Good Kid: “We want our fans to collaborate with us”

Good Kid's Michael Kozakov unboxes the band’s fan-first approach and their unashamed love of all things nerdy

Hailing from Toronto, Good Kid aren’t exactly your usual ‘rockstars’.

Five computer programmers who met during their studies and bonded over a love of problem solving and processes, they’re carving a unique path in the music industry – centred on community. 

Mixing up an eclectic blend of J-rock, indie rock, and pop-punk, their high-energy riffs and earworm melodies have taken the digital world by storm, with the band making the bold move to allow YouTube and Twitch streamers to access – and monetise – their entire discography. 

Curating inclusive spaces for their fans and encouraging their audience to move beyond the role of passive listeners, Good Kid are extending an open invitation to contribute to their universe. From art and animation to video games and storytelling, they’re building a dynamic, collaborative platform for music enthusiasts, where everyone is welcome. 

Recently featured in the game Fortnite and endorsed by MrBeast – the biggest YouTuber in the world – Good Kid are riding high right now. Embracing their weirdness on their recently released fourth EP (aptly titled Good Kid 4) following a sold-out UK and EU tour with Lovejoy in 2023, the band will return to UK shores for a headline tour this September. Converting the wholesome, collaborative drive of their digital community into an energetic – and oftentimes chaotic – live show, we spoke to bassist Michael Kozakov about Good Kid’s ambition to take their creative vision as far as possible. 

Good Kid - Summer (Official Video)

When the five of you first came together, what did the vision look like for Good Kid? 

We all had projects that were winding down or had already finished, and we all had a lot in common outside of music. We all went to the same university, some of us lived in the same building, and some of us were in the same programme. We became friends first, but we knew that we wanted to play music together. 

The direction of the project took a while to figure out because we all have very different musical influences. During the first year of our band, we made some weird songs. We were trying to figure our sound out, and that ended up coming full circle. Now, we embrace the weird stuff, and we don’t really care about consistency. We pair indie rock with influences from rock, punk, and J-rock, but we recently released a song called ‘Ground’ which has heavy, growling vocals. We welcome the weird stuff, and Nick [Frosst, vocalist] has recently been spending a lot of time learning to play the fiddle. He plays traditional Irish music, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that makes it into our music too. We’re incredibly open to anything new, and we have a lot of fun with it.

Your music also takes a lot of influence from internet culture, geek culture, video games, and anime, which for a long time were considered niche interests. How have things changed as the internet has grown and those things have become more well-known?

There’s more of a sense of community around it now. I think the internet did wonders, and we found a lot of that community throughout COVID when we started investing more time into our Discord. We noticed that were are a lot of people who were into the same stuff that we’re into. We have a song called ‘Down With The King’, and back in the day we started writing it as a joke. We had this idea that it was going to be a song about Donkey Kong, where we chant “Down with the king // you are so cruel” as a fun play on King K. Rool. 

We would play shows and introduce the song by saying that it’s about Donkey Kong, and I was scared the crowd would hate us because of how stupid it is. Now though, we have this community who know who we are, and they know what our interests are. Now, when we say, ‘The next song is about Donkey Kong’, the people in the crowd go nuts. They have so much fun with it.

Good Kid - Down With The King (Official Music Video)

You all work as computer programmers outside the band, too. How does that influence your approach to Good Kid?

A lot of computer scientists are very good with processes. We love talking about the process, we love ironing out the process, and we’re all problem solvers. We’re very analytical, and sometimes that leads to an excessive amount of debating when it comes to songwriting. We’re always very excited to look at data, and we write bots that analyse data. Our drummer Jon [Kereliuk] wrote a bot that scans whenever our music gets played on any radio station, and we can also find out when people use our music in their videos. 

