As I walk out of the cold and step into Church Booty’s rehearsal, I first, to my surprise, lock eyes with Austin Powers… okay, a cardboard cutout tipped back against the wall, but the legend himself would fit in perfectly with Church Booty’s groovy style.
A group of 10 University of Illinois students with a common background in jazz formed Church Booty and in August the band released a four-song EP that beautifully showcases the group’s wide variety of instrumental talent, paired with the soulful vocals of Crofton Coleman and Mariel Fechik. Since the EP, Church Booty has produced several more original tracks and plan on continuing to do so in time for their appearance at Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois. Luckily for us, instead of having to enduring the wait Church Booty will be giving listeners a taste of what to expect this week at Canopy Club’s Summer Camp Wednesdays and also at Mike N Molly’s Saturday night.
Sandwiched on a couch between vocalist Crofton Coleman and guitarist Noah Gehrmann, I had the opportunity to listen to tales of cockfighting, spankings and countless other things I have been forbidden to write about. Here’s what passed the group’s censorship.
Smile Politely: How’d you come up with the name “Church Booty”
Joe Meland (organ/synth): Me and Dan were chilling together in my dorm room when we came up with it. Literally just like throwing shit at the wall and seeing what stuck. Second place was Gate Crusher [laughs] no, just kidding.
Noah Gehrmann (guitar): We’re influenced by a band called Snarky Puppy, and they have a name that’s sort of like Church Booty, right? Snarky Puppy, Church Booty…
Daniel Hinze (saxophone): Joe played a solo showcase at Mike N Molly’s a month ago and the guy after him used to play in a group named Ass Chapel and we were just like… what? That might be better. If Ass Chapel and Church Booty tour together, wow.
SP: Church Booty’s released a 4 song EP that’s been out for awhile now, how has that been received?
Hinze: Those are the staple tunes that have been our originals for the longest so I mean it’s two tunes that I wrote, one of Rob’s and one of Crofton’s.
Crofton Coleman (vocals): Also I am gonna do a personal plug, I am recording my own EP that’s gonna come out this summer called Watercolors so hit me up: Crofton Coleman. There is only one in the world [laughs].
Hinze: Yeah we’ve been playing some of the stuff from that, almost like there’s some overlap there. We’re also working on our own album that we wanna do.
Erik Opland (bass guitar): I think basically what to take away from that is that all of us are involved in a lot of different groups too and have recorded a lot of different music. Half of us are also in the band Feral States, Crofton has his own thing, Reggie has his own thing, I have my own projects. So we all keep busy.
SP: Can you tell me more about the songwriting process?
Hinze: It’s a combination of usually one person doing the bulk of the tune and then bringing it in, and then with nine other opinions or suggestions it’s never going to be how you thought of it — in a good way. Other people are going to help fine-tune it. Right now the bulk of the music we play has been written by me, Rob and Crofton, but Noah’s written two. Noah wrote “Deep In the Soul” which is a popular one, it’s probably going to be a single. Joe just contributed one of our newer tunes, we’ve played stuff from Reggie in the past — everyone else always has ideas.
Rob Osiol (keys): The process is mostly driven by whoever brings in the tune, because people will have different strengths, like, Dan’s really good at orchestrating horns so when he brings in a tune it’s going to have a killer horn chart and then there’s going to be a lot more freedom for the rhythm section to feel out what they’re doing. So, it’s very collaborative.
SP: I heard some of your house party shows have gotten so crazy the police got involved?
Hinze: Oh wow you really dug into the archives. Yeah, that was here. That was like, the craziest party. We almost broke the floor. The floor was like a trampoline! It was like most parties—we were supposed to start at 10 and nobody was here and then we started playing at 10:15 or something, so, kind of some people… and then just like [snaps] the masses. Like, what the hell happened? It was packed in here. It was the second weekend of school, and people were walking to the bars on Green St. and they were like, “what’s happening here?” Then our whole driveway and front lawn was just filled with people with solo cups.
