When Zach and Ken Kasik played their first gig as the “Lugnuts” band, they brought along their parents for more than moral support.
The Yankton brothers were so young when they started the band in the mid 1990s — they were grade-school and middle-school age -- they couldn’t legally enter the rural Yankton bar by themselves.
“We started the band when I was 11 and Ken was 13,” Zach told the Press & Dakotan in a phone interview. “We started (performing) at the Kozy Inn Bar out on Highway 50. I was probably 12 years old and he was 14 when we started playing out there. We were too young to be in the bar alone, so our parents had to sit there with us. We started on a karaoke machine and a $100 guitar.”
Fast forward two decades, and the Yankton brothers — now a respective ages 30 and 32 -- have lived and worked in Los Angeles and Nashville. In addition, Zach has worked as audio engineer with some of the biggest names in the business.
Now, the Kasiks — along with drummer Jamie Christian — are bringing the Lugnuts back to Yankton Oct. 31 for the Harvest Halloween Festival. The dance and costume party runs from 8 p.m. to midnight at the Riverfront Event Center.
“We do come back (to Yankton), but we try not to wear it out,” Zach said. “We have had a lot more success when we come back a few times a year and don’t come back a lot.”
After years of living and working in Los Angeles, the Kasiks currently live in Nashville, three miles apart. They and Christian are taking the Lugnuts on a “mini-tour” to Lincoln, Omaha and Evansville, Ind. With their Midwest swing, the Yankton gig worked out perfectly.
“Returning to Yankton is absolutely one of our favorite things to do,” Zach said. “We love getting to come back. Those (local fans) are the people who supported us when we were little kids. They really supported us through the years. It’s awesome to come back and play for the hometown.”
One of their Midwest gigs was particularly memorable, Kasik noted.
“We opened for ZZ Top at the Sioux Empire Fair in 2010,” he said. “They are our favorite band in the world, and the dream came true (to play with them), especially in our home area.”
Zach offers vocal, bass and banjo; Ken brings vocal, guitar and harmonica; and Christian is the drummer.
“We picked up Jamie Christian in Nashville,” Zach said. “He was touring with Josh Thompson, who is a big country star, and we were able to scoop him up.”
Making Wise Choices
What can fans expect to hear at the Yankton event? Well, just about anything, Zach Kasik said.
“There is a lot of regional material and various influences. We do a lot of cover songs. We do everything from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Waylon Jennings,” he said. “We released our third record, called ‘Americana,’ and have been touring with it. We’re currently in the studio making a new record.”
The Lugnuts has worked not to narrowly definite itself, Kasik said.
“If you listen to our repertoire, it’s all over the road. We play everything from traditional country to reggae to heavy Southern rock,” he said. “We’ve always been like that. We are never put ourselves in one genre.”
The decision has paid off, Kasik said.
“It’s been the smart thing. It’s been really good, playing a show with a very diverse repertoire. You can play material for all settings,” he said. “As far as making records, our recordings are all over the place. We’re half country and half rock.”
The Lugnuts reflect the trend in recent years where country and Southern rock have developed a cross-over appeal for a broader audience, Kasik said. The brothers’ move to Nashville was a conscious career decision, and they are transitioning onto the scene.
“Especially today, a lot of what you hear as mainstream country is a mix of Southern rock and pop,” he said. “You take the rock and roll, and pop, and you put in a steel guitar and banjo.”
For the Yankton concert, the Lugnuts are bringing a special guest — Nashville singer-songwriter Shannon Lawson, who has landed on the Billboard charts.
Zach Kasik originally met Lawson in a Los Angeles recording studio, when Lawson was one of the songwriters and Kasik was working as an audio engineer for country star Jamey Johnson’s first two records.
Area fans will get to see Lawson’s talents in action during the Halloween gig in Yankton, Kasik said. Besides his songwriting, the guest has a band called Shannon Lawson and Ranchero.
“There are times when Shannon gets to be the headliner. Then, there are times like Yankton, when we’re the headliner,” Kasik said. “At Yankton, Shannon is going to come up (on stage) and do a set with us that night. Basically, we are letting him do a bunch of his material, songs he wrote when he was signed to his record label. He charted on Billboard with his singles. He has vocal-driven country songs and is the most amazing vocalist.”
A Successful Journey
The Yankton homecoming marks the latest chapter in a long and storied journey for the Kasiks.
In summer 2003, the brothers relocated to Los Angeles to expand their growing fan base. They were joined by Christian, and the three-piece band has played all the Hollywood hot spots, including The Viper Room, House Of Blues Sunset and The Key Club.
The Lugnuts have opened for everyone from rock n’ roll legends ZZ Top to Top 40 Country artist James Otto. The band creates Southern rock, honky-tonk sounds with a South Dakota twist that makes it all their own.
After attending school in Phoenix, Zach moved to Los Angeles to get into the profession in audio engineering. He has worked with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Paul McCartney to Dr. Dre.
“When I was 18 years old, I got into studio work. I worked with the Rolling Stones, and I worked with Keith Richards,” Zach said. “I was an assistant engineer and went out on my own. I was the engineer for the platinum-selling Green Day record. We have a lot of major label credits who have used us for engineering.”
Kasik was selected for a historic project, when he worked on a Michael Jackson record after the icon had died.
“Michael had passed, and I was working with producers that had started a bunch of recordings to finish,” Kasik said. “They had completed all the material (Jackson) was working on, and they released a record shortly after his death. I engineered for that record. It sold millions of copies worldwide.”
The process was literally a secret operation, Kasik said.
“It was really complicated with a lot of layers,” he said. “It was one of the most interesting recording sessions. I had to check my cell phone at the door. There was security on the record work. They had to make sure I wasn’t taking one of the tracks with me.”
Kasik was entrusted with completing the work of a legend who remains highly popular years after his passing.
“They had taken all of the songs where he had completed vocals and gave them to us,” Kasik said. “They had half the production done. We finished the record with the bass, drums and guitars. We had all the sections to complete the record.”
The upcoming Yankton visit is a far cry from Los Angeles and Nashville, but the Kasiks highly anticipate the homecoming.
By the way, are the Lugnuts doing any Halloween music or costumes to go with their Yankton appearance?
“Good question,” Zach said with a laugh. “Not really, we haven’t given it that much thought. But then again, every member of this band is a character in his own right.”
The Lugnuts-Where are they Tonight?