WWYDF, the debut album from Kiings, is the Milwaukee-based electronic two-piece’s crowning achievement. Though the 11-song effort—an acronym for “What Would You Die For”—is technically the production pair’s first true record, Kiings have been ascending ever closer to the throne in the city’s electronic music scene since the group’s late 2012 outset with sleek and nuanced remixes of songs from notable musicians, both in-state and beyond. Many of them take part on WWYDF, but this time around, the eclectic cast of collaborators (which spans two countries and every stylistic cranny from hip-hop to folk to pop) was willing to abdicate creative control and let Kiings reign supreme.
Sean Foran says he and his Kiings counterpart Chris Siegel started playing together in middle school, when they “messed around with really cheap keyboards” while both living in their native Brown Deer. It continued into high school before college (and Foran’s relocation to Chicago) halted the collaboration. Both plied their years of experience into individually striking out to make beats and other audio adjustments for other musicians.
“More often than not, we were never fully satisfied with what happened after we gave them the track,” Siegel says. “It was out of our hands at that point. It wasn’t our track. We just got a little fed up with making really good quality things, then not being in control of them.”
Disappointed with how their freelance production ventures were going, the kindred spirits found themselves together again, focusing their frustration on a new endeavor: Kiings.
“We’d always keep coming back to the music in one way or another, until finally when 2012 came around and we were like, ‘Fuck it. Let’s just do it. Let’s go all the way,’” Foran says.
The new project with old pals was quick to establish a local presence with (usually unsolicited) remixes that paid electronic homage to other artists’ material. One person to take early notice of Kiings’ capabilities was 88Nine Radio Milwaukee DJ and Digital Manager Tarik Moody.
“I was curious about who these kids were,” Moody says. “I just liked their attitudes.”
Moody presented them with tracks from Field Report’s “Route 18” and asked the young duo to remix it. The Kiingsmen didn’t only come through, they exceeded their new mentor’s expectations by driving to Madison to have Phox singer Monica Martin add a vocal melody to the electro-folk redressing.
“There was ambition there that I liked, and also a humbleness that I liked. Ever since then, I wanted to help these guys out,” Moody says.
With the DJ’s assistance or through their own efforts, Siegel and Foran also remixed songs by other noted Wisconsin acts like Phox, Vic And Gab, Group Of The Altos, Boy Blue, as well as out-of-state artists like James Vincent McMorrow and Christine Hoberg. As their remixing reputation was swelling, Kiings was quietly cobbling together instrumental material for their own album and slowly enlisting singers and rappers to help flesh out the skeletons of songs the duo had composed.
“When we became Kiings, our initial intentions were to put out an album. It’s been lengthier than we thought, but in a way, it was meant to be,” Siegel says. “It’s been fun to just see the process of all these tracks that we had no idea who we’d ever find for them, and they were here, sitting in Milwaukee.”
WWYDF features a role reversal between some familiar Kiings collaborators, this time with the producers calling the shots. Foran and Siegel played or programmed all the music on WWYDF, wrote the majority of the lyrics and melodies, and even mastered the album. The remaining creative crannies were addressed by a versatile group of local, national, and international musicians such as bliss & alice, WebsterX, King Courteen, Hoberg, Siren, Rae Cassidy, Colin Plant, Pizzle, Piper Davis, milo, and Field Report’s Christopher Porterfield.
“I had this tune about dry-humping in church camp, so I just sent them the vocal and they built the entire thing out of that,” Porterfield says. “It ends up just sounding like them. That’s their point of view—bringing in all these other things and creating a Kiings-shaped thing from it.”
Porterfield’s track (entitled “Garden”) also features a verse from rapper milo. Another WWYDF track somehow functionally meshes Kiings’ music and vocal accompaniment with King Courteen’s folk sensibilities, and rhyme-spitting of Bliss & Alive and WebsterX.
“That’s the difference between a remix and the originals. They’re working back and forth with these artists on the tracks,” Moody says. “They’re trying to figure it all out together. This is actually a collaborative album.”
It took almost three years and an inside-out approach, but Kiings officially has a debut album to their credit. Immediate plans include a return to remixing to put some sheen on another Phox song, but Kiings have found a trusted stable of collaborators to contribute to a follow-up.
“We’ll have another album out much quicker than this one,” Siegel says.
Kiings’ WWYDF album release party is Thursday night at Hotel Foster. In addition to a Kiings performance, Christopher Porterfield, WebsterX, bliss & alice, King Courteen, Siren, and Colin Plant will make on-stage appearances. The show begins at 9 p.m. and costs $5 before 11 o’clock, and $7 thereafter. Stream WWYDF below.