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In Conversation w/ Jess Haney of Rainbow Kitten Surprise on Their New Vinyl “RKS! LIVE FROM ATHENS GEORGIA”, Record Collecting & Advice for Upcoming Bands

Photo By: Don VanCleave

Photo By: Don VanCleave

Initially from the small mountain town of Boone, North Carolina, Rainbow Kitten Surprise are a perfect example of how to create your own lane as an artist. While the music scene in Boone is known to be heavily doused in folk and bluegrass, RKS have crafted their own blend of genre-defying music which has enabled them to evolve from playing local hometown shows to performing at everything from the legendary Red Rocks to Lollapalooza.

We were lucky enough to get to speak with Jess Haney (drums, Rainbow Kitten Surprise) about the upcoming live album, it’s accompanying vinyl, the creative process behind putting together a dynamic setlist, and why this record deserves to be in your collection.

Dive right into the conversation below.


DISCOVER VINYL: So Jess, RKS! LIVE FROM ATHENS GEORGIA comes out this Friday. How are you feeling? How's everyone feeling?

JESS HANEY (Drums) of Rainbow Kitten Surprise: I mean, we're just really excited to finally have a live version of these songs for people to listen to. Since the original recordings, the songs have grown and evolved so much.

The live sound is a big part of who we are, so we're excited to have something like that in our discography I guess you would say.

Rainbow Kitten Surprise - Devil Like Me (Live from Athens Georgia)

It’s undeniable that there's just a different level of depth to RKS live shows which is why I'm really excited for the whole live concert and vinyl to come out. This isn't your guys' first time around on vinyl, but it is your first time pressing a live set on the record. Did you have any idea at the time of the performance that this was going to end up on vinyl?

No we didn't, the Georgia Theater is an incredible venue, and every time we play in Athens, it's always the most memorable thing ever. So we're like, OK, we're gonna film this show, we had also been recording audio from the shows the entire tour.

When we started tossing around the ideas for a live record, that was one of the first shows that came to mind. Just because it was like I said, the venue is incredible. The vibes in Athens are always incredible and we felt like we'd played a pretty good show that night.

Was that an early on stop on the tour or towards the end of the tour?

I think it was at The end of the tour, we ended up in Athens and we did two nights at the Georgia Theatre and then did a small under play at the 40 Watt Club which was where we first played in Athens.

Speaking of that, the performance that's being pressed on wax was recorded at the sold out show where you played tracks all the way from recent to deep cuts from your debut EP Mary. What goes in creatively when you’re putting together your setlists?

Really, we just go through the nights and try to make the set a little different than the night before, but also hit all the high notes. We play it by ear mostly, especially for those two-nighters and three-nighters. We don't want to play the same set every night for those people who might want to come to multiple nights. So it's like we throw in some oldies and throw in some new ones, we just try to mix it up.

So it's pretty fluid and natural for you guys?

Yeah, we try to make it fluid.

I'm sure everyone has their own personal favorite track from the upcoming release. What's your favorite track to play live?

I really enjoy playing a lot of the older ones because every time we play it, it takes me back to us just being a bunch of rowdy college kids. So I really like playing songs like Shameful Company and All’s Well That Ends, which are like oldies for us now.

Love that, I'll have to go back and revisit those deep cuts. You've mentioned before that you guys have roots in Boone, NC and the music scene there. How's the trip been from starting out playing local hometown shows to now playing large festivals and selling out venues?

I mean, it's crazy anyone who's ever experienced anything like it would tell you the same. It's not like you start playing and you're thinking “Yeah, we're gonna play huge shows all across the world”.

We were just wanting to play music with our friends to whoever would listen, you know. And then it just so happened that we were given the opportunity to continue to play music for even more people than we ever even imagined.

That's surreal. So, I personally loved your IGTV video of the vinyl walking through the packaging of the new record. Are you or any of the members of the band record collectors?

I am myself, that's why they always throw the unboxing videos and stuff like that to me. The funny thing was I got asked to do an unboxing video for the live album, and I was like, man, I just want to make it more fun I guess. So I did the stupid infomercial thing.

It had me laughing. What type of records do you collect in your personal collection?

I have a pretty wide range I guess. I usually just try to buy records that I really enjoy. I have a large collection of my newer stuff because I really started collecting when I was in college. I never really did the deep dig dive for the old classics.

I just kind of started buying things like I think one of my first records was Alt-J and then just kind of built it from there and now it's like I'll take whatever I can get. I just love vinyl a lot.

That's honestly pretty similar to my experience. Going back to the packaging video you did. The packaging is great from the clear hand drawn designs on the slip covers to the etching on the last vinyl. Can you tell us a little bit about the limited edition vinyl being released with the album for your fans?

When we started talking about the live record and the vinyl and everything, this was something that I wanted to be super hands on with just because I am a big vinyl guy now. We wanted to make a collectors item almost, you know? I have those records that inspired us to do this in my collection that I'm like, this is more than just the music, it's an art piece.

Something that 's nice to have. That's what we wanted to do going into it, we wanted to make it really special. Do crazy things that inspired us so other people could be inspired by it.

Well, I think you hit that on the nose, so Congrats on that and that.

Thank you so much.

