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In San Diego’s ever-evolving music scene, five friends have come together to create something completely fresh. Their eclectic sound is nothing you’ve ever heard before – it’s rooted in rock and still feels soulful, poppy, but somehow funk. I met up with this group of musicians to talk SXSW, how they came together as a group, and their upcoming album. Listen closely, because KI is about to put San Diego on the map.
Kiley Halpern speaks like words can’t move fast enough to describe her passion for KI. There are reasons behind the excitement: 2016 is going to be a big year — the band has plans to release their first, self-produced album, and hit the road for their longest tour yet. When I caught up with KI at their home studio, nestled in the dreamy hills overlooking San Diego, they were in the midst of moving locations, and buzzing over their recent win to headline the Future of Music Showcase at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas.
It would be easy to point out that KI is a group of creative and ambitious rock stars just by looking at them. Halpern – who sings lead vocals, plays flute, and the ukulele – flutters around the kitchen wearing a pair of long, psychedelic pants and a fur coat; her eyes are bright and she has an undeniable likeness to a young Stevie Nicks. And just wait until you hear her sing. Erik Pierce, the band’s longhaired lead guitarist and sound engineer guru, discusses taiko drumming and how the coordinated drum solo in their set was inspired by his studies of the ancient drum-ensemble while he was in Japan.
KI’s keyboardist, Tony Salomone, used to play in a band with Pierce back in high school — the two are old buddies, and since joining the band, Salomone has learned to play the keytar. Curran Kiel, the backbone of KI — with hard-hitting percussion, and a unique approach to rhythm, speaks in a deep, calm voice about how he met Halpern & Pierce at an open mic in Encinitas, California. Halpern jokes about how Kiel was 2 hours late to their first gig together. “I ended up playing like 8 songs of theirs that I had never heard before. I knew all the tempo changes and it was a perfect fit,” Kiel says.
“When we’re playing a show we’re bringing this excitement and love for what we’re doing but we’re also feeding off of the crowd’s energy and vice versa.”
The band’s bassist Ben Boon, is by all accounts not a trained bassist, but he tells me that’s a minor detail. One of the band members jokes, “So we never actually found a bass player we found a guitarist turned bass player.” Boon adds, “Yeah it was very cool; it was me finding myself as a bassist in a group of people finding a bassist.” Boon tells me how he ultimately joined the band because KI was just the right amount of rock’n’roll. “We played a street show in Pacific Beach – it was really fun and then we got kicked off the street by the cops,” Boon laughs and continues, “that’s how I knew, this is real passion right here. Great musicians, great people, and really good food.” Second only to music, Halpern has a passion for food — and the band’s jam sessions always involve taking a break in the kitchen to crowd around Halpern’s latest culinary creation. Tonight, she has prepared dozens of tiny vegan, garlic potato cups filled with mashed potatoes and topped with a mock beef crumble, peas and avocado cream. Later in the evening she brings out slices of chocolate pie and insists that I take the biggest piece. The band members tell me this is typical of Halpern- bringing people together, feeding them good food, and making sure everyone is cared for. She is even known for baking delicious, mini pies for fans to enjoy at live shows.
KI’s Top 3 Most Memorable Moments:
Taking this selfie with fans at Belly Up Tavern
Almost passing out onstage at the Kaaboo Festival
Playing their epic drum solo
We walk into the studio where the band has been working hard on their new album. With musical inspirations ranging from Twenty One Pilots to The Beatles, when you first listen to KI you’ll notice how accessible, tight, fun, and thoughtful the arrangements are, particularly in terms of the vocals. Halpern’s falsetto meshes beautifully with the band’s upbeat rock sound. Unlike many other groups, there is a spiritual side to the music KI creates, and even more so, there is something inexplicably new, yet classic about what KI is doing and what they’re bringing to the scene.
Currently, the band is working to capture the moments that create magic on stage in their new songs. “You can come to our show and you are going to see something completely energizing and fresh… we’re going to be leaping across the stage and playing all of these different instruments and we’re having a great time with our best friends because we love what were doing. All you have to be is there with us to experience this,” she says in a dreamy-soft tone. It isn’t until you watch a live performance that you truly understand what she means by “completely energizing and fresh.” To keep things light and cool, the band experiments with choreographed dances on stage intermingled throughout their set list. Their approach is a homegrown, R&D process- using trial and error to see what works on stage to get the fans going, and sometimes the dances just randomly happen while they are performing.
There is a level of trust between the band members that is rare to see in today’s music world – their dynamic is completely void of drama or competition. I ask the band members what the hardest thing is about making music and their response is almost unanimous: there aren’t enough hours in the day. “I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day to make music,” Pierce says. Without skipping a beat, Salomone adds, “Yeah, I mean even if we come in here [the recording studio] tired, I’m instantly energized because it’s what we love doing. We always uplift and excite each other and it’s kind of just never-ending. When we’re playing a show we’re bringing this excitement and love for what we’re doing but we’re also feeding off of the crowd’s energy and vice versa.”
In the past couple of months, the band has been focusing some of their creative genius on the business side of things- their goal for 2016 is to expand KI as an entity into all aspects of entertainment, like movies, television, and even car commercials. “We want to branch out of San Diego,” says Pierce. The band is looking to take over the LA scene and plan a tour down the California coast, or even across the country, but they won’t play with just any band. “We’re still looking for what would be the right choice as far as a tour goes. Our prerogative is not just to play a bunch of shows, we want to be strategic about the shows we play and who we tour with,” Halpern says. “We made a splash in the past year playing all over San Diego, but we don’t just want to stay in our one little hub.”
KI is more than a music group making waves in the San Diego scene, it’s a family. These five friends believe and support one another fully, and they understand each other’s wildest dreams. It’s easy to look at Halpern as the connector — the change maker who keeps the band’s energy alive, and she recognizes the power in KI as a unit. When she talks about the band and where they are heading, she is positively bursting with energy and light, but she stays grounded in the ultimate goal: continue doing what they love. “It’s really fulfilling just as a human to be in a band where we recognize that we have this opportunity to do what we love. We’re taking that opportunity and building it into the biggest amount of inspiration and love that we possibly can. Everyday we’re giving it all we have and it’s fulfilling and beautiful to see and to be a part of that. We’re creating it together.”
Check out KI in Austin!
They will be playing 3 live SXSW Shows:
- Lucky Lounge Showcase- Wed. March 16 @ 5pm
- Future of Music Showcase- Fri. March 18 @ 10pm (Shiner’s Saloon)
- LOUD Music Showcase- Sat. March 19th @ 11pm (Chuggin’ Monkey)
Ki’s Official Website: www.getKImusic.com
You can find their music here: https://soundcloud.com/getkimusic
Photos by: Ash Imagery