Local band Jank Setup sees pathway to fame

Cori Shalit, Arcade Editor

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The Hullabaloo first covered local funk-fusion band Jank Setup in the spring of 2018. Since then, much has changed for the group. Arcade sat down with band member Ethan May who has been with the band from the start, even before it was called “Jank Setup.”

It all started in 2016 when May, then a junior in college, was approached for a gig. He played the drums and had been trying to start a band for months, but nothing was coming together. The gig, however, seemed to expedite the process. 

“We made the band to fit the gig,” May said of the creation of the band Tweakin’ Seagulls. 

He had quickly found then-sophomore Adam Samolsky to play bass and then-senior Jordan Dion to play piano at the event with him. An improvised Tulane band, the Tweakin’ Seagulls could be found playing house parties and other local gigs. At one of their shows, an audience member described their sound as a “jank setup,” and that quickly became their new name. 

Elana Bush | Photography Editor

But by the start of the next school year, May found himself alone on campus. Dion had graduated and Samolsky was abroad, but by the spring of 2018, May had discovered Luis Carlos Villaseñor to play guitar and Derrick Butler on the keys, and Samolsky came back to Tulane. 

Then, that same fall, May was walking down the street when he heard Kentro Mason singing. May recalls knowing he heard something special in the vocalist and running down the block just to get his attention. 

The skilled singer had just graduated from Loyola University the year before and had been singing on Bourbon Street six nights a week but was not happy with the work. After being invited to a band rehearsal by May, Mason quit his job downtown to become a full-time member of Jank Setup, a major turning point for the group. 

“Kentro is someone who’s really special, he’s insanely talented,” May said. 

Even before Mason joined the band, May knew there was something special in the band’s sound and that they had potential, but adding Mason was a major step for the band as things got more serious.

Up until that point, May had been advertising Jank Setup’s events by printing posters himself, but he began paying artists to make full-size original art posters to advertise for the band, investing more into the group as he began to recognize its genuine potential. 

And then Jank Setup abruptly began to gain more attention. 

“The expectation that this band is about to blow up and the hype that leads to that that turns it into something,” May said. 

He described the band’s experiences in the past year as fans going, “This band is really really dope and then it’s like, ‘Hey y’all they’re saying we’re really dope, we gotta do really dope shit now, we gotta come through.’ That led to some really big gigs, Gasa Gasa, selling the place out, the Howlin’ Wolf, selling the place out.” 

The group has also performed at Crawfest, The Willow, the Joy Theater and even opening up for Galactic at Tipitina’s the night before the interview. The sound had changed from rock jam to Guatemalan-infused ⁠— thanks to Villaseñor ⁠— “funky soul jazz.”

When The Hullabaloo wrote its first story on Jank Set up in 2018, the band had no music on streaming sites. 

Now, the band has two songs, “In Motion” and “Can’t I?” on all streaming platforms. “In Motion” has more than 200,000 streams on Spotify and “Can’t I?” was released just last week on Sept. 6. 

The group is currently working on getting their other original songs on Spotify, but May said the process of writing and creating a song and then recording and marketing it can take time to perfect. 

Fans of the band have stayed loyal and helped to share its music. May admits that the band “would not be able to do it without such devoted fans.” 

Looking ahead, the band is planning on moving to New York City once the youngest member of the band, Butler, graduates from Tulane in two years. 

“The idea is now that we have found our voice and we started to really get the hang of it, it’s like when we play a show it’s not gonna be a small show,” May said. “We play a show, it’s gonna be a big show. When we release a song, everybody’s gonna know about it. When we’re a band, we’re gonna be in the biggest city. You know what I’m saying? We’re gonna try to play the biggest stages with the biggest artists, try to open up for Galactic, try to open up for PJ Morton and Tank and the Bangas. That’s what we’re aiming for, you know? Those are the dream.”

Courtesy of Jank Setup

Jank Setup is also looking forward to creating new music to keep its sets fresh.

“We like to keep it really fresh when we play,” May said. “A lot of bands are like, ‘This is our live set, this is a list of the songs we’re gonna do in this order when we play live,’ and it’s just like, man, how are you gonna do that every time? I see bands get bored of their own shit … if it’s not fresh for you, how is it gonna be fresh for your fans?”

By moving toward more original songs, the band is prioritizing further development of its own distinctive brand. 

“We’re trying to make ‘jank’ our brand, like what does jank mean?” May said.

He admits that he loves the fact that the word “jank” has no meaning to some communities because that means the band can do whatever it wants with it, giving them freedom to create their own unique flavor.

As for May himself, he says being a part of Jank Setup has contributed significantly to his sense of self. He cites music as what cured his social anxiety. 

“I don’t know what to do with my hands at parties,” he said. “It’s overwhelming, but when I’m on the drums I know exactly how to speak and what to say.”

Jank Setup is gaining traction fast as it steps up its sound. Try to catch the band’s next show before they’re no longer local, and make sure to give them a listen on Spotify.