It would be easy to chalk up Jamie Kilstein’s latest project – Jamie Kilstein and The Agenda – as the latest progression in a career that has seen the New Jersey native make his mark as a stand-up comedian, author and podcast co-host. But in reality, this may have been the path he should have been on all along.
“I played music before I did stand-up,” said Kilstein, whose band hits Bowery Electric in NYC on Thursday. “I remember specifically telling my horrified father when he was trying to convince me to go to college and asked if I had a back-up plan for comedy. ‘Yeah dad, I play in a band.’”
He laughs, and it was in the business of getting laughs where he made his name, with music taking a backseat. He assumed it would stay there, but there were plenty of subtle – and not so subtle – hints that a change was in the forecast.
“It was so obvious to everybody but me that I wanted to do it,” he said. “When I started doing these rants that I’ve done on Conan and Showtime, you see me tapping my foot. When I toured with Reggie Watts, I would have him come out and beatbox while I did one of the rants. Or when I was in Australia, I had Tim Minchin play with me, and I always wanted it to be music.”
Finally, an odd set of circumstances conspired to make the music happen for Kilstein. I ask him where he found the time to add music into a hectic schedule that also includes training on the mats at the academy of jiu-jitsu great Marcelo Garcia.
“Well, I quit drinking a few years ago, and the good thing about having addiction in my family and an addictive personality is that you gotta do something,” he said. “Once you quit the bad s**t you’re addicted to, you have a lot of time on your hands. The first year, my partner (Allison Kilkenny) and I wrote a book (#Newsfail) for Simon and Schuster, then the second year, I wrote an album, and the second album is almost ready to go once this tour is done and the first album comes out.”
That’s the origin story of Jamie Kilstein and The Agenda, and you can hear the excitement in his voice.
“It’s different,” Kilstein said. “And luckily, my last time at the airport was awful, so I’m kind of excited to get around that. But it’s that same deal where it’s like I’m 33 years old and I’ve wanted to play in a band since I was 13 years old. So even if nobody shows up or there are 30 people in the audience, I’m so happy to go to band practice. I’m spending four hours a day practicing. Not because I have to, but because I want to. I know that I’m good when it comes to politics, I know that I’m good when it comes to comedy. I know the band’s good, I know the album’s good. But now I want to challenge myself even more. It’s that fighter part of me where now I want to become the best guitar player in the world.”
And it all begins on the road, where Kilstein and company (Liz Kelly (drums, vocals), Erek Smith (bass), and Jaime Marcelo (guitar)) are going all in to make sure this thing works. It’s not a vanity project. It’s a rock and roll band.
“What I said to myself is that I’m not going to put out an album unless instrumentally you strip away the words and strip away everything and it’s killer,” said Kilstein, who will see the band’s first album, A Bit Much, released on July 22. “I don’t want to be a prop comic or a music comic. We are musicians and it’s a band. We want to do s**t where people can come to see us three nights in a row and it will be different, even though we’re a new band. And that’s what’s exciting, that people are going for it. People haven’t even really heard the record yet and they’re still coming to multiple shows and somehow already know words of songs. We’re trying to keep it exciting. I’m never gonna do something that I can’t throw a hundred percent heart into.”
Kilstein is all in and he’s not toning down anything for the pop charts. It’s still Kilstein, but amplified. And if folks show up just for the music and not necessarily to hear the lyrics, that’s cool too.
“My audience is people who have just been s**t on,” he said. “It’s feminists, it’s LGBT people, it’s vegans, it’s all these people. And for a f**king night, all of us, including myself, just aren’t insecure, and it’s such a beautiful thing. Even at these small shows, I see all these people slowly drop their insecurities because of music, because they know they’re around like-minded people.
“I think even if you don’t care about the overt politics, if you are in a room with a bunch of people that are intensely different and awkward and listening to this music, you’re still being affected,” Kilstein continues. “To me, it’s just as political to say ‘hey, you’re gonna be okay. S**t sucks sometimes, but here’s a room full of people who have your back.’ I think that’s as much a political statement as saying ‘Vote for Bernie Sanders’ or ‘F**k the NRA.’ And that would be cool if people start coming to the shows because of the music. I would totally be down with that.”
Jamie Kilstein and The Agenda play Bowery Electric on Thursday, April 28. For tickets, click here