This is the story of how five gifted artists got together and made a band: Jank Setup. Although they have many rotating musicians for performances, the five core members include Ethan May on the drums, Adam Samolsky on the bass, Luis Carlos Villaseñor as the guitarist, Derrick Butler on the keys, and Kentro Mason as the vocalist. With three current Tulane students, one Tulane graduate, and one Loyola graduate, these guys have rocked the New Orleans college community with their ever-changing sound and captivating performances. Since October 2018, they have headlined venues such as Gasa Gasa and The Hi-Ho Lounge, and that is just the beginning.
As a fan myself, I eagerly awaited my time to sit down with them and talk about their artistic process. They welcomed me into their rehearsal space: a messy living room with instruments scattered everywhere, Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling, and Jazz Fest posters on the walls. As a location that once was a recording studio as well as a record store, it seemed like the perfect place for Jank Setup to make magic. Ethan kicked off the rehearsal with their goals for the day: record themselves playing, improvisation exercises, and a jam round. “Everybody knows we have a dope live act, so I want to work on bettering the recording studio sound. Flex creatively today.” They have combined the talents of individual jazz cats, jam around band players, and a Bourbon Street vocalist to create Jank Setup. I sat down with them got some answers as to their beginnings and where they’re going from here.
Q: How did you find your sound?
A: “We’re still finding it every day, but we know what we want. We want something that works really well in the studio & live, and something that’s captivating & popular without sacrificing the art. It’s honestly easier to tell you what our sound is not, and that’s rock, country, or rap.”
Q: What genre do you categorize yourselves to be in?
A: “We’re a mix of jazz, R&B, funk, soul, and hip-hop. Those are all intertwined, but we’re really just going for something that makes people feel. Whether that’s energy, healing, or positivity, we just want people to feel something from of our music.” Adam intejects: “Someone did just tell me that we sound like Earth Wind & Fire, so that’s a good vibe.”
Q: Since your new single just came out, what is the difference between performing live and recording in the studio?
A: Derrick jumps in, “When I’m recording, I can’t do whatever I want. I have to limit myself by playing what I know works well, whereas when we’re live, I have the freedom to experiment with my sound. If I hit, I hit it and it sounds great. If it’s a disaster, I can just move on.” Kentro says, “I actually disagree because when I’m live, I draw influence from the atmosphere that the crowd is giving me, and tailor my performance to that energy based on what I think they want. But when we’re recording, I have the freedom to present the exact message that I want to convey.”
Q: Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?
A: “EVERYWHERE. We want to become one of the most popular bands in the world, not just in New Orleans. We absolutely love the music community and our fans here in NOLA, but we have such talented individuals and great group chemistry that we want to take it everywhere. Someday, we’ll move to New York.”
Q: What fanbase are you targeting?
A: “Not everyone, but everywhere. We want our listeners to be people who really appreciate the individual musicians, the sound as a whole, the message, the culture, and the feeling you get when you come to our shows. As long as you feel something for us or when you hear us, we’re targeting you.” Kentro explains, “You don’t have to give me a review, you don’t have to like it, you don’t have to hate it, you just have to listen to it. The end goal is to be listened to and for our fans to pull something, anything, from the music.”
Q: What works well about Jank Setup?
A: Luis explains, “We’ve developed a friendship and a bond. You know how I can say weird stuff to my friends and they’ll understand it, but not weird stuff to normal people? It’s the same thing with music. I can play something out of nowhere, and the guys will work with it. They will listen and understand the sound, and create something out of it.”
Q: How has New Orleans impacted Jank Setup?
A: “A lot of our idols are from here, and this is really the best city for jazz musicians to get their start. Especially with all the college students around us, they’ve been so supportive and really love to get behind a band, so they’re loyal. We have a lot of young, hip individuals coming to the shows.”
So, that’s the story of how Jank Setup came to be. These guys have talent beyond belief, and they’re only just getting started in the music industry. Their first single, “In Motion,” was released on April 12th on Spotify, and if you haven’t heard it yet, you’re doing something wrong. If you’re interested in more music, follow them on Instagram, or go see their show at Tipitina’s on May 18th. You heard it here first: Jank Setup is the future of New Orleans music.