Songwriter Interviews

Kyle Nicolaides of Beware of Darkness

by Dan MacIntosh

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Beware of Darkness is a powerful trio that draws upon alternative rock, garage rock and a touch of electrified blues. It's led by Kyle Nicolaides, and with its debut album, Orthodox, is making quite a stir in the music scene.

To write the band's songs, Nicolaides draws upon an expansive range of influences, from the bands that first inspired him to play and sing his own songs, to the poets that influenced the way he writes them.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): Let's talk about songs and songwriting.

Kyle Nicolaides (Beware Of Darkness): Oh, that's great.

Songfacts: The first thing that I was really struck by with your music, I heard a lot of blues and rhythm and blues and those kind of influences. So can you tell me who some of your primary musical influences are for the sound that you come up with?

Kyle: Yeah. When I was growing up, the two people I listened to were Paul McCartney and Jimmy Page.

Songfacts: Couldn't be two more different people.

Kyle: Yeah. It's interesting, because The Beatles took more of a songwriting approach. And Led Zeppelin, I feel like it's more about the music. So it was those two growing up. And then when I was a teenager I started listening to the White Stripes and Jet and Wolfmother and Louis XIV.

I listened to that whole garage scene. And then when I got older, like 18, 19, 20, it was Jeff Buckley and Fiona Apple and Kanye West and David Bowie.

Songfacts: So your tastes continued to evolve?

Kyle: Yeah, exactly.

Songfacts: Well, I want to talk about some specific songs. There's one called "All Who Remain," which seems to be directed at somebody in particular.

Kyle: Yeah. It's about losing your favorite person on the planet.

Songfacts: And that would be who?

Kyle: That's all I can say about it.

Songfacts: Okay. And writing that song, did it help you work through those emotions by writing about it?

Kyle: Yeah.

Songfacts: Do you write all the words to the songs?

Kyle: Yeah.

Songfacts: Your song "Howl," when I heard that, my immediate response was Allen Ginsberg, who wrote that great poem.

Kyle: Yeah.

Howl, Allen Ginsberg's most famous poem, begins strikingly with words one can never forget. "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix."

First published as a part of his 1956 collection Howl and Other Poems, this nightmarish vision starkly contrasted with the beatific linguistic sentiments we oftentimes associate with poetry. Its desperate scenario also flies in the face of buttoned-down, middle class vision of the '50s shows like Happy Days gave us.

It's difficult to measure the impact poems like "Howl" have had on the popular culture. However, it's impossible to imagine the ranting and raving of punk rock without it. Not surprisingly, Ginsberg read on the Clash's album Combat Rock, at a time when that influential punk band was itself under the spell of the emerging hip-hop scene. That's Ginsberg's voice on "Ghetto Defendant." In fact, The Clash and Ginsberg performed together with Grandmaster Flash as their opening act at the time.

One can also draw a direct parallel between Howl and the street-level poetry of contemporary rap music. There is a great Ginsberg/Tom Waits mash-up that combines Ginsberg's reading of his poem "America" from 1959, which has been placed over Tom Waits' 1973 instrumental, "Closing Time." Therefore, anytime you hear music so honest it makes you uncomfortable, you can give some credit to Allen Ginsberg for his pioneering poems, like Howl.
Songfacts: But I've talked to another artist that titled his album Howl, had nothing to do with Allen Ginsberg. So I wonder, is there a relationship?

Kyle: What artist did you talk to?

Songfacts: It's this guy named JC Brooks from Chicago.

Kyle: Oh, yeah, that's cool. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club had a record named "Howl," too.

Songfacts: Right. A great band.

Kyle: Uh huh. They did that, too. Sorry, what was your question?

Songfacts: Is there a relationship to Allen Ginsberg in the song?

Kyle: Thematically, no. It's just a song title. Lyrically, it's inspired by a John Donne poem called The Flea, which I was studying in English class a couple of years ago.

But I really liked the title "Howl." It's just a powerful word, it's strong. But the subject matter, it has nothing to do with Ginsberg.

Songfacts: Did you get a degree in literature?

Kyle: No. I dropped out.

Songfacts: Do you get a lot of inspiration from poets?

Kyle: Yeah. My favorite's Sylvia Plath.

Songfacts: Oh, wow. I don't know much about Sylvia Plath, except I know she wrote The Bell Jar.

Kyle: She stuck her head in an oven.

Songfacts: But you probably would want people to know more about her than that.

Kyle: Yeah, exactly. It's interesting how people judge things they don't really know based on layers. Because our band name is pretty similar, too. We have people scoff at the band name when they hear it, and Sylvia Plath is the same way where the first thing people think about when they hear Sylvia Plath is, Oh, she stuck her head in an oven. But the reality behind that is that her poems are so deep and so insightful, and she's not just some depressive poet.

