Success arrived swiftly for Kianna Alarid in her first music endeavor.
Her second has been a more arduous task.
Alarid was 23, living in her hometown of Omaha, Neb., when she became the lead singer and bassist for Tilly and the Wall, a band that was in the right place at the right time.
Thanks to Saddle Creek Records, Omaha had become an influential music hub, and Alarid and her friends were keeping company with some of its stars, people such as Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, Tim Kasher of Cursive and Todd Fink of The Faint.
Tilly’s first album was released in 2004 on Oberst’s label, and its first major tour was opening for Bright Eyes.
“It was kind of ridiculous,” Alarid said. “We didn’t really have a chance to realize that we didn’t really know how to do it. We immediately had it all: a manager, a booking agent and a huge tour.”
Success peaked in 2006, when Tilly and the Wall played the Airwaves Music Festival in Iceland and “Late Show With David Letterman.”
“We landed in New York from Iceland, did the ‘Letterman’ show and then did a gig later that night,” Alarid said. “It was a big moment for us.”
Tilly would release its fourth album in 2012, but by then two of its members had married each other and started a family, and the band’s activity had slowed to a halt. Alarid was in Kansas City, where she moved in 2010, trying to figure out where her music career would go next. It would take nearly four years, but she has figured it out.
A year ago this month, her new band, Yes You Are, performed live for the first time. Alarid started the band with Jared White, who’d been holed up in his Shawnee home, writing songs but not doing much with them.
“I’d been toiling by myself in private for a long time, learning about songwriting and studying Bob Dylan,” White said. “I was so on my own, no one knew about it.”
Alarid, too, had been toiling in solitude, searching for a new music identity. She flirted with success, releasing a single that got some traction overseas and collaborating with other musicians, including J Ashley Miller, but nothing worked out.
“It was me,” Alarid said. “I didn’t understand who I was. Tilly was its own thing with five people. That was magic. We were innocent and young. After that, it was, ‘What am I?’ I went into this inward spiral, a real downward odyssey. I was searching. I hadn’t given up, but I was very confused.”
In March of 2013, White, looking to bring his music into the light, reached out to Alarid about collaborating. For about two months, they exchanged ideas, music and lyrics, solely by emails. One exchange led to the writing of “Sister Sun,” now a Yes You Are song (and the source of the band’s name). And a light went on.
“I had collaborated with people, but this was different from anything I’d heard,” Alarid said. “I have an indie rock background. There’s something that makes a sound indie rock. I didn’t want to do that. In the most humble way, I say I wanted to break away from that.”
Alarid went into what she called “a mystical phase.”
“I was experimenting with weird, interesting loops and writing this stuff that was almost Native American or raga,” she said. “It mirrored where I was, spiritually.”
Alarid and White would start collaborating in person, and their chemistry worked. The search was over.
“I knew I wanted to work with a guy,” she said. “Something happens when you have those two viewpoints. And something did happen. It’s hard to explain, but when you find that right thing, something you didn’t know you were looking for, and you realize if you commit yourself to it, it could be huge.”
They quickly wrote 20 songs. Alarid, who calls herself a pop singer and songwriter, said her influences go back to the music she grew up with, including Madonna and Michael Jackson from her mother, plus two of her favorite bands, the Swedish electronic duo The Knife and its spinoff, Fever Ray. The music of Yes You Are reflects those influences.
“It’s pop,” she said, “but in an odd way. It’s dark, but it’s still pop. And it’s clean but cold, in a way.”
Yes You Are played its first live show in July 2014, a band without a manager, booking agent or any representation, a band building from the ground up. But it has already received a big break. Alarid took the band back to her hometown for a show. Neal Duffy, the former soundman for Tilly and the Wall, caught the show. Duffy is now soundman for Neon Trees.
“Some people really get what we’re trying to do, and Neal is one of them,” Alarid said. “After the show, he said, ‘You’ll have to tour with us.’”
Alarid softly pushed Duffy for an opening gig with Neon Trees, especially after they announced a 2015 tour. Tyler Glenn, the band’s lead singer, expressed interest but wanted to hear some music. Yes You Are sent Duffy two songs this spring. Duffy was impressed and so was Glenn, who tweeted to the band: “Digging the new jams.”
A week later, about a month before the tour started, Yes You Are received a request from Neon Trees’ management to open the 13-show Neon Trees tour.
“We really had to step up and meet the standards that Neon Trees fans were going to expect,” Alarid said.
And they did just that.
“Everyone who reviewed the shows mentioned us,” White said. “We got great reviews.”
“We have a press kit now because we got so many incredibly positive and glowing reviews,” Alarid said.
In June, Yes You Are released its first music video. A full-length album is in the works. Monday, it will perform in Kansas City for the first time in a while, opening for Lany at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road. Plenty of work lies ahead, but both Alarid and White are aware and prepared and committed.
“This has been my purpose for, like, five years,” White said. “This is what I’ve been working toward.”
“Tilly had everything handed to us,” Alarid said. “(Yes You Are) had to sit and toil. I would lock myself in a room for eight hours and work and work and work and write and rewrite to get to that level. Something magic happens when you realize what you’re supposed to do. It’s inspiring. It gives you a purpose.”
Yes You Are performs Monday at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road. Lany is also on the bill. Showtime is 9:30 p.m. Tickets to the 18-and-older show are $10 in advance, $12 the day of show.