Jarrod Dicker of Stay Thirsty caught up with Mickey Kellerman, one of the founders of Chicago's Future Rock, for this behind-the-scenes interview.
THIRSTY: The meaning of “Future Rock” can be interpreted in a variety of ways. For readers who aren’t familiar with the trio, can you briefly describe the sound, style and the music of Future Rock?
Mickey Kellerman: If I had to boil it down to one thing, I would say it’s electronic dance rock or almost electronic dance punk. The music is pretty hard rock and intense when played live, but it keeps an electronic dance beat to it no matter how hard we rock out on stage. Even on our album - we just released a live album in May and it was the first live album we’ve done - the electronic beat comes through pretty well behind the rock intensity.
THIRSTY: How does, if at all, Chicago affect the music Future Rock produces? What regional musicians influenced you growing up and propelled you into the music industry?
Mickey Kellerman: There’s a certain vibe in this city and I’m not exactly sure I can put my finger on it. I didn’t actually grow up in Chicago, so I never had the chance to hear the local stuff early on. I was focused on more national and international musicians. Not until I got to college and came to Chicago did I really get into the regional sound and style.
THIRSTY: Well then, how would you compare the Chicago style, to say, the West Coast?
Mickey Kellerman: Compared to Chicago, the west coast is much more laid back, much more into polishing their music. I definitely would say we’re not polished in that sense; we don’t carry a west coast vibe at all [laughs]. Chicago just has a dirtier sound.
THIRSTY: Where did the influence to create electronic music derive from?
Mickey Kellerman: The first electronic bands I really got into were Daft Punk and the Chemical Brothers, so again it wasn’t a Chicago influence. But at the same time, I had a chance to see so many great shows come through here. We do a lot of instrumental stuff and I certainly think that seeing a lot of bands in Chicago who are able to do instrumental music successfully has helped encourage us and validate us to continue doing instrumental music.
Live in Wicker Park (2010)
THIRSTY: Growing up, what sort of instruments were you experimenting with? As a child, you don’t grow up saying “I want to play the synthesizer,” so which instruments prepped you to start creating instrumental and electronic music?
Mickey Kellerman: I took classical piano lessons growing up for seven years, not rock or anything like that. I didn’t have the idea to want to play in a band until I was just about to finish high school, but even at that point I wasn’t getting into the band scene just yet. When I went to college, I took a class called Electronic Music Composition and in that class they had this really cool studio set up with synthesizers. It took up an entire wall of the studio using patch cables and stuff. The teacher taught us the foundation of electronic synthesis; literally the physics of what was going on and how to create the sound and actions. This was great because it forced you how to play synthesizer. While I was taking the class, I’d be listening to albums I was into at the time from the Talking Heads to Beck, for instance, which aren’t necessarily electronic albums per se. But as I was taking the class, I started to hear synthesizer in the music and a light bulb went off that this sort of sound was really cool [laughs]. After that, I pretty much immediately went out and bought a synthesizer. I started writing music and it opened an entirely new creative outlet that hadn’t ever been there before.
THIRSTY: As the electronic/rock scene is steadily increasing and becoming flooded with talent, what does Future Rock do and plan to do to keep themselves apart from the rest of the herd?
Mickey Kellerman: I would say one thing that we try to do is keep the shows as live as possible. It’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with musicians who use laptops; it’s part of the music world with producers on the laptop and whatnot, so I’m not judging against that, but what we’re trying to do in particular is keep the show as high energy as possible and engage the audience as much as possible while we’re “playing” the music. I think in order to actually call yourself a rock band you have to have the live instruments that you’re playing on stage. I would say that is how we separate ourselves. We still do electronic dance music like many artists out there are doing, but I think we’re different by using the rock instrumentation. We also always set out to play rock music without guitar. We want to have a rock band that uses synthesizers as a replacement for guitars. And then also we’ve done a lot to bolster up our light show to aid what we’re doing as much as possible. So it’s not just about the music, but about the sensory load experience in whole that we’re providing to the audience as well.
THIRSTY: Being that you play, for lack of a better term, clubby electro-rock music, does the band have a preference to perform in smaller arenas vs. larger ones? Do you prefer to play in front of a larger crowd?
Mickey Kellerman: Honestly, what I prefer is to have a really high energy crowd who’s completely engaged in what we’re doing. For instance, we just did a show last weekend in Buffalo - a post Lotus after party. It was a sellout show, we had about 300 people there and the crowd was amazing. This summer we also played North Coast Music Festival and had about 10,000 people at our set. That was a great crowd as well. I think both of those situations are special on their own. I enjoy doing both of those just as much. I think if the performance gets positive feedback from the audience that is the most important part of it whether it is a small or large venue. It doesn’t really matter as long as the crowd is into it.
THIRSTY: Future Rock has become a favorite in the jam scene. Was this positioning deliberate or did you guys wake up one day and find yourself embedded in this genre?
Mickey Kellerman: Well, I have to be honest because when we first started out we just wanted to play shows [laughs]. It’s a matter of wanting to play a show. If you want to play shows you have to open up for “so and so” band. Our manager had some inroads in the jam scene when we first started so that’s where the opportunities were. There wasn’t that much of a thought process into it. I certainly wouldn’t call Future Rock a jam band; we do some jamming during the show, but I would say about 70% of the show is entirely composed. If people want to call us that, that’s fine. It doesn’t really matter. The fact is that there are a ton of fans in that scene that really love our band. Obviously, for whatever reason, it resonates with that crowd and that’s great. I have absolutely no problem with that. I think that jam band fans are some of the best fans out there.
THIRSTY: You signed to a record company in 2007 and produced two albums under that umbrella. Being that Future Rock has released music both independently and on a label, in hindsight, would you say that signing to a label was the right route to take?
Mickey Kellerman: Yea, at the time it made perfect sense and I think it has become a good relationship builder for us. When we did a record deal, as you said, we put out two records. But as we’re talking and getting ready to put out a new studio album pretty soon there was talk about how we want to approach the construction of it. I’m pretty sure we’re not going to necessarily sign with a label this time; we may put this one out ourselves.
THIRSTY: Well, I assume because the last three years and beyond, the musical landscape has completely changed. Is this the biggest obstacle you face as an artist?
Mickey Kellerman: Yes, the entire landscape of the music business has changed and it’s ever evolving. As you know, people don’t go to record stores anymore to buy CDs - which is crazy to think about. We even talked about the idea of giving our next album away for free [laughs]. So I think that the most important thing for any band in our position is to get people to hear the music. That’s been the biggest obstacle for us. We play shows all the time in front of people who have never heard or seen us before and we feel strongly about our product. They’re just so many bands and things out there that draw peoples’ attention so to get people to actually hear what we’re doing is definitely the biggest challenge.
THIRSTY: In the past, you’ve performed tribute performances as “Aphex Rock” (covering Aphex Twin) and “Daft Rock” (covering Daft Punk). Do you have plans for another tribute performance?
Mickey Kellerman: They’re definitely no plans to do that. They’re so many artists out there that we like so we’ve been doing remixes of them such as Sufjan Stevens and Arcade Fire, the Gorillaz and Deadmau5. I think it’s more fun at least for me to get to do a cover of a band that’s influencing me as opposed to an entire album. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun to do the Aphex Twin and Daft Punk adaptation, but we’ve definitely gone in a different direction. We’re a different band now than we were when we were doing that and there’s a certain time and place for it. We much rather spend our time working on new music and doing remixes of a bunch of different artists.
THIRSTY: You’re currently a three-piece band, would you consider adding instruments? Have there been talks of collaborations or side projects outside of Future Rock?
Mickey Kellerman: I talk about doing side projects with people all the time and I certainly would like to collaborate with other musicians. As far as Future Rock goes, I can’t really imagine a scenario where we would add anyone to the band. But with that said, we do a bunch of songs now with vocals that are sampled when we play live. So the most logical event, if we’re ever going to do that, would be to add a vocalist. As far as another instrument, we already have this wall of sound. There’s not really a lot of room for anything else without having it be extremely cluttered. With that said, I would love to work with other musicians and I’ve done collaborations with other people; it’s great.
THIRSTY: What else should we expect from Future Rock?
Mickey Kellerman: We have a ton of material we’ve written over the last year, year and a half, that we want to take into the studio and record. We’ll see what comes out the best and develop a new album to release. As far as our live shows go, we’ve played more shows this year than we ever have by a long shot so we’re just trying to continue that and hit more markets. So basically, continue to tour, continue to write new music and try to extend our fan base.