Local Spins sat down with the eclectic Grand Rapids band, which just released a new single, has an album in the works and is playing a series of May shows, including the Local Spins Wednesdays series at SpeakEZ Lounge tonight (Wednesday).
THE BAND: The Hacky Turtles
THE MUSIC: “Crazy rhythms,” a “blender” of funk, folk, rock, hip hop and pop
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THE BAND: 8 p.m. Wednesday (May 2) at SpeakEZ Lounge; Thursday (May 3) at Gun Lake Casino in Wayland; May 11 at 1st Ward at Chop Shop in Chicago; May 12 at Arcadia Ales in Kalamazoo; May 25 at E&B Brewery Lofts in Detroit; May 31 at Mulligan’s Pub in Grand Rapids (with a noon appearance at H.O.M.E. in The B.O.B. for WYCE’s “GR Live”)
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SCROLL DOWN TO LISTEN TO THE HACKY TURTLES’ NEW SINGLE, ‘GRACE’
Driving down South Division Avenue in Grand Rapids on Sunday evening, traffic is light and the sun is fighting to stay above the tops of the buildings.
There’s a neon-lit fried chicken joint, a smattering of tiny mechanic shops and the massive Salvation Army building. A little further down, a mostly nondescript building advertises “Band Rehearsal Spaces Available” in yellow lettering. It’s in this building, through a dimly lit garage bay (bearing a striking resemblance to the final scene from “The Departed”) and up a maze of stairs where The Hacky Turtles rehearse.
They call it The Kube. It’s a large space with an open floor plan and instruments set up around the perimeter. There’s a kitchen, a bathroom, a couple bedrooms. The space is even adorned by a prized avocado tree, born from the likes of a random avocado pit. It’s about three years old (they tell me). We sit in the corner of the room that’s been turned into the likes of a living room, complete with couches, a leather armchair (from an alleyway in Chicago I’m told), a TV and a coffee table.
It’s one of the first days that actually feels like spring in Grand Rapids and we sit with the windows open and the bustling sounds of South Division pouring in along with a thick breeze.
The Hacky Turtles (Marc Kanitz – vocals, bass, Austin Spencer – guitar, Erik Krueger – drums, and Alex Rushlow – guitar) create an eclectic blend of rock, folk, rap and funk. Group members left their corporate jobs and relocated to Grand Rapids from Chicago, via Lansing (via Traverse City, where they grew up). With a new single, more new music on the horizon, a debut show at SpeakEZ Lounge this evening (May 2), and summer shows like the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park’s Tuesday Evening Music Club on the docket, Local Spins hosted a Q&A with Marc, Austin and Alex to catch up.
Local Spins: How are you settling into Grand Rapids so far?
Alex: It’s just quieter compared to Chicago. I think in terms of music, this is just way more supportive. People seem so much more interested.
Local Spins: What was the transition like, leaving the corporate world to pursue music on a more full-time basis?
Marc: Terrifying. But I feel a lot better. My overall mental health is in a much better place. It feels good to be trying it at the very least. It’s different; it’s hard to know when you’re being productive.
Local Spins: What jobs did you have when you all lived in Chicago?
Marc: We were all in the logistics industry, working in freight brokerage, making a hundred phone calls a day. Erik, Austin and me all worked at the same company. I think my title was operations coordinator…
Alex: I had a different job experience in Chicago. I worked in a tire factory on the south side, hanging from an 80-foot ceiling stacking tires with a bunch of people that didn’t speak English.
Local Spins: What was it like trying to pursue music while working such demanding jobs?
Marc: We’d try to practice during our lunch break for as long as we could, and then rush back to work.
Austin: Trying to do music while tied to the corporate world was super challenging because sometimes we’d have gigs on Thursday nights and be out till 2 a.m., then have to be up for work at 6 a.m. Once we realized we were so much more fulfilled by the music, I think that’s when we started thinking it was time to move on.
Alex: We owe so much to Chicago and that lifestyle that we had because it was kind of like now or never.
Austin: Yeah, I think it pushed us to realize how much we really cared about music. So it really was a blessing.
Local Spins: Is there anything you miss about that period of your lives?
Marc: Bank account was cool (everyone laughs and concurs). We weren’t rolling in it, but we were able to easily make cost of living and then still have a ton of fun in a really cool city. There was a little less pressure on that end.
Alex: Knowing that you’re going to be able to afford all of your bills at the end of the month is the coolest feeling ever. Now when there’s like 15 days till you have to make rent, it’s like OK, I guess I’m donating plasma!
Local Spins: How did you guys get started playing music?
Austin: We forged ourselves at Michigan State University in the basement of our house.
Marc: A dirty, dirty basement.
Austin: The grossest.
Local Spins: What about your first show and first recording experiences?
Marc: We played out first show at Mac’s Bar in 2014 and then we went into the studio to record at the Troubadour in Lansing. But we were very, very ill-prepared.
Alex: Yeah, I didn’t even know what a metronome was. The sound engineer started playing the click (track) and I was like, “Dude, can you turn that noise off, it’s super annoying.” And he was like: “That’s how you play to time.” (Laughs all around.)
Local Spins: What does your songwriting and creative process look like as a band?
Austin: Most of the time it starts with a guitar riff. Either Alex has something or I come up with something. Then we get together and everybody starts adding their own thing to it. It’s kind of born out of the jam.
Alex: Some songs take longer to write and others will be finished that same night we start.
Marc: I almost always wait till the guys come up with guitar parts to the songs before I write lyrics. I feel like it’s easier for me to apply the song meaning when I can hear what it sounds like. I can’t jam because I don’t usually have a physical instrument, so I’ll just end up free-styling till I come up with something.
Alex: The funnest thing is coming up with a crazy rhythm and thinking, ‘Man, Mark’s not gonna be able to come up with anything for this.’ And I play it for him for literally two minutes and he’ll come up with something way out of left field that just fits perfectly.
Local Spins: Marc, when did you start rapping?
Marc: As soon as I got my license when I was 16! (everyone bursts into laughter). Austin gave me four mixed CDs and they were all called bass rap. I was just obsessed with bass. I started memorizing those songs. We just love that type of music. I think it’s because growing up in northern Michigan everything else is thrown your way. Country music, a lot of CCM. It was so new to me that I just obsessed over it.
Local Spins: What are some of the difficulties of playing music in a band?
Austin: It’s hard to get along in a group with four guys that have ideas that they’re confident in or passionate about. Trying to compromise is sometimes really hard. There’s quite a few deep talks.
Marc: Knowing when to get on each other’s ass and learning how not to take it personally. When I’m really into an idea and nobody else is, it’s really hard for me to let it rest. Also, learning how to work on our own ideas individually before bringing it to the band has been important.
Austin: One rule we have is to always speak your mind and not hold anything back. If you have an issue with something or you have another idea you really want to try, you have to speak up. If you just say it right away then you avoid letting it build up.
Alex: Staying open-minded is so important. We all have such different musical influences. We’re like a blender. So sometimes it’s hard for us to land in the right spot where we’re all going to be happy about it.
Local Spins: What’s your eventual dream for The Hacky Turtles?
Austin: Our goal is to just be as authentic as we can be, and to promote love and authenticity in the tunes. And hopefully inspire other people to do that. We want to inspire other people to do what they want to do, because it’s so easy to go through a whole life doing something you don’t want to do just because you’re told you should. We want to avoid that and inspire others to do what they love.
Marc: I feel like the goal with our live show is to be just so genuinely happy onstage to the point where people feel that. And trying to capture that when we record songs too. We want people to find whatever it is they love and chase it really hard. As far as professionally, I think it’d be awesome to get to a point where we have the sole financial freedom to create music for a living.
Austin: But we also try not to think too far ahead. We just want to play these songs we love in front of people. We feel like we don’t have to plan too far ahead as long as we’re enjoying what we’re doing and being present in the moment.
Local Spins: What are some activities you enjoy as band besides music?
All: Hack Bag!
Marc: It’s a doubles game that you play on a tennis court with a hacky sack. We actually have a ton of rules … but basically you’re kicking the hacky sack back and forth and you’re trying to land the hacky sack in their square. We also like camping, hiking, golf. We played a lot of basketball when we were in Chicago. I feel like we’re an atypically athletic band. We just love that stuff. We’re huge Lions fans. We love talking about sports.
Local Spins: What other kinds of art are you consuming/pursuing right now?
Alex: Stephen King. I’m reading “The Stand.” It’s an epic book. And Austin and I are going to start trying to make our own beer. We got two beer making books at the library. He’s reading one. I’m reading the other.
Marc: I’m obsessed with cooking, mostly because I love eating. But I love culinary arts, and I love watching shows like “Chef’s Table.” I love cooking, I used to work in the university kitchen.
Alex: Marc is the only vegetarian I know who knows how to cook an incredible steak…
Marc: Yeah, hopefully down the road, I just have to sing so I don’t have to carry any instruments. Then I can just bring cooking supplies with me on the road. Like my knife bag and my favorite pan. And Erik is really heavily into salsa dancing. He goes to salsa once a week, and sometimes goes all the way to Detroit for events.
Local Spins: You guys are professional and ambitious when it comes to your music, but it also seems like you try not to take yourselves too seriously. Why do you think that’s important?
Marc: I feel like it’s really easy to be serious and incredibly over-introspective and analyze everything you do in a day. But I feel like it’s better to make light of things. If you have a sense of humor it’s easier to relate to people. There’s nothing life or death about what we’re doing. I want it to be a release for people. We just want to make people laugh and have a good time.
Austin: When you’re playing rock music with your friends, it’s hard not to have a good time.
Marc: It’s kind of crazy to be in a band with your best friends. I think I struggle with that sometimes because you can’t partition your world the same way you could as if you had your best friends and then a separate hobby. So it’s kind of like remembering to be friends first and not just co-workers.
Alex: We’ll do family nights where Marc and his wife and my fiancé and I will get together and we won’t talk about the band or music at all. We’ll just watch movies or play board games or hang out in the hot tub.
Marc: I think that’s important: for us to spend time together outside of playing music.
Local Spins: You’re recording some new music with Jake Rye over at Social Recording Company in Adrian. How has that process been going? Any release plans?
Marc: Jake just makes us sound good. He’s so decisive. He helps us make choices when we’re recording and helps us commit to things. He makes us sound badass so you can’t ask for much more than that. We’re planning to release an album on July 13. It’ll be about six songs that just kind of show people where we’re at right now. It’s a lot more rock ’n’ roll music. We have a pretty vast musical interest, but we just want to put out good songs, whatever genre they fall under. We’re also playing Meijer Gardens this summer which we’re really excited about.
After we recorded the single, “Grace,” Jake played it back and I started crying. That song for us has always been one that was highly emotional. I wasn’t sad, I was just overwhelmed with emotion. We just want to keep making genuine music that we all love and sharing it with people. And not worry about too much past that. If we’re obsessed with it, hopefully someone else is.
For more about The Hacky Turtles, visit thehackyturtles.com.
LISTEN: The Hacky Turtles, “Grace”
Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC