This image is from the artist's official Instagram.

Ann Arbor is full of college bands. They play at dingy venues downtown, parking lot tailgates and backyard parties behind oddly shaped homes. They play “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley and “Someday” by the Strokes. They make for a great time and a great party: you dance, you sing, you have a blast. But after a while, all those college bands, playing those same college songs, sort of start to blend together. 

And then along came Kingfisher

Kingfisher is not not a college band. That is, all 12 of them are U-M undergrads, and all of them live within two blocks of each other in Kerrytown. But, as anyone who has been to their shows or listens to their music will tell you, Kingfisher is a lot more than just the new band on campus. Kingfisher does things different.   

I was able to sit down with the group on two consecutive afternoons — once last Sunday in an LSA conference room and then again in East Hall’s math atrium next to the ping-pong table. The following article is based on those conversations. 

“When you come to a Kingfisher concert, it’s like: ‘Ok, you’re coming to see Kingfisher.’ We’re not entertainment for a party. We’re trying to do more,” lead singer and songwriter and senior Sam DuBose said.

Doing “more” means a lot of things. 

In the studio, doing “more” means eight musicians, two visual artists and two photographers, all collaborating on one original album, Grip Your Fist, I’m Heaven Bound, which came out on Friday, Nov. 11, at midnight. It means senior guitarist Ben Wood spending four hours with a keyboard and a computer, trying to mimic the intonations of a trumpet solo just to have one measure of the riff spliced and looped by the group’s producer, senior Sam Botero, who doubles on alto-sax.  

Kingfisher doesn’t leave the extra effort in the studio: They do more on stage, too.  

“When we perform, we’re trying to curate an experience,” Botero said. “We’re trying to explore emotions and express them in song.” 

But they’re not always trying to express the same emotion. Kingfisher crafts an original set for each performance, changing the vibe of the show to fit the vibe of the night. Venue permitting, the Kingfisher visual team — STAMPS seniors Gray Snyder and Sky Christoph — fix up set-specific projections, which they sync up to the songs’ vocals and work wonders for setting the tone of the night.

Some nights the chosen tone is something of an intimate sadness. They often ask their audience to sit. That way, DuBose said, “The audience (can) listen to the band play, not just listen to what the band plays.” Tears are encouraged but not required. 

But last month at The Blind Pig, Kingfisher decided to curate a more energetic intimacy. This was partially necessitated by the space: No one wants to pop-a-squat on that musty pig floor. Instead, Kingfisher encouraged the mosh. They swelled the jams and slammed the cymbals. Senior bassist Tyler Thenstedt and sophomore drummer Casey Cheatham laid down a continuous stream of fiery beats. Senior violinist Kaysen Chown closed her eyes and unleashed. Brass specialists Connor Hoyt and Callum Roberts, both seniors, lit up center stage with sweeping, red-faced solos. They had the audience dancing and shoving their way through a riot of a night. Emotional range unlocked.   

So things seem to be going pretty well for Ann Arbor’s latest break-through college band. Their newest album medleys heartfelt ballads and instrumental extremes. Their gigs are intimate, emotional, rowdy and attentively well-attended. But Kingfisher have a big problem on their artistic hands: figuring out what comes next. They already have plans for a second album, but they’re going to have to work against the clock. 

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, most of the group’s members are seniors. And as is often the case with seniors, they are graduating and have no intention of hanging around campus. You read that right: Ann Arbor’s brightest band is leaving college and leaving Ann Arbor. 

“We love it here,” Botero explained, “but we want to share what we’re making with people who don’t know us and don’t know our music.” 

When I asked about post-grad plans, a few of the band-mates rumbled about a move to New York, perhaps following the struggling artist pipeline into the city’s outer-boroughs. “My plans for the future are dependent on this band,” DuBose said. Sax-star Connor Hoyt was quick to concur. A few more gestured in agreement, but without the same certainty. Others stayed silent. It seems like it’s hard to figure out your life after college, even for Kingfisher. 

“If nothing comes from the band, that’s fine.” DuBose preemptively reflected. “I’ll look back on it and think this was a great use of my time.” And it seemed like he really meant it. 

“Is there anything else you want people to know about you?” I asked after spending a solid afternoon with the group. There was a slight pause. They looked around at each other. Nobody wanted the last word. Nobody except Ben Wood.  

“Go Blue!” he said, and everyone laughed. 

Daily Arts Writer Joshua Medintz can be reached at jmedintz@umich.edu.

Correction: A sentence was change regarding the band’s performance schedule.