An Interview with Lonnie Angle of Cardiknox
By: Dennis M. Kelly
DK: Good day Lonnie! Thanks so much for taking the time out from your tour to answer some questions for us today! How are you doing today?
LA: We’re doing great, thanks! Pretty cold as it’s only 15 degrees here in Montreal, but happy to be here regardless.
DK: Well, we’re not very much warmer here in Chicago either and it should warm up a bit more by the time you get here thankfully. Now you’re a few days into your tour with The Knocks, how have the shows been so far?
LA: They’ve been amazing! Sold out shows left and right and the crowds are killer … such massive dance parties all around.
DK: Awesome, so glad to hear that! You’re performing the Belmont in Montreal tonight, have you performed anywhere in Canada before this tour yet?
LA: Yes, we performed in Canada when we toured with Betty Who. We played Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. It’s always so fun hopping across the border. Especially here in Montreal when you feel like you’re in France.
DK: I must say, we’re really looking forward to having you here in Chicago at Lincoln Hall…
LA: Yes! We are thrilled to be playing Lincoln Hall again. It’s truly one of our favorite venues in the country! We’ve played it twice—once with Betty Who and once with Bleachers after we played Lollapalooza. The sound is great … the staff is stellar, and the crowds never disappoint.
DK: Yeah, I have yet to hear anything negative about Lincoln Hall, they’re obviously doing something right over there. The story of Cardiknox (so far) is exciting and exhilarating with each of you having had different backgrounds but you came together and after working on your musical ended up creating something new, positive, energizing and even uplifting. Your sound is fresh and your excitement in your performance genuine, I think it is safe to say that the world needs Cardiknox! Would you agree?
LA: Thanks for your kind words. And yes, we couldn’t agree more. ☺
DK: You signed to Warner Brothers, went on a European tour and have seen such tremendous growth and opportunities for the band last year, and all long before your debut album has even dropped. This all stemmed from the music you posted online (only)?
LA: The opportunities we’ve had thus far are a combination of people appreciating the music, hard work, and a killer team of people that work with us. Everyone from our lovable manager Evan Winiker to our brilliant producer John Shanks has helped us pave this kind of remarkable path. Signing with WBR was the final piece of a puzzle that we’ve been putting together for quite some time now. We’re so lucky to be working with a killer team at the label … and we have lots of plans for 2016!
DK: Did you shop your music around to any labels at all during that time?
LA: Thomas and I were lucky to take our time in choosing where we wanted to up, label-wise. There wasn’t a rush to sign a deal, and instead, we got to meet with various labels … feel them out, and ultimately go where it felt right.
DK: Was your music only available on your website and Soundcloud? Or did you have your music in other places online?
LA: Initially, we put songs up on SoundCloud and YouTube and eventually got them up on iTunes and streaming services as well. We were lucky to receive a fair amount of blog love from the get-go, so I think that’s where people probably first discovered us.
DK: Take note bands, you don’t always need a physical album to get discovered! How much time did you spend recording your debut album, “Portrait”?
LA: We were very fortunate to get nearly six dedicated months to write and record Portrait. We started working with John Shanks, and after a few writing sessions something really clicked and he made a commitment to do the album. This was actually before we even signed with WBR. John is the only resident producer at the famed Henson Recording Studios in Hollywood and we spent six blissful, exhausting, exhilarating, and magical months in that studio writing the album.
DK: Were there any guest musicians on the album?
LA: The only guest musician we brought in was Victor Indrizzo. He’s an amazing session drummer and he played drums on Shadowboxing. Other than that, Thomas and John tracked and programmed all the music.
DK: Very cool! How had the recording process for “Portrait” differed to the recordings you made previously?
LA: It was like night and day. In the past, we wrote and recorded in a living room in NYC—envision sirens and ambulances screaming in the background—worked with small studio speakers, and programmed with every sample we could get our hands on. Working at Henson was like being a kid in a candy shop. John is a total gearhead and has every piece of world-class gear you can imagine. The studio is next level, and you’d walk into the hallway and see Coldplay or Bieber across the hall. Pretty different from writing in a NYC living room.
DK: That had to have been like dying and going into recording studio Heaven with all that technology at your disposal! With all the places Cadiknox has “hung their hat”, where have you felt more comfortable in living?
LA: NYC. Definitely. We love that city so damn much. It was really hard to make the journey west to LA, but made the most sense for us in terms of music and the industry.
DK: That is completely understandable though. How long did it take for each of you to be creatively comfortable with each other and now how do you approach your days now that you’ve become successful doing what you both love doing?
LA: Thomas and I were comfortable with one another pretty quickly. We began working together developing a musical and have become collaborators in so many different ways—both business-wise and creatively. We both work really hard for Cardiknox and bring our separate strengths to the table.
DK: By the way, the video for “On My Way” was awesome and as I said about your music, the video really captures that theme of perseverance (as you mentioned in your bio), but also the energy and exhilaration of the successes gained from the perseverance. Did you have any input as to the direction of the video at all?
