Middle Kids, the Australian trio consisting of Hannah Joy, Tim Fitz and Harry Day, have displayed an ease with anthemic rock peaks on their releases to date, which include their 2018 debut LP Old Friends and a pair of EPs. Their new full-length record Today We’re The Greatest, which arrives on March 19, still contains those effortless high points. But this time around, the peaks are often the culmination of songs featuring contemplative lyrics given much more room to breathe by the music.
“I think that we go there naturally,” Hannah Joy, the band’s singer and chief songwriter, told American Songwriter about those soaring moments. “I think all three of us like music that takes you on a journey. There’s a lot of music where you find a sick vibe and you sit in that, and that’s really awesome. And I kind of wish I did that more. But often I’ll write songs that start somewhere and then go somewhere else. I wonder if it’s because I grew up listening to a lot of classical music and there are all these different movements. Just condensing that into a little indie, three-minute pop song.
The sophomore record can be a tricky one for bands to navigate, but Joy made sure to step back and focus on the songs. In this way, the album would have a stronger foundation once the recording began, which would be the first one Middle Kids did in a studio and not at home. “I really wanted to make sure that I knew, and we knew as a band, what each song was before we threw whatever it is, like sounds and instrumentation, at it,” she explains. “I felt like before going into the studio, I really knew the spirit of each song. So that whatever we did with it, it wouldn’t lose that. As opposed to going into the studio with a couple of ideas half-formed. They were already distinct and had an identity. That meant we could go in and throw stuff at it, but never lose its soul as a song. I think that was important. Because we’d never been in the studio before, I wanted to make sure that was quite clearly defined.
“And then we had so much fun in the studio working with (producer) Lars Staffors, who we just adored. We would just try so many different sounds and layers and colors. We could do that because we weren’t trying to add the sound like, ‘This song needs something.’ It was already there. It was like ‘How can we had add flourishes?’ Instead of ‘Oh, shit, this needs a bridge.’
One flourish that adds a touching feel to Today We’re The Greatest comes on the uplifting “Run With You,” which includes a snippet of the sonogram of married couple Day and Fitz’s then-unborn child. “I wrote a lot of these songs when I was pregnant, on the precipice of this really unknown experience of becoming a parent,” Day says of the decision. “When you know that you’re going to have to raise someone, you really start thinking about ‘How am I going to raise them?’ Or ‘What’s important to me?’ That song is about walking with someone in life. When I was thinking about being a Mom, one of the most important, enduring things was that I was going to continue to walk with my son through life, regardless of whatever. I liked that idea of putting his sonogram at the end, his heartbeat. The pitter-patter of a heartbeat and walking steps, it matched where that song came from and why I wrote it.”
Joy’s lyrical focus on people coming together and pulling apart lends the record a wistful edge. “Even our first record has a lot of that theme of connection,” she says. “But it was probably intensified for this record in terms of where I was at in writing it. I just think that it’s something that’s so intrinsic to our experience of life. Our connection or our lack of connection with people, or ourselves even. It just seems to me you could be doing so many cool things, but if your connections are off or broken, it’s like it almost doesn’t matter. That has such a big influence on our experience. For me personally, it just ends up being something that I reflect upon a lot and sing about a lot.”
Not that it’s all quiet and reflective on the album. The trio really let loose on the pounding “I Don’t Care,” with its chorus of I don’t fucking care/I’m gonna do I what II want to. “That’s just what I started singing over the chord progression,” Joy laughs. “I was like, ‘Damn, that feels really good.’ I was doing it in the moment, not even really thinking that it would stick. And then it just totally did.”
Today We’re The Greatest progresses smoothly to the title track, which Joy co-wrote with her husband and closes out the record on a note of hard-earned hope. “I feel ‘Today We’re The Greatest’ encapsulates a lot of the themes in one song,” Joy muses. “Particularly, there’s a bridge that says Life is gory and boring sometimes. This song feels to me like a hopeful song even in amidst all the messiness and ennui of life. There are moments of triumph and loneliness, but I feel like ‘Today We’re The Greatest’ is cool because in one song it’s kind of saying, ‘Yes, life is all of these things, but we are still good in the moment.’ I felt like it was a good way to finish. It’s not saying everything is fine, everything is OK. We actually don’t know if everything is going to be OK. But still in this moment, we are great even amongst all our brokenness.”
As Middle Kids prepares to let this lovely wonder of an album loose on the world, the band is ready for more, even with Joy and Fitz carrying their new familial responsibilities. “It was interesting,” Joy says. “Before having my son, I was like ‘Am I going to care about music or anything after this?’ It’s been cool because your heart expands. It’s not like it takes over the other thing. There’s just room for another thing. And maybe it’s because it’s also at the same time as the pandemic or whatever, but I really feel more grateful than ever for the music and such a deep desire to keep making it, which is kind of cool. There have been times in the past when we were touring where I’ve been like, ‘Oh, this is so meaningless. I just want to go home.’ But I think I actually feel now like I just hope we can keep making music forever.”
But first, it’s time for this album, which was begun back in 2019, to finally be set free. “I feel really excited to put it out there, because I often feel I can’t let go of the songs until they’re out into the world,” Joy explains. “And when I haven’t let go of them, they’re still kind of taking up space inside me. I need to let them go so I can explore the new ones more. I’m excited for that release, so that I can now share the songs and not be the owner of them anymore.”