There must be something in the water affecting the artistic cortex of the brain, because 2012 witnessed an unprecedented number Midland based artists capturing public attention and acclaim at this year's Review Music Awards ceremony.
And of all the talented crop of new artists surfacing on the scene in the Great Lakes Bay, Killer Kong is without doubt making a noise and defining a sound that is capturing attentions and spanning generations of musical fans with their blues-grounded hybrid of pyrotechnical psychedlia. Grounded with deep blues grooves and a tight rhythmic bottom navigated by they rhythm section of Nate McConnell and Alex Nemeth and accented with the fiery vocals and blistering guitar flourishes of Jesse Aho, the sound of Killer Kong is colored with catchy hooks and a sound that goes far over the bleachers into left field.
Securing the honor of Best New Artist of the Year, the alliance of this powerhouse musical trio dates back to their high school days when Jesse and Alex first met while playing together in the Bullock Creek Band program. “We were both in the jazz band together,” explains Alex, “and Nate was two grades younger than us. We started playing together as a band two years ago when we decided to start jamming together. Because we all come from the same place in terms of our sensibilities, musically we fit will together.”
In terms of crafting their distinct sound, Jesse notes how “The biggest objective we share is to play music that we like. We didn't want to make stuff just to get the most people to listen, but were looking to fuse straightforward gritty blues and rock 'n roll together. We're doing what we want at this point.”
In terms of influences that informed the band early in life, chronologically they point to groups like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and The MC5. “I like a lot of the older mid-60s Detroit stuff,” explains Jesse. “And I inherited quite a few of those records from my Dad. Alex is the same way. He was into The Velvet Underground and more recently we're influenced by bands like The Flaming Lips and the work of Jack White.”
Collectively the group has crafted together 14 original songs thus far. “Alex and I write most of the songs and then the group hashes it out. We never present a song that is totally completed, but work it out together,” notes Jesse. “We haven't been as good about recording stuff as we should so are going to start recording live versions of our shows. Plus we've been in the studio recently with Andy Reed and are working on wrapping up a 5-song CD.”
When asked what they feel distinguishes their sound, Nate points out how “At the Awards Ceremony we were complimented on our dynamics, which reminded me of our old band teacher. I guess we try to include some variety into our sound. We don't want all of our songs to all sound alike.”
“A lot of bands out there are really good,” echoes Alex, “but when you leave the venue you can't talk about a particular song that stands out. We strive for variety in our sound. Plus we're big critics. If we don't feel good about a song, we'll drop it until we do. We have countless numbers of half-finished songs and would rather wait and work them out and have them bubble up rather than sound bad.”
In terms of local venues, the group can often be seen at The Hamilton Street Pub, The Tiz It and White's Bar. And when asked if the younger generation of 20-somethings still feels strongly about live music as opposed to hanging out at DJ / Dance clubs, Alex is reflective. “There's like a new dichotomy that comes from commercial music and the rise of the Internet. Basically this breaks down into Top-40 people and those actively looking for independent music online. That group of people will actively search out new music and I feel that contingent is growing.”
“For me around this area it feels like there might not be a general concert going crowd,” counters Jesse, “but there are definitely people following the music scene that are very loyal. It's hard to say what our fan base consists of. Generally I would say it consists of people who like good music, enjoy the blues, and also like straightforward rock 'n roll finding something we are creating that they can take with them.”
As for their reaction to winning this pivotal 'Best New Artist' award, the group says they were pleasantly surprised. “It's always a surprise when anyone has heard of us,” laughs Jesse, “and right now we're figuring out what our next move should be. There's a band we really like from this area called The Delightfuls and we're going to try and put some tours together, maybe go to Chicago first and then travel out East. We got threatened a lot at the Awards Ceremony with fans young and old telling us to leave the area because we need to be performing in some bigger markets.”
A for the most challenging component involved with their pursuit, all members also agree it's the delicate art of keeping your band running. “We've been fortunate,” reflects Alex, “because we found each other from the get-go while a lot of bands find themselves and then have members move away. We couldn't have asked for things to go any better for us.”
“I don't like soulless music,” concludes Jesse. “The Blues is important to us because it evokes feelings, which are different from emotions. Sometimes you get feelings that you can't correlate with any emotion, but we try to get emotion across in our music and for us the Blues is the most direct means to convey emotion and the quickest way to get from one point to the other. It's a straight line - keep it simple.”