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Getting To Know: Junior Miss

Introducing Junior Miss, an exciting addition to the indie rock scene, infusing alternative rock with post-grunge, art rock, and post-hardcore influences. Hailing from Chicago, IL (USA), the band comprises Ian Rottner (guitar), Tommy Sagins (drums), Alvin Santner (guitar), Matt Storey (bass, vocals), and Katie Wheeler (vocals, guitar). While rooted in jazz backgrounds, Junior Miss draws inspiration from artists like Incubus, Suicide Machines, Primus, and Paramore, blending indie rock with lightweight hardcore for a dynamic and soulful sound.

Formed in the fall of 2023, Junior Miss solidified their lineup when Wheeler joined after seeing a Facebook post. Previously playing together under a different band name, the group rebranded and began writing new music immediately. With Wheeler contributing vocal melodies and lyrics to existing instrumentals, the band wasted no time crafting expressive originals. Now poised for their debut release, Junior Miss promises listeners an authentic perspective and an irresistible urge to headbang.

1.  Junior Miss has quickly become a notable name in the indie rock scene since its formation in the fall of 2023. Can you share the story behind how the band came together through a Facebook post, and how adding Katie Wheeler to the lineup influenced the band's direction and sound?

Alvin, Ian, Matt, and Tommy were in a previous band together. After taking a summer to get the music together and regroup we started looking for a vocalist. We wanted to find a like minded person who would be integral in the writing process so instead of focusing on a certain type of vocalist we opened the auditions for anybody who was interested, hoping to find the right person to click with our group and mindset. We connected with Katie over facebook before she had moved to Chicago. We had a number of auditions in the meantime, but Katie’s voice, writing, and social media presence pushed the band to wait to make a decision until she was able to move and audition for the band. From the moment she sound checked, through the audition it was clear she was a unique talent. We were glad we waited, and the decision was easy after meeting her. Aside from the musical and personal connection, Katie’s decision to join the band was influenced by the mutual colleagues she shared with some of the members. 

Katie’s vocal style and rhythmic guitar playing heavily shaped, and honed our sound. She had free reign to write the vocals for the pieces, and helped drive instrumental changes to the previously written songs which is what created the “Junior Miss” sound you hear today. She pulled us in a more indie direction which diverged from our original trad alt-rock sound. In addition, she brought original material to the band which you will hear on our currently untitled EP, to be released this summer. Aside from her musical influence, she became our social media guru, and has a keen sense for branding and marketing, filling a much needed role within the band.

2. With a diverse range of influences from Incubus to Paramore, and a unique blend of indie rock, post-grunge, and elements of jazz, how do you approach the songwriting process to create your distinctive punchy yet smooth sound?

 Everyone in the band comes from a different, unique musical background. Our musical DNA includes metal, alternative rock, classical, jazz, blues, funk, singer-songwriter, punk, and even musical theater. The biggest thing when writing together is embracing the fact that we each will be pushed out of our own individual musical comfort zones, and not allowing that to hinder the writing process. Every idea is welcomed, encouraged and fostered until it either becomes a song or it’s decided that it’s not quite a fit for us. We embrace a judgment free zone, which in return allows our music to embody many different sounds and genres. We are able to take our individual backgrounds and combine them into one cohesive unit. Whether intentional or not, our influences appear in our songwriting. For example, our bassist, Matt, has played in a few metal bands, while our vocalist, Katie, has sung in musicals and jazz ensembles, and we allow all of these elements to blend together and influence each other. Punchy yet smooth best describes how our instrumentals mesh with our melodies and Katie’s voice.

3. Considering that three of your band members have a strong background in jazz, how does this influence the dynamics and creative process within the band, especially when it comes to experimenting with clever meter and soulful melodies?

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who could listen to our music and call it jazz. We don’t explicitly incorporate the harmonic, melodic, or even rhythmic vocabulary of jazz music, but the jazz ethos is a strong factor in how we develop our music. One of the fundamental components of jazz is experimentation - the drive to explore unfamiliar territory. All five of us are willing to jump into dark musical waters. Sometimes our best music comes from exploring an idea, genre, or technique that was previously unfamiliar to one or all of us. Jazz is improvisational music, and while we don’t incorporate extended improvisatory sections into our music, we often spend large chunks of rehearsal improvising until a particular idea sticks, and then we develop that into a complete song. 

Another area in which jazz plays a role is technique and craft. Three of our members studied jazz in college. It takes a certain level of technical and conceptual proficiency to play jazz, and bringing this to the rock band setting allows us to take risks and explore ideas we otherwise wouldn’t. Dynamic range, harmonic color, and rhythmic complexity (all elements of jazz music) are integral to our sound. Our goal is not to use these elements for their own sake, but to achieve an emotional or conceptual effect by employing them. 

4.  As you gear up for your first official release, what can listeners expect from Junior Miss's debut? How do you plan to showcase your authentic perspective and engage your audience, both lyrically and musically?

Listeners can expect a vulnerable piece about the struggle of always feeling behind in some capacity of life, heightened by social media and addictions to our phones. The piece itself was written entirely instrumentally before our vocalist, Katie, created the melody and lyrical concept for the song. The song, Player 2, has a real emotional range both lyrically and instrumentally. Katie wrote the lyrics specifically from an artists’ perspective of never quite feeling like you’re working hard enough followed by constant comparison to others, but the song is applicable to anybody living in 2024. As the music creates a landscape that builds from a soft opening to a heavier, more passionate ending, the lyrics follow suit. The story progresses from “I’m stuck rolling over in my bed and my head. Can’t sleep from the comfort of mindless internet” to “I’m done rolling over my time again and falling second. Instead, I’ll be the starting man”. What starts with a narrative observing how seemingly easy everyone has it, personified as Player 1, ends with Player 2’s new found determination to quit wasting time and join in the race.

5.  Having already performed at several venues around Chicago, how do you prepare for your live shows, and what has been the audience's reaction to your music so far? Also, how important is the local music community to Junior Miss, and how do you see yourselves contributing to it?

We rehearse once a week for two hours, sometimes three if we feel we need extra time to prepare for an upcoming show. This is absolutely essential to our sound. The best music is made by close friends who have been playing together for years, and there is no way to achieve that level of collaboration without consistently playing together, week after week, month after month, year after year. There is probably no drummer that Alvin has played with more than Tommy. Between other projects, and their playing in Junior Miss, they’ve developed a sort of musical telepathy that is an invaluable asset in this setting. Finding a group of five people that are willing to put in the time to develop that kind of connection is incredibly rare and special, and we are extremely lucky to share that with each other. The result of this dedication has been an overwhelmingly positive reaction at our live shows. We consistently get invited back to venues, and the bands we share bills with are always extremely supportive and excited about working with us again. We’ve played a total of four shows so far, and we’ve already begun to see audience members returning to our shows because they enjoy our music. It’s exciting and gratifying to see all of our hard work paying off. 

Chicago’s local music scene is a joy to participate in. It is full of enthusiastic, creative, and driven people. Whenever we need something done, whether it be graphic design, photography, mastering, a band to share a bill with; it’s easy to find a competent and open-hearted collaborator right here in Chicago. The key to a thriving music scene is a reciprocal attitude among the participants, and we find that embracing that culture is quite rewarding.


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