In this, his ninth release, Kicking Angels expresses some of Price’s frustrations at the current state of affairs in the world, while keeping the music upbeat and energetic for the majority of the EP. Recorded at The Lodge Recording Studios in Indianapolis, Indiana, Kicking Angels represents both a look back and a continuation of the songwriting arc of Bill Price.
Musically, this EP is varied in style. The title track, “Kicking Angles” is country folk/rock. “50 Miles from No Place” has a rhythmic acoustic folk approach. “Be Nice or Get Out” harkens back to the 1960s and 70s while “Bringing Down the Sun” is more experimental in feel with its dreamy, atmospheric mood.
The title track takes a critical look at the danger and hypocrisy of scapegoating. There are several historical references in the song, the most obvious being Abraham Lincoln’s use of the phrase “the better angels of our nature,” from his 1861 inaugural address. While the country faced a Civil War, Lincoln appealed to the nation not to see each other as enemies, but friends. “That message is just lost on so many of us now,” Price says. “And when people get angry and fearful, they tend to scapegoat groups of people. It’s dangerous as well as immoral.”
The second track, “50 Miles from No Place,” was written many years ago and was under consideration for Price’s With the Eye of a Skeptic… album. It was ultimately rejected because that particular record had a more hopeful and positive message to it. “That song was written in response to a particular person of great notoriety in my home state whose behavior was, by any rational assessment, unacceptable to say the least,” Price says. “Yet this person, due to their success and high public profile, not only got away with their behavior but also was idolized by so many people who continued to make excuses and rationalize this awful behavior. I found the whole phenomenon to be quite odd. Sadly, it’s not limited to this one person, nor is it new. It’s as old as humanity itself.”
Fortunately, most people are interested in a more respectful and civil society, and “Be Nice or Get Out” is about this very topic. You can have your opinions and strong disagreements, but in the public sphere, just be nice. If you don’t, be prepared to live with the consequences. Price explains, “I think sometimes that rational people just need to speak up and say, ‘Your behavior is not acceptable. If you want to be taken seriously, act like an adult.’”
The last song, “Bringing Down the Sun,” is a lament on both scapegoating and those whose only goal seems to be to bring others down and to snuff out the light of hope and optimism.
The core band for these recordings includes: Michael Clark (mandolin, pedal steel guitar, electric slide guitar), Paul Holdman (electric lead guitar, background vocals), Bill Mallers (piano, Hammond organ, electric piano, accordion, harmony and background vocals) Grover Parido (cello), Bill Price (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bouzouki, cittern), Jamey Reid (drums and cajón), Jeff Stone (bass, fretless bass). Several members of the band added background and harmony vocals.
Stasia Demos and Sarah Grain both provided crucial harmony and background vocals, while Chase Cotten contributed trumpet, flugelhorn and background vocals.
“Everyone gave one hundred and ten percent on this little project. I remember Paul asking if he could come in and redo one of his guitar solos,” Price remembers. “He had worked it out during the tracking session and everyone, including me, was very pleased with it. Months later, Paul said, ‘I’m just not that happy with it. I know I can do something better,’ so I said, ‘Sure, if you’ve got a better idea, let’s give it a go and see what happens.’ It was, in fact, a really cool part. More unique.”
Recording began in November of 2018. Michael Graham engineered, mixed and co-produced the recording. Overdubs continued throughout the pandemic, well into the middle of 2021. New ideas kept popping up. “We spent a lot of time on these four songs. I think we almost put the same amount of time into them as we might have a full album,” Price says. “There are a lot of parts, instruments and changes going on within these tracks. Even though I loved all the elements, at times I wondered if we had too much going on—whether Michael could even make the songs work, in terms of mixing,” Price recalls. “Well, he did an incredible job of making all of these parts not only sound great but work together in a way that makes the songs really fun to listen to.”
“Be Nice or Get Out” is a larger-than-normal production with several one-eighty turnarounds. The intro of the song initially had a raw, in-your-face drum beat with a full-out band coming in on the first verse. But all of that was eventually replaced by a quiet little string ensemble which then exploded into a driving power pop tune—only to take another complete change in direction into a country-style bridge, complete with pedal steel, compliments of Michael Clark. From there the song goes into a 1960ish vocal build up, giving way to the keyboard/guitar solo section before returning to the last verse and chorus. But wait, there’s more! As the final chords fade away, a dreamy vocal segue, provided by Sarah Grain, leads the listener into the final, atmospheric song, “Bringing Down the Sun.”
“It’s great fun to work with everyone to figure out all of these parts and arrangements,” Price says. “I felt the original beginning that we had for “Be Nice or Get Out” was a bit too obvious. So I thought that since the opening lyric is written slightly tongue-in-cheek to reflect a very formal invitation, why not have a very hoity-toity type of string part instead. A little, ‘tea time for the royal family,’ type of thing. Once we had that general idea, Grover came back in with his cello. Both he and Michael had ideas on how to structure that section, so together, they worked up that intro and backing part under the first verse. That completely changed the song and sent it off in a new and interesting way. It kind of opened the door and blew off the limitations.”
While Price has always designed the covers for his albums, he usually jobs out the photography or any illustrations, as his skill set is more design and layout versus illustration. This time was a little different. “The cover concept for this EP was pretty simple,” Price explains. “I wanted to have some image of an angel that was rendered in a raw and energetic way—to symbolize some degree of conflict or even violence. I thought, I should be able to do that. Although I’m not a painter, I do have some idea of what constitutes a good composition and I have a decent sense of color theory, etc. So I said what the heck. I’ll give this a try.
“I did several paintings that were just tests, really, but while they were acceptable, they didn’t really knock my socks off. I was thinking I could spend a lot of time on this, trying to get that perfect image. So I hit upon a simple solution. Since I was trying many different approaches, why not just use a series of little paintings instead of trying to get one, perfect one? It actually made more sense in that the different styles came to represent the diversity of people in our world. All of us are different, but there’s an angel somewhere within all of us”.
Price ended up with 62 four-inch by four-inch paintings and selected 28 for the cover and inside of the CD jacket. He says, “I had a blast doing those. Maybe I’ll keep the series going. They were very small and so they had to be simple, which was actually good for me, since I’m not really a painter.”
A big thank you to Lorri Markum for the majority of the recording session photographs.
Kicking Angels is now available on this website.