Mixtape No. 24


Photos: Cristina Dunlap
Words: Colin Stutz

Earlier this year there was a New York Times article that got a lot of attention, all about how Los Angeles' "booming creative class" was luring New Yorkers westward with good weather and reasonable rent. For those of us who have lived here for, let's say, the majority of our adult lives, this revelation seemed like a no brainer. With all due respect to the amazing city that is New York, and without any sense of competition, the creative benefits of living in LA's more casual and friendly climate was been clear long before the Times decided it so. And the process of even having this conversation seemed a bit late coming when we've been living it for so long.

What's more interesting to me now is what comes next. Whether you were born here, or moved here, you're in LA now trying to make it in the arts – but what about when the rest of life catches up to you?

Jesse Kivel and Zinzi Edmundson who make up the disco pop duo Kisses have always embodied virtues of L.A. living I've idealized. Through their career as a band, as well on a personal level, they've always managed to maintain a relaxed attitude balanced with a defining, focused visual and auditory aesthetic.

A narrative I was drawn to early on around Kisses' new, third album, Rest in Paradise, was the potential that this could be the group's final release. Earlier this year they gave birth to a baby boy, and if you ever thought being in a band was hard work, trust that parenthood takes significantly more attention. And knowing these two, they have other creative interests and want keeping things new. So that there's the reality of Kisses at least slowing down, to me, was not any sign of defeat but, rather, the opposite.

You're in LA now trying to make it in the arts –
but what about when the rest of life catches up?

So perhaps Rest in Paradise is a fitting resignation to a blissful future. But’s it not that simple; it was also recorded as a live disco album with the support of New York's Midnight Magic, giving it a weighty significance beyond Kisses' previous recordings and a lot of other synthesized music out there. It is more "real"-seeming because of this, in a way a sculpture or painting is, and in that sense feels like a symbol of the transition from young creative to adult creator.

I spoke with Jesse and Zinzi to discuss the album, as well as everything else surrounding their new lives.

Rest in Paradise is your third full-length album and you recorded it live with a full band, how did this all affect your creative process approaching the LP?

J: It made the process much looser. Since we are not the best players, we always have to heavily edit and refine our takes to get them just right. With the band, we had them just play through the songs, run multiple takes and then keep the ones that felt good. This looseness helped keep things really fun in the studio and preserve a sense of wonder when it came to the songs and the recording. Hopefully you hear us being excited in the studio, listening to these great players play.

Were there any surprises that came up in the recording of Rest in Paradise either during or afterwards?

J: Well Zinzi got pregnant literally a week after the album was finished so that was certainly a surprise! As far as recording, I think every day was a surprise in that we did not know what all of these players would bring to the table. Sometimes they would knock it out of the park, other days we felt more attached to the scratch recording elements of the songs and chose to leave those in there. One musical surprise I would say is in regards to the song "Paradise Waiting Room." That ended up being an interlude on the album but was my favorite song in demo form. It was a full song with lyrics, melody, everything. When we recorded it, it just dragged and seemed lifeless and dull. You can't predict that when your favorite song just doesn't make the cut in recording but sometimes you have to be honest with yourself to keep the music engaging. Ultimately I love the interlude though so I think it worked out for the best.

You have to be honest with yourself to keep the music engaging.

You've mentioned some more rock-based songwriters' work in the disco genre as influences on Rest In Paradise, what is it about Rod Stewart or Wings-era Paul McCartney that appealed to you? What kind of influence did you draw from them, without just reinterpreting what they'd already done?

J: On a basic level, these guys appeal to me as songwriters. Both of them have written strong, evocative melody driven songs that don't need the production to do the heavy lifting. I think in dance music, it is often the case that the production is what shines and the top line is secondary. I admire these artists who managed a way to make both work, although Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" does kind of lift a Jorge Ben melody (who I am a fan of as well).

Both of you have some pretty impressive side projects, if you can even call them that — Zinzi runs the knitting magazine Knit Wit and you run this awesome DJ team Dart DJ that does special events around the area.

J: Speaking for Dart, a little over 3 years ago I was writing music with my friend Michael David from Classixx. He had been recently married and I had proposed to Zinzi. A friend of ours was talking to us about DJs for weddings and I realized that there was a need for good, non-cheesy DJs to play at our friends' and peers' weddings. We had a strong group of friends who were great at DJing so it was a simple, intuitive thing to put together.

Z: As far as Knit Wit, I've been a knitter since I was 8 years old and I really love it. The problem was that I'm also a big consumer of media and there was really nothing in the craft space that resonated with me. I think our friend Jessica of Sqirl may have been a big inspiration for me here, as well. She took something (making jam) that is normally either very grandmotherly or hopelessly dopey and twee and shared her own, stylish and elevated, perspective on it. So yeah, that's the idea with Knit Wit as well.

You guys are a couple and recently had a kid. What effects or influences have parenthood had on your lives as creatives in Los Angeles?

J: Honestly it makes being creative really hard. There just isn't that miscellaneous time in your day to feel creative as there is always something you could be doing, pulling you and your attention back. In another sense, it has made us more disciplined with our time (and the hour we wake up) so we definitely get a full day in there. I am hoping I can get a bit more energy though as at the moment, having a 5-month-old makes a lot of creative work challenging. Luckily James is incredibly cute and loving which makes it that much easier.

There's a lot of talk about Los Angeles being a creative hot spot right now. What do you like about living in this city?

Jesse: Good question. We actually haven't been liking LA that much lately. We are sick of the awful heat and monotony of the weather. We are heading to the East Coast for a few weeks so hopefully the start of winter will help us come to our senses!

Catch Kisses on their site / Instagram / Twitter,
or play some tunes from the rest of our mixtapes.