Nearly two years ago, I had the opportunity to see the Unlikely Candidates open for Brick + Mortar at Downtown Berkeley’s much-loved Cornerstone Craft Beer & Live Music. Immediate captivation is an inevitable side effect when witnessing the band’s chaotically high-energy live shows, with frontman Kyle Morris pulling stunt after stunt and dancing with concertgoers. The crowd at Cornerstone was sparse that night, but because of the band’s booming sound, it felt like a much bigger audience was reacting to the seamlessly produced songs and Morris’ impressive vocals.
In an interview with The Daily Californian, the band’s bassist, Jared Hornbeek, shared the origins of this stage presence, which is notably lively and breathtaking even by most rock concert standards. Pretty much everyone in the band’s current lineup comes from a pop-punk background, and they put in special effort to fill their sets with constant movement.
“We used to film our practices and watch (them) and … actually try and perform like we were playing a live show,” Hornbeek said. “We would go back and watch it and be like, ‘What can we do to kind of fill these times and make everything sync and work well together?’ ”
For the time being, however, social distancing measures enacted as a result of COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, have put the band’s live shows on hold. As has been the case for virtually all musicians in the midst of this pandemic, the Unlikely Candidates’ tour was canceled three weeks in. One of its stops would have been Berkeley’s Cornerstone.
According to Hornbeek, it was a tour that got off to a bumpy start before meeting its untimely end. The band’s van broke down 20 miles outside of Fort Worth, Texas, and guitarist Cole Male’s father let the band use his truck to tour while the van was getting fixed. About a week after the van was repaired, the tour was canceled.
“We’re trying to reschedule all the dates that we canceled. We’re trying to do it in July but … it’s looking like this thing might last a lot longer than we all expected,” Hornbeek said. “In the meantime, though, we’re going to keep writing music, keep putting out music and do everything that we can do to continue to push this band forward.”
Despite these circumstances, the band’s future still looks as bright as its history has been thus far. For Hornbeek, his role with the band started as that of just a friend and fan. After Hornbeek invited the Unlikely Candidates to play at South by Southwest in 2013, the band was approached by label representatives while loading gear. Two days later, the Unlikely Candidates signed a deal with Atlantic Records.
Initially, Hornbeek voiced excitement about potentially joining the band on tour as a manager. Instead, he inadvertently became its bassist.
“They were like, ‘We actually need a bass player,’ and I was like, ‘Well s—, I play bass,’ so it kind of all just fell into place,” Hornbeek said. “I learned the songs … on, like, a broken acoustic guitar, and then flew out and just got into the studio with them and we started doing rehearsals and just nailed it, and they were like, ‘All right, you’re in the band.’ ”
Now the band has an album in the works set to be released this year, its first LP after a series of EPs. It also just released a new single, “Invincible,” and the single preceding this release, “Novocaine,” hit No. 1 on Billboard’s alternative music chart.
Hornbeek described the rising popularity of “Novocaine” as a “crazy ride,” noting that it was a waiting game watching the song rise up the charts. But it paid off in the end, and it continues to pay off.
“It was a race, but we were playing the position of the tortoise … (rather) than the hare and kind of just took it slow and rode it out,” Hornbeek said.
“Novocaine” is just one of the band’s many songs that boasts an uncannily cinematic sound that, according Hornbeek, just worked out that way. It’s the kind of sound that makes the rock subgenres of indie and alternative feel like they’re not quite getting the entire picture. This, as Hornbeek shared, is the result of the band just trying to do new things and keep it fun.
It’s also the kind of sound that lends itself extremely well to vigorous concerts, even in relatively small venues like Cornerstone. While that’s on hold, though, the group isn’t going anywhere — Hornbeek and the band’s other members will be doing livestreams on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook every Wednesday at 3 p.m. CST. What matters most to the band, Hornbeek said, is keeping fans engaged virtually until they can meet again in concert venues.