Interview: Kyle Morris Reflects On The Unexpected Success And The Future Of The Unlikely Candidates

The Unlikely Candidates celebrated 15 years of making music together, yet they only broke mainstream two years ago. The Texas band topped the Alternative Radio Chart with their slacker anthem “Novocaine” where it stayed for 33 weeks beating out Billie Eilish. The band’s newfound success opened the door for endless possibilities – bigger tours and more fan exposure. Finally, here was the break they were looking for. The band eagerly looked forward to 2020 with a new tour and a new album in the works. Then COVID happened. Tours were canceled. The album was delayed. Everyone went home.

But the band never stopped. Using the unexpected off time to work on their long-awaited new album, The Unlikely Candidates are back eager to get new music to their patient fans and basking in playing live again. Though there’s a lot of uncertainty with reinstated mask mandates and rising COVID cases, frontman Kyle Morris tries to remain optimistic about the band’s future. Taking a break from the stage, he chats with GENRE IS DEAD! about playing live again after a year of no shows, the new album, and how The Unlikely Candidates keep things fresh after spending over a decade together.

GENRE IS DEAD: Last month, The Unlikely Candidates launched their first tour in nearly a year. How’s that going?

Kyle Morris: It’s been pretty weird honestly. Of course, it’s amazing to get out there and play shows but there’s kind of this looming anxiety that things are gonna shut down again. People have been dropping shows left and right. All that we’ve been able to do is keep it as safe as possible and just play it by ear. I think that’s what everyone is doing. We’re trying to stay away from people as much as we can and just play the show and move on to the next city. It’s definitely getting weird.

GID: Yeah, on one hand, it’s exciting to see people going to shows again, but you still can’t help but worry, especially with cases on the rise. Looking at the aerial shots of Lollapalooza made me anxious.

KM: Yeah, you see that many people and think oof that can’t be good. I mean we’re all vaccinated and stuff so we’re all – coming into it we thought well we’re vaccinated; everything should be fine now. We figured most of our fans would be [vaccinated] too, but with this new variant, it’s like how safe is everyone? Especially when you see something like [Lollapalooza]. I dunno. It’s pretty crazy.

GID: Like everyone else, I missed live shows and I thought when they returned, I’d be the first one out there. But as shows started to come back I found myself hesitating to get back out there.

KM: Yeah, I can’t say that I blame you really, especially if you’re someone who’s going to a lot of these live shows. You’re putting yourself in a position where you’re more likely to catch something especially if you’re not vaccinated. I definitely understand the hesitation. That’s why we’re trying to keep all the shows as safe as possible. We definitely appreciate the venue’s help because a lot of them are starting to make vaccinations and masks mandatory, which we’re all for because that just makes everything safer for us and the fans.

GID: When you guys first rescheduled the tour, was there hesitation about hitting the road again?

KM: Yeah, I think – see we set up all this stuff before the variant even happened. So, we all got vaccinated. Everything should be fine now. Then news of variant started popping up in the last – I know people have been talking about it for longer, but I guess I’ve only been aware of it for the last two or three weeks. Suddenly, the narrative is changing as we’re doing things. We just have to adapt.

GID: What about for you personally? What’s been difficult to get used to coming out of the pandemic? 

KM: I don’t know. Just playing shows in general. It’s been a long time since we’ve done it and done it in front of an audience. It’s like riding a bike a little bit, but there was a bit of wobbling the first show or two. Now, we’ve kind of stabilized. In 2019 we played over 200 shows so I was used to seeing and talking to people and doing the whole frontman thing. Then I didn’t do it for a year and a half, and it was like a whole side of my entire life was pulled away from me. So, I’m kind of learning how to step back into those shoes again and it’s a little weird at first, but you get used to it pretty quick.

GID: Even though there’s this uncertainty about COVID and there are safety concerns to consider, are you guys still having a good time out on the road?

KM: Oh yeah! Absolutely. This is what we love to do. On stage is definitely where we belong. It’s been so difficult and crushing that all this stuff has been happening; it’s sort of happening even more now. But we were all really stoked to get out for so many different reasons.

GID: It’s great to see shows returning. It’s just a matter of staying safe and as you mentioned earlier, the venues putting in these vaccination and mask guidelines should help a lot.

KM: Yeah, I think it’s better for everyone, especially if live music is going to continue, which who knows? It’s a killer for our industry. Bands can’t make money. It’s been rough financially being in a band for the last year and half and for the venues too. So many venues that we play every round of the country are just gone. The last venue we played in 2020 was Hodi’s Half Note in Fort Collins, we were the last show that played there because they couldn’t make it through the [pandemic]. The entertainment industry has been hit really hard by this. I think we were the first [industry] to shut down and the last to open and everyone is kind of biting their nails right now. Everyone is barely making it as is and now the pressure’s coming back. We’ll see how many make it next time. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that.

GID: Let’s switch gears and talk about the latest single. “Gemini” is such a departure from “Novocaine.” “Gemini” has this great disco vibe, it’s really upbeat, and has a great hook you can really move to. What inspired you guys to move in this direction for the song?

KM: Honestly, we’ve always kind of been this way. We’ve never been good at sticking with a particular sound. We have so much material we’ve written over the years that no one’s heard. We literally try anything. We’ve never been limited to any specific genre. You just go through phases where you write a couple of songs that sound similar, but I didn’t really put any limitations on us when we were writing this [new] album. We had this disco-y jam thing and I started to freestyle some melodies over it, and it turned into a disco track. I was like oh that’s cool! That sounds really good. Let’s run with this.

We’re more about the song than the sound. If the song works and it sounds good, we’re gonna use it. It doesn’t matter what kind of genre it lands in which makes it pretty hard for people to nail us down. You have a fan who listens to “Novocaine,” and they think they’re gonna get another song like that and then they get a “Gemini.” We’re just trying to keep everyone’s palates open and entertained.

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Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

Ashley Perez is a freelance music journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared on AXS, Chicago Innerview, New City, The Millions, and Illinois Entertainer. She also runs her own music blog at Radio Not Found. Some of her favorite bands include Nirvana, The Cure, Muse, Creeper, and Green Day.

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