Photo courtesy of Paloma Magana

The Seagull Swan Song of Brooklyn’s
Bad Kiss


By cath spino


In the summer of 2019, I was going through it: working a dead-end corporate job, processing a breakup with no closure, and feeling completely uninspired as an artist. A couple of mutual friends convinced me to go out on a work night (there was very little convincing actually) because I was having a shittier week than usual and nothing cures a shit week like loud music at a rooftop bar in the summer. We were going to see this band that a couple of their friends were in, a Brooklyn-based punk outfit called Bad Kiss, at Our Wicked Lady in East Williamsburg. Bad Kiss was opening for Pom Pom Squad and I had no idea what I was walking into, but it was exactly what the doctor ordered. Their performance was punchy, raw, sweaty, and exciting. Jacob Saxton led the vocal charge and yelled their lyrics at the crowd, with Paloma Magana on drums and Alexa Meniktas on bass. I was floored to see Paloma get a mic and balance screaming lyrics and tearing it up on her drum set. How badass and innovative. I didn’t know them at the time but I remember thinking they were all so cool. They gave off this air of not giving a single fuck what people thought and absolutely killed their set, which probably clocked in at under 30 minutes. Within that 30 minutes, I bounced around with the rest of the audience and nearly sweated out my body weight dancing to the band’s primal punk screams. My ears were still ringing when I went to sleep that night.

Photo courtesy of Paloma Magana
Photo courtesy of Sara K Craig

I’ve lived in New York City for a little over 5 years and had never been to Jacob Riis Beach until the end of this summer. I got a text from Paloma around 4 PM on a Sunday suggesting we go to the beach to see a live performance her friend worked on. To catch you all up to speed, I’ve been lucky enough to go from concert attendee to good friends with all three members of Bad Kiss. So it only made sense that, in a moment of spontaneity, I told my restful Sunday activities to screw off and hopped in a Zipcar headed to the shore with Paloma, Jacob, Alexa, and 2 dogs: Paloma and Jacob’s pup Lamar and their foster dog Snooki (Snooki was wearing a homemade onesie Paloma had crafted that said “ADOPT ME” in hot pink letters. Snooki was not adopted that day but she did eat a ton of sand… I digress). This trip to the beach marked not only the end of summer, but the end of a musical era between Jacob, Paloma, and Alexa. The three of them mutually decided to put Bad Kiss to rest and the band broke up at the end of August. While we strolled along the seaside walking their pups, I decided to dig into the band’s history and amicable breakup.

Bad Kiss formed in 2018 but not in your typical fashion of finding the best drummer, the best guitarists, the best vocalists that matched the other members' vibes. Bad Kiss was conceived by three pals whose love of music drove them to pick up instruments. Prior to living in New York, Paloma and Jacob occupied the Boston music scene as basement show-goers during their college years and realized that being in a band and making music wasn’t as lofty of a dream as they had thought. Paloma and Alexa grew up together on the west coast, becoming friends in 4th grade and bouncing around pop punk and rock shows when they were in high school. Paloma, Jacob, and Alexa grew up listening to the punk staples like the Ramones and Hunx and His Punx, but felt inspired to explore their own sound after going to house shows in high school and college. “High school and college was really where I found music I was excited about that felt accessible. My peers were performing and it seemed less like only famous people could put out good music,” Alexa mused.

Photo courtesy of Paloma Magana

When Alexa joined Paloma and Jacob in Brooklyn in 2016, the three of them buckled down and zoned in on their own DIY music education because in order to be a musician, you’ve got to know how to play an instrument.

“Jacob was teaching himself guitar, teaching me drums, and teaching Alexa bass when he’s never played bass,” Paloma remarked. “I can’t read music, none of us know music,” Alexa stressed. But their lack of experience and formal musical training never deterred the band from getting on its feet. If anything, it strengthened their bond as collaborators, friends, and music lovers. There is no hierarchy in the band—they are truly an ensemble act and feed into each other’s energies and creative processes.

Bad Kiss first started learning cover songs and then slowly moved into writing their own songs, with Jacob tinkering with melodies and the band coming together to decide the story line. In the true spirit of past punk bands, their songs weren’t intricate and the lyrics weren’t Pulizter prize-winning, but what sold them as a killer act was their energy. “[Our creative] process was never like, ‘Let’s jam,’ it was more of, ‘Let's work on enough songs so that we can play shows,’” Paloma emphasized.

Photo courtesy of Paloma Magana

Bad Kiss could’ve been screaming numbers from your parent’s yellowing telephone book and it still would’ve slapped. The band truly loved the act of getting a crowd riled up; there was no ego attached and it was completely centered around engaging an audience. They encouraged everyone to let loose and get lost in their yelling, biting lyrics and the adrenaline rush of their pacing. I remember attending one of their performances at Alphaville in Bushwick with a crowd no bigger than 15 people—by the end of their set, we were taking up the energetic space of 35 people.

If you peek at their discography on Spotify, almost all of their songs are shorter than 2 minutes. Their lyrics are incredibly straightforward, which makes sense because the songs give the band no time to beat around the bush. One of my favorite songs is “I Don’t Like You,” off their first album. The majority of the lyrics are screaming, “I don’t like you.” It’s simple, it’s effective, and if I ever needed an energy reboot on a coffee break at my old corporate job, I’d put it on, head-bang for 2 minutes, and go on with my day. It’s a pocket-sized cathartic moment (and much cheaper than a cup of Midtown Manhattan coffee, might I add). I later learned the reason the songs were so short was in case they were bad: “We’d rather play a short set and have it end if it was bad versus play longer songs that could’ve sucked.” Alexa confided. But with their fearless fireball energy, the songs worked.

“We recognize we aren’t the most talented musicians at a show but what are we good at…” Paloma began.

        “Energy,” Jacob chimed in.

        “So we tried to be more playful with lyrics,” Paloma said. ”We never thought, ‘Oh, let’s make this part more difficult,’ because truly this was all we could play.”

After multiple shows in 2018, the trio quickly realized they would need to write more music, because at one of their earlier shows a fan yelled “ENCORE” but they didn’t know any other songs to play outside of their set.

Photo courtesy of Paloma Magana

When they first told me they didn’t know how to play music before they formed the band, I was floored. At their shows, all three of them carry themselves like they’ve been jamming forever. Like any band, they had days they didn’t want to practice or play a certain show but they hustled to build their name within the New York music scene. “I remember not wanting to go to the practice space some days because I had a shitty day at work but we have a gig and we’re on a shitty bill, but someone might be there,” Alexa remembered. Luckily, those days paid off. After only a year after the band got together and played more than just cover songs, they were on Oh My Rockness’s list of Hardest Working Bands in 2019, booking just under 30 shows that year. They kept writing music and released two albums through Dim Things, a label Jacob and Paloma founded with their pal Sergio.

I’ve spoken to many performers and musicians who are constantly in their head: thinking about the next twenty steps of their careers, who’s going to be at their shows, and envisioning what their lives will look like when they’ve “made it.” It’s a headspace I can’t condemn because that same headspace haunts me as a writer. But attempting to live in this future that doesn’t exist can cloud the vision of your magical present, a magic that Bad Kiss harnessed and utilized in their shows with such dexterity. When I think about the magic of Bad Kiss’s live shows, I remember the dancing, the yelling, the bumping, the spilling of beer and not worrying about being wet. To quote Miss Frizzle of The Magic School Bus fame, Bad Kiss “took chances, made mistakes, and got messy.” They cultivated an unstoppable tidal wave of being present and giving in to the roaring guitar and head banging rhythms, creating a coliseum of chaos at any venue they played.

“Best top three moments of my life for the band was when we got a mosh pit going… there’s nothing more fun than being kind of aggressive and dancing around,” Paloma remarked.

“And shoving some boy, like, ‘ugh, chef’s kiss,” Alexa added.

“I think my favorite thing from our last show [pre-COVID] was that girl sitting on the washing machine at our basement show… fucking banging her head and pumping her fists and I was like, ‘Fuck yeah!’” Jacob mentioned.

When I asked the band if there was any shot they would get back together, Paloma gave me a look as if she was remembering a fond memory and said, “I think the moment passed for Bad Kiss.”

“There’s no world where if the three of us were playing music together, it would be the same thing,” Alexa mentioned.

        “It would probably be more grown up, not that it’s childish,” Jacob said.

        “Well it kind of is,” Paloma decided.

        “Ok, so more refined,” Jacob said with finality.  

“I kind of like it because we ended on a high note and it was really fun and it’s like COVID stopped it,” Paloma concluded. To use a term coined in celebrity gossip columns, Bad Kiss is consciously uncoupling: no one hates each other, no one hates the music, there’s no Yoko Ono that took their John Lennon away. It’s simply that the time has come. The beauty of this parting is that it is mutually accepted, which is a rare thing in the music world. Alexa moved back to the west coast to pursue a graduate degree in global supply chain management at USC, Paloma went back to school for social work, and Jacob is working on a new musical project, someday hoping to run a small studio. A couple weeks after our stroll in the sand, Snooki was adopted. 

As I look back on my beach day with Bad Kiss, I contemplate the sea—how it ebbs and flows, the larger waves playfully knocking swimmers to their feet, reminding them of the summers of their younger years and allowing them to leave the untamed body of water glowing and more rejuvenated than they were when they entered. Bad Kiss had that effect on me: their shows allowed me to access a more carefree version of myself, bouncing around in the present and abandoning the spiral of adult thoughts like, “Did I get enough groceries today, am I going to have to work some shitty corporate job forever, am I going to die alone?” and so on and so forth. Jacob, Paloma, and Alexa reminded me the importance of not taking myself too seriously, giving myself space to just create no matter what experience (or lack thereof) I have, and surrendering to the present moment. For that, I am eternally grateful. But with every high tide comes a low tide: a returning to an open space to think and head back to the drawing boards to move in new waves. Like the waves naturally returning to the sea, their break up was simply the way things shook out. But boy, did they make a splash.

Photo courtesy of Cath Spino

Stream Bad Kiss’s first two albums

on Spotify
and purchase their final album “III” on Dim Thing’s Bandcamp.

Follow COPY on Spotify.