Smile Politely

A momentous leap for The Inn Keepers

The Inn Keepers have been putting out music for a couple of years now. They originally found their groove while jamming at the Illini Inn and have since gone on to perform at most, if not all, venues across C-U. As I asked about the history of their band, I slowly realized that The Inn Keepers are not a static and singular musical group, but a dynamic and adaptable entity built on the friendships and stories of its members and their shared passion for the music. They remain largely nonchalant when faced with adversity and are able to use unfavorable changes to their advantage. Without intentionally adhering to one single genre, their music is hard to holistically define or describe. It’s a little bluesy, a little grungy, and a little punkish. Paradoxically, The Inn Keepers are inconsistent in several ways with lineup changes and stylistic shifts throughout the years, yet they will consistently present a musical performance that is unequivocally authentic.

In retrospect, last Friday was a terrible day to meet on campus. Unbeknownst to me, there was an ongoing and internationally renowned theatre festival which left Krannert Center and the surrounding area littered with what seemed to be thousands of excited high school students. Coffee shops and restaurants were packed to the brim with cliques of teens trying to find shelter from the brisk, single-digit weather.  After sifting through the crowds, I eventually met up with the vocalist/guitarist Trevor Moore and guitarist Andrew Walsh from The Inn Keepers. I immediately noticed the signs of a great friendship between Moore and Walsh who met while playing in the marching Illini. We abandoned our original meeting place to seek out a quieter environment and found refuge in a cozy booth at Merry-Anne’s. Despite the ambience of youthful banter and polite interruptions from food orders and coffee refills, we were able to have an informative conversation regarding The Inn Keepers’ Midwest tour, their upcoming album, their roots as a band, and everything in between.


Even though the band has been around for some time, they are just now gaining momentum and expanding their reach. They recently played a couple tunes live at DZ Records, and in a couple weeks, they’ll be playing at The Great Cover Up for the first time. This was certainly a busy day for the two as they had just performed in a segment on the morning news and were heading to the first stop of their tour later that night. With fresh cups of coffee in hand, I began by asking them about their performance earlier that morning:

Smile Politely: How did it go this morning?

Trevor Moore: It was good; we played three songs and just talked about the tour.

Andrew Walsh: It was actually the second time we’ve been on that show. We kicked it off a couple months ago.

Moore: Yeah it’s this new segment called Friday Jams. I think back in October we were the first band to do it.

SP: So you guys are going on tour starting today? Are you excited for it?

Walsh: Yeah, it will be a lot of fun. We’ll see how the van does. We’re in a mini-van.

Moore: It’s going to be cold.

Walsh: So, we’re starting in Peoria tonight [1/6] and then we’re going to Iowa City, and then to Cincinnati and then to Muncie. Then we take two days off and play in Champaign on the 12th, and then from Champaign we go to St. Louis, from St. Louis to Memphis. And that’s our nice little Midwest tour.

SP: Have you toured around that way [the Midwest] before?

Walsh: This is our first extensive tour. I mean, we’ve done shows throughout Illinois, but this will be the first time we’re really expanding through the Midwest.

SP: Are there any places that you’re particularly excited about?

Walsh: It will be cool to play Memphis.

Moore: Yeah the last three shows we’re doing are with this other band called the Fromps. I think they’re from Chicago. I’m looking forward to those shows because I feel like they’ve already been to these cities before and I think they have some friends there so it should be a pretty good turnout.

SP: Are you guys familiar with the Fromps?

Moore: We’ve never met them actually; we just communicated on the internet. They asked us to set up a Champaign show and they set up the St. Louis and Memphis shows.

SP: How was it playing Pygmalion back in September?

Walsh: That was a lot of fun.

Moore: We probably had a 45 minute set and that’s when we added a keyboard player and then we had five brass players with us. That was pretty cool. There were a lot of people there.

Walsh: Yeah great turnout. Probably the best turnout we’ve ever had.

Moore: It was really funny. We were playing at the same time as this band called Wolf Parade. They were outside, and we are very different genres. I got a couple comments from people saying they were outside and they weren’t vibing with the genre so they came in. So it worked out in our favor.

Walsh: It’s pretty cool because Pygmalion is legit. It’s cool to play in a festival like that and just see all of those bands too. I think I saw 10 or 15 show just from the two weekends. I went to a ton of shows.

Moore: I wasn’t familiar with too many of the names this year, but a couple of years ago they had American Football, who are from Champaign but they’re a global touring band now, and they had Chvrches – they’re a huge band and they played Lolla. In 2014 I saw [Chvrvhes] at Lolla and then they came to Pygmalion and I was like “holy crap, man!”

SP: You’ve gone through a couple of lineup changes over the course of different albums. How has that affected the music?

Walsh: With anything, it changes it because you’ve got different people going in and out…

[Brief pause while our server comes by and we put in our order for food and drinks.]

Walsh: [laughs] So, back to the lineup. A lot of times when you think of bands you think of lineup changes as very hectic and very crazy, but for us it changes the music because it changes the dynamic. I feel like we’re constantly doing something new because we’re constantly having new people in there. That kind of takes us out of doing the “same-old, same-old” every single time. It adds something new – even our old songs have changed just because of the players playing them.

Moore: Everybody brings their own flavor to it. I write my guitar licks and the lyrics and the melodies, but I don’t particularly enjoy telling a drummer how to drum, you know? When we had a new drummer – it’s been a long time now, like over a year – when he came in, I didn’t really want to tell him what to do. It works out.

SP: I’ve read some harsh criticisms in the past.

Walsh: Yeah we read it and we took it with a grain of salt.

