Formed at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in the early mid-1990’s, Kill Hannah are not newcomers to the music scene. In an interview with Chicago’s Q101 radio, Kill Hannah frontman Mat Devine quipped that the band rivals Chicago alt-rock veterans Smashing Pumpkins in number of performances at the city’s famed Metro.
But with nearly two decades of musical creation and performance under their collective hipster studded belt, three full-length studio albums (not to mention half a dozen independent releases) and numerous world tours, it’s hard for fans of the band to understand why Kill Hannah have not achieved the superstar status of other bands from the area/genre.
After speaking with a handful of devoted fans about the reasons why they are fans, I have compiled a top ten list of reasons (in no particular order) why Kill Hannah is the best big little band you’ve never heard of.
#10. Support of other musicians – For thirteen dates in the summer of 2010, Kill Hannah lived one of their ultimate dreams; touring with Smashing Pumpkins. Throughout the tour, Devine couldn’t help but gush his admiration for their tour mates, stating the Pumpkins had started out as heroes, became mentors and even though the two bands had forged a friendship, Smashing Pumpkins were still, in many ways, Kill Hannah’s heroes.
When fellow Chicago band Madina Lake’s bassist Matthew Leone was severely beaten while coming to the aid of a woman being abused by her husband, Kill Hannah was among the first in line to help raise money for Leone to pay his extensive medical bills. Between two benefit concerts and items donated to the Through the Pain auction, Kill Hannah is still working hard to help out their fellow musician and friend.
#9. Devotion to and friendship with their fans – One key point that came up among everyone I spoke to was that Kill Hannah is possibly more devoted to their fans than any band the interviewees had ever come into contact with; nevermind being easily as devoted to their fans as their fans are to them. They make a concentrated effort to interact with their fans before and/or after every show. If there is not an opportunity for a formal meet and greet, they will gather by the merchandise table after the show to greet fans. It is not often that a fan of a band with world wide recognition can say that they have forged a real friendship with the band they support but Kill Hannah fans can say that. From (still temporary) guitarist Michael Maddox offering to walk a fan to her car after a show in Florida to frontman Mat Devine leaving a get well message for a sick fan on Facebook after finding out she was in the hospital, Kill Hannah takes real strides to befriend their fans.
#8. Unique style both musically and aesthetically – I took a little journey to the Kill Hannah profile page on Last.fm to find some similar artists to help explain them to “outsiders” and what I found was actually not as surprising as I originally thought. Last.fm has a sliding scale of similarity they use when they are making recommendations to their member community. Super Similarity is the top of the scale, meaning, basically, if you like one band, you will have a very hard time not liking the other. Kill Hannah shares Super Similarity with only two bands, My Passion and Aiden, whereas most established bands will share Super Similarity with ten or twelve. According to Abby from Ohio, “Kill Hannah isn’t your average, cookie-cutter 21st century rock group. They don’t make music to please or fit in with the mainstream. They’re practically their own genre – and they pull it all off fabulously.”
#7. Belief in their music/style/sound – Kill Hannah is undoubtedly not the richest or most famous band in the world but in many ways they have chosen that fate for themselves by refusing to bow to the whims of recording label executives and radio programming directors. But it is to their compliment that they make these decisions. They are uncompromising and unwavering in their belief of their music, of their unique style and sound. When asked what sets Kill Hannah apart from other bands, Nikole from Philadelphia had this to say: “The fact that they won’t sell out like the rest of the bands today just to make a quick buck. They have their own style of music and they don’t want to change it for anyone. That is what I respect about them so much.”
#6. Talent. – Notice this point is titled “Talent.” whereas no other section of this list has punctuation in its title? That’s because Kill Hannah is talent, period. Before an interview with a radio station in Cleveland, Devine and guitarist Dan Wiese decided to treat one of the interviewing D.J.’s, and fellow Cure fan, with an impromptu performance of The Cure’s Lovesong. Wiese not only learned but combined all five guitar parts for the song with a half an hour’s preparation time. On the subject of talent, Vicki from Scotland said, “I love Kill Hannah because their music is inspiring, original, well crafted and honest. They’re just very talented, sincere people who never give up or back down, and I think that’s really important.”
#5. Devotion to their music – On the surface, this may sound like the same thing as “belief in the music,” but I assure you Kill Hannah’s devotion to their music is a whole different animal. One thing that fans in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Salt Lake City, Utah are used to hearing at some point in a Kill Hannah concert is Devine apologizing. “Sorry, guys, I got ‘Denvered’ last night.” While said in jest, the sentiment is very real. Whether it be his altitude-induced migraines in the Mile High City or strep throat or torn muscles, Devine, and the rest of the band, are not unfamiliar to “playing through the pain.” It is a very rare occasion that Kill Hannah cancels a concert and even then it has more often than not been the decision of someone outside the band (be that a Philadelphia thief terrorizing touring bands or a label executive pushing for a new album). Illness or injury is very less often a cause for canceling a concert.
And it is not just about playing through the pain. Fans have grown quite familiar with “The Curse of Kill Hannah” which has brought with it a bus fire which consumed a large portion of their musical gear as well as personal items, clothing, gifts given to them from fans; it has brought them a thief who stole their tour van and trailer from outside their hotel in Philadelphia, relieving the band of over $10,000 in equipment, and through the Curse of Kill Hannah, the band continues, where many current artists may be convinced to throw in the towel. Austen from Scotland sums it all up well: “…they are the toughest [guys] around[. M]aybe not on the outside but in their hearts there is a survival insti[n]ct that is stronger than you could ever imagine!”
#4. Taking risks – “They take big risks when it comes to their music and I really appreciate that.” (Vicki from Scotland) Starting with their unwavering devotion to their sound and style and moving though a catalog that is thick with experimentation and coming to a close at their latest studio effort, Wake Up the Sleepers, risk taking in their art is what makes Kill Hannah Kill Hannah. In a statement from Mat Devine regarding Wake Up the Sleepers, he said, “We took a lot of chances, because this is the album that we want to be remembered by. Wake Up the Sleepers is our statement of defiance against those in the music industry who have been sleeping[…]The music industry is in a state of collapse because it is utterly out of touch with what truly matters to the fans.” A bold statement from a band of Kill Hannah’s less-than-superstar status.
Most recently the band is working on releasing videos for two songs that are arguably Wake Up the Sleepers’ least marketable tracks – Why I Have My Grandma’s Sad Eyes and Promise Me. In a candid conversation with touring guitarist Michael Maddox, he revealed that both videos are (as of press time) in the final editing stages and should be out for the public by the end of 2010 (expect more when that happens).
#2. Born performers/the caliber and emotion of their live show – On the subject of the Kill Hannah live show, Hannah from Blackpool offered this: “Their live shows are so emotional and personal it puts them miles above any other bands!” On his Fuse.tv biography page, Mat Devine has Black Poison Blood listed as his favorite song to play live. Personal friends of mine (who are also fans of the band) and I have theorized that the reason for this is that it makes fans cry. Okay, that sounds bad. Really, what that means is fans have forged such a strong emotional connection to the song that it brings them to tears and Devine seems to feed on those strong emotions. He has, himself, been recorded on more than one occasion stating music is the most powerful of all artistic mediums because of the amount of emotion it elicits.
Also, if Devine is able to pick out the face of a fan with whom he has connected in the front “row” of a concert, he takes a moment during the show to offer them a bit of extra special attention.
But the live show goes beyond the emotional connections between Kill Hannah and their fans. Where some bands start to falter toward the end of a tour, as fatigue and cramped bus living begins to win the battle, Kill Hannah’s live show never wavers. Even through pain, fatigue, and bus fires, the Kill Hannah always puts on a live show that fans look forward to for weeks ahead and mourn for weeks after it is over.
#1. Family vibe – “They are the boy band for people who hate boy bands, and their fans are so much like family that it’s creepy.” (Jessica from Alabama) Coming from the mouths of the band members themselves, fans of the band are part of the Kill Hannah family. They would go to the ends of the Earth for their fans and their fans for them…as well as for one another. In June of 2010, the Kill Hannah Kollective, Kill Hannah’s unofficial official street team, celebrated their third birthday and received the following collective message from Devine via Twitter: “HAPPY 3rd BIRTHDAY to the Kill Hannah Kollective. Started as a street team, grew into an army, still feels like a family.”
If you haven’t already, give Kill Hannah a listen. You can find them on MySpace (www.myspace.com/killhannah) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/killhannah) and find samples of their sound in both places. Also, the band has promised their entire back catalog to be re-released digitally some time in 2011, so keep an eye here for news on that when more is available.