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Get to know the band: The Kay Brothers

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Kay Brothers Holiday

The Kay Brothers and Burney Sisters have an upcoming holiday show at The Blue Note on Friday, Dec. 17. They're seen here doing the show recently in Fulton. Pictured are, from left, Bryan Kay, "Shakin' Jake" Allen, Olivia Burney, Pat Kay and Emma Burney.

Welcome to "Get to Know the Band" featuring The Kay Brothers, an Old Time Missouri "stompgrass" band from Central Missouri. Learn from Pat Kay with BUZ contributor Laura Schrimpf how the band came about through a series of twists and turns, why music is in these Missouri brothers’ blood and what’s next for the band.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your band?

I’m the husband to a really awesome wife, the father of our two heathen children, ages three and six, and I stand in the ranks of some incredibly talented musicians. I’ve been performing for around 20 years now and have had several projects over the years. The Hipnecks, The Hatrick, The Kay Brothers, MK Ultra (a new collab with Ben Miller), and I perform solo as well.

The Kay Brothers started in the spring of 2012. I met a fiddle player, (Michael Schembre) at an open mic night one night, the next night I somehow talked brother Bryan, who was playing lead guitar in a rock band at the time, into the idea of playing an upright bass, and then at one of our very first shows (The Spot in JC) there was a girl playing spoons in the crowd (Lauren Douglas) and we managed to coax her on stage. We had a blast. At the end of the show, I asked if she wanted to play again sometime. She said “duh,” so I handed her a washboard and said, “okay then, see you tomorrow night.” Then we were four. Obviously, the faces in the band have changed since then, but I’ll never forget how much fun we had coming off the starting line.

Over time, Michael and Lauren moved away and Molly Healey, who I played with in The Hipnecks, moved into this project… Shakin’ Jake Allen, who was a founding/former member of The Hipnecks, came back into the fold, Roger Netherton sat in one night and became a staple on stage. We immediately recorded an album with that five-piece lineup. Soon after that went to print, we met some kindred spirits in the Burney Sisters, Emma and Olivia joined the band as well…suddenly things escalated to seven people on stage when we were at full force. Our musical family has always been something of a scrambled egg, and that has helped keep everything fresh and fun for us all. I’m truly blessed with some incredibly talented friends, and it’s an honor to share the stage with them.

What got you into music?

At the age of 18, I’d only played a handful of shows. At that time, I had the lofty goal of wanting to play music for a job while I was in college, rather than work in the library or something similar. I convinced myself that if I was able to pull this off, that after I graduated, I’d be okay to walk away from it and enter the general workforce. But after graduating, I just couldn’t stop. I had the bug. I’d interview for jobs and get offered the positions only to immediately decline. At some point I just embraced the industry and I’ve been all-in ever since.

What musical group has most influenced you?

There are artists that have been the catalyst for significant changes in direction over the years. The first band I was in was akin to the style of Pantera, and after hearing the Alice in Chains Unplugged album, I became obsessed with the richness of acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies. Several years later I heard The Gourds version of “Gin & Juice,” which opened a doorway to bluegrass… which led me to Big Smith and an eventual embrace in family hillbilly music.

The influence of people I’ve performed/collaborated with can’t be overstated. We were playing a St. Paddy’s Day show one year and Molly had to cancel at the last minute. I met a fiddle player named Roger Netherton on stage that night who had performed with the opening band. I, quite desperately, asked if he’d be interested in staying on stage to sit in. Though he agreed, he insisted that he didn’t play bluegrass. I spent the remaining five minutes we had to set up on the stage trying to convince him otherwise. Just before I kicked off the first song, Roger turned and looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I don’t think you actually like Bluegrass. I think you like Old Time. And I think you think they’re the same thing.” The stage lights came on, the audience is staring at me, staring at him, just completely dumbfounded. We kicked off the show and he played old time style fiddle over our rhythm section, and you could not have possible wiped the grin off my face. I had no idea what old time music was, and once I studied just a handful of its configurations the pieces started to land in place. If you’d told me that, after hearing Alice in Chains for the first time, that this was going to lead me to playing Celtic music, I’d have laughed hysterically. It’s been a fun journey.

What did you listen to growing up?

Metallica, Garth Brooks, Guns N Roses, and Dre & Snoop.

Do you have a band bio?

"It's in your blood." Missouri brothers form a band saluting the music traditional to their homeland: The Ozarks… where old-time fiddle music received a quick flash fry of foot stompin’ country blues as it made its way across the Mississippi River. The songs are a collection of stories, often ancient in verse but timeless in meaning, and delivered with sunny reverence for this forgotten music bred to uplift from the tangle of struggles in a bygone era. It’s music that draws you out, rather than draw you in.

In 2018, the band released their Self-Titled Debut Album along with companion videos for their song “Find Your Love" and a full family rendition of "Cumberland Gap" available on all platforms. We're excited to announce that the band has also recently broken ground on their sophomore release expected to make landfall in late 2021. Joined by sisters Emma & Olivia Burney, the band boasts sibling harmonies, upright bass, guitar, tenor banjo, fiddle, cello, ukulele, harmonica, washboard, congas, shakers, and an array of foot percussion. The mission: to preserve the rural music of our forefathers and mothers that once filled the wooden barns dotting the countryside on Saturday night and the small family churches on Sunday morning. That party is still going on.... it’s in your blood.

What type of genres do you play?

Eh, it’s kinda Old Time, Country/Bluegrass… but there’s a heavy four-on-the-floor foot percussion presence that’s not really “allowed” in those circles, so we call it “Stompgrass.”

What instrument(s) do you (your band) play/feature?

Foot drums, guitar, banjo, harmonica, fiddle, cello, upright bass, washboard, congas, and as many singing voices as we can muster!

Do you write original music? Does anyone in the band?

Yes, we do. The ones we’ve recorded were songs I’ve written, but Molly, Olivia, and Emma write as well. We do some of their music at shows, though they have their own projects as vehicles for their original music (Molly Healey String Project, The Burney Sisters). The majority of our live shows feature traditional songs that have been handed down through the ages from generation to generation and we’re really proud to be a vehicle for that tradition.

What do you feel is the best song you have written and why?

“Find Your Love.” I wrote it for my wife, right after we’d met. It was one of those songs that assembled itself in minutes and came from a really positive chapter in my life. I wrote it because I needed to, not because I wanted to “write a song.” Those precious moments are difficult to capture because they don’t often last long given the general pace of life. I just happened to be sitting in my living room with a guitar in my hand that morning… right place at the right time…

Have you produced any albums?

I think the greater musical journey here has been across seven studio albums: three with The Hipnecks; two with the Hatrick; and one with The Kay Brothers. Stylistically, I think there’s a fairly linear path from start to finish chronologically through the catalog.

What do the part-time musicians for a day job?

Bryan works at VU and Shakin’ Jake drives a tractor.

What is your bands favorite song to play?

Oh, I can’t speak for everyone in the band, but Cumberland Gap is one that I always feel like every band member is fully engaged with when we play it live. It’s an old-time standard that we took some liberties with. Aside from beautifully showcasing the fiddle & cello, there’s some great crowd engagement in the bridge where the audience often sings along. It’s a fun tune to play live.

What’s your favorite local venue to play at?

This is a tough one depending on how you define “local.” In JC, The Mission has always been our home. In some form I’ve played the first Thursday of the month for about 10 years now and virtually every incarnation of every music project I’ve had since that began has started on The Mission’s stage. It has been something of our “lab” and its employees/patrons, our family. If you include Columbia, we love playing The Blue Note and Rose Park due to their size. We can spread a whole lot of joy in a single show with capacities exceeding 850 tickets. We sold out The Blue Note a few years back, which, having been a dream since I started playing, gives that room a magical place in our hearts.

What is your current favorite song on your personal playlist?

Maybe “Tough Luck” by Clarence Ashley. I’ve been bouncing around between Clarence, Roscoe Holcomb, and Frank Proffitt a lot over the last year or so.

What's the most memorable concert you ever attended?

I did a few shows with Tyler Childers early on in his career. The first of those, we played Rose Music Hall together and it was just he and I that night. We set up next to each other on stage… I played my set, then he came up for his and I accompanied him on banjo for a while. I pretty quickly arrived at the conclusion that I’d rather be listening than playing. Everyone could tell we were in the presence of something truly special that night like we were privy to some kind of great secret. It was an exciting experience to share with everyone in the room.

pat kay at coopers landing

Pat Kay performs solo earlier this fall at Cooper's Landing near Columbia.

What's the most memorable moment in your performing career?

I will never ever forget my first experience performing in front of an audience, though I’m not sure of the year… possibly ’98. It was in the Moniteau Co. Fair amphitheater… where it occurred to me that maybe I should have done my first show at a house party or something more casual. I was so nervous I could barely start the first song. When the band kicked, I still had a hard time opening my mouth to start the verse. I missed it… then had to wait for what felt like an eternity for the progression to come back around…and the whole time I was thinking “What if I can’t do this?” I was just so incredibly terrified… I thought my knees were going to give way. Then as soon as I started everything felt alright, or mostly as intended anyway... but my hands continued shaking for the whole performance.

After the show I was so upset by the discomfort I felt and general lack of preparedness that I wanted nothing more than to play another show as soon as possible to try and overcome it as if to redeem myself.” I still think about that moment a lot to this day and I’m still chasing it all the same I suppose. I’ve only gotten nervous one other time on stage since then, and it was the same stage just a few years ago. We were in the middle of a show when that memory “program” started running in the background and I nearly derailed our rendition of Galway Girl. I suddenly realized that I was back on that same stage again for the first time since that show all those years ago, and somehow hadn’t considered that fact until right there and then…. I felt like that 15-year-old kid again for a moment, but just kinda chuckled and the feeling faded as fast as it came on.

If you didn't become a musician, what would you be doing right now?

I’d still be in the music industry as a full-time promoter and/or agent. I couldn’t see myself being drawn to anything else.

If you could be a fruit, which one would you be and why?

A coconut. For the view. Plus, my wife loves coconuts.

What musician would you like to collaborate with and why?

As much as I’d love to say someone like Moby just to see what universe they’d send a song into, I’d honestly take a day with the bandmates specifically for songwriting over anyone else. We don’t have nearly as much time/bandwidth for that as a group as I’d like.

What would be your dream gig?

This may seem a little shortsighted, but the “next show” is always my dream gig. It is imminent and full of opportunity. As soon as a show ends today, I immediately start dreaming of what can be done to enhance it tomorrow.

If you can have your fans remember one thing about you or your band, what would it be?

That our fundamental purpose is to spread joy, and everything we do is in pursuit of maximizing that end goal every time we step foot out the door.

What's next for you and your your band?

The pandemic experience has definitely reshaped our mindset regarding how we move forward in ways that I’m still uncovering on a near daily basis. The disruption, while painful, did grant us the blessing of a pause from the performance grind to thoughtfully re-evaluate the way we operate and also knock some big items of the ole to-do list like launch an online merch store.

The pink elephant in the room for us as a band for quite some time has been the dire need for another album, paired with concern for when we were ever to have the time to work on the material given our schedule. My bandwidth was maxed out booking, marketing, managing, and performing to the extent that after the first record was released, we became so busy that I rarely ever picked up an instrument off-stage… and amidst all those squeaky wheels, I never stopped to consider how counterproductive that was until everything came to a screeching halt and I was suddenly flooded with genuine creative inspiration for the first time in years.

So, we intend to adjust the overall pace to create the bandwidth to be better curators of that creativity. Conversely, I’m going to radically ramp up my solo shows to give new material some stage time to appropriately simmer before jamming it into a full band show. The overall hope is that this will naturally give way to a model that allows new material the opportunity to coalesce and flow freely into our shows. We owe our fans a new record.

If you had one message to share with your fans, what would it be?

We are so incredibly grateful for the support you’ve given us and for the opportunity to do what we do. I’m not sure I can find the words to adequately express how exciting it is to experience a show from our perspective on stage. The real show is on the dance floor. Y’all are a force of nature, and we’re your biggest fans.

Where do customers go to book your band for gigs?

Yours truly. Email is best (Pat@thekaybrothers.com) but happy to take a call at 573-230-1641.

The Kay Brothers and The Burney Sisters have an upcoming holiday show at The Blue Note on Friday, Dec. 17th. Tickets can be found here. Other Kay Brothers shows can be found here.  Hear Pat at The Mission every first Thursday.

BUZ contributor Laura Schrimpf is a freelance writer based in Jefferson City.

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