Smile Politely

Burning Down the House: The latest student music scene in C-U, part one

Loud, unbridled, punch-drunk rock and roll.

This is the new music scene brewing in the campus area of Champaign-Urbana. A collection of students from the University of Illinois have taken the DIY approach to a new level, bringing in a cavalcade of raw bands that have been performing staggering sets in packed houses. Popular places in the scene like Audible Meats in Urbana find themselves as hotspots for stacked billings of up-and-coming artists. Many other houses are rotated constantly, keeping the choices in location as fresh as the music that has truly wired the new field. In this series I will be talking to the bands who have made a name for themselves by putting on electrifying performances in the comfort of whatever basement they can find.

In Part I of this monthly series, I chat with King of the Coast, The Threads, and Puzzle Quest about their history, music, and the growing house-show scene in CU.

King of the Coast

‘If you build it, they will come”

– Rick Sniegowski of King of the Coast/Lime Forest (quoting Field Of Dreams)

King of the Coast have taken their own style of oscillating alternative rock to the houses, going strong for three years since their inception. Just before a set of back-to-back performances in one weekend, I was able to talk to to King of the Coast during a cigarette break outside of Audible Meats.

Smile Politely: When did you guys first start playing as King of the Coast?

Larry Sheridan, vocals, guitar: In 2014 I was in a funk after I had broken up with my ex. My friend Keoni Gross said “hey you should come with me to go see Twin Peaks at Pygmalion”, and I when I went I was thinking “dude these guys aren’t playing anything we can’t play, this is awesome!” So we just started jamming right after that. Later that winter one of our suite-mates was told us “yo, you should start a band”, and it was right around that time when we came up with King of the Coast. A lot of the songs that we’re playing now, we wrote that school-year.

John Fitzgerald, drums: I joined them at the beginning of last semester (Fall 2016). I was already recording and mixing their stuff, but they told me “hey we need someone to fill in for this show coming up at the Accord”, so they asked if Rick and I could help out and we were like yeah. We did a Halloween House Show. 

Rick Sniegowski, bass: From there, we all became really good friends.

John: Yeah, I wouldn’t have met these guys if it wasn’t for the music.

SP: When did you guys start getting wind of all these house shows that have been happening on a consistent basis?

Rick: Well, I had been to a handful of house shows my freshman and sophomore year, and I just knew that I needed to get a house to throw them myself. I think we just throw them more frequently than they were before. (Probably because I wanted my bands to play).

John: I wasn’t really involved with the scene my freshman and sophomore year, I just went to a couple of shows here and there. I didn’t know any of the bands, but since I started playing with these guys, more people have been able to throw shows. It seems like we’ve had this group of bands that are working together, playing together at these houses.

Larry: There’s a group of usual suspects: The Threads, Jet Fuel and the Steel Beams, PuzzleQuest, Apothecaries, and Lime Forest. We’ve played shows with them several times. Usually it was only one house like Audible Meats that would throw shows, but then other places started stepping up and now it’s like there’s a show every week between 3-4 houses.

Keoni Gross, guitar, vocals: Before this all started happening, we would play shows like once a month, but now we’re playing twice a weekend. It’s been fucking awesome.

Rick: “If you build it, they will come.”

Keoni: It’s almost like there’s two different house show scenes; the “established” scene with places like Library House and Blips and Chitz, and this is more like the “student” scene.

Larry: A couple of those guys have been really supportive; Blips and Chitz have had all of our bands perform there up to this point.

John: I’ve heard us described as a band that is built for house shows, and to me personally I’ve enjoyed house shows more because it’s a more intimate vibe, people are more pumped up and are more inclined to come without begging them.

Keoni: We’ve had people crowd surfing at a show with a foot separating them from the ceiling of the basement. Some guy busted his head on Rick’s bass too.

Rick: We all have traces of blood; there’s some on my pedal, on Larry’s guitar.

John: We’re not violent people though.

SP: What’s your favorite King of the Coast song to play live?

Larry: Well all of our songs really don’t have names, but we have a few out there (some of which John recorded and mixed). One of them is “Cliffhanger”. A little backstory about this one: we always called it “Lincoln’s PB Hat” for years. So we still as a band never really call it “Cliffhanger”, but it’s been our favorite song to play.

SP: In your opinion, What is music?

Larry: It’s whatever you interpret it to be.

John: To me, if it’s a man-made thing, rather than something arbitrary, it’s an expression of an experience through the medium of instruments. I always try to express how the song makes me feel through my playing and hopefully it’ll translate to the audience.

Rick: It’s like an addiction; the more you play, the better you get, the more you want to play, so it’s like a vicious cycle.

