Just a few years ago, Kendall Street Company was little more than an excuse for some musically inclined friends at the University of Virginia to jam out into the wee hours. It didn’t take long for those jam sessions to turn into college parties, or for those college parties to turn into shows at some of Charlottesville’s most popular venues. Two albums and one EP later, Kendall Street Company has graduated to the highway, bringing their show—which draws on everything from good old-fashioned improvisation to modern indie rock—to rooms all over the East Coast. The band even scored a prominent slot at their home state’s own Lockn’ Festival in 2017, their reward for winning the fest’s annual Rockn’ To Lockn’ competition.
Kendall Street Company—Louis Smith (acoustic guitar/vocals), Brian Roy (bass/vocals), Ryan Wood (drums/percussion), Ben Laderberg (electric guitar/vocals), Jake Vanaman (sax), and Andrew King (keys/vocals)—will take New York City by storm for the second time when they headline the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on March 2nd. We caught up with the band as their winter tour was swinging through Asheville, North Carolina, on its way up to the Big Apple. Considering the big moves they’ve been making recently, it seemed like good time to to get to know Kendall Street Company a little bit more. Check out our interview with the band below, and snag tickets to the group’s upcoming Brooklyn show with South Hill Banks at Knitting Factory on March 2nd here.
Live For Live Music: What can someone who is attending a Kendall Street Company show for the first time expect?
Kendall Street Company: Ears: Musically, they could expect a mix of fan-favorite original tunes and our latest sonic concoctions. Four years of playing together as musicians has left us with over 100 songs in our rotation; with every show, we tailor the setlist to the general vibe of the crowd and venue. Often, we improvise mashups and new sections between our original songs, covers, and jams. You might say that the six of us all have overly-active minds, which means an influx of ideas and directions which we filter into our songs. A first-time listener should expect a flow of various sounds, genres, and emotions into their eardrums, ranging from semi-hard rock to ambient jazz to Latin funk. Our instrumentation includes vocals (all around), electric and acoustic guitar, bass, drums, keys, and saxophone.
Eyes: We are six gentlemen in our early-to-mid twenties who look absolutely nothing alike. Nobody has ever called us an “intimidating bunch.” The stage is our play space, and we usually don’t wear shoes. The audience bobs their heads to the groove.
Nose: Lavender, Chamomile, Musk. Lots of hops.
Mouth: Mostly uncharted territory for our shows, although we do have our own Kendall Street Cold Brew coffee that’s featured on tap at Snowing in Space in our hometown of Charlottesville, VA.
L4LM: What are the origins of Kendall Street Company?
KSC: For the most part, we all met through mutual friends while studying at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. The very beginnings of the band go back to Virginia Beach, where frontman Louis Smith and former saxophonist Andrew Drehoff performed together in high school. Kendall Street Beach in Virginia Beach is actually the band’s namesake, representing a good place, good company, and good times. Louis and Andrew attended UVA after high school and met bassist Brian Roy and drummer Ryan Wood in the spring of their first year.
We started playing as a four-piece back in 2013 at college parties and corner bars, recording our first EP in 2014. Soon after, we befriended guitarist Ben Ladergerg and former keyboardist Price Gillock who appear on our first LP Earth Turns, released in 2016. That autumn, Drehoff made the difficult decision to attend graduate school, and we brought on Jake Vanaman on the saxophone in his stead. In the summer of 2017, we toured the East Coast, released our sophomore LP Space for Days, and played at Lockn’ Festival. Soon after, Prive Gillock retired from the band after taking a job in Boston but left us the wonderful Andrew King to take his place on the keyboards.
Relix Studio Session (2017)
L4LM: Your sound is pretty difficult to pigeonhole into one genre, but it does seem like you operate with a “jam band” ethos. How integral is improvisation and extended jamming to the Kendall Street Company live experience?
KSC: We love to improvise during our live shows and we continually strive to improve upon our jams. In a live setting our, jams are affected by three main variables: 1) The energy and general “vibe” of the crowd, 2) the mood and ambiance of the venue 3) the arsenal of tools and listening methods that we’ve practiced over the years. Most jam bands tend to operate using a sort of “code” that their fellow bandmates understand. Dave Matthews Band, for example, relies heavily on defining specific sections upon which a solo musician will improvise in a defined space. Phish and the Grateful Dead use more ambiguous sections which require every member to listen attentively and think on their feet in order to create a collective temporal experience that the audience and band share as one.
