Born and raised in suburban New Jersey, Kenny Brown moved to Washington, DC to attend university. A talented multi-instrumentalist, he was in and out of bands during his tenure in DC. But for one reason or another, none of these projects ever got off the ground. A harrowing bicycle accident in spring 2009 forced him to re-evaluate his approach. While recuperating during the long hot summer, Brown began to write and record songs under the name Byrds of Paradise. Two of his songs, "Rosebud" and "Rowena," were recently featured on Pitchfork's Forkcast.
First off, what got you into playing music?
My friend Jack got a guitar when he was like 11, and he got me into everything. I remember we used to have epic sleepovers and he taught me how to play Green Day's “Brain Stew.” I was hooked from there. I played all day, and then the following Christmas I got a drum set. I played every day from then until the end of high school. I never took any lessons.
And where did you grow up?
I grew up in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. It's a small town about 45 minutes west of New York City; full of a bunch of dickheads. I honestly don't know who I'd be or what I'd be doing if it wasn't for the scene I came into.
What was it like being in Jersey when the local hardcore/punk scene was at it's peak in the late 90s, early 00s?
Growing up in that scene was awesome, because that's how I met my best friends, not the shitheads from my high school. I mean, I started going to ska and pop-punk shows when I was 11, and didn't really realize how privileged I was to see some of the bands I was seeing at the time. Laugh if you want, but I went to Midtown's first show. I saw At the Drive-In before I hit puberty. I've seen Saves the Day probably more than any other band. I was there for all of it.
There were two shows that had a really big effect on my musical taste when I was younger. The first was Jimmy Eat World at the Wayne firehouse, when I was 13. Gabe from Midtown and Cobra Starship's brother, Ricky, would throw these awesome shows at the firehouse. I think it was in 2000, so Jimmy Eat World were probably doing their Clarity tour. I was in 8th grade, rocking cargo pants and hoodies, and I didn't know what to expect. It was unbelievable. We pushed to the front because we were the youngest and shortest ones there. I have never seen a band to this day play as tight and as powerful as they did. That whole year after that I was all about turtlenecks and messenger bags.
The other show was Converge at Club Krome. That’s another band that still blows my mind with each release; I've seen them probably 4 or 5 times now, but that first time was unbelievable. That's what really got me into harder stuff.
So after all this, how did Byrds of Paradise come out?
Well I've always wanted to do a band, but just didn’t have the right resources. Since coming to DC, I couldn’t find people who were dedicated enough, able to practice, or had the same vision as me. I was jamming with Mike Mimoun, from Family Portrait, for a while and we were calling it the Council of Cool. It was fun and all but we weren't really doing anything and obviously he had his loyalty and priorities to Family Portrait, which makes sense because they're doing big things and are good. After that we added you and my roommate, Forgan, and started doing that Sperry Boys project, which was going well; it had a Britpop vibe and the songs were tight and executed well. Of course, you had your priority to Ra Ra Rasputin, Mimoun with Family Portrait, etc, etc.
I was stuck in a rut and getting real frustrated. At that point I was like, "fuck it, I play everything anyway, I'll do it on my own". My only problem is that I can't sing for shit.
This was all in April. Then I took a nasty spill in a biking incident and broke my leg pretty bad. I went home to Jersey for a month and then came back in the summer. Everyone was working during the day, except for Ari (Stern, of Family Portrait). I'd crutch over there every day and just chill with him. That's how "Rosebud" came about. I'd bug him all day to record me when he wasn't busy packaging and shipping records. I said "Ari, I wrote this song for you" and I played it for him and he wasn’t into it. One day I was dicking around on the guitar and played two chords in the style of "In a Big Country" by Big Country and he’s like, “Wait a second, I like that.” We wrote and recorded it off those two chords in about three hours. It was sent to Brody (also of Family Portrait) and he put the words down and I got it back like a month and a half later. Three days later it was on Pitchfork. After that, I bought my own Tascam 8 track and moved back to my parents’ house in Jersey and recorded with Jared and Alan. Now the HEARTS OF PALM cassette is almost complete!
Just out of curiosity, where’d you get the name from?
I got the name Byrds of Paradise from Planet Earth, actually. I used to watch it every night when I went to sleep, putting it on mute and giving it a personal soundtrack. My favorite was the rainforest one. The birds of paradise use different forms of dancing, flashy colors, and calls to attract their female counterparts; humans do the same thing. But we call it STUNTIN hahahaha.
It must’ve been a bit of a mindfuck seeing “Rosebud,” and later “Rowena,” posted on Pitchfork, huh?
It was pretty satisfying. I always felt like I was overlooked because no one was stoked on my music the way I was. I've been writing songs since I was 12, and I'm pretty confident in my writing, but no one's ever wanted to take it a step further with me. Maybe I'm just an asshole (laughs).
Either way, I feel like this is a step in the right direction that the Byrds of Paradise can keep going. Getting on Pitchfork was pretty unbelievable too. I'm glad to know there are people all over that are listening and anticipating what's coming next. We actually already got offers to release some singles, so my mind really is pretty fucking blown. It makes not being able to find a job a little softer around the edges.
In the last couple of months, you recruited a couple of new members to help flesh out the band’s sound. Tell me about these dudes and how y’all know each other.
Yeah, I did add some new members. Alan and Jared are friends of mine from way back. We met through shows and such, fell out of touch a little bit, but now I'm back and it's like nothing changed. We’re all a bit taller and older, it's weird. We also grew musically into the same type of niche. Everything fit together, like pieces of a puzzle. I can't sing, and I'm an alright drummer; Jared has surprised me with every recording we've done, and Alan just KILLS the drums! It's awesome I can write these songs and get an outside perspective to work with that fits within the same vision. I hate recording by myself: it feels more like an errand, than a good time.
Who are some of your favorite groups right now?
There's a lot of sick hardcore going on in DC. Check out this new band called D.O.C. (Disciples of Christ). Nolan shreds on guitar so hard, and Chris Moore is probably one of the best drummers I've ever seen. I feel like Police & Thieves is underrated too.
In New York, there's so much shit going on. I just got back, so I don't even know what to look for.
In terms of hardcore, I think that New Jersey is killing it. All the kids that I grew up with are still doing big things and that's awesome. It's like I never left for DC. Check out Mount McKinley, Will Stratton, and Pow Wow. Mount McKinley is fucking AWESOME, Will has a new album out, and Pow Wow is playing some great shows.
So what do you think of the scene(s) down here in DC? How has it changed? How has it stayed the same?
This question is loaded for me, and you know that, hah! It's too small. Not enough people doing enough things for me. Brightest Young Things is cool and all, but the whole city can't rely on that for music and culture. That's what I think is cool about DC hardcore, which I was never a part of but got to see from the outside: it's tight knit, communal, yet welcoming to outsiders, and self-inspired to host shows with new bands, find new venues, and keep DIY alive. (Instead) it's the same bands playing the Black Cat, the Velvet Lounge, and the same DJ's spinning at Wonderland.
Don't get me wrong, I still read Brightest Young Things. But I wish that it wasn't the big fish in a small pond, you know? I wish more new faces would be at more shows, and that people would go to different things even if it wasn't featured on the website.
Strong words. But, could you ever picture yourself returning to DC to play music?
As a musician, I don't know if I could make it back to DC. As I said, there's not enough going on for me like that. Playing with the same bands to the same people isn't going to get me anywhere, there aren't any labels really to rely on, and there's no real motivation. The bands are good, but they only want to go so far; that's the difference with New York City. In New York, if you can get it up there, you can make it work mostly anywhere.
Byrds of Paradise "Rosebud"
Byrds of Paradise "Rowena"