The Threads

Known for their hard-hitting, no-holds-barred rock and roll, The Threads have been taking no prisoners since stepping foot in Champaign-Urbana in 2014. Fresh off of a weekend playing at two house shows as well as being the backing band for a performance with the a cappella group Girls Next Door, these guys were cool with me stopping by one of their frequent jam sessions.

Smile Politely: Who are the Threads?

Nick Abboud, drums: The question is, who are YOU?

Sam Abboud, vocals, guitar: Really, it’s just Nick, Duke, Justin and Sam.

SP: When did you guys first start playing as a band?

Nick: 2014, and then Duke joined at the start of 2016.

Sam: The current version of us have been playing together for about a year now.

Nick: Back then, we would play at Joe’s quite a lot. We didn’t really play house shows.

Sam: My sophomore year was when it started to really happen.

SP: When did you start hearing about this recent wave of house shows?

Sam: I knew about house shows like my sophomore year, but I never really had an “in”. It wasn’t until our ex-bassist Rick Sniegowski would let us play in his basement.

Nick: Shout-out to Lime Forest! Yeah, from there we would just start playing at all these houses.

SP: What do you think of them?

Sam: They’re awesome. They’re the best shows that we’ve played as a band. 

Nick:  Yeah and that’s not even based on musicality, it’s on performance because the energy is just so electric. You’re so close to the people. It’s a safe environment too.

Duke Hiatt, bass: They’re the best. By far the best crowds.

SP: What’s been the difference between each house that you guys have played at?

Duke: I feel like it’s a completely different experience every time we play.

Sam: It really depends on the room. We’ve played in shows with really small rooms, but everyone is still packed in there and everyone can see. Whereas there are some rooms where the water heater is like in the middle of the space and gets in the way. 

Nick: That show with the water heater in the middle also had a hole in a brick wall where people could look through and kind of see the drums if they didn’t want to catch the band at a certain angle. Every show is different.

Favorite song to play live?

Sam: “Again and Again.” For sure. 

What is music?

Duke: Humanly-organized sound.

Sam: Anything you can dance to.

Nick: In a not-at-all cliched way, it’s a way to share experiences. Like it could be as natural as having conversations, it’s just a part of life.

Puzzle Quest

“Times are strange but just remember… Puzzle Quest loves you!”

-Paul Tisch, Puzzle Quest

Since Halloween 2016, Puzzle Quest has been on a roll with its sentimental, yet unapologetic punk; causing multitudes of crowds to collectively mosh the instant they take the stage. I was able to catch up with the band immediately after an electric performance at a house that got the whole room moshing. After what felt like thirty minutes of drummer Grant Allen and I chatting about WWE, I was finally able to get back to more pressing matters.

Smile Politely: How do you guys feel right now? You just performed…

Grant Allen, drums: I feel good. That was a great goddamn set.

Paul Tisch, bass and vocals: It was fun. There was a lot of motion around.

Wyatt Richter: The crowd was the best part.

Grant: They picked Wyatt’s ass up! He crowdsurfed. Didn’t even have to unplug the guitar.

Wyatt: That was a first for me.

SP: First time crowdsurfing ever?

Wyatt: Well, not ever. First time was when I saw Run the Jewels at Pitchfork in 2015.

SP: Who is Puzzle Quest?

Grant: Puzzle Quest is “Puzzle Quest for Seven Rings!”

Paul: All we ever try to do is get seven rings.

Wyatt: It’s really the overarching goal. We haven’t gotten a single ring yet

Grant: We’re getting close though

SP: How long have you guys been playing?

Grant: Halloween 2016 was our first show, but we kinda got started around September.

Wyatt: I was at a shitty bluegrass show for my dad in Wisconsin, and I was like “oh, I should play in a band”. So I texted Paul, and then Paul told me about Grant. Then we had a guy named Rick and a girl named Sharon in the band, but they left (the song “Rick’s Gone (and Sharon Too)” is about that). Kai joined in between all of that, so now it’s us four.

SP: What do you think of all these recent house shows?

Paul: It’s great, there’s been this sudden interest, like people are just into them again.

Wyatt: With the house shows, you’re really with the crowd, like there’s no “us and them”, so it’s a lot of fun.

SP: Favorite song to play live?

Wyatt: Probably “Sequential Friends”

Grant: Yeah I would say “Sequential Friends.” It’s got a sexy bass line.

Paul: I like a song we have called “New Flesh.” That one is based on a David Cronenberg movie called “Videodrome”. Definitely check that movie out.

SP: What is music?

Grant: I’m just trying to express my emotions, that’s why I hit the drums so angrily. It’s also just something to move to.

Paul: Music is a sonic version of emotion. It’s a cathartic way to let out what you’re feeling, ‘cause tension needs release, man. It’s like an orgasm.


Stick around next month for Part II where I will continue to talk to bands that have been crushing it in the new house-show scene in Champaign-Urbana.

More Articles