Chicago’s Hemmingbirds are venturing down to this portion of the state for a show this weekend. I had a chance to get in touch with them and talk back and forth for a while, and spoke with them about touring, their insipirations, and why sometimes you just have to call AAA for help.
Smile Politely: How did you all meet and start playing music together? Were you friends or in school together?
Yoo Soo Kim: Tim Cap, Zach Benkwoski, Ben Avci, and I actually all went to school at U of I. Zach and I were previously in a local band together called Post Historic, and Tim and Zach played in a couple bands in CU. Tim and Zach were friends from grade school and have been in bands together since then. By the time our first record, Death Wave, was done, Zach recorded drums on the record, so I asked him to join the band. He recommended I reach out to Tim, who I really didn’t know at that point. Actually, recently, we remember both being at a bonfire party in Urbana together, but we didn’t know we hung out together.
About six months into the band, our first manager, Sarah Kim, recommended Matt McGuire as a bassist when we were searching for a new bassist after our first one left.
Once we finished our latest record, The Vines of Age, we wrote all these keyboard parts but had been playing as a 4-piece (no keyboards) at that point. Ben and Zach played in a cover band together at Geovanti’s, and so we asked him to join.
A bit long, dull, and kind of incestuous, but that is how we roll, I guess.
SP: What kind of covers did you play?
Zach Benkwoski: Ben and Zach played all kinds of covers, but the types I’d say we did most were piano rock hits like Billy Joel and Elton John; 60s stuff like the Beatles and Van Morrison, and funny 90s stuff like Christina Aguilera and R. Kelly.
Yoo Soo Kim: I’ll add that eventually Pat Mangan of Jet W Lee and I took over the Geovanti’s residency with a pop punk cover band. We covered mainly all the top rock hits of the 90s and 2000s.
SP: What are some of your favorite places to visit? What’s so special about them?
Yoo Soo Kim: I don’t really travel too much, but I just went to NYC and it’s just incredible how much there is to do; how good the food is; and how awesome the public transit is. It’s pretty dirty, though. That and I really love going back to Korea to visit my grandparents and hang in the city. That’s slightly too expensive to frequently visit unfortunately.
Zach: One of our favorite venues to play as a band is Lincoln Hall in Chicago. They have a beautiful room with great acoustics; awesome sound people who want to make bands sound good and feel comfortable; and a really nice separate bar area where you can hang out in between bands. And everyone involved in Lincoln Hall seems to like what they do, which makes playing there a lot more fun for the bands.
SP: It seems like staff can really make the difference in a performing venue. If they like their jobs, patrons like the experience, and they feed off of the entertainment and atmosphere.
Yoo Soo Kim: Definitely agreed.
SP: Do you have any great gig stories? Good or bad!
Yoo Soo Kim: I think the worst gig story we had was from a couple years ago en route to Mike ‘n’ Molly’s, actually. It was a very cold night in December and about 20 miles out from Champaign, our SUV runs over something on the highway and we get a flat. No big deal, we pull off to the side, and I go check for our spare. It turns that someone had cut the wire holding the spare underneath the SUV and stole the spare. Well, shit.
At this point, we we already running late to the show, so we called the promoter, Emily Gorski, and she was nice enough to drive out and provide rides for us. We call AAA and they get a tow truck out, and we decide to tow the car to M&Ms since all our gear’s in there and there’s no open auto shop to tow the car to anyway. Also, at that time, I was a poor musician who didn’t have enough money at the time to buy a new battery for the car. So the car at that time could only handle like 15 minutes or so of hazard lights on before the battery died. By the time the car was towed to Mike ‘N Molly’s, the battery was dead. The tow truck was kind enough to jump my car. We keep the car running while loading in, drive with the flat across the street to the Amtrak station, and keep it parked there.
Opening up for the show was Isaac Arms, and we told him what happened. He was super nice enough to lend us the key to his home and gave us the address that was on University Ave. We play the show, much good times, drive the car back to Mike ‘N Molly’s to load in, drive the car back to the train station, then decide that we’d rather keep our guitars with us so they don’t get damaged in the cold. We have the address to Isaac’s place, so we decide fuck it, we’ll call a cab. The cab takes us near where the address is in Urbana. We get out of the cab, and Tim finds out he left the phone in the cab. That sucks because he ordered a pizza to be delivered to Isaac’s place, and now the delivery driver can’t get a hold of us.