LA: Thank you! Yes, we spent a long time conceptualizing the video—from deciding that we wanted it to be a one-shot take, to finding the location, to finding and working with our friend and choreographer Natalie Gilmore on the dance, to styling the 80s-esque wardrobe. We were, and always tend to be, pretty clear in the vision we have for our music and this was definitely no exception. We were so lucky to have a killer team of people come together and help make the vision come to life!
DK: This is one video where all that hard work and forethought really pays off, it is a video you simply cannot turn away from and that is the truth. My compliments to everyone on the team who worked on that video, great job! How does it feel for you to be getting all the positive reviews now too?
LA: It’s always wonderful to have people appreciate what we’ve created. But it’s important to not let that be the driving force behind the work, because you can’t control how people react or feel about what you create. You can only create something because you personally believe in it and find it worth sharing.
DK: Wow, yes, I really admire your response and it is so true, thank you! I think another thing I really like about Cardiknox (aside from your music, of course) is you have the dance element and the beautiful artwork by Tristan Eaton (http://www.tristaneaton.net/) on the cover of “Portrait”, it is like the Holy Trinity (of sorts) music, art and dance and it all fits wonderfully together and I know when the album is released in March, it is going to be big! How did you come to get Tristan’s incredible artwork for the cover?
LA: We’ve been fans of Tristan’s work for quite some time. And John Shanks is a huge art lover and collector as well. One day we took a break in the studio and started geeking out over street artists we were into. We were looking at Tristan’s work, and John threw out the crazy idea that we should try and collaborate with him. We thought it was WAY too far fetched … but John had amazing connections in the art world, and before we knew it, Tristan was in the studio listening to some tunes and hanging with us. He is the raddest dude, and SO crazy talented. It’s kind of hard to envision any other artist capturing our sound in such an electric visual way. It was a very beautiful connection and collaboration.
DK: It looks like a lot going on in there, but I must confess, the only thing I can get is the boxing part likening it with the staying strong and persevering, can you enlighten me to more of the meanings behind the imagery of the album artwork?
LA: Tristan got very familiar with the themes and messaging of the album and reflected them in the images. So the boxer that you’re speaking of is a reflection of our song, SHADOWBOXING. She’s kind of like my alter ego and speaks to a time in my life where I was struggling with the relationship with my dad. Nearly everything in the portrait has meaning to it, but I don’t want to spell them out because it will be more fun for fans to get familiar with the album, and discover the ‘easter eggs’ in the portrait.
DK: Oh yes, I understand and when the album comes out, I too will take some good time to absorb the whole album with the artwork, something that I think gets lost with people these days, I think. You recently released “Into the Night” on your Soundcloud page (https://soundcloud.com/cardiknox), what is the background on this song?
LA: We wrote Into the Night with the producer Captain Cuts. They’re awesome dudes and we had so much creating this John Hughes-esque 80s inspired anthem. We all felt it should live at the end of a movie as someone victoriously walks off into the next chapter of their life. Captain Cuts had a huge year with their single Shut Up And Dance and we were stoked to work with them. Through the process they became real friends and we definitely hope to work with them again down the road.
DK: Well, it is definitely another great song and makes fans want your album all that much more! What are your thoughts on remixes? Doing remixes of other music and having your music remixed?
LA: It’s a great way to cross-pollenate. Like, it’s awesome to have someone in the EDM world remix our stuff because their fans get exposed to our music and our fans get exposed to theirs. And it’s always a fun challenge to take a song that we love and remix it. Recently we remixed Carly Rae Jepsen’s Run Away With Me and Troye Sivan’s Wild. These songs are SO good to begin with, it was a real challenge to find a way to reinvent them and make them feel a bit more Cardiknox.
DK: Yes, I think it would be fascinating to have other people working on my music and coming up with different aspects that may not have been considered before and getting to hear your own music for the first time in a whole new way and remixing someone else’s music would indeed be hard (for me, unless there was something in particular that stuck out to me that can be expanded upon. Well, great work on your remixes too by the way!! Getting back to being on the road, you have additional musicians with you, correct?
LA: Yep, we play with two other guys live. Greg Garman on drums and Chris Castellino on keys.
DK: Thanks! Do you think you might ever (one day) incorporate more dancers on stage to add to your performances?
LA: I don’t really see our show ever using dancers. I think the next thing we’ll add to the live show is a killer light show. But all these things take time … ☺
DK: True enough! For young, up and coming artists, dancers, (creative) people, what kind of tips/suggestions might you have for them on achieving their goals and living their dreams?
LA: Work hard. And then work harder. Believe in yourself and your vision regardless of what kind of initial feedback you get. Beethoven wasn’t made in a day.
DK: Do either of you do any warm ups, exercises or anything ahead of shows?
LA: I have a solid 20 minutes or so of vocal warm-ups that I always do. And I like to do some jumping jacks to get my blood pumping. A lil whiskey never hurts either.
DK: Your tour goes through February 13th, leaving off in Los Angeles, do you have some big, exciting plans for your album release? I can’t wait for it to be released myself!
LA: Aw, thanks! Yes, we will actually be out touring when the album drops. We have a very exciting tour coming up that will be announced soon!
