With a new album on the way and a spot on this year’s Spring Fling student stage, natural born kissers has paved its way at Binghamton University during the band members’ three years playing as students.
natural born kissers is a student band consisting of lead vocalist Mika Itkin-Weinstein, a senior majoring in English, guitarist and backing vocalist Jacob Levine, a senior majoring in English, drummer Jake Murray, a senior double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law and bass guitarist Matt Tellstone, a senior majoring in history.
The band was formed in 2016 when Itkin-Weinstein matched with all the other members on Tinder after seeing that they had instruments in their profile pictures. Tellstone was Levine’s radio apprentice at campus radio station WHRW 90.5 FM and the pair went to a Halloween party both dressed as Canadian singer Mac DeMarco, where they met Itkin-Weinstein and immediately hit it off. Itkin-Weinstein met Murray later at a WHRW meeting.
Itkin-Weinstein describes the band’s style as “picnic punk”: a mixture of twee pop and ’90s indie-alternative music. She said the band brings its own unique elements to the genres.
“With twee, it’s very stripped back and sweet and simple, but our music has more of an emotional aspect to it so it’s not that sweet,” she said.
Since the band’s formation in 2016, natural born kissers has become a staple at both local and on-campus music events like Moefest, Oak Fest and Battle of the Bands. Last year, the band released a five-song EP titled “Grenadine.” This May, the band will be releasing its first full-length album, recorded and produced locally at a studio run by Binghamton community member Hunter Davidson.
Levine said working with Davidson has helped the band grow and achieve its goals.
“[Davidson] really goes for your vision and builds upon it,” he said. “He reminds me of the best professors here because he wants to make you the best version of you you want to be. He really has a holistic view and listens to a lot of music. He finds out what you like and tries to help you accomplish what you want, not what he wants.”
While this is the band’s second time in a studio, Murray said the band members felt more comfortable with this setting, which shows in the music.
“I didn’t have a lot of experience with studios and recording our EP was a daunting task,” Murray said. “Going into the studio this time, I had a lot more confidence in being in a studio and I think it really shows in our album. We really took advantage of everything we had.”
According to Iktin-Weinstein, the band’s serious approach to songwriting sets it apart from other bands on campus and has helped build a community around the group’s music.
“There’s a very heavy jam-band scene and a lot of cover bands here, but we have a big intention to writing original music that is catchy and accessible to people,” she said. “A lot of people who come to our shows know a lot of the words to the songs on our first EP. There’s a communal factor because of that. A few days ago, I was at the Marketplace and a few girls came up to me singing one of our songs to us. They’re the type of songs you will remember.”
While Binghamton’s music scene may be smaller than those of larger cities, Murray said there is potential in the local scene.
“The Binghamton music scene is what you make of it,” Murray said. “We’re not in the middle of New York City where there is a venue on every corner and everyone is in a band. You have to make it yourself and find what you can find. Once you find it, though, there definitely is a community here that enjoys music and going to shows, playing, forming bands.”
Itkin-Weinstein said the scene at BU is very male-oriented, but she has seen this change over time.
“It is also a very homogenous, male scene in Binghamton,” she said. “I was very happy to see more women playing at Battle of the Bands this year because a lot of the house shows I have played have been all guys and I hate that. I already see it getting better, but it is still a problem. I don’t think that makes us better in any way, because then that tokenizes me, but it unfortunately does make us different in a way.”
All four band members are seniors and will be headed in different directions after graduation this May. Still, Murray said the band has no intention of breaking up soon.
“I think we all have different plans in terms of our life choices and the paths that we have decided to take, but I don’t see it as an end,” Murray said. “It may be a pause for a sec as we transition from being in a college scene to the real world and the challenges it will bring. I think we’re all going to take time to adjust and only the future knows what will happen.”
With the album coming after graduation, Itkin-Weinstein said she sees it as an homage to the band’s time at BU.
“I’m excited for when this album comes out because I feel like it’s very representative of our time in Binghamton and to put it out at the end of our era of time here is a very powerful thing,” she said.