It’s 3 a.m. and we’re looking for the address of Isaac’s place and the address number is somewhere at Carle Hospital. This doesn’t add up. Clearly, the address of the house should be somewhere there. For 30 minutes, we walk back and forth on University with our guitars while it’s 10 degrees out. Eventually we’re desperate and we’re confirming to ourselves if we have the right address. We put two and two together and figure out that Isaac actually lives in Champaign on University… not Urbana on University. At this point, we give up and rent out a room in a motel.
The next morning, we cab it back to our car, give Isaac back the key we never used, drive very slowly to Sears to fix our flat, drive to the cab company to check for Tim’s phone (they don’t have it), and drive back to Chicago with our heads hung low.
SP: Brutal! Isaac is a good guy, but it’s too bad his place was right across the street the whole time! Bad times, good story.
Yoo Soo Kim: Yeah, Isaac’s definitely a good guy.
SP: What are your immediate plans for the band? And the future, too. What’s in store for you all?
Yoo Soo Kim: We’re starting to write for our next record. It takes a bit for us to mentally transition from promoting a record to writing a record, so hopefully we’ll get some tunes cranked out soon. We just put out a new single and video as well for our song “My Love, Our Time Is Now” and that’s been going well.
SP: What are some of your musical (and personal) inspirations?
Yoo Soo Kim: I think my inspirations change all the time. Over the past few years, I’ve been listening to a lot of top 40s and hip hop, and haven’t dug extensively into rock records. I’m a really big fan of Frank Ocean and the way he’s able to shape stories within his songs, have a catchy chorus, and challenge regular song arrangements. Plus, he has something about his voice that’s immediately grabbing, which is a quality I’d love to have with mine.
For The Vines of Age, I was especially influenced by Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The records are lush but approachable, because there’s a basic foundation of a groove. Each record felt less like a compilation of songs and more so a journey, which is something I want for our records.
SP: That’s a solid goal for a record. Gives the listener a reason to listen to it beginning to end, the way albums are meant to be experienced.
Matt: As a bassist, I don’t really have a core group of bassists I draw influence from. I’ve always been more interested in the fully developed sound of the band, the product as a whole if you will. With that said, as I learned to play bass, I tended to gravitate towards really cool bass licks. I always loved the lick in “Money” by Pink Floyd, a lot of Nine Inch Nails bass lines are really cool and funky. I loved some stuff by Rush. Basically, I learned very specific stand-out bass lines. Most of the time, the music I like, the bass tends to ride the root note; its very understated and probably unimpressive, but I like that.
Zach: I have always been inspired by Dave Grohl because of his aggressive but simple drumming style, and the way that he approaches songwriting with a drummer’s mindset, and vice versa. Most of the songs he writes for Foo Fighters are very driving, with the guitar and bass parts kind of mimicking the drum parts. I think this creates a huge sound that is not overly busy, which gives room for the vocals to stand out, which I think is what most people tend to focus on.
I also have a strong influence of 90s pop punk bands like Goldfinger, Home Grown, and Reel Big Fish. I listened to that kind of stuff pretty exclusively for many years, and it has made me strive to play very clean and driving drum parts.
Tim: Recently I’ve been interested in production and beats more than pop music/musicians. This past year I’ve been most influenced by Daedelus. He has an interesting mix of accessible pop hooks and weird experimental beats that sound unlike anything else I’ve been hearing lately. At the same time, he also combines hi-fi and lo-fi tastefully along with obvious seems and breaks in a way I can now see emerging in the more accessible arena of huge pop stars like Kanye, Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Icona Pop. You can also pick up on his influences from older EDM musicians like Aphex Twin and The Prodigy, which I grew up listening to and love seeing in newer musicians today.
Check out Hemmingbirds at Mike ‘N Molly’s Saturday night with A Cool Hand and Fruit Flies. Show starts at 9:30 p.m.