If you haven’t heard of the Kalamazoo indie/folk band Less Is More, you might have at least heard of their blended acoustic cover of the songs “Cool Kids” and “Riptide” - a collaboration they did with the band The Queen and King. It’s reached over 22 million plays on Spotify.
“That was just something that we decided to do with our friends when we were visiting in Nashville when we were on tour last year," says Jane Finkel, a vocalist, pianist, and ukulele player for the band.
"And it was just an idea, they said ‘Hey do you guys want to record a song, do you guys want to as well.’ Then we recorded it in about 15 minutes and then just kept hanging out for the rest of the night. We had no idea it was going to reach the level that it did.”
Less Is More will play Friday at Louie's Trophy House Grill in Kalamazoo at 8 p.m.
Finkel says the song has helped them get them get quite a few gigs, but it's very different from the music they usually play.
"So that’s definitely also been a challenge is to have this success and celebrate it but not to fall into it because most of our music doesn’t really sound like that. And in order to create our own level of success outside of that single has been a fun challenge and it’s been going very well,” she says.
All of this happened while Less Is More was on its first national tour. A three and a half month tour to be exact. Guitarist and vocalist Brian Spencer says that might sound long, but it was necessary. That’s because this tour was about more than just music. The band spent time volunteering for charities in almost every city they visited. They called it the "Time Isn’t Money" tour.
"I think it really tied in the entire trip and really made us feel like we were doing something bigger than maybe we had thought we were going to get involved in in the very beginning," says Spencer.
Finkel says they wanted to do a charity tour that didn't actually involve money.
"It’s not always certain where that money is going and also we didn’t have a lot of money to just give. And we were trying to promote the idea that you don’t have to be rich in order to give back. That you can give back talents that you have or even talents that you don’t have. I had never farmed before and we went tomato picking and helped with that, and just different things like that. But one of the most valuable parts for us and for them - because there’s not too much you can do in one day with a charity - but giving our music to people that wouldn’t generally get a performance just for them, that was powerful for all of us."
Though not quite as popular as their Riptide cover, the band’s version of the song “Wagon Wheel” has also gained some notoriety.
Spencer says the band actually decided to do the cover as a joke. Finkel says the song has already been covered over and over again. All the same, she says they wanted to make it their own.
“We thought we would look into the words in order to fully change it - not just to sing it differently, but to understand it differently. And when we deconstructed the lyrics we found that they were actually pretty sad and pretty lonely and definitely not coming from a happy place even if it’s sung in a happy tune. Cause this person is alone and not only alone but kicked out of everywhere that he moves to and is just kind of searching for love in all the wrong places, and just not understanding how to fill that void within themselves. So we decided to create that atmosphere in our song. And that is also kind of the completion of the joke, is making this song incredibly serious.”
Spencer calls Less Is More a “vocally-driven band.” In fact, Spencer and Finkel met in an acapella group at Albion College. But since they came out with their first album, Amid the Flowers, Finkel says they’ve tried to get away from so many harmonies and focus on other instrumentation.
Their newest band member - drummer Michael Sord - has helped them to do that. Sord was able to learn all of the Less Is More material about three weeks before their latest tour in Michigan. Sord says he had to learn it so fast that he forgot to learn the names of the songs.
“They would be having conversations about what song to play first or last and by title I just didn’t know. And I felt bad so I figured ‘Well, I’ll start figuring it out.’ And I just didn’t so I finally had to just admit. But yeah, so I could play the material so that was the important part,” he says.
Finkel says, despite this, Sord never missed a beat.
"Well there wasn’t a song that I had to start," says Sord. "So there’d be a just little tidbit here or there and I would know by sound what was happening next."
So what’s next for the band? Brian Spencer says they’re planning to record a few singles at the end of this month. Finkel says they’re also tweaking their sound a bit to get back to the style their fans love.
“We started off doing kind of the standard start of a band. We also had a deadline where we had to be done composing all of our songs before we recorded the first album. And so those songs were kind of soft and easy listening. And then we strayed as far away from that as we could and started getting pretty bizarre and pretty wacky - which was really fun for us but we noticed the attention and the enjoy-ability from the audience members was kind of going down a little bit because it was harder to follow. And now we’re trying to take the things that we are known for - such as our harmonies - and combine them with a bit of bizarre instrumentation and composition and then combining that with a structure that people’s ears want to listen to.”
Less Is More will play alongside Brooklyn band The Bones of J.R. Jones and Kalamazoo singer/songwriter Alex Quinlan Friday, November 20th at 8 p.m. at Louie’s Trophy House Grill.