Black Kids and Visitation Keyboardist and Singer Ali Youngblood’s Gear Essentials

Courtesy of the artist (cropped)

For decades, Jacksonville’s own Ali Youngblood has been making synth-pop magic happen in bands like Black Kids. “I come from the old time of little cutesy indie rock where people just used toy keyboards and Fisher Price items to make songs,” says the keyboardist and singer. (Has there ever been a more apt description of 2008 indie rock? We think not.)

In recent years, Youngblood has toured with Black Kids as well as Northeast Florida’s own Visitation alongside multi-instrumentalist Ray Heekin. It may come as a surprise that, with such an impressive music résumé, Youngblood opts to keep things simple gear-wise. During our recent conversation, she kept stopping herself to issue apologies: “I’m really not the best gearhead,” she kept saying. But to me, a gear-curious music-noodler who started penning this column to learn more about gear, nothing is more encouraging than hearing someone as successful as Youngblood admit this. As practical as she is creative, Youngblood gravitates most toward common pieces that are easy to find in music shops. 

“I haven’t been very great at tinkering with things,” she says, “because I just grew up scared of breaking stuff. I can’t even touch the AC half the time, because I feel like I’m gonna break the AC.” What’s Youngblood’s secret, then, to continuing to make music rather than getting lost in the weeds with gear? “The best song sounds so simple,” she says. 

I sat down with Youngblood to discuss her essential gear selections as well as the synths she’s currently lusting after. Here’s what she shared.

Ali Youngblood’s Gear Essentials

Korg microKORG. I’ve been using the microKORG ever since I started playing synth. It was my first synth, and I’m still learning the thing. I’m not the best gearhead, so if anyone else wants to try to learn synth, don’t feel too intimidated. Just dink-dink-dink around, and you’ll figure it out with YouTube and whatnot. When you’re on tour, if your synth breaks or something happens—god forbid, someone steals it—you can always go to Guitar Center or any music shop nearby and get the exact one or someone nearby. If you have a friend in the same town, they might have one. I like knowing that, if something happens I’ll know what to do. But I did read up on it, and the microKORG is quite a reliable synth. It can take some dings and bangs, but I don’t think I would know how to, like, tune it. I do like synths that have presets and programs already on them. I’ve only tweaked a couple of tones on my microKORG. 

Korg microKORG XL. I ended up getting this model to test out. I definitely like how the vocoder sounds on it. It has different presets and tones. If you want horns, they sounds decent enough, something you can’t exactly get on a regular microKORG unless you really mess around with it.

Alesis SR-16. I tampered with this drum machine because we needed some hand claps and maybe a little drum bell. In the end, because we try to travel light, we didn’t use it. But if I wanted to go solo, I could probably put some beats on it.

MXR M-169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay Pedal. I added this pedal to my vocals for Visitation. I just delay my vocals to make them sound really pretty and celestial.

Ali Youngblood’s Keyboard Wishlist

TONTO. It’s this big, Frankenstein’s monster synth that Stevie Wonder uses on Superstition

Harpejji. This one’s also Steve Wonder-inspired. It’s a 16-string instrument, and it’s a cross between a keyboard and a guitar. I first saw one when Barack Obama came to Jacksonville during his campaign, and he had Stevie with him. And I was just in tears. Stevie Wonder played this instrument, and I was like, “What is that?” But I started off trying to play guitar and I’m not good at it, but combining the two instruments and getting that nice, soft variety of sounds would be pretty cool to test out.

Yamaha CS01. It’s a keyboard with a breath-control thing. It’s like a melodica, but electronic. It’s used by the Japanese synth band Cosmos as well as the Chemical Brothers. Even the Beastie Boys have used it. It looks like a toy piano, but it’s not.

Sequential Prophet 5. Our old school friend, Mike Schmidt, got to fix the synth that was used in Genius of Love by Tom Tom Club. I was just like, “Man, if I lived up in New York, I would love to just sniff the keyboard and be like, ‘This is it.’ I don’t know how to use it, but there it is.”

Tune into The Independent 89.9 HD4 in Jacksonville (and streaming everywhere right here) to hear music from Black Kids and Visitation.

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