We have a lot of fun with analytics, and that has affected how we build our community on Discord. Nick and I work on large language models in AI, so we built a bunch of characters from the Good Kid lore that people can interact with. We’ve also created an augmented reality game that acts as an online scavenger hunt. Part of it involved talking to those character bots and trying to get answers from them. We combine our external interests into the band, but a bunch of us still have full time jobs. We have to figure out touring around it, so often we do our meetings from the back of the bus, running to soundcheck in between calls. It’s crazy! 

That’s chaos, but it also sounds like a hell of a lot of fun, which is such a central part of everything this band does. How important is it that no matter what you do with this project, you’re having fun with it?

It’s very important, and if we look back at all the things we did purely because we thought they would please the industry and please the fans, none of those things worked out for us. The things that have worked out the best are always the things that come from passion, because that’s where the drive comes from. That’s when we’re going to drive it to completion and do an excellent job at it. Nobody can predict what will work and what won’t, so you may as well only work on the things that are exciting. 

Whenever we collaborate with artists, it’s usually because they’re fans of our band too. If we’re fans of their work, we just let them do whatever they want. We recently released a music video for ‘Summer’, which was animated by this incredible animator, XrayAlphaCharlie. Our relationship started from them being a fan of our band and making some test animations with our music. We reached out with some unreleased music that we had and said if there was anything they wanted to do, go for it. They did such a great job on what became the music video for ‘Mimi’s Delivery Service’ that as soon as we had the next batch of songs, we sent them over. We try to apply the same principles to the collaborations as we do to ourselves because when someone is really excited about something, beautiful things can happen.

Good Kid - Mimi's Delivery Service (Official Video)

You’ve established Good Kid as a creative-friendly band, which feels like a bold move to make in the current industry. Talking more about the video game world, why did you decide to allow streamers to access your entire discography to use it to fuel their own creativity? 

We all grew up with skateboard videos, and there was a big culture of watching people do trick shots whilst listening to some punk music. It’s cool when people use your music in their montages, but we also play video games. We started noticing people saying, ‘Hey, I would love to use your music, but I can’t because I can’t monetize the video’. That confused us, because we would love for people to use our music, but why couldn’t they monetize it? We started digging, and a lot of the answers revolved around it getting blocked on the distribution side. We’re not on a label, and we’re in charge of what’s going on, so that seemed silly. We wanted to remove all those blocks, and it took quite a bit of work because of how the music industry is set up. The industry is set up to block that usage – often for good reason – but for our specific project we want our fans to collaborate with us. We worked with distributors all around the world to ensure that we can promise any creator that if they want to use our music, they can. We’re part of this community, so it’s genuinely exciting to see people get creative with our music.

When we’re talking about connecting with people and making this project as accessible as possible, we need to talk about your Discord server. What has it been like to cultivate that community?

It started as a street team. We were playing some shows, and we wanted some help from our fans, so we created a place where fans could communicate. When the pandemic hit, I was apprehensive about engaging with people on Discord. In my mind, we were the artists, and they were the fans, so we had to set some kind of boundary. My bandmates did not have that attitude at all though, so they went in and started making friends. I quickly started to feel like I was missing out, so I hopped in, and it became this community. We ran all sorts of events, and then when we went back to playing shows, our internet friends started showing up. Now, we have an incredible team of moderators, and the server is basically their project. It’s a way for people to make friends, and for us to stay connected to our audience.

Good Kid - No Time To Explain (Official Lyric Video)

Your 2023 EP ‘Good Kid 3’ marked the end of an era as the final collection of songs written during the band’s beginnings. Coming into ‘Good Kid 4’, how does this EP relate to the first trilogy of EPs?

Musically speaking, the fourth EP is the one where we decided that we were just going to have fun. If someone had an idea that they were excited about, we ran with it. There’s a trumpet section, there’s a funk song with crazy drums, and this is by far our most playful EP. In terms of the process though, it’s the same as always. We’re all songwriters, and we each write our own songs before bringing them to the band to workshop them together. We don’t really overthink the idea of albums and EPs, we just package the songs up whenever we have a collection that works together. 

