Melissa May and the Thunder Chickens
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Melissa May and the Thunder Chickens

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Jun
20
Melissa May and the Thunder Chickens @ Benny's Bike Rally

Midland, Michigan, USA

Midland, Michigan, USA

Jun
19
Melissa May and the Thunder Chickens @ Shieldsfest

Shields, Michigan, USA

Shields, Michigan, USA

Jun
18
Melissa May and the Thunder Chickens @ Benny's Bike Rally

Midland, Michigan, USA

Midland, Michigan, USA

This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos

Music

Press


Thunderchickens like to keep it fresh

By JACK WALTON
Tribune Correspondent

Four Thunderchickens hatched from the union of two songwriters in Saginaw, Mich.

Josh Jekel and Melissa May were both playing solo acoustic gigs when they met, then they worked for a while as a duo. Last year, they made the decision to add a rhythm section — Matt Kramer and Justin
McKinnon — and Thunderchickens was complete. Jekel plays guitar and May sings lead vocals as well as contributing violin and harmonica.

The group already has two releases, an EP called “Bootleg Egg” and a brand-new full-length CD, “Straight From the Coop.”

Although the band is very much electric, Jekel’s fingerpicking acoustic guitar roots have had a major impact on Thunderchickens’ sound: He eschews the plectrum and uses only his fingers to pick his guitar.

“When I started playing guitar, I was really influenced by the old Delta blues, and those guys never used a pick,” he says. “Besides, when you’re hanging out with a bunch of people, someone will always say, ‘Yeah, I play guitar. You got a pick?’ That’s always the first question out of their mouths. I wanted to be able to play without one, so I started to adapt my own style.”

Jekel’s decision to go with only his fingers has led him on some interesting sonic adventures.

“Especially now that I’ve become an electric guitar player, there is something about the tonal quality of the fingernail versus a nylon or plastic pick. Sometimes it can produce some really weird noises, too. And sometimes it can be a pretty horrific sound,” he says with a cackle.

He uses this style to guide his group through songs that sound like 10,000 Maniacs playing in a garage, or Patti Smith fronting a hippie band. Thunderchickens shows still involve about a 50/50 split between original songs and covers, and the cover song selections reveal some of the musicians’ influences: Songs at live shows have included Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” and The Standells’ “Dirty Water.” The band respects that “B-list” of rock classics, great garage hits that haven’t been quite as radio-saturated as some of the oldies.

“We don’t do the predictable bar band covers,” Jekel says. “A lot of the ones we do, nobody knows if they’re covers or originals. Sometimes, they’re rearranged and whatnot. Sometimes we’ll go just from memory, so I’m sure there are a couple of places where we’re doing some rearranging of chords. It’s more gratifying to us to put our own taste in it than just to emulate 100 percent what’s been done before. It keeps things fresh.”

Live gigs and more songwriting are in the band’s summer plans.

Jekel says the band is not searching for a record label and is content instead to “get the CD out there, play for people and spread the word about the bird.”

And just exactly what is a thunderchicken, anyway?

“Mel has a Polish eagle tattoo on her shoulder,” Jekel says. “And she got sick of explaining to people what a Polish eagle is, so she just started telling them it was a thunderchicken. And people would say, ‘Thunderchicken? That’s really cool!’ So we thought it would be a funny band name.”
- South Bend Tribune


When you think "Thunderchicken" what comes to mind? Well, if you're lucky enough to catch a show by this high-energy original/cover jam band never again will you hear the word Thunder Chickens and not think Melissa May.

Melissa is the explosive , multi-talented front person for this strangely name quartet. The T-Chicks formed a few years ago and immediately went on the road. Since their formation, Melissa and the boys have been spreading their brand of rock and roll to everyone who will listen. From Bay City to Traverse City, Grand Rapids to St Joseph, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, NY, Boston, Chicago and Detroit, when the chickens come to town it's a party.

Melissa started playing guitar at 19, harmonica and violin in her 20's. She is self taught and brings more than her share of passion to every note she sings and plays. She is totally committed on stage. Her energy, enthusiasm, and skills make it impossible to not give this band your undivided attention. And once they have your attention, it's virtually impossible to look away.

I caught the T-Chicks at US-12 in Wayne for a Thursday night showcase in Mid-Febuary. I had heard about the band but had never seen them live and had no idea what to expect. I was blown away the skills of the band and impressed by Melissa May.

