As the year winds down to a close, we’re sure you’re inundated by the regular events of Listmas where every music publication under the sun tells you what they think is the best art of the year. That’s definitely important, and ours is coming soon — but we also wanted to check in with artists we love that have had big years to get their take on the strange year of 2021.
The genre-defying collective Rainbow Kitten Surprise has had a quiet 2021 that’s about to get really loud with the recent announcement of their 2022 tour. We’ve been longtime fans of the band and their eclectic, innovative sound, and the release of their live album this past year is a thrilling reminder of what we’ve been missing with them off the road. Coming off of a run of hometown Nashville shows and tonight’s massive sold-out New Year’s Eve show in Washington, D.C. with Briston Maroney, we sat down with drummer Jess Haney to talk about his favorite albums of 2021 and returning to the road at Red Rocks:
How are you? I know that the band has remained pretty quiet through the pandemic, but now you’ve got the New Year’s Eve show coming up and tour dates out for 2022.
I honestly couldn’t be more excited to get back on a stage. It feels like it’s been forever — it’s been a long time! I’m not going to believe it until I’m actually on stage.
These are your first shows back, right?
They are! We haven’t played since February of 2020. It’s been a minute (laughs). I think the New Year’s show is sold-out, too, so I’m just very excited.
With no tours this year, what has 2021 looked like on the Rainbow Kitten side of things?
Mostly, it’s just been figuring out how to move forward through the pandemic. Now that it’s straightened up a little bit and we can play shows again, I think 2022 is going to be a lot more normal for us. The past few years have been a struggle, but it feels like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully, all is downhill from here.
One big thing y’all did this year was that you announced two shows at Red Rocks next year that immediately sold out. I know you’ve played there before, but how does it compare knowing that those sold-out shows are on the horizon?
Honestly, there’s nothing that compares to playing Red Rocks. Ever since I got into music, that was the end goal — if there was ever a place to see your favorite band, it was there. It’s like, Madison Square Garden and Red Rocks — you hold them in the same sentence, you know? It’s the mecca of live music. So being able to do that for the first time was one of the most special things I’ve ever done, and to go back and do it twice in a row is unreal to me.
I also think the live album release was pretty important for the band this year. The Georgia Theatre is one of my favorite venues, and I was really pleased to see that y’all caught the energy of the crowd so well on the record. What made you decide to release that?
A live album is an idea we’ve been kicking around for nearly as long as we’ve been a band. It was always a question of when we actually were going to do it, and the pandemic provided perfect timing — you know, there was the hole in the music space in that people weren’t able to experience live music. We wanted to make it like you could put some headphones on, close your eyes, and be at the show. We also had been playing these songs for years, and they evolved into something completely different than what they were on record. It became an opportunity to give our fans these versions of the songs in a recorded setting. We also put a lot of work into the physical version of the album, and I think we pulled off something special.
Something that I love about the bands is that your fans are incredibly devoted. I’ve caught you all a few times at festivals here and there, and there’s something about the passion of your fanbase that always strikes me. Do you feel like you’re doing anything intentionally to encourage that devotion?
I have no idea why our fans are so dedicated, and I’m so incredibly thankful that they care like they do. I mean, we haven’t played a show in two years and then they go and sell out Red Rocks for us. I like to think that the live show is a big part of it — we create an environment that makes people want to come back, but beyond that I really don’t know. I’m eternally grateful.
What albums have caught your ear this year?
I was absolutely obsessed with Briston Maroney’s Sunflower. He’s opening for us on New Year’s Eve and at Red Rocks next year — typically my Spotify Wrapped has been filled with podcasts and whatever music I had playing in the background while I cook, but this year it was all Briston. (laughs) He’s such a genuine, cool dude — I love the record. I also really love The Brook and the Bluff; they’re opening some of our tour next year and that album was really chill and enjoyable. I’ve never seen them live, but my wife introduced me to their music, and I just fell in love with them.
Last question — thoughts on Squid Game. Go.
(laughs) I have thoughts. Me and my wife watched it together and she’s pretty squeamish with violence and stuff, but we pulled through! I don’t know; I enjoyed it, but that’s about as far as I could say (laughs). I thought it was very interesting to me, and the way it just completely blew up was amazing, especially with it being as dark as it was.