In Conversation: Middle Kids on What It Means to Live a Greater Life
With the release of Today We’re The Greatest, the Aussie pop-rock trio leads with vulnerability in hopes of helping others to know themselves better.
Middle Kids is the pop-rock infused conglomeration of singer/songwriter Hannah Joy, multi-instrumentalist Tim Fitz, and drummer Harry Day. To say the last few years have been a whirlwind for the trio would be an understatement—after forming in 2015, Joy and Fitz married each other and created their debut album, Lost Friends, while touring. They then wrote and recorded their sophomore album, Today We’re The Greatest, while Joy was pregnant. When you listen to the twelve-track record you can hear this journey in the music, ranging from the liberating love felt on “Stacking Chairs” to the emblematic sonic choices of that same feeling in “Run With You,” where you also hear the heartbeat of Fitz and Joy’s baby from their twenty-week sonogram.
Though this album is an exploration of the inherent vulnerability in many of those feelings, it also touches upon the mundanity of life, and even more so the days when you aren’t able to hold it all together. We spoke with Joy about love songs and what living a great life entails.
You’ve stated that you’d been rather guarded in your music, but you really opened up while writing this record. Can you explain that evolution?
I think for writing this record I just had a sense from the beginning that I really wanted to seek the songs out, which is quite different from my usual writing process. Songs would kind of be floating around and I’d just grab them, and that’s kind of how we made the first record, and which is a really fun, easy, cool way to make music. But I think that if you make it out of that place there’s only a certain level to which you can go, as opposed to being quite conscious and digging deeper. And I could feel as an artist that unless I was willing to do that, I would get stuck, and I really wanted to grow, and we wanted to grow creatively. So there was a lot of intentionality about stretching wider and going deeper, and this album is a result of that.
In the last twenty seconds or so of “Run With You” you use audio of your baby’s heartbeat from your sonogram. What was it like to implement such a private moment into your music, and was there a specific reason for choosing that song?
I think we were just in a time where we were feeling so creative and inspired by what was around us. I think being pregnant during the time of writing a lot of this record just kind of flowed from that place. Tim was in a place where he was literally just grabbing his phone out at all times and was just like, “Let me record this,” and I’d get really annoyed and I’d be like, “No, no.” But then it was at times like this where I’m like, “I’m really grateful.”
“There was a lot of intentionality about stretching wider and going deeper, and this album is a result of that.”
I think with “Run With You,” in terms of the pace and the movement, it made sense with his heartbeat. I think even looking back on it now the spirit of that song is about just being with someone, and I think that is such an important part of being a parent, of being that continual person in someone’s life. No matter what they do or who they are, part of your job is to always move with them. I’m really glad we put it on there because it makes a lot of sense, and I think it bolsters that message of sticking with someone.
Prior to this record you thought you’d maybe never be able to write a love song. Why did you feel that way?
Because I never really had before. I think so much of my process is starting off with some music, so I’ll find a set of chords and those chords will make me feel a certain way, and then I start singing back in response to the music that I’m creating. I’m singing back whatever is almost like a natural response to that music. So a lot of it is quite subconscious, it’s just coming out of a deep place, and it’s never really happened where it’s a love song that’s coming out in response to the music that I’m writing. And I’ve never felt that inspired to do so. When I wrote “Stacking Chairs” I wrote that riff and it just set these memories of seeing Tim from when he was a kid and then kind of rolled into this song about Tim.
I feel like this album deals a lot with love and mental health. Can you speak more on those themes, and in what ways they were central to your writing process?
It’s interesting, I haven’t actually heard the phrase “mental health” in relation to this album, but it makes sense, for sure. I think “Cellophane (Brain)” is a lot about that, which is maybe what you’re picking up on. I think a lot of my life’s work is to actually do the inner work to heal and to have sound thinking and living out of that place. I think “Today We’re the Greatest” is a revelation that in order to live a great life we have to be able to hold it all—“it” being the boring bits of the days, which is like 90 percent of our life, and the magic, beautiful stuff that we can’t explain, and the loneliness, and trauma, and confusion, that we feel.
I think a lot of my anxiety has been from getting too obsessed with the negative. Actually trying to have a place for everything, and being present to the holistic thing—that is a life that is great for me, anyway. But it’s a tall order. It sounds simple, but it’s great work. So I think that has been a big journey for me that I’m still on. It’s like this amazing thing where I feel like I’m on this great adventure. And then I’m also this tiny, small, irrelevant person, and that’s fine. They’re both true. If we can just be OK with that, we don’t have to be a superstar and we don’t have to be nothing. We’re somewhere in the middle. I think that’s been a big part of my revelation for this record.
“We don’t have to be a superstar and we don’t have to be nothing. We’re somewhere in the middle. I think that’s been a big part of my revelation for this record.”
I really love how you said you work to “hold it all,” because the record starts with “Bad Neighbours” where you have the line, “I can’t quite hold it all together,” and then you end with “Today We’re The Greatest” which is kind of a conceptualization of this life where you can hold it all.
Yeah, and the hope that we’re on that journey striving to do so. And the truth is there will be times when we can’t hold it all. And you know there’s gonna be constant dropping and constant melting down, but then we gotta get back up. I feel like—and I trust that—the more we grow and the more we heal, the more we have the ability to do that. Which is why I like ending with that song—it’s kind of like a triumphant proclamation into the future.
Is there something specific that you hope fans take away from the album?
I think the biggest hope is that these songs would help people know themselves more. I think Beethoven said this: “Music should strike fire in the heart of man.” I’ve found, for me, the really profound music has kind of really gotten me looking at a part of myself that I wasn’t looking at [before], or engaging with an emotion that I didn’t even know was there. I think the way we can do that is by sharing our stories through music, and I hope that these songs could do that for some people. Obviously it doesn’t resonate with everybody—and that’s fine, that’s the beauty of music. You link up with people who have similar experiences or similar feelings, and that’s really cool. I think we’re really interested in connection through music, whether that’s to yourself, or to people around you, or to your habitat, and I think that is probably a big part of it. FL