Melissa is incredible. Her passion, talent, and energy leave the audience with no choice but to get into the groove that the TC's are throwing. Her voice is kind of a Natalie Merchant/Janis Joplin/Grace Slick mix. Her talent doesn't stop there, consider her skills on guitar, harmonica, and violin and the T-Chickens quickly begin to stand out as a must see band in the Midwest. Mel and the Thunder Chickens are making their mark on the Midwest music scene. I would recommend getting out to one of their shows as soon as possible.
- Detroit Live Magazine


The ThunderChickens
Rick Coates

This weekend is loaded with a lot of talented bands from the region heating up the local club scene. Be sure to check out the Hot Dates and Nightlife pages for a complete line up. This past fall I was in Petoskey to checkout the club scene and caught the ThunderChickens at Papa Lou’s and they rocked the roof off. The Saginaw based quartet will return to Papa Lou’s this weekend with their brand of down on the farm rooster-rock and barnyard bop.
There is this gray area for rock bands that play the club circuit. Most bands have ambitions of reaching the next level of larger venues and a major label deal and all the trappings that Chad Kroeger sings about in his “Rockstar” song. In order to accomplish that, bands have to write and perform original material. Here is where the challenge comes in after a long week of work. people hitting the club scene for live music want to hear music that is familiar, tunes they can dance and sing to. So bar bands are caught in this vortex of playing cover tunes and sliding in the occasional original and hoping that the crowd doesn’t vacate the dance floor.
The ThunderChickens are one of those rare bands that have mastered this gray area. They have a hard chargin’ approach to the cover songs. Too often bands try to sound like the original when performing covers, not the ThunderChickens. They like to spice up the tunes by adding a little dark meat to every song.
“We love playing these songs by adding our brand to them,” said guitarist Josh Jekel. “Also we play a lot of obscure covers that bands typically don’t play. Songs that when you hear them you say yeah I remember that one and I haven’t heard it in awhile. We really like getting up there and having fun with these tunes.”
Jekel is quick to point out and proud of the fact that their originals are connecting with the audience as well.
“We have a dozen originals that we slip in through the night,” said Jekel. “The cool thing is, because of the obscure covers we do, when people hear our originals they think they are covers. A lot of our tunes have this feel to them like they are songs people have heard before. It is weird. We will play a club for the first time and play one of our songs and people will be trying to sing along like they know the tune.”
The band picked up their name out of cultural ignorance from some who attended their shows.
“Our lead signer has a tattoo of the Polish Eagle and she was getting tired of explaining to people what was,” said Jekel. “So she finally started
telling everyone that it was a ThunderChicken and people would walk away and say ‘cool’ and go tell their buddies that it was a ThunderChicken. So we thought it sounded like a perfect name for a band.”
Now having a hot and provocative looking female lead singer fronting your band works for and against you. Many bands (not all) with female lead singers put forward their scantily dressed singer to cover up a lack of talent on the member’s part; they are all about the novelty. Not the ThunderChickens. Their lead singer Melissa May has the vocals and rocks out on the violin as well.
“We get that at first, ‘oh you got this hot chick you guys must not be able to play.’ We hear that from time to time. But Mel shuts them up quickly,” said Jekel. “We played the Machine Shop recently in Flint and they told us ‘we get a lot of female fronted bands that are just novelty acts but not you guys.’ Mel is a real professional and is a great vocalist. We are real fortunate and it certainly doesn’t hurt that she is good looking.”
So it must be a distraction for you guys to have this hot chick up on stage dancing around and playing the violin and belting out tunes?
“Well, no, not really. We see her in a professional way. But our current line up came together a few months ago and before that we would have some fill in guys and they were having a hard time keeping their eyes off of Mel,” said Jekel. “We have solidified our line up and we are all about the music.”
That line up includes Melissa (Mel) May on vocals, violin, harmonica and guitar, Josh “No Pick” Jekel, with his lightning fast fingerpickin’ vintage sound on lead guitars. Matt “Thunder” Kramer on the drum kit and his rhythm section, partner Justin McKinnon, with his dreadlocks and all on, bass.
Despite being together in the current line up for just three months the band is fully booked for the next several months.
“We have been working hard at getting the word out and we appreciate Johnnie Walker and the good people at Papa Lous for taking a chance on us the first time and then inviting us back,” said Jekel.
“Working hard” might be an understatement. The ThunderChickens work overtime to bring a high-energy rock concert to the stage that draws the crowd to the dance floor. They mix tunes from Tool to Ani DiFranco with plenty of classic rock stuff and a good mix of originals. If you are looking to get your Christmas weekend off on the right track get out to Papa Lou’s in Petoskey this Friday and Saturday night.
The ThunderChickens will perform December 21 & 22 starting around 9:30 at Papa Lou’s 317 East Lake Street in downtown Petoskey. Give them a call at 989.992.FUNN(3866). To view a sampling of the happenings at Papa Lou’s go to myspace.com and type in Papa Lou’s for videos of previous parties. To view videos or to listen to the ThunderChickens go to myspace.com/thethunderchickens.

