Q&A with the Kilborn Alley Blues Band

The Kilborn Alley Blues Band will make its second appearance in as many years in downtown Paxton on Saturday, Sept. 17, as one of four bands performing at the fifth annual Paxton Swine ‘N’ Dine BBQ Contest & Festival.

Earlier this month, Ford County Record Editor Will Brumleve caught up with the band at The Iron Post in downtown Urbana, just minutes before they would hit the stage there. Three of the band’s four members — who all hail from the Champaign-Urbana area — were present for the interview: bassist Chris Breen, lead singer/guitarist Andrew Duncanson and drummer Aaron “A-Train” Wilson. Guitarist Josh “The Hitman” Stimmel was running late.

All but Wilson are original members of the band, which was started 17 years ago. “A-Train” joined the group about three years ago but has been friends with the band “forever,” he said.

Following is the interview:

Brumleve: First off, how did Kilborn Alley originate?
Duncanson: We were all friends, and we started playing in the garage together, just started jamming.

Brumleve: This was while in high school?
Duncanson: Yeah. We were at Central and Centennial (high schools in Champaign).
Breen: (Duncanson) was at Centennial. So was Josh. I was the only one at Central.

Brumleve: So it was you three who started it?
Duncanson: We had a drummer, too.

Brumleve: Who was that?
Duncanson: Anthony DeCerbo (of Centennial High School).

Brumleve: So how did you guys get started?
Duncanson: We started jamming in (DeCerbo’s) garage, and then when Breen got a bass guitar from his girlfriend’s dad, we started jamming in (Breen’s) garage. (DeCerbo) was a big gearhead, and so was Breen. Breen still is.
And then we decided we had enough material to start a band. So we came up with the band Kilborn Alley and started looking for gigs.

Brumleve: How long did you guys practice together before you realized that touring was a real possibility?
Duncanson: Not too long. About half a year. I always wanted to play out (in different places), and we had the gumption and desire to work, so that’s what we did.

Brumleve: So you guys started out playing locally, right? What places did you guys play at? Where was your first gig?
Breen: The Neil Street Pub (was the first venue we played at). It was where the old Howard Johnson was on Neil Street, right there by the interstate.

Brumleve: How many people showed up for that?
Duncanson: All of our friends and family.
Breen: It was pretty packed. We have a lot of friends and family.

Brumleve: What did your families think at first? Did they think you guys were going to last around for 17 years? That’s a long time for a band, ya know.
Breen: Mine were impartial and just went with it. Now, they are proud supporters.

Brumleve: Did you guys ever anticipate being together this long?
Duncanson: Maybe not, but we wanted success from the start, so, yeah.

Brumleve: What was your goal in starting the band? What was the realistic goal?
Duncanson: To make really good records and play around the world.
Breen: To go platinum, man. No, in actuality we just wanted to get out there and put our music out there and enjoy it. I still, to this day, love it.

Brumleve: How did you end up getting into music, Chris?
Breen: Andrew. I’d known him all through grade school (at Holy Cross Elementary School in Champaign). We listened to music, I liked it, then I started playing and I liked it even more.

Brumleve: And it just evolved into something from there, huh? Do you guys think you’ve hit your peak as far as popularity, etc.?
Breen: I hope not.

Brumleve: When did the band start getting successful? What was that one moment, that one show, where you really made your initial mark?
Duncanson: We always wanted to play in the Canopy Club (in Urbana), and we finally got booked in the Canopy Club. That was back in ‘01.
Breen: And then we did that for how many years?
Duncanson: A long time. We were like, ‘Man, we’ve got to get into the Canopy Club,’ ‘We’ve got to get into the Canopy Club,’ and we finally did.

Brumleve: Why did it take so long to be able to land a gig at the Canopy?
Breen: It only took a year.
Duncanson: Yeah, it didn’t take too long. We just worked on our craft.

Brumleve: What did you have to do to get the gig at the Canopy — submit a tape or something?
Duncanson: I think back then, yeah. And we went to the open mic night every Tuesday.
Breen: Until they finally booked us.

Brumleve: And you performed there for free, with no pay?
Breen: Yeah.

Brumleve: Were you performing for no pay for a while?
Breen: It takes a long time to get paid in this industry.

Brumleve: Years later, of course, you guys have performed overseas and across the nation. Tell me about that experience.
Breen: The first time we went overseas, we played in London. We had a whole two-week tour booked.

Brumleve: How did that get arranged?
Duncanson: We had some people over there trying to help us work it out. My dad hooked that up.

Brumleve: Did he know someone in England?
Duncanson: He was teaching over there with Millikin University.

Brumleve: So you guys played where exactly in London that first time overseas?
Duncanson: We played pubs. It was a pub tour.

Brumleve: How long did you guys stay over there on tour?
Duncanson: Three weeks.

Brumleve: Wow. Did you make any money?
Duncanson: Not really.
Breen: It paid for our trip.
Wilson: I think the experience is the main thing.

Brumleve: From there, where did you perform?
Duncanson: How many times have we been to London, Breen?
Breen: Six. Six times.

Brumleve: Are the gigs these days getting bigger?
Duncanson: Some of them.
Breen: More around Europe they’re getting bigger.

Brumleve: What’s the biggest crowd you’ve seen for one of your shows?
Breen: I don’t know. A few hundred. We normally play little festivals, big bar rooms, stuff like that.

Brumleve: So the band is seeing some success. Are you able to make enough money on a gig to make it worth your time? You wouldn’t be doing it otherwise, or would you?
Breen: Yeah, we’d all be doing it no matter what the pay was.

Brumleve: You love music that much?
Breen: Yeah.

Brumleve: What do you guys enjoy about it?
Wilson: Not many people can say they get a chance to do what they love. A lot of people have to go to work, but we want to go to work. We get the opportunity to say, ‘This is what we do,’ and people go, ‘Oh, man! Really? I would love to do that.’ Not everybody can, though. So not everybody can say that.
Duncanson: The band camaraderie, the creativity, the traveling is big to me. I love to travel, create new songs, see the songs evolve, meet new people, just a lot of stuff. It’s just a list that I could go on and on with.
Breen: It’s about the same thing for me, man. It’s just that I love what I’m doing. And my brothers are around with me all the time — and the new people I meet, the new songs we create, the new places we see, the new situations we get into.

Brumleve: So you guys have played how many places now?
Duncanson: Well over 2,000 gigs in 37 states and seven countries.

Brumleve: How many gigs do you do a year?
Duncanson: Over 100 — between 120, 140, 150.

Brumleve: That’s like once every few days.
Wilson: It can get like that.

Brumleve: Is it mostly in the summer?
Duncanson: We play all year-round.

Brumleve: What gigs do you guys have coming up?
Duncanson: Next week we’re in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield, Ill. And then next month we’re going to be in St. Louis and Nebraska and some other places. So each month is different.

Brumleve: When you perform in other states or countries, are your trips paid for?
Duncanson: Yeah.

Brumleve: Free room and board, too?
Duncanson: Sometimes. Hopefully.

Brumleve: How big is the band’s following now? You’ve got a Facebook page, right? How many ‘likes’ do you have?
Duncanson: About 5,000. It’s not huge, but it’s pretty good.

Brumleve: How many albums have you put out?
Duncanson: Five total — four national releases, with soon to be another one here this fall.

Brumleve: Who is your record label?
Duncanson: Blue Bella Records out of Chicago.

Brumleve: How would you guys describe your music?
Breen: Most of it is all original stuff. There’s a lot of stuff that’s from Chicago blues. There’s a lot of stuff from Mississippi blues. There’s a lot of stuff from soul.

Brumleve: Is there any particular musical artist you guys really respect and admire?
Breen: There’s a ton of them. And that list goes on and on, too.
Wilson: Anybody — anybody we can take influence from.

Brumleve: Andrew, you’ve got a really cool singing voice. How did you perfect it?
Duncanson: Just listening to singers and trying to take in what they’ve got.

Brumleve: Do you think about anything when singing to try to get you into it?
Duncanson: Sure.

Brumleve: Like personal stuff?
Duncanson: Sometimes, yeah.

Brumleve: Do your songs originate out of personal experiences at all? What’s the basis for your songs?
Duncanson: They’re all really different.

Brumleve: How do you come up with the ideas for your songs? Who comes up with the ideas — is it all four of you guys?
Wilson: Everybody’s like different writers.
Breen: We all do our part — whether it’s lyrically or musically. If it’s not the bass player who’s got the baseline, someone’s got something in their head cooking.
Wilson: We collaborate.
Breen: And nothing is set in stone until it’s actually recorded, and even then we still change it.

Brumleve: Paxton’s Swine ‘N’ Dine is coming up. What do you guys think about that festival?
Wilson: I had a good time (last year). The food was good, cute girls, so, yeah, I had a good time.

Brumleve: What should people expect from Kilborn Alley when you hit the stage on Sept. 17 in downtown Paxton?
Breen: A straight-up good time. It’s going to be another bad-ass show, I believe.


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