Yeah, they're ambitious. So what?
"They call us stars because we're ambitious," said Tim Mohn of the Lawrence rock group Kill Whitey. "But I don't see why we can't play the music we want to play and make money, too."
Mohn, the band's drummer, and four other young musicians want to make it in the music scene, beyond the bars and parties of Lawrence. And if they get heard by the right label producers this month in Austin during a highly selective music festival, their hard work may pay off.
KILL WHITEY'S been together about a year and a half, its members say. Four of the five are current Kansas University students; some are taking a full course load, others are taking the semester off to work on the music. The band of mostly self-taught musicians includes Mohn, lead singer Kim Czarnopys, guitarists Mike Tobin and Mark Smirl and bassist Darrel Brannock.
They play a combination '70s heavy-metal and punk, with complicated beat structures that don't lend themselves to dance.
"We all work on the songs," Mohn said. "One person will come up with parts and the rest will give their input. For me, I like the Smyths. I also like some '70s music, like Elton John. And I listened to a lot of the '80s and '90s underground punk stuff."
THE NAME OF the band may put some people off. But Mohn said the only thing they want to alienate is prejudice.
"What Kill Whitey means is we want to kill an attitude, not a person," Mohn said. "Whitey is someone who singles out a person or a racial group. Whitey is the guy who thinks he's better than everybody else because he's a certain race or religion. We don't condone violence. Kill Whitey means we want to end this racial stuff because it's stupid."
Their intense style of playing matches their loud, intense music. Sitting in the living room in a house three of the band members share, they seem just like subdued, bright college students with a taste for the avant-garde. But on stage, the music takes over.
"We rock out," said lead guitarist Mike Tobin. "It's intense being up on stage. The people all have their eyeballs on you. I'm glad none of us do drugs, because I don't know how you could handle it onstage."
AND THEY WANT to make it. They say they've worked hard to get as far as they have they now pack in the crowds at the Bottleneck. They face stiff competition in the local band scene.
"To get popular in town it's hard because there's so much competition," Mohn said. "Here we have a lot of unnecessary competition between bands. There's a lot of jealosy, because certain bands we get along with well and others we don't."
"Instead of helping each other out and helping launch each other," , really few bands work together," Czarnopys said. "It's really sad.
EVEN AS the band members go to classes and hold down jobs, they find the energy they need to keep rehearsing and developing new material. Czarnopys said she holds down a full-time job on top of the band and school, but her desire to sing gets her through.
"The band's what you want to be doing. It's more than a hobby."
In the group's songs, Czarnopys' strong vocals weave and clash with the underlying beat. Sometimes she sings, sometimes she screams.
"I had choir and chorus in high school," she said. "I also learned singing by singing along with Patsy Cline albums. I also went around my house singing, I was threatening my parents by saying I was going to be an opera singer."
AFTER PLAYING next Sunday at The Bottleneck, the group packs its bags for the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin. Although they said they missed the deadline by a day or two, they found out in early February they were accepted to play at a venue during the music conference. There they hope to catch the ear of record producers, who comb the festival searching for new sounds to sign for recording contracts.
"It's a showcase," Mohn said. "It's not a competition. Every band has an equal chance of getting signed. You go there to hear other bands, and we just hope that people there like us."
But they definitely do want to be signed. And once the ink dries, they still think they can keep their integrity and their music.