With the absence of concerts and live shows happening in 2020, the reopening of venues in 2021 saw the community bursting with eagerness for new music, new shows, and new experiences to help them forget about the current state of the world. One of the best new projects to emerge in 2021 was Kangaroo Court — and they quickly showed us that they are a force to be reckoned with.
We named Kangaroo Court the best new band of 2021, and it's not hard to see why. Depsite the band not having any recorded music out yet, they have made a name for themselves around Champaign-Urbana by playing numerous shows and bringing their own brand of psychedelic and punk rock to every gig, getting crowds moving and leaving a lasting impression. They even opened for Chicago psych-rock band Post Animal. The band was formed late last year by guitarist and vocalist Jake Luce, who was kind enough to answer some questions about the band and what the future of the group looks like.
Smile Politely: Tell me a bit about yourself.
Jake Luce: My hometown is Libertyville, Illinois, which is a suburb about 45 minutes north of Chicago. I'm currently a senior at U of I finishing up my degree in political science; I've always been very passionate politically and came to school with the initial intent of becoming a defense attorney. Even though I no longer have an interest in pursuing law or politics as a career, that aspect of my life has inspired many of these songs as well as the name of the band.
SP: What was music like for you growing up? Did you have a musical family and what kind of music were you listening to growing up?
Luce: I grew up in a generally non-musical family where nobody played any instruments, but I still felt a very strong connection to music throughout my childhood. I loved singing as a kid and had dreams of one day auditioning for American Idol. I additionally played countless hours of Guitar Hero 3 and always envisioned myself playing up onstage. My musical taste growing up was also informed heavily by Guitar Hero; I loved bands like Rage Against The Machine and The Strokes and The White Stripes. I also listened to quite a bit of hip hop as well as went through a big dubstep phase in middle school.
SP: Do you have formal music training, or are you self taught?
Luce: I never really had any formal training with music. I first picked up a guitar when I was 17 because I had a couple good friends who played music and I felt left out during their jam sessions. I started out by learning songs that I liked from Youtube tutorials and quickly began writing my own songs thereafter. A couple years later I also began teaching myself the piano and learned drums shortly after that. I've found that learning to play other instruments helped me progress even further with guitar as well and gave me a greater overall understanding of music and songwriting. I hope to one day receive some formal training, but I am glad I was able to develop these musical interests organically and on my own regard.
Image by Patrick Singer.
SP: How did the band form? Who are the other members of the band?
Luce: Kangaroo Court consists of myself on rhythm guitar and vocals, Garrett Frank on lead guitar, Noah Tennison on bass, and Cody Spiezio on drums. The band officially formed late last September. I had met Noah while he was working at a guitar shop in Champaign and he seemed like a cool enough dude so I asked if he wanted to form a band. Noah had known Garrett for a while through the Urbana music scene and suggested he join on guitar, and I had known Cody through mutual friends and asked him to play drums for us. Even in those very first rehearsals it was clear that we had really great chemistry as a band and just as friends.
SP: Where do the ideas for songs come from?
Luce: As of now I do the songwriting for Kangaroo Court. I'm definitely more of a melody first and lyrics second type of songwriter. I'll usually come up with the chords for a new song and then decide on things like tempo and the overall mood of the track. Once everything is laid out musically, I'll write lyrics just based on how the song makes me feel emotionally. A lot of the faster songs I write end up with political themes in the lyrics whereas the more spacey and psychedelic tracks usually have more existential or personal lyrics.
SP: Do you have a favorite time or place to write songs? I know some people say that they love writing right when they wake up as they're "closer to the subconscious."
Luce: My favorite time to write songs is whenever I am alone. I find that I can only truly express myself creatively when I know I am not being observed.
Image by Hayley Anderson.
SP: What does this year look like for the band? Releases, tours, etc? Obviously some of that is up in the air due to COVID.
Luce: This year is looking very busy for the band. We are almost finished with our first single, and we aim to have our whole debut album recorded and released this year. Barring COVID cancellations, we will also be playing shows almost every weekend for the foreseeable future. We have shows planned in Urbana, Chicago, Bloomington, Nashville, Indianapolis, Iowa City, and more. Performing live is definitely my favorite part of this project and I really look forward to being able to do plenty of that this year.
SP: If you had to sum up the experience of a Kangaroo court show in three words or less, what would they be?
Luce: Loud, energetic, melodic.
SP: Where can people keep up with the band?
Luce: People can keep up with the band on Instagram and Facebook! We are very active on social media and will be keeping people up to date on all upcoming shows and music releases.
SP: Anything else you'd like to add?
Luce: Would just like to add that starting this band in Urbana specifically has been such a great experience. The music scene in this town is incredible and full of wonderful and supportive people, and I really couldn't imagine doing it anywhere else.