For some, music is simply a way to pass the time – a few sound waves slipping through the headphones to entertain their ears. For Jake Fleischli, music is audio nicotine, filling a craving for the hard stuff (Bob Dylan) he’s had since childhood. Music is both therapeutic, addictive and the reason he started the band Tractor Kings in 1998.
Tractor Kings has seen a complicated web of local musicians in its 10-year history. It all began with a two piece. Rebecca Rury played drums and Fleischli was on the 12 string. Their first album Sunday Night was released on Mud Records, a subsidiary of Parasol. The two parted ways, and the band’s second album Gone to Heaven was recorded at Matt Talbott’s infamous Great Western Record Recorders in Tolono and released in 2003.
Fleischli moved to Chicago and started playing at the Hideout with the Chicago version of the Tractor Kings. He moved back to Champaign in 2004 when Aaron “Jibbski” McCallister started playing bass and singing back-up vocals for the band. Ben “Creech” Uchereck began playing drums, and Steve Uchereck of The Living Blue played guitar. Creech left in 2006 to play with The Beauty Shop, and Josh Lucas took over on drums. Tractor Kings added Johnny “Chemical” Davidson, a current member, to play guitar. The band started bouncing around ideas for their spanking new album Homesick and returned to Talbott’s musical haven. After they had finished tracking, Lucas left the band.
Marty “Farmboy” Gray had played with Fleischli in Chicago. He left his lucrative job at Motorola to work on a farm outside Urbana and play drums in the Tractor Kings – proof positive that some people really can throw up a middle finger to society and be happy on their own.
Fleischli’s supremely mellow, friendly and brimming with stories. I learned more about this town from our chat than I have from my own local explorations of the past three years. He’s expecting his first child in February – a son named Caz. “I can’t wait to meet him,” he said with a smug grin. He works sound for shows all over downtown Champaign, and worked at Radio Maria as a dishwasher. Outside the band, Johnny Chemical works at Hobbico, a radio-controlled car and airplane manufacturer, and plays in The Chemicals. Marty Farmboy wakes with the sun and works on a farm outside Urbana, but has high hopes to start a farm of his own someday. Aaron Jibbski works on sound with F & G and also plays in The Chemicals. These guys really know a thing or two about music and its production.
The band hopes their new album, which dropped in mid Oct. on Spur Records, will put them on a more large-scale map. “Jim Kelly over at Parasol is really great to us,” Fleischli explained. “He does a lot of promotion by sending the albums out to Pitchfork _and _Rolling Stone and stuff. Aaron does a lot of work too by making flyers and phone calls.” With a kid on the way, Fleischli hopes the album will get some press and start making some business to support the new little bundle.
When the Tractor Kings perform, it’s a party. A-rock is Johnny Chemical’s brother and the resident dance fiend. He moves and shakes, and close friends cheer, sing and drink PBR. These local favorites really know how to rock out and have a good time. When it comes down to it, they’re just a bunch of laid back guys trying to get by and have some fun along the way.