Kelsey Kopecky and Gabe Simon will be the first to admit that they don’t define “family” in the traditional sense. For the Kopecky Family Band co-founders, “family” isn’t about bloodlines or lineage. Instead, it’s about six band members touring the country in a van. It’s about experiencing milestones and missteps as a group. It’s about late nights, early mornings, sweatpants and obsessive flossing (keep reading and you’ll understand). Most of all, it’s about celebrating their passion for music, bringing a spark to the stage every night, and wholeheartedly embracing their fans as a part of the “Kopecky family.”
We had a few drinks with Kelsey and Gabe in the greenrooms at Evanston SPACE before their headlining show with Blondfire (who by the way, plays Lollapalooza this summer). We talked about their recent debut record Kids Raising Kids, the Nashville vibe and how they’re continuing to re-define family through their merch table start-up “Change for Change.”
The Band: Kopecky Family Band
The Show: Kopecky Family Band with Blondfire at Evanston SPACE
Drink of Choice: Gin/ginger beer and Guinness
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: We usually start off with drink of choice, and it doesn’t have to be beer.
Gabe from Kopecky Family Band: It depends on the season. Right now, since it’s summer, I really like rum and ginger beer with a little bit of bitters and a lime. But gin and ginger is a good year-round drink because it’s always refreshing. That’s what I’m drinking right now. I don’t really like beer. UFO Hefeweizen is the only beer I really like. It’s really good.
Kelsey from Kopecky Family Band: I don’t have a drink of choice per say. I love fruity summer drinks, but my go-to beer is Guinness. Straight up Guinness. It never fails you.
Kristen: So what’s the Kopecky Family Band story? You guys aren’t actually “family,” so tell me about how you met.
Kelsey: Gabe and I were the first people to meet in the band, and we met back in Nashville in 2007. We decided to try out a writing session and it went really well. It was super easy and there was a lot of chemistry creatively. It was really great.
Gabe: Kelsey has described our first time meeting as feeling like we were alone together, you know what I mean? Like by being together we felt alone in a positive way…completely free, open-minded and not wanting to please someone else or make someone else happy, but really just writing for ourselves in the midst of someone else. That was a cool experience that we’d never experienced before. It went really quickly from there. That’s when we played our first show and then the rest of the guys in the band joined. And then it became less of Kelsey and I and more of the “Kopecky Family Band,” with all six of us running together, finding ways to compose or write lyrics. We all found our little niche.
Kristen: How would you guys define “family”?
Gabe: Family is not so much a term to be defined as it is something we try to pursue, which is the idea that we’re not alone…We are in it together. We’re on each other’s teams, supporting one another…Our family is the band, all of our friends, all of our fans… it’s bigger than just putting a name on it. It’s something that we can all be a part of.
Kelsey: It’s kind of what music does in essence, and it’s what compels us to create. When you’re at a show and you’re so moved by music or your favorite song, that’s a language that everyone can speak. Whether it’s bloodlines or borders, music can go above and beyond and scoop everyone up and be very inclusive, and I think that…is kind of the way we want to create and bring goodness to the world– by being accepting of all people. That’s kind of what family is to us…there are no borders. We all belong to each other.
Kristen: All rooting for each other. All on the same team. That’s important when you’re in a band, I’m sure.
Gabe: And that’s the hardest part of being in a band, too. When you’re exhausted and you’re with the same six people all the time…That’s the other thing about family…they know when to give you space. When you need it you can always go to your door and lock your bedroom and have a moment to yourself…unless you’re on a family vacation.
Kristen: My family knows the worst side of me, and it’s because I will lash out at them and know they’ll love me at the end of the day either way. It’s strange how family works that way, how sometimes the best people in our lives see the worst side of us.
Gabe: I totally agree. I think the hardest moments of our lives have been together as a band, as well as the happiest moments…The moments where we wanted to wring each other’s necks were the same moments that we wanted to hug each other, jump for joy and be excited for each other. It’s totally a mountain climb of what we’ve experienced in terms of highs and lows. But it’s beautiful.
Kristen: You guys have been to Evanston before and you’ve played SPACE a few times, previously opening for The Lumineers. You also chatted with Northshore resident Val Haller [Valslist.com], who recently wrote a kickass New York Times article about you.
Gabe: Val knows how to get it out of you. We were just talking forever [after our previous show at SPACE]. It was fun.
Kelsey: She’s very intuitive. She knows where to dig.
Gabe: She makes time fly by. A lot of times when you meet a chatty person it’s either exhausting for you or it’s something you engage in, and with her being like she is…the maternal figure…you always listen to your mom.
Kelsey: Val, in essence, is just on your team. She’s not trying to get anything from you. If anything, she’s trying to put wind in your sails.
Gabe: We’re sleeping on her floor tonight.
Kelsey: And we’re so appreciative of that. When you’re on the road it’s a nice change of pace.