DK: Looking forward to it! I know with a new album dropping, it is pretty hard to say what we can expect in the coming months from Cardiknox, but what would you like to see the band accomplishing this year?
LA: We would love to do our first headline tour this year, play a bunch of summer festivals and make our way back to Europe.
DK: Those are very realistic and attainable goals indeed and I sincerely hope they come through for you, you’re both very deserving people! Are there any final words you’d like to share with our readers today?
LA: Thanks for hanging with us! We could not be doing what we love without you…so truly, from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!!
DK: Well, I cannot thank you enough once again for taking the time out to answer these questions and I wish nothing but tremendous success for your show here in Chicago on 23rd at Lincoln Hall and more so with your careers! Thanks again!
LA: Thanks, Dennis!
DK: Anytime! Take care!
Picture this: A livewire siren with a theater background, Lonnie Angle, and a multi-instrumentalist with a decade in a major label band under his belt, Thomas Dutton, team up to create something larger than themselves. That is Cardiknox in a nutshell.
The two Seattle natives first met in 2010. Thomas was in the midst of transforming Razia’s Shadow: A Musical—an album by his previous band Forgive Durden—into an off-Broadway stage production. Lonnie came onboard to help, and they picked up and moved to the Big Apple together. Following a year of development, the show sold out two nights at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater in New York City. Despite the success, Lonnie and Thomas agreed it was time to collectively pursue a new muse.
“That chapter had run its course,” admits Thomas. “We asked ourselves, ‘Do we want to go into the next phase of this musical or totally switch it up and begin working on music for a little while?’ So, we recorded a bunch of songs and began playing shows across New York. All of the pieces felt right in terms of the sounds, melodies, and message. It clicked. It was exactly what we were going for.”
“We really found a sound,” agrees Lonnie. “It’s pop, but there are so many different elements. It’s indie, electronic, epic, cinematic, nostalgic, and even a little eighties-inspired.”
As soon as the duo began releasing songs online in 2013 under the moniker Cardiknox, a play on Dutton’s mother’s maiden name Cardinaux, a palpable buzz materialized. It’s safe to say everybody fell in love with that endearing, entrancing, and enigmatic audio amalgam. By 2014, MTV dubbed “Black Wayfarers” a “Song of the Summer,” VH1 praised Cardiknox’s “almost unhealthy amount of star quality,” while Fuse proclaimed them “head turners that are about to take over.” They also received acclaim from Spin, Stereogum, Neon Gold, Billboard, AV Club, and many other outlets.
On the strength of their music, Grammy Award-winning producer John Shanks decided to work on a full-length with the pair at Henson Recording Studios in Los Angeles, espousing the belief that “the label situation would figure itself out.” It did when Warner Bros. Records signed Cardiknox in 2015, and they relocated to the West Coast. (If you’ve lost count of how many times they’ve moved, it’s all good because Thomas will tell you they have too!) Now, their 2016 full-length debut threads together rich soundscapes, thick, booming beats, and dynamic vocal delivery.
“Doors” tiptoes between sparse percussion and ethereal synths culminating on an unshakable chant—“My life begins every time a door closes, another one opens.”
“It’s a first taste,” says Lonnie. “There’s a theme of perseverance on the album. And in many ways, this song is about becoming a band, writing music, and finding ourselves as artists. Like many creative ventures, you start out unsure and often question your path, but there’s always tomorrow. If you keep going, keep pushing…it works out.”
“We approached ‘Doors’ almost like a hip-hop song,” Thomas elaborates. “I’m always amazed by how powerful a Drake or Kanye West track can be with so little going on musically. It’s minimalist, but it still connects and feels big. We wanted to write a simple, powerful, and anthemic song.”
Elsewhere, “Shadowboxing” segues from shimmering keys into an impassioned declaration contrasted with soft spoken word. “A lot of the album addresses my parents’ divorce during my early adulthood,” she sighs. “I didn’t talk to my dad for about a year, and this song touches on that. It speaks to the dissolution of that marriage and having to look at my life without my parents being together.”
Then, there’s “On My Way,” which tempers an electronic harmony with a galloping, uplifting refrain. “When you’re pursuing something less traditional career-wise, there’s an interesting juxtaposition between yourself and your friends who have ‘normal jobs,’ are getting married, having kids, and buying houses,” explains Thomas. “‘On My Way’ reaffirms that what we’re doing is the right thing for us. We can see where we want to be, and we’re on our way.”
Along the way, they’ve become an impressive live presence. In addition to tours with the likes of Betty Who, Cardiknox captivated audiences everywhere from Lollapalooza and Sasquatch to Reading and Leeds, Rock en Seine, Pukkelpop, and Firefly. Their signature musical pastiche also becomes reflected in the album cover by renowned muralist Tristan Eaton who captured the life of the sonic landscape in a stunning portrait of Lonnie.
Cardiknox welcome everybody to share in their dream. “I want people to walk away from the music feeling hopeful,” Lonnie leaves off. “The music is emotional and comes from a real place. It’s not just a catchy hook—there’s meaning behind it.”
“It’s very important for us to feel like what we’re doing matters in this world,” continues Thomas. “I’d love for everybody to feel empowered and know what they’re doing matters too.”