Artist Interview: The Kickback


This is the first in a series of interviews with bands outside of the classical music industry. Many classical musicians say that they would like to learn what works well for other genres and apply those lessons to getting their own music seen and heard.

We hope this serves as a great starting point! And who better to lead the charge than our friend Hannah Sternberg? Hannah was, in effect, our book-sherpa! Not only did she provide sound advice as an editor, she guided and supported us through the entire process of publishing the digital and physical versions of our book, Awakening Your Business Brain: an iCadenza Guide to Launching Your Music Career. She is an amazing writer of both fiction and nonfiction, and a big supporter of artists and creators of all kinds. We are delighted to share her new series with you!

How does community shape our art and our careers? I’m a bit of a loner in my own artistic life as a writer, but I started questioning the wisdom of that attitude when I got serious with a musician and became more and more enmeshed in his music community.

I used to view his band activities with mixed wonder and horror; I was used to complete and utter control over nearly every aspect of my work (…until it reached an editor), whereas he was collaborating from the first moment with his bandmates. But then I realized that collaboration also created a rich and vibrant community that lifted everyone up.

Around the same time, I started teaching writing and discovered a similar sense of joy, creativity, and support in my new community of fellow writers. I realized that while musicians’ need for community is very visible and obvious, all artists need strong communities in order to grow and thrive. Even us loner writers can benefit from reaching out and entrusting our ideas and dreams to our readers, students, teachers, and collaborators. So, I decided to start asking musicians — the ones who first made it clear to me that community is important — how their own careers have been shaped by it.

@thekickback talks about the importance of #community in #music with @HannahSternberg Click To Tweet

Interview with The Kickback

I interviewed Chicago indie rock band The Kickback to talk about the role of communities in building an artistic career. The Kickback is preparing for their second tour this year; learn more about them at

1. You guys just went on tour, which can be tough for an up-and-coming indie band — your hometown community of fans can’t come with you. How do you maintain the spirit of community while you’re on the road, meeting new people?

I’m not sure we’d still be a band if it weren’t for the amazing and charitable people we meet on the road. You find great people in Portland. You find great people in Opelika, Alabama. When people respond to your music, I’d like to think there’s already something built between you. That goes as much for us as the Insane Clown Posse. I just think that people who come to our shows are — at least per-capita — less likely to be locked into a 52-hour meth high.

2. Who have been some of your favorite artists (musicians or otherwise) to work with, and how have they contributed to your artistic community?

For our album release, we were lucky enough to get Walt Flanagan to do an illustration for the show poster. I’m a huge fan of Walt (be it his Batman series run, his podcast, or his limited appearances in a lot of the Kevin Smith movies), and our bassist Eamonn spent a lot of time digitally coloring and inking the drawing. It really meant a lot to me because Walt’s podcast got me through some really weird times on tour and kind of sounds like home in my ears wherever we may be sleeping for the night.

3. What is the funniest or coolest thing to happen to you on tour that occurred because of someone in your community making a suggestion or introduction?

The first thing I thought of was receiving a Facebook message from a friend we have in Lincoln, NE a few days before the show. He was at Target and took a picture of some man-sized Batman onesie pajamas (I really like Batman and don’t shut up about it) and asked us if he got them, would I wear them during the show. I agreed immediately and sure enough as we were setting up our equipment a few days later, I see just an arm sort of suspended in the air holding a Target bag. I knew immediately what it was and during our last song, I put the pajamas on and wound up diving into the drum set. Our drummer Ryan has gotten good about trying to keep the beat going with most of my body weight on him.

4. When have you been very emotionally moved by something a listener or artist told you about your work?

The band has a podcast and I’m constantly reminded of how cool people are when you run into someone you haven’t met before that knows all these things about you. They’re always the nicest and warmest people. They wouldn’t listen if they hated your guts. It’s been a really rewarding way to get to know some of the people that like our music.

5. Do you have any artistic role models, in terms of building communities — other artists whose ability to create a community or movement you look up to?

Our band has operated on kind of an extended timeline. Everything we do takes a little bit longer. We would be the worst overnight sensation of all time. The older I get, the more I’m in awe of people who are able to be creatively substantial, not just over a couple years, but over a career. We’ve watched so many buzz bands come and go (in Chicago alone) and, for better or worse, we’re still here. We try and let people know what we’re doing and I’m maybe a little too open about the whole process. But I think with the way the music game is running these days, people appreciate a little honesty. Bands are sort of desperate for their audiences, and it means something to me to be able to convey something at least potentially genuine.

6. Can you share a story about one time that you were very scared or nervous about reaching out to another artist about collaborating or performing together?

We were fortunate enough to work with Jim Eno from Spoon on our first record. After a lot of talks and emails, he came to Chicago to help us suss out songs and trim some fat. I’ll never forget driving to the airport to pick him up. It was maybe the most panicked I’ve ever felt. It was so great, though. He let me play Spoon records on the drive back and ask him about all of these drum fills and weird sounds. It’s honestly one of the best memories I have.

7. If your community of fans and collaborators around the country threw one big potluck house party, what would the party look and sound like?

We are lucky to have incredibly nice people surrounding us. That may not sound like a lot. But we have so many supportive people in our lives that do their own incredible things, but are so giving to us. This reads so cheesy. I don’t know if it’s a Midwestern thing or what, but I just feel like the people that follow the band are…I don’t know. They’re just so kind. You feel a lot of justified pressure to do well for them, whatever that means. The party would have a lot of polite apologizing, probably. There’d be no hippie drum circles, but I think everyone would really get along.

Photo of The Kickback by Jim Vondruska

the-kickback-interviewer-hannah-sternbergHannah Sternberg is a novelist, creative writing instructor, and avid music fan. Her first novel, Queens of All the Earth, was praised by Kirkus as “modern and exuberant,” and her second novel,Bulfinch, was named a Notable Teen Book for 2014 by Shelf Unbound magazine. Her short story collection Otherworldies will be released this fall. Learn more at


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