Catch Me If You Can: How to Keep Festival-Fresh When Playing in Multiple Bands
Somewhere in Kansas City, a young songwriter is locked away in a bedroom, pouring his heart out into a notebook. A band is spending all of its savings to cut its first record. A drummer is toiling over her rudiments for hours on end, just so she can nail her parts. An instrumentalist is dashing from one gig to another. And 99 percent of the time, they’re doing it because it’s their passion. So when an event like Middle of the Map Fest comes along, it does more for local musicians than just offer a stage for us to play on — it also gives us a chance to celebrate the work happening around us throughout the year. And while other scenes can be competitive, KC’s musicians often tend to foster and recognize talent in one another. Coupled with a desire to learn and create, that collaborative spirit puts many musicians in multiple bands — from multi-instrumentalists to songwriters who also long for a supporting role. Check out a Q&A with a few of these players, and catch their multiple sets at Middle of the Map this week.
When he's not fronting Hipshot Killer, Mike Alexander shows his versatility as a guitarist with The Architects and John Velghe and the Prodigal Sons. Photo: Todd Zimmer
What do you gain by playing in multiple bands? I play in a number of bands because I can, mainly. I've always enjoyed playing with a number of different people. What differences do you have in approaching each band? The main difference for one band to the next — for me, at least — is gear. Depending on the group, I play different amps, guitars and effects, and I try to know my place with everyone I play with. It’s not uncommon to have to run from one gig to another, especially at a festival. How do you change your mindset and get pumped to play the next gig? Mindset is always the same for everything. The only thing that changes is the gear. But I have to be careful not to sing “lead vocals” with The Architects and the Prodigal Sons. Top three artists you're looking forward to seeing at MOTM: The Uncouth, Wick and the Tricks, and Emmaline Twist. Middle of the Map appearances: Hipshot Killer: Thursday at Westport Saloon, 9:45 p.m. The Architects: Thursday at Californos patio, 11 p.m.
Steve Gardels makes every rhythm section better, as the drummer for The Philistines and bassist for The Uncouth. Photo: Too Much Rock
What do you gain by playing in multiple bands? I came up in the punk and house show scene when I moved to town, so that’s been a huge part of my musical background. Through those early shows and bands, I learned to be a better musician and figure out what I wanted out of myself and my bands. The Philistines have the huge sound and focus on creating an experience, but The Uncouth scratches that itch of beer, friendship and going fast; attitude and energy over composition and ability. Being able to shift between these bands has taught me a lot about bringing my voice to compositions. In The Philistines, we build these big sweeping arrangements and it’s up to me to reverse-engineer those parts into something that keeps the song moving, and interject my style into my parts in a way that serves the song. Conversely, writing in The Uncouth is about taking something simple and building it into something that’s familiar but ours. It’s still punk, but we’re all accomplished musicians and we work together to push more simple arrangements into something more complex without sacrificing the energy and attitude. What differences do you have in approaching each band? As much as I focus on parts and playing, it’s more important to have fun with the people you’re playing with. Nobody does this for the money. I got to know The Philistines through playing with them, while I’ve been friends with The Uncouth guys for a long time before joining the band. The dynamic is very different, but I know I chose some good people to spend time with. Pulling off that perfect show together or hanging out and listening to records — sharing those moments with your bandmates as a weird family unit is the best. Time management is a big thing when it comes to playing in multiple bands. How do you fit all of it in without overtaxing yourself? I am nothing without my calendar app. If it ain’t on the calendar, it may as well not exist. I’m also currently living in the house where The Uncouth practices, so it’s pretty easy to make it there on time; I just put on pants and go to the basement. Hey, did I mention you’ll be able to see both The Uncouth and Philistines at Middle of the Map on May 4? If you see me sprinting between the Saloon and Riot Room, follow me. It’s gonna be a good time. Just gotta do a quick change in the Harry’s phone booth and I’m good. It’s not uncommon to have to run from one gig to another, especially at a festival. How do you change your mindset and get pumped to play the next gig? Usually, I like to sit down, catch my breath and have a glass of water with some sort of caffeine and a B-12 packet, followed by a shot of tequila before I get on stage. I’m always ready to show up and kick ass with my bands, so it’s never been difficult for me to switch gears. It’s remembering to change my shirt and factor in parking that can mess me up. One thing that I need to mention that goes for everyone, not just musicians: self-care is one of the most important things you can do. Take 30 minutes to an hour to do something for yourself every day. If you don’t have time for that, take a page from the Agent Dale Cooper playbook: “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair or two cups of good hot black coffee.” Top three artists you're looking forward to seeing at MOTM: De La Soul, William Elliott Whitmore and Har Mar Superstar. Middle of the Map appearances: The Uncouth: Thursday at Westport Saloon, 8:45 p.m. The Philistines: Thursday at Riot Room, 10:30 p.m.
