BReview Fix chats with AOK’s Kyle Sullivan, who discusses the band’s origin, goals and standout track, Back Burner.
Review Fix: How did the group form?
Kyle Sullivan: We’ve known each other since high school, but didn’t start playing music together until shortly after college. We were in a funk/rock cover band for a few years before writing our own music.
Review Fix: How did you get involved in music?
Sullivan: I grew up in a musical family and as long as I can remember I’ve been around musicians and going to shows my Dad was performing in. I started playing guitar in middle school and soon formed my first band. Since then, I’ve constantly been in bands and playing music.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Sullivan: Generally the instrumental is written first and the initial structure of the song is created. Then the melody and lyrics are formed around that and finally we start to tweak it to make the vocals and the music fit together. For this album, a couple of the songs started with a vocal idea and the beat and music were formed from there. That was cool to change up the process and come out with something new.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
Sullivan: Our songs are inspired by personal experiences that we think other people can relate to. That can be larger ideas or super specific things. We’re always looking to make the sound of our songs exciting to us and something new. We don’t always write in a predictable song structures but we follow whatever the ideas take us. Merging an electronic backdrop with raw guitars and vocals in interesting ways has been part of the inspiration of the our sound from the beginning.
Review Fix: What makes this album special?
Sullivan: It’s a little darker than our other material. The songs we selected for the EP all have a similar mood to them. They don’t always have a propulsive beat; parts can be more contemplative. There’s definitely a more pronounced low end to the songs that we haven’t had before. It’s like a late night drive or hanging after a night out but wanting to continue the feeling.
Review Fix: What’s the standout track?
Sullivan: Back Burner is a track that we’re really proud of. We’re really happy with all of the songs, but Back Burner was the first one we finished and gave us the sound we wanted for the rest of the album. It’s got a really catchy chorus and more intimate lyrics than some of the other songs. The music evolves throughout the track and always has something new coming.
Review Fix: What’s on your musical bucket list?
Sullivan: There aren’t super specific things, but playing to a larger audience and getting our music to more people is the main goal. Whatever things can come along with that are always exciting. Playing with other musicians and artists that we look up to has been a goal from the beginning.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
Sullivan: AØK has fierce R&B vocals, synth backdrop and fuzzy guitar that invokes influences as varied as Prince, the Black Keys and Santigold Our songs range from suitable for a quiet bedroom to a crowded dance floor. We create a powerful dynamic that demands attention due to our raw grit and energy.
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work?
Sullivan: We have a very high energy live show. We have a live drummer, so the drums are definitely more in your face. The guitars are a little more aggressive to match the energy of the crowd. We’re constantly moving and dancing throughout the show.
Review Fix: What are your goals for 2019?
Sullivan: We want to get this album out as far as we can and introduce these songs to a wider audience. We want to continue to meet more artists to collaborate with and maybe do some remixes.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Sullivan: Continued production work with other artists.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Sullivan: We recorded the new album primarily out of Assemble Sound in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit. Assemble is cool music production collective operating out of a historic 1872 church-turned-recording studio complex. We got to experience the full beauty of the building during sessions in the coldest week of January when all the pipes were frozen and we had to fight over space heaters. It was awesome! For this record we got the opportunity to have Jon Zott join us to co-produce the album as well as mix and master it. He was just finishing up Tunde Olaniran’s next album when he started work with us and actually moved to LA during later part of production. Jon really helped with making the songs the best they could be and we really enjoyed working with him and warming up over the best ramen in Detroit in between sessions. Tunde also helped us with writing on a couple of the tracks and Bryan Pope of JRJR added some keys and production.