The band name Sick Kids XOXO was born at the Good Food Store in late 2010. Guitarist/singer Michael Gill recalls being hung over, having just woken up from a wild night of DJing for his popular Dead Hipster dance party shows at the Badlander bar. He was in need of a herd of beverages and a dark, quiet room. But as he stood staring at rows of healthy coconut drinks and other thirst-quenching remedies, a baby started crying incessantly in the shopping cart next to him.
"The baby was screaming its head off," says Gill. "And I'm rubbing my forehead, dying silently."
The mother of the baby noticed Gill's pain and was sympathetic. She patted Gill on the shoulder and told him that she was sorry but the baby was sick and that's what the screaming was all about. Gill's annoyance turned to sudden warmth, he says. The baby almost seemed cute now. "I left the store thinking that was such a good concept for a band name," says Gill. "Here's this injured teeny person that typically would be driving you insane, but all of a sudden it becomes this adorable, more personable thing."
Gill brought the idea of "Sick Kids" as a name back to the members of his newly formed pop rock band. The name was already taken by a raunchy all-girl London rap group, so the Missoula group decided to add XOXO to the end, which, says Gill, drove home the sweet, good-natured tone he was looking for. "Hugs and kisses from Sick Kids solidifies the concept," he says.
Sick Kids XOXO is six musicians—two sets of brothers and a married couple. Drummer JT Baker grew up with Gill in Kalispell. He and his wife, lead singer/keyboardist Karma Baker, recently moved back to Missoula from Chicago where they'd each played in bands. Gill's brother, Patrick, plays percussion. The brothers and bassist Hoyt Smith started playing together eight years ago in the Victory Smokes—a now-defunct band with a New-Wave dissonance and political slant. When I first heard them in their infancy they reignited that feeling The Cure and David Bowie did when I was 14 and somber. It's dance music as much as it was brooding music, but not necessarily the kind of thing kids go out clubbing to, which is probably why it seemed more rebellious to me. There are some similarities between Victory Smokes and Sick Kids XOXO, but Victory Smokes was on the darker side, and lonelier.
Sick Kids XOXO (which also includes Hoyt's brother Andrew on auxiliary instruments and synth) signifies a change in their approach. For Hoyt, it was a matter of admitting he truly liked pop.
"I've been struggling with that for many years," he laughs. "I was in punk rock bands, and in a nasty rock band in LA. When I got to Missoula... I was fighting myself, saying, 'Pop music is okay.'"
Michael, who says he's always admitted to loving pop, was finally ready to really start playing it.
"We wanted to be more of a poppy band," says Michael. "But I don't necessarily always write that way. My songs aren't negative but they're on the darker side."
You can hear New Wave in everything now, mostly because it's never really died, just mutated from punk to popular and back again. MGMT started another popular wave of it when they exploded in 2007. Sick Kids XOXO has a similar sound to MGMT (so does, for that matter, Victory Smokes, which predates MGMT's popular rise).
Sick Kids XOXO has released two songs so far. "Tanlines," written by Karma, is a sparkly, upbeat summer jam about having no fear and ignoring naysayers. "Locate and Run" is a spontaneous, dramatic synth-infused pop song that's meant to evoke a feeling rather than a storyline. "It is a very cut-and-dried expression capturing that moment that you decide to do something big," says Michael. "It's that moment right before you make that decision to go find someone who might be a million miles away."
Despite having only formed in late October of last year, Sick Kids XOXO went on tour this spring, networking on Facebook to set up shows and wrangle audiences. Their strangest show was in Spokane where they played at the largest three-on-three hoop fest in the nation.
"The three-on-three basketball crowd is not necessarily my crowd," says Michael. "And so we were like, 'Okay, let's get out of the car without being beat up, let's load back up without getting beat up.'"
But when they set up and started playing at Mootsy's bar, the crowd went wild.
"There were all of these people on the tables dancing and apparently two of them died...the tables, not people," says Michael.
After the Sick Kids XOXO set, Michael and JT performed what they call DJ Drums where Michael does a dance party DJ set and JT drums along—something they'll do for their upcoming Missoula show.
"JT ended up drumming for three hours straight without stopping," says Michael. "Hoyt was laying on the floor playing tambourine. That was our best experience."
Sick Kids XOXO is on the brink of releasing an album they're currently recording at Club Shmed. At their show this week they'll offer a limited set of the albums that they mixed themselves. They hope the next batch will be mixed by an exciting, but currently unnamed celebrity. They don't want to jinx it by telling.
In the meantime, says Michael, they'll continue writing songs that appeal to large audiences—ones that people can really dance to.
"When we started Victory Smokes I was 23 and wanted to write in a political garage rock band and it was fun, but I wanted to push my opinions on people," he says. "I've learned to let people make up their own mind rather than throw something in their face. Rather than hucking a beer at a show, this is a nightcap-on-a-platter kind of project. Now I'd rather dissect something without tearing it apart."
Sick Kids XOXO and DJ Drums open for Starfucker at the Badlander Monday, October 3, at 9 PM. $10.