By Martin Bonica
Hot on the heels of a hectic 2019 punctuated by packed headlining shows at the Tally Ho Theater, Leesburg rock band My Kid Brother has released its latest single, “Native Tongue” amid the news that they have signed to Los Angeles label Fearless Records.
The announcement marks a new phase in the career of one of Leesburg’s most prolific groups, and their new single is a paean to their hometown, with the chorus “someone take me home / cut me through the clouds / back to Leesburg, I found out / I’m a sentimental dog who comes around / but don’t belong / I miss my native tongue.”
The band is composed of Christian Neonakis (guitar, vocals), Sam Athanas (drums), Dylan Savopoulos (guitar), guitarist Richard Smith (bass), and Piano Whitman (keyboards and vocals). They released their debut LP “Baltimore Street Rat” in 2017, playing shows across the east coast and slowly building a dedicated fanbase with their energetic stage show and catchy, hook-driven rock tunes. Their lyrics, often melancholic and self-effacing, contrast foot-stomping rhythms and poppy melodies.
Neonakis relates that the band’s road to a record deal started over a year ago, when a friend of a friend got “Baltimore Street Rat” into the hands of Fearless label head Andy Serrao, who flew from Los Angeles to DC to see the band perform at Gypsy Sally’s. As Neonakis recalls, he offered to sign the band that night.
In the year since that evening, the band and label have worked together to build the foundation for their activity in 2020.
“As of right now,” Neonakis said, “We are still in that unveiling process.”
One of the first orders of business was changing the band’s name; known up until this January as simply “Kid Brother,” the band elected to add an adjective to differentiate themselves from other similarly-named artists.
“It was tough to make that decision,” Athanas said. The band settled on My Kid Brother to keep it true to the original intent of their name; a callback to Neonakis’ sister referring to him as “my kid brother.”
Other names on the table, including Electric Fanny Pack and Apricot Genius, were ultimately rejected. “I’ll use them for something”, Savopoulos said.)
The band’s forthcoming release, a self-titled EP, is scheduled to be out this spring. Its basic tracks were recorded at 38 North in Falls Church, and were finished off in Los Angeles in collaboration with production duo Noah Gersh and Jamie Schefman, of Partybaby.
The leadoff single, “Native Tongue,” had its genesis during the band’s first visit to Los Angeles. Neonakis describes the song as a reflection of “me, just being ready to go home and be back in our hometown.”
“I’ve come to like LA more now, but at that time, I didn’t,” he said.
Gersh and Schefman suggested that he expand on a new song, and worked with him to develop the idea. “That was the first time we went,” Neonakis explains. “The label had Sam and I go out to work with a bunch of different producers and do writing sessions to see who we felt was the best fit, and so that writing session was with the people we picked.”
The song, which entered the band’s live repertoire last summer and became a local crowd-pleaser, was not initially tagged as their next single.
“The more it got rotated around our label’s office, the more they were saying ‘this is the one’,” Neonakis recalled.
However, the band has lost none of its artistic self-determination as part of its record deal. Dylan Savopoulos, the originator of much of the band’s art, continues to guide their visual aesthetic. “They pretty much let me do whatever I want,” he said. “I just make stuff and send it to our group chat, and everyone’s says yes to this, no to that, and we move forward like that. It’s nice to have that freedom.”
Piano Whitman’s background as a filmmaker also continues to inform My Kid Brother’s direction. This winter, the band shot a music video at Sidebar in Leesburg. As Neonakis tells it, “(the label) gave us the choice that they could provide the team of people that could do it, but we realized it would be faster and more effective, and Piano had all these connections with really wonderful filmmakers.”
The project was led by Whitman and collaborator Brandon Habuda.
“We had a strange idea for the concept. They made it work in such a great way that it was everything that we could have wanted and more. We’re really excited to release that, because a lot of the people we know from Leesburg are in it. People who have been following us since before we had any content were able to be in it, and it meant a lot to us that we could have people that we love who support us be in something permanent that we created.”
The band describes their relationship with their label as a team effort, with both sides invested in each other.
Neonakis praises the team that has supported them, including their manager, booking agent, and producers, as well as Fearless head Andy Serrao.
“To be a relatively young and inexperienced band in that world, a lot of stuff was over our heads and we really didn’t know what to expect, who to meet, who to know, and what to do. While I’m sure if we’d signed with a different label we might have had a slightly similar experience, but I can’t imagine anyone taking the amount of time and attention that Andy did. He was absolutely our knight in shining armor, introducing us to everyone we needed to meet.”
They all continue to stick to their own artistic vision, bassist Richard Smith said. “When it comes to everything from the songs we recorded to the music video we just shot, none of it was our record label saying ‘it has to be done like this’”
My Kid Brother is developing new material and preparing for their next set of live dates. Their self-titled debut EP with Fearless Records is slated for release this spring, with a trickle of singles leading up to it, and the band plans to record a full-length album and embark on another tour this year. Follow them on Facebook for the latest updates.