Music Features

Hometown: Champaign-Urbana, Ill.
Members: Vivian McConnell, Evan Metz, Adam Gorcowski, Phil Sudderberg
Album: Sister Walls EP
For Fans Of: Santah, Feist, Joni Mitchell

It’s that time of year, when college students pack up their lives again, tossing their belongings into the back of a car and migrating from hometowns or sites of summer internships back to campus. Classes are scheduled; books are purchased. Friends exchange stories about how they spent their summers and imagine how they’ll spend the coming semester.

But Vivian McConnell—a senior at the University of Illinois—already has her sights set on October. She’s not looking ahead to midterms—although it will be a test of sorts: The singer/guitarist is trying to book some CMJ showcases for her band, Grandkids.

McConnell’s no stranger to the festival; she’s been there before with Santah, her other group. So how does she juggle being a student and being in not one, but two touring bands?

“That’s a really good question. I’ve been thinking about that,” she laughs. “I’m going on tour with Santah this [month]. But it’s been a trip. I mean, I can say there are some times when I do not want to travel and I’d love to stay in the same place for at least two weeks at a time, but this is my lifestyle right now. I can’t really do that right now. I’m really happy for it and grateful for it, because I’m always moving, I’m always meeting new people.”

Her overflowing calendar isn’t always the easiest for her bandmates, though. “Nobody’s jealous or anything,” she says, “nothing like that, but it’s just sometimes you know like, ‘Oh, I wish Viv could be here’ or ‘it stinks that Viv has to play the Santah show or the Grandkids show because we really wanted to play this show.’ And so yeah, sometimes the schedule stuff gets upsetting. It’s working me hard, but I really enjoy it all the same.”

The majority of McConnell’s summer schedule was dedicated to working with her Grandkids bandmates—guitarist Evan Metz, cellist Evan Gorcowski and drummer Phil Sudderberg—recording their full-length debut with engineer Matt Dewine at Pieholden Suite Studios in Chicago’s Ukranian Village. It’s a lovely, warm-sounding album, recorded on analog tape, and it’s been nearly three years in the making.

“We’ve been playing as a group for almost three years now and we did an EP really quickly, like within the first couple of months we were a band, and that was really exciting,” McConnell explains. “And it’s been really hard because we’ve only had that EP and something we did in the basement, but the material that we’re playing now is gonna be on this new album, so it’s definitely super relevant. We’re playing this stuff at our live shows, and I’d say that’s kind of the inspiration. It’s such an accomplishment as a person to be able to make such a large project and finish.”

It’s not quite finished yet—the band’s currently in the mixing stages of the recording process, but McConnell’s got her sights set on “mid 2013 at the latest” for the album’s release. In the meantime, they’ve got some big gigs lined up for September, including a spot on the bill at Champaign-Urbana, Ill.’s Pygmalion festival—which also boasts the likes of Dinosaur Jr., Best Coast, Grizzly Bear and Sleigh Bells.

“That’s going to be a pretty big show for us,” McConnell says. “We’ve just grown up so much since two years ago when our first EP came out. And that’s what I’m really excited about.”

Now that she and the rest of Grandkids are all grown up with just one more year of collegiate experience to go, is a career in music how they plan on spending their adult lives?

“I’ve been playing music for a long time now, and I didn’t really realize how much I wanted it to be a part of my life until I started performing and playing music with other people,” McConnell says. “Because it’s cool, like I’ve been in a couple bands here and there, now I’m playing with some very intelligent musicians and it’s so inspiring to be able to bring some more new songs and have them vamp on it. So when I came to college it was like, ‘Wow, I’ve found something that is really special for me and something that is therapeutic at the same time.’ I feel like I never get sick, and it’s because I’m always releasing stress via music and performing and that post-performance high. But yes, I would love to do music for the rest of my life. I never want it to lose its flair.”

So far it hasn’t. Just spend a few minutes on the phone with McConnell, and it’s clear she’s passionate about her art, eager to get it out there for whoever will give it a listen.

“I feel like we’re holding something in our hands right now that—I mean, at least in my opinion, and I hope—will affect a lot of people and listeners in a good way, even if it’s just our friends and family,” she says. “It’s something that so far we’re just so very proud of, and we just can’t wait to get it out into the world.”

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