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You Need To Know: Kaleidoscope Effect, a band making piano pop-rock cool again

Kaleidoscope Effect: Jessie Erickson, Jordan Goldberger, Sam Vanomy, Zack Sieger, and Corey Fitzgerald (l-r). Photo by Cecilia Johnson/MPR

I didn’t expect a band who count Coldplay as one of their biggest influences to charm me with their piano pop/rock. But that’s an indictment of my attitude and music culture, because while I took a listen to Kaleidoscope Effect (Jordan Goldberger on lead vocals/piano/guitar, Zack Sieger on lead guitar, Jessie Erickson on vocals/ guitar/piano, Sam Vanorny on bass, and Corey Fitzgerald on drums), I found myself hooked.

Jordan Goldberger, a Minnesotan in his mid-20s, knows how to write a pop song. He’s the lead singer and songwriter of Kaleidoscope Effect, and he’s listened to so much Coldplay, Jack’s Mannequin, and Ben Folds that he’s fluent in catchy chord progressions and melodies. He’s been storing up music for years while working through the audio engineering program at McNally Smith.

Sieger, Vanorny, and Fitzgerald went to McNally, too; Vanorny and Fitzgerald lived with Goldberger once they started school, and of Sieger, Goldberger says, “we met him in an elevator.” The three roommates got a noise complaint the first day they lived in their apartment together, he adds, “because we thought you could set up a full band in your living room and be okay.” Eventually, all four guys shared a space, and although they’ve now graduated and moved out, they currently rent a recording studio on the St. Paul side of Prospect Park.

After hearing their music, I met Kaleidoscope Effect twice — once back in the fall and again this winter — and had a blast both times. Each member diverges from the next, both in music taste and temperament. Fitzgerald loves post-hardcore band alexisonfire, while Sieger looks up to Martin Dosh, and Vanorny is stuck on the oldies. Erickson is curious and open, and Goldberger comes off shy.

I’ve been struggling with a gracious way to say this, but here goes: both Goldberger and his music come off as wholesome. Don’t look to them for bombast, aggression, or drama – even Goldberger’s band members call him a “nice, bashful kid.” That said, you should expect his music to stir up something inside you, maybe a warm memory or a fondness you forgot. He doesn’t need stunts to strike a chord.

Take their 2016 EP Ivories: just because it’s straight-ahead doesn’t mean it’s dull. “Where Are You Tonight?” (a holdover from Kaleidoscope Effect’s debut) sets the piano, drums, and bass weaving in and out of each other’s paths, flawlessly in time, but colorful. “Hazeltine” is an unadorned tune, steady and honest, but something about the melody reaches out a hand.

Kaleidoscope Effect are preparing to release their second studio album, which Vanorny says has a “measurable maturity” compared to their previous work. It’s called The Old, Brand New, which Goldberger says “comes from the idea that a lot of musicians come across, where they spend a lot of years making an album.” He explains: “By the time you put it out, you’ve known and worked with these songs for so long — five, six years, in my case — and when you put it out, it’s a new experience for almost everybody that’s listening to it. In a way, it’s giving new life to songs.”

Kaleidoscope Effect have been playing their new songs live, both at Reverie (catch their show tonight) and at a First Covenant Church homeless shelter benefit with jeremy messersmith and Kara Laudon. Since taking one of his classes at McNally, Goldberger has sold merch for messersmith for four years. The two of them sat down together recently to talk about album releases and self-promotion.

Goldberger struggles with perfectionism, having kept songs private for several years in hopes of making them better. He’s held on to so much for so long that he sees how perfectionism can hinder good art (“Half the motivation of the EP was to release songs that didn’t really gel with our current vibe anyway,” Vanorny said. “We really like them as songs. But they wouldn’t fit on the new record”). And with The Old, Brand New, Goldberger has been able to make a statement about the ways old art, events, and emotions can find new life.

What’s remarkable about Kaleidoscope Effect is how joyfully the rest of the band defer to Goldberger. “It’s not my baby,” Fitzgerald explains, noting that each member of the band has their own, more personal project. But Sieger seems to speak for everyone when he gushes about working with Goldberger — he’s able to take the pop/rock and “mess it up in a pretty way.” From hearing Vanorny, Erickson, and Fitzgerald talk, Goldberger exemplifies the leader who doesn’t ask for respect — he earns it.

“January,” which will be on Kaleidoscope Effect’s The Old, Brand New, sounds like that friend who’s always telling you, “It’s going to be okay.” This goes for a lot of their discography: it’s like a pat on the shoulder, empathetic but even-tempered. Aiming to make their music more accessible for YouTube fans, they released a live video late last month.

Even after they release a project, each band member struggles with self-promotion. When you post your music online, Sieger says, “you’re requesting dedicated listening time.” They all understand the limits of that commodity. Erickson explains, “You want to be where the music and the experience will just speak for itself and grab people, but you realize that to get there, you need people behind you.” They decide it comes down to being genuine and trusting that people will find them.

It worked for Bad Bad Hats, the local band who made national waves with “Midway” and Psychic Reader. “I cry laughing every time [Kerry Alexander] says something,” Erickson said, and for a few minutes, our conversation became a Bad Bad Hats fan club. They’re a great example, though, and one Kaleidoscope Effect look up to. Erickson asked, “Can you tell them to take us on tour?”

We also covered Musical.ly, gigantic families (Goldberger has one), and the wicked thunderstorm at the inaugural Eaux Claires (“I thought we were going to die,” Goldberger said, “until I realized that there was a group of dads camped next to us listening to “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC on repeat, just watching the storm”). But most of all, we discussed the music Kaleidoscope Effect have written, rewritten, and will soon put out. Goldberger says The Old, Brand New is due this year, and I’d recommend you take a listen.

Until then, check out Kaleidoscope Effect’s Indiegogo campaign, which they’ve created to help them mix and master The Old, Brand New.