Hundreds of millions of streams, a bopping beat and a recently released third EP; the Toronto-based band Good Kid seems to have it all. The band started as an idea in a the minds of college students, but now, it’s blossomed into a pop-punk sensation that has garnered an online following and sold-out tours in the US and UK. North by Northwestern talked to Good Kid guitarist Jacob Tsafatinos about their online fanbase, new album and their Chicago performance on May 8.

Thumbnail graphic by Iliana Garner / North by Northwestern

You guys released your first song, “Nomu,” in October of 2015. Before that, how did you all come to form Good Kid?

Most of us met in university. Good Kid slowly pieced together when the band’s bassist, Michael Kozakov, and I started jamming and writing songs. We were like, “Oh, we really like the sound of what we’re coming up with. We should find other people.” Michael had some people he knew, like Nick Frosst, our singer, Jon Kereliuk, our drummer, and I pulled in the guitarist David Wood from another band I was in. We started getting together in random rooms in our university and playing guitar. Then we slowly moved on to proper rehearsal spaces where we brought in drums and other guitars. It was maybe a year of doing that. Then we were finally like, “Okay, I think we’re a band.”

That’s amazing. There are a lot of student-run bands here at Northwestern who play at festivals and shows around campus. Did you ever play in those spaces?

Yeah, we were playing shows as much as we could. We played at university events and open mic nights, anything we could do to get on stage, we would take that opportunity. My brother was also in a band and would put on shows in different bars around town, so we would play those once in a while. There’s a very famous booker in Toronto, and we got in good with him. He would put us on some really cool bills with bands that we loved. That’s how we started playing shows.

And, now, you’re playing to a larger audience. You recently came back from Europe where you supported the band Lovejoy on a sold-out tour. What do you miss most about that experience?

I genuinely miss the Lovejoy boys a lot. It kind of felt like summer camp. When you go on tour with people who are your friends, you get to see them again and hope you’ll work with them in the future.

You’re coming to Chicago really soon. Is there anything you look forward to doing or seeing here?

I really like food and getting food at places that are unique to cities. So for Chicago, I want to find the best deep dish pizza place. In Philadelphia, we were obsessed with finding cheesesteaks.

I feel like we don’t really have that here in Toronto because we’re not known for a specific type of food. But so many cities in the states are known for their food, so I’m excited to go hunting for the best stuff.

You also recently released your third EP. Did you have an overarching theme you were going for with that?

I don’t think when we wrote it, we intentionally had a theme going on. But once all the songs were done, there was an interesting throughline.

We have one song on the EP called “Madeline” which is the first song we ever wrote together, and it’s a sad love song that I wrote for the girl I was seeing at the time. I’m really bad at writing lyrics, so this is how the band formed. I would run into Michael and Nick and I’d be like, “Hey, guys, you have to help me write this song.” Then I would also run into David and ask him to help me write the same song. They didn’t know they were both writing the same song. Slowly, the song got pieced together through parts they all helped me write. That’s the song we have now.

There’s another song on our EP, and one of the latest songs that we wrote, called “Mimi’s Delivery Service.” It came together in the same way where I was writing that song for my girlfriend and was having a really hard time coming up with lyrics again. I would run to the band and ask, “Guys, I need you to help me write this song.”

We’re still writing songs this way. I don’t know if that’s a theme, but for me, there’s this energy within the EP that’s us relying on each other to get across what we’re trying to say.

Your EP is five songs long —  four of them are super upbeat, and there’s “Madeline,” which is really slow and sweet. I think that’s really beautiful because we get to hear the range of your music. Did you guys intend this?

I think we always wanted to. We like when there’s a dynamic shift in our record. We ended this EP with Madeline. I think we wanted to have this big, boppy EP but tailor it off in a more slow way. It’s kind of interesting because we did this on the EP, but we would never do this live. I’m not sure why, but I like this idea of starting big and ending low.

That’s great. Besides your band members, are there any sorts of media that inspires you while writing your songs?

There’s games that have constantly inspired me like Undertale, which has this amazing soundtrack written by Toby Fox, and the Zelda games. But I was just recently thinking about how inspiration strikes, and I think it’s when you really connect with something. It doesn’t even relate to the quality of the thing, but just how you experienced it at the time. I went to the Mario movie the other day and, while I don’t think it’s the best movie ever made, it has so many aspects of it like the animation or attention to detail that left me a little inspired.

I think it’s a combination of things. For one, we are not outsiders to those media platforms. For example, we’ve been watching Twitch since it’s come out and we’re subscribed to a bunch of different streamers. From the gaming perspective, we’re all gamers and some of us have tried to be competitive in certain games. So it’s not a foreign world to us.

Because of that, it allows us to empathize with those people. We’ve noticed that some people were using our music on Twitch when record labels started striking videos. We have the luxury of being independent, so we were able to make our music free for them to use.

How do you think content creation platforms like YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok have changed the game for musicians like you?

It’s changed in a lot of good and bad ways.

You have more abilities to distribute your music, but the tools you use are pretty bad. I wish YouTube had a way for someone who wants to use music to just be able to pay for it. We could make it $0, or whatever, but I guarantee you most creators would pay a couple of bucks to use a song in their video. The big ones would probably pay a lot more. Right now, there are no systems to even allow them to do that.

But I do appreciate that artists can get themselves heard without official supports that existed historically. Now people can do it for themselves a lot more, which is great.

You’ve also made a game called Ghost King’s Revenge, which features music and 8-bit sprites of the band members! What was the process behind making that?

Everyone in the band are all programmers, and we have day jobs working as programmers.

Our inspiration for the game came from an artist we’ve been working with who turned us into video game style pixel art versions of ourselves. The second I saw them, I just got inspired and said, “I really want to use these assets you’ve already created and turn that into a game somehow.” It took a really long time because I had never made a game before, so I had to learn a lot about game engines.

On the music side, our drummer Jon would often just take our songs and turn them into chiptune style music just for fun. So I told him I wanted him to write music for the game, and he was more than happy to.

Do you guys have plans to make another game in the future?

I want to, it just takes a lot of time. The first game took me about a year of working every single weekend. The next one would be easier, but maybe we’ll work on it when things have calmed down a bit. Right now, between touring and recording, it’s a bit too hectic to be working on it again.

I don’t know if you’ve thought of this because you’re in the middle of a tour, but what do you think comes next for Good Kid?

I do some Twitch streaming and one of the things that I’ve been doing lately is trying to come up with full songs on Twitch. The band really likes a couple of them, so we’ve been working on those.

After the tour, hopefully we can record again. I don’t want to guarantee it because I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but I would like to do that. Then probably, we’ll likely go on some more tours throughout the year. Maybe I’ll get some time and start working on the second game. Nothing is set in stone yet.

Editor's note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.