I wasn’t sure what to expect when I huddled into a booth at Rose Bowl Tavern with Andrew Kling, guitarist for The Dirty Feathers. I knew the band was a longtime fixture of the Champaign-Urbana music scene but, like many other bands, took a hiatus during COVID. What I got was a window into the origin story of a true DIY rock ‘n’ roll band — five friends brought together by a love of music, honing their sound in dingy basements before rising to rock local venues and beyond.
Our conversation zig-zagged across the decades, uncovering the early days when Kling and keyboardist Ted Faust first started jamming in their crappy rental simply because it had a basement. Neither knew if it would go anywhere, but they were determined to play. After cycling through various drummers, they caught the attention of Vladimir Brilliant and Harman Jordan, members of Kling’s favorite local band, Shipwreck.
Kling recalls a fateful night spotting the Shipwreck guys at Mike N Molly’s, a tragically defunct dive bar that was a hub for Champaign’s “artsy weirdos” (Kling’s words) and scenesters. Nervous to approach his idols, he lied to them initially and said that he was a drummer with a place to play, hoping for a jam session. It worked. When Brilliant and Jordan showed up to that gnarly basement, Kling came clean, but it didn’t phase them. They started jamming regularly, sans drummer, blending their talents into something fresh and raw.
After playing with drummer Joe Funderburk briefly, the final piece fell into place when they recruited James Triechler. Kling reminisces about the night it all began — his birthday, oddly the night after Triechler’s birthday, a drunken round of shots, a late night after party at Kling’s, and a shared love of obscure Neil Young songs. As Kling tells it, “We bonded over an obscure Neil Young song… it kind of kicked it off like that.” With Triechler behind the kit, the core of The Dirty Feathers was formed.
From humble origins, the band evolved its sound over late nights in Kling’s basement, absorbing the members’ diverse influences. He name checks classic rock staples like the Stones and Floyd, ’70s psychedelia, Iggy Pop, and early White Stripes as inspirations.
Over a decade later, Kling still looks fondly on their first full-length album, Midnight Snakes, released in 2011. “We were really proud of it and I think we’re all still really proud of it now,” he says. Though the songwriting was split between Kling and Jordan then, their process is much more collaborative today. Kling explains, “Now every song we’ve done is definitely more collaborative. Someone brings a song idea, then everyone puts their piece into it.”
This close-knit dynamic was evident when Kling opened up about the band’s involvement in the local social “fraternity” Pi Omega Omega. It was due to this that The Dirty Feathers dusted off the gear and agreed to play Moose-a-Palooza, a benefit for Pi Omega Omega “President,” Barney. It’s clear the friendships run deep in Pi Omega Omega, as his stories illustrate.
He reminisces animatedly about the night he received his “frat” name, bestowed by the late Aaron “Skid” Davidson. Kling earned the name “Stripes” thanks to a striped shirt. Davidson, also known as “A-Rock,” used to introduce the band at local shows. I could envision the mischievous grin on A-Rock’s face as Kling described his antics every time he came up with crazy intros, riling up crowds before their sets.
The fraternal bond shined through most during their Great Cover-Up performance as the legendary Rolling Stones. As Kling recounts, “A-Rock was Mick Jagger… He was Mick Jagger in the green room. He was Mick Jagger during the show. He was Mick Jagger after the show. That was probably one of my best times ever on a stage.” The image of A-Rock wholly transforming into and committing to the role of Sir Mick in his everyday life is exactly the brand of rock ‘n’ roll passion that courses through The Dirty Feathers, too.
In their early years, Kling recalls a Downtown Champaign music scene that felt truly alive: house parties after the bars closed, the great shows and little jams at Cowboy Monkey or Mike N Molly’s. He laments that the Downtown Champaign music scene is a mere shadow of its former self today, but sees signs that it’s starting to regain its former glory. With veteran bands like The Dirty Feathers reuniting and new blood like Sweetmelk and Kangaroo Court emerging, he remains optimistic about a revival of rock music in C-U, and The Dirty Feathers mission is to once again be a small part of it.
As Kling bluntly puts it, their mission is simple: “to show up and just play loud.” The songs they’ve meticulously crafted in studios or bashed out drunkenly during a jam at 5 a.m. house parties all funnel into the transcendent goal of performing live with passion. To take the weary weekday bar crowd and transform them, even for just one fleeting solo, into true rock ‘n’ roll believers again.
So, what’s next for The Dirty Feathers? They have a gig at the Rose Bowl on September 30th, where they’ll be celebrating the release of a new single called “Hoist,” sung by Jordan. Another song in the pipeline is “Running Through Dark Heat,” with Kling on vocals. They have a lot of unfinished songs and are trying to find the time to get the band in the mindset to finish them. The goal is to release a new album in the near-ish future and to become a proper working band again.
So if you crave that kind of transportive, devil-may-care rock spectacle, don’t miss The Dirty Feathers’ show at Rose Bowl Tavern on September 30th. Let the misfits-turned-maestros rattle your bones with some new music, and a little old, to take you back to the golden age when Champaign ignited with pure musical energy nearly every night. No DJ sets or light shows are needed. Simply five friends on a mission to meld their influences into a sound that’s uniquely their own, delivered straight, no chaser. The evolution of The Dirty Feathers continues.
The Dirty Feathers with Yard Eagle and the Bashful Youngens
Rose Bowl Tavern
Sa September 30th, 8 p.m.