be accessible, and also to sing about things that are relatable and thoughtful. Basically, that you can be heard and that it’s not hard to be heard.
Matt: Legitimate art can happen in places that aren’t New York or Philadelphia.
Jacob: Stop saying you wanna be in a band. Just be in a band. Because if you just sit around and say you want to be in a band, you’re not gonna be happy. Just be in the band.
Coco: Advice for young female/queer artists starting to make work?
Mika: This is a really hard question that I could really go on about for hours. I think it’s been really hard, for me at least, to come into my own as a bisexual woman, in terms of applying it to my music. Find your comfort spots and don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t count or that you don’t matter. With constant bi erasure within the LGBTQ+ community, people seem to be disappointed or almost offended by my identity as a bisexual person. You don’t need to look a certain way to be a queer person and you don’t need to act a certain way to be a queer person, If you are queer person, just be who you are. Surround yourself with people who accept you and see you. Be sure to support other queer and femme people in the scene. Retweet them. Give love and positive energy.
Another thing I cannot help but mention is that a lot of people in bands/starting bands will be like, “looking for chick singer,” just to sing the hooks or to put them in the front as a media ploy and it’s very common and really sad. You can be obviously a front woman where you’re not just there for product placement or to make your band look cooler. Play music with people who value you and your creativity. Oh yeah, and don’t let all the “dudes” tell you that you can’t. Just prove them wrong when you get on stage. I always make a note to make a lot of eye contact with the people who gave me dirty looks when I walked in. Fuck them and do your best.