Past inspirations, present relationships inform the music of Kali Masi
Sam Porter and John Garrison discuss the band’s latest album and growing up as young musicians out in the suburbs.
If you’re a cool suburban kid who throws house shows, Kali Masi may want to connect with you.
The Chicago-based punk foursome — Sam Porter, John Garrison, Tim Roark and Anthony Elliott — is heading out on a European tour next month after a show at Chicago’s Bottom Lounge this weekend, but lead singer and guitarist Porter and drummer Garrison still cherish getting their start out in McHenry and Naperville.
Porter stoked the fires of his punk rock dreams following his older brother to shows at the EWL House, a DIY venue in Wonder Lake, and gigs at the roller rink.
“They were cool older kids that skated and played guitar and Four Square, and I just wanted to hang out. It was a really cool, unique music scene looking back,” he said.
“I remember going to Parkland Middle School when I was just getting into Alkaline Trio. I had teachers who had taught Matt Skiba,” Porter said, recalling how the co-founder of Alkaline Trio (who now plays guitar as lead vocalist in blink-182) was in yearbook pictures.
“It really made it seem a little bit more tangible to play music. For me it was really cool to have a touchstone of like, ‘Whoa, he was a kid just like me here. And now he’s doing something that I really love and admire.’”
Garrison, the band’s drummer, also found music through his older brother, but he locked in a love for it when he started his own band while at Washington Junior High in Naperville.
“It was this weird little subculture of kids who wanted to just start bands and get into trouble and play house shows in their basement,” he said.
Garrison and Porter connected at Naperville North High School after Porter moved to the Western suburbs during high school. Now in their late 20s, the two have found their trajectories entwined for well over a decade.
In March, their band Kali Masi released its second full-length album, “[laughs],” a sincere collection of songs that mirrors the ebbs and flows in relationships and how unclear emotions can truly be.
Throughout the album, the band taps into the push-pull dynamics between friends, juxtaposing anger and resentment with the sweetness found in more beautiful moments of camaraderie. Some tracks rejoice in cherished moments, while others mine the pain of those memories in explosive ways. But it’s all cathartic. And clever. And, most importantly, relatable.
“Everybody developed a relationship with this record on their own, and that’s unique to our time period right now,” Porter said, referencing its release during pandemic lockdowns. He is forthcoming about the thoughtful meanings behind the songs he writes, he said, but he adds that as years pass and new experiences wash over him, the interpretations often shift.
“I think that there’s a lot of opportunity in the diversity of this record for people to grow and change with it,” he said. “When I go back and listen to (the band’s 2017 release) ‘Wind Instrument,’ those songs mean and inform me in a different way than they did when I wrote them. I can even learn something new from them now because I’m just thinking about them from a different way.”
That shifting mindset ripples back through the band’s musical journey, too, as they look back at where they got their start.
“We’re so spoiled playing shows in the city all the time,” Porter reflected. “The coolest bands play here, the coolest venues, the coolest people. But it meant so much to me when I was going to shows at the roller rink. I made a big connection to music when I was a kid and bands would come play for us in the position we were in. As much as I thought it sucked growing up in the ’burbs, there was something really golden during that time, and I couldn’t have done this without it.”
“Those house shows were the shows that changed my life,” Garrison said, agreeing that the band hopes to inspire new suburban punk artists the way they were inspired as kids.
“We would love to have younger people listen to our band because that’s the reason we started making music in the first place,” Porter said. “We were younger people.”
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You, Me, and Everyone We Know, Kali Masi, City Mouth, Tiny Kingdoms
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9
Where: Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake St., Chicago
Tickets: $15; bottomlounge.com
Find Kali Masi’s Midwest and southeast tour dates at bandsintown.com.