2020 saw countless bands in their prime clinging on to what little remained of their newly started careers as the effects of the pandemic devastated much of the music industry. Many were unable to come back from the ashes but luckily for punk trio Kills Birds, they came out of this period of uncertainty mostly unscathed.
It’s 10am in Los Angeles when The Forty-Five speaks to frontwoman, Nina Ljeti, and we’ve caught her on a rare moment of downtime. “We got back from tour on Saturday and we have a week of before we head to Mexico. Then our album comes out in 11 days, which is pretty scary and exciting…” she tells us. It’s a pretty big change of pace in comparison to 365 days ago, but they’re not to be taking it for granted any time soon.
Can you talk us through the origins of Kills Birds?
I moved to LA in 2013, to direct a movie. Around the same time, I met Jacob who was working in the same circles as me as an actor. We became really good friends, and a few years after that, we started getting together just to work on music with no real goal in mind. We were making R&B and disco songs, and were just experimenting with what we could create together. At some point, in that experimentation, we wrote what ended up being the first song that Kills Birds ever made – ‘High’ on the first record – and we still didn’t really do anything about it until a year and a half later when we decided to form a band. It was purely by accident. There was no end goal in mind; we were just looking for a way to escape the industry that we were in.
How did you come to work with Dave Grohl on your upcoming album?
A really great friend of mine is good friends with him. She connected us and I went to visit him at Studio 606. Right there in that moment is when he offered his studio up to my band to record. After that encounter, Dave and I remained friends and we still talk very often. We ended up doing that in September of last year, and then he started championing our band on a more public platform. It’s hard to encapsulate what Dave is in a few words because it’s so rare to meet a person who has so much success but is still grounded, kind and supportive – I’m saying this as a person who lives in Los Angeles and is surrounded by people like that on a daily basis – he’s definitely a rare breed.
You’ve previously said that you got into music because you were trying to emulate the way Kurt Cobain sang, and now you’ve recorded an album on the same desk that ‘Nevermind’ was recorded on. Is it possible to put that experience into words?
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put that experience into words. I got into Nirvana a lot later than most kids because I’m from a Bosnian family. The culture that I grew up in is very different; I didn’t have a person to introduce me to the music that I came to love so I had to stumble upon Nirvana myself on LimeWire. If I was going to tell 17-year-old Nina that she’d be talking to Dave Grohl and Chris Novoselic, and they’d be into her music, I think she’d have a heart attack. That was never in my realm of possibility. I still emulate Kurt Cobain’s vocals and look to him as inspiration. Maybe in 10 years I’ll be able to summarise what’s going through my mind, but right now, it still doesn’t feel real.
What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned about yourselves from your self-titled debut to ‘Married’?
‘Married’ has solidified our loyalty to each other, and the music that we make. On a more individual level, I’ve definitely honed in on how I wish to express and represent myself in the band; cancelling out all the noise around me of what I’m supposed to do as a woman in alternative music – as person who’s a user of social media – ignoring all of that and focusing in on what are artists saying. That was definitely the hardest thing to overcome as the front person.
You have to go through moments of discomfort or adversity to really know how strong you are. Some people have to go through it more often than others because they have less belief in themselves. For the first time in my entire life, I really feel like I have something to say and I have the power to do something. I have the strength to be able to say how I feel to get through these moments of difficulty, and then come out still honest, still true to myself, and to have some of the confidence that I’ve lacked for my entire life being in this band.
I’m curious to see where we’ll go. I still struggle with those insecurities, and there are still things that we will continue working on for the rest of our lives. We’re gonna keep developing as people as much as we’re going to be developing as artists. I’m very excited to see who will become even a year or two from now.
You’re going to be coming to the UK for the first time as part of The Great Escape’s First Fifty showcase which is a pretty big development. How does that feel?
I’m so excited. London is my favourite city in the world, so I’m very excited to play in the UK and see more of it. I hope people are going to be into us when we go. It’s an honour to play overseas, and it’s been a long time coming as obviously we weren’t able to do that for the last year and a half. Everything in Europe feels so much cooler so I’m very excited.
Kills Birds are part of The Great Escape festival’s First Fifty. They play an online showcase for the festival on November 18.