The Creatively Cosmic Musical Collective Known as KUSH ROBINSON

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    icon Feb 22, 2024
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“Those who were not on the bus would come to the realization that there was no schedule. The Grateful Dead did not play in sets; no eight numbers to a set, then a twenty-five-minute break, and so on, four or five sets and then the close-out. The Dead might play one number for five minutes or thirty minutes. Who kept time? Who could keep time, with history cut up in slices?  Those who didn’t care to wait would tend to drift off, stoned or otherwise, and the test would settle down to the pudding.”

. Tom Wolfe (Describing The Grateful Dead in ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) 

In their own words. the musical collective known as Kush Robinson describe themselves simply as “a funky cluster of goofballs laying down some psychedelic grooves”, which while reflective of the communal spirit of giving & sharing that defined the rainbow coalition of Hippies invading Golden Gate Park back in the Summer of Love, unfortunately falls short of completely describing the intricate journey inward that has led to their expansive  journey outward into the improvisational galaxy of the musical stratosphere they occupy today.

 With a cast of musical characters that includes current members Josh Muehlfeld on guitar & vocals, Kyle O’Keefe on bass, Jake Nowosad on drums, Adonis Freiman on trumpet & percussion, Joe Gerring on guitar & synth, and Dillon King on keyboards, past characters who played a pivotal role in the evolution of this posse of musical pioneers also include Josh’s sister Ariel Muehlfeld on drums, original keyboardist Larry Lang, Mac Schaper, Connor Lamb, and Chad Schmude, as well as Daniel Kreske - Josh’s brother, who served as their Pre-Kush drummer.

The origins of Kush Robinson go back to 2017 when guitarist/vocalist/and ringleader Josh Muehlfeld & bassist Kyle O’Keefe, along with Josh’s brother Dan Kreske started jamming in high school together several years earlier. “He found my guitar sitting in a closet and said, ‘Dude, we should be jamming together, so why aren’t we?’ I could play a few power chords, but I started learning more stuff on the Internet and we started jamming together,” explains Josh.  “I didn’t know any scales at the time, but Dan and I started jamming with Kyle on bass and Adonis Freiman on trumpet in this tight little room called the ‘Sweatbox’, where we’d all sit together in a circle and jam for hours. That’s how we got going.”

As this trio of musical newbies & explorers started getting to know one another, Dan moved to Ann Arbor, so they needed to enlist a new drummer. “My sister Ariel plays drums and was going to school at CMU, and before she could officially join the group, I started playing beats on a computer so we could start jamming out these little improv noodles.”

“Around 2017 Adonais and I started hanging out with our current keyboardist Dillon King at his house. Dillon didn’t play keys at the time, but he introduced us to Larry Lang, who was working at the Bancroft Bourbon Bar, and Larry mentioned he could play piano so started joining us in our jam sessions. I had no idea how good he was. He was way out of our league, but I learned so much from him. We started working up these extended mash-ups blending different songs together, such as Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side and something by Talking Heads together, and my proficiency on guitar accelerated playing with Kyle and Larry.”

According to co-founding member Kyle O’Keefe, who started playing bass back in the 1980s when he was 15-years old, “I was married with a couple of kids and around 2000 I stopped playing. I didn’t start playing again until my wife and I split up and to get my mind off the turmoil I picked up the bass, got a cheap amp, and learned to play bass by watching some online lessons on the Internet, and actually became much better than I ever was over the 17-years I’d been playing earlier. I spent 2 years just learning music theory, so when we started jamming with Larry, who was also a music theory man who knew his modes and chords, everything just stared to mesh and we all became best of friends”

While most Jam bands start with a structured sound and will branch out into the realms of musical improvisation once the structure of the song is defined, Kush Robinson’s approach to building their sound was actually reversed, starting out with improvisation and then moving into adding more structure to the song. Because at that time due to their musical limitations they only knew how to play three songs, the group decided the best road moving forward was to simply jam.

“We would start by picking a key, such as the key of D, and them make something up,” reflects Josh. “We never wrote songs but simply made stuff up and then titled the songs, kind of doing it as we went along. While we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we approached jamming from a serious posture and started playing around more and setting goals for the band. When my sister Arial started playing with us in the basement she was nervous at first, but her and Larry became best friends and everything gelled.

“We never had plans to even start gigging, and it wasn’t until Ryan Seifferlein, owner of the Bourbon Bar, asked us to perform one night at his place that the experience became very real.  The gig was a month away, we didn’t have any more than a few songs down, so we needed to put a set list together that we didn’t have. Our approach was to practice with these long 10-hour sessions days before the gig to thread enough material together, which was mostly instrumental.”

“I’d played a lot of gigs before these guys were born, but our first gig at the Bourbon Bar was the first show I’d played in almost 20 years,” adds Kyle, “so I was scared to the point of not being afraid of pissing the other guys off.  I turned into a hard-ass and said, ‘I’m not getting up there and embarrassing myself, so we’ve got to be tight and get it together, and we did. Everybody in the band pulled together and it was like a baptism by fire. The place was packed and at capacity and we had never played before anybody publicly prior to that gig.”

