Cardiknox created one of the best pop albums you've never heard: 2016's unsung standout, Portrait, which delivered euphoric, synthesized anthems, like "Into the Night" and "Earthquake." But like many great acts in today's tumultuous industry, the LA-based duo has since parted ways from Warner Bros and returned this year as fiery, independent artists--the way they originally began, dropping buzzy, '80s-inspired singles on Soundcloud, from "Hold Me Down" to "Technicolor Dreaming."
This summer, Cardiknox released "Fuck With You," an explosive, pounding single about devoted love that sees Thomas and Lonnie exchanging verses--a successful, more radio-friendly development from their breakout alt-pop LP. Today, they've shared "Bad Boys," a retro, groovy cut stacked with sunny guitars and a relatable chorus about "giving it up to the wrong guys." It's a shoutout to their dads' vintage record collection, reveling in disco tropes and funky production best suited for the California beach.
Listen to "Bad Boys," below, and learn more about Cardiknox's Thomas and Lonnie--you'll want to keep an eye on them.
OUT: You've released singles, "Fuck With You," and now, "Bad Boys." How have you grown since your 2016 debut album, Portrait?
Lonnie: A lot has changed. Most notably, we're no longer with Warner Brothers. We're real-life, hot-blooded indie artists now. After touring for the majority of last year, we went back into the studio and started furiously writing at the beginning of this year. We have so many songs! And they're the best songs we've ever written. Sonically, it feels like Cardiknox is finding its footing. I don't think we were ever a band that sounded like everyone else, but with all these new songs we've been working on, I think we're really finding a place that feels unique to us. We've brought Thomas into the fold much more on the vocals, which was actually our original vision of the band. It's hard to have two lead singers, but it worked out for The Beatles and Blink 182--two all-time greats. As we continue to release these songs, we're so excited for everyone to hear, experience and sing along with this new chapter of Cardiknox. We feel as liberated and excited as ever.
What inspired "Bad Boys" lyrically?
Lonnie: Two words: modern dating. It's hilarious, insane and completely bizarre. The online dating world is wild and weird, and constantly connects you with the wrong people--the fun yet dangerous people, the sexy yet hilarious people, the bad boys. When writing the song, we wanted to embrace the playful, light-hearted spirit of frolicking with love(rs) that aren't a fit for you, but can seem so appealing at the time. The lyrics don't take themselves too seriously, just as so many people--especially in LA--don't either.
There's something nostalgic about the attitude of "Bad Boys." Was this intentional?
Thomas: Absolutely. When we started working on the song, it felt funky and retro, so we quickly decided to embrace it. Rather than trying to make a pop song with retro linings, we tried to make a retro dance song that was pop. Both of us fell in love with music through our fathers' record collections, and though we've definitely nodded to records of the '80s and '90s on some of our other songs, we were able to tip our hat to some of the albums we grew up on from the decade of disco--but really good disco, like The Bee Gees, Chic, Blondie, early Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder.
Thomas & Lonnie
Why pop music?
Thomas: To me, pop music is the ultimate purpose of music--songs that people want to sing and dance along to, songs that get stuck in people's heads. Unfortunately, pop gets a bad rap, and much of it is well-deserved. There are a lot of aspects to pop music that are antithetical to what music is all about--fake, sugar-coated, manufactured, plastic. But when pop music is done right, when the chords and the melody and the lyrics all sync together in this magical way that feels transcendent, there's nothing like it. Everything disappears for three minutes and you're taken away with the song. There's that Jack Kerouac quote that I love: "One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple." To me, that's pop music. And that's why pop music.
What's the best scenario for listening to "Bad Boys"?
Lonnie: When we first played this song for friends, we were driving back from Malibu after a day on the beach--lots of sun and wine. We rolled all the windows down and blasted "Bad Boys." And even though they're our friends and are loving and supportive of everything we do, we could tell this one clicked with them. They were feeling it--hand out the window doing the wave, head out the sunroof singing. That kind of vibe. So for me, that was a great way to listen to it--setting sun, surrounded by friends, wind in my hair.
What's the collaborative process between you two?
Lonnie: We're pretty collaborative through the whole process. We both work on the music and lyrics together, constantly bouncing bad ideas off one another until something sticks and feels right. With "Bad Boys," it all started with the guitar part. Thomas started playing the little riff and we were off and running. For us at least, most songs take a lot of work to get to their final place. You usually know right away if the song has something special, but it still can take a long time to sculpt everything properly. With this one, though, it all happened very fast. After the first day, we had a very simple little demo that was just guitar and a kick and snare drum beat, with demo vocals on top. That was it. But it was amazing, because it was awesome. We couldn't stop listening to it over and over again. It just hooked you.
You're both very hands-on. What was the process for creating your "Fuck With You" video?
Thomas: It was a doozy. We did the whole video ourselves. I had this absurd idea to make a stop motion video kind of like Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" video, but using long exposure photography and light-writing. So we drove out to the desert and when it was pitch black, started taking hundreds of photos; my brother painted words and shapes into the frame with an LED flashlight, while Lonnie and I tried to hold perfectly still. We also used this awesome device called a PixelStick, which is basically a programmable LED light bar that you can use to light-paint. After all that, we did a bunch of shooting against a green screen (a bedroom wall that we literally painted green and have yet to paint back), and took that edited footage, brought it into an iPad and drew on top of it like you would a high school notebook. Tons of doodles and scribbles. It was hours and hours and hours (at least 300) of work, but we're so proud of the result. It's non-stop frenetic eye candy.
What inspired you to cover "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," originally by The Postal Service?
Thomas: We actually recorded this quite a while ago, but wanted to wait until we had other new music to release, as well, so it wasn't just this lonely random song out there. Being from Seattle, we thought it'd be cool to do a cover of a Seattle artist, and when thinking about songs to do, I really like the idea of choosing a song with a male lead singer. That way our version would feel different and fresh. I hate when people do covers and they sound too similar to the original. The whole point is to put your own stamp on it. Ryan Adams' cover of "Wonderwall" might be the greatest cover ever. He took a song that is already considered an all-time great and somehow made it feel so different and haunting, yet the original song is still there. With our cover, we tried to make it feel bigger and hit harder on the chorus by making the beat half-time, and we put it in a key where Lonnie would get to belt a bit more. It's really fun to step inside someone else's song and play around.
You're garnered a strong queer fanbase. Why do you think that is?
Lonnie: Because they have good taste. In all honesty though, we feel really honored to be embraced by the queer community. They're the thought leaders behind trends, tastes and important flavors of pop culture. We've been really fortunate to tour with artists that have a substantial LGBTQ following like Carly Rae Jepsen and Betty Who, and so we've been exposed to their great fans, and have had the opportunity to connect with them. I think our dancey, '80s-esque vibes also really resonate--the queer community loves to dance and have fun, and we try to bring as much of that to our music and shows as possible.