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An Interview with Music Collective, Kicksville

Kicksville Live - photo by Mystique Imagery CD: Kicksville!
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by Mike Huberty
August 2012

As a mixture of performance art, music, and live multimedia show, Madison’s KICKSVILLE began as a recording studio experiment that turned into something completely unexpected. Now a musicians collective with seventy-three different contributing members, KICKSVILLE is an artistic statement more than a band with a sound that can range from jamband-eqsue guitar solos to electronic grooves to Afro-drum beats and soaring vocals. In anticipation of their August 18th show at the Barrymore, we talked to original founders Conrad St. Clair and Mike Stehr, as well as vocalist Georgina McKee, artists Tone Deaf and Andy Ewen, drummer Lou Caldarola, and multi-instrumentalist Biff Blumfumgagnge.

Max Ink: What was the inspiration behind the initial studio experiment?

Conrad St. Clair: Two things: 1, having fun in the studio and just writing stuff that we enjoyed without the pressure of having to push the business side of things; and 2, avoiding the usual personality issues that inevitably arise in a traditional band situation.

Mike Stehr: Well, for me it started out as a fine excuse for two old friends to get together and have a little fun free from the binds of band life. I think we were both kinda sick of the whole “be in a band” thing at the time.

MI: How did it turn from that into a collective? Was it intentional or organic?

Conrad: Organic - definitely. It started by just asking a few people to come in and noodle with us and it grew from there.

Mike: A little of both. After a while both Conrad and I said, “Man… we could really use some live guitar and drums on a few of these songs.” Here we are, 13 years later, and there are over 70 of us!

Andy: Time and a warm, moist environment. Was it intentional or organic? Indeed…yes, I believe it was.

MI: What are the artists and music styles that unify you as a group?

Conrad: Salif Keita, Ministry, The Specials, Peter Gabriel, Black Sabbath, David Bowie, Manu Dibango, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Mahotella Queens, Chemical Brothers…you name it, it’s in there.

Biff: It’s a musical car wreck of Jean Luc Ponty meets Funkadelic meets Sex Pistols meets U2 meets Steely Dan meets Genesis and Pink Floyd. I like how Kicksville has populated itself with local musicians like Andy Ewen, Randall Harrison, Maggie Weiser, Conrad St. Clair and myself - there is a nice fusion of Madison talent (as well as talent from Chicago, DC, NY, the UK and beyond).

MI: What would you recommend as the song to listen to for people who are listening to you for the first time?

Conrad: That’s tough, since one song in isolation will probably give you the wrong idea. I’d suggest “Krankypants” and “Kalamaya” from The Singles - Season 2. Those two would give you a good idea of the range of music we’re talking about. Even those two don’t cover all the bases, but you’ll definitely get the message that you’re not in Kansas anymore….

Mike: I don’t think someone can listen to any one Kicksville song to see what’s going on here.

Tone: “Evil Demon Weed” and/or “Undesirables.”

MI:  What inspires the titles of your songs?

Conrad: Depends…sometimes they’re obviously from the song itself. Sometimes the name of the song originates from the project file - when we start working on something new, you have to call the project something. Sometimes that name sticks (“Buzzalicious” is an example of that). Sometimes it comes from an instrument used in the song.

Mike: I really don’t think you want to know. It can be a bit twisted at times.

Lou: Our “Abby Normal” brains….

MI: What song do you think best represents the sound you’re trying to create? What inspired it?

Conrad: That’s the thing: we’re not trying to create any specific sound. We just write, and what comes out might sound like Ministry or it might sound like Salif Keita. That’s part of the fun.

MI: What can people expect from the Kicksville live show?

Conrad: Everything! It’s one part concert, one part Dadaist theater, one part technology-driven freak-out, all performed with some seriously top-notch musicians. Oh…and art. Lots of art, both on display in the lobby and “performed” on stage. Tone Deaf (our resident artist and spoken-word guru) is actually on stage doing his bit during the show. And it ain’t no hippie watercolor painting either - it usually involves stuff like gaff tape, drum heads, and barbed wire, along with anything else he can pull out of the trash.

Mike: Everything you get out of an arena show in a smaller package. But, that package gets bigger all the time…. (heh heh…. package….)

Tone: Insults.

Biff: Minds getting blown. This is an excellent show with incredible production values as well as musical diversity. These shows are hard to forget - they are more like an event.

Georgina: A group of people enjoying each others company while playing some really great music! There will be dancing, bubbles, electric drills, great lighting, some cool projection work…it’s a whole different experience from other bands. Check it out.

Andy: To experience something completely unexpected.

All of their songs are available for free download on and tickets are on sale now for the big show at the Barrymore in Madison on August 18th.

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