Gonna Get Some Dynamite: Kind Hearted Strangers' Quick Ascent
By Brody Coronelli
There are hundreds of small bands that take influence from folk and Americana. However, the fiery, eclectic trio Kind Hearted Strangers stand high above their counterparts, evoking a loose jam-band charm with vibrant, pop-sensible folk that takes influence from the classics without spending too much time dwelling in the past.
I had a chance to sit down with the band's frontman and primary songwriter Marc Townes to talk music, the band's formation, their new debut EP, and what's on the horizon for this promising, robust trio.
Based in Boulder, Colorado, the band is built of Townes (vocals and rhythm guitar), Kevin Hinder (lead guitar), and Brian Ireland (drums). Townes and Hinder both hail from Virginia, and they recently relocated to Colorado after graduating from college. Shortly afterward, they met Ireland—former drummer of the acclaimed emo-pop outfit Something Corporate—spontaneously through an open mic. An unexpected setting for someone who’s toured the world playing to thousands of fans, but a right-place-right-time connection that ultimately paved the way for Kind Hearted Strangers’ inception.
“Brian was there playing with his brother, and during their set, they ran out of songs to do. He pointed at me and said ‘That guy looks like he has some stuff to play.’ I went up and we did three or four band tunes, and we ended up all hanging out afterwards,” Townes said, while also working on a plate of tacos from La Choza: one of Boulder’s best yet hidden spots for street-style Mexican food that he claims was integral to the recording of the band’s debut EP, which was brought to life at Violet Studios across the street.
From that night, Kind Hearted Strangers was born. The three immediately began performing as a trio, taking influence from bands like the Allman Brothers and My Morning Jacket to construct their folky and abundant take on roots and Americana.
Each member has a varying background that brings something unique to the band’s groove-heavy, approachable, and vibrant vein of roots music. Townes, the group’s primary songwriter, cites his folk influences as a major influence to his songwriting and rhythm guitar playing, but he doesn’t downplay what Hinder and Ireland bring to the table. Instead, he sees his contribution simply as the groundwork.
“I used to do oil painting, and one of my favorite parts about it was mixing the colors and creating my pallet. Once you do that, you have all these colors that each have something in common. I see my role as stretching the canvas and giving [the band] room, and then I hand Kevin the paintbrush and just let him go on top of it,” he said.
Hinder’s presence on these songs can’t be downplayed. A classically trained musician who studied classical guitar at JMU Virginia, his virtuosic and never wavering guitar playing evokes the loose, elongated grooves of jam bands like Widespread Panic while also serving the concise, folk-driven nature of Townes’ songwriting. Hinder also plays in the funk band Envy Alo, which gives him even more room to occupy the songs with his fluid and technical leads.
“Kevin absolutely rips it [on guitar]. I would argue that he’s possibly the best guitar player in Boulder,” Townes said.
This leaves Ireland. His drumming resume is vast, and his technical skill behind the kit elevates KHS’ songs to an immense level. However, his pop-sensibilities gathered from his time spent playing in Something Corporate, Streamline, and other mainstream projects also informs the band’s output.
“[His pop-oriented background] is something really nice about having Brian. I could write only seven-minute songs, ‘cause I’ll write these verses that go on forever, but luckily we have Brian with his pop sensibilities, and he encourages us to get right to it, [trim the songs down], and deliver the goods,” Townes said.
These three unique influences all converge on the band’s debut EP It’ll Burn. Released earlier this year, the record is a distillation of three musicians with different approaches in mind who’re able to come together and tap into an irresistible vein of intricate, rootsy Americana and driving folk.
Just like the album cover—which Townes looks upon photographing fondly— this is a fiery collection of songs that’ll have you alternating between tapping into the emotional overtones of the lyrics to truly appreciating the space around you; all while feeling the groove in your feet.
From start to finish, the EP is all flame and little flicker. From the rhythmically stimulating and thematically adventurous opener “The Strong Side”—a song that lets Ireland’s drumming steal the show while also leaving enough room for Hinder’s fluid guitar leads—to the resolving affection of the closer “Runnin’ Next To You”—a song perfect for a top-down drive trying to chase the horizon—It’ll Burn will have you questioning how a band still in their infancy can sound so grounded.
One of the record’s highest moments is “Dynamite”: an infectious, spirited mid-tempo rocker with a story behind it that’s worth a thousand words. Written about a raucous night on the town in Denver on the 4th of July, Townes spares the specific details but showed me a still prominent scar underneath his arm as evidence of how unhinged it got.
“It was a mess, but it was so much fun. At one point, I had scaled a fence, I was looking for a 7/11 at 5 in the morning, I didn’t know where I was, and my shirt was all torn,” he said, half smiling as he recounted it all.
“Dynamite”—a song based on a vibrant experience that he won’t be forgetting about anytime soon—is a strong representation of how Townes views songwriting as a whole: an act dependent on personal experience and a life well occupied.
“To write, you have to live. People like Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson have been playing music forever, and they’re just now breaking out and writing these amazing songs. [I think it’s because] they’ve had so much more time to live than the rest of us,” he said.
This philosophy also informs the energy of Townes’ songwriting. “To me, writing a slow, introspective song in your bedroom is easy. To write something that’s fast and fun, you have to be awake and very much alive,” he added.
“High Horse” is another highlight off the EP. A self-proclaimed ‘courtroom ballad’, the song takes a formula reminiscent of classic country music and makes it unique and immediate. It’s also the product of Townes’ songwriting changing gears and entering territory he doesn’t usually tread as an artist.
“[Writing “High Horse” was] the only time I’ve written a song out of anger. It’s about one of those situations when you’re accused of something that you didn’t do. Somehow it just came out—the only way I could deal with it was to write about it,” he said.
With Townes' vibrant, engaging songwriting, Hinder's virtuosic and seemingly limitless range on guitar, and Ireland's drumming that keeps the song's contained while also stretching them to their limits, Kind Hearted Strangers' musical dexterity far exceeds their short time as a band. With a sound already so fully-formed and grounded, guessing where they're going next is an adventure unto itself.
Looking forward, the band have their eyes set on making a full-length LP. They’re also planning on bringing in a bass player to flesh out their songs even further. Considering how stirring and driven their music already is, it won’t have any issues adhering to evolution.
They have a show planned for December 16th at the Bohemian Biergarten in Boulder, CO, and you can keep up with any other shows they announce on their website.