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Arts News Interviews

Free Kittens & Bread isn’t only about cathartic cat songs

Written by Tony Hobday

Free Kittens & Bread formed in early 2013, starting out as Chase Spruiell’s acoustic solo project before morphing into the four-piece indie rock band it is today. Internationally known for consistently high energy punk shows mixed with the heart of old folk tunes, the group has gathered a steady community looking out for their next dates and new releases. Their single “Brainless” from their first full length, American Miserablist, has been called an “instant indie punk classic.” It is available along with their 2014 EP entitled Puppet, and their first album, Recluse, across all streaming services and at their website, http://freekittensandbread.com.

FK&B is currently working on a new 2018 album and have a handful of new, unreleased songs they plan to showcase at the upcoming shows including in Salt Lake City. The band’s touring members are Chase Spruiell, Gabe Garcia, Kaci Taylor, and Clint Sonnier, and their primary hope for the winter tour is to not freeze to death. After this tour the band will continue recording the next album and begin planning the future tours, and will “likely be together until the universe contracts, tearing everything and everyone apart.”

How did the solo project evolve so dramatically and artistically in only a few years?
Chase: That’s a good question. The short answer is, I have no idea. But here’s the long answer: When I started the project I was heavy into Bob Dylan, and the first record I did by myself (Recluse) was strongly influenced by him. Around the first two years of the band, I was trying to do a punk rock Bob Dylan. I used to play an acoustic guitar through an electric amp when I first started playing with a full band, which continued for a while. Then I switched to electric guitar, and things changed pretty dramatically for us at that point.

Gabe: The inclusion of more members over the years meant more varied contributions to each part of the songs. Speaking for myself, the drum parts became more involved when I joined the band after their release of Puppet.

What is the meaning, or influence, behind the band’s name?
Chase: This story is much better in person, but here it is: When I was about 18 years old, I was driving around town with my friend Mark (our OG lead guitarist). The town I lived in was tiny. We spotted a bunch of wooden signs with “Free Kittens & Bread” painted on them, with arrows leading you down a bunch of streets. We followed them and ended up at this house where this family was giving away kittens and bread. It wasn’t homemade bread, either. It was store bought Mrs. Baird’s bread, and there was a ton of it. It was pretty incredible. Anyway, we took one of the signs that day, and I kept it around. So when I started the project, I figured it would be a solid band name.

Kaci: Sometimes we get random interpretations or misunderstandings of the name that are pretty cool. Three kittens and a bird, free kittens and dead, and the kittens and milk are a few. I ended up putting one of our stickers on the back of my phone case so that it’s a little easier to show people when they ask about us.

In a few unique and descriptive words, explain the music of FK&B.
Chase: Indie/punk/Americana or Bob Dylan meets The Front Bottom meets John K. Samson.

Clint: Cathartic cat songs! Just kidding. We don’t have any songs about cats whatsoever. That should change. Cathartic poppy-punk tunes?

Gabe: Intense and brooding songs about beautiful things.

Kaci: FK&B songs became my favorites from the start… I can’t pinpoint why, but the lyrical depth and the Americana feel makes it something I haven’t heard elsewhere in indie rock.

We appreciate that each of you agreed to participate in this interview. Please give us some information on your backgrounds.
Chase: I come from a basketball family. I lived and breathed basketball growing up in small North Texas towns. My parents, as well as my sister, all went to college on a basketball scholarship and became basketball coaches/teachers afterward. I went to college on a basketball scholarship, but it wasn’t until I graduated (with a Bachelor of Film) that I realized I wanted to play music for the rest of my life. I was 23 at the time. I don’t come from a musical background, and not a day goes by that I don’t wish I started writing and playing music at an earlier age.

Clint: I’ve always been interested in music for as long as I can remember. It started getting deep into elementary school when I had an amazing music teacher who was super into jazz. Because of her, pretty much all my book reports were about old jazz cats like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Thelonious Monk, etc. I also had older cousins and siblings who got me super into ska and punk rock. I started on drums when I was 5, but I primarily play guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo, trumpet, and piano. When I was 9, I started my first punk band and was part of a small DIY scene in my hometown of Lake Jackson, Texas for years. I studied jazz briefly in college but decided it wasn’t necessarily for me. It was hard to go to class when all I wanted to do was play music.

Gabe: Realistically, since I was 2 years old I’d beat on pots and pans — much to the dismay of my parents. Our house was always filled with music when I was growing up, so it felt natural to be involved with it as soon as possible. I began writing and producing my music in high school, later adding vocals and starting a band of my own. I play drums, guitar, ukulele, piano, marimba, and various percussion instruments. As for education, I studied music from middle school through college, and see it as an ongoing pursuit of knowledge regarding how to improve my playing and writing.

Kaci: I took piano lessons when I was little, but I didn’t discover how amazing music is until I was about 16. The DIY scene in my hometown in San Marcos, Texas, was what introduced me to how great it could be. I started learning guitar for a singer-songwriter project for a few years before I fell in love with playing bass. Now I primarily play bass in FK&B as well as BEKIND and a few other bands. I identify as demisexual.

The new single “Harvey’s Last Wish” has significant LGBTQ content. Please elaborate on that, and why you wrote the song.
Chase: I wrote this song about a friend who grew up around people who didn’t support being gay. Which is something I think is total bullshit. He is gay, but he was far too afraid to come out because of the reactions of his family, friends, etc. This song is about a specific friend, but I have witnessed multiple accounts of this kind of thing. It’s obvious to me, but I think it’s important for there to be people/groups/communities/songs/artists … whatever that are available for people who are struggling with that. Like, hey, there are always people out there who WILL support you and DO have your back. Anyway, it’s called “Harvey’s Last Wish” because Harvey Milk died so that the LGBTQ could be comfortable in their skin, and be accepted, and it would be an incredible shame if he died for nothing. 

Last summer the band participated in the LGBTQ Start-Up Weekend, a four-day event in Austin. Please explain its purpose and how you would describe the weekend.
Chase: It was a show with our friends, Dead Sally, who have LGBTQ members, and we play tons of shows with them and love them to death, but I believe they asked us to play so we could help celebrate the LGBTQ community with them. I remember that show being a lot of fun. There were tons of people there, and we played a cover of Jeff Rosenstock’s “June 21st” but changed it to “June 23rd” because it was June 23rd. Fun stuff!

Kaci: That show was awesome! It was my first show in Austin, so it was very memorable for me. Dead Sally was releasing some new music at the same time as the fundraiser, so it was perfect timing to play with them and celebrate the LGBTQ community as well.

The SLC venue you’ll be playing on Feb. 15 is The Underground, a venue that hosts DIY musicians and artists. And FK&B does its own booking. Explain how DIY works in the music industry and how helpful or lucrative or necessary it is these days.
Chase: That’s a tough one. You can’t really explain how DIY works because at its heart, it’s just “get it done however you can get it done.” So there isn’t a formula. Do you want to play a show? Reach out to bands, reach out to a venue, put a bill together. Do you want to go on tour? Do that a million times until you find a venue, find bands, find a crowd of show-goers. I’ve been on roughly 11-12 tours that I’ve booked myself, and if you do it correctly (with the help of a million other people who agree to help you and a little bit of luck), it can be majorly lucrative. No money is going anywhere but into your gas tank and to the band. No managers, no masters. That being said, it’s way more work than I would recommend to any sane human being who also has to work another job/pay bills/rent. Ultimately, for me, I’ve met so many beautiful, kind, selfless people in DIY that it’s all worth it.

Kaci: DIY for me looks a lot like sending 80 emails at a time from coffee shops and the back of tour vans. There’s no easy way to do the work it takes to book even single shows, let alone tours and all the housing, media, individual costs, and spreadsheets that go with them, but it can absolutely be rewarding once done. We meet fantastic people everywhere we go, and some go the extra mile to help us out on the road because they know how hard it can be to do everything on your own. It helps to split the work between members — as long as the spreadsheets stay coordinated. The sense of teamwork and pride that comes out of booking DIY is worth it in the end.

Free Kittens & Bread will play with local bands Breakfast in Silence and Indigo Waves, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m., The Underground, 833 S. Main St. Ticket prices TBA.

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Tony Hobday

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