Kids' guitarist Josiah Sampson suggested we meet for lunch at Fort Lauderdale's restaurant for the young and hip, Tap 42. He's well-coifed and dressed smartly in a fitted plaid shirt and jeans. His arms are covered in a web of colorful tattoos. One with thin, black, swirling lines seems to have particular importance. It says "faith" if you look at it one way and "truth" another. These words appear to be significant and recurring for both the guitarist and his band.
Sampson's personal story is deeply interwoven with the history he presents for Kids. With drummer Matthew Barrios, singer/bassist Joshua Diaz, and guitarist Christian Gonzalez, he pens inspirational indie rock with thoughtful lyrics sung over layers of ethereal melodies created using a mix of traditional and nontraditional rock instruments. Sampson's father's craft of choice is partly the reason the group is open to including sounds made by things like the shruti box, zither, and hammered dulcimer in its songs.
Just days before we met with the guitarist, his father, Erik the Flutemaker, was trending on Reddit.
Sampson's dad has what his son calls an "interesting passion for flute-making." Erik was traveling with a political theater group in his youth and, at a rally in Hawaii, just happened to grab a flute from a bag of instruments being passed around. Now he's famous for carving flutes and saxes out of bamboo he grows in his backyard. He's put out six albums, and one of his creations was even played by Yanni's sax player at the Taj Mahal.
Sampson, the son, was raised in Davie, the youngest in a family of five sisters, by his musical parents. Their unique lifestyle inspired him and his siblings to follow dream career paths -- one is an acrobat in Cirque du Soleil, and another writes for the Miami Herald.
After high school, Sampson himself chose touring full-time with hardcore outlet Red Baron over film school. He ended up working in film anyway and currently shoots and edits videos at "idea agency" C&I Studios. He and two other members of the band are employed with the media company. Josh Miller, cofounder and director of C&I, is both Sampson's brother-in-law and the band's greatest advocate. He told the four musicians, "'I want to create beautiful things with people I love.'" Kids and C&I often collaborate informally on band ventures, and the group will headline the company's upcoming music festival, For the Love.
Sampson calls Kids a "dysfunctional functional family" and singer Diaz a "lifelong friend." The two have known each other for more than a decade and played music together when they were younger, reuniting after a period of separation. Diaz, Barrios, and Gonzalez all met making music at Flamingo Road Baptist Church. Sampson was also raised with religion, attending small private Christian schools. "It was never forced upon me," he explains of his religious beliefs. What his parents instilled in him are what he calls "really good morals." Diaz is the only one still affiliated with a congregation. He plays as the artist in residence on Sundays at CityChurch Fort Lauderdale.
The band's simple moniker -- one you may find challenging to Google -- is derived from a Pablo Picasso quote that Sampson happily relays: "All children are artists; the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." He and the other members want to exercise the energy children have. He says, "They believe everything but question everything."
While promoting their debut EP, Sink or Swim, Kids picked up a bunch of new fans. Back in 2012, the four found themselves on a U.S. tour, playing to a nearly empty room in Vegas at Freakin' Frog. Sampson remembers the feeling of despair he felt when three of the five people in the crowd left. He thought, "We're so far away from home. We should have just gone to the casino and had fun." But those three people only went outside to call everyone they knew on campus, alerting them that a Florida group was playing live, "probably the best band that's been here in years," Sampson recounts. "It felt like we were back at home." One superfan they met there annually sends a letter to Bonnaroo asking the massive music festival to book Kids.
Though touring was good for gaining an audience, the band lost a lot of money on the road. "We really wanted to hone in on what we wanted to do," Sampson explains. "It came to a point where we realized people liked what we were doing," but, he says, they had to figure out how to make the most of that.
The guys changed their perspective on Kids and started looking at it as a "brand." They examined their favorite bands -- what they were selling and who they were selling to -- and figured out Kids' own identity. For instance, he explains, the Killers sell Vegas and Coldplay sells emotions. They started with what they were already doing, the image that organically arose among the four, and went from there. "We wanted to do something that we were really passionate about, and if it was accepted, cool, and if it wasn't, then we made something that we were really incredibly proud of," he says.
What they discovered they were selling was "adolescence and adventure."
This led them on an unusual journey in 2013, that resulted in the upcoming release Rich Coast. The four saved money and -- with only an acoustic guitar, a tent, water, tuna, and a machete -- took a month off of work and hiked the Appalachian Trail. "We just really got in touch with nature, ourselves. We were laughing, fighting, everything you can think of. It was really unbelievable." Next they rented a cabin outside Chattanooga, gutted the living room, set up drums, guitars, banjos, and every morning went out to find some type of inspiration or adolescent adventure. The members of Kids found themselves at waterfalls, cliff-diving and flying on rope swings into crystal-clear water.
"The goal was to come back to the cabin and translate that [adventure] through our fingertips," he remembers, calling the time there "magical."
After their day excursions, they cooked dinner and watched old Westerns, like Death Rides a Horse. They listened to, he says, the "whistle hooks and the galloping beats of the horses," and that played into the writing of songs.
While in Tennessee, they filmed a short documentary, Trails to Tracks, on the process of making the album. It starts with each of them reading inspirational quotes they say drive them forward when they're feeling stuck. It has a sort of epic feeling to it. Sampson's recorded voice says: "We hope to inspire, we hope to evoke an emotion, we hope. And that makes us dream." That leads into the powerful melodic climax, complete with voices wailing passionately.
"It's given us a lot of cool insight into what we write about," he explains of the experience. And though he wouldn't consider Kids a religious band or Christianity as an outside influence on the music, he says, "We do write some things revolving around the idea of God, and I think that's really special that we're able to do that."
In terms of their lyrical content, he explains, "Some of it would be considered biblical morals, but more of it is common sense." Recently, entertainment website Diffuser.FM put out the group's "Love Song." It's about working to achieve what you want, and, Sampson says, "I guess that could stem from anything, but there are a few lyrics about thanking God for what you have. Just being thankful." But he sees that thankfulness as, again, simply common sense. There's no disconnect between the group's personal beliefs and the output. "It wouldn't be out of the question to put the word 'God' in a song," he admits.
The band is releasing Rich Coast at the end of January. Pre- and postrecording, Sampson says, they would ask themselves: In the studio, "What would Coldplay do?" and, with marketing, "What would Beyoncé do?" Right now, though, the band is more interested in touring than signing with a label. "At this point, it's just an unbelievably expensive hobby," Sampson says, almost in jest. But like his father's musical empire that started when he randomly chose a flute from a basket, every successful journey starts with a bit of inspiration and a lot of hard work.
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