The Detroit progressive pop duo of John Kay (lead vocals, guitar) and Steve Lupinski (bass, vocals) have dropped “So Fine,” a new upbeat, funky three-song EP, and released a new video for “So Fine” today.
“We were using a back catalog of songs I had written mostly on my own, and then we started writing collaborative songs,” Kay said. “Something we realized was that a lot of our tunes, while they have a message of inspiration and going through suffering but coming out on top, can be interpreted as being negative. We sat down specifically to write some songs with a positive message, that are more upbeat, don’t dwell on the negative so much and are a little bit lighter and happier.”
The EP’s title track opens with a soft acoustic guitar and quickly transitions into a dancy, optimistic jam focused on the present: “I don’t need to go gangster/I just need to be so fine/I don’t need to get angry/I just need to be so fine.” It’s a strong reminder about having integrity, living in the moment and following your own path.
“Being the entrepreneur that I am, I don’t want to be known as somebody who is a hustler in the negative sense,” said Kay, who releases a new song each month with Lupinski. “I just need to be the best person I can be and focus on my work and make it as undeniable as possible, and that’s what ‘I don’t need to go gangster, I just need to be so fine,’ is about. I just need to be a fine human being.”
John Kay & Who’s To Say also has included a “stuck-in-your-head” acoustic version of “So Fine,” the group’s first stripped-down track since “Bartender” from 2016’s “Dealing with People.” It also ties nicely into the band’s beach-flavored video for “So Fine” as well as their “Beach Sessions” video series that launched on YouTube earlier this month. They collaborated with videographers Joseph S. Quick and Bradford Clark to film the videos at Portage Lake near Jackson.
“Steve came up with the idea to do a beachy acoustic music video, and we set aside a day to do the filming,” Kay said. “We filmed all those Beach Sessions and the music video in about 3.5 hours. We didn’t really go too deep with it, we just wanted to keep it simple.”
“We’ve made a music video surrounding this song because we think it’s important to shed light on it,” said John Kay, the group’s lead vocalist and guitarist, in an interview the band released March 8 through their YouTube channel. “This is our opportunity to tell this type of story in a way that hopefully is impactful and makes people think.”
Kay thought twice about gun violence in schools after hearing about the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last year that killed 17 students. That tragic event quickly inspired Kay to write and release “Maybe (Armed to the Teeth),” an emotionally-charged track that calls for stronger gun control laws.
“It impacted me more than any other school shooting or mass shooting news that I’ve seen. It could be because of the resolve of the kids who survived,” Kay said. “I was touched by it and just really angered. I sat down with the guitar and started plucking the first notes of the song and just started singing the first things that came to mind, and the song poured out of me in five minutes.”
For the “Maybe (Armed to the Teeth)” video, Kay turned the creative reins over to videographers Joseph S. Quick and Bradford Clark and bandmate Tamara Marla Laflin (synthesizer, vocals, percussion) to develop the overall concept, which features several talented southeast Michigan teens as cast members.
“Tamara storyboarded the whole thing, and she was the artistic director for it while Joe and Brad were the camera operators and directors of photography,” Kay said. “It’s our first foray into a music video, and there’s a lot of learning involved with it. Joe and Tamara have learned how to work together and have a better idea of how they want to do the next music video.”
The teens featured in the video will attend Friday’s John Kay and Who’s To Say show to celebrate its premiere as well as the band’s one-year anniversary. Last year, Kay teamed up with Steve Lupinksi (bass, vocals), Brandon McNall (lead guitar), Jason Rauschenberger (rhythm guitar, percussion, vocals), Angelo Coppola (drums, vocals) and Laflin to form the band.
Together, Kay and his bandmates have been building a strong live music presence in Detroit and throughout the Midwest after performing their first sold-out show at PJ’s Lager House last March. They’ve also performed at Mulligan’s Pub in Grand Rapids, Howard’s Club H in Bowling Green, Ohio, The Elbo Room in Chicago and The Parliament Room at Otus Supply in Ferndale.
“It’s been a very interesting year for me being the leader of the team and seeing the team grow and develop,” said Kay, who’s influenced by Prince, David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Queens of the Stone Age. “Just watching everyone work toward the common goal is a pretty doggone good feeling.”
As the band’s frontman, Kay takes an unconventional approach to leading John Kay & Who’s To Say. He’s identified seven core values known as SMARTER – sacrifice, measurable growth, accountability, a reputation for excellence, time, energy and respect – for the group and teamed up with bandmates who share these values.
Kay also launched the band’s official club, Bullfighters, last year through a subscription-based content service called Patreon. For $5 a month, fans receive the band’s music in a digital format, updates and happenings, merchandise discounts, free U.S. shipping and two concert tickets per year to local shows. They also have access to new song demos and are encouraged to provide feedback directly to the band.
After Friday’s show, the band will develop a new video for another single and return to the studio to write and record new material. As a follow-up to “Dealing with People,” Kay said the band is focused on releasing a series of new singles and recording more video content for their YouTube channel.
“We’ve got a good group of people on this team, and they know where my loyalties lie,” Kay said. “They know that I’m working hard and doing my best to set the tone for what we need.”
The Detroit progressive pop group will perform a free acoustic show at The Dovetail, 29200 Hoover Road, beginning at 8 p.m.
“We’re going to be performing stripped-down versions of our music – no drums, no high-powered amplifiers,” said John Kay, the group’s lead vocalist and guitarist. “We’ll still plug in some instruments, but this isn’t going to be a full-band, over-the-top kind of night.”
Kay will be joined by Who’s To Say bandmates Steve Lupinski (bass, vocals), Brandon McNall (lead guitar) and Jason Rauschenberger (rhythm guitar, percussion, vocals) for the one-hour set, which will feature songs from Kay’s 2016 album, “Dealing with People,” as well as some newer tunes and maybe a cover. Mark Bolohan of Scarlet Lies will kick off the music Saturday night.
“Steve and I visited the Dovetail last month, and the place is clean with an inviting atmosphere,” said Kay, who grew up in Livonia and started playing drums at age two. “It should be an interesting night and allow for meeting some cool new people.”
John Kay & Who’s To Say are building a strong live music presence in Detroit after performing their first show at a sold-out P.J.’s Lager House in March. Kay and his bandmates spent some time building a solid musical and artistic foundation before booking shows.
“We rehearsed for over a year in the dark; we didn’t put up photos, we didn’t put out snippets, we didn’t tease anything,” Kay said. “What we did was we worked hard, and we busted our ass until we had three rehearsals in a row that we thought, ‘Hey, we could have done all three of those rehearsals in front of a paying audience, and they would’ve gotten their money’s worth.’”