WXTJ Writes! by Lucas Piette: “Interview with Kendall Street Company”

Portions of this story have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Last month, I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the five members of the band Kendall Street Company on-air: Ryan Wood (Drums) and Jake Vanaman (Saxophone/Keys). The group—also including Louis Smith (Lead Vocals/Rhythm Guitar), Brian Roy (Bass), and Ben Laderberg (Lead Guitar)—formed at UVA. Now, having all graduated, they devote their lives to recording and performing music full-time.

At the time of this interview, they were on the final leg of their second annual “Kendall Street Is For Lovers” tour, a marathon of live shows where they travel from their home base here in Charlottesville to venues in Hampton Roads, Richmond, Harrisonburg, and Blacksburg. I had the privilege of attending one at The Southern Café and Music Hall, and it was one of the most animated, jam-packed, and high-energy shows I’ve been to in a while. The tour referenced here has since concluded, but dates for their Spring 2023 Tour have just recently been announced.

Below is the transcript of our on-air interview. Read on to learn about the history of Kendall Street Company, their Virginia tour, and what music means to the band.

So, how did it all start—what did the beginnings of Kendall Street Company look like?

Ryan: It was 2013 when we all got together. It was me, our frontman Louis, our bass player Brian, and our old saxophone player Andrew. The four of us started playing, having never practiced, but taking every opportunity to play. Frat parties, bars on the corner, etc. We’d play like four shows a weekend—just as much as we could. Then as time went on, some people graduated, some stayed, people joined, some left.

Jake: I came to UVA in 2016, then met [the band] around that time. I had been playing in a number of bands in Northern Virginia and was looking to continue that in Charlottesville. During summer orientation, I put an ad out saying I was “a horn player looking to blow with some people in town.” Louis’s mom found that ad and told him to check me out. It turned out to be a good fit.

Though some of you were graduating at the time, did you all end up staying in Charlottesville?

Ryan: Yeah, the band was starting to do well at that point. We were getting gigs in Richmond and DC. I got a job here, to stay local and to be able to play at any time. I loved what I was doing, and there was no time like the present to chase down this dream. 

When did you start recording the music you were making?

Ryan: It took about a year or two before we recorded the first EP—

Jake: The first record came out in 2016, but the first EP came out in 2014, I think.

Ryan: Yup, 2014 was the EP. What’s funny is that we recorded the first EP in Harrisonburg. And we still hadn’t had any formal practice with each other at that point. We were just playing these three or four-hour bar gigs. You know, playing three or four gigs a weekend, doing the [same] songs over and over… we were learning how to play better together. And we had never been to a recording studio before, so we didn’t know what to expect.

We then went on to talk a bit about the band’s namesake: a Virginia Beach street [“Kendall Street”] located near the bay on Shore Drive. I’m from Virginia Beach, so this was fun for me to learn about.

With the “Kendall Street Is For Lovers” Tour, how has it been on the roadplaying back-to-back shows every week for a whole month?

Jake: It’s been good. We’ve seldom, if ever, repeated songs… except for the hits. Because people like to hear the hits. But for the most part, we’re playing completely different sets across the week. Each new week is a new musical experience. Even if you’re in the same place. We’ve gotten into a good flow with the venues, and it feels good to have a sense of routine in an industry where that is so rare. The residency style is interesting. I really like it.

Ryan: It’s awesome that Virginia has enough cool cities that we can do this. We’re going from the mountains to the beach to play these shows… and everywhere in between. I’m having a blast, you know? It’s about twenty-one shows in a month. It’s been great to see the band progress, how things change, and how we get better playing certain things. We’ve done some crazy stuff—we just wrote a song during soundcheck in Blacksburg, and it went really well… so we played it all week long. We’re having to get really creative with these setlists—digging deep in our catalog, pulling random covers, writing stuff on the fly… it’s cool. 

How have you managed such a large discography? It’s not often that a band is able to produce so much music, especially in the relatively short time you’ve been recording as a group.

Ryan: Ever since Jake joined the band, we’ve been on a tear of recording. We’re writing, and then we’re like, “let’s ink it!”

Jake: We also don’t have one primary songwriter. So no one person is burdened with having to create everything. We’re all creating things simultaneously… over however long the project takes. It can range from a week to make an album from scratch, but sometimes it takes two years from the initial idea. A good example is our project The Year the Earth Stood Still, which was released in 2021, and recorded across 2020 and 2021. The bulk of that was recorded in one week. We went in there, with little to no idea about what the music would be, and came out with about—

Ryan: 17 songs, yeah.

Jake: And that was a group effort. There’s solo-led things, stuff that just happens, like what Ryan was saying happened the other day in Blacksburg. Because there’s so many avenues of creativity in the band, and we’re open to all of them. It just happens. We prioritize recording, a lot of bands don’t. It’s expensive, time consuming, and you need to be able to work the logistics of it as a business model. But it’s crucial to our identity as a band. We love creating a package of art that relates to a greater chunk of art which is Kendall Street Company.

Ryan: We go all over the place with genre, and what we’re interested in. These records are sort of like little snapshots of what we were into at that moment in time. 

It seems like a very dynamic process made possible because of your relationship with each other. 

Jake: Yeah, it’s not without its tensions. There’s disagreements over art, it happens, but there’s a lot of trust in the family—in the band. 

Beautiful. Something like that is hard to come by. Circling back again to the tour, has there been a favorite venue you’ve played this time around?

Ryan: Truthfully, it’s all been great. I have to say it’s been super fun to play at The Southern here in Charlottesville, it’s just a really nostalgic place for me. When I was in school, I’d hop on the trolley and go down there all of the time to go see concerts. Some of the more memorable concerts I’ve been to have been at the Southern. It’s always fun to get to play on that stage. We’ve sold out all of our Richmond shows, and those have been super high-energy. In Blacksburg, the Tech [Virginia Tech] kids always get down on a Tuesday night.

Jake: Last Wednesday in Harrisonburg was pretty pumpin’. We’ve used that room to try out a lot of new songs. It’s just funny to see how the setlists work out at that place. 

Ryan: You’re so right, The Golden Pony is like the testing ground. 

Jake: Yeah we’ve got some super-fans in that city. Hardcore KSC fans. They see a lot of firsts. 

Now what could someone expect out of a show? From hearing you guys talk about it, it seems like it truthfully could be anything.

Ryan: It’s usually going to be high-energy. Normally some amount of antics or humorous gimmicks at some point in the show. We really range from mellow, songwriter stuff to super punky rock jams every once in a while. Kinda goes all over the place.

Jake: We usually gravitate towards a dancing environment. There are songs that we play more often live and there are songs that we don’t really play live. Both are equally important to understanding the identity of the band. Some of them we just don’t have enough people to recreate them live, or the right people which is the value of the studio—going back to that question of how and why we record so much. There’s a lot of ideas out there that we know we need the studio to accomplish and to realize. 

On a larger scale, is there anything you’ve learned over the course of this tour/ since the pandemic that shaped the way you saw yourself or the band progress?

Ryan: We kinda talked about this earlier, but the balance of recording and live music can be a challenge. After the pandemic, a lot of things changed. Touring has been tough in regards to commitment to the future and presales. It’s a good indicator for bands to see where to allocate touring resources and whatnot. However, the problem of a lack of commitment to things far out makes it harder for bands. It’s a new challenge for the bands and venues. 

Jake: It’s stressful. You can sell out a venue, but 25% of the tickets are sold three days before the show. It makes you worry: is this going to not be a good show, in the past we’ve done this, why is it not happening now? And usually it will happen alright, but just at the last minute. It’s been hard to budget like Ryan said. Another thing I learned from the pandemic is that I want a bigger band van. I think we all learned that, and we may have learned that regardless, but the pandemic exacerbated it for sure.

Ryan: Despite it feeling like the longest few years, it was also three years that pretty much disappeared. That’s the other thing: we’re hitting the ground running post-pandemic. We need to make sure every aspect of the band/business is running as efficiently as possible to make up for last time. 

So do you think the music has evolved with that too?

Ryan: I think that all of us continue to grow, and you know, we’re our own biggest critics. It is interesting for me to listen, project to project. I really do think that we continue to grow—getting better at our own instruments and playing with one another too. 

That basically concludes my line of questioning, was there anything else you thought of or have been itching to say?

Jake: If you liked Lost Together, [one of their new singles] we have another single coming out next month [at the time this article is published, it is out now—go listen!] it’s a cover of The Beatles’ The Fool On The Hill. We’ve got a number of other recorded projects ready to release this year. This past year, we took more of a valley… this year’s gonna be a peak [on the hill]. Last year we recorded a lot…this year we release a lot. 

By Lucas Piette, host of “Nightmusic” on Mondays from 12-2am.

WXTJ Writes! is brought to you by a team of writers—our mission is to make our website come alive by diving even deeper into some of our favorite music and music culture. Read special stories told by radio-loving students every other week, here on wxtj.fm/articles.

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