Interview: Migrant Kids Grow Up

Migrant Kids

Tucked away on an unassuming street in East Austin is Cacophony Recorders where Migrant Kids are holed up recording their new EP. The signs of furious creation are evident, with boxes of Via 313 pizza and Voodoo doughnuts stacked up alongside bottles of Jameson whiskey.

Migrant Kids consider Cacophony Recorders a second home, and have recorded all of their songs in the space over the five years they’ve lived in Austin. “It’s a dream making facility,” says Miguel Ojeda (vocals, bass, guitar), of the recording studio where The Black Angels, Okkervil River, Roky Erickson and many more have laid down tracks.

Settling into a bright lime-green couch in the studio, Miguel, Bryan O’Flynn (drums) and John Zakoor (vocals, bass, guitar) discuss their musical evolution and the EP they’re currently recording which features three new songs: “Primoridial Soup,” “Religion,” and “Beaten,” plus the single “Thread,” a song produced by The Bright Light Social Hour.

“We met them at a gay bar,” says John Zakoor (vocals, bass, guitar) of pairing up with The Bright Light Social Hour on the single. “We played at Oilcan Harry’s for SXSW and they were playing there too. It was love at first sight.

We met them at a gay bar….It was love at first sight.

Austin continues to be a mecca for artists and live music, but not many bands receive the kind of accolades Migrant Kids have garnered in recent years. Austin Chronicle named them Best New Band of 2014, and in December 2015, Migrant Kids were awarded a Black Fret Major Grant in support of their music.

For a group of self-proclaimed “uncool kids from the Midwest,” Austin is where this trio of misfits finally found their way.

“We’ve made it” they say with laughter before turning earnest. “A lot of what we’ve accomplished is hustling all the time,” says Miguel. “That education is what Austin’s been for us. I think we were successful because we took advantage of it. Anything we can get our hands on we’re first in line.”

While Austin serves as a creative haven for so many artists, the experiences outside the city’s limits prove to be just as vital: “Interestingly enough, you have to leave Austin a little bit, to make it in Austin,” says Miguel. “We learn the most getting out on the road and touring. That’s when everything gets fixed. That’s when we’d come back to Austin and see the audiences growing.”

You have to leave Austin a little bit, to make it in Austin.

This time around Migrant Kids are doing things differently.

“When [Migrant Kids] wrote their previous record they were in a dark place in their lives and it came through in the lyrics and the arrangements,” says producer Erik Wofford. “This new direction feels poppier more dancey. It’s very obvious the guys have grown.”

Migrant Kids list Madonna, Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd and DFA artists as some of their biggest influences. “There’s a lot more electronic influence on this record,” remarks Erik. “This new material is tighter, there’s no ambiance at all. It sounds like a drum machine but it’s Bryan [O’Flynn] playing everything. That’s a big component of making it dancey but still able to translate live.”

Going from studio to stage has been the band’s biggest focus. “James Murphy always says, “We’re the best LCD Soundsystem cover band out there,”” says Migel, “because they have to recreate everything live.”

I picked out a handbag for Monica Lewinsky.

As with many bands, fashion plays a significant role in Migrant Kids’ creative identity as well. Perhaps more than most – before the guys ended up in Austin, they were living in Astoria, Queens and working in retail in Manhattan.

“That was the beginnings of our fashion education,” says John. “I worked at Zara on 5th avenue and [Miguel] worked at J. Crew. I picked out a handbag for Monica Lewinsky. I was like her personal shopper. It was crazy, she’d call me and say, “I’m coming in, can you help me?” And she’d come in and we’d pick out – mostly shoes – but bags and stuff for her. I even got offered this position dressing models for shows. Had I not stayed in Austin, I probably would’ve gone into styling.”

Half-joking, the band remarks that John is Migrant Kids’ unofficial stylist.

Migrant Kids' Miguel Ojeda by Brandon Scott

Migrant Kids’ Miguel Ojeda by Brandon Scott

“Fashion does translate to having a certain kind of confidence on stage” says John. “There is some of that, that translates into our thoughtfulness of how we our being presented to people. That comes with touring. One night you’re playing on a big stage, and the next night you’re playing on a tiny little stage at a bar to 30 people.”

Adds Miguel, “How do I seem elevated and not just like another guy hanging out at the bar? Even just changing before we go on. We go to a venue, setup and change. It’s very ritualistic. You get all cleaned up, get ready, and you’re a different person now. That does play a big roll.”

For Migrant Kids, it’s full steam ahead in 2016 and beyond, with plans to constantly record and tour. “We want to do four EP’s: one every six months for the next two years and see where we’re at then. Obviously things change and you never know what’s going to happen, but that’s the plan for right now.”

Plan on seeing and hearing a lot more from these not so new kids on the block. And be ready for them to entertain you.

Listen to Migrant Kids here, and look out for their EP in Spring 2016.

Featured image via Migrant Kids

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