Thursday, July 26, 2012

Chicago band Voodoo Kings shaking up the scene


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Since 1995, Chicago band The Voodoo Kings has been energizing the scene with its diverse blend of rock, blues and funk.

The band will likely add some heat to this weekend's Jeff Park Arts and Music Fest in Jefferson Park, 4822 N. Long Ave., Chicago.

Voodoo Kings, www.voodookings.com, will perform at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $7, $5 before 5 p.m. More information is available at www.jefffest.org.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Voodoo Kings frontman Michael Kranicke about the band's latest activities.


Q - You guys are playing your fair share of festivals this summer. Do you prefer playing at festivals or clubs? Or do you need both?

I think that any band needs both, but I find that festivals allow a band to reach a fan base that might not necessarily be in a club at 11 p.m. on any given night. 

I also think festivals are where you reach the broadest spectrum of people. Playing high profile clubs that have great reputations for breaking new music is always a plus as well!

Q - The band dips into many musical styles, including blues, rock and funk. How would you describe your music? Who would you consider the band's main influences?

That is always a question I get. To me, being a musician and being in a band should allow for creative exploration. 

You can't be afraid as a band to explore new ground musically because some critic or A&R person (do they exist anymore?) thinks that you are too widespread stylistically. 

That is how you grow as a musician and as a band. The Beatles certainly didn't sound the same on "HELP!" as they did on "The White Album" and that’s a good thing. 

I grew up listening to all types of music. Whether it was blues or Motown or rock, all those styles mixed and made a hell of an impact culturally and musically. I hate to see music so filtered and categorized.

I like to describe our music as American Roots Rock painted with the colors of the blues. Blues [influenced] jazz, rock, R&B and it’s the basis for today’s popular music; you can't get around that.

My main influences are The Rolling Stones, Beatles, Black Crowes, Tom Petty, Drive-By Truckers… I can go on if you like…!?!?

 

Q - The band's sound is heavily rooted in the blues. Who turned you on to the blues and what do you think of the current blues scene?

My father turned me on to the blues. There was always music playing in our house. From Mozart to Muddy Waters, everything was on the table. 

I grew up listening to records and playing the songs over and over and trying to figure out the words if they were not included in the liner notes. Muddy Waters is my personal favorite and I honestly learn something new every time I listen to his records. 

From the classic recordings for Chess to the records he made with Johnny Winter, to me Muddy Waters is the epitome of cool.

There are a lot of good players and good blues musicians in Chicago. Mike Wheeler is an excellent guitarist. Ronnie Baker Brooks is also awesome. Just like anything else, you have to seek out what you want to find the gems.

Q - What were your goals in sitting down to make the band's latest CD, "Mileage," and do you think you achieved them? Are you writing any new songs or performing any new songs?

The goal for making "Mileage" was to take the band and the songs in a different, more simple direction. I was leading a 7-8 piece band: two guitars, bass, drums, keys, three horns at times and that's a lot of instrumentation. Sometimes the simplest adjustment makes all the difference.

I like the stripped down line up of just two guitars, bass, drums and keys. It's really straight, guitar-driven rock, something that I haven't experimented with a lot. 

I especially enjoy playing with another guitar player, as it was usually me handling all the guitar parts on stage and in the studio.

I had the pleasure of working with Grammy Award-winning producer Michael Freeman and he is based out of Chicago, so we both had time to talk about the songs, what worked what didn't. 

He came to a few pre-production rehearsals and we both threw around ideas and worked out a path prior to even heading into recording; it was a very coordinated and comfortable. 

I also think it is a very personal process so if you go into a studio with an engineer or producer that's not necessarily familiar with what you are trying to achieve and who you are as an artist or a band, you might have a hard time being on the same page.

I am always writing and I am working on compiling new material for another record. When that will happen is not scheduled right now.

Q - The Voodoo Kings has opened for the likes of Little Feat, John Hiatt and Parliament. What did you learn from such experiences?

You learn to be a pro and to work a bigger audience and try and get your music across in a less than intimate environment. It's different than being in a club setting.  

When you are on a stage and there are a couple of thousand people in front, you work in a different environment and it presents it own set of challenges to you as a musician to engage the audience.

Q - How do you think the band has evolved since first forming in 1995?

I think the band has matured and come into its own. You always learn something when you play a show, make a demo or work on a record. 

From a technical and engineering standpoint, you learn what works and what you like. I think that you write differently as time goes by. 

I obviously don't have the same perspective as I did 18 years ago but that’s just growing up; it’s inevitable. I have had the pleasure of having played with a lot of good musicians.

You have to get out there and play as a band, especially when you are just starting out, to find your sound, find your voice and hone that craft. I have played in wedding bands, blues bands, jam bands, cover bands and my own band. 

All those experiences make up your musical sound and style. It's a constant learning process. 

I don't think I will ever sit down and say “I am happy with my playing; I don't have to learn anything else.” It’s awesome to always be learning something new on an instrument I have played for 30 years.

Q - How do you think The Voodoo Kings fits into the Chicago music scene?

I am not sure what the Chicago music scene is. Is it blues? Rock? Indie? I know there is a great metal scene here as well. 

There is so much music out there. Fitting in was never my specialty. If you worry about fitting in, it's a classic pitfall. 

I think you always want to fit in as a band but it's not really up to me to measure acceptance. I like what we do. 

I know VDK's strong points and love where we are at musically. I know who we appeal to and I really enjoy playing music. 

When we are playing as a band, and the band is clicking, it's one of the few times I can really clear my head and the feeling is just so personal and liberating. I think that is why most musicians play music; for that freedom and bliss.

It sounds esoteric, but it's true. And then there are the girls, who are always a factor.