Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. – Stephen King
A cowboy, a speed freak, and a college student are sitting at a bar when Markus Kuhlmann walks in through the front door. The cowboy says, ‘Hey, that’s Markus from Waits & Co.’. The speed freak interrupts and says, ‘No, Man. That’s that dude that fixes my drinks over at the Coffee Fox.’, and then college student says, ‘No, he plays drums for Nightingale News’. Markus walks over to the bartender and tells him he’s here to do the sound check for the Clouds and Satellites show later that night. It’s a bad joke, but it’s true.
Here is a man of many talents and one on a mission. Coming out of South Carolina and showing us Georgia folk the meaning of hard work, here is Markus Kulhmann. He’s a down-to-earth guy who greets everyone with a smile and then puts his shoulder to the wheel to roll out some awesome bluegrass music. But he doesn’t stop there. No. Not only can he play the backwoods, he also harbors the soul of a punk rock, shoegaze, hair-band artist who knows the meaning of a driving riff. Just check out some of his work on his Clouds and Satellites Sputnik Demo if you don’t believe me.
So, who is Markus Kuhlmann, what all does he have his fingers in, and can he really play just about anything? I sat down with him to find out a little bit about his past, the bands he plays with, a few hard knock lessons, life on the road, and life outside of music.
So, without further ado, here it is for you as well.
hl: When did you start playing music?
MK: My Mom was a music major/ piano teacher. So, I started taking piano lessons in kindergarten. I didn’t like piano lessons. I always thought guys shouldn’t be playing piano for some reason. I was good, but as I got older, I just didn’t think it was cool. Most piano teachers always wanted to teach songs, and I wanted to learn to play for myself so I could play the stuff I was hearing on the radio. So, that’s why I didn’t really take to piano.
During that time I was air drumming all the time and driving everybody crazy. My brothers were embarrassed, and my parents just took to the “I don’t know” attitude. So, they finally got me a drum kit when I was twelve. I still have that kit.
hl: What music did you listen to growing up?
MK: When I was little, I always watched Solid Gold and listened to Casey Kasem Top 10. I’d stay up and record America’s top 40 off AM radio so I’d have all the new songs and be able to listen to them all. I was crazy into whatever music was going on. My first 45 was the Bee Gees. I also had stuff like Billy Joel Glass Houses and Queen The Game.
When I got a little older, I went through a Bad Metal phase. I was listening to Poison, Ratt, Tesla, Triumph, Rush, and all other those bands with drummers you are supposed to love. I still give Tesla props, I like those guys. They were a good band.
In late high school, I tended more towards the College music and was into all the grunge bands when that came around. Then, by college, I was full on into that scene.
hl: Were you going that way with your own music?
MK: No. I really didn’t play out. I don’t know why, and I don’t have any regrets about it. I wasn’t in a band in high school. I played in the marching band and the jazz band, but I was never in cool rock bands. There wasn’t really much of that going on around me. I really didn’t start playing in bands until the end of College.
hl: Did you study music in college?
MK: No, I was doing architecture. I got my undergrad at Clemson and worked for a firm for a while. Then, I went back and got my graduate degree, figuring I was going to be an architect. Thankfully that didn’t pan out. Then I went back to Clemson and played in a couple of bands before I got another job, moved to Charleston, and formed a band with Eric Britt of American Hologram around 2000. That was the first band that I was in that was out touring and getting press.
hl: I know you play a lot of different instruments. What instruments do you play?
MK: Piano – I started that early.
Drums – I started that when I was a kid.
Guitar – I was eighteen or nineteen.
Bass – I started around twenty one. I don’t play bass live, but I record my own stuff with it.
Mandolin – around 2008.
Harmonica – was around the same time as the Mandolin.
hl: Out of those instruments, what was the most difficult to learn to play?
MK: The drums were easy. That’s one of those things that if you got rhythm, you got it. If you don’t have rhythm, you can’t really teach someone rhythm. I would sweat all those MTV videos and watch what people were doing. So, as soon as I got on a drum kit, maybe not a bunch of cool stuff with my feet, but keeping a beat with my hands… I was on it from the get go.
Guitar, it’s tough to get good at guitar. I’m still learning. Mandolin… Um, I know enough to be dangerous. I actually would think Mandolin might be the most difficult.
Piano now makes a lot more sense going from guitar back to piano. It’s linear, so the half steps whole steps just make more sense.
hl: What about the harmonica?
MK: Harmonica is easy. I always tell people you just suck and blow, because, with harmonica, you’re always in key. It’s basically just figuring out how to bend notes, and doing a rhythm thing with it. It’s awesome. People think you’re a freaking genius when you play guitar and blow harmonica at the same time. They go ‘o my god, man. How do you do that?’ Ha, I don’t want to tell them, this is really easy. It’s just not that hard.
hl: What was your first band?
