Interview with favorite local band ‘Santa’



By Hannah Hess

Santa’s psychedelic pop-rock ballads enchanted ears last year, clinching the 2007 Local Music Award for Best New Artist. After taking a sabbatical from Champaign-Urbana venues, the rockers are alleviating fans’ melancholy with new melodies on their latest EP, “My Bones.” Four members of the quintet opened up their living room-turned-studio to tell The Daily Illini about the creative process responsible for the band’s original and widely adored sound:

D.I.: Bring me back to Santa’s origins. How did you get where you are today?

Stan McConnell: “Santa was the brainchild of me and my cousin Mack (McConnell). We came to the University three years ago knowing what we wanted to do with our lives was play music. Now we are finally at the point where all of our ideas that we had three years ago are finally coming into fruition.”

Stan and Mack began playing open mic nights at Canopy Club. They took the stage as a duo: Stan playing rhythm and singing while Mack harmonized lead electric guitar. Eventually they added musicians and developed into a full band. While carting 50-pound amps through tunnels in the Six Pack, renting practice rooms and disrupting study groups, they built their skills and a small following of fans.

When Otto Stuparitz, the band’s current bass player, began school a year later, Santa was already well established. Stuparitz performed with another band, making his first encounter with Stan an awkward confrontation over borrowed equipment. Later in the year, an audition solidified the former adversaries’ bond, and they became the best of bandmates.

Tommy Trafton, also a sophomore, accompanied Otto in some jam sessions while the rest of Santa was scattered around the globe on travels last semester. When the band returned to campus and reorganized, Tommy took a permanent place in the lineup. He credits Chad Warner, the band’s former keyboardist, with teaching him Santa’s signature melodies.

Steve Plock’s drumming is the most recent addition to the ensemble. He spent his high school years playing with Stan. Last year Plock frequented Santa shows, secretly hoping for another chance to play alongside him. This winter, his name was added to the bill, rounding out the current lineup.

D.I.: ‘Santa’ is kind of an unusual name. Where did it come from?

Stan: “Well, Santa is Spanish for “saint.” Mack and I started playing under the moniker because we thought if someone heard the name they wouldn’t be able to tell what kind of band it was.”

Otto: “It’s also the part of a peanut that connects to the plant, but that’s really more of a colloquial thing.”

D.I.: What’s the primary role for each of you in the band? Where do you draw your inspiration?

Stan: “I’ve got a concrete notion of an emotion.”

The singer’s passionate vocals are meant to convey specific feelings. The front-man’s goal is to compose honest songs with a provocative cast. He respects The Strokes, The Black Keys and Kings of Leon for their balanced dynamics and smart instrumentation, which he looks to imitate with his own songwriting.

Otto: “Experimentation. Sometimes I’m poo-pooed for being a little too Otto, but if there wasn’t me then, you know what, we’d have a problem.”

The bassist said he’s always pushing the band to explore different directions with their harmonies. My Morning Jacket and Radiohead encourage the psychedelic rock element that makes Santa unique to the local scene.

Tommy: “My keys are the parsley of our music. It’s a pretty simple garnish, but that’s what gives us good vibrations.”

Trafton credits the keyboard with allowing the band the freedom to explore other genres and expand beyond guitar sound. His melodies are usually the last part to be added, a touch that the nutty band calls “spreading on the peanut butter.”

Steve: “Grounding. I’m feeling a tendency for the simple side. “

Straight rock from the likes of Wilco is Plock’s strongest inspiration. Rather than trying to jazz up beats, he aims to hold the band together with raw, powerful drumming.

Mack McConnell, Santa’s fifth man, couldn’t be present for the interview, but his cousin Stan, who said the two really couldn’t exist without each other, was happy to speak on his behalf.

“Mack has gone beyond just being the lead guitar to be the McCartney of our band.”

The motivated musician has educated himself on bass and drums. The Beatles are another mutual favorite of the band, and Stan said Mack exhibits the same natural musical intuition as the rock pioneers. His contributions have pushed the band to confidently explore new levels of instrumentation.