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INTERVIEW: The Kuhls Talk Success and Survival As A Band In Chicago

By Katie Karpowicz in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 13, 2013 3:30PM

The Kuhls (Photo by Nora Drew)

The Kuhls story is a charming one. The two namesake sisters that front the electric folk rock five piece, Renee and Grace, moved to Chicago from the semi-rural suburbs of Kansas City, Kan., several years ago to pursue their educations at Columbia College. With them they brought their love for what they’ve deemed “prairie rock” music. One EP and a full length album later the Kuhls were headlining the Metro and getting praise from big deal music critics like the Tribune’s Greg Kot. They’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, but that hasn’t kept them from forgetting their roots.

Currently, the band is still basking in the glow of their first LP Holy Rollin’ (released February 27) and gearing up for a headlining slot at this Sunday’s Jeff McClusky & Associates' New Artist Showcase at the Beat Kitchen. Days before the show Chicagoist caught up with Renee Kuhl to discuss her band’s newfound success:

Chicagoist: You grew up near Kansas City but a lot of your songs have a lot of rural sounds and lyrical references. What exactly was your homelife back in Kansas like?

Renee Kuhl: It was definitely suburban but not suburban in the way Naperville is to Chicago. It’s really out there. We really have a sense of being a part of the tall grass prairie. We also have a really strong sense of the mythology behind it -- the “Little House On The Prairie” stuff. We definitely feel connected to it even though we didn’t grow up with it.

C: You went to school at Columbia College for creative writing, how does that affect the way you write your lyrics for The Kuhls?

RK: Me and [my sister] Grace each write almost the entirety of songs we sing. So songs Grace sings, she writes the lyrics for and vice versa. Lyrics are really important to each of us. I have a storytelling style and she has more of a poetic style.

C: Even though your not an entirely female band, do you find that people still can’t look past the fact that you’re a female-fronted band?

RK: I remember the first time we ever had a blurb in the Kansas City Star about the band the critic literally compared us to all girl bands. I remember him mentioning Michelle Branch and I was like “What?!” We get a little bit of that -- only invoking fans of all girl bands. Our influences right now aren’t just females though. Right now it’s Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young. It is fun to be the underdog in a male dominated scene though.

C: Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune had a lot of great things to say about The Kuhls recently. That’s pretty impressive for a band that has just released their first album. How did you get on his radar?

RK: He contacted us. I was surprised to hear from him. We released an EP in the fall of 2010 and he had a copy of it somehow. It was when we were still performing as a duo -- more folky singer/songwriter style. He contacted the Metro when he saw we were headlining. I think he was probably most interested in the evolution of the band since that EP.

C: A lot of local bands get great press when they have a new release out but unfortunately it feels like many times that attention eventually fades away. How do The Kuhls plan to keep their momentum going?

RK: Immediately we’re going to start doing music videos for our songs via Youtube. We haven’t done a lot of opening shows for bands coming through town so we’re going to try to start doing more of that too. We’re also looking into some good summer dates and festivals. That is the magical question: How do you keep everything going? I’m always thinking about it.

The Kuhls play JMA’s Showcase the Beat Kitchen on Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $10. You can also download The Kuhls full length album for free right here.