Kicksville
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Kicksville

Baltimore, Maryland, United States | INDIE

Baltimore, Maryland, United States | INDIE
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"While moe. massacred the crowd in the arena, another New York State
band called Kicksville hunkered down on the Ropeadope Stage for a
truly experimental show. This wild group taps a similar vein as The
Flaming Lips, but without the balloons or confetti. They placed old
monitors all over the front of the stage that broadcasted a mish-mash
of video clips, old cartoons and movies. Their announcer acted out
stories in the shadows, his grey hair and wild eyed moments were
straight out of the '70s camp flicks Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
and Wild in the Streets. They would switch from gospel-flavored hymns
to industrial rock mixed with sampled beats. Kicksville was one of
the weirdest, most visually stunning performances of the weekend. It
stretched listener's ears to the edge then roped them back in with
flowing, friendly jams." - Jambase.com


“Hot Alien Orgy,” a song from Kicksville’s third album, The Singles – Season 3, encompasses everything the band is. Creepy synth sounds back a fratboyish sounding dude who says, “After this gig, hot alien orgy, my house. I’m gonna get me some alien pussy. I’m a jazzman. I’m a fucking jazzman. Check it out.” As the synth sounds slowly start to form a chord and a beat, his last words, something about an anal probe, are drowned out. Enter a smooth and futuristic sounding female voice and some Frisellian guitar. She’s singing about the aforementioned hot alien orgy, but her tone is almost Enyaesque. Appropriate listener reactions to this track are “Wha?” “Beg pardon?” or perhaps “One of these things is not like the other.” Appropriate listener reactions to the band are “None of these things are like the others.” But very much like the last Magnetic Fields record, Realism, the disparate elements and general weirdness don’t sound forced or contrived. They are effortless displays of eclecticism. Pappa Zappa is smiling up in heaven, right next to the flying spaghetti monster.

With Kicksville, we have characters like Luna, who “loves a good chocky,” and Piggy, who is a fucking jerk. We have characters that are bricks. We have modern, unlyrical poetry. We have poetry that sounds like John Berryman. We have rap. We have metal. We have spacey jams. We have screaming guitars, monster beats, and sick chops. We have a track called “Radiation Emanates from the Box.” No words. Just go listen. Plus there’s just enough of a funky groove to keep the hipsters at bay.

So far Kicksville has 69 members, but with a live band of usually 17. The Mayor is Mike Stehr, and the Commissioner is Conrad St. Clair. All three of their albums feature interconnected stories with some characters migrating from one album to the next. They won’t ever be played on commercial radio, but with the release of Season 3, Kicksville_ makes a grand splash with some odd, funky, thrashy, dope, intricate, experimental music sure to thrill anyone tired of all the worn and frayed forms of popular music. - Jambands.com


It’s rare that I post more than one track from a band, much less close together but, in this case, I make an exception. I become more and more impressed with Kicksville with each new track I hear. I love bands that can reinvent themselves from song to song. If their name wasn’t on it, I would guess that this was done by an entirely different band. The cynicism and attack on the materialism and screwed up priorities of American culture are there but you’d miss it if you weren’t paying attention. An almost South American synthesized flute opens the track followed by crisp guitar lines and a female vocalist’s soulful rises and dips. All of a sudden you’re transported into the middle of a mid-80’s John Hughes’ soundtrack (doesn’t matter which movie but I’m thinking Some Kind of Wonderful or She’s Having a Baby). The heaviness of the message is belied by the lightness of the song. In the end, all that’s left to do is “Surrender.” - Stereo Subversion


The Presidential candidates have shared a motto during this election season: change. On Saturday, Nov. 15, America will have selected its leader, and a new era will be underway. Depending on your belief in what kind of change is needed, you may be looking to celebrate and/or protest. A perfect opportunity to do both awaits you at the Overture Center where a band called Kicksville is scheduled to perform.

Kicksville can’t be constrained by the general conception of what is commonly referred to as a “band.” Kicksville is an entity. Their “Director of Propaganda” describes Kicksville as a political movement, a virtual community, and a musical collective. Madisonians and anyone else hell-bent on a free-thinking mind ought to be licking their chops.

Conrad St. Clair, the “Commissioner” of Kicksville, resists shackling attempts at categorization. “Politically we’re not Marxists, liberals, democrats or any of that.” Kicksville’s music also thwarts categorization. Constantly taking on new forms, collaborating with new artists (who gain “citizen” status), and utilizing new technology, Kicksville is an ever evolving creation that incorporates more than just sound. It assimilates ideas. St. Clair elaborates: “We’re teaming up with Amnesty International’s Small Places Tour 2008 to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948. It’s an honor. It’s something we feel strongly about.”

