With performances at SXSW and Coachella, along with a “March Madness” tour with Chance the Rapper, Kids These Days are budding along with the flowers this spring.
Walking into a small studio room in the Music Garage is like walking into a time machine. The rehearsal space on Chicago’s near west side literally looks like the 70s threw up all over the walls. Faded concert posters are draped about— “Live! Jackson Five and Diana Ross and the Supremes Feb. 13-1971,” reads a sign in the middle of the door, along with one for the Rolling Stones, a Parliament Funk record cover slightly underneath. Almost every inch of every wall is covered with more posters, more record covers, vintage magazine ads, maps of the different lines of the Chicago loop. And in one corner, amidst all this old shit, there are at least 30 flyers for Kids These Days.
Like the room they have been rehearsing in for years now, the group is a hodge-podge bunch that somehow effortlessly flows together. They have a drummer. They have a trumpet player. They have a bassist. They have a trombone player. They have a keyboardist who sings. They have a singer who plays guitar. There’s a rapper. But they aren’t a rap group per-say, nor are they your typical indie-rock band. In an industry that loves to label, Kids These Days leaves the critics stumped. They’re a group undefined by the boundary lines of music genre. And quite frankly, they’re just doing the damn thing.
“It’s kind of just like Chicago. Everybody asks us what’s our sound, ‘you don’t really sound like this, you don’t really sound like that’…it’s every aspect of Chicago, from every side to every influence,” Nico Segal, the band’s trumpet player explains as we’re heading to the studio. At this very moment we pass Arturo’s Tacos, driving down N. Western Ave, as one of his favorite musicians, Hector Lavoe plays in the background. Nico is petite, hair tussled and dark. His Latino heritage has played an important role in his musical preferences, helping to shape who he is as an artist today. So too, has his love for jazz.
The other band mates also have been heavily influenced by their musical upbringings. Greg Landfair Jr.—the band’s insanely intense drummer whose talents have allowed for him opportunities like working on the big stage with artists like Grammy award-winning Frank Ocean—first realized his love for music growing up playing at his church.
Macie Stewart, on the other hand, has a classical background. As the only girl in the group, she carries her own. Her sultry tone emotes blues, as she passionately pours out every note, and her classical training has helped her to perfect the intricacies of vocal performance as well as keyboarding, while jazz, blues and hip hop have been important influences for the rest of the bunch.
Vic Mensa, the rapper, has mastered the art of wordplay. He attributes artists ranging from Tupac to Mobb Deep as being his biggest musical influences growing up, and writing has always been one of his strengths. His high school English teacher, so fittingly named James English, describes his experience with the lyricist at Whitney Young Magnet School. “Victor was an especially talented writer, as shows in his lyrics. He was exceptionally intelligent.”
It was in those same halls of Whitney Young, that four members of Kids These Days decided they wanted to form the band. They began practicing in the guitarist, Liam Cunningham’s, basement not too far from the school, before moving over to the Music Garage. When they really started to gain notice around the high school, they decided to perform at a local bar, where they realized that people were really digging them.
“The students were very aware of the band and many were fans and went to shows. In fact, their peers were often announcing when and where there would be a concert,” English explains. “We are all very proud of their accomplishments and that they went to Whitney Young,” he adds.
The other three members were welcomed with open arms. Sitting in this studio, Nico recalls how the rest of the group came about, while vibing out to some Esperanza Spalding and waiting for them to show up for rehearsal. When he first met Greg, it wasn’t his musical capabilities that initially sparked his interest. “He had really cool shoes on and stuff. At the time, that’s all I really cared about besides music, was like fashion and stuff. Then he started playing drums, and I was like, ‘Man! We should get that guy to play with us. And that’s how we got Greg.”
“It just happened naturally. Shit just got real. I had gone to Hampton when the band had started, but it was just something I wanted to do, was just chill with these motherfuckers and jam,” JP Floyd, Mr. trombone adds, his musical weapon of choice in hand. He and his girlfriend walked into the studio not too long ago, and it’s clear by all of the excited greetings that the band knows her well. “Hey Candy lady!” they all cheer. Later, they discuss their relationships, and conclude, “JP’s doing it right.”
They’re like a family. As they pile in the room, one by one, until there are six total members in the studio, they experiment with each other’s instruments. Lane walks over to a new trumpet that Nico has brought in. It’s a tiny Jupiter trumpet.
“That little ass motherfucker! That shit looks like a pager!” Greg exclaims, cracking up as Lane attempts to play it. He picks up Nico’s book of music and examines it with a scrunched face as if attempting to read an alien language.