Kristen: Nashville is home for you, correct?
Gabe: Yeah, Kelsey’s been there the longest, but most of us have been there about five or six years.
Kristen: What’s your favorite thing about it?
Kelsey: I like how small it is. I know the people at the grocery store when I buy my groceries and I know I can walk everywhere. It’s just home. It’s the opposite of being on the road, where you have no control over what you’re going to eat, where you’re going to sleep, when you’re going to sleep. It’s really nice for once to have a schedule that you come up with…
Gabe: There’s something about cruising into Nashville and it’s like you’ve been holding your breath. You feel like it’s all released, and I don’t know if that’s because it’s our home or if it’s just because Nashville has this vibe. I live on a park in 12 South, and my wife and I walk to the park every morning with our coffee and our dog and it’s the most welcoming, peaceful thing. I think if you look at it [Nashville] as competitive, it becomes competitive. If you look at it as camaraderie, it’s more of a community than anything else. It’s a beautiful city.
Kristen: I visited once and wanted to move the following weekend.
Gabe: I’m actually convincing Andrew from Milo Greene to move there. He and I have been working on some music together and he loved it so much. I was like, “Dude, just come live with my wife and I. We’ll work it out.”
Kristen: Is it gonna be a You, Me and Dupree situation?
Gabe: He’s the nicest dude. We actually have a roommate now. We always get so many funny people that come through the house that are friends of ours from the road. The craziest people.
Kristen: Who has been your craziest house guest?
Gabe: Probably anybody in my band.
Kristen: Let’s shift gears and talk a little bit about your album, Kids Raising Kids, which you released in April 2013.
Kelsey: It was the first record that we really wrote during soundchecks because we’d been on the road for basically the past two-and-a-half years. Every song on the record is a capsule in my mind of like, “Oh, Gabe and I were sitting in Charlottesville and had this little idea” or “This was when we were in L.A. on the porch.” Creatively, the process was very organic and a reflection of what our music has become… a result of our lifestyle–a go-with-the-flow, create when we can kind of band.
Gabe: We recorded it at this studio called The Brown Owl with our friend Konrad Snyder. He’s done some really cool projects over the past few years that we really loved. He had done a couple of our EPs, so when we started working with him we thought it was going to be another EP process. We had songs, but we also didn’t have songs…We felt good about what we were writing on the road at the time, but we also knew that if we wanted to make a record, we had to write a lot more songs. So we did. And Konrad went in with us…There’s this guy Nigel Godrich who is Radiohead’s sound guy. He’s a sounding board for everything. He doesn’t exactly go in and tell them what to do as much as he helps guide them through the waters of their creativity. And that’s what Konrad does for us. He doesn’t come in and say, “You need to do this because I’m the producer.” Instead he says, “You guys all have good ideas, I love what you’re doing, you should think about how to better perform that.”
Kristen: He curates in a sense.
Gabe: Yeah, exactly. And he’s kind of our secret weapon. When we’re home, he’s helping us create stuff for this new record that we’ve been demoing. He’s always pushing us. When we think that we’ve got the song right, he knows that it’s almost there and there are a couple more moments that we need to discover in the song that he helps us find.
Kristen: What’s the significance of the title?
Kelsey: The name Kids Raising Kids first came from Markus, our cellist, who has a little girl named Ella. And Markus is the youngest guy in our band, so it’s kind of literal: kids raising kids. And also as a band, we’re raising each other. We’ve seen each other in milestones. Seeing Gabe propose to June…
Gabe: And then having all of them in my wedding…
Kelsey: We are all really helping each other and raising each other, literally. So, we realized that the title, after Markus suggested it, really rings true through and through our record. There are so many themes of self-discovery and learning and growing and being a kid and really getting in-tune with your true self. Song and song again point to that, so it kind of worked out.
Gabe: Someone once asked in an interview what the theme of the album is, and I think it’s challenge. It’s this idea that you don’t go through life without challenges or a process. Kids raising kids is ultimately that idea. We’re all messed up, we’re all young, but we’re figuring it out. There’s something beautiful about that naivety of life and what we’re trying to do.
Kelsey: It’s kind of crazy how the band name and the title of the album all fits…Whenever Gabe and I would write together, he would always say, “Kopecky Family Band! Sounds like a Polish family band!” And it started as a total joke. We were asked to play our first show and they were like, “What’s your band name?” So we said “Kopecky Family Band,” and it stuck with us. People say your namesake comes to fruition as it’s tried and as it passes and I feel like that’s so true with us. The name “family” has just in every way…become us.
Gabe: People told us the name was too long or too weird or it was too difficult to say…
Kelsey: Not marketable…But it’s funny to me how many bands actually are family that we tour with and we’re like, “Well…we’re not really related.”
Gabe: But I feel like we get along better than most of them…
Kristen: Tell me a little about the change jar on your merch table.