SP: What is your favorite original song?
“Undercover” is always a crowd pleaser. We’re going to record it again from the original on SoundCloud with Crofton’s vocals that he’s added on — it’s way better now. It’s so much more, it’s really sparse on the EP. But yeah anyways, the band decides “Undercover”.
Coleman: We play it at all the shows, I don’t think we’ve not played it at one. It was the first actual original tune.
Bobby Lane (trumpet): It’s like the Bill Simmons of fucking Church Booty.
SP: Do you have a favorite song you like to cover?
Meland: “Shake It Off” [laughs]
Hinze: We really do cover it, but is it our favorite?…
Coleman: It seems like we’re an R. Kelly cover band sometimes. We do a lot of Kanye too, but people love “I Believe I Can Fly” “Ignition” and “Bump N Grind.” We do that a lot. We like doing combinations where we’ll play an older tune, like, we were playing Ray Charles which is what gets sampled by “Gold Digger” and we also do Curtis Mayfield “Move On Up” which also gets sampled by Kanye West on “Touch the Sky” so we like to combine that too and show where it’s coming from.
Rob: The kids are all about the mashups these days. It’s for the kids. We don’t give the people what they want, we give the people what they need. And what they need is funky jams.
SP: What would you say about the Champaign-Urbana music community as a whole?
Hinze: It’s really good. It’s kinda cool being part of like a distinct scene even though we don’t play the genre Champaign got famous for, like Midwest emo or shoegaze and all that stuff which we aren’t anything close to. There is a really strong community of musicians here, and it is definitely branching out and has kind of had a revival in recent years with a lot of the bands coming out. I mean, Reggie’s like the go-to horn man in every other band. But yeah, once you start meeting people and you’re like yeah we’re part of the scene, everybody starts looking out for each other and sharing stuff. It helps when different people take on multiple roles too, like Isaac Arms, who is in Withershins, he also books at Mike N’ Molly’s. There’s a lot of overlap with musicians playing and doing other things related to the C-U music scene.
Meland: It’s cool ’cause everybody knows everybody and everybody is friends — it’s not really competitive. Once you get to know people it all of a sudden becomes very small. Everybody is involved in everything.
Coleman: It’s pretty friendly for starting ’cause there’s a lot of people willing to listen to new things and give it a chance and tell you what they think about it honestly. So I think that’s cool. A lot of chill people, basically. It’s really friendly to local music.
Reggie Chapman (trombone): Being an academic too, if we just relied on the four walls of the schools I think it would be really heady and soulless, you know. So going out and playing for people who just want to feel music is really nice because it takes off the academic edge and gives you some heart to what you have to say.
Osiol: You can find people who want to play any type of music here. For example, Joe’s band, you can find people who want to play classically influenced progressive rock, and here we have 10 people who are interested in playing soul R&B stuff, and you can’t really get that just anywhere, I think that’s something that’s really cool about Champaign. You’ve got a lot influences so if you have an idea you’re going to find people to help you execute it.
SP: If Church Booty was the cast of a movie or TV show, what would it be?
Mariel Fechik (vocals): The Bachelorette. We were just talking about this! The other night it was me and five of them at dinner on Valentine’s Day and they were like, “This week on The Bachelorette, Mariel chooses her match!” Noah doesn’t get the first rose. You were so mean yesterday [laughs].
Hinze: But yeah, The Bachelorette. One of us is going to marry Mariel…oh god.
SP: To wrap it up, what can we expect from your show at Canopy on Wednesday?
Osiol: A soul, hip-hop, R&B, funk, jazz explosion. Giving the people what they want with a minor in cool grooves.
Tom Kelly (drums): Free pizza! Definitely free pizza.
Hinze: Yeah you can expect a lot of fun songs, a lot of loyal fans, and some covers that people really like to dance to, even though most of the set is original.
You can see Church Booty this week at Canopy Club on Wednesday and at Mike N’ Molly’s Saturday.