Rising stars Kopecky Family Band playing Sonic Lunch
photo by Will Morgan Holland
Formed in Nashville by a couple of gifted college students, KFB is not an actual family per se, but they show a lot of togetherness in the way they make music and do business in the music industry. Twenty-four-year-old Toledo native Gabe Simon sings and plays guitar, bass and horns in the sextet, which also features co-lead vocalist Kelsey Kopecky and fellow bandmates Steven Holmes (guitar), David Krohn (drums), Markus Midkiff (cello, guitar, and keyboards), and Corey Oxendine (bass, guitar, and horns).
Pop meets folk meets indie-rock in the melange of sounds produced by this intriguing outfit, who play Thursday at noon as part of Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch free concert series at Liberty Plaza. (The Ark, at 316 S. Main in Ann Arbor, is the back-up location for the show, should it rain.)
Q: You sound remarkably relaxed as you prepare for this major TV appearance on Leno’s "Tonight Show." How are you feeling inside?
Gabe Simon: I’m trying to keep calm, but to be honest I’m very, very excited. I talked to my mom and dad and they gave me some encouraging words.
Q: Kopecky Family Band has released only one album, “Kids Raising Kids,” but you’ve been around for a while. What’s the history of your group?
G.S.: Kelsey and I started the band about six years ago in Nashville. When we met, she was a college RA and I was a student, so she caught me when I was most vulnerable and got me to start writing with her. Then things kind of moved along quickly. We created three EPs really quickly as all of our friends fell together as the guys in the band. Those first four years we were in college, and we were touring on the weekend and finding time between classes to rehearse.
Q: How did you make the jump from recording EPs to making “Kids Raising Kids,” your first full-length album?
G.S.: We put out the EPs because we weren’t really there, musically. When we started working on the album in January of last year, we actually thought we were going to have another EP on our hands. But as the songs came together it felt like we needed to finally have a full, complete, novel-esque thought with all the chapters, every part of the story, from beginning to end. It was a magical experience for all of us and we’re really proud of it.
Q: How did the album get picked up by the very cool ATO Records label, co-founded by Dave Matthews?
G.S.: We released the record by ourselves last October and it went really well by ourselves. Then we had a lot of discussions with labels and ATO loved the record and just wanted to put their name on it. There were a few cosmetic changes on the album cover but that was about it.
Q: Who writes the songs in Kopecky Family Band?
G.S.: It’s pretty much completely collaborative. There are ideas where Kelsey and I come up with lyrics or an initial idea and then we bring it to the band. Then they take it from there and it becomes the Kopecky Family Band. We don’t believe in the idea of one person being the sole songwriter. Everyone actually gets a piece of every song (as a writer). The key writers get a little bit more, but everyone is working equally hard.
When we first did our EPs, the producer we worked with had worked with a band where two people made all the money and the other guys had to work at Starbucks every time they came home from a tour. It didn’t really seem fair, so we made it like a family, we made it equal. Everyone’s got a good spirit all the time because of it. It really changes the whole dynamic in how people work when you treat them as equals.
Q: You make music that draws from a lot of genres. How would you describe what you’re going for with your neat blend of styles?
G.S.: We follow our hearts in what we feel needs to be played. One of our favorite bands is My Morning Jacket. Their songs don’t all sound like “Highly Suspicious,” or “Gideon” or “Holdin’ On to Black Metal.” I love the ways all the songs can sound so different and yet be cohesive on one record. With six people inspired in completely different ways the songs come together in all kinds of different ways. Whether it’s horns, cello, percussion and everything you can imagine to just keeping things really simple, we just play what we need to play, man.
Q: Before I let you go back to Leno’s show, one final question. What’s the primary reason you’re a musician?
G.S.: The funny thing about my childhood is that I was the only kid in my family who wasn’t encouraged to take music lessons. Funny how it worked out, right? My dad and I used to drive in his car and listen to Randy Newman and classical music, and he and I would just sit there and whistle together, make these whistle harmonies for hours on our way to go hiking. That was so much of my childhood I think it came through and made me want to do it for the rest of my life.
Martin Bandyke is the 6-10 am morning drive host on ann arbor’s 107one, WQKL-FM. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.martinbandyke.com.