“Cincinnati’s own experimental, post-rock, avant-garde, fusion, rock’n’roll trio” Us, Today plays Brother Drake Thursday, November 6th. Local quintet Radarhill, having recently added trumpeter Nick Simko, will open the show. Doors are at 9pm and admission is free! Us, Today is comprised of Kristin Agee (vibraphone, keys, electronics), Joel Griggs (guitar, theremin, drones), and Jeff Mellott (drums), and started playing together in 2010. I got the chance to have a phone conversation last Thursday with Agee about the band and the show. Keep reading for our chat:
Andrew Patton (AP): Us, Today has a style that seems difficult to describe, and one that is informed by multiple genres and influences. How would you describe your sound, and your live show especially, to the Columbus jazz fan reading this article and thinking about checking out your gig?
Kristin Agee (KA): We’ve kinda had a weird relationship with jazz. We were nominated for a CEA (Cincinnati Entertainment Awards) a year ago and they put us in the “Jazz” category. We lost to the Blue Wisp Big Band, which is a big band that has had a weekly gig in Cincinnati for the past thirty years. We weren’t even upset that we lost to them, because how do you compare what we do to a big band that’s been playing for 30 years?
It is kind of hard to describe our style because the three members of Us, Today are influenced in different ways. Jeff Mellott, who is our drumset player [and a member of the Brandon Coleman Quartet], has a Master’s Degree in Jazz Drumset from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He is our jazz element, essentially, and he’s a top notch jazz drummer in Cincinnati, he plays a lot of jazz gigs when not playing with Us, Today. I play vibraphone, which people think of as a jazz instrument, but I didn’t actually come to it from playing jazz. I have a Master’s Degree in Classical Music from Ohio University and came to mallet instruments from a classical background, not a jazz background. My influences are more new wave classical composers like Steve Reich and minimalism, and that’s where I come from. So even though I play this instrument that’s considered jazz instrument, when I play it I feel like I’m playing more like the classical composers that I always respected. And Joel, on guitar, he’s our rock and roll element. He turned me onto a lot of music that I had never heard of before when we started playing together. Bands like Jaga Jazzist and Tortoise – instrumental rock, people call it post-rock. That’s another title that we kind of feel ourselves fit into, but not 100%.
Since we all have different backgrounds, that really makes our sound a fusion of a lot of different things, so we don’t feel comfortable with just one label ever. Experimental, avant-garde, post-rock, jazz, minimalism, rock and roll – I would consider all of those categories places we can fit comfortably in. When we play shows with other bands, we’ve played with jam bands, metal bands, singer-songwriters – when we’re opening up for somebody else, we can fit in just about any genre.
AP: You are currently preparing the release of your 3rd album, TenEnemies, correct? Where are you in that process and when do you hope to release the album? Has the band taken a different approach to the recording than that for your last album?
KA: Yes, [TenEnemies] has just finished being mixed and it’s going to be sent out for mastering [this] week, and we’re hoping for everything to be finished [soon] – the artwork’s getting done next week as well, so things are really starting to come together with that. It’s been a long process, but it’s finally coming together. We’re hoping to have a release in January. In fact, we’ll be back in Columbus at Skully’s for their Bass Jam on January 24th, so we’re hoping to have the CD out by then and have CDs for sale at the show. We did the Indiegogo [campaign], and we were fully funded, which was incredible, so we’re taking our time with this album and making sure we do it right. Because our two previous albums were really done as cheaply as possible. Jeff was a student at that time at the University of Cincinnati, so he had access to some of their recording equipment, so that was free. We had friends work on the mixing, we didn’t have the tracks mastered, we had a friend do the artwork – it was as cheaply as you could do a CD. So this time, we’re really trying to be as professional as possible and do things we haven’t been able to do in the past.
AP: Do you feel that this new album represents a new direction in sound, as far as the actual songs go?
KA: I do. Well, it still sounds like Us, Today. It’s not different in that sense. I think our songs are becoming a little bit heavier, a little bit louder. When we started performing originally, Joel worked in a coffee shop. We would just setup in the coffee shop every so often and play the new stuff we’d been working on. Having that coffee shop setting, it was much lighter and lower volume. When we started playing in the bar scene in Cincinnati, we realized that the songs we got the best response on were a little bit heavier, a little bit louder, had a little bit more energy. So for this album, we were kind of writing in that mindset of where we’re performing now. We wanted to have more songs that had more energy to them, a little bit louder, a little more rhythmic. So I feel like when you compare our first albums to this album, there’s more energy on this album.
This being our third album, the songwriting process for us now is different than it was in the beginning. In the beginning, we were just trying to find ourselves in the music, and figure out what we could create with the instrumentation that we have. I think we’re getting better at it now. In our third time around, the songs are coming together a little quicker, we can read each other better and play off each other better. After a few years playing with the same musicians, you develop that sense of each other where things just seem to fall into place easier.
AP: Has the band played many shows outside of Cincinnati? Do you have any stories from the road?
KA: We’re all in the weekend warrior crowd as far as touring goes. We have day jobs, so during the week we’re in Cincinnati. But we’ll do weekend run-outs. We’ve played Columbus and Cleveland. Jeff and I both went to Ohio University, so we go back to Athens when we can. We’ve played several times down in Louisville, and we have a pretty regular run that we’ve done at least once a year that takes up to Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and then we come back and hit places in Indiana like Bloomington. We’re hoping to get south more, like Nashville and that area, and we haven’t been out to New York yet. But that’s all hopefully coming up when this album comes out.
Whenever you go out on the road as a band, unless you’re playing a venue you’ve played before, you never know what you’re getting into. It’s always kind of like, “Well, let’s go try this out, and we’ll see what we find when we get there. Hopefully it’s a good show, and hopefully it’s a crowd that appreciates what we’re presenting to them.” And it’s been hit-or-miss, but we haven’t really had any bad experiences. We’ve had disappointing shows, but we have to play out-of-town shows more often and advertise so people see our names more. We’ve also had the opposite – for our second time playing Louisville, we were playing a band’s CD release show. There had to be 300 people there. It was awesome, and the crowd was very responsive, and we totally weren’t expecting that. You just never know.
AP: What’s next for Us, Today? Any tour plans after releasing the new album?
KA: We’re trying to go on the road more on the weekends, at least once a month. [Otherwise] we’re just taking it as it comes. Funding and making this album was our big goal for this year. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so after that’s done, we’re just hoping to tour on it. We’re trying to have a more professional product, so we’re hoping to get more press attention with it, and we’re gonna send it out to labels, see if anyone bites, and take it from there. We’re always going to be writing new material, so after this one’s out, hopefully we can fund the next one ourselves or be on a label. We definitely plan to stay together for awhile and keep doing it.
AP: Thanks to Kristin and Us, Today. Check out the below video and their Soundcloud page to get ready for the show!