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Getting their kicks

BY REBECCA KOONS | APRIL 23, 2009 7:29 AM

One thing music fans may first notice about French Kicks is the band’s slightly peculiar name. To that, vocalist Nick Stumpf had to say, “We basically chose the name we hated the least.”

Hailing from New York City, French Kicks consists of Stumpf, Josh Wise (guitar), Lawrence Stumpf (bass), and Aaron Thurston (drums). Swimming, the band’s fourth full-length studio album, is the follow-up to 2006’s Two Thousand. French Kicks will perform at 9 p.m. today at the Picador, 330 E. Washington St., along with Sarah Mannix and the Wandering Bears.

French Kicks began its journey in the late-90s as virtually every up-and-coming act does — playing local gigs. The band soon got the attention of NYC-based indie label Startime International, which was persistent in its early interest in the band.

“A guy from Startime started coming to our shows in New York and really came to shows for about six months,” Nick Stumpf said.

French Kicks released its first two full-length albums, One Time Bells (2002) and The Trial of the Century (2004), before eventually finding a new home at another indie label, Vagrant Records of Santa Monica, Calif.

The band provides a refreshing blend of alternative, indie, and pop elements, which has garnered much praise from media around the country. That the French Kicks’ sound comes from diverse corners of the music world is no surprise, given the band’s influences.

“We all listen to all sorts of stuff,” Nick Stumpf said. “I think we tend to respond to beats and rhythms and groove-oriented music.”

Musically, the band displays a sense of natural cohesion, which can easily be attributed to each member’s influences, different and alike, coming together during the creative process. In fact, Swimming was created exclusively at the hands of the band — its members were the sole entities involved in the production and mixing of the album.

The songwriting process for the band also tends to be very democratic and comes quite naturally for every member involved. Nick Stumpf called much of how the band creates songs a “process of hemorrhage and edit.”

“Usually, we take the first idea that pops into someone’s head and then continue to build around that idea,” he said. “If it’s cool enough, we’ll keep working with it. The first ideas happen very fast, but editing that idea takes much longer.”

While French Kicks is busy conquering the United States, the band is getting a decent amount of exposure overseas as well. The group’s first two albums have also been released in Europe, and Japan has also been graced with the presence of One Time Bells. Though the band was thrilled to have the experience of touring outside the United States, the musicians found that some crowds are a bit tougher to win over.

“There were a couple good shows in London,” Stumpf said. “But the audiences are kind of unfriendly, and especially at our level, it can be pretty brutalizing.”

Despite mixed reviews on the other side of the Atlantic, it is certain that Iowa City is more than ready for the band to return to the Picador. The band always has a great time playing, and it is paring its show down to its “elemental core,” which, Stumpf said, separates the group from many acts.
“There’s a mood to what we do, and I don’t think anyone does it the way we can,” he said.

Joe Goldberg of Zeitgeist Artist Management also is optimistic about the band members’ potential.
“From album to album, they always create something completely new … which is a testament to their creativity and work ethic,” he said.


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