An Interview with Kangaroo Court: Full of Conviction

Kangaroo Court (left to right): Garrett Frank (lead guitar), Jack Luce (vocals, guitar), Cody Spiezel (drums), Noah Tennison (bass)

Define Kangaroo Court: An unofficial court held by a group of people in order to try someone regarded, especially without good evidence, as guilty of a crime or misdemeanour.

Use Kangaroo Court in a sentence: Kangaroo Court rocked the shit out of the joint last night and I couldn’t seem to leave the mosh pit.”

You see dear reader, for the intents and purposes of this article, Kangaroo Court shall be defined as : A four man garage-punk psych-rock high octane band that takes great pleasure in delivering memorable leave-it-all-on-stage performances. If loving what you do is a crime, they are clearly guilty.

This foursome is based out of Champaign-Urbana, a metropolitan area in east central Illinois. They formed in late September 2021 and played their debut show during the first week of October. I hereby find Kangaroo Court not guilty of wasting time.

My first listening exposure to this band of young dudes/ old souls was a healthy blasting of their first single “Something’s Gotta Give”. In these times of high speed everything and truncated attention spans, I was paid straight away with a catchy up tempo guitar progression that seemed to say “you’re gonna dig THIS”, followed by a nifty transition into cleaner slower feels and Jack Luce’s natural melodic singing style. Then back into that foundational geared up guitar motif and no de rigueur Screamo. Luce is a singer and his lyrics matter. I was already sold on the song when a series of very cool ideas issued forth that involved time signature winks, nicely executed shots and fills that still served the track, and an overall vibe that reinforces my belief that good rock music is alive and well.

Downtown. In suburbia. Globally. Youthful idealism and energy; a need to fix all the broken shit. To provide catharsis and commiseration through the medicine of Music. Let’s delve deeper with founding member and frontman Jack Luce. Court is in session.

“We have to show the audience that we’re having the time of our lives and we have to be vulnerable enough to let the audience really connect with our emotions.”

Jack Luce, (vocals & guitar)

Thank you for making time to speak with us. Can you give our readers a biographical sketch of how the members of Kangaroo Court met and formed the band?

I moved back to Champaign/Urbana in the Fall of 2020 with the intention of starting a band. I had taken the previous year off from school in order to improve my mental health, and during this time I began to realize that creating music was really all I wanted to do with my life. My first week back on campus, I took my guitar to a local shop for a setup and struck up a conversation with one of the employees, Noah Tennison, who happened to be involved in the local music scene. We became immediate friends; I agreed to play drums in his Midwest Emo two-piece, Needlepoint, and he agreed to help me get my own project off the ground.

Noah eventually came to me in the summer of 2021 and said he found the perfect guitarist for my project, and introduced me to Garrett Frank, a proficient guitarist with a great head of hair; the three of us had a jam session and the chemistry was immediately apparent. We now only needed a drummer to complete the package. I recalled meeting an eccentric young music student named Cody Spiezio at a party the year prior who told me he played the drums. Not fully knowing what to expect, I invited Cody to jam with us one day, and with the very first song we were all enamored by how talented he was behind the kit. By October of 2021, the four of us played our first show together as Kangaroo Court in the backyard of a local house in Urbana, and I guess the rest is history.

I have read elsewhere that you are the principal songwriter. Speaking about your own personal history, what first sparked your interest in making music?

Although I didn’t play a single instrument while growing up, I always felt that I had a deep connection with music. I played countless hours of Guitar Hero III and Rock Band as a kid, and my biggest dream at the time was, somewhat embarrassingly, to be the next American Idol. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school when I became friends with a group who was always playing music and going to concerts together that I decided to try my hand at guitar. I borrowed the acoustic that had been sitting in my dad’s closet untouched for years and taught myself a few chords, and almost immediately thereafter began writing my own songs.

As a politically aware person in a polarized national electorate, you must have endless lyric inspiration but do you ever feel pressure to keep coming up with new songs or is this a non issue?

I try not to put too much pressure on myself when it comes to writing new music or lyrics. Oftentimes, I’ll have an idea or inspiration, but when I sit down to expand upon it nothing comes to me. When this occurs, I find it best to simply accept that the idea just isn’t quite formed yet, and that the right application for the idea will present itself down the road if it’s good enough. Many Kangaroo Court songs actually have certain parts that I wrote back in high school that never found their way into a song until now. Rather than forcing anything, I find that I do my best songwriting when I allow the music to flow through me.

The same goes for writing lyrics. I actually find it immensely difficult to transform my thoughts and feelings into song lyrics–even when approaching topics that I feel very passionate or informed about. So instead of over-analyzing the lyrical content, I instead focus on how the musical content is making me feel and eventually the right phrases just kind of appear.

