Writing about the group that wins the Best New Band category isn't always easy.
Since the group is chosen by our readers—who collectively hear much more live music than any one person could hope to—the chosen ensemble can be a relative unknown. Such, regrettably, was the case when I sat down with And The Kids, downstairs at Haymarket in Northampton.
I had, of course, read Michael Cimaomo's profile of them back in July in his weekly "Behind the Beat" column. He'd been enthusiastic, but had a tough time giving me a sense of what they sounded like. The band wasn't much help, either, describing themselves as "moderately attractive people playing moderately attractive music." Funny, but hardly enlightening.
Their site elaborated: "And The Kids' sound can be described as youthful, rowdy, and quiet, then suddenly loud, then quiet again." When I met with them, I pressed the point.
"If you were going to describe your music to a deaf person, what would you say?" I asked. In response, as a unit, they all shifted awkwardly. They made a few abortive attempts to throw adjectives at me until their lead vocalist, Hannah Mohan, jumped in.
"I wouldn't use words," she said. "I'd dance for them."
Perhaps it's as the 1970s comedian Martin Mull said—"writing about music is like dancing about architecture"—but in this world of mass marketing and media celebrity, it's mighty odd to find artists who haven't honed their 30-second elevator pitch.
Until I actually sat down with the headphones on and listened, I had a sense that I was going to be writing about a bunch of crunchy flakes. And not the kind you pour milk over and eat in the morning.
The thing is (and I don't write this lightly), the music And The Kids performs truly does resist description and defy expectations. Listening to the two tracks on the site and watching their low-fi concert footage, I was completely hooked and utterly in sympathy with their reluctance to be pinned down. Their music is original, magical and downright exciting stuff. Instantly, all I could think was, "I want more, please."
That said, while And The Kids charts new territory, the band's adventuresome, playful spirit reminds me of several beloved misfit musical explorers. Like the early Talking Heads, the band's drummer, melodic percussionist and bassist (Rebecca Lasaponaro, Megan Miller and Luke Averill, respectively) provide a sturdy, funky foundation for exuberant, highly danceable songs with lyrics about unlikely subjects, such as a plea for more "geology in our society."
All the band contributes to the vocals, but Mohan's singing is strangely stunning in a way that reminds me of the brave, almost unhinged passion of a Kate Bush, or the intensely melodic banshee wailings of a Neko Case. Rather than wilting at her voice's intensity, her bandmates respond with creativity and passion. Paul Gelineau's guitar is every bit a match for Mohan's voice—he plays with a kind of dignified poetry that completes the intoxicating illusions they're all concocting.
The group formed last April, and, except for a few local gigs and opportunities to open for other bands, most of its performances have been for passersby, usually on the streets of Northampton. Lasaponaro and Mohan had been working on songs together for a number of years, knowing they wanted to form a band, but things didn't gel until this spring.
"Us girls all interned at the Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen," Mohan explained. "It's sort of a rock and roll camp for girls. There's a pre-teen camp, two teen camps, and then a recording camp for young ladies up to around 24 years of age. Me and Rebecca have been there since 2007, and we met Megan last year and we decided right away, we gotta get this girl!
"I've known Luke since attending first grade at the Jackson Street School here in Northampton. But we never really talked until a few years ago, when we kept seeing each other playing around on the streets."
They'd also initially met guitarist Gelineau playing his own songs on the street about four years ago. After jumping on stage to jam with the still-forming band during an early session, he found himself a band member the next day.
Asked whether it's been difficult getting established, they shrug a collective shrug.
"A whole set of interesting circumstances just seemed to come into play," Gelineau said, "bringing us together. Playing on the street has always been pretty instrumental in figuring out what I'm going to do next in my life."
"I've been wanting to be part of a band for a long time," Mohan said. "And I spent a lot of time looking for people to play with. It was when I stood still for a while that it all came together."
After I'd pressed them to define themselves and was told Mohan thought their style could be explained through dance, the other members readily agreed.
"We all have very different styles and influences," Mohan said. "Paul likes ska. I like old, folky music. I grew up listening to country music—not that I like it now—but everything's just come together so weirdly."
"It's been evolving," Averill said, "becoming more of our own. I feel like a lot of Hannah's songs require a whole new playing field."
"When we started out, we used to sort of identify each song by the genre it belonged to," Gelineau said. "But driving around with Luke the other day, listening to this track we were working on, I just couldn't place it. I'm always looking for music I haven't heard before, and I guess I'm finding we've just got to make it ourselves."
Their next official show will be opening for Plants and Animals on Oct. 12 at the Iron Horse, but they also plan to start playing on the streets every Saturday night for as long as they can. The hope is to raise enough money to fund the production of their first CD, which they have just begun recording. A release party is planned for December 6 at the Iron Horse; opening for them will be a group they met at the Institute, Les Belle Amis.
"They're excellent," Miller said. "They're three little girls ages 11 through 13, multi-instrumentalists like us, and they all sing."
"The concert will be fantasy-themed," Mohan said, "which I find really important information. We encourage people to dress up as whatever they want to."
Does she have a costume in mind? True to form, Mohan replied, "I have a lot of ideas, and I have two months to come up with more ideas, so I'm likely to pick something, settle with it for a week or so, and then switch to something completely different."
For a taste of something locally grown with pungent, exotic flavors, visit www.andthekidsmusic.com.