So it's funny. You can draw a parallel with Beware of Darkness, the actual name, where people hear that name and they scoff at it, and they think it's just some heavy metal band name, and they dismiss it. But in reality, you look at it, it's cautionary. It's a warning. It's, 'be aware of darkness.' So it's interesting. And the people who just go based on their first instinct reactions, they shouldn't get it, and they don't get it.

Songfacts: So is the name of the band part of your mission to give warnings about some of the darknesses that are in our world?

Kyle: That's a good question. No. I don't think so. I never thought about it that way. I mean, with this record, I just I wanted to get people to think about their lives, and I wanted to use the lyrics to get people to see their lives and what they're going through in a different way.

The song "Heart Attack" is a good example of it, where the first line is, "Come on, like anybody cares your mother died?" Like, "Come on, like no one cares you went to school, like, come on, like anyone cares you've got cancer." So it's basically a really, really abrupt way to say, Does a person in China really care what you're going through right now?

So it's giving a different perspective on it. With Orthodox, I wanted to do that, just get people to think about their lives in a different way.

Songfacts: Well, the whole idea of "Orthodox" makes me think about religion, and there's a song on the album called "Amen, Amen," which is used in a religious context. Is there spirituality to your music?

Kyle: Yeah. Definitely.

Songfacts: What sort of spiritual things have an impact on your music, or spiritual practices or beliefs?

Kyle: That's a good question. It's nothing organized - I don't know how to put that in words. I mean, for me the spiritual part about playing music and about records and about songs is the freedom that it can give you. It can be a release.

And with this record I wanted to make something that felt like you could kind of crawl into it, like crawling back into the womb, like something comfortable. So for me that's a kind of spirituality.

Songfacts: Why did you call the album Orthodox?

Kyle: It was originally going to be called Bleak, and it was going to be a whole concept record on depression. And what happened was when I was writing lyrics for the record, I kept writing down "orthodox," and after the 50th time that it came down in my journal, I finally had to look up what it means. The first half of the word means "right/true." And the second half means "belief," doxy. So it means "right beliefs," basically. So that really hit home with the material of the record, especially for a song like "Life on Earth," where the hook is, "Is this all there is to life on Earth?" So it kind of became about that.

And I guess the spirituality of the record, I don't know what the term is for it, but I feel like it's more of an individualistic empowerment, where if you hate your life, you should change it. So with this record, I just wanted people to think about their lives and try to use that as an empowerment. That's what I believe in: not waiting to let someone else take care of it, or a higher someone else in the sky to take care of it. If you have a problem, you should take care of it.

Songfacts: That's sort of an existentialist perspective.

Kyle: Yeah. That's right.

Songfacts: How much do your journals play into the writing of your music? When it comes time to write songs and make an album, do you look back on those things?

Kyle: I'm glad you asked that. It's so interesting, because it's so different every time. Right now I have a journal that's completely filled, and sometimes I look back on it and I'm like, "Oh, god, there's great lines in here and there's great songs here." And other times I look back and there's nothing I can use. Right now, I'm at that point where I've just filled an entire one and I'm looking through it and I'm like, there's nothing I can use here.

That's the best part about creating and the most frustrating part about creating: you just have to keep pushing on into the future, and not get too precious about things.

Songfacts: Well, keeping a journal, even if you don't come up with songs, the idea that you're writing down your thoughts, that you're expressing it, that you're getting stuff that's in you out of you, is its own reward.

Kyle: Exactly. That's true, too.

Songfacts: And then it's frosting on the cake if you come up with a hit song.

Kyle: Exactly. I have boxes filled with journals, and you never know when you're going to pull one out and find something. "All Who Remain" is a good example of that. I wrote down, "When you leave this life, the world will be a darker place," and then just threw my journal away. Then a couple of months later I looked and I was like, "Oh, that's a pretty great line. I should use that for something."

Songfacts: It's funny, because I'm kind of on a spiritual journey. I'm a Christian, and I was in a class which was all about being still to hear from God, and I could not get myself to do a journal. And the one who was leading class kept saying, "You've got to write a journal, you've got to write in your journal." So you've inspired me.

Kyle: Oh, good.

Songfacts: I've got to do this. Because I can see how it's borne fruit in you.

Kyle: Good. That's cool. And with the spirituality, Orthodox, the album cover is based off of Greek iconography. So there's things through the whole record about it. That's something I've grown up with, and it's been through my whole life.

July 24, 2014. Their website is bewareofdarknessmusic.com.
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