Rainbow Kitten Surprise - Hide (Live from Athens Georgia)

Along with the release you are raising funds to support the Louisville Pride Foundation. Could you tell us a little bit about that and how fans can get involved with that?

Yeah, so partners of ours, PLUS1 who we have been going through for years to kind of help out the LGBTQ+ community. We asked them who's looking for help because it would be great for us to do something to help for Pride Month.

They brought up the Louisville Pride Foundation and that they were raising funds to build a LGBTQ+ Community Center, and it would house all of LGBTQ+ organizations and provide help to people who need it in the area. We thought that would be a great way for us to push for Pride Month and help where we can. We ended up raising funds through a merch drive to help towards their center so we're super super happy about that.

It’s great to see what you guys are doing to help the LGBTQ+ community and the level of involvement your fans are taking.

Absolutely we just wanna help whatever we can you know?

About Louisville Pride Foundation 

The Louisville Pride Foundation, are raising funds to open an ADA-compliant LGBTQ+ Community Center in Louisville, KY. The Center will be a home for events, programming, and connection to services/resources ranging from substance abuse to intimate partner violence to housing. They will provide backbone support to the city’s LGBTQ+ community and the organizations who support it.

The Center will help serve as a tangible space for queer individuals living in the South to feel safe. Together with PLUS1 the band has launched exclusive pride merch items including a t-shirt, socks, and a vinyl slipmat [available here] to aid in the foundation’s fundraising goal of $20k to open their doors during Louisville Pride this September.

RKS has partnered with PLUS1 so that 100% of the proceeds will go to support the Foundation. An option is also available for fans to donate straight to the organization in addition to or in lieu of any purchases made.

For additional information about the Louisville Pride Foundation, you can visit:

For additional information about PLUS1, you can visit:

So when Rainbow Kitten Surprise is on the road together, do you typically agree on what you listen to or are you fighting over the aux cord?

Oh man, way back in the day we would all have our turn. So that's how we kind of would introduce the music that we like to everyone else. Sometimes it worked, and then sometimes people would just put on their own headphones to be like, Nah. But I think that kind of bled over into the music somewhat. We all have different styles of music that we like and we try to incorporate all of that into what we make. That's why our music is like this hodgepodge of genres. I think that was a big part of it to be honest.

That makes sense, it's hard to put RKS in a box and that's part of the beauty to it. I do have a more off grid question for you - if you guys were to start a label, what we're a couple artists you'd love to work with. They can be signed or unsigned.

There's so many bands that I would love to work with. I mean, we've always wanted to work with Bon Iver, Sylvan Esso are also an amazing band from North Carolina that we've always looked up to and took inspiration from. A lot of the bands that we tour with are just incredible [Mt. Joy, Briston Maroney, Liz Cooper & The Stampede, & Illiterate Light to name a few].

It's like we're so surrounded by insane music, you almost can't even take it all in sometimes.

I won't keep you much longer, I just have one more question. What advice would you give to local bands coming up? I know that's a hard question with the changing environment, but outside of touring, what advice would you have to local bands coming up?

Outside of touring I guess not to be cliche, just have fun at it. Sometimes it's hard to have fun. If you're having fun It is very contagious to whoever you're playing for. If you're playing to your roommate or if you're in a bar with 20 people. If you're having fun, there's a pretty likely chance that they're going to have fun too.

Just do it also. That's one of the things it's like, you gotta take it from the bedroom to the bar sometimes to get it out there into the world. It's kind of like the only way to do it is to do it.

That’s great advice, starting out with those local hometown shows, building an authentic audience and getting traction from word of mouth buzz. Jess thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. Congratulations on the release tomorrow. We'll be streaming it all day and excited to add the vinyl to our collection. Have a great rest of your week!

Yeah, you as well. I really appreciate you talking about this record, it's pretty special to us, so we're excited to have it out.


In addition to getting to chat with Jess, we had the opportunity to hear from Mitch Vanhoose who not only recorded the live concert but also subsequently mixed it for vinyl. 

On the record and pressing live performances on vinyl, Mitch said "Honestly when I recorded the show I never thought it would become a record so I definitely did not make any preparations for it. The thing about live concerts is it’s a one-time shot that only lives in that one moment, so it was really fun to have a second shot at mixing for a released record. The real magic of this show was nothing I did as a mixer - it was all the energy in the room that the audience gave off. The band fed off that and played an amazing show. Luckily we hit record to capture it, and now we get to relive a memorable night as many times as we want.

As far as mixing with the intention of it being released on vinyl: I didn’t realize it was going to be a vinyl release when I mixed it, I just tried to make it feel like you were in the room that night and Adam Grover, our Mastering Engineer, made it fit between the grooves." 

“RKS! LIVE FROM ATHENS GEORGIA” is out now on everywhere for your pleasure, with vinyl and merch available also. Make sure to also check out all the great things The Louisville Pride Foundation & PLUS1 are doing and get inovled/donate if you are in a place to. 

Rainbow Kitten Surprise is: Sam Melo (lead vocals), Darrick “Bozzy” Keller (guitar, vocals), Ethan Goodpaster (lead guitar, vocals), Charlie Holt (bass, vocals), Jess Haney (drums)

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