Learning Curve: The Curious Tale Of Rainbow Kitten Surprise

Inside America's most unexpected breakout story...

Rainbow Kitten Surprise aren’t your usual Stateside success story. There’s that name for a start – equal parts memorable and ludicrous, it seems to leave the actual genre of the music open for grabs.

But then, that’s kind of the point. A group of kids who grew up in Boone, North Carolina, they came of age surrounded by one of the most socially conservative climates in North America, and responded with sheer unrelenting imagination.

With three albums under their belt, the latest – ‘How To: Friend, Love, Freefall’ – is perhaps their best, a record that joins the dots between Modest Mouse and Frank Ocean, an ever-evolving, multi-faceted puzzle, a kind of future-facing Appalachian Genesis.

On the phone to Clash on the day of the band’s first ever London show, singer Sam Melo is on ebullient form. “This feels great!” he beams, as red buses and black taxis whizz past. “It’s a little cloudy and London’s looking pretty much exactly what I expected it to look like, which is full of character and colourful people. We flew in this morning, and everybody was going to work and it looked a little gloomy as the sun came out, but as the day rolled on we met a lot of friendly faces.”

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Rainbow Kitten Surprise have become used to meeting friendly faces. The band’s unrelentingly energetic live shows have pushed them to the top of festival bills across North America, winning over fans on a show-by-show basis.

Clash will see this first hand this very evening, when the band tear it up during a sold out night at historic Camden sweatpit Dingwalls. “When you’re playing club shows, intimate shows, you start to get familiar with the faces and the people who are vibing with you,” explains the singer. “It’s a more interactive experience. But I mean, it’s a lot of fun to move up to bigger shows too, with bigger production.”

“I think for us, then and now, it’s really all about enjoying yourself, so other people will too. Hopefully by putting yourself out there, and being genuine, you will get genuine enthusiasm back at you. As long as you’re committing to a performance and you’re honest about it then it doesn’t matter what the venue is.”

The material is certainly there. With three albums online the North Carolina group free-wheel their way from sunken underwater R&B to left field indie rock in the blink of an eye. “I’ve never been much of one for genres, or dipping into a particular scene,” he insists. “For one thing, the people that make up this band have such diverse musical tastes that our common ground has been harmony and rhythm and the most basic elements of music.”

“So we try to do these things… I guess by playing, and not overly complicating it. Making it agreeable between all of our different tastes, and what comes out is essentially our music.”

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I’ve never been much of one for genres, or dipping into a particular scene…

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Devoutly independent, a huge aspect of the band’s mindset was forged by their adolescence in the south. All have rooted in North Carolina, and it’s something they have both embraced and rebelled against during their lives.

“I think everybody rebels at a certain point in their lives, and I think you then need to either reject that and adopt something new or kind of reconcile with it,” he says. “It’s a little bit of both. I’ve actually grown up all over the place – my family had moved 14 times by the time I was a teenager. I think the South definitely influenced my music, in the way I approach harmony. The culture definitely contributed to that.”

“We stand by where we’re from,” he insists. “If you don’t want to be where you’re from then you can go someplace else. I think the South is a rich cultural environment but it’s stereotyped more often than not. For me, it’s less about highlighting what people already believe about the South, but to try and create something new for the South. And to show that there is more diversity there than people would have thought.”

The universe Rainbow Kitten Surprise inhabit is certainly diverse. New video ‘Hide’ looks at four drag queens in New Orleans, while the accompanying note finds Sam reflecting on his own experiences of coming out to his band mates. Their response? “You're a dance major who wears a pea coat, dress shoes, and smokes Djarum Blacks. We know, it’s cool.”

They’ve all been through a lot. At one point Clash asks if these processes are what fuels the title of their latest album, and if they had really found out ‘How To: Friend, Love, Freefall’. “I mean, it’s a learning process,” he says. “That’s what the album title – and the album itself – is about more than anything, it’s about life being in real-time, and you grow.”

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I mean, it’s a learning process…

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“There isn’t a manual, so much as it’s an experience that is not quite quantifiable. Definitely in the group of people that I’ve surrounded myself with, all of those aspects come out. Those three things are things that you learn.”

Each day is an experience, each day has a lesson to offer; as Rainbow Kitten Surprise progress, they learn more and more and more. As Clash watches the band onstage at London’s Dingwalls venue, they bring that experience to the fore – it’s a crisp, ruthlessly efficient show, virtually tearing up the floorboards as they move through song after song.

It’s heartwarming, odd, anthemic, and utterly odd; we’re left in no doubt at all that British is about to fall for this curiously named, hopelessly distinctive band. And that won’t be a surprise at all.

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Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

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