- Northern Express


Thunderchickens Flood Indian Barry’s - No Survivors
by Marc Beaudin

Technically, it was a scene often repeated: a local band releases a CD with a show at a local bar. Friends, family and fans flock in to show their support. I buy a disc (or score a freebie or trade a book for one), and proceed to drink too much for my own good.

But when the Thunderchickens took the stage at Indian Barry’s in Bay City to celebrate the release of Straight from the Coop, it was immediately apparent that this night was going to be far from a typical show. Very, very far.

From the moment the music started, it occurred to me that one doesn’t merely listen to or watch the Thunderchickens, one travels with them. They take you and you go - no questions. No hesitation. No doubts. You know that even though you have no idea where you’re headed, it’s exactly where you need to go.

It’s a rare band that can achieve such textures, such depth and richness, with only a four-piece. If you close your eyes, you will swear that there must be 7 top-notch musicians, 3 stellar vocalists, the ghosts of Gang of Four, Velvet Underground, Nicolo Paganini, and X, as well as 96 whirling dervishes and a bottle of the finest scotch ever spilled - all up there in epic synchronicity.

And this was only the beginning.

The songs continue; pounding into you and changing not merely your opinions about music, but the way you hear music - the way you hear everything. That’s the journey you are now on. They conjure up a sonic tidal wave. A surf breaking rocks (what surf-rock should have been). Jekel ravishes his guitar (think the grittier portrayals of "Leda and the Swan"), and Matt Kramer on drums and Justin McKinnon on bass carve cliffs and reefs riddled with the perches of screaming seabirds. Mel, in the center of it all, makes love to that ocean of sound. Offers herself to the sea with no fear of drowning. But it would be a mistake to write her off as merely a sexual force of energy - it is her words, her voice, her violin that make her a gifted artist who makes you willing to kill or die to have her there on that stage.

And now, a week or so after that night, I haven’t taken the disc out of my CD player. Every track grows richer and fuller with each listen. These songs have something to say, and what they say will haunt you.

- Review Magazine


The "Fabulous" THUNDERCHICKENS


By Robert E. Martin

Great Rock 'n Roll is like pornography in one sense - you know it when you see it (to paraphrase the definition of Supreme Court Justice Stevens). In the case of The Thunderchickens, it's more a case of knowing it when you hear it, especially when the experience goes way beyond mere titillation of the senses, digging more into the passions, thoughts, and emotions embedded within the layers of a song that lift it more to the level of Great Art.

As subjective and pretentious as the topics of Great Art and Great Rock 'n Roll may be, there are always fundamental similarities (never standards) that link them together: a willingness to fly in the face of convention; an ideal of stating that which has not been created, and a belief that life is about much more than mere entertainment.

Since their inception a few short months ago, The Thunderchickens have quickly combined a potent cocktail of youth, musicianship, and understanding that have rapidly propelled them into new venues, more divergent audiences, and greater critical attention, with material such as the freshly penned Belladonna being aired on WKQZ-93, and headlining shows at such venerable venues as Paychecks and The Machine Shop. In short, this is a band that 'gets it' when it comes to creative discipline, working hard, and living large - the way rock stars should.

Propelled into prominence with the bubble-gum burlesque of The Banana's, guitarist/songwriter Joshua Jekel and visually vivacious vocalist and co-writer Melissa May started feeling a creative itch beneath the skin back in May of this year, both yearning to explore more divergent and stylistic material. "For me it hit a plateau," summarizes Josh. "I could see it going on but not going higher. As far as I was concerned, I wanted more diversity in my music."

Taking on shows as an acoustic duo, eventually Matt Kramer came into the picture. "I've known Mel & Jekel for quite awhile," adds Matt, "and always wanted to work with them. When I caught them performing together acoustically, I found the opportunity to boldly ask to sit in with them and they accepted the offer."