Since that debut performance Kush Robinson has expanded their reputation and fan base considerably, landing gigs throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region at venue like Bemo’s and White’s and also performing as far south as The Sanctuary down in Hamtramck.

In terms of their evolution, Josh says that while none of the group are really songwriters, they have been able to construct about a handful of five originals they are in the process of recording, having created and recorded one original at Papa Doc Studios in Bay City.

“We’re very much like The Grateful Dead in the sense that the songs we perform are never played the same way twice,” emphasizes Josh. “Our original songs are simple things that can be played a thousand different ways, so when we record in the studio the song will sound like how we’re feeling that day. My brain is constantly working, so we mix and spin and tie our improvisational journeys into other songs that are better known and more popular with people, which is one of my favorite things to do. When we make a set list, I’ll look  for songs that share similar keys, so we can blend and flow everything together seamlessly. Not only is it fun to keep things mixed up, but this way it keeps audiences guessing.”

Because of the inherent nature of the band, they also enjoy offering members from other groups to join them on the stage and sit in for a song or two.  “Musicians from other bands have the time of their lives playing with us because they find it liberating not to have a structure to adhere to,” notes Kyle. “Steven from Winaschnitzel has filled in on drums for us a lot of times, as has Conor Larkin.”

The newest member to the Kush family, drummer Jake Nowosad, says he joined the group for a number of reasons that also reflect upon the band’s fundamental mojo. “Apart from a lack of desire to pursue other projects that I was offered, what drew me to Kush is how they are very forgiving - they don’t get on each other’s case for playing parts wrong, and there’s no such thing as a wrong note. Their music is more a form of energy than a formatted pre-determined thing, so we know where to start and where to finish, but everything in-between is something we collectively create that people are going to be seeing for the first time.”

“The hardest part of constantly re-inventing songs is actually learning and playing them for the first time, because every person in the band is from such a different musical background,” states Josh. “One member is into Metal, I’m into Funk and Electronic Jam music, Adonais is into Jazz and Hip Hop, and Jake is into Classic Rock and 90’s Grunge, so creating each song is like blending together this transformational sound.”

“I remember the first time we practiced together and got to the six-minute mark with a song and decided we should probably end it,” he continues. “The next practice we attempted an exercise where every song we played we decided to make 15-minutes long, so we would fade the instruments out but keep the beat going, go ambient so we could feel the energy from the song and figure out where to take it, and while it took a few times for everything to gel, it was at that practice session where everything clicked.”

“Now we look at the clock to see if we’re at the 4-hour mark, which as a drummer is the most challenging thing for me,” adds Jake. “It takes a log of stamina playing a 4-hour set sometimes, but it does keep you fit.”  “We played at Bemo’s once for 5-hours once,” chimes Josh. “We started at 8 PM and ended at 2 AM. I recorded everything on my phone.”

“We’ve been doing live streams at Papa Doc Studios and recorded one original there that’s out on all the streaming platforms. We based it around a Phish song called Steam and jammed it into a big mashup, but also have a lot of our live performances available for people to watch on YouTube.”

In addition to his work with Kush, bassist Kyle O’Keefe says he also has a side project centered around his interest with Electronic Music called DaddyMan, which weave bass parts into Eastern sounding textures. “I have new toys for the bass to get that electronic jam sound going,” he explains, “and like to remix audio while Josh handles the video production.  I’d like to go back and do more of that as we evolve.”

Since their debut seven years ago Kush Robinson has steadily been increasing their fan base, getting a lot of returning party goers to each new venue they perform at. “It’s gotten to a point where people realize we’re not just blowing smoke up our ass and actually like our music, which makes me feel good,” reflects Josh.

“We’ve got something going on and because the band has so many different musical interests, when I play my guitar and with the effects I work with, I’m not trying to sound like anything or anybody out there.  I want to sound like the end of the night coming off some mushroom high where you’re listening to something on the stereo and something washes over you, gives you the chills,  and makes you go deep - that’s the sound I’m looking for!”

“For me our sound is like a meditative listening state,” adds Kyle. “where you go for a long drive and don’t need the drugs because the music will take you to a place we’ve created that we’ve already been to, so don’t need the drugs to transport you there…it’s all done through the music.”

“We’re all inspired by bands like Phish that go off into these intricate musical journeys, or groups like Umphrey’s McGee who started their second set with an 18-minute long song,” confirms Jake. “That’s the kind of thing we’re striving to achieve. Watching them is what I’d like people to experience watching us - going from a place where you don’t quite know what you’re listening to but are excited to see where you’re going.”

“We make every cover song we perform our own,” concludes Josh. “Even a familiar Beatles song like Come Together we will channel off into a jam portion where you wouldn’t recognize the place we started at because we go so deep with it.  You don’t get that experience in the studio and I think there’s more depth listening to live recordings than studio recordings, because you can explore the deeper textures and meanings of the song more.”

Honestly, I think the key to our success and growth as a band, along with the reason people love to come groove and party with us is because there’s no drama with this band."

"Family and friends always come first.”

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