“I can’t read this shit!” Lane yells.
“Yes you can.” Nico encourages him.
Macie adds, “ Fuckin’ A, Lane!” for a bit of added tough love.
The band continues to hop from instrument to instrument, playing song after song without missing a beat. But none of these are their actual recorded tunes. This entire time, I’ve thought that because their sound was so impeccable, that they had prerecorded each song and were already familiar with them. This band of so many different sounds is just naturally in sync.
They just vibe out and have a jam session. They play around with sounds as Vic raps everything from, “I let my nuts hang low,” to “how can I poo, how can I pee, how can I be without you?”
It is now almost 45 minutes after their scheduled rehearsal and their seventh member has yet to show up. Without him there, all they can do is vibe out. But vibing out is how they come up with some of their best music in a lot of cases.
“A lot of times we make songs from jams, like we just go in and people are playing. People’ll just vibe on what other cats are playing and just play along,” Vic describes.
As the group continues to jam, Vic sits down to get out his computer and find the recordings of jam sessions that they had while on the weeklong tour they’ve just gotten back from. They realize that the lack of sleep while on tour likely has something to do with why their last member has yet to show up.
Sure enough, after several attempts to call him, they get through. “My bad, I was asleep,” Liam explains. They seem understanding, and end “rehearsal” at this point.
Everything they do, they seem to do together. When Vic and Nico have an itch for some green therapy, Vic hands his bong over to his best friend since childhood, and they get ready to inhale. But things don’t go as planned. First the bong seems to malfunction and then Vic realizes he can’t find his bag of weed. This sparks each group member to begin a search for their golden ticket. They even suggest taking a chainsaw and annihilating the low-seated couch we’re currently sitting on.
“You see the struggles over here? No guitar player and no weed,” Nico says.
It’s only natural for group members to grow tired of each other spending so much time together. “Hell yeah we get on each other’s nerves,” Vic explains. But he assures, “but it’s all love. We family.”
Their chemistry is apparent on every track and at every performance and fans are taking notice. In a bathroom at a local bar, where the group will be performing at night, a trio of apparently intoxicated and clearly under-aged girls cheer in excitement. “They’re so freaking raw!” one yells. The other brags, “my parents own the bar, I’ve been trying to get KTD here forever. I’m just glad we finally got them.”
An hour later, the same girls are in a daze as they grope Vic who is on stage spitting out his raw, real lyrics to the high-energy crowd. Vic is attractive, and the ladies love it. There’s a story in his eyes as his voice is smooth with an impeccable flow. The girls grab on to his legs attempting to pull his pants down. The fans enjoy the group so much that by the time they walk backstage, family and girlfriends congratulating them, they make an obligatory turnaround as the crowd forcefully screams for an encore. They then begin to chant, “Kids these Days ain’t nothing to fuck with, Kids These Days ain’t nothing to fuck with!” Wise words from some young music lovers.
With a worldwide Adidas Campaign, 3 EP’s (There Goes the Neighborhood, Hard Times, and Manifest Destiny) and their debut album, Traphouse Rock, released in September, along with performances on shows like Conan, Kids These Days really ain’t nothing to fuck with. This young group is definitely making a name for itself, accomplishing by their late teens and early 20s what many aspiring musicians can only dream about. This month they’ll be performing at SXSW for their second time in a row. Following the festival, they’ll be on their “March Madness” tour with Chance the Rapper until April when they’ll take the big stage at Coachella with a lineup of heavy hitters like 2chainz and Wu Tang Clan. And they don’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
“My 2013 New Year’s resolution was to travel the world,” Vic explains with a voice of certainty.
“We just want to make really, really great songs. I want to make classics, songs that people sing forever and for it to be us collectively as a band, our sound. I don’t want it to be anything else,” Nico adds. “I just want to play shows, all around the world. Forever.”
In one corner of their Music Garage studio, an old cigarette ad hangs. Pictured is a trumpet player, with words sprawled above his head “there’s only one way to play it.” But for Kids These Days, this is far from the truth. The group of so many sounds is constantly growing, constantly learning, ever-changing. They are the embodiment of experimentation. Their music knows no bounds.
“When you really study music, like dig into that shit, it can make you crazy. I think it’s made me crazy,” Nico explains. “But crazy is what makes us different. I think it’s hard for people to put us in a box, so that means, the stupid people that need to put their music in a box, that need to have it be one thing, can’t really get it. But the people who do dig our music, get some of everything. I think that’s what makes us great.”