Keokuk: The St. Louis Band You Should Know About
St. Louis’ latest band to cause a buzz of euphoria is not comprised of upstarts with snazzy shirts, pop-punk chords or shimmering synthesizers but rather a quartet comprised of journeymen musicians whose affinity for playing music shines through multilayered groves of power-pop, psychedelic sonics and smooth saxophones.
Keokuk is a fearsome foursome comprised of vocalist and guitarist Curt Hendricks, saxophonist Dominic Schaeffer and the mother/son tandem of bassist Zane Spencer and drummer Andrea Spencer. Collectively they are a perfect union of invigorating sonic stylings, drawing influences from an eclectic mix that includes Frank Zappa, King Crimson, TV On The Radio, John Zorn and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Their groundswell of popularity began with a string of impressive live shows, followed by some serious social media love. Keokuk’s profile only rose with the release of their self-titled CD, a run of sterling press reviews and radio attention.
Read our Q&A with Curt Hendricks about Keokuk’s music, St. Louis’ music scene and the band’s passion for playing live.
How did Keokuk come to life?
Andrea and I had played together in a band starting around 2000. I was kind of semi-done playing at the end of the ’90s, and she used to call me every six months and invite me to come jam. I was kind of reticent at first, but I finally I relented and things went pretty well. We had a bass player at the time who had moved on, so Andrea went back to drums, I took up bass and we played as a three-piece called Pelvic Girdles. I was also concurrently jamming with Dominic in our band, Psychotronics.
Moving a few years on, Andrea and I decided to start playing again and trying to put something else together. She really liked Dominic’s playing and wanted to use him if he would be willing. Then we had her son playing with us on bass. We asked him if he’d help us out kind of as a placeholder, which he agreed to do, and we jammed for about a year before we decided to keep him.
How is it having a young guy in a band of veteran players?
It could have been problematic, but Zane is a smart kid. He’s really mature and a quick study. He has listened to so many different things that it’s not like we are clashing on ideas about what to do. It’s really comfortable and familial.
Tell us about the positive response you’ve been getting in St. Louis.
I think part of why that is happening is because of the CD. We began without having anything out there, and not very many people knew about us. When the album came out in the fall, things picked up. We did some gigs in 2015, and for 2016 we just decided to dedicate the year to making the CD. That has worked out very well for us.
Do you think playing live together before making your album helped you mature as a band?
That’s the only way I would know how to approach it. I’ve always worked where you put a band together and see if people like it. There’s nothing more fun than playing music with some other people. The whole level of doing it live is just another challenge. You can get really good and play well in a basement, but when you add the nerve factor of being in front of other people with someone expecting something of you, that just makes it so much better.
Did it take a lot of time to make your debut record?
Not really. The thing that helped expedite the situation was we know how to rehearse, and we knew what to expect with recording. We went into the studio and recorded all seven songs on a Friday and Saturday, and then I sang the vocals on it that Sunday. It worked out for us because we had every song done in about two takes.
Photo by Leilani Gooch
What do you think about the local music scene in St. Louis?
I think it’s pretty great. The scene is really vibrant, and I think there is a lot of great music being made. What is interesting is that the people who are closer to my age are still hitting it, and there’s this raft of young bands coming up with a real variety of styles and material.
Is Keokuk working on any new material?
It’s a slow process because when you are pursuing gigs you have to rehearse and stay fresh, which makes it hard to have the impetus to work on new stuff, too. I would really like to go in and record again later this year. Right now we have enough material that we could easily make into another album.
Cover photo by Thomas Whitener/Whitener Photographic Arts