Music surrounds us every day, but there is something particularly magical about attending a live performance, witnessing the creation of song and seeing a musician connecting with their craft. MSU senior Kim Vi offers us an alternate perspective, that of the human behind the instrument and the microphone. Vi, a music student, is a vocalist and keyboardist for Kim Vi & The Siblings. The band is comprised of four MSU jazz students: Judson Branam IV, Louie Leager, Olin Clark and, of course, Vi himself.
Two years ago, the band formed under some accidental circumstances. “I was just doing some singer-songwriter stuff on the side, and I booked a tour on the east coast,” says Vi. When the bass player of his backing band bailed at the last minute, Vi found himself in a difficult situation and had to resort to Plan B. “I ended up calling all of the guys that are in the band with me now,” he explains. “We started playing shows after (that) tour because it went well and went to the studio and recorded some tunes. And we’ve been playing together ever since.” And how did they come up with the band name? “We all ended up being roommates, and that kind of gave birth to the moniker Kim Vi & The Siblings.”
When Vi called me, he was in the San Francisco area, on tour with Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers.
KG: How would you define your band’s music? What kind of genre do you fit into?
KV: We’re kind of on the fence about it a little bit. It sounds a little bit pretentious, but it’s not really the motive behind it. We call it “Smartpop” just because it’s informed by a lot of music styles … We’re all jazz musicians so it’s very jazz influenced. We tend to do a lot of soul, Motown, a little R&B, things like that. But it’s definitely pop music for sure — it’s very standard songwriting format.
KG: Do you all participate in songwriting, or is there one person who takes on that role?
KV: Usually what happens is I write the song, and then I bring it to (the band) bare bones with an acoustic guitar or the piano. Then we really work on building the song and arranging the song and making it what you hear on recordings or what you hear in a show.
KG: What’s your favorite part about being a musician?
KV: My favorite thing about being a musician is being part of something that brings people together. Music brings people together, and it’s such a beautiful thing. People who would not necessarily get together, they come to hear the music, and it’s cool to be part of that and to facilitate that. It’s not just with the audience as well, it’s between other musicians. When you go play with people you’ve never played with before you get connected to them because the music brings musicians together as well.
KG: What’s the most challenging part?
KV: The most challenging part for me is always having the intensity and the willingness to play. Sometimes when you do it for a living, when you do it to make money, it’s easy for it to slip into a business thing, “business as usual.” And the hard thing is to get in the zone every night and really play like it’s the last time you will play. And in other situations too, sometimes the crowd isn’t digging it, or something’s not right with the sound or your equipment. Just trying to get over that and really give yourself completely to the music. That’s a challenge, but … it’s something you can overcome. And just remembering why you play music in the first place: because you love it. That also helps a lot.
KG: How did you first begin playing instruments and singing?
KV: My dad is an excellent classical guitarist; he’s really, really good. He ended up becoming a doctor, but he definitely could have become a professional concert guitarist like he always wanted to. So I grew up with him, and my mom is a really amazing classical pianist. So my family was very musical. At the beginning of when I was young, I tinkered with instruments, but I didn’t necessarily think that was what I was going to do. When I was six or seven, I started messing around with the piano, and they decided to start me with piano lessons. And I picked that up pretty quickly. And then I picked up the guitar when I was twelve.
KG: How do you envision your future in music?
KV: I’m planning on becoming a professional musician (and) pursuing this full-time after I graduate. [I’m] probably going to relocate to either New York or Los Angeles. This is my passion, this is what I love doing. Maybe down the road I might do something in the medical field, but for now, I really love playing music. That’s where my passion is.
For more information about Kim Vi & The Siblings, view their press kit at kimviandthesiblings.bandcamp.com. For more on Vi’s solo project, visit kimvi.bandcamp.com. Look for performances by Kim Vi & The Siblings at Mac’s Bar and other Lansing venues.
Majors: BA in music in jazz piano and BS in biomedical laboratory science
Band: Kim Vi & The Siblings
Other Bands He’s Played In: Ari Teitel Band, Jahshua Smith (local rapper), Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers
Solo Album: Forever Hold Your Pieces
Favorite Music Artists and Bands: D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Radiohead, Herby Hancock
Favorite Genres to Listen To: Black American music, jazz, funk fusion, ’50s and ’70s music
Katie Grimes is a professional writing and religious studies student. She enjoys using obscure words (such as “colloquial” and “pastiche”) in all contexts and has a strange fascination with Star Trek. Her varied interests include feminism, reading Shakespeare and drinking caffeinated beverages.