It's been roughly two years since the Outfit last put out an album. During that time, the band's current members — singer/guitarist Eric Johnston, bassist Mike King, drummer RJ Powers and lead guitarist Mikael Kilates — have been developing their sound, going from its earlier, highly promising indie pop to something grittier, more focused and powerful; the results can be heard on the act's new EP, Tough Kids. As a lyricist, Johnston offers insightful observations about everyday situations and the human condition. We sat down with him recently and discussed the new EP, whose release is being celebrated at the Larimer Lounge this weekend.
Westword: You have an interesting story behind the title of your new EP.
Eric Johnston: I was walking down Colfax and saw all these kids from East [High School] walking around, and I started thinking about evolution of character: how people become the people they are, and the choices they make, and how terrible middle school and high school and early college is, and how these parameters of who this person is and who that person is starts to dissolve. Then the "tough kids" start to disappear, and everybody starts to be seen as human beings.
It's just so interesting to me how everyone does that at their own pace. All the tough kids and the nerds — all that fades away, but it's so prominent during these formative years in our lives. I think that's what makes that time super-awkward. I wanted to explore that process of evolving your character and the choices that affect that.
Scott McCormick did the surrealistic artwork for the EP.
Scott is constantly inspired. When I met up with him to talk about what the artwork should look like, he would draw, rip that page out, lay it down and start drawing again. He had, like, twelve ideas in five minutes. We had this idea of a party that is, at least visually, being interrupted by this abstract scene of this elephant and this girl and everyone ignoring it. I didn't want it to play too much into the idea of "the elephant in the room"; I wanted it to be more about the artsy people in high-rises who don't go to local shows. Even if they love a band, they won't brave the Larimer Lounge. I find it interesting how long it takes for people to think certain music is good enough for them.
Presumably you didn't have an actual elephant in this picture.
[McCormick] did his best; he was throwing elephant rental prices at us. He's crazy. He'll do anything to make his vision come to life, and I think that's super-rare.
I can't say enough about Scott. He's easy to work with, and he'll really go to bat for you when it matters.