It’s been a year since Middle Kids released their debut LP, Lost Friends. The record reached the ARIA top ten and launched the Sydney band onto an exhaustive international touring assignment.
But after finishing the album, the song ideas just kept coming. The last few months have given rise to the singles ‘Salt Eyes’ and ‘Real Thing’, both of which appear on the band’s upcoming mini-album, New Songs For Old Problems.
“When we made the album it was definitely us being like ‘Oh you’ve got to make your first album, [it’s a] big deal’. We love our first album and feel really proud of it, but feeling like we’ve ticked the box of making our first album, there was this free flow of activity that came after that,” says vocalist and guitarist Hannah Joy.
The last couple of years have seen Middle Kids sell out multiple Australian headline tours, support Bloc Party in the UK/EU, win the triple j album of the year, get nominated for an ARIA award, perform on numerous US talk shows, and receive positive press the world over. But in the middle of it all, creativity has remained a priority.
“We have gotten really used to writing on the road and finding the pockets of time in between touring. We got to the end of last year and we had this handful of songs that I felt really excited about as a new direction thematically. And as a body of work I felt the songs worked really well together. So we just felt like, let’s just keep making things and putting it out.”
The new thematic direction revolves around how our enlarged expectations frequently breed disappointment. Latest single, ‘Real Thing’, is a reflection on failing to feel satisfied even when you achieve your goals. “Our big dreams have turned us into hopeless romantics,” Joy sings in the opening verse, “anxiety magnets”.
“We get thrown so many messages from society like, ‘You can have it all and this is what it looks like to be a successful human’,” she says. “We can often feel like once we get some of these things then we will feel okay about who we are or where we’re going. But often you get those things and you’re like, ‘Wait, I still feel kind of shit. I still don’t really know who I am. I still feel like a scared little person’.
“We feel like we can accrue all of these things, but actually there’s an identity that we’re needing to establish apart from this. But sometimes we don’t because we’re just striving to get things.”
The contemporary hunger for professional and personal success, and material representations thereof, can override the development of self-understanding and self-love. This is a recurring focus of the lyrics on New Songs For Old Problems.
“I feel like ‘Real Thing’ is a lonely song,” she says. “It’s you alone with your thoughts. Loneliness is this epidemic that’s growing with the lack of community these days and so much isolation with the internet and the real strong individualism of the West. It feels like people are so lonely and part of that is because we’re losing those safe places to gather and to find community.”
There’s growing consensus around the idea of the internet and social media having a damaging affect on romantic relationships. People are less patient through interpersonal difficulties, especially when all these other options are buzzing away in our pockets. This extends to platonic friendships too, which is something Joy started to explore on Lost Friends.
“So much of the messaging is, ‘You can be whatever you want, you can reach for the stars’. And that is a good message, but it will make you lonely. There is the element of going, what can you do to look after somebody else? It’s harder work and maybe not as fun, but it’s way less lonely. The fruit of that is a much more connected, nourished life.”
As far are the band’s stylistic identity goes, New Songs For Old Problems isn’t a million miles away from Middle Kids’ breakthrough self-titled EP from 2017. It is, however, a more pointed artistic statement.
“I don’t really think so much about it in terms of our sound. I just write what comes out,” Joy says. “When we made [Middle Kids] it was this hodgepodge of songs that I was trying to get together because we’d started a band and I was like, ‘Oh crap, people like this song, I should make an EP. [New Songs For Old Problems] is a lot more realised in terms of sitting in that more melodic, guitar-based, grungy but a bit beautiful realm.”
Joy’s songwriting isn’t directed by the public’s idea of what the band should sound like. But after two years of solid touring, she’s definitely swayed by one thing.
“When we play our shows people really like to sing along. That has probably influenced me to continue to write songs that allow people to sing and allow people to find their voice. To us, that’s actually a really special part of our live show. It’s one of the best things that in many songs people just sing away and do my job for me.”
Middle Kids’ new mini-album New Songs For Old Problems is out on Friday May 24 via EMI Music Australia. They’ll be launching their new single, ‘Real Thing’, at 170 Russell on Wednesday April 24 and Thursday April 25 (both sold out).