Every EP that we’ve released has come with its own artwork and characters, and we’ve had the same artist and creative director for the entire nine years we’ve been a band. For this EP, we sent the songs over to him [Gabriel Altrows] and got him thinking about different characters. For the last EP, he worked on the character Mimi, and for this EP he came up with the concept of Nomu. He’s incredible, and he can develop all these characters with their own stories and lives.

As fans of anime and comics, how important is the idea of storytelling to Good Kid, whether that’s visual, lyrical, or sonic?

Massively. We’re yet to figure out all the media for storytelling, and so far, we’re just relying on our hearts and energies. We’re still figuring out the different mechanisms for storytelling, but we already have these cool characters that have deep lore. A lot of the narratives come from discussions that happen in our Discord too. We had some characters that we didn’t name, but the community just started naming them. We have a version of Nomu from the future, and he looks a little bit different. He’s a little bit edgier, so the Discord started referring to him as Rebel. Now, that’s his name, but we didn’t come up with that.

Good Kid - Bubbly (Official Visualizer)

For your live shows, how do you go about translating songs that people will be familiar with from watching YouTube videos and playing video games alone into something that exists in a communal space?

It’s interesting, because whilst the online space plays a huge part in what we do, we’re not Gorillaz. We’re not a virtual band, and we’re actual people who play actual instruments. That said, we really want to incorporate the visuals into the show. We work with Gabriel Altrows on figuring out the stage design and how to make the characters a part of the show. On this tour, we’ve designed a bunch of animations that play behind us which tie the songs into some of the characters. We also have a VIP experience at our shows where we play acoustic songs, answer people’s questions, and take photos. For people who come to that, we’ve brought a bunch of cut-outs of the different characters. People can walk around and take pictures with them like they’re in a movie theatre. On the last tour, I had to miss four shows due to family reasons. For those four shows, the band took one of the cut-outs – who happened to be holding a bass guitar – and brought him onstage with them. It was lonely to be missing out on shows, but that made me feel like I was still part of it.

That’s so wholesome and is a great example of how Good Kid’s live shows have become a place of positivity, vibrancy, and energy. Are you hoping that those moments can act as a form of catharsis or an escape for the people in the room with you?

As a band, we often talk about how our form of art is specifically a platform for escapism. It’s an opportunity to dive into purely joyful experiences, but that doesn’t mean it’s rudimentary or trivial. You can have complexity, and you can have sadness in the lyrics, but ultimately, our role as artists is to give the audience permission to experience catharsis. We’ve all been to shows where you show up and stand there trying to look cool, but I don’t think anybody wants to do that. Everybody is chasing the feeling of that one show they went to where they felt it deep in their body and had so much fun. As performers, we try to facilitate that environment. We try to get the crowd involved as early as possible, and we make it a carefree and fun space. 

We take so much creative liberty with the shows, and I think it’s been paying off. So many people who come to our shows are at their first concert ever, and we want them to go home desperate to see more bands. There are also so many people who come with their parents, and that’s such a powerful way to bond with your kid. We want it to be the best experience for everyone in that room.

Good Kid - Madeleine (Live in Chicago)

It’s about curating something more than a show, and it feels as though you’re creating an entire universe around Good Kid. Looking towards the future, where are you hoping to take this? Is it about being the biggest band in the world, or is it enough just to mean something to someone?

Look, we are ambitious people. It’s never about being the biggest band in the world though, it’s just about how far we can take this. It’s such a massive playground to play on, and we have so many opportunities to do cool stuff with this band. The goal is to see how far this can go, and to explore anything new to us. We keep introducing new things, and new layers are added all the time. Everything is ramping up a level, from our merch designs to our stage designs and our story-building. I worked a lot on stage design for this tour, and we’ve built these fake amplifiers that light up during the set and start playing animations. We just love chaos!

Good Kid start their 2024 UK tour on 17 September. Find tickets here