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My Vegan Uncle puts its stamp on neo-jazz


Over the years, Roberts Wesleyan College has been an unassuming home for several important independent artists during their formative musical years. The husband and wife duo Timothy and Kathy Dick of Auld Lang Syne, indie folk-pop musician and frequent Sufjan Stevens collaborator DM Stith, and frontwoman Teagan Ward of Teagan and the Tweeds have all studied there. So it's not surprising that a new quartet of musicians, all current or former Roberts students, coalesced to form the oddly named My Vegan Uncle. The band played its first show this past May. Playing what it calls "neo-jazz," the musicians seamlessly fuses elements of soul, folk, rock, R&B, and gospel.

My Vegan Uncle is led by gifted vocalist and guitarist Kara Fink. The singer's style is smooth and spirited, with powerhouse charisma and effusive melodies. Fink, along with keyboardist Parker Story, bassist Jeff Bouck, and drummer Chris Ramsden, will open for Leah Woods at Funk 'N Waffles on Thursday, August 16.

CITY recently met up with Fink and Story for a coffeehouse chat about failed band names, playing music in church, and the pros and cons of band members living in three different cities. An edited transcript follows.

CITY: My Vegan Uncle is a decidedly quirky band name. How did you come up with the moniker?

Kara Fink: We fought over names for months. The other two guys wanted stuff that was really extremely metal, like Glorfindel's Warhammer. That's like a high school metal band.

Parker Story: Or like Argonaut's Ascent -- something stupid like that.

So how did you all agree? It sounds like you were coming from pretty disparate places.

Fink: It was after our first show. Our bass player -- I said something about how he had an uncle vibe to him. And he said, "I am an uncle. And I'm a damn good uncle." And we all just stopped, and we were like, "That's a great name." And then I'm like, "I sing at church. I lead worship at a church. We can't have a swear word in our name."

But it's the most inoffensive of all the swear words.

Fink: It's also kind of biblical, entirely biblical.

Story: Kara is a vegan. And I was like, "Let's do My Vegan Uncle." And then everybody just at the instant was like, yes. It was the first time we all agreed on anything.

Well, musically you had to have agreed. Do you all come from pretty different places?

Story: We all have a background in jazz.

Fink: The big overlap is jazz. But because [Jeff and Chris] listen to a lot of prog, that gets incorporated into our music. Like the drumming. Almost always there are some metal aspects in the drumming, pretty much every song.

We listen to gospel and R&B, so we've got that combination there. And I just happen to have a very country voice, but I don't sing country.

Do you feel like your background in religion, in religious music, does that help at all in this context? Does it inform things in a certain way?

Fink: I wouldn't say the music aspect of what I do in church has influenced what I do with our band so much as it's the vulnerability. And the being able to be myself onstage.'Cause that's something that I was always, not necessarily encouraged to do in church, but found that is where you need to be vulnerable, and be yourself, be authentic -- in front of people.

What should people expect from one of your shows?

Fink: Jazz. Not like straight-ahead jazz, but there's definitely jazz in it. But it's accessible.

Story: If they were to come to two shows in a row, I would say don't expect them to be the same, just because we're constantly trying to write new material, and just play things differently.

Fink: It's because everybody in the band comes from a jazz background. And when you do jazz, you never do it exactly the same twice. And our arrangements are pretty much set, but there is some leeway. There's a little bit of freedom there.

In this early stage as a band, do you have specific goals in mind, or are you just sort of enjoying playing music together?

Story: I think one long-term goal is to tour. That's obviously like probably two years out, depending on what we do with music and how many shows we get in the area. Right now, I think short-term goals are just getting demos out, getting a bunch of shows booked we're working on for our fall calendar.

And then we're starting to expand our reach beyond Rochester. It's inconvenient but also incredibly convenient how our band is spread out, because our drummer's in Syracuse, and then our bass player just got a job outside of New York City. So we're thinking about trying to create a radius around each city, and then just play that radius and try and get a solid following.