Lately, we’ve been embracing more of the collective/vibey brand of jam, although some of our songs (like “Telephone” and the “Marty Song”) shine when the sax or guitar is just ripping it up in those defined sections. We are definitely not the first jam band that sometimes prefers the precise form of a well-written song. But yeah, there’s usually a structure we abide to so it’s not all free-form “what am I supposed to make of this” type improvisation. Oftentimes during our practices we will warm up with controlled improvisational exercises in which we will define specific parameters that limit the direction of the jams. For example, we have this one exercise (called “keep it between the lines”) which only certain notes are permitted at certain times. It helps contribute to our “arsenal of tools” mentioned earlier. Other times, one of the six of us will start noodling on an idea and the rest of us will follow, using our ears to fill in the space. Sometimes we revisit these jams, functioning as “human samplers,” by which we turn some of the ideas into staple songs of our live show (like “Sidetracked”).
L4LM: Who would you say are your biggest musical influences?
KSC: Everyone in the band has a different musical background, which helps us each bring something unique to the table when we’re writing music. When working on a composition or a new section, we sometimes like to assess how a particular artist would have executed the idea. With that in mind, our influences include: the songwriting of the Grateful Dead and the Avett Brothers, the eclecticism of Frank Zappa and Snarky Puppy, the layered rhythms employed by Santana and King Gizzard, the arrangement of parts/sections by Dave Matthews Band and Pink Floyd, the funk of Fela Kuti and Curtis Mayfield, and the production/sampling of Beck and the Beatles. Last summer as part of our annual charity tribute show we performed all of Santana’s Abraxas, which heavily influenced the track “¡Ay, qué pena!” on our most recent release. Oh, one more thing! We all are heavily influenced by the ideas and performances of our professors at the University of Virginia instilled into our young minds.
L4LM: At what point did you realize that Kendall Street Company was becoming something bigger than a “college band”? Was there any moment in particular that gave you that realization?
KSC: When we released our first full-length record Earth Turns, we played release shows in a few different cities. The first release show was also our first ever show in Washington DC, but we sold it out, bringing over 200 people. We kinda looked at each other and said, “We can do this. This can be our job.”
L4LM: As a Virginia band, it must have been pretty special to perform on the main stage at Lockn’ Festival. How did you guys end up on that stage? Have things changed for the band since that big show?
KSC: It was a special experience for all of us. Nearly everyone in the band had been to Lockn’ before; it’s a stage you can only dream of playing. Another surreal aspect of that performance was opening for Umphrey’s McGee on the rotating main stage. Some of us have been seeing them live since as early as 2011, so it was cool to feel like we of the big leagues. We owe lots of gratitude to our friends, family, and fans who supported us in the Rockn’ to Lockn’ local artist competition. Nothing has changed too drastically, but it definitely helped us expand our fan base and book some cool festivals this year.
“Sidetracked” – Lockn’ Festival 2017
L4LM: You guys have been crisscrossing the East Coast for some time. Are there any plans to head out west in the near future?
KSC: Travel expenses can add up quickly for an independent band, so distance can often be limiting. That said, we’ve received great feedback from fans out west (especially in Colorado), so it shouldn’t take us too much longer to get out West for some shows. We could be out in Texas or Colorado as soon as this Summer.
L4LM: What else does the future have in store for Kendall Street Company? Is a third full-length album in the works?
KSC: Yes! We’ve nearly completed the songwriting and composition for our next major release; recording begins this March. The album is divided into three distinct sections, each with five or six songs. It’s a bit early to say, but we’re probably looking at a release date around Fall 2018. We’re also in the middle of planning our summer tour, and dates will be announced later this spring.
L4LM: You guys will be playing in New York City on March 2, and it won’t be your first time in the Big Apple. Is there something about NYC that forces a band to bring its “A” game?
KSC: New York is BIG. Driving into the city, seeing the famous skyline, it’s almost overwhelming….but in the best way. There’s a reason groups like Phish and the Allman Brothers Band play 10-13 night residencies in the city. It’s energizing. And we do our best to channel that energy into our performances.
Tickets to Kendall Street Company with South Hill Banks at Knitting Factory are on-sale NOW at this link. See below for more info, and get ready to get down with Kendall Street Company on March 2nd!
– SHOW INFO –
Show: Kendall Street Company with South Hill Banks
When: Friday, March 2nd, 2018
Venue: Knitting Factory – 361 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Doors: 7:00 PM / Show: 8:00 PM
Price: $12.00 adv / $15.00 dos
Tickets: On sale here