By Martin Bonica
Fresh off an East Coast tour, up-and-coming indie rock band Kid Brother returns home this month to play a headlining show at the Tally Ho Theatre in downtown Leesburg and then prepare for the release of their second album in January.
The five-piece band last played Tally Ho in June, delivering a high-energy set of aggressive, catchy tunes to a packed hall.
Kid Brother was created in 2016, initially as a collaboration between Baltimore transplant Christian Neonakis (guitar, vocals) and Sam Athanas (drums). They worked on a set of demos before adding guitarist Dylan Savopoulos. The band cycled through bassists before settling on Richard Smith (former guitarist of Milo in the Doldrums) in late 2017, and keyboardist and vocalist Piano Whitman (formerly of Juxt) joined the band after the departure of Lindsey Cook in early 2019.
The band started out playing bars, breweries, and “any place that would have us,” Neonakis recalls. Since then, the band has played as far west as Nashville, regularly appears at Union Stage, DC9, and the Black Cat in DC, and recently played their first international show at Sneaky Dee’s in Toronto.
Tours, like the one the band recently finished, are usually a collaborative effort. “If we’re playing outside of this area, we’ll usually be jumping on a tour with another band,” Neonakis said. “That’s how all bands do it. You either make the tour and other bands get on with you, or you hop on a tour with a band that’s bigger than you are.”
The entire band lives in Leesburg, and that has worked to Kid Brother’s benefit.
“Relative to the rest of Northern Virginia, Leesburg is a small town,” Smith said. “We have this small community that we’re really integrated with. When we play, there’s a hometown band playing a hometown venue. There isn’t a rush to sell pre-sale tickets and convince people to drive out of their heavy-traffic area.”
The process of building a fanbase was a slow one, with mental and physical hurdles. Smith, who toured with Kid Brother while he was in Milo in the Doldrums, recounts hauling gear up the infamously steep stairs of the Velvet Lounge on a bill with six bands. “Those are every band’s growing stages,” he said. “I feel like that’s what generates your initial, organic following. Play a lot of shows at a lot of different places, and hopefully one or two people are into it.”
Even the road to headlining Tally Ho was a gradual one; the band started out playing some opening sets there, before proving their mettle consistently enough that they eventually started to top the bill there every six months. Kid Brother is one of just a handful of bands that play new, original material at a venue known for booking high-profile cover bands.
The band’s members cite their branding and social media presence as factors to their success. Dylan Savopoulos pulls double duty designing shirts and other merch, as well as event posters and social media. The band even collaborated with Crooked Run Brewery on a beer (“Spilt Salt,” named for a song on their album) that bore the band’s logo and cover art.
“If you become familiar, if there’s name recognition, it builds confidence in your band. If someone says ‘hey, come to this show where Kid Brother is playing!’, and you think ‘I’ve been hearing that name for the last couple months around town,’ you’re more inclined to go,” Neonakis said.
The band’s debut album “Baltimore Street Rat” was recorded at M80 in Purcellville. The album includes staples like the earworm “Pastels,” the foot-stomping “Good News,” and deeper cuts like the epic piano ballads “The Wooden Crown.” The album’s lyrics are serene and nostalgic at one moment, and bitter and caustic at the next, painting detailed pictures of desperate characters.
“What’s unique about Christian’s writing is that there’s no sense of vagueness in it. Some of it’s metaphorical, but it’s pretty to-the-point, which can be jarring for some people, but that’s what I really respect about it,” Whitman said.
The band’s songwriting process has democratized over the years. “All of us write music in our own time,” Whitman said. “It’s something that I’ve always done.”
She tracks demos in her home studio with no particular objective in mind, and if she picks an idea that seems appropriate for Kid Brother, “that’s gonna go into the drive.”
Athanas explains the next steps: “A lot of times on certain practice days, if we don’t have something to immediately practice, we’ll flip through it and pick one song. Sometimes it’ll blossom into something amazing.”
Jamming and improvisation are key elements in the band’s recent compositional process. “It’s super groovy,” Whitman said of the newer material Kid Brother has been introducing on the road. Athanas concurs; “We found little parts of each song that are fun to travel around in.”
Smith describes the band’s musical dynamic: “We have common material that we listen to, but our influential roots are all very different, so it just so happened to work out that even though all of our roots are different, we as musicians work very well together. It allows us to have a grab-bag from different genres and different styles.”
At a typical Kid Brother show, about half of the setlist is composed of unreleased material not heard on “Baltimore Street Rat.” Their sophomore album is recorded, and the band plans to have it out in late January. “We’ve got so much material for upcoming albums,” Neonakis said. “I think the plan moving forward is to definitely have an album a year.”
Everyone in the band expresses enthusiasm about their trajectory, and desire for the project to keep going.
“My main goal is to create a sustainable, lasting career from this,” Neonakis said. Athanas agreed, pointing out how Kid Brother is slowly working through items on his bucket list—playing a festival (they appeared at FloydFest last year) and performing in Canada among them.
Savopoulos suggests that another goal for Kid Brother is to provide enough as a full-time engagement that band members can pursue musical side-projects. Smith has notions for a country jam band.
Smith said the band members have remained close friends as they’ve worked together for the past two years.
“It hasn’t gotten old,” he said. “I feel like no matter where the band goes and what happens, I’ve just been hanging out with my buddies this whole time.”
Kid Brother’s momentum shows no signs of slowing.
Tickets for the band’s headlining show at the Tally Ho on Dec. 21 are $10-$15 and available at tallyhotheater.com. Their music can be found at kidbrotherva.bandcamp.com.
Photo by Alex Mangione.