So what’s in a kiss? For Jesse Kivel (one half of the band along with keys and backing vocalist Zinzi Edmundson), it can mean everything, even if only for a second. “I want to write songs that takes people out of their everyday lives” he says from Kisses LA HQ (let’s imagine he’s poolside, sipping a margarita). “Great pop music is about escape. Kisses is about entering into another world.” Put Kisses debut album Heart Of The Nightlife on the stereo and you’ll know what he means. Negotiate the doormen, check your coat in the cloakroom and find your way to the rooftop bar and you’ll be transported to a world of flashing dancefloors and shimmering glitter balls.
Better still, every chorus has that MDMA tingle which tells you it’s your new favorite song. “I used to go to indie clubs where people would only dance to song if they knew who it was by” explains Jesse. “It was so cliquey and lacking genuine emotion. I wanted to get away from false sentiment and use a different aesthetic.” To do so, Jesse decided, as Odyssey might put it, to strap up his boots and head back to his roots. Having grown up in LA on a diet of (”rap, terrible hardcore rock, plus the usual op 40 bands”) his musical education really began via a family friend by the name of Alec R. Costandinos. A music industry legend who had been in cult psych-outfit Aphrodite’s Child and had hits with his own band Love & Kisses, Costandinos also provided the title track to multi-million grossing disco-flick ‘Thank God It’s Friday’. For Jesse, Costandinos’ achievements symbolised music at it’s most ambitious: capable of moving the heart and the feet. “When you’re younger you have this idea of what disco is” says Jesse. “But over time came to realise how powerful that music is. There’s a reason those records sold eighteen million copies. There’s something magical about it.” Inspired by Costandinos’ vast record collection as well as his own experiences as a travel writer, Kivel set about creating a new form of dance music; inspired by the past but utterly relevant to the 21st century.
“I really like David Lynch, and I think Kisses has got that strangeness to it” says Jesse. “It’s about taking a vacation from everyday life but it’s also music for 2010. I like to think it reflects the way someone in their 20’s feel about the world.” Recorded in his garage over the course of a month, Heart Of The Nightlife, like all the great albums, manages to sound happy and sad at the same time. To these ears, it’s fusion of disco, New Wave guitars and Balearic beats is as evocative of West Coast ennui as peak period Hockney. Or maybe the cocktails are going to my head. “There’s a melancholy streak going through the songs” acknowledges Jesse. “I’ve always been able to capture sadness more easily in my songwriting than euphoria. They’re bittersweet.”
From the Arthur Russell influenced “Bermuda” to the dreamlike ‘Weekend In Brooklyn’ (with its mantra-like refrain “I’m talking about you/I’m thinking about you”) to the introspective highlight ‘People Do The Most Amazing Things’, Heart Of the Nightlife spills over with airy grooves and mega-watt ideas. Midnight Lover, meanwhile, boasts the quintessentially ’70’s lyric “I want to take you for a nice steak dinner“.
“That’s from the movie Catch me If You Can” laughs Jesse.
“Leonardo Di Caprio’s character says that to a prospective girlfriend. It’s his perception of sophistication. These days, of course, it’s got completely different connotations. As dating ideas go, it’s a risky strategy!”
The title track, meanwhile, is central to what makes Kisses tick.
“I wanted to explore what I was really feeling on this record” says Jesse.
“The music has got an innocence to it but listen closer and there’s a darkness in the lyrics.”
For anyone doubting music’s ability to banish the blues in these recession hit 2010, Heart Of The Nightlife is the perfect antidote. But like every kiss with a stranger, it also comes with a discernible sense of danger.
“At night anything can happen” explains Jesse.
“It’s when your guard is down” Down the line from Los Angeles you can hear him breaking into grin.
“Be assured, we’re looking for trouble.” Don’t say we didn’t warn you
-Paul Moody? London 2010.