Smile Politely

No talking in the van!

I’ve been to good shows, and I’ve been to great shows. I’ve been disappointed at shows and completely blown away at shows. But I can honestly say I’ve never been as shocked and awed by a band I’d never heard of as I was by The Kickback. 

— Ben Dahl – Lost in Concert

One of the better parts of this gig is meeting bands. I get to talk to all kinds of interesting, talented weirdos. I learn about good live music venues to check out in Chicago. I’m educated on all manner of truck stop activities. We chat about life, music, and soft pretzels. It’s not a bad job, this Smile Politely thing. I got to know The Kickback this week, and I gained an encyclopedia of knowledge on all the aforementioned topics. And then some…

Smile Politely: How did you all meet? Who are y’all? 

Billy Yost: Danny (drums) and I are brothers. We met when I came out of our mom. 

Eventually, Danny and I moved to Chicago to pursue music and, after trying to fill positions in the band, I started posting really detail-oriented Craigslist postings, looking for people with whom we could play and travel and otherwise exist. Eamonn Donnelly (bass) and Jonny (guitar) ultimately responded and we had ourselves a band of people willing to neglect virtually every other major responsibility in their life to spend eight hours a day in a van. We are called The Kickback. That’s burying the lead like nobody’s business. 

SP: When and how did you decide to create music together? 

Yost: I’ve known since high school that I wanted to make music any way that I could. I imagine the other guys feel the same. Jonny and Eamonn probably had a weirder situation in that they were walking into a situation where they basically knew they were being asked to do this with every ounce of energy and time they had. We were pretty upfront about how much we were asking them to sacrifice, but I can’t imagine having to weigh that at some point before getting involved with some people you barely know -and have only played with enough to know that you have a bit of chemistry. 

Donnelly: I joined the band in 2011 with the simple goal of playing music again, after spending the previous years devoted solely to illustration and design. I should have known from the incredibly specific Craigslist ad that there was far more at stake. The demands of being in a “serious” band required some adjusting on my part, but ultimately it’s made things much easier in that we’re all committed to the same goals and there are no second thoughts. Doubts aplenty, but we’re all on the same page. 

SP: “We met when I came out of our mom.” Great start for a band!

Have you all toured together? Any favorite spots?

Yost: We’ve toured the East Coast and Midwest quite a bit. We’ll hopefully be in the West in 2014. 

Some of our most favorite people came together and opened a club in Lincoln, Nebraska called Vega. We haven’t played there yet (we will have just played there when this goes to print), but when it’s literally some of your favorite people you know, I can only assume we’ll be asking to live upstairs eventually. 

“The World’s Largest Truck Stop” on I-80’s also a mainstay. Often you find yourself driving and wishing there were a place you could get off; and simultaneously use the restroom; and find a deck of playing cards with dogs dressed as famous politicians of the 1800s, and that place really fills the void. 

Donnelly: Schubas Tavern in Chicago would have to top my list of favorite venues. Besides being a fantastic venue to play at, the booker has given us some incredible opportunities, such as our month-long residency or opening for bigger bands and playing to new ears. We’ve done our fair share to make the shows there special; whether its performing with a horn section, debuting new songs, or even serving free lukewarm soft pretzels. Whenever we play there now, it just feels like home. 

SP: Eemonn: What kind of design and illustration were you doing before The Kickback?

Donnelly: You can check out my work at I enjoy editorial illustration the most, but show posters are always fun as well. Sometimes I wonder if I got the job in the band based on my musical ability (certainly not my taste), or the fact that having an in-house graphic artist was an opportunity the band couldn’t pass up. 

SP: Do you ever have artistic disputes? Does it get in the way of your personal relationships?

Yost: Most of us are so hard on ourselves that any musical arguments tend not to make it to group discussion as it usually involves being locked in some inner turmoil about your own part and ideas. I think we look to the group more for support and affirmation. I think we’re pretty good at knowing what is working and what isn’t, although sometimes it takes a couple weeks into a new song to figure that out. 

Donnelly: We’ve spent more time debating what the band should be wearing on stage than arguing over our music. It’s just not something we really do, or maybe we can’t do it because we’re too timid and polite to let loose. Everyone voices their opinions, but is respectful enough so it doesn’t cause much friction. There is also a mysterious, unspoken rule of not talking in the van, so that helps.

SP: No talking in the van? Hm. Wow. 

Do you have any good tour stories? Love ’em!

Donnelly: A pretty routine show in Austin, Texas took a turn for the worse when a “performing artist” was hired by the local band to paint images while the band played, but what they didn’t know was that she planned on using her body as the brush. As the music began, she writhed on a poor, battered canvas in what looked like a very loose interpretive dance, smearing paint everywhere. This very odd sight, coupled with the fact that she was scantily clad, attracted far more attention from the crowd than the local band ever could, and they got pretty upset about it. 

As a band, it is necessary to learn from your mistakes, but it’s really awesome when you can learn from other band’s mistakes. 

Yost: Nothing from last year will probably top winding up in the emergency room getting stitches after a show. Granted, it was in Chicago, but it was such a long night, we might as well have been on the road. I thought it would be a stupendous idea to throw my guitar as high as I could. But failed to gauge that, as I lunged forward to catch it, I would be jumping straight into a microphone stand. The stand caught me by surprise, which temporarily diverted my attention from the fact that a falling guitar was about to land on me. I didn’t catch the guitar so much as break its fall and wound up with an emergency room doctor who just sort of kept giving my wife sympathetic looks, like “I’m really sorry you made this choice.”

SP: Poor guy…

The Kickback will be performing with Elsinore and Grandkids this Saturday. Check out the event page for details.

Related Articles