As “Salt over sugar” in the Nov. 16 issue of WORLD looks at the changes in Christian music due to the industry’s digital revolution, we wanted to profile artists who represent this trend. Today we look at the band Kye Kye and its use of online marketing.
At the end of 2012, the band Kye Kye raised nearly $41,000 in 30 days through Kickstarter to create its second album, Fantasize. Band members hadn’t spent any money on publicity, but word of their ethereal electronic music spread as they opened for musicians like John Mark McMillan and Future of Forestry, and fans shared their music and videos with their friends.
“It makes fans feel like they are a part of something special,” said Tommy Phelan, the group’s drummer. “It’s humbling to see that 1,000 people wanted to see it happen.”
It’s been three years since Kye Kye—made up of siblings Tim, Olga, and Alex Yagolnikov, and Phelan, Olga’s husband—released its debut album, Young Love. Filled with guitar-driven melodies, layered synthesizers, and haunting vocals, the album expressed the “initial spark” of the spiritual awakening the band went through a few years ago. Lyrics, such as these from the song “Introduce Myself” (see video below), convey this exciting young love: “Bliss, it’s not what I’ve done / It’s you that died and made loss so full of life / Friend, is it love I hear? / To have your words in my mind, it’s so clear.”
And fans wanted to hear more. Pledges to support the new album came in between $1 and $3,500, with donors having chances at prizes like advance copies of the album, a year’s worth of merchandise, and a 30-minute Skype session with the band. Kye Kye, which is the phonetic spelling of the Greek symbol for church (Chi of Chi-Rho), has finished recording the album and plans to release Fantasize early next year. Tim Yagolnikov said this album goes beyond the initial “honeymoon phase” in their spiritual lives and digs into the struggles, the questions, and the journey of a long-term relationship with God: “We think about a lot of these things as honestly as we can. That’s what connects with people, being honest with where we’re at.”
The Estonian-born Yagolnikov siblings grew up in a Christian home, where music was always a part of their lives. Tim initially played in another rock band and felt frustrated having to articulate his ideas to others, so he went to a Guitar Center store and bought programming software, allowing him to experiment and create his own music. Around the same time, Olga had taught herself the guitar, and the two realized that her vocals blended well with Tim’s programming. Tim then quit his band and the two started writing together, pulling in their brother Alex on the piano and Tommy Phelan on the drums.
The unsigned band has enjoyed its independence, not wanting to lose control of its sound or its content. It’s allowed band members to write songs that express what’s going on in their lives without the outside pressures from Christians who want every song to be a “crazy Jesus song” and secular fans who want them to sing less about their faith.
“We’re just going to write about what we are inspired by,” Alex said. “If we were inspired by nature and rivers we’d write about that, but it just so happens we’re inspired with a relationship with God and life and that’s what we write about.”
Without a label, Kye Kye had to do everything on its own for the first two years—it wasn’t until this year that the group hired a booking agent, a distributor, and a manager. To promote its music, the band has posted videos, photos, and interviews online to get people talking. Yet with all the hype around social media, Kye Kye is keeping music the focus.
“We do love social media but we really want to turn tables around to make it all about the music,” Olga said. “We live in a generation where it’s all about a single and making a hit, and I just feel like with that kind of mentality you don’t really ever leave that; you don’t make history.”
And to make that history, the band takes the individual strengths of each member and layers them on top of each other to create a finished masterpiece. Olga often starts writing the vocals to a song, then sends it over to Tim, who adds the electronic elements. Other times, Tim sends a chunk of a song he’s written to Olga, who then writes in her part. Then all the members get together to work out the kinks and add the final touches.
Part of that coordination that creates a cohesive sound to the band’s music comes from the familiarity of family. Because they’ve grown up together, they understand each other’s personalities and quirks, and know how to handle conflict.
“Being family makes it so much easier through struggles or seasons of life,” Alex said. “Knowing your siblings are there with you on the road makes it feel like home on the road. I really wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Watch the video for the song “Honest Affection” from Kye Kye's new album, Fantasize: