Q&A with Kendall Street Company ahead of their Druid City Music Hall show

Augustus Barnette, Staff Reporter

“Genre-fluid, eclectic rock” is coming to Tuscaloosa when Kendall Street Company performs at Druid City Music Hall on Thursday, Jan. 26.  

Kendall Street Company formed when members Louis Smith, Brian Roy, Ryan Wood, Ben Laderberg and Jake Vanaman met at the University of Virginia. Since their inception, they have released seven studio albums and a handful of EPs and live albums.  

Louis Smith, who provides the band with lead vocals and rhythm guitar, talked to The Crimson White about the band, their origins and their music.  

Q: Where is Kendall Street Company from? 

Smith: “We’re based in Virginia, in Charlottesville, and we started playing at UVA, everybody in the band went to UVA, we started there in around 2013 or 2014, so we’re coming up on nine years as a band. We graduated in between 2015 and 2020, so we got a wide span of ages, 24 to 30.  

Just kind of got started playing at UVA, doing the whole Greek circuit, doing local venues and bars, stuff like that. Then once we graduated, we had developed a following at UVA, and all those people move to D.C. and New York, so we started doing regional touring. Then we decided ‘This is really fun, let’s keep it up,’ so we just kept touring.  

We got a booking agent, and since then we’ve done several national tours, including our first time out to California over this past summer, a bunch of music festivals, and we released a ton of music.” 

Q: Any experience in Tuscaloosa? Have you enjoyed the city? 

Smith: “This will be our maybe fourth or fifth time coming to Tuscaloosa. It’ll be our first time at Druid City. We used to play Green Bar. 

Then we’ve done some tailgates and things like that in Tuscaloosa. …  I have had a really good time. I went to a football game once, and I think the culture is pretty fun. You can just say ‘Roll Tide’ to anybody and get a ‘Roll Tide’ back.  

As an outsider, it’s kind of silly, but I enjoy it, I just think it’s fun. It’s part of its own whole different culture. It’s football. It’s Southern. It’s a good time.” 

Q: What is the band dynamic like? 

Smith: “It’s a five-piece band. We’ve got drums, bass — I play rhythm guitar and lead vocal and front man — and then we’ve got keys and a sax player, so he plays both keys and tenor sax, and then we’ve got a lead guitar.  

We’ve been going with the label genre-fluid, eclectic rock. That’s how you describe us, genre-fluid, eclectic rock. That’s anything from our influences like Phish, Dave Matthews Band, the Grateful Dead, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, The Beatles. We like Hiatus Kaiyote a lot, and Frank Zappa. So, our influences are varied, wide and varied.  

That’s why we’ve kind of come up with this genre-fluid thing. When people ask, ‘What are you? What do you play?’ It’s hard to give them a sustained, succinct answer, just because we draw from so many different genres and influences. So, genre-fluid, eclectic rock has kind of stuck recently. We’ve got a lot of improvisational jam-band aspects and also, some singer-songwriter kind of vibes.” 

Q: Can you explain the name? 

Smith: “Kendall Street Company represents a good place with good people. Kendall Street is where I grew up in Virginia Beach. It’s on a beach access on the Chesapeake Bay, and I just spent a lot of time there, good, inspirational times with good people, which would be the company.  

So, the name kind of harkens back to that vibe of being in a good place with good people. It’s a good time to enjoy the moment. … That’s what we’re trying to convey at our live shows.” 

Q: How do you explain your music/live shows? 

Smith: “There are a lot of humorous aspects to our live shows. The whole band bonds over humor. We’d have late night bonfires on the Chesapeake Bay at Kendall Street and just be laughing all night, so there’s a lot of improvised banter.  

We have some funny songs. Like there’s a song called ‘Stanley Birdogmouth (He’s an Oyster!),’ which is just about a stoned oyster. We’ve got “Shanti the Dolphin,” which is about this dolphin who has a problem with spending all this money. So, those are both on ‘The Nautical Aquatical,’ and that’s just one of our sillier albums that’s just stories about sea creatures. 

You can definitely expect some headbang stuff, some dance stuff, some introspective and vulnerable stuff, some funny stuff. We’ll take you through a bunch of different emotions and feelings.  

The live show is us pulling all of that stuff together and creating and improvising a live show catered to the audience. I don’t think we’ve ever put on the same show. We pick from a long list of songs each night and then pare it down to a number of songs, and then we choose those live as the show goes on, so it’s not a strict setlist and the live shows are very unique and distinct from the next.” 

Q: What do you want to do with your music? 

Smith: “Ideally, its helping people work through something. Everybody has a different perspective on what the song is about. Music can really speak to you, that’s the beauty of a song. It can really speak to different emotions in people. Even though it’s the same words, the same music. It can make somebody happy, or make somebody sad, or make somebody miss something, or make somebody pine for somebody. So, ideally, there are feelings that are conjured when people hear our music.”