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Zu Kru plays on: Kenston trio turns rejection into rock music

Published in The Chagrin Valley Times
January 31, 2019
Tim Tedeschi

Many artists use the hurts of their past to inspire their work. A breakup can produce a poem, a death in the family can turn into a painting and for the members of Zu Kru Rejects, an elementary school slight can become the inspiration for a band name.

The band, made up of Kenston High School juniors John Palmer on guitar and vocals, Ronen Ku on bass and James Kregenow on drums, said the name came from mutual commiseration of never being selected for Zoo Crew when they were first- through third-graders at Timmons Elementary School. Zoo Crew is awarded quarterly and selected students enjoy fun and games once a week.

“You meet early before school, you pretty much just trash the joint, you throw whipped cream at each other, you get to pie teachers and stuff,” John said of Zoo Crew. “It sounds like a ball, and none of us were ever allowed in it. And I don’t know why, but we had a talent show coming up for school. It was the first gig we ever played in and we had some built up resentment, so that was our way of taking it out.”

The trio of Bainbridge 17-year-olds has been playing together for about two and a half years now and performed at the 2019 Tri-C High School Rock Off at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past Saturday.

Ronen said the band combines “a lot of the more recent developments of music” and plays modern, straightforward alternative rock. John said some of the band’s influences include Nirvana, The Beatles, Kanye West, The Strokes, Oasis, OutKast and more.

“It’s just stuff that we can play for a live audience, but we have ambitions and don’t want to get caught in just being a cover band or like a band that just is like, ‘We’re here to play ‘60s style music despite the fact that it’s nearly 2020,’” John said. “We want to be relevant and push stuff forward instead of dragging behind.”

The band played a four-song, 15-minute set at the Rock Off, performing their original songs “Up in Nowhere” and “Electric Afterburn” along with covers of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Song 2” by Blur. While they didn’t move on to the final round of competition, James said it was still a great experience and atmosphere.

“We got a lot of our fans from our school,” James said. “We sold all of our tickets that they gave us, and it was really fun to have a good following there. It was cool to play on the big stage and audience.”

Ronen said about 100 people came to support Zu Kru Rejects at the Rock Off, and John said it was fun to see people they didn’t know responding to the music.

“There were tons of other people dancing for us. There were people jumping, screaming our ears off; it was a fun time,” John said.

The band said previous gigs have included playing at Chagrin Falls’ Blossom Time, as well as at graduation parties for friends and a Labor Day block party.

“It definitely started expanding over the summer. We haven’t played like the most venues yet, but we have ambitions,” Ronen said. “I see a lot of work, a ton of work coming up (in the near future) if we want to get close to something that would make us happy.”

“Don’t try to call me when I’m big,” John quipped.

James said he expects the band to focus on writing more originals in the coming months with the hope of recording and releasing an EP or album, as well as booking gigs at places like the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights. The band enjoys free studio time in the basement of good friend Andy Lenart, an audio engineering student in the joint program between Cuyahoga Community College and Berklee College of Music.

“He’s got a great set up in his basement, thousands of dollars worth of gear and he lets us come in,” John said. “We just really want to start shoving it (our music) down people’s throats so it’s forcibly stuck in their heads, and hopefully get it like onto Spotify within the next coming months.”

The three said playing music is a passion for each of them, and they all are heavily involved in music programs at Kenston High. Outside of Zu Kru Rejects, James is in band, marching band, jazz band and pit band, John participates in choir and the musical and Ronen is a member of pit band and choir.

“Music is like one of those things where no matter how I feel, I just always start playing and I’m happy, especially like with these two guys. I feel like we have some good chemistry with it,” Ronen said. “I think making stuff is probably the best part now because when there’s something we finally made that we actually enjoyed, like the first time we did that it was just such a great feeling.”

To hear the original songs Zu Kru Rejects performed at the Rock Off, visit https://soundcloud.com/zukrurejects.

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