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The prophetic sons return: a conversation with Birthrates

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On September 10, I made my way to the porch of Music House to talk to the members of the Beloit-alum band Birthrates. Composed of lead vocalist and guitarist Kirby Jayes’16, and bass player and vocalist Linden Holt’16, Birthrates currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA, and were in the middle of a twelve date cross-country tour when I spoke with them.

Birthrates was born in December of last year, when Kirby “sort of half jokingly asked Linden if he wanted to skip Christmas and go on the road with [him].” The two bandmates were described by Kirby as being “mostly inseparable for most of college,” and it appears that their friendship has remained strong, something which they attribute to “being really great at not talking to each other” when need be. This has been important for them on the road, where their goal is to play 100 shows in 365 days.

When they’re not on the road, Kirby and Linden share a house in Pittsburgh with Kirby’s girlfriend. Though they had to contend with a “basement filled with shit” (yes, real shit) for a little while, they’re now settled and can focus on Pittsburgh itself, which Linden says “has some pretty sweet stuff going on” as far as its music scene is concerned.

During our discussion, I had the opportunity to hear about their new 7 track album, Act Right (recorded in their producer’s bedroom), and the creative process that goes into a Birthrates song. Kirby has lyric writing duties, but each song is refined collaboratively. The bandmates will playthrough the song repeatedly and, as Linden put it, begin to “talk about dynamic structure, what [they] can do to make impactful moments hit harder, and drive home the most impactful elements of the song.”

In writing the song’s lyrics, Kirby is especially concerned with creating meaningful and resonating messages. Unlike earlier years, where he “used to write things that were not very specific (and) sounded like they were about something,” Kirby is now making a conscious effort to “be a more deliberate songwriter.” Pushing his black wayfarer sunglasses back onto his forehead, Kirby elaborated further:

“The potential for storytelling in song writing is something that really really appeals to me. There’s just so many songs that don’t need to be written again but do get written again, and have more or less the same sentiments behind them […] Like, here’s a folk song about a girl I need to make feel guilty because she’s not in love with me anymore. And I don’t want to write that kind of shit, I want to tell stories that are important and impactful and have something to offer the world from a perspective standpoint.”

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The stories Kirby has wanted to tell “for the last couple of years” (and this he says, “is probably Beloit getting to me) contend with the “way masculinity operates in [his] life, and the ways it informs on [his] identity in ways that aren’t necessarily helpful or productive.” This sentiment is expressed most clearly in Act Right’s title track, which he says “deals around the subject of sexual assault on college campuses.”

One of their goals, says Kirby, is to “make our musical communities safer and better.” One of the ways they hope to do this is through their stated “position of privilege” as white males.

“I want to create a space where, if there are people in the audience who will listen to a folk band of white dudes, more than they will listen to something that somebody else is saying, then I want to say something that will make those people uncomfortable […] which is why want to write songs about things like masculinity, because there are people who listen to us and not other people.”

While Kirby and Linden are both concerned with making their music impactful, they themselves clearly made a major impact on Beloit’s music scene in their four years on campus. Our interview was frequently paused by people stopping by to say hi them, and the sheer number of students at their performance at Folk and Blues who knew their words by heart spoke to the effect that both band members have had on Beloit and its students. Beloit, too, has greatly influenced them, and they were especially excited to be back for Folk and Blues.

“I’ve been looking forward to this,” said Linden, “literally since we found out we were gonna do it. I was so fucking pumped when Kirby told me we got the email back saying that we could [do it].”

“It’s nice,” as Kirby put it, “ to have put in a lot of work trying to make music on campus actually a thing, and to be invited back to play on a larger stage than was available to us when we were here.”

Kirby concluded our interview with one last attempt to improve Beloit’s music scene. “Start a band!” he shouted, “use the resources available to you! Be good to each other!”

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