Having recently signed to Los Angeles-based music label Fearless Records, Leesburg rock quintet My Kid Brother is the latest Loudoun act to take a step toward the spotlight.
After arriving in Loudoun County several years ago, lead singer and guitarist Christian Neonakis needed a new creative outlet. He had played with a number of bands in Baltimore before the move, and he wanted to keep his musical momentum going.
“I had been recording songs on my own, just in my room at night and whenever I had free time,” he told the Times-Mirror. “I had shown a couple friends around the area. I was really just making an album of music I could give my friends to listen to.”
One such friend was Sam Athanas, with whom Neonakis worked at a local bar. A former Radford resident, Athanas previously played drums with various music groups in the New River Valley, and he was similarly on the lookout for new musical opportunities.
On nights when the two worked the closing shift together, they would bring their equipment into the bar after last call and jam as a duo, usually for an audience of a few friends, some of whom would join in occasionally.
“It was really loose and easygoing,” Neonakis said. “Then, I think, Sam and I [said], ‘This is really fun; what if we actually got something together and started playing locally, just for fun? We could do covers or originals, whatever, just to play live music.’”
Their oeuvre started to lean more heavily toward original material after Neonakis showed Athanas his bedroom recordings, though after awhile they arrived at the decision to add more musicians to their two-piece setup.
“We were ultimately like, ‘Ah, this is kind of difficult. Let’s see if we can get more people to play along, too,’” Neonakis recalled.
Eventually, bassist Richard Smith, guitarist Dylan Savopolous and aptly-named keyboardist Piano Whitman joined My Kid Brother’s roster. Soon, they became a trendy talking point in the D.C. area’s live music scene, having become quickly adept to booking shows and gaining traction via word of mouth.
“We had a good response,” Neonakis said. “A lot of people wanted to come see us play, and that was really cool and really supportive of the community. I think they wanted people that they know playing live music, that wasn’t necessarily a cover band.”
Their traction built steadily over the next couple of years as the band began networking with other acts, playing larger venues such as Leesburg’s Tally Ho Theater and booking tours that spanned the East Coast. That period culminated in the release of their crowdfunded, self-released debut record, “Baltimore Street Rat.”
Among the many captivated by My Kid Brother’s upbeat blend of lo-fi indie rock and soulful R&B was Andy Serrao, the president of Fearless Records, who received the band’s material from a local radio station employee. Allured by their refreshing sound, he flew to D.C. and met the band during one of their shows last year.
It was that night that Serrao offered to sign My Kid Brother, and given the label’s robust pedigree — including current and former signees such as Plain White T’s and Portugal the Man — they were elated to accept.
“We’re extremely optimistic. It’s super encouraging to be associated and working directly with a label and a company that has produced so much success for so many bands. You can’t help but feel optimistic,” Neonakis said.
He added being signed means he and his bandmates are now going further out of their way to refine their sound and make it as accessible as possible while maintaining its authenticity.
“I think every musician who loves their craft … wants to stay as authentic to the things that they love and are the foundation for their musical influence,” Neonakis said. “But you also have to be not too stubborn, and you have to be willing to work with people that are also extremely talented and know the industry extremely well. That’s where producers come in.”
Under the Fearless banner, My Kid Brother has released four singles, which Neonakis said will eventually be part of a six-song extended play, or E.P. The label also produced a music video for their song “Ain’t That Cool,” a loving tribute to counterculture.
“The encompassing idea was an admiration for people that kind of bend and break social norms just to do it, just to be themselves and be comfortable,” said Neonakis, who penned the lyrics. “There’s plenty of us that just don’t want to be told what to do, especially when we’re not hurting anybody, when we just want to be ourselves.”
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the band to be separated for the past few months — he and Savopolous live together, while the other three members are in another residence — cloud-based music recording technology has allowed the band to continue recording together live.
“If it wasn’t for brilliant technological advancement in the music industry, I don’t even know what would have happened,” Neonakis said. “We’ve been really pushing out a lot of new music. That’s just a great advantage of being in isolation: We’ve written and laid down at least rough sketches of so many new songs, and a lot that we’re really excited about.”
That’s just one of many upsides Neonakis and his bandmates have discovered during the days of social distancing. He has also taken to woodworking and growing vegetables in his backyard as hobbies. And while staying at home means no touring and limited publicity, My Kid Brother is doing its best to take advantage of the tools at its disposal to keep creating no matter what.
“The beauty of music is you take the terrible things and you go, ‘Yeah, this sucks, but let’s make something beautiful out of it,’” Neonakis said. “We’re trying to keep that mentality.”