Locals: The kids in the (Kizzy) Hall

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The most important piece of equipment in Kizzy Hall’s arsenal — the AM/FM radio cassette recorder on which the scrappy garage-rock quintet has recorded demos for every one of its songs — has recently exhibited the kind of durability normally associated with either airplane black boxes or Bill Murray in the midst of his failed “Groundhog Day” suicide binge.

Over the last month, the vintage boombox has survived both a robbery attempt (it was in singer John Herwig’s car when someone rifled through the interior overnight) and a catastrophic flood caused by faulty plumbing that left the interior of Herwig’s north campus home looking as though it were in the early stages of a gut rehab.

The rest of the group’s gear, however, might not be so lucky. Floodwater caused an estimated $5,000 in damage to the assorted speakers, guitars, amps and monitors stashed in the home’s basement rehearsal space. “Basically anything you can think of a band would need,” guitarist John Grinstead said. Additionally, a computer carrying finished versions of every song recorded since November 2013 was among the casualties, which were just turned over en masse to an electronic repair shop. It could be several more weeks before the band knows what — if anything — can be salvaged.

These current events have even delayed plans to release a new album (tentatively titled manchild 8) by year’s end, likely pushing it into the first quarter of 2016.

Now for the good news: It appears plumbing mishaps are about the only thing that can slow the Kizzy Hall mates, who have steadily morphed into must-see performers since making their live debut during a July 2014 concert in the basement of Grinstead’s home.

“In the live show there are a lot of early songs that sound completely different now,” said Herwig, 29, who joins bandmates Grinstead, Stefan Knuckles (guitar), Chelsea Simmons (drums) and Eric Pacella (bass) for a concert at Ace of Cups on Thursday, July 2. “I always have people come up to me after the show that tell me, ‘You guys sound way more like a rock band,’ where a lot of the stuff on [the group’s 2014 debut A Touch of Kizz in the Night] is slower or more jangly.”

This increased muscle mirrors Kizzy’s evolution from a home recording project — roommates Herwig and Knuckles started laying down lo-fi demos in 2010 with an eye on one day launching an actual band — into a full-on group pursuit, a process Herwig described as fraught with “growing pains.”

“Before it was just me and Stefan, so we had all the input,” he said. “It’s hard with the two of us because we get set in our ways. You get used to how it sounds from the demo tape, and then someone else plays on it and you’re like, ‘Oh, it was supposed to be this way.’ It is [difficult to give up control], but it’s getting easier.”

Herwig’s gradual easing of the reigns is reflected in his shifting role. Where he contributed guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals to the band’s debut, he’s stepped back on recent recordings, chipping in with sporadic guitar and restricting himself almost solely to lead singing duties.

“Chelsea is a better drummer [than me], Eric’s a better bass player and these guys (the singer gestures to Grinstead and Knuckles) are mostly better guitar players,” Herwig said. “I can play every instrument, but I’m sort of the jack of all trades, master of none. At least that’s how I look at myself.”

Though the music often rages, building on boozy, buzzing guitars, flailing drums and elastic bass, the lyrics tend to walk a more shattered, solitary path, Herwig singing: “I’ll be here just playing with my toys”; “Twice you slipped away … I’ll just watch you go”; “I don’t want to go out; I’d rather sit at home.”

“A lot of the lyrics were just stream of consciousness, or I went down [to the basement] for 30 minutes and it just came out and maybe I wouldn’t even write down what I was singing,” Herwig said. “This was in the fall and winter, and Stefan was working a night job so he would be away most nights. I would be home alone by myself, and I was going through a pretty shitty relationship. Being alone in a dingy basement that has beer cans laying around … it’s a depressive environment.”

Of course, now that Herwig has surrounded himself with some accomplished running mates — Pacella, for one, first picked up a guitar at 13 years old and cops to having “music in [his] blood,” owing to his grandfather, a jazz guitarist who appeared on a recording alongside Les Paul and Mary Ford — the singer has started to find new things to fret about, namely turning 30, a birthday that partially fueled the last-days-of-summer feel that weaves its way through the forthcoming manchild 8.

“A lot of these songs were written between last summer and now when we were hanging out with this guy who lived in that house over there (points across the street),” Herwig said. “We were shut off from the whole world, and every weekend we’d just get drunk and hang out. There was one night we went to Walmart and bought BB guns and went down into his basement and just lost all sense of reality shooting bottles and shooting at a TV.”

“It’s the mentality of being 19 but in your late 20s,” Knuckles said of the stretch, which fueled unreleased songs with working titles like “King Idiot” and “Capture the Flag.”

“Or of being 29 forever,” Herwig countered, sounding, in that moment at least, entirely at peace with the possibility.

Photo by Maddie McGarvey

Ace of Cups

8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 2

2619 N. High St., Old North


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