Saturday, November 22, 2014

Linda Marie Smith's "Mearra - Selkie From the Sea" production coming to Old Town School of Folk

Those who come out to see Chicago singer-songwriter Linda Marie Smith's latest production, "Mearra - Selkie From the Sea," will experience a rich multimedia show. 

The family-friendly performance features Smith's adaptation of a classic Celtic tale told with original songs and performed with a six piece orchestra playing along to projected animation.

The story revolves around Mearra, a mythical seal as she makes use of her magical ability to transform into a human being, marries Ian, a lonely fisherman and eventually starts a family; knowing all the while she must inevitably return to the sea as a seal, or perish.

The show will be at 3 p.m. Dec. 7 at Old Town School of Folk Music's Gary and Laura Maurer Concert Hall, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

I had the chance to talk to her about the show. 

Q - Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "Mearra - Selkie From the Sea," was it your intent to always bring it to life visually? What was your inspiration for the project?

Yes, it was always my intent to add a visual component to Mearra.

I’ve been drawn to folklore and fairy tales since I was a child. Years ago, I watched a movie called “The Secret of Roan Innish.” I was captivated by this unusual tale and began reading all that I could about the subject. 

The idea of transforming from one being to another is fascinating to me. And I think this tale is a metaphor for what we as humans do throughout our lives…evolve and transform.   

Q - For those who attend the show, what should they expect?

The live performance is a musical/multimedia experience that tells a story about Mearra, a young Selkie maiden who falls in love with a lonely fisherman named Ian. Ian is enchanted from the moment he sees her. 

So, Mearra bids farewell to her life in the sea, marries Ian and eventually they have a family together. The instrumentation includes me on piano and acoustic guitar, along with immensely talented musicians who play electric guitar, violin, Irish tin whistle, drums and bass.

I sing lead on all the songs and I’m accompanied by rich vocal harmonies. In addition to the music, moving animated illustrations accompany each song, which is projected on a large screen above the musicians and myself. Also there is a spoken narrative before some of the songs, which also help tell the story too.  

Q - What would you like for them to take away from the show?

This is a little long winded, but here ya go. Folklore and fairy tales usually involve fantastic people or animals, but usually deal with things we value most highly, fear most deeply and hope for most ardently. 

"Mearra~Selkie From the Sea" is a love story about two people who know from the beginning of their relationship that in seven years Mearra will have to return to the sea. However, Mearra and Ian are so overcome in love that they don’t let that inevitability change their plans. They marry and have a family.

As the seven years pass, Mearra becomes ill, her life on the land has taken it’s toll and now she must return to the sea. Her son Morlo is a Selkie too and feels the strong pull to live in the sea with his mother. 

The father Ian and daughter Ffion are of the land. This family loves one another so much that they accept the inevitable but know that their love will be the everlasting thread that keeps them together forever.

Mearra's story is a relevant experience for all human beings. Love is the most important thread in the human existence.

We yearn for it, we risk our lives for it, we succumb to it, we thrive in it. Shortly after I finished the recording of "Mearra," my mother died. 

It was the most devastating loss of my life but the story of Mearra really helped in my grieving process because I do believe that if you love someone they are always a part of you forever.

Q - The show will be presented at the Old Town School of Folk Music, where you also teach. What do you try to convey to your students?

I teach in the adult guitar program. I think it’s important to remind students to leave their stress at their jobs and have fun and enjoy the process of learning something new. 

I find that teaching is a very rewarding experience. I’ve been at The Old Town School of Folk Music for 14 years and I’ve loved every minute of it.

Q - Your last multimedia show, "Artemisia," debuted in January 2006. Was it time to do another multimedia show? What were your goals for “ Artemisia” and do you think you achieved them?

Yes, it was time to do another multimedia show. My goals for "Artemisia" were to educate an audience through the medium of music and visuals about the enigmatic Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. 

And I think I have met my goals for this project with the exception of someday seeing the live presentation of this work on public television!

Q