As mentioned above, Kangaroo Court played a debut gig very soon after forming. I surmise that having four members who attend or attended the University of Illinois gave you a ready crowd for the show. Can you describe that experience? How many songs did you play and was the reaction everything that you could have hoped for?

Our first show took place last October in a local Urbana backyard; there was a good crowd of mostly fellow U of I students and we were all a bit nervous to play these songs in front of people for the first time. We had a setlist of seven or eight songs, all originals, and things got off to a great start. I remember feeling a sense of surprise coming from the crowd as if they had no expectation that we would sound as good as we did. Unfortunately, our music was not received as well by the neighbors of the event who ended up calling the police and shutting down our set before we could finish. This ended up becoming a common occurrence for us as three of our first five shows were cut short by the cops. Thankfully, these run-ins helped us earn a bit of a reputation and I think people were maybe more interested in seeing our shows after that.

Instant street cred right there.

Kangaroo Court

We tend to attach certain genres of music to locations and most often, cities. Seattle Grunge, Bay area thrash metal, iterations of Punk in London, New York, Los Angeles… Urbana sits within the giant umbrella of Chicago but clearly has its own scene happening. Is there a predominant style or sound there? Is it a competitive scene, a mutually supportive one, or something in between? Where does Kangaroo Court fit into the whole?

Urbana has a very rich music history and the scene right now is definitely as strong as ever. On any given weekend, you can find hundreds of students showing up to various houses, backyards, and basements across town to support local bands and artists. There isn’t a singular style or genre which holds precedent and oftentimes a single bill can include indie rock, punk, hip hop, EDM, and more. The divide between artists and fans is almost non-existent and the whole scene just feels like a supportive and inclusive community.

I am going to reference a quote of yours from a previous interview : “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.” This is a good counterpoint to how much your band enjoys the stage, where being observed is the entire point. Is there one show thus far that stands out in memory?

The dichotomy between writing music and playing live is one that I’ve found myself having to think about more and more lately. Writing songs is a very personal experience for me–one where I truly don’t even like having anybody else in the house with me during the process. So when playing live, I have to find a way to take something that is so personal and present it in a way where the audience can feel the same connection to the song that I feel. Accomplishing this goal means we have to really be performers up on stage; we have to show the audience that we’re having the time of our lives and we have to be vulnerable enough to let the audience really connect with our emotions.

We had a headlining show at Subterranean in Chicago last Spring which really stood out as a special performance. The energy in the room was infectious and we captured every ounce of people’s attention throughout our time onstage. Ultimately, what it really came down to was the ability to extend the invitation to each person in the room that says “Hey, we’re having a blast right now, come have a blast with us!”

You have previously mentioned the Kangaroo Court sound being inspired by such diverse acts as Black Sabbath, Tame Impala, and The Strokes among others. I can hear all of that and more, especially during a viewing of your song What Are The Chances, where a distinct 70s vibe gets blended into your contemporary sound. The musicianship is top flight and I appreciated the accents, timing nuances, and sheer amount of ideas packed into that song. You seem able to find a balance between memorable songcraft and showcasing the instrumental chops. Do you bring finished song ideas to rehearsal or does the band expand upon them with ideas formed by their individual tastes and inspirations?

Really appreciate the kind words! Whenever I write a song, I try to envision what each instrument will be doing throughout the track; that way, when I bring it to rehearsal, the song is essentially fully formed. However, once we learn it together as a band, each song is subject to undergo a variety of changes based on everyone’s input. This process allows each song adequate time and space to develop; we can draw upon each of our individual strengths and different influences and even on audience feedback in order to reach a final product that we can all be proud of.

Your “Something’s Gotta Give” single was released in April. Are there plans for a full album in the near future? Any record label interest thus far? Touring details you’d like to share and shouts in general?

At the moment we are in the process of recording our debut album, “This is Kangaroo Court.” The debut single entitled “Something’s Gotta Give” was released in April and has reached a much wider audience than we had ever expected, and we recently released our second single “Spark Ranger” in late August. Our plan as of now is to stay in Urbana for one more year while we work on the record and play shows in different cities across the Midwest. We are hoping that by the time the record is complete, we will be able to sign a deal with a label and officially begin our lives on the road.

Fantastic news and all the best for everything you aspire to. I am certain that a lot of IAMUR readers are going to like the Kangaroo Court sound. Is there anything you would like to say directly to them about the band? Perhaps a mission statement of sorts.

The biggest motivation behind Kangaroo Court is our collective love and passion for live music. With each of our live performances we aim to transport people, at least momentarily, into a whole new reality, and we intend for our recorded music to have this same effect.

Listen to more from Kangaroo Court on Spotify:

Readers can find out more about Kangaroo Court on InstagramYouTube and Facebook, along with all the major music streaming platforms. Get in touch with the IAMUR team for coverage, reviews and interviews here.

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