MK: It was a bluegrass band at Clemson called The Hootenannies. I played guitar, which was not the best idea since I had really just learned guitar. We played little gigs and did open mic stuff and some parties.
hl: What came next?
MK: In 1994 or 1995 I responded to an ad and played drums in a shoegaze band called Delve. We were super loud and aggressive, kind of like Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine. I had to play with Band-Aids on my fingers just to try to keep the skin on. We actually toured a bit with a group called The Drag from Myrtle Beach. They looked like Oasis, had really bad haircuts, but they wrote great songs and got signed with Island Records. So, we toured with them in Florida, but there was never any danger of us getting a major record label deal.
hl: Was that the point where you decided this is the direction I want to go with my life?
MK: No, I was still doing the architecture thing, trying to tow both lines. So, I’d go to work all day and then go practice and drink too much beer, then go back to work the next morning and think ‘why am I here’.
It was probably around 2005, when the housing market died, that I was loose and free and kind of fell in with Jason Bible and the Train Wrecks while living in Charleston and dating a girl from Gainesville, GA. I was back and forth on the road all the time, stopping in to Savannah to play gigs, going back to my house, going to my family’s place further up north, going to see my girlfriend, playing here and there under my own name and just beating the leaving hell out of my Volvo. I put hundreds of thousands of miles on that car.
By 2009, I was playing all the time, performing up to 8, 9, 10 gigs a week. It was a lot. The Train Wrecks would try to do three gigs on a Saturday and usually not all of us would make it to the third gig cause we were drinking like crazy and doing any drugs that weren’t nailed down. It was like some crazy youth speed filled thing, and it was insane. That lifestyle takes a toll on you. But, I could sing like an angel cause I had so much practice. And I’m still learning. This is a work in progress, and it’s always fun for the most part.
hl: So, would you say that The Train Wrecks were your first band were you decided to make this a career?
MK: Yeah, that was the time when I started doing solo gigs as well and sat in for other people. That was when I thought this is definitely what I’m doing and quite looking for other stuff.
hl: What happened with the Train Wrecks?
MK: I got in trouble with drinking and had to go to rehab for six months and that was the point where they had to find another drummer. I think I was tired of it, playing the same old songs and dealing with the personalities. Maybe that’s the reason I was drinking my way through those gigs. At the end of that rehab period, I was only playing a gig or two during the week and that’s when I met Jon Waits in Statesboro. Soon after that, we started playing together in Waits & Co. and that’s been almost five years now — which is crazy.
Actually, that’s how I met Coy Campbell. He started playing bass for us. Coy stuck around for a year or so.
hl: So, is that how you found yourself in Nightingale News?
MK: Well, Coy had been working on Bell Rope the whole time he was playing with Waits & Co., and so I got involved with him for touring and recording.
hl: How about Clouds and Satellites?
MK: Tim Warren and I have been the bare bones of that band for years and we’ve had people come in and out until we got Matt Garoppolo and Stu Harmening. Just recently we recorded some songs and we’re having them mastered and waiting on vinyl. But, that should be out soon.
hl: What’s the name of that album?
MK: We haven’t figured that out yet. But we have a working title of The Best Band on Hickory Street, since that’s where we practice. There are five songs and all four of us write and three of us sing. We actually all swap instruments, so it’s great. It’s the kind of the band I always wanted to be in.
hl: Do you have a release date for that yet?
MK: Not yet. We are waiting on the master and the backlog on vinyl is crazy right now. It will be sometime this year.
hl: What’s a list of all the groups you perform with?
MK: Waits & Co., I play lead guitar and background vocals doing live shows and then bass and drums for recordings. They are probably the main one as far as exposure and how much we play. Then Nightingale News, I play drums and background vocals. Clouds and Satellites, I do a bit of everything. I’m mostly the drummer live, and I do the Mandolin, the harmonic, keys and sing. I’m a jack of all trades and master of none. I also do solo stuff under my own name.
hl: How does your experience differ with each band?
MK: With Waits & Co., Jon writes all the songs and calls the shots, and I’m fine with that. He’s really into social media and puts it all out there for better or worse. But it keeps our name out there and it works. Recorded records with Waits & Co. sound like our live stuff, and Jon wants it that way.
With Nightingale News, Coy is, ironically, coy about a lot of stuff. He won’t show all his cards, and he has this long term plan to roll stuff out in a certain manner. He doesn’t want to be too out there, having a constant stream of ‘Hey, here’s a picture of the band eating waffles.’ or having every day to day moment documented. Nightingale News’ recordings were done with a close mic so every nuance of the drums was picked up, and you can’t get that live. So it becomes more of a rock show whenever we play a gig.
