October 20, 2009

Looking beyond the Life of the Mind, Kid Savant seeks electronic existence

The Chicagoans who organized Kid Savant, a self-described electro-rock group, are in the process of becoming full-fledged professional musicians. With a sound that seeks to bring house, trance, and electronica music into the popular consciousness, the band strives for a style that merges the feeling of live trance music with the potency of a hit song. They have a self-published EP entitled Second Servings and just finished performing at the Aureal Festival in Brooklyn, NY, on Saturday, showcasing their music at one of the premier indie arts festivals in the country. Sound pretty big? Well, get this: They’re all college students. I talked to Kid Savant’s drummer and fourth-year University of Chicago student John Sullivan about the rise of the group and the difficulties of balancing his artistic vision with the academic rigor of the university.

CHICAGO MAROON: How did you guys wind up forming as a cohesive band?

John Sullivan: It originally began with Ryan Weisberger (synthesizer, keyboard, and vocals) and I. We’re the core members, I guess. We went through a series of pretty bad names. We played a lot in high school, at prom and stuff. We had this thing called “prom-stock,” which was like the craziest prom party, and that was sort of a catalyst at that moment. That was actually senior year. I had done a lot of jazz band stuff before, but I knew that wasn’t the route I wanted to go. Then I come here, we all disperse, they go to, like, Indiana University, I go here. But there’s nothing I align with here, really. I mean, I’ve had hassles over trying to make bands with, like, flutes and yodeling. A sort of typical UChicago amalgamation of disjointed music, you know. It was nothing I really wanted to do. To this day I still haven’t found a bass player. And no one seems to have the time to devote to it. That’s an issue I’ve run into consistently here. And just through that time—the last four years—I know people who have completely dropped playing their instrument. I just couldn’t be a part of a constricting scene like that. So I reached out to the other members again. We went to Montreal two years ago and had some success there, working with some producers and other artists.

CM: A lot of students here do seem to feel like they barely have time to even study, let alone to pursue extracurricular interests to the extent that you have. What is it like balancing the lifestyle of an active student with that of an emerging musician?

JS: Well, it’s probably not quite at equilibrium. I’m heavier on the music, frankly. It’s a profession I really want to have after this. And I mean, here at least, they try and inculcate a sense of self-interest, or what people should be interested in. I’m a political science major, but that has no bearing on what I do and, fuck, you don’t want me on, like, a nuclear non-proliferation committee. I don’t know anything about that. I’m just fortunate I found out that I wanted to do something with music when I started playing 11 years ago. I didn’t deviate from that. Maybe it’s a little ad hoc at the moment, deciding that I want to continue with music, but then I’m happiest when I’m playing. I’m really just looking forward to doing that after I’m done here. So really, there’s no equilibrium at all.

CM: Looking at Kid Savant’s MySpace page, one of the things that struck me the most was the group’s interest in taking some of the more esoteric elements of live trance music and bringing them into a more conventional musical style. How did this idea come about and what are some of the issues that you have to face with it?

JS: That idea is definitely reflective of our time in Montreal. You hear the Top Forty on the radio there and it is almost always a house or trance remix, which is really cool. It’s not something that you get in the scene here. I’ve always loved house music. I’m a drummer, you know, and house is just so rhythmic, it’s inherent in the music. In Montreal, all the clubs, especially the one we played at, open at 3:00 a.m. and go until 12:00 p.m. the next day. All the best DJs in Canada, or at least in the city, were there. They have this thing called the crawl, where the music loses all sense of rhythmic definition. It’s like a time for everyone to breathe and relax. But at the same time, they call it an orgasm, too. It just keeps going and going, a climactic moment and then it just stops back into the drop. I haven’t heard anyone do that kind of thing in a conventional format, seeing as songs these days are like three minutes long. It’s something we’ve really tried to do, if not with the crawl, then with a four-four bass line throughout, like in “A Better Side of Paradise.” And also with the synth elements. We took a lot of time designing synth sounds.

CM: Since Kid Savant is based out of Chicago, is there a significant influence for the group that comes from the house and electronica scenes here?

JS: I have a lot of respect for the synth design that goes into it. Chicago house by nature is a little faster and has a lot more techno elements, really heavy hitting. DJ Paul Anthony is one of the main guys in that scene, and Franky Bones and stuff. So it doesn’t naturally reflect back into our music, but it’s something we appreciate, especially with the time they take in synth design and adding lyrics to their stuff, which something like trance music doesn’t do a lot.

CM: So you guys are fresh off the plane from performing at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on Saturday. How did that go?

JS: It was great. We were invited for this indie arts festival, the Aureal Flush Festival. It was at one of the premiere venues. I mean, if anyone’s familiar with Brooklyn, they know the Knitting Factory. We were extremely lucky to play there. We opened for Melissa Auf der Maur of Hull and the Smashing Pumpkins, who she performed with on a few tours. She’s actually from Montreal, so it was kind of cool to get to meet her. Courtney Love made it to the show, so we got to check her out. A lot of industry people were there, fortunately. We were generating some hype among certain people. A and R, industry lawyers. We had some good talks there.

CM: You guys will be performing again on November 27 at the Vollrath in Indianapolis. What do you expect from that?

JS: That’s one of those sort of incidental gigs. But we are signing a booking agent who can get us some cool tours this summer, when we’ll all be freed men, you know, with the chains unbound, full touring. We’ll be doing some recording this winter too. That’s sort of part of our broader strategy of consistent songs, unlike MGMT with sort of one album to carry them through. I’m excited to see what they come up with next, though.

CM: Are you planning on recording some songs and putting an album together sometime soon?

JS: Well, I think the album, by definition, would come with a record label funding it. We have enough material right now to make two albums, but they’re all kind of disparate concepts. We want a conceptual album in which each song seems sequenced and the ideas flow in between. If we took the time, we could put a spine to it.

CM: What has been your experience with the U of C, and how does it tie in to your long-term plans for the future?

JS: Well, I can’t even name a cool musician to come out of this school that wasn’t John Cage or Phillip Glass—one of them came from here. I honestly don’t know who else has come out of here. Not that I’m trying to make it like that, to kind of forsake my degree in some way—my political science degree—and do this. Maybe entertainment law is in my future, too. All the other guys are in similar positions too, with pretty good degrees and decent schools. We’ll just wait and see what happens. We have a lot of people behind us right now on our creative team, so if we fail, honestly, it would be mostly our fault.