Formerly with the award winning Rock 'n Country, Josh & Matt swapped stories about how each harbored a desire to something different musically. "A few weeks later he left Rock 'n Country and we quit The Banana's and started working together," notes Josh, summarizing how The Thunderchickens originally hatched.

With bassist Justin McKinnon the latest addition to the fold, The Thunderchickens had all the group elements put into place. Preferring to resonate in the 'here & now', Justin demurs on past musical exploits and simply states, "I've been in a few rock bands, but nothing really happened with any of them. I like jazz a lot, so when Josh asked me to try out, it worked. This is cool music and I'm having a blast."

Art of the Unexpected

As with any potentially volatile mixture, the collective act of creating a 'sound' for a band is pure chemistry and good fortune. With The Thunderchickens this yearning to dig deeper into the soul of un-mined territory manifested itself in a desire within Mel to start playing the violin.

"I always wanted to play violin, but gave myself a good year before buying one because I have a tendency to pick up different instruments that collect dust," she laughs. "I wanted to make sure I'd actually play it, so I immediately started taking lessons from Bill Fiebig, who's been amazing to learn from."

Watching Mel's fingers move over the fret board of her newfound instrument is akin to watching a robin methodically & intently thread bits of nature into a nest, each striation forming something new and more substantial than the last.

"I don't know what it is, but the sound of the violin is haunting," continues Mel. "There's something about it that allows me to express myself in a profound way, apart from my singing."

"I'm glad we came together at the right time," reflects Matt upon this topic of musical chemistry. "It's all serendipity." And indeed, a significance all fellow members express is a nod to Matt on the impact he's carried into the mix of the band.

"I always wanted to play with Kramer," states Josh. "Whenever we had a drummer issue with The Banana Convention he's the first person I'd call. Matt is a tasteful drummer and has such strong meter. You don't find a lot of that out there."

Armed with mutual focus & respect, what about this latest incarnation makes the music sound so fresh?

"For me it's the personality of the band," states Josh. "It's a little more real, Previously with my songwriting I could get away with silly things and be witty about it, but one line would crop up that took away the credibility of the song. It can be solid up to a point, but after that it becomes comical. I feel the songs are more real now and the subject matter isn't contrived to fit any one genre or form any one style."

"In my case, it's the energy & unbridled passion of Josh & Mel," responds Matt. "They brought me out of my shell and helped me to become a drummer again. I'd been playing like an automaton for so long, but these two taught me to let go and improvise. Even with the covers, they taught me to not perform it note-for-note but restate the material and approach it as an artist, for lack of a better phrase."

"I think the problem before is not so much that we're 'picky', but more a matter of the fact we're not going to compromise our standards," notes Mel.

Not to denigrate their prior musical alliances, but when one sees and hears The Thunderchickens the energy and focus of their drive to dig deeper into the many roots & variations of a chord is infectious. Call it the 'art of the unexpected', but brave rock music is a combination of many factors - ability, talent, presence, passion, and delivery, all which must gel in a manner that does not appear contrived.

The Banana's were a great band because they popped like a big bubble of chewing gum into the face of tired posturing, predictable power-riffing, and plaintive 'mope rock' permeating the scene. As with any form of Pop art, however, acceptance does not always equal critical acclaim, which will always result in highbrows and 'serious' musicians often raising an eyebrow.

By stepping away and starting from scratch, The Thunderchickens have taken a risk and realized that experimentation is perhaps the most important stepping stone to success.

"We're able to play so many different venues now, it's amazing," reflects Josh. "Just getting our songs played on the radio is amazing. But mainly, we're able to perform with everyone - rockabilly bands, punk, metal, this group has opened us to broader acceptance, I think."

With nearly 20 new original compositions under their belt, the group has been clocking 390 hits per day on myspace.com with each new recording they release online, most recently Killing Fields and Road to Nowhere.

"Josh just wrote this song called Woodbridge Avenue," explains Matt, "that's all about driving from the Speedway station to his home here, and it's an amazingly powerful piece. As someone from the outside looking in, it's incredible how they come up with their material."

While Josh & Mel don't usually write songs together, they do trade off ideas constantly. "Usually our minds wander," laughs Josh, "and I like to work a lot of 'false bridges' into songs that leave a lot of open space within the song. I try to open it so I have three different styles in there somewhat, so I'm not playing the same thing all the time on stage."

