Music — May 30, 2021 16:23 — 0 Comments

Apology Wars’ Kyle McAllister on the band, neurodiversity and coming out of COVID

Apology Wars, the metallic, bursting and booming band that splits time between Seattle and Bellingham, has released this album and, since, two rim-rattling singles, “Better” and “Please Don’t.” But like nearly every other band on the planet, the group was all but shutdown over the past 14 months. But what now?

We caught up with the band’s lead singer, Kyle McAllister, to talk inspirations, his nuanced relationship to the world, how music helps him from day-to-day and much more.

When did you first find music and what later made you want to invest in it?

I come from a musical family. My grandpa was a jazz band teacher in the public school system for 40 years, my mom was a jazz vocalist in college and my dad was a radio DJ in Seattle in the 90’s. I started caring about music very early and when my parents separated, the ride to my dad’s was very long. We would frequently listen to full albums together and discuss them on the way out to his house. Above all of that, I love getting goosebumps! My dad and I would always try to find music to share with each other that would give us chills, and I finally got him with one of my own songs – “Pretty in Flames” – last year.

You played trumpet to start but your voice is the thing that sounds like a big bell. How did you transition from trumpet to singing and how did you develop your singing voice? 

There is a ton of common ground between brass and vocals. As a kid with ADHD, I didn’t do a lot of maintenance on my instrument which resulted in my tuning slide breaking and getting stuck in a way that would make my trumpet consistently flat, so I got good at finding the pitch by compensating with breath support, which I think gave me a good ear. I started moving toward singing in my early twenties when my friend’s band needed a vocalist and I volunteered because I thought it would be fun. My day job makes me spend a lot of time on the road. Once I realized I could practice while driving, unlike literally any other instrument, I managed to get pretty decent in just a couple years by practicing like two or three hours a day behind the wheel.

Your recent two singles – “Please Don’t” and “Better” – there’s a ton of power to them. You recorded them with Jack Endino. What was he like in the studio?

I loved working with Jack! He is a legend and watching his process is wild. He managed to convince us to record without a click track, which is honestly terrifying because it gets rid of your ability to cut or extend sections in post production, and overdubbing is made more difficult. But the advantages are huge because it makes your song sound like a living, breathing thing. Jack is a bit of a purist about production and will not save you if you give a bad performance, but he does an amazing job of capturing what you sound like, and gets this really iconic gritty tone in the process. It’s completely unique and I feel so lucky to have been in that studio.

Briefly, what were the meanings behind those singles and what did it feel like to express those meanings? 

“Briefly” is a tall order! But here goes:

“Better” is about mental health, it’s based on my personal experiences with clinical depression, OCD, ADHD, Tourettes, and so on. But on a broader scale it’s a celebration of neurodiversity. Not a new concept, but I like the word painting of the instrumentation and structure. The off-kilter nature of the song with all of the tempo changes and weird time signatures makes me feel like I’m on a listing boat in a storm, and does an excellent job of portraying how I feel about “disorders” like ADHD. It’s both disorienting and beautiful and much like a listing boat it has its ups and downs.

“Please Don’t” is a song about a major moment in my life. I got a phone call late at night from a friend 90 miles away asking me to convince him not to kill himself. As a non-believer I realized I didn’t have a lot of good arguments other than my own personal attachments to them and how it would affect me if they went through with it. I’ve been told by a few people that this song is offensive because it is not overtly against suicide and doesn’t have any discernable moral. But it matters to me because it was a night that I failed to live up to my expectations of myself, but still managed to save someone, despite the fact that I screamed at them and insulted the plan they had made on how to do it.

I don’t know, I feel like it pulls back the curtain on who I am, and I feel like I want my audience to know that I’m not even close to perfect and maybe that’s not what a musician is supposed to be.

COVID-19 took a hit to everyone. How did it and the pandemic affect you and the band?

Yeah, no kidding. On a personal level, I thought that I was about to have my big break, I just got a fancy new manager, was meeting all kinds of people, played a couple of sold out shows, and had a recording date with Jack Endino, the guy who recorded Nirvana’s first album! So, I moved to Seattle to join the music scene on behalf of the rest of my band in Bellingham and was met with an immediate shut down of the entire scene, save for a few live-streams, which honestly aren’t the same. Good news is that the fancy manager I talked about has done a great job keeping us busy with releases and press write-ups and we are all geared up to hit the ground running once our drummer gets his second shot.

From a writing standpoint it felt like the death of unique experiences. Every piece of media, press releases from restaurants, commercials on tv, billboards seemed like they were contractually obligated to say “in these trying” three or four times. Bars were closed, vacations were cancelled and my ability to talk with other artists about anything other than the pandemic or Trump was just gone, so I found it difficult to find anything meaningful to write about. When 21 Pilots came out with their quarantine song last year I thought I was going to pull my hair out, I got really tired of hearing about COVID. Nothing against those guys, they make great music, but I have gotten to the point where simple acknowledgement of the pandemic feels like cringe to me just because I’ve heard it so much. So I guess what I’m saying is we won’t be writing a song about it!

What makes Apology Wars special, from a chemistry standpoint? 

The short answer to this question is: Ryan, our guitarist. He has no ego and he is an amazing writer who inspires me to work harder to keep from falling behind because of his work ethic, talent, and impeccable taste. The long answer is: I’m in a band with my best friends who just happen to be the best instrumentalists I could find. I’ve been in multiple bands where I was butting heads with another member, or was competing for my role in one way or another. Apology Wars is the only band that would let me write something like “Please Don’t” and would also tell me that the poem I intended to read before performing it was the “cringiest thing they had ever read, please don’t read this in front of an audience!”

In other words, I trust them completely to tell me if something isn’t working and they trust me to do the same.

What’s next, what might the future hold?

Ryan and I have a goal of playing a song on SNL. Now that I have said it during an interview, it has to come true right?

Finally, what do you love most about music?

I love that it can be an accessory to your life. It’s not like visual art that has to occupy a space, you can take it with you. Some of the most transcendental experiences I’ve had in my life have been putting on headphones, picking out an album and walking until I find water. It can change how I remember events in my life, it can make me feel optimistic or in awe of what is to come and it’s the only way I can think of to abandon those other things and live exclusively between the beats of a drum. It’s the only magic left that I know of.


Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney