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The Daily
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Kicksville: Welcome to our world
Kicksville is both a band and virtual town

Let's start with the essential fact you need to know about Kicksville. They're a group of seven musicians who put on a musical stage show grounded in production and theatrics, similar to the Blue Man Group.

It's a fact easily lost because the structure of Kicksville is so nontraditional that casual observers are left wondering: Is it a political movement, a virtual community, a musical collective or what?

The answer is that Kicksville is all those things, and more.

The band Kicksville is composed of seven members who live in seven cities. One of those members is a Madisonian. He is Conrad St. Clair, 38, the chief sound engineer for the Overture Center.

The six other members are from Baltimore, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco and Green Bay. And they're all traveling here to play together for Kicksville's March 27 show at the Majestic Theatre.

"Kicksville started out as a studio project in 1998," St. Clair told me at a coffeehouse last week.

St. Clair was living in D.C. at the time, and he founded the project with a friend, Mike Stehr.

"It was an excuse to be creative, without an agenda," said St. Clair. "Mike and I were both bass players, so we couldn't form a traditional band, and we didn't want to tour. Kicksville was our way to sidestep those issues."

The project was born as an evolving collective of musicians.

"Just come in and play was the idea," said St. Clair. "If you want to do more, cool, but let's keep it easy."

St. Clair moved to Madison in 2000, following his wife, who enrolled as a journalism doctoral student at UW-Madison. Stehr stayed in D.C., and later moved to San Francisco. But eight years after the transition, Kicksville continues to grow.

Kicksville has another identity, too. It's a "small town" that St. Clair and Stehr refer to as their "creative vacation resort." Other musicians are invited to become citizens of Kicksville, and so far, 46 have.

The town of Kicksville has a governing structure. St. Clair is the commissioner and Stehr is the mayor. The core band is the city council. Associated musicians and other volunteers are citizens.

When Kicksville tours, local citizens gather at the tour stop and join in. Madison citizens include Andy Ewen (Honor Among Thieves), Aaron Konkol (Natty Nation) and Geoff Brady (Yid Vicious, Gomers).

There are politics in Kicksville, including a pro-marijuana agenda.

"We're all potheads," said St. Clair. The band takes its name from a corny 1967 anti-drug film called Pit of Despair, in which a reefer-smoking kid-gone-bad says, "Let's shake this square world and head off to Kicksville."

The band also supports human rights organizations with every live show. "One of our beliefs is that you can't have social justice when people in some parts of the world are still having their fingernails pulled off," said St. Clair. The upcoming Majestic show is a benefit for the UW-Madison student organization Action in Sudan.

St. Clair's own political views have been significantly influenced by his grandfather, John Beecher, an American poet who was active in the labor and civil rights movements. Beecher was blacklisted during the 1950s McCarthy era.

"My grandfather died in 1980, but he recorded himself reading a lot of his poems," said St. Clair. "We use the recordings as part of the -Kicksville show."

Kicksville events are as much about production as they are about music.

"The closest we can come to describing the Kicksville live show is to say that it's a continuous multimedia experience, showcasing both our music and the technology we use to create it," said St. Clair. "We take our entire studio on the road with us and run all audio, video and lighting from the stage.

"We send splits from the onstage computers to monitors all around the stage so the audience can see the same thing we see. Part of the show is demonstrating the stagecraft techniques that usually get hidden offstage."

What does Kicksville's music sound like? "Genre-defying is a lame cliché and doesn't even come close," said St. Clair. "Trust us."

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