Mitchell Hewlett is the songwriter and guitarist behind Westerners, but he started out as a drummer. See him behind the kit with Spirit Is the Spirit or MaceMouth. Submitted photo
What do you gain by playing in multiple bands? It’s just a reason to keep the wheels spinning — it requires me to spend more time in that head space and to practice more. It adds a level of responsibility but gives me focus. I’m a rhythm guitarist in one band and drummer in the other two, but I approach instruments from a very rhythmic standpoint, so I think it carries over well to whatever I’m working on. What differences do you have in approaching each band? I definitely feel more pressure with Westerners, as it's more of my brainchild than any of the other bands; it's all I can think about most days. The guys in Spirit already know what they want to sound like, already have established themselves, and we all mutually enjoy playing music together. I got to join one of my favorite Midwest bands and skipped out on the hard stuff. I see myself as there to help create their vision. MaceMouth, to me, is the easiest. Josh [Hartranft] and I go way back — used to watch each other’s hardcore bands play as teenagers, and we both have places in our hearts for the heavy stuff we grew up on. MaceMouth is just an extension of that. It’s just good old fashioned fun for us and it turned out sounding pretty good. Time management is a big thing when it comes to playing in multiple bands. How do you fit all of it in without overtaxing yourself? It's really stressful — I’m sure anyone who does this would probably agree. But I’d rather deal with that stress than a lot of other kinds of stress. The older I get, the more I think it's just a part of who I am. At the end of the day, it's one of the few things in life that gives me true joy, so you just learn to make it happen. It’s not uncommon to have to run from one gig to another, especially at a festival. How do you change your mindset and get pumped to play the next gig? That part of it is fine — it’s trying to keep track of all the gear that I don’t like. Every time I get home from doubling up on gigs, I automatically assume something’s missing. Usually just a pair of drumsticks or some amp trinket I bring to shows. And festivals are usually pretty rushed. In and out! You switch between the roles of songwriter and side person. Does that change your overall dynamic? The role of frontman and drummer are very similar to me. They both require me to carry the band along in live performances — that's how I like to think of it. Top three artists you're looking forward to seeing at MOTM: Me Like Bees, Mothers, and De La Soul. Middle of the Map appearances: Spirit Is the Spirit: Friday at Riot Room, 10:30 p.m. Westerners: Saturday at recordBar, 7 p.m.
In addition to leading her band The Wild Type, Rachel Mallin doubles as a guitarist and co-songwriter for Jaenki. Submitted photo
What do you gain by playing in multiple bands? I joined Jaenki, because I genuinely enjoyed the music they released before Kenn [Jankowski] had ever reached out about my recording contributions. When they asked me to be a permanent member, I was hesitant. Their music is a mental trip to perform live, and I wasn't certain I had the skill of experience or time to learn and practice songs for a whole other band on top of the duties I fulfill in The Wild Type. However, the members of Jaenki are really proactive and flexible, which makes it easy to evenly delegate my time between both bands. It's also easy to be in two bands when members on both sides are goal-oriented, creatively encouraging, and overall just passionate, committed musicians. What differences do you have in approaching each band? The Wild Type is my baby in the sense that I get to exercise a lot of my guilty pleasure and sort-of selfish songwriting that stems from my favorite kinds of music. A lot of the demo songwriting/production work I write and record is recycled back into that project, giving the other members creative freedom to interpret the instrumental parts I write however it best suits their abilities and inclinations. Each of us have been playing together for a long time, so the writing process has become sort of second nature. The vibe of our songs are usually dictated and connected by the angsty human narrative of the lyrics each song feature. The first few months of me being in Jaenki were mostly me learning the keyboard/guitar/vocal parts to songs they had already recorded/released for the purpose of performing them live. In contrast to my own band, their music is premeditated; performing the tunes so they provide the same experience as the recordings is like piecing together a puzzle. It was jarring at first to wrap my brain around the time signatures and key changes that make their songs unlike anything I've ever played before, but it's forced me to further develop my chops as a utility musician and a songwriter. Time management is a big thing when it comes to playing in multiple bands. How do you fit all of it in without overtaxing yourself? Last week I drove back from KC from Detroit on our day off from The Wild Type’s tour so I could play a Jaenki show at recordBar. I agreed to play before The Wild Type was asked to go on tour, and when it comes to the bands, if I'm physically able to carry out a promise I make, then I do. It's hard. Luckily, Jaenki is self-sustaining when it comes down to the business/booking aspect. I'm also very lucky with The Wild Type, because they encourage me to take on any endeavor that I believe will make a better musician out of me. Time management is something I'm still getting the hang of, but as for now, I've been playing it by ear for the most part (*ba dum tsss*). It’s not uncommon to have to run from one gig to another, especially at a festival. How do you change your mindset and get pumped to play the next gig? The one double-header with both bands I took on was back in April, and it felt pretty seamless to be honest. With the performances close enough together in one day, I've learned to thrive off the adrenaline I get from performing, so as long as I am able to hold on to that and keep my head in the game, I'm good. I also have to remind myself how lucky I am to be rushing around in two bands that are doing pretty well in the Midwest, and that are also making music I genuinely enjoy playing. You switch between the roles of songwriter and side person. Does that change your overall dynamic? My performance role in The Wild Type is essentially the awkward and profane, 20-something chick that dances like an old white guy while attempting to play the guitar and yell angsty words at the audience. I feel like that's just a pretty true extension of the human I am, so it's pretty comfortable for me to pull off. In Jaenki, I get to be kind of a cool and mysteriously quiet but also physically expressive musical femme-bot alter-ego. I don't sing as much in this band, so all of the breath I would usually use for singing or banter goes to fueling my alter ego's crazy dance moves. It's fun. Middle of the Map appearances: Jaenki: Thursday at Californos patio, 10 p.m. The Wild Type: Friday at recordBar, 9 p.m.
Stephanie Williams stays busy year-round with Katy Guillen & the Girls, but brings her flair to Erica Joy's rhythm section at Middle of the Map tonight. Photo: Todd Zimmer
What do you gain by playing in multiple bands? It’s always been fun to play varying styles as a drummer. I get to experiment with different grooves, feels, techniques and dynamics. A big part of being in a band is also getting to know your bandmates as people. I spend a big chunk of my time with the Girls, and we go through a lot of experiences together on the road. And it’s like any other relationship — you have to learn how to compromise and communicate. What differences do you have in approaching each band? I approach each band with my most basic instincts and adjust to what the specific style needs. As a drummer, that means focusing in on dynamics — especially in a live setting. You have to be aware of what your bandmates are doing; the audience is feeding off that energy, so you have to put that same kind of intensity into what you’re playing. Top three artists you're looking forward to seeing at MOTM: Shy Boys, Rachel Mallin and the Wild Type, and Chris Meck and the Guilty Birds. Middle of the Map appearances: Erica Joy: Thursday at recordBar, 7:30 p.m. Katy Guillen & the Girls: Thursday at recordBar, 10:30 p.m. Middle of the Map Fest starts tonight and runs through Saturday, May 6. Tickets and schedule available at motmkc.com. —Michelle Bacon will be handing out free high-fives all weekend at Middle of the Map, along with performing a few times: tonight at recordBar with Chris Meck and the Guilty Birds + Erica Joy, and Saturday at Mills Record Co. with Heidi Lynne Gluck and the Pony Show. Catch her if you can, but she's stealthy, so you probably can't.