Chicago – L.A. duo Cardiknox is ready to unveil Portrait, the indie pop band’s debut album. The masterminds behind Cardiknox – Lonnie Angle and Thomas Dutton – have been hard at work, making their dreams come true, despite the occasional obstacles here and there. The two met in Seattle, became friends, and together moved to New York City, to work on a musical they created, along with Dutton’s brother. Once in New York, the dynamic duo began making music. In 2013 Cardiknox was born. After a few bumps in the road, Cardiknox signed with Warner Bros. Records. Lonnie and Thomas then relocated to Los Angeles, where they worked with Grammy Award-winning producer John Shanks, at Henson Recording Studios, on Portrait.
During a recent visit to Chicago, Lonnie and Thomas sat down with Best New Bands, before Cardiknox performed with The Knocks at Lincoln Hall, to discuss Portrait. The two also talked musicals, sticking it to the man, and women making their voices heard from within the music industry, all while finishing each others sentences and smiling endearingly at each other.
First of all, the album artwork Tristan Eaton created for Portrait is amazing! Is the artist a friend of yours?
Lonnie: He has become a friend in the process. He’s a badass, Tristan, the artist. He’s a muralist, all over the world.
Thomas: His iconic style is doing…
Lonnie: Female portraits.
Thomas: Of past supermodels and movie stars.
Lonnie: Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O.
Thomas: The layers always reveal these other textures… We had been big fans of him, and during the recording process, the producer – he’s a huge fan of street art too; he’s a collector of street art – we started talking about his work. He was like, “We should get him to do something for the album cover.” Yeah, but how are we ever going to get that? He’s like, “Let me make a phone call.” [laughs] He ended up coming into the studio. We got to meet him. He’s a super nice guy, so chill. We shared with him some of our most meaningful lyrics… The artwork is of Lonnie’s face. I’m on the Polaroid, around the neck.
Lonnie: You’re around my neck and my soul. [Everyone laughs]
What’s the meaning behind the title?
Lonnie: It’s like a double meaning, in that the songs are very much a reflection of Thomas and I. They are portraits of us, lyrically. Then working with Tristan on building the album cover, the art feels like this perfect visual representation of the personal portrait we wrote, as an album.
Let’s talk about “Into the Night.” What inspired this song?
Thomas: “Into the Night” we wrote with these guys Ben and Ryan, the producers behind Captain Cuts. We went into their studio and got the music going. We were all sitting there, vibing out to it, and it felt really nostalgic but empowering, like the credits are rolling at the end of a movie kind of thing… We really wanted to tap into that and capture that feeling with the lyrics and melody, like a farewell but fresh start, moving on sort of thing.
In “Doors” you sing, “Everytime a door closes another one opens.” In terms of your music career what doors have closed and opened for you?
Lonnie: A great door that closed and opened all at one time, [was when] we were in the midst of writing. We actually were out in New York for a couple of weeks… At that point, we were being courted by this major record label. It had been a couple of months of them signing us and management talking numbers and blah, blah, blah. It seemed like a done deal. We got a call from our manager, late one night, to let us know it was basically falling apart. We were like, “What the fuck?” The next morning, Thomas was like, “Let me play you this thing that I wrote.” He started singing the chorus to “Earthquake,” and I lost my shit!
Thomas: The main line is “I will rise like a phoenix from the ashes.” It’s about empowerment, being reborn, overcoming…
Lonnie: And not letting “the man” stop you.
Thomas: That song ended up being one of the main songs that got us signed to Warner Bros. Once Warner Bros. came into the picture, they were really great about [telling us to] keep going, keep doing what you’re doing. All the weight was lifted… It was such a nice feeling to have the support of people behind you. Once that happened, “Doors” really came out of the experience of having to trust the journey.
Lonnie: In hindsight, it’s so good that we are where we are, for so many reasons.
I’ve heard so many great things about Warner Bros. Records.
Lonnie: They are an artist-friendly label. They really trust our artistic vision and let us run with it. We are lucky, very lucky.
You are both fans of musicals and come from backgrounds in music theater, so I must ask, what are some of your favorite musicals?
Lonnie: Spring Awakening is mine. Boom!
Thomas: I grew up with movie musicals. I didn’t go to see many musicals, when I was growing up. I have since then, but for me a musical is a Disney movie or Willy Wonka or something like that… Aladdin is probably one of my favorites.
Lonnie: He’s suffering so hard! [Laughs]
Thomas: No, I just feel like I have to explain it because when I say Aladdin, people are like, “What!”
I get it, I was a 90s kid obsessed with The Lion King. How has coming from a background in musical theater affected your live performance?
Lonnie: For me, it’s everything. I grew up performing musicals. It’s second nature to me. When I start to sing songs that we’ve written, that are our stories, I can’t help but just experience them onstage. The performance is a big part of it for me. I’m dramatic. I’m a little bit dramatic! [Laughs] I think also in terms of songwriting…
Thomas: The songwriting and even the visuals. The videos. The dance. We want things to be powerful and dramatic.
Lonnie, in preparing for our interview, I read a lot of interviews and articles in connection to Cardiknox, and it seemed like almost every one found something to say about your clothes and fashion. My immediate reaction came from a place of frustration because female musicians are more than their clothes. They are more than a pretty face. Do you find yourself often in this industry having to prove yourself more because you’re a woman, and do you ever get tired of talking about your clothing choices?
Lonnie: Luckily, I feel I haven’t had to talk about my clothes that much. I think that with our show, I think of it as a whole performance… It’s so much more than a collection of songs. It’s a performance. It’s how you see it. It’s how it makes you feel. I feel like what I wear is an extension of that. But I agree with you, in that I think of myself as so much more than what I look like. As a woman, you want your voice to be heard. You want your ideas to be heard. You’re not just there to be seen. And in this industry, which is very sexist and male dominated, it’s important that you aren’t just seen that way. I think can let your clothing and your fashion be one arm of what you’re doing, as long as it’s strong on the other side.
Lonnie is definitely doing it strong on both sides. And Thomas is too! Hear the strength of Cardiknox on Portrait, which is available on iTunes and Amazon. You can also catch the duo’s theatrical performance live. Cardiknox is now on tour with Carly Rae Jepsen. A list of tour dates can be found on the Cardiknox Facebook page.
Photo credit: Sarah Hess for Best New Bands
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.