Just like "Heaven": Kingfisher's confident and inventive widescreen debut LP balances intimate vocals and expansive instrumentation
For the past few years, Kingfisher has balanced college life with band life. But after the University of Michigan’s spring graduation, some members will head off to other Midwestern areas while others will stick around to complete their degrees.
The band might be closing a chapter but Kingfisher’s story will continue to unfold.
“The plan is to keep going,” said Sam DuBose (vocals, lyrics, guitar). “Things will definitely change. I mean, right now we’re all like three blocks from each other. But we had the conversation a while ago about what we were going to do, and all of us want to continue. We all love this group so much.”
Unlike most college bands though, Kingfisher isn’t fond of covers.
“We’ve actually never played a cover song at a show,” said Tyler Thenstedt (bass, vocals). “It’s been original music since the get-go. I would say that’s what people sort of know us for. A lot of Ann Arbor bands are incredible, but what sets us apart is that it has always been original music.”
The band’s sound is the result of the dynamic collection of people in the group, which includes neuroscience majors, mathematics enthusiasts, and various music-related majors: DuBose, Thenstedt, Samuel Uribe Botero (production, tenor sax), Connor Hoyt (alto sax, arrangements), Casey Cheatham (drums, vocals), Callum Roberts (trumpet, arrangements), and Kaysen Chown (strings, arrangements).
Last fall, Kingfisher released its debut record, Grip Your Fist, I’m Heaven Bound, which includes 10 tracks that showcase the group’s eclectic approach to creation and the subsequent listening experiences. The band has gentle, melancholic vocals reminiscent of Slaughter Beach, Dog singer Jake Ewald as well as layered sonic backdrops reminiscent of Bon Iver. Kingfisher’s sound possesses the intimacy of folk music, the dynamics of shoegaze, the details of electronica, and the arrangements of jazz and classical crossovers.
Grip Your Fist, I’m Heaven Bound doesn’t have a weak link, with each song having its own character and appeal, but the group collectively agreed that “Holy Hell” is their favorite.
“‘Holy Hell’ feels really special,” Chown said. “It just came together. The process was really spontaneous and it felt like we were discovering something in the process, which was really exciting. It kind of all exploded together in the recording studio. The songwriting was happening while we were recording it, and we’ve been inspired by that process.”
Despite the band’s debut being an impressive and milestone release, Kingisher is already looking to evolve through future projects.
“I think we can all agree that the debut was an experiment,” Chown said. “There are a lot of different sounds happening on it, which is great, and that’s the kind of reception we got from it online. But I think moving forward, we’re really honing in on things like track selection and how each song will move together. We want the next record to be a more cohesive experience.”
Kingfisher seeks to create aesthetic experiences for listeners that stretch beyond the audio.
The group has a separate visual team composed of Sky Cristoph, Gray Snyder, and Gabby Mack who help create immersive experiences for Kingfisher’s concerts, which make each performance feel unique.
“Our first-ever show was a really nice experience and was at Escher Fest, which is a campus co-op,” Thenstedt said. “There were a lot of loud bands there like noise-rock and even folk-rock, and for our set, we asked everyone to sit down. I think everyone got to use their ears and their eyes—we had projection art which created this combination of sonic and visual components. I think it commanded attention in a way that didn’t ask for much. We just wanted people to take it in.”
Alexandra Hall is a Hillsdale College student and the writer and editor of Rocka Magazine.
➥ "Arts, Interrupted: Kingfisher" [podcast, The Michigan Daily, April 9, 2023]
➥ "Kingfisher — more than just the new band on campus" [The Michigan Daily, November 13, 2022]
➥ "Ann Arbor band Kingfisher shows musical maturity on debut album ‘Grip Your Fist, I’m Heaven Bound’" [The Michigan Daily, November 10, 2022]