I would like Clouds and Satellites to be something in between both of those bands, having a live show that’s close but not exactly like the recordings. Although with the layers and tracks, it’s hard to do live. We’d have to have six or eight people on stage to recreate everything happening on the album. So, live it becomes a different animal but in a good way. I’m not a slave to the recordings. Really, I’m willing to throw all sorts of stuff on the wall and see what sticks.
hl: So, do you put yourself and most of your artistic vision into Clouds and Satellites?
MK: Yeah, that’s where I write songs and record and put things together.
hl: Do you write songs for your solo stuff?
MK: I don’t write anything for that. I do acoustic versions of the songs I have. But, I do a lot of covers when I play solo. I mostly play songs that I love.
hl: What’s your favorite cover stuff to play?
MK: I do a lot of Willco, a lot of Spoon. I do a lot of Ryan Adams stuff and Sun Volt. I also like to do stuff by The Tallest Man on Earth, Neutral Milk Hotel, Talking Backwards… I also go back and do some Beatles stuff and Paul Simon, John Lennon.
hl: Do you have favorite venue?
MK: Throughout the years there have been a lot of great places. Bluffton at the Roasting Room was a really cool spot. The staff was great and people show up to listen. I also like the Tybee Post Theater. Trinity United Methodist is a fun place. I also love The Jinx. It feels like a real rock and roll show there.
I’ve played some cool places in Atlanta. I also like the Music Farm in Columbia, which is this big old warehouse that holds around 1100 people. I played it once when it was packed out and it was amazing. However, I’ve also played it when there was no one in there.
hl: What do you do when you have a big place like that and only a few people at the show?
MK: You think, holy shit, this place is empty. Yikes! There is an expanse of darkness, just a void of humanity and good vibes. Ha. Yeah, you just got to push forwards. There are other bad spots that you just have to push through as well. Menu venues are an example. Like when the manager is like ‘yeah man, as soon as this guy over there finishes his wings we’ll get that table out of the way and ya’ll can just rock out right there in the corner’. Ha. That can be tough.
hl: Do you tour?
MK: Nothing more than a week out. It sounds glamourous, but touring sucks. When you’re younger and not sitting on mortgages and the band members are still friends then it can be fun. But really, you just go somewhere, sound check, maybe eat some free food, play the show and then do it all over again the next day. It’s just nonstop, and it can wear on you. It’s hard, man. And, you may or may not make money.
hl: What do you do when you’re not playing music?
MK: Living in the coffee world. I work about five shifts a week at the Coffee Fox and do their social media. Five years ago, when my wife Jen first started the Foxy cafes, I was still doing five gigs a week and then all the legal stuff happened. When I came back I started working in the Cafes cause I didn’t have anything else at that point. Now, I’ve really grown to love the roasting side of it and the latte art and making really good drinks. It’s something that I’ve really grown to enjoy and take pride in. It’s become our family’s retirement and what we do to support ourselves and our son, Ison.
hl: When you became a dad did you feel a change in your music?
MK: Not necessarily in the songs I wrote or why I wrote them, but I became a little more frugal and wise with my time. Now I have to schedule time for things away from him, and so you try to make the most of that time and not let a day go by where you don’t get something accomplished.
hl: Where can people find you?
MK: Waits & Co. is on Facebook and has a website.
Nightingale News is also on Facebook and on the web.
Clouds and Satellites is on Facebook and I’m working on a website but we have a Bandcamp page.
Coffee Fox is on Instagram, twitter, Facebook and the web.
Well folks, there you have it….
So, if you people want to check out Markus, then you can catch him in one of his many roles here in Savannah or abroad over the next few dates. Happy listening and until next time… take care and we’ll see you on the streets.
July 2nd: w/ SHOPLIFTERS – Dad Joke Punk Mess (1-7PM All Ages, we go on around 6PM) – Sulfur Studios
July 4th: w/ NIKKO RAPTOULIS – Foxy Loxy Staff Party – Foxy Loxy Cafe
July 14th: SOLO – Tybee Island Social Club (8-11PM)
July 15th: w/ WAITS & CO. – The JINX (10PM-until) – also on the bill: Cold Heart Canyon, The Pine Box Boys
July 16th: w/ NIGHTINGALE NEWS – El-Rocko Lounge – (9PM-until) opening for Chickasaw Mudd Puppies
July 17th: w/ NIGHTINGALE NEWS – Tybee City Limits – Tybee Post Theater (7:30-until) – also on the bill: Stan Ray (of The Accomplices), High Velocity
July 22nd: w/ WAITS & CO. – Roasting Room Lounge & Listening Room, Bluffton, SC – 8PM – also on the bill: Rev. Justin Hylton
July 25th: w/ CLOUDS & SATELLITES (duo) – Foxy Loxy Cafe Acoustic Tuesday (7-10PM)
July 28th: w/ WAITS & CO. – Summer Bike Night Concert Series @ Hard Rock Cafe, Atlanta GA
Aug. 5th: w/ CLOUDS & SATELLITES – The JINX (10PM-until)