Kids These Days: Inventing a genre of their own

kids these days realHow do you categorize a band that ranges from blues, jazz, soul, hip-hop, and R&B, and has a rapper, a keyboardist, a trombonist, a trumpeter, a bass guitarist, a drummer, and a lead guitarist?

You invent a new genre.

The 7-piece Chicago band, Kids These Days, got the inspiration for the name of their debut album when they were tired of trying to explain their music genre, so they came up with one of their own: Traphouse Rock.

With so much controlled vocal and instrumental talent, you would think KTD is a group with several years of touring and performing experience. Truth is, the seven musicians have only been doling out their blues, soul, hip-hop swagger, and sultry jazz lines for a relatively short time.

KTD is comprised of recent high school graduates and former Merit School of Music students. The members of the group got together in 2009, rocking out in one of the band member’s basements. Each musician came into the band being able to play 2 to 5 instruments and almost all of the 7 were receiving advanced training at Merit School of Music, focusing on improvisation and jazz.

With a solid foundation in jazz, the members of KTD had the talent and expertise to blend their sound with other genres, including hip-hop, blues, and soul. Every track on Traphouse Rock clearly exhibits the band’s jazz background, while they switch up their added elements of quick rap verses, raspy vocals, bluesy piano, blaring trombone, and others based on the piece.  So if you think you won’t like KTD because you’re not a jazz fan, give one of their rap tracks, like “Darling” or “Summerscent” a chance, which are great examples of the band’s versatility.

In addition to their dedication to create a unique and mixed sound, the band rejects the modern practices of auto-tuning and creation of airbrushed music. “To bring an entirely human element of eight different humans and their instruments, someone is going to make a mistake, and you’ve got to love that about it,” Liam Cunningham, 18-year-old band member of KTD said in a previous interview.

After all, the members of KTD are well-trained in improvisation, so mistakes are never really mistakes, but rather another form of musical expression. What’s art if not the exploration of new expression through existing tools and instruments?

Listeners are not only addicted to KTD’s bold, all-encompassing sound, but also their wild performances. In an interview, Huston Powell, who books acts for Chicago’s biggest summer music festival, Lollapalooza, said that he chose KTD because of their presence on the stage.

Their “style of live performance with horns and hip-hop with jazz undertones is very infectious,” said Powell.

Besides Lollapalooza, KTD has previously performed at Coachella, South by Southwest, The Roots Picnic, Summerfest, Ottawa Bluesfest, as well as on Conan (and their next stop is Georgetown). It may seem like success would be easy to come by for such a talent-rich group, but KTD had a great deal of difficulty in striking a deal with a record label.

Part of this struggle was self-induced, as the band wanted to ensure that all seven members were on the same page about their future before they enlisted the help of anyone else to get there. On the other hand, KTD faced the issue of being financially inefficient for a record company, because all of the instruments and layers in their songs could be incredibly expensive.

Even if their music was expensive, the group was adamantly against  leaving any band member behind for the sake of sealing a contract. They all agree that KTD’s sound wouldn’t be the same minus any of the musicians. As the group’s solo female artist, Macie Stewart, said, “When the deal is right, we’re all going to go together.”

And they were right. Traphouse Rock, in its entirety, shows how each member is equally fundamental to the musical project as a whole. Easily one of the best tracks on the album, “Bud Billiken” is great introduction to KTD and does an exceptional job of expressing their tight-knit sound.

Take a listen, have your mind blown, and reserve a ticket for KTD’s show this Saturday, April 27th at 8:30 in Bulldog Alley.


Photo: Brian J. Bruemmer via Flickr

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