Despite the cold, rainy, windy weather last Saturday at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Great Day Festival, Lexington band Johnny Conqueroo maintained a crowd and kept the vibe upbeat by giving an energy-filled performance.
Generally, the band’s gig is not complete without a punk rock-esque mosh pit and a good amount of sweat.
The band members — Wils Quinn (drums), Grant Curless (guitar and vocals), both 18, and 16-year-old Shawn Reynolds (bass) — are naturals when it comes to delivering top-notch vivacious performances that have the essence of classic rock and classic punk era concerts.
Self-described as “spaghetti-psyche,” or “sweaty-garage-psyche-with a hint of blues,” this three-piecer is influenced by artists including Black Sabbath, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Ty Segall, The Doors, 13th Floor Elevators, and Jonathan Richman.
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Although young, the musicians have had a number of notable accomplishments. They are regularly promoted on WRFL, and they opened for the rock band Tesla in Virginia in February. Recently, they had a Sunday Sessions concert at the Downtown Arts Center, they headlined at Willie’s Locally Known, and they are on the lineup for Berea’s Moonshiner’s Ball.
Quinn and Curless met a few years ago while attending Montessori Middle School.
“We jammed around a lot and did some talent shows,” Quinn says, “Then, freshman year, Grant asked me to start a band with him. It wasn’t until the end of freshman year that we got Shawn.”
Curless came up with the initial idea for the band name because he listened to a lot of blues music, in particular a Muddy Waters’ song called Mannish Boy with the lyric: “To old Kansas Stew I’m gonna bring back my second cousin, that little Johnny Cocheroo.” (The last name is pronounced conqueroo.)
Curless liked the sound of the name and learned that Johnny Conqueroo was a folk hero who was sold as a slave in the Americas. He played tricks on his masters. The name also is associated with a certain root used in voodoo.
Quinn and Reynolds are both juniors attending Lexington’s STEAM Academy, and Curless is a senior at Montessori High School.
Getting their music out online was one of the biggest factors when they were getting started.
“We had a very active Soundcloud account,” Reynolds says. After getting some attention on Soundcloud, the group decided to record a CD in Quinn’s basement.
“Once we got our CD out, we were getting shows forever, dude,” Quinn says.
Curless writes the majority of the lyrics, but Quinn and Reynolds collaborate on some of them. Curless describes his writing process: “Normally I’ll sit down, press record on my phone, start singing, and then the good stuff, or the cool stuff, or whatever it is that I like about it, I’ll save it for next time and try not to forget it, and then send it to Wils. But lately, I’ve been doing a lot of sitting down and writing, to try and make it more poetic.”
“A lot of time I write songs about other people, or as if I were them. A few of my songs are like that. I meet a lot of people on the street so I write a lot of stuff about them, and I write a lot about how I’m feeling at the time. A lot of times I write about negative things, like if I’m mad or sad, I’ll write songs about it.”
The band has created its sound by sharing and coming up with new ideas in Quinn’s’ basement, Curless says. “We jam a lot and listen to a lot of music, so we just kind of evolve into different sounds as we go on.”
Johnny Conqueroo has three main goals for the future: a tour, another record and to crowd-surf.
“We want to have one successful tour without getting hurt or ending up hating each other,” Quinn says.
The band is currently working on a new album.
“We have a lot of stuff done, but we’re trying to get as much as we can,” Reynolds says. “We have like two hours right now of recorded music, but we’ve gotta choose and get it all ready in a nice package.”
What has been the key to Johnny Conqueroo’s success? “Originality,” Quinn says.