Teen rockers Kicking Daisies blend pop, rock and a whole lot of energy with stunning musical skills to sell out venues around the country and open for some of the biggest names in pop and indie rock. With breakout successes ranging from winning Disney’s Next Big Thing Contest and a Billboard charting single, the gifted members of Kicking Daisies – Ben Spremulli, Duran Visek, Richie Arthur and Jeff Maurer — are setting their sights on stardom.
Kicking Daisies began with a restaurant, a young guitar god, and a man with a vision. When 12-year-old guitar prodigy Ben Spremulli played with his band Cats in Arms one Saturday night in 2008 at the Chef’s Table Restaurant in Fairfield, Connecticut, restaurant owner Richard Herzfeld knew he’d found something special – “the next Eddie Van Halen.” With help from Grammy Award-winning producer Michael Mangini, who’d worked with young performers such as the Jonas Brothers and Joss Stone, Herzfeld began to build a band around Ben’s astonishing talent.
It didn’t take long to find vocalist Duran Visek, whose looks and charisma provided the perfect complement to Ben’s guitar work. Duran, who also plays guitar, was living in Coral Gables, Florida at the time, but once on board he and his father made the move to Connecticut to work with Mangini and Herzfeld. Soon after that, award-winning drummer Caitlin Kalafus with her younger sister Carly on bass rounded out the first lineup of Kicking Daisies.
The quartet spent much of 2009 learning how to be a band, playing small local venues and honing songwriting and performance skills. Their first big break came in 2010, when Kicking Daisies won Radio Disney’s Next Big Thing competition. National exposure followed, with a full piece in the New York Times about the group and an invitation to play for a sold-out concert in Clearwater, Florida, opening for pop band Allstar Weekend before a crowd of 20,000.
More gigs followed, at larger and larger venues. Kicking Daisies opened for acts like Natasha Bedingfield at the Orange Drive Festival in Miami and other groups including their heroes, indie pop stars Paramore, at New Jersey’s Bamboozle 2010 Festival. Offstage, the group worked hard to learn the business of making music. Under Mangini’s guidance, the band combined intensive studio time and writing sessions with pros like Peter Zizzo, who had worked with Avril Lavigne, and S*A*M & Sluggo, whose writing credits included work with Katy Perry and Cobra Starship.
The result? A mix of catchy pop, evocative ballads and edgier rock anthems that solidified the band’s reputation and put them on the charts. Songs like “Promises” and “The Big Bang Theory” showcased the group’s emerging songwriting skills, and “Breathing,” from their 2010 EP Keeping Secrets, released exclusively through Walmart, hit the Billboard charts. But the band itself was changing, and at the end of 2011, Caitlin and Carly Kalafus departed the group to pursue other projects.
Kicking Daisies regrouped quickly in early 2012. Mike Mangini found guitarist Richie Arthur, a gifted musician who’d played for Wyclef Jean and Colbie Caillait on a Nickelodeon special in 2010. Also a drummer, Richie had been named best in his age group at Anaheim’s Schooljam USA in 2010. He quickly clicked with Ben and Duran, and the search for a fourth member of the new Kicking Daisies ended when Richie recommended his friend and sometime bandmate, Jeff Maurer, an outstanding drummer who’d shared the stage with famous names such as Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers and Selina Gomez.
Although none of the members of Kicking Daisies is out of his teens, the group has collectively racked up nearly two decades’ worth of dedicated musical training and experience. Guitar master Ben started playing at the age of 10. One morning he woke up and told his parents, “I have to play guitar.” And play he did, although he had no previous interest in music. For his first lesson, he learned to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” By his second lesson he was playing “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath. At age 11 he formed Cats in Arms with a couple of much older musicians. Endorsed by Fender guitar, Ben has played venues such as the Warped Tour, the Troubador in LA and New York City’s Hard Rock Café. Ben is a self-taught keyboardist and music producer and is credited with programming Kicking Daisies’ first CD, sold at Walmart.
Frontman and vocalist Duran Visek plays drums, guitar and piano. Also a songwriter and arranger, Duran brings charisma and a powerful voice to the group. The son of a former rock drummer, Duran has been playing since age 8, and has been working with professional musicians since he was 10. Already an accomplished musician before joining Kicking Daisies, he moved from Florida to Connecticut to work with the band and lay the groundwork for a future in the music business. With teen heartthrob looks, showmanship and a voice to back it up, Duran drives the band forward.
Richie Arthur, born Richard Schaafama, started playing drums at the age of 6 and was accepted into the School of Rock at the tender age of 7 (beating the usual minimum age requirement of 11 and paving the way for other young musicians). By age 10 he was teaching himself guitar, adding piano, mandolin, and synthesizer to his repertoire. He’s the youngest performer to play the Bamboozle tour twice in a row, and opened for acts such as Demi Lovato, Peter Frampton, Cash Cash, Push Play and others. Richie has played with several bands and performers, including Martin Johnson of Boys Like Girls and Travis Clark of We the Kings. He’s also an actor, appearing in national television commercials and films.
Jeff Maurer has been drumming since he was 9. He’s appeared with headliners including Justin Bieber, Selina Gomez, Boys Like Girls and Allstar Weekend, LMFAO and others and has done session work with a variety of bands and performers. In addition to pushing his drumming skills to the highest level, he’s working with legendary drummer and producer Matty Amendola of 825 Records to learn songwriting and production. Drawing on a repertoire ranging from classic rock to gospel, Jeff is a versatile and gifted musician.
With a full schedule of tour dates, product endorsements and high-profile gigs such as opening for Cheap Trick in the National Mall celebration of Earth Day 2012, the quartet of musical prodigies that make up Kicking Daisies have plans for the future and a star that’s on the rise.