When Denzel Curry came to St. Olaf for the Music Entertainment Committee (MEC)’s 2019 fall concert, finding an appropriate campus opener was going to be a tough task. Curry’s energy is distinct from usual campus acts like Lizzo, Bad Bad Hats, and, most recently, Faye Webster.
The challenge may have been more serious for a group that had never performed a set together before. Yet, when killusonline (KUO) took the Pause stage late Saturday night on Oct. 19, 2019, for their first set together — ever — they provided a coherence, skill, and energy that transitioned perfectly into Curry’s headlining performance.
Cutting a tall, shirtless figure on the stage alongside bandmates Bekah Reason ’21, Theo Galetka, Mory, and Max Folina, was Sean Clements ’22, KUO’s bassist and St. Olaf philosophy major. Clements jumped around the stage, fueled by the crowd’s energy in response to killusonline’s brash sound, brandishing their iconic bass — which they can be seen with, seemingly randomly, at various places around campus.
The group, now a Twin Cities underground staple, began, quite humbly, in Clements’ mind.
“I remember vividly walking in the Caf and having the idea for the first song that we ever wrote together in my head,” they said. “And I was like, ‘I feel like we could start a project with this’.”
The genesis of the project, Clements explained, lined up perfectly with Denzel Curry’s planned concert on campus. MEC always invites a campus band to headline for their guest artist, and KUO, still in their early infancy as a group, fit the bill.
“In the beginning it was kind of like, ‘Okay, this is actually kind of tight. This is a cool project, maybe this is actually gonna happen’,” they said. “Then the Denzel Curry thing happened, and that was the perfect catalyst to make us actually be like, ‘We’re going to be a band’.”
KUO has quickly morphed into a serious project that extends far outside the scope of the Pause mainstage or Twin Cities basements. They recently opened for the Los Angeles-based punk rap group Ho99o9 at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis, and this summer KUO will play in the Minneapolis Planet Afropunk festival alongside national artists like Ari Lennox, Noname, and Mereba.
While continuing to explore the underground scene in the Twin Cities is an immediate goal of Clements and killusonline, they want to see the group grow into more — to become not just a Twin Cities staple, but a band people across the country listen to and see play live.
But in the short term, releasing more music is Clements and KUO’s primary goal. This, for Clements, represents the nearest next step.
“Big picture would definitely be to release music, get a bunch of listeners, and hopefully through that be able to get pulled on to some other bigger band in our scene’s tour,” they said.
At the same time, killusonline is pushing out new music — they have a new EP coming out in July — and Clements is exploring a different sonic direction with their solo project under the name Clemy.
Clemy released their first, and right now only, song in fall 2021, produced by Henry Breen of Minneapolis-based band WHY NOT. The single, “Normal People” — inspired by the Sally Rooney novel of the same name — has over 2,000 listens on Spotify. People who have heard both KUO and Clemy might not expect that the same person wrote the music for each.
Clemy came about after Clements went through a separation from their partner at the time, they explained, opening their artistry to more introspection than expressed through killusonline.
“I think it was the first time that I was ever putting music out there just as me,” they said. “It was probably one of the more vulnerable things I’ve ever done.”
Balancing between two acts with radically different styles may be difficult enough. But having to create this type of art on top of a full academic schedule provides a whole new layer of interest; especially true when the academics in question revolve, in Clements’ case, around philosophy.
“Maybe like a month ago, I was totally sucked in to thinking about philosophy,” they said. “I think that it really changes my demeanor and changes a lot of my drive for different things.”
It’s easy for them to get sucked into one thing at a time, Clements explained, a process of “tunneling” that complicates artistic and academic multitasking.
“I feel like I’m living up here and then as soon as I get out of that mindset it’s like all of sudden I remember that I’m in my body again,” they continued, referring to a sort of mind-body dichotomy made famous by the philosophy of René Descartes and embodied by Clements while at St. Olaf.
Since releasing “Normal People” in the fall, Clements — as Clemy — has been silent.
“If I only had to oscillate between two channels, that’d be okay,” they said. “But if I need to oscillate between three channels, one of the things is going to take a little bit of a back seat, and I think that’s definitely been the solo stuff recently.”
The three channels can be, roughly, described in such a way — killusonline is “pure positive energy,” Clemy is more introspective when “maybe everything isn’t okay,” and philosophy has “no feelings whatsoever,” Clements said.
Maybe that’s the most fascinating thing about them as an artist. Going from raging with a bass in a St. Paul cave to producing emotional indie-tronica songs to writing intense philosophical analysis, all while not completely losing their unique personal energy, is quite remarkable.
The music Clements writes with killusonline seems to illustrate their ethos perfectly — an infectious and party-like positive energy shared equally between themselves and other people. That is, I think, the neatest way to describe it all.
“This is democratic music,” they said. “This is music for the people.”