From the outside, Arts Asylum doesn't seem like much. Located on a sketchy downtown corner, the building is barely visible in the streetlamp's glow. It used to be a church, but right now it looks less than inviting.
On this chilly Saturday evening, though, the vibe inside is one of inclusion. A small flurry of activity is under way as the Asylum's small theater is readied for a semiprivate concert. Petite café tables are cloaked and decorated with candles. Strands of Christmas lights are strung throughout the room and also frame the stage. The setup is modest and warm, like a small-town school pageant.
Onstage, Patrick Robinson, lead singer for Clairaudients — the band set to play — is sorting out an electrical shortage.
"For some reason, not being electrocuted is important to Patrick," Blaire Geenens, the band's drummer, cracks from a table laid with refreshments and merchandise.
The show starts in a little more than an hour, and Robinson looks harried. The members of Clairaudients, who are about to head out for a short spring tour, have rarely been more conscious of the time.
A little more than a week before this gig, Geenens announced his imminent departure from Kansas City. Almost immediately after the March tour, he's moving to Los Angeles to study percussion at the Musicians Institute. He could be gone six months, a year and a half — longer.
Geenens points out the other two members of Clairaudients as they filter into the room. Jordan Thompson and Chase Horseman, who share keyboard and guitar duties, have arrived with Vietnamese takeout. They decide to relocate to a smaller, quieter room for an interview, where they arrange themselves in a circle of hard plastic chairs and crack about the AA-meeting look they've just cultivated. All four Clairaudients members are 22-24 years old; they joke a lot.
They've enjoyed a swelling popularity among local pop-rock aficionados since releasing their debut EP, I'm a Loudmouth, You're a Puppet, last June. Now they're in the middle of recording a long-awaited full-length, a collection of songs that sound — at least to the bandmates — more mature and focused than anything they've done before. But Geenens won't be around for its completion. All four Clairaudients insist that they aren't breaking up — just putting things on pause. But there's no denying the awkward timing.
"Everyone in this band, their reaction when Blaire decided that that was his next move to make, we all stood up and gave him a hug and told him we were proud of him," Thompson says between spoonfuls of pho. "He's taking his next step as a musician, and we want nothing more than for him to succeed."
"I think we're best friends before we're a band, honestly," Horseman adds. "There's a sadness that comes with knowing that there's a finite timeline on things now, but it's not like watching the Beatles in Let It Be, where they all hate each other but they're still making music together. We're trying to push through it."
Robinson says there's no plan to replace Geenens or even hire a fill-in; rather, the other three musicians will use the time apart to concentrate on other projects. And Geenens says he'll be back in KC for some summer dates, including the band's anticipated album-release show. Also just confirmed: a slot at Cincinnati's Bunbury Music Festival in July. But Geenens' departure means that the Clairaudients' midtour homecoming show — at RecordBar Friday, March 7 — has become a bittersweet occasion. It's effectively a prehiatus finale.
In the stillness of the Arts Asylum room, underneath fluorescent lights and with no background noise to distract, the guys of Clairaudients put on brave faces. They have been bandmates as long as they have been friends, and they behave like brothers, one moment insulting one another ("You're all behaving like dicks," Horseman admonishes as he is teased for his Sriracha-induced tears), the next nostalgic and full of remember-whens.
"Obviously, we've all met because of music, but there's a sense of vulnerability that everyone has with each other that's really unique," Thompson says. "That's what creates the deeper friendship with us. It doesn't feel like we get together because that's our job. We do it because we enjoy it, and that's how we communicate on one level."
"We're kind of a bullshit-free band," Robinson adds. "There's not a single thing that we do that we don't feel something about. It's definitely like a brotherhood. There are very few experiences we have as a band onstage that we're not collectively feeling in that moment. There's sort of this intangible atmosphere that we have, even if there's 50 or 200 people in the room. We aren't going to leave that behind."