Part of what forms such a seamless bridge between the foundational bedrock of the band and the modern sensibility they bring to their material - whether original or cover - is strong exposure to seminal '70s bands like the MC5 and Jefferson Airplane - mingling guerilla politics with revolution for the hell of it.


"I grew up on my Dad's 8-tracks'," laughs Mel. "He was always listening to older music from the sixties and seventies and that reflects a lot for me. The '80s and '90s music didn't really do it for me. I don't really know why, but I'd prefer Grace Slick over Madonna back in the '80s," continues Mel.

"I agree with Mel," interjects Josh, "after the '70s digital recording came into play and there's something dirtier about that earlier sound. Huge arena rock left me cold, not that I don't like that kind of music, but it didn't appeal to me personally in terms of what I like to play."

From Polish Eagle to Thunderchickens

The group hatched their name through a modicum of ethnic confusion. "I have a Polish eagle tattooed on my shoulder," explains Mel, "and people that aren't Polish don't know what it looks like. All these people would ask me what it was and I got tired of explaining that it was a Polish Eagle, so I'd just say 'It's a Thunderchicken'. And they'd go, 'Oh, that's cool!"
"The BumbleBees was a close second," laughs Josh.

Regardless of the name or handle used to label it, the music of this group is real and palpable. "It's a real message when you play in Hemlock and people are standing up and cheering for our originals songs as loudly as they are the covers," exclaims Matt. "The difference is in the delivery, really. - the delivery and passion behind it. People feed off that and we in turn feed off the audience response."

Passion is no ordinary word, as Graham Parker once noted, and it's a hard thing to manufacture or contrive. "We're just us and its a different concept that works better for us and seems more palatable to people. It's not a pre-conceived game plan. I'd rather let this band do what we do and see what happens. It's working so far. I'm having a lot of fun and everything's better. Even the money is getting better."

"For me its just the tip of the iceberg,' notes Justin. "I've played just a few shows and all the material is music I enjoy listening to and performing, so it's a comfortable fit. I'm also learning the upright bass right now, so that should add a different twist to the sound."

"Another thing I enjoy about this band is the wide variety of musical tastes from each member," concludes Matt. "Jekel showed me some CD's he procured from Elderly Music and he was playing this Romanian Gypsy Music that was simply amazing. Jazz, Latin, Bluegrass, its an amalgam of all this music that shows up in the way we play."

"We're reaching a whole new fan base with our original music, which is great. But doing covers gets you into the door," concludes Josh. "When I was 20 I hated cover songs with a passion, but I also lived in my Mom's basement and didn't have any bills to pay."

And so we end this tale with a balance between the commercial and the artistic, the yin & the yang, and conclusions that may also serve as introductions. When you ask fans what they like about this group, 'refreshing' is perhaps the most constant comment.

The beauty is the fact they're just getting started. - Bay Area Review


Discography

2008 EP"Bootleg Egg"
2008 LP"Straight From The Coop"

Photos

Bio

We might not be what you're looking for, but you'll be happy you found us. We don't fit in anywhere when it comes to genres. We are too hippie to be punk and too punk to be hippie. The ThunderChickens aren't one type of band for one type of people. We play pop and punk, surf and soul, rock and reggae, country and blues, with flavors of latin, cajun and gypsy jazz.

The band has been entertaining audiences since 2007 and has played over 250 shows with bands like Puddle of Mudd, and Kittie and festivals like the International Pop Overthrow and Altered Skin Revolution as well as toured Chicago, IN, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, NY,NJ, and Boston. In 2008 and 2009, they won several Review Magazine Music Awards. Best Rock Band, Best Original Band and Rookie of the Year, as well as Best Female Vocalist and Best Instrumentalist be Melissa May. Jekel and Mel have been playing together 5 years as a high-octane acoustic duo and in a bubblegum punk band. Together, they have done hundreds of shows from coast to coast and played with bands like Foreigner and Bay City Rollers. They have unique blend of voice, instrument and energy that is the root of the spontaneous and explosive music, songwriting and performance . With the addition of Justin McKinnon, bass player and music major, and Terry Poirer, a life-time drummer from a musical family that has performed on several national television shows, the Thunder Chickens line up is complete.

The band travels and gigs 3-4 days a week, while writing and practicing new material. Working hard at captivating audiences with their powerful and original music and refreshing twist they put on their eclectic song selection and making fans and talent buyers happy with their performance and professionalism. Currently looking to travel and tour into new markets like East Coast, South and Midwest.