Living the American dream

By Amanda Murphy

It’s hard for most to say that they have known what they wanted to be since they were 5 years old, but Kelsey Montanez knew even then she wanted to be a musician. With the help of family and friends, she was able to build a fan base and perform shows consistently through high school. Now at the age of 21, she has already performed with her group, The Kelsey Montanez Band, at some of Chicago’s major music venues such as the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., and Metro, 3730 N. Clark St. Montanez also recently returned from Hollywood after performing on “American Idol.”

The Chronicle sat down with Montanez to talk about the highlights of her career, her major influences and what next year has in store for her band.

The Chronicle: You began your career at a really young age. How do you think that’s shaped your music?

Kelsey Montanez: I think it was ingrained in me from a young age to constantly shape all of my experiences into music. I’m not sure that a lot of people do that at such a young age, since I was like 4 or 5. My dad had a lot to do with getting me into music. I have been writing in a journal and writing music since I was really young. Everything I experience, I’m always looking for ways to transform it into music or transform it into something creative.

The Chronicle: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

KM: I think when we got asked to play the House of Blues, that was a big deal for us. I played House of Blues before I played Metro, and I had always wanted to play Metro and then House of Blues. It’s such a professional stage and the sound is amazing. The credibility of when you play there, you can get into any venue. It was really awesome. House of Blues is also cool because they had all of these artists sign autographs in the back room, and I saw so many bands that I have been listening to since I was little. It was a good feeling.

The Chronicle: What have been some of your major influences, musically and otherwise?

KM: It’s always hard for me because I’ve listened to so much music since I was little. I’ve never had one band that has influenced me my entire career. It’s always different. Like right now, my main influences are Tom Waits and Brian Jonestown Massacre. But I always have different bands that I’m listening to.

The Chronicle: At such a young age, you have already been successful at building a following. What do you attribute that to?

KM: I’ve had really good people in my corner. It started off as family support, and as I got older I was able to get my friends and they would bring their friends. Chicago isn’t a super musical climate. It isn’t like California or New York where people don’t really have to know who you are to come out to your show. They just want to see music. So I’ve been lucky to have a lot of good friends and family to help me get a good name and get people out to my shows.

The Chronicle: What do you have coming up in the next year?

KM: Right now, me and the band are trying to save up and get money to go into the studio again [by June and release the album by the end of summer]. We just want to do a really raw rock and blues album. We’re just playing a couple shows, but I’m working on getting our shows lined up for the next year.

The Kelsey Montanez Band is performing at the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace St., on March 8. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. For more information on The Kelsey Montanez Band, visit