Moore: I think it’s funny, honestly.

SP: How do you deal with or respond to the criticism?

Moore: I mean — any publicity is good.

Walsh: Also, even The Beatles have critics. Everyone’s not going to like everyone. Was it Rolling Stone that hated Led Zeppelin? They’re one of the best bands of all time. So, really it doesn’t matter to us.

Moore: It’s funny. Our drummer brought up a point about that. Usually you review people to let customers know if they should buy the album because it costs money, but because our music is free why does it matter?

SP: Why do you put your music out for free?

Walsh: That’s a good question because we could make some money off of it. We’re at the level where we’re starting to get a decent following.

Moore: I think at the beginning, we were more or less doing it for fun. It’s a lot easier to give it away for free. If nobody knows who you are, they don’t want to pay for it. It’s a double-edged sword because it also diminishes the value of it, subconsciously, if people see that it’s free. You can definitely surpass that standard. We’re actually preparing to make an album and I would like to sell it officially.

SP: How far along on the album are you?

Walsh: We’ve got a couple songs done.

Moore: We’ve got a LOT of songs done. We’re in the writing process, for sure. I’m going to be demoing all of the songs in January and then we’re probably going to go up to the studio one more time. We’re working with this producer.  We’re planning on recording over our spring break for the whole week.

SP: Is there anything significantly different or similar about the upcoming album?

Moore: It’s pretty different.

Walsh: It’s way different than, especially, what we started writing. It’s leagues apart from two year ago when we came out with that first EP. As song writers we’ve gotten way better and we take more time and everything is much more thought out.

Moore: I’m really meticulous about the lyrics and the form. Something that I really try and focus on is the pacing of the song. Sometimes when you’re beginning songwriting it’s easy to just make everything double a phrase, do it twice, do it four times, do it eight times, but sometimes for the pacing it’s better to do it once or three times. Unconventional phrasing.

SP: Have you strayed very far, stylistically?

Walsh: Yes, at least for me. I’m a blues guitarist. That’s how I started and how I learned guitar. Playing with Trevor and playing with these other guys, we don’t play the blues really anymore. The Inn Keepers started out as a pure blues band and that first EP was kind of like a crossover. We’ve pretty much gone completely away from that. So, stylistically we went from a blues-rock band to just a rock band. We still have the blues influences and stuff like that, but not nearly what it was.

Moore: I try and not limit myself. I recognize that bands pick a genre and then only write within that genre, but I don’t know if I’m completely capable of doing that. Having the other guys in the band definitely helps contain it and make it coherent, but within my writing style I do a lot of different stuff. I think that’s where a producer can help. They can give you stylistic ideas and stuff. But yeah, as far as being different from the first EP, definitely.

Walsh: We write what we feel like writing. A punk song is a punk song and if it’s a blues song it’s a blues song. We kind of do what we do. If it makes the cut, it makes the cut.

Moore: I’m kind of curious how other people categorize us…

[Another brief pause as our server returns and quietly places our food and drinks down on the table.]

SP: I read that you got your name, “The Inn Keepers,” from playing at the Illini Inn. How did that transpire?

Walsh: Our former bassist had family who owned it or was involved with it. When we first started, this was before Trevor even joined; we would just jam there and play on Thursday nights during the summer. There weren’t too many people there, but people would show up and listen to us. When Trevor joined we just kept doing it and we still didn’t have a name. So that’s how we got our name “The Inn Keepers” – from playing at the Illini Inn. It was kind of where we cut our teeth a little bit in terms of trying to play in front of people because we were just packed in this corner and didn’t have a sound system, didn’t have any of that. It was very garage-rocky. Especially because it’s so small, so we’re trying to play with drums and amps and everything and it just gets very loud. That’s where we started.

SP: [After a few sips of coffee and a collaborative moment of reflection] I don’t really have any more questions. Is there anything you wanted to add or talk about?

Walsh: We really feel like we’re starting to make grounds in terms of what we’re doing, musically. In performing, we’ve all gotten better at our instruments so I’m really excited to see, after we’re done touring, where we’ll go from here. Lots of opportunities are starting to open up for us and people are starting to reach out to us. It’s cool that other people that you don’t know are contacting you because they like your music and that’s what is starting to happen for us.

Moore: We don’t make money off of this and we definitely put a lot of our own money into it – and time and effort obviously. For me, the reason I do it isn’t for money or attention or anything. Number one, above everything else, I’m a musician and that’s what I want to do with my life, but I like playing these shows and I like trying to earn peoples’ respect through my music. Just like anybody wants to be good at their job, and I guess I just want peoples’ respect.

SP: What do you guys see, moving forward, for The Inn Keepers?

Walsh: Well, this album is pretty much our next project after the tour. Then [we’ll] just see if the album does anything for us and what shows we play because of it and see who is interested with it. We’re fine with just playing in Champaign for the time being, but playing other places like we’ve already done and like we’re about to do…

Moore: …Hopefully we can do a bigger tour in the summer.

SP: When would you say the album will be finished?

Walsh: Probably late spring would be close to around the time we would want to release it.

Moore: I would say June, early June. We really don’t even know.

Walsh: Early summer, late spring. Who’s to say?

The Inn Keepers are playing at Cowboy Monkey tonight at 9 p.m. with The Fromps and Jarring. Tickets are $7 at the door. Stream the band’s latest EP, Didn’t Think I’d Get This Far, on their bandcamp page, and make sure to catch them as part of The Great Cover Up at The Accord on Saturday, Jan. 21st.

Top photo by Chris Hershman.

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