In conversation with NJ hardcore punk band Kirkby Kiss

"As far as playing shows, it’s all about the energy. Of course you make music for yourself, but ultimately, you want people to hear it. You want people to come out because a show isn't just about your songs—the band could play alone in a room if that were the case—it’s about the shared experience."

It’s a great time to be a punk/hardcore fan living on the East Coast— NYC, Philly, Baltimore, Richmond… all the hubs you know and love are humming. It’s also fairly hard to dispute that the 2020s—mired as it’s been in the horror-scape of COVID, emboldened bigotry, calamitous manifestations of climate change, class war and a shambolic government—have been a particularly prosperous decade for the scene in NJ thus far. Gel, School Drugs, AMMO, Dusters… the wave of undeniable bands emanating from the Garden State seems never-ending and, frankly, we’re tickled-fucking-pink about it.    

The most enduring impressions are often born from the unexpected. In 2022, we were privileged to attend a ton of shows featuring the aforementioned bands who are upholding Jersey’s reputation as a hotbed for hardcore/punk music; yet, the two most memorable performances came from groups that we didn’t actually plan to see: Fuck It… I Quit! and Kirkby Kiss. The former, fronted by Tim Shaw (Ensign), downright rattled us with a level of brutal energy and passion that we hadn’t seen in some time.

The latter, Kirkby Kiss, played an especially intense set that seemed to find a heightened level with every song, juxtaposed by brief, captivating moments in between the music where frontman Natale Amato showered those in attendance with messages of empathy, positivity, self-love/awareness and urged the crowd to be good to one another and themselves. Feeling the love or PMA is not uncommon at hardcore shows, but there was something about this shirtless, tatted-up dude screaming in your face one minute and then bear hugging show-goers or conveying mindfulness in the next that just hit different. You got the feeling he was the genuine article and meant every word he said. This notion was corroborated after the set as Natale and the rest of the band were extremely gracious with everyone who approached them—even without knowing the depth of their ties to the local Shore scene, it was evident that they all shared a great affection for the hardcore community.     

Diversity of concepts. Socially conscious, vulnerable and emotionally charged lyrics delivered via a unique roaring vocal style, paired with riffs that vacillate from quick-paced to heavy and even dance-y, sometimes all on the same track. Does the label “hardcore” suffice? Screamo? Post-hardcore-screamo-punk-adjacent? Just kidding. The point is, it’s difficult to really pin down Kirkby Kiss’ sound because they hardly stay in a lane when songwriting—choosing rather to explore any and all ideas while still operating under the ever-evolving/expanding umbrella that is hardcore punk. While it may frustrate those who are strictly conditioned to the framework of whatever they prefer to consume, we’re partial to Kirkby Kiss’ somewhat enigmatic style and appreciate the change in tenor from track to track. If filing their music under a more specific subgenre is compulsory, we’ll leave you and your ears with that task. Perhaps instead of trying to define what Kirkby Kiss is, it might be beneficial to identify what they’re most definitely not: 
“Typical gruff, tough-guy riffs written solely with the pit in mind.” 

We’re still not convinced that they even listened to it, but the quote above was pulled from a MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL review of Council Records’ four song Err02 EP (released in July) that featured a track from Kirkby Kiss along with songs from Hundreds of AU, Grey CELL and Wrong War. Far be it from us to take shots at a more or less universally respected institution, but, in the kindest of terms, this MRR review missed the mark.
If you’re from Jersey and love hardcore, you’re undoubtedly familiar with that tough, gruff, whatever-the-hell-you-wanna-label-it style of hardcore, and, chances are, you have a place in your heart (as we do) for some bands that might fit the description. Fair warning: Kirkby Kiss is not really one of them—and that’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just a fact. We highly encourage you to listen to their track “Standards and Practices” off of the Council Records compilation. It rips. Just don’t go into it expecting to hear some tough-guy, beatdown hardcore as the MRR reviewer would suggest… you’ll be out of your element.   

While Kirkby Kiss has been on a planned break for the past few months, NJ Indy was able to catch up with members of the band during their hiatus to discuss writing, motivation, upcoming shows/projects, the hardcore scene and more.

Kirkby Kiss is: Roxy (Bass), Frank (Drums), Natale (Vocals), Ramirez (Guitar), and Shep (Guitar)

How/when did you all come together to form the band?

Rox: Nat and Shep were in a band called Which Witch, and I was filling in on bass for Natale’s other band, Suspect. After Suspect’s last show, Natale asked me to fill in on bass last minute for a Which Witch gig in December 2019, opening for Clamfight at Mill Hill (Trenton); Frank’s band 19DRT was also on the bill. 

Nat, Shep, Frank and Ramirez had known each other collectively for a number of years at that point, and each of them had been in multiple bands over time, but had never done any projects together before. That show was sort of what set the waves into motion… [not long] after that we were all still in search of a creative outlet during the pandemic, so we got together for our first practice on Frank’s birthday in November of 2020. 

Shep: Ironically, I wasn’t really supposed to be in the band. I had never met Frank before but Nat and those guys all knew each other. I knew Mike Ramirez growing up but I hadn’t really hung out with him. I guess Nat and Frank were bullshitting at the (Mill Hill) show, like, “Oh, when are we gonna do a band together?” 

