Chicago’s New Vibe

Kids These Day mash together blues rock, jazz and hip-hop for a sound of their own

With nearly enough members to fill a baseball lineup card, Kids These Days should have taken a bit of work to assemble.

Instead, singer/guitarist Liam Cunningham came up with a band in barely a heartbeat.

“The whole band fell together within a weekend,” he says.

The band started with Cunningham and bass player Lane Beckstrom. Beckstrom approached Cunningham about organizing a psychedelic funk band.

As group came together in those two days, that sound quickly morphed into something unique. Cunningham, Beckstrom and drummer Greg Landfair Jr. bring in a blues-rock vibe that's half classic Chicago blues and half Black Keys modern grit. A brass section and female vocalist Macie Stewart switch between classic soul and jazz swing. Then then there's Vic Mensa, who adds in rap verses over the band's shifting style.

As the band started jamming in Cunningham's basement, they quickly stumbled upon their sound.

“It was interesting that we started to develop a new sound so quickly,” he says.

All the voices of the band easily fell into rhythm together. Nothing felt forced, Cunningham says.

“It was natural because of the group we put together,” he says.

The band sounds contemporary, even as it swings with older styles. There are moves out of the Beck playbook, while the band seems to have picked up on what makes groups like the Roots and Flobots stand out.

It may be the ability to reach deep into jazz and other conservatory-learned musical formalism that lets Kids These Day cut loose from some of their more contemporary touchstones.

The band also lives up to the Kids portion of its name, having formed while tassels were still on the right side of the high school mortarboard. The group’s members are still under 21.

They all come from Chicago, where several attended the same music school.

Several also play jazz. Initially, commitments to jazz camps and other events kept the band from hitting the road heavily.

The high school era also helped the band adapt to a world where their built-in audience of school friends couldn't attend many of their gigs, and where bar audiences would only have the familiar faces of family members.

“That's also to our advantage,” Cunningham says.

They became comfortable with any setting, playing with different bands. He says it also allowed them to attract a larger, wider audience.

Once the band got going, they grew a lot in two years. They went from selling out their first bar show in April 2009 to winning the Congress Theater's Next Big Thing battle-of-the-bands event that November, beating out more than 150 other groups.

Now the band is out supporting their first self-released EP Hard Times. Since October 2010, Cunningham says things have been flying by, feeling like it’s all happening at 90 MPH.

The band's zero-dollar-budget video for “My Days” has topped 70,000 views on YouTube.

Next up is an EP tentatively titled Traphouse Rock. It features some personalized live-band mash-ups of other songs. Honed at live shows, the band regularly re-casts songs like Common's “Be”, by combining it with a Dizzy Gillespie song.

Next on the agenda might be a record deal. There have been talks with labels in New York and Los Angeles, as well as Chicago.

“It's definitely a discussion that's been going around,” he says.

But Cunningham is also seeking advice from an in-the-know family friend, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. With a lot of talk of comprehensive 360-degree deals that see labels taking cuts from record sales, merchandise sales and concert revenue, Kids These Days are considering various options.

Cunningham considers Tweedy the king of doing it yourself.

“We've been looking into other paths,” he says.

Kids These Days play Stage C at the Red Sky Festival Tuesday, July 19 at 2:20 p.m.

posted at 11:07 am
on Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

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