Kelsey: About a year-and-a-half ago we started sponsoring a little boy in Ecuador and a little girl in Ghana. We have a change jar that we call “Change for Change” and it has turned into a cool thing to physically spread what family means to us. We’ve had so many people be so giving that we’re starting to donate some of the money straight to a place in the Philippines where Steven, our lead guitarist, used to live for a long time. We’re donating it to a school there. We can finally cover our own bills and it’s cool to be able to give back.
Gabe: These kids that we’re hopefully going to start working with in the fall are at an orphanage that Steven’s two brothers were adopted from. It’s going to be cool to have a direct relationship. We’ll know that our money bought new books. And then we fly over there and work with these kids because they’re our kids. That’s what it’s about. That’s kids raising kids right there.
Kristen: Full circle. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Kelsey: My grandma always says, “Only a fool won’t change their mind.” As I’ve grown up, I’ve always had these very sure feelings about a number of things, whether it was drinking or getting a tattoo or ethical and moral things…that as I’ve grown up and learned more and been exposed to more ideas, I’m like, “Wow, I have to change my mind about that. I didn’t realize all of these things.”
Gabe: There are two things for me. The first one was from a guy that wanted to manage us and the second is from the guy who ended up being our manager. It’s kind of cool to look at it in that way. The first guy thought I was unmanageable as a person. I’m driven, I work really hard on my own and I was doing a lot of the things that he would do. And he’s like, “I don’t think you can be managed because I don’t think you could give it up.” And that was more of an affirmation that I was doing a good job than anything else…In that sense, some words of wisdom I would give to other bands is like…don’t go to the first person who works with you and tells you what they think, because they’re just another person. It doesn’t make them the be-all end-all of what’s true and how to be successful in your career. Because when we finally found the management team that we got, I was able to listen to my manager go, “Hey, you’ve done a great job up until now. You can take a step back and trust us to do our job and you can sit back and be the artist you want to be. Ride the wave with everyone else.” And that was also the best advice I ever received because it allowed me to move forward with my life and stop stressing and freaking out and trust the ones that we put on our team. So, it was a two-tiered advice model. I just thought about that right now as you asked that question. It’s interesting that those two things happened to me…
Kelsey: I feel like interviews are therapeutic because it’s like going through counseling.
Kristen: There are times where I leave interviews and I feel really good. I feel like we really hashed something out.
Gabe: We got there!
Kristen: What’s the most un-rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year? I ask it to every band because the answers are always hysterical.
Gabe: I wear sweatpants a lot.
Kristen: Are they tapered at the ankle?
Gabe: Oh yeah. But in a way, that’s probably kind of cool, like “Hey, that guy is comfortable.”
Kelsey: I floss my teeth no matter what before I go to bed.
Kristen: Good for you. Man, I wish I could say the same.
Gabe: It’s annoying. We find those little things all over the van.
Kelsey: I go to the dentist like every four years because I don’t have dental insurance or whatever. For Christmas I’ll be like, “Mom, I just want to go to the dentist.” The last time I went the lady was like….and I’m not trying to brag… she was like, “I’ve never seen teeth like this.” I was like, “Thank you. I floss every day.” But I’m obsessive about it. But it’s so un-rock-‘n’-roll like getting trashed, rolling into bed, and I’m like Wait, I’ve gotta put my PJs on and I’ve gotta floss my teeth!
Gabe: I like going to bed at 9:30. I love going to bed early and waking up early. And I do water aerobics. First of all, it’s a great workout. I was reading Details magazine and there was an article on it. I’m stronger now than I ever have been in my entire life and it’s because of water aerobics.
Kristen: You guys have inspired me. I’m gonna get some flossers and I’m gonna get some water aerobic equipment.
Gabe: And you’re gonna go to bed at 9:30.
Kristen: And I’m gonna go to bed at 9:30… What keeps you going on the road when you have to stay up late and wake up early?
Gabe: It doesn’t get better than this. You love what you do.
Kelsey: We’ve said before…it is rough sometimes. It’s like a never-ending adventure and there are really hard times. Getting up really early for radio after you’ve driven ten hours through the night, constantly wearing full makeup with your hair done-up. I get so sick of wearing makeup. I get so sick of being “camera-ready.” BUT the moment we hit a note, all that shit just melts and you’re like, “Wow. This is why we do it.” The joy that we experience is the best part of our day. I just say to the audience, “I’m not kidding. Thank you for being here because we are so thankful to be doing this.”
Gabe: We get to do exactly what we dreamed about doing our entire lives and we love it. And it’s not just about us being able to play music. It’s about people and seeing how excited they are at shows.
Kristen: That’s the great thing about music. It brings people together.
Gabe: It’s like this language. No matter what happens, it speaks and everybody hears it.
Photos by Kristen Mitchell