Ultimately they started a group text message and were deciding who they wanted to join the band. They wanted Rox to play bass and then Nat was like, “let’s ask Mike to play guitar”—because he had never played in a band with Ramirez. I don’t know if Nat accidentally texted me, or Frank misunderstood him, but one of them added me to the group text and asked if I wanted to be in the band. I was like, “Yeah, that sounds awesome!” I guess on the side, they were like, “Ah, we meant Ramirez.” But then they just added Ramirez and it wound up being all five of us. Like Rox said, we had our first practice on Frank’s birthday (a Thursday) and I’d say that we’ve been together almost every Thursday for the last two and a half years. 

You all have a history of playing in different punk/hardcore bands. What motivates you to keep making music and playing shows? Catharsis, greater purpose?

Nat: It’s [all of that] but mostly a creative outlet and a love of punk and hardcore and the community.

Frank: Some of us are band whores, so the more creative outlets the better.

Shep: It’s cathartic, for sure; it’s like therapy. We normally practice tonight and, while I’m enjoying being here talking with you, I miss going to practice. When we have a good practice I leave in a totally different (better) mood.

As far as playing shows, it’s all about the energy. Of course you make music for yourself, but ultimately, you want people to hear it. You want people to come out because a show isn’t just about your songs—the band could play alone in a room if that were the case—it’s about the shared experience.

The last show we played was in Philly at this place called The Wormhole—it was literally a living room in a row house. I mean, it was packed and there were people all around us. That’s what makes some punk rock shows so great: you’re on the same floor as the crowd, you’re right in there with them…that’s the best kind of show for me.

Can you speak to what you write about and why?

Nat: I’d say I write about whatever the music pulls out of me. Mostly personal experiences dealing with my emotions and struggles with just trying to live life and find purpose. Sometimes that deals with sociopolitical issues and the frustrations I have with the ignorance we all encounter daily. I personally strive to have a positive perspective in my day-to-day, but that does not come easy for me, and I find great relief and camaraderie when I write and get to sing about those hurdles that a lot of us share.

Shep: Nat doesn’t write, like, coded Fugazi lyrics… if you read the song, you can figure out what he’s talking about. You’ll get songs about human rights—as a group we definitely all have a pretty similar mindset about life and human rights in general. Social issues for sure, some stuff about the scene, anxiety and depression, mental health awareness—it’s all there.

Kirkby Kiss’ style can really differ from track to track. Your sound seems to be influenced a lot by every members’ differing tastes/influences, like a true collaboration.  

Shep: Songwriting is almost always a collaborative effort. Some people love [how different each song can be] and then some people are like, “It’s too all over the road.” I think when you see a live set, though, it all goes together. Our band is basically 100% democracy. We don’t make any decisions without everyone agreeing. That’s sort of a rule for us: we always try everyone’s idea and then vote. Everyone doesn’t always get their way… and we have arguments like anybody else does, but we have pretty set rules about communication. That probably comes with being a little older, too, you know?

Frank: [Our] process is organic. The (punk/hardcore) scene is definitely part of how we got collected to start a band but not as much of an influence on our writing. That’s why we don’t write mosh parts or two steps—they happen by accident, if at all.

Do you have a lot of overlapping influences or does everyone have really different preferences? 

Shep: Frank likes a ton of hardcore, but he gets further into metal and black metal; he likes a lot of sludge stuff, too. Nat was more of a hardcore kid and into that old-school hardcore; he likes all kinds of different music and stays super current with everything, though. Ramirez has a lot of that street-punk influence. I grew up on a lot of ’90s, San Diego style, like Gravity Records; more “artsy” stuff or whatever you wanna call it. Rox has a real wide breadth of music influences, too.

Scene: Then vs now. Are there things you miss from past generations? How do you feel about the new generation, current wave of bands—specifically from the Shore scene?

Nat: As far as “then versus now,” and all the time playing in bands over the last few decades—there has been so much both positive and negative with the scene, but I appreciate and have grown tremendously from being a part of it. I personally think the scene now is the best I have ever been part of. So many different blends of styles and, locally, the community seems to be embracing and supporting a very diverse bunch of bands.

Shep: The scene is crazy right now. There’s so many bands. Well, it’s not just so many bands, it’s so many good bands. Ocean County is definitely cranking it out. The community part is amazing. I’ve made so many friends in the last couple years and it’s sort of weird to me because you get to a certain age and [you don’t really expect] to make new friends anymore.

Anything on the horizon yet regarding shows/releases? 

Shep: We’re in the middle of a three-month break that we decided to take for family, etc. We’ve been writing and I think we’re like, I don’t know, five or six songs in. We’re gonna write a couple more songs for sure, and then we’re mapping out when we’re gonna record. We’ll probably record around September. We just agreed to do a split with (a band to be named later); can’t speak much to that yet, but it’s gonna be all previously unreleased songs that we really love. 

We’ve got a couple local shows in August and then some road trips planned for October and November. We’ve been purposely keeping the books clear in December and beyond because with our families and work, it’s just too far out [to commit to dates].

For all things Kirkby Kiss: Instagram | Bandcamp