Expect something special, as St. Clair is the chief sound engineer at the Overture Center and has designed the show specifically for the Capitol Theater. “Believe me; Madison has never seen anything like this before.” According to their posted videos, each show is a multi-sensory experience. To get re-educated, check out [www.kicksville.com/] or [www.myspace.com/kicksvilleband]. Only expect a scolding if your political views are mere talk. This unit is about action.

Asphyxiating rhetoric is unauthorized. Mike Stehr, the “Mayor” of Kicksville, says: “We’re extremely serious, but we’re also extremely goofy. You have to be a little silly to remain so serious.” - Maximum Ink


Depending on temperament and circumstance, Kicksville could alternately be described as an African Pop band, a Jam/Prog outfit, Adrian Belew at his most Zappaesque or Beefheartian, a collaboration between Peter Gabriel and Natasha Atlas, a full-throttle Metal assault, Tom Waits banging away on a carnival-in-a-tool-shed short story or Ministry after a Clockwork Orange session with the new Phish album. And at some point, any or all of those descriptions fit Kicksville like a brand new black concert T-shirt on the group’s latest full-length, The Singles: Season 2, released back in October.

The band is more conceptual than actual, although there are seven members who ultimately translate the studio work on stage. Kicksville calls itself a collective and claims over 60 “citizens” from around the world who contribute to the whole in significant ways, which might partially explain Kicksville’s wild diversity.

Still, the band’s two main creative spark plugs — Mayor Mike Stehr and Commissioner Conrad St. Clair — are perhaps the most directly responsible for what ends up on Kicksville’s schizophonic albums, so the winding path of the band’s set list is ultimately their skewed call. And what an acid-laced Whitman’s sampler that turns out to be on The Singles: Season 2, with the Residents-meets-Bo Diddley cover of “Who Do You Love?” to the Belew Funk Jam/political rant of “Dumfukistan” to the grinding Ministry-edged thrum of “Krankypants.”

What’s clear after running through a few listens to the ever-shifting strangeness that is The Singles: Season 2 is that few of the aforementioned sonic reference points serve as actual influences and any sounds that can be attributed to Kicksville are among the most fascinatingly original that are being foisted upon an unsuspecting world. Edgard Varese said it, Frank Zappa lived it and Kicksville puts their own twist on it: “The modern day composer refuses to die.” - Brian Baker (Blurt, Cincinnati City Beat)


Welcome to Kicksville. Your tour will last roughly an hour and will consist of an episodic journey into a genre-bending society.

Before diving into Kicksville’s The Singles – Season 1, take a look at the art inside the CD booklet. Each track has a corresponding cover by illustrator Andy Ewen, with the recurring themes of eyeballs, fire, and teeth.

As for the music, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. It’s electronic mixed with pop mixed with blues that is certainly never boring. In an age where a lot of music sounds the same, it’s refreshing to find a band that certainly isn’t afraid to take risks. The band itself describes the musical smorgasbord as having something for everyone. Do you like The Police? The citizens of Kicksville put their own spin on “Walking In Your Footsteps.”

The album, originally released as 13 weekly singles, or episodes, proves that musicians can be serious, take risks, and still have fun. The band is incredibly talented, which is especially evident in reading the album booklet and the explanations behind all of the songs. They take themselves seriously as musicians, but at the same time don’t take themselves TOO seriously. The band describes its song Surrender as “one sugary fun dance tune about being a mindless consumer whore!”

Which is another plus of the album. Sure, love is easy to write and sing about, but it’s nice to hear songs about something else.

So, if you like experimentation, fun beats, electronics, and a mixture of every musical genre you can think of, Kicksville is for you. If you like the idea of a band “whacking the shit out of a bass with a drum stick,” Kicksville is for you. And if you want to spend an hour in an entirely different dimension, Kicksville is for you. - Skope Magazine


Madison, WI-based Kicksville are determined to break into Chicago. If anyone can do it on word of mouth alone, they can - but hopefully it won't come to that. To say the band's stage show is ambitious for club touring is an understatement. What immediately struck neophytes like myself was the feast for the eyes. Got ADHD? No problem. I have found the band for you. The band's production level is much more in tune with a theater presentation - think Blue Man Group. The music, however, is not as streamlined. Fans of at least three entirely separate genres of music could have walked away from the Viaduct with a new favorite song. Progressive and edgy darkwave stylings appealed to fans of Tool and Porcupine Tree. A cover of Monkey Man was a spirited romp to thrill fans of second wave ska or devotees of the Specials. Anyone who has followed Blur frontman Damon Albarn down the rabbit hole into world music was clamoring for more of the band's Malian fare. And the playing was superb.... Kicksville has been semi-accurately compared to Frank Zappa's later period, but that really just means they're unclassifiable - and perfect for people ready to engage with intelligent, crafty, witty virtuosos. Don't miss them! - Jeff Elbel (Chicago Sun-Times, The BIg Takeover)


When performance artist Laurie Anderson was in town recently for a show at Overture Center, Conrad St. Clair walked up to her and handed her Kicksville's latest CD.

"It's all your fault," he told her, half-jokingly.

St. Clair, Overture's chief audio engineer, had seen Anderson in a previous Madison show and took the inspiration for Kicksville's live extravaganzas from her multimedia, hands-on performance art.

St. Clair struggles a little to describe Kicksville's shows. "It's not a concert," he said. "It's part theater, part concert, part multimedia ... assault? No, that's not the right word for it. It's a full-on multimedia freak show spectacle thing."

This Saturday night, Nov. 15, they'll be bringing that freak show to Overture's Capitol Theater. They're starting to "ramp it up" with gigs and made a record 12 appearances in the last year, including one at the Majestic Theatre in March.

Kicksville was never meant to be a real band, insists St. Clair. Since he and a friend started it as a side project ten years ago, it's morphed into much more than a regular band.

To begin with, Kicksville really is big enough to be its own little town. The seven core members call themselves the "City Council," but as a collective, Kicksville has grown to "54 or 55 people" at this point, including musicians from Madison (Biff Blumfumgagnge of the Gomers, Aaron Konkol of Natty Nation, and others). St. Clair is the only "City Council" member living in Madison.

Most of the band members originate elsewhere: Los Angeles, England, Ghana, Mali, Senegal and South Africa. They play ska, trip-hop, Malian blues, alt-rock, acid jazz and whatever other genres float up out of their collective consciousness.

Notably, at least a third of the band members also work professionally as theater technicians, and Kicksville draws on those skills during its live shows. In fact, the band brings those behind-the-curtain mechanics right on stage to be part of the performance. The board that runs the lights, for instance, is right on stage and has a camera aimed at it so the audience can watch the faders going up and down.

"Because we know how all these things are done, we can put on the kind of show that a normal band would need major label support and tractor trailers and a tour bus to do," said St. Clair, who plays bass, keyboards and percussion and sings. He toured for years as a bassist before becoming a full-time sound engineer.

In 2006, Kicksville started shopping around for a label to release their first record. They heard a lot of "nos," because their music didn't fall into a neat, marketable genre.

"It doesn't fit anywhere and that's obviously a very difficult thing for the music business to swallow. They can't get their head around it," said St. Clair.

Ironically, he added, most people's listening habits don't match that narrow attitude of labels: "I think maybe only 14-year-old girls have a music collection that is exactly the same thing. How many people do you know that own nothing but pop-rock? Most people are pretty open-minded."

Finally, they found the "forward-thinking" Ropeadope Digital. The Internet-only indie label has released two Kicksville albums so far and allows the band to retain ownership of everything.

That's especially important to a band that takes what St. Clair calls a "pinko" approach to making music. They started it as a chance for techies and session musicians to make creative decisions for a change and "let that creative stuff out."

"Everyone shares writing credit on songs, even if they just came in to do two notes of a guitar solo," said St. Clair.

The band creates all of its music from scratch - no borrowed beats or recycled loops. The only exceptions to this rule are the old reel-to-reel recordings of Depression-era poet and labor activist John Beecher, St. Clair's grandfather, who has been ordained Kicksville's poet laureate. Beecher is related to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

St. Clair remembers hearing his grandfather give a poetry reading in the '70s, when he was about 5. "I was very taken aback by the poems he was reading. It's not normal 5-year-old fare, talking about falling off scaffolding and your head busting open like an egg. It wasn't until much later that I really realized how powerful his poetry was."

Beecher's sound clips work well folded into Kicksville's music and they also reflect the band's attitude toward politics. "For him, it was far more important to go out and actually do something than write about it," said St. Clair. One of his grandfather's most famous quotes is, "Strength is a matter of the made-up mind."

Kicksville partnered recently with Amnesty International, and a percentage of record and ticket sales go directly to the organization. Issues like immigration policy and civil liberties hit close to home for a band with so many immigrant members. The United States almost deported British-born member Tone D - 77 Square


I'm still not sure what or where Kicksville is, but I do know that it is equally subversive and conscientious. With a new effort called The Results of a Higher Mission out on internet-only indie Ropeadope Digital, it is perhaps just code gone wild in the matrix.

What I do know its Wikipedia entry was deleted possibly because an editor thought the group was a hoax, and that the collective's official site lists the band count at 53, and growing.

But the smokescreen has paid off, literally in the case of its video for "Evil Demon Weed," at right. That 2007 laugher is culled from a 1967 drug "education" reel called Narcotics: Pit of Despair, while its latest video "The Abbot" is culled from military and wartime footage that is as disturbing as it is sobering. (A warning: It is definitely not safe for work.)

Sonically speaking, Kicksville hopscotches across electronica, industrial, dance, jam, funk and more in search of hybrid soundtracking built for artistic insurrection, along the lines of its forebears Steinski and Ministry. However, it avoids samples, except in the case of its "poet laureate" John Beecher, the Depression-era labor activist and artist who also happens to be the grandfather of Kicksville "commissioner" Conrad St. Clair.

"John Beecher was my grandfather," explains St. Clair, "and he was a descendant of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom's Cabin Lincoln credited with starting the Civil War. Kicksville is proud to be part of that activist tradition, and proud to use my grandfather's voice to speak out for those who can't speak for themselves. I think he'd be pleased."

Beecher's Depression-era rants are topically matched with our current imploding economy, which pundits and economists are calling a rerun of that awful time. Meanwhile, Kicksville's musical rants against evil demon weed are topical as well: In 2007, 872,000 American citizens were arrested for weed, a record.

"Our national drug policy is a disgrace," St. Clair argues," and has led to egregious violations of basic human rights and the erosion of our civil liberties. What's worse is that the politicians and corporations pushing these policies have been disturbingly successful in convincing much of the American public that the Drug War is actually a good thing, thereby allowing the damage to continue unchecked."

Kicksville is doing its part to reverse that trend, from "Evil Demon Weed" to trip-inducing multimedia live shows. Their next set touches down on November 15 in Wisconsin as part of Amnesty International's Small Places Tour. If you're looking to feed your head in more ways than one, there are worse places to look. - Wired


Kicksville is the future, no matter how you look at it. A collective presided over by Mayor Mike Stehr and Commissioner Conrad St. Clair, they've embarked on a release project called Season One, in which the group releases a digital single every week for thirteen straight weeks. The first episode, "Phatty," is electronica that resurrects the excitement that swirled around that genre in the 90's, with momentum that drives straight ahead into the ominousness and mystery of the chords. Stay tuned. - GBH.TV


Kicksville makes a bizarre spectacle on stage. It's a band, but that almost comes secondary to its political ideology and multimedia performance art. The setup was extensive: two drum sets, all manner of congas, shakers and hi-hats, two projection screens, three TVs, moving lights and dry ice smoke. Most of the seven core musicians in the 50-plus-member collective work full time as theater technicians, so they run their own lights and video right on stage. Plus, they videotape themselves and project the live footage up on the projection screens. While this is a common practice for arena rock bands, Kicksville takes it a step further with its Do-It-Yourself ethic.

Most bizarre of all was the kilt-wearing man with a flowing Father Time beard who stood in a station at the back of the stage. Known as Tone Deaf, he is Kicksville's resident artist. For the band's last album, he created a colorful, unique collage on each CD's jewel case. (They were for sale in the lobby for $15. Some were gorgeous, others strange and subversive.)

While the rest of the band played, Tone Deaf hunched over a work table (the kind of table your dad has in the basement for doing "projects") and made art, armed with scissors and a big tube of glue. A video camera recorded the process, and the projector threw the image up on one of the big screens. Once in a while, Tone Deaf broke his artistic reverie to blow bubbles on everyone, pop a confetti party favor or pick up a microphone for a between-song monologue.

Kicksville plays a wide variety of music, from West African pop songs to synthy electronica, but connects it all with the blazed jams of stoner rock. The group's political philosophy is one of pot-fueled paranoia (although nowadays, that paranoia seems more and more justified).

Through a sometimes jarring mix of images, video and poetry, Kicksville takes a stand against all war and genocide, against government spying, citizen apathy and the war on drugs. Lyrics sometimes take an absurdist turn. In a song off the group's first album "Enter the Flavor Hut," Kicksville sings about coming through the birth canal into the Flavor Hut on a slice of bread (at least, that's what I heard).

One of its strongest songs, "Oblivious," took jabs at the usual suspects (Fox News, fascism, the religious right) over a bouncy ska beat. All around, the musicianship was very good, especially bassist Conrad St. Clair's nimble solos and Aya Peard's nuanced vocals.

Kicksville creates all its music from scratch and layers together a tremendous amount of live and prerecorded instrumentation and vocals. During one song, the lead guitarist used a real screw gun as a repetitive percussive effect (these are techies, after all). Some of the best moments Saturday evening happened when the band stripped a song down to its core and focused on percussion. At one point, five people were drumming all at once on stage (including Kicksville citizen Tim Gruber).

The show clocked in at an hour and almost 45 minutes, ending appropriately with a cover of Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime." Overall, it was a holistic experience created with a lot of forethought and bookended by a video intro and outro. - 77 Square


Discography

The Singles - Season 3, Dept. of Records (2010)
The Singles - Season 2, Ropeadope Digital/Dept. of Records (2009)
The Singles - Season 1, Ropeadope Digital (2009)
The Results of a Higher Mission, Ropeadope Digital (July 2008)
Enter the Flavor Hut, Ropeadope Digital (July 2007)
Whose America? Volume 3 (2003)
Whose America? Volume 2 (2001)
Whose America? Volume 1 (2000)

Photos

Bio

When people ask us to describe Kicksville, we're usually at a loss. So, we thought it might be able if we let someone else explain.... Here's how Brian Baker (Cincinnati City Beat, Blurt Magazine) put it:

"Depending on temperament and circumstance, Kicksville could alternately be described as an African Pop band, a Jam/Prog outfit, Adrian Belew at his most Zappaesque or Beefheartian, a collaboration between Peter Gabriel and Natasha Atlas, a full-throttle Metal assault, Tom Waits banging away on a carnival-in-a-tool-shed short story, or Ministry after a Clockwork Orange session with the new Phish album. And at some point, any or all of those descriptions fit Kicksville like a brand new black concert T-shirt....

The band is more conceptual than actual, although there are seven members who ultimately translate the studio work on stage. Kicksville calls itself a collective and claims over 60 'citizens' from around the world who contribute to the whole in significant ways, which might partially explain Kicksvilles wild diversity.

Whats clear...is that few of the aforementioned sonic reference points serve as actual influences and any sounds that can be attributed to Kicksville are among the most fascinatingly original that are being foisted upon an unsuspecting world. Edgard Varese said it, Frank Zappa lived it and Kicksville puts their own twist on it: 'The modern day composer refuses to die.'"

Kicksville at a Glance!
Population: 70
Executives: Mayor Mike Stehr, Commissioner Conrad St. Clair
City Council: Beaker, Chris Huntington, Lou Caldarola, Tone Deaf, Aya Peard, Georgina McKee
Poet Laureate: John Beecher
Citizens: Denise St. Clair, Tani Diakite, Jay Corey, Kraig Greff, Anna Purnell, Geoff Burrell, Mookie Siegel, Priest Da Nomad, Shady Bastard, Tim Steele, Cheryl Nystrom, Andy Ewen, Tim Gruber, Mark Thorp, John Ware, Anatol Lieven, Dan Leonard, Randall Harrison, Geoff Brady, Denise Henderson, Gary R, Aaron Konkol, Hilel, Anatole Malukoff, Paul Schaefer, Mario Benavidez, Nafeesa Nichols, Djam Vivie, Edi Gbordzi, Biff Blumfumgagnge, Scott Spelbring, Kristie Parpovich, Ras Kickit, Burton Grey, Ben Surman, Curt Sorenson, Sky Cleven, Greg Silver, Wes Cash, Ethan Eichrodt, Dave Park, Nancie Martin, John Gorelski, Bill Yarrington, Amir Alam, Paka, Skinny Gaviar, Dreamjo, Nora Nutter, Perry Serpa, Matt Rockwell, Jay Frigoletto, Brent Davies, Jason Fassl, Kitty Zombie, Rebel Rouzer, Timmy Schmidt, Sihle Ngema, Vusi Mhlongo, Johnny Sarris

Fun Facts!
>> Mayor Mike Stehr almost electrocuted Alex Van Halen (by accident, of course). Earlier on the same tour, the Mayor almost set the drum riser on fire.
>> Poet Laureate John Beecher was blacklisted in the 1950s during the McCarthy witch-hunts.
>> City Council Member Aya Peard discovered the meaning of the secret code in the classic story, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight historians had been trying to crack the code for centuries.
>> City Council Member Beaker runs one of the top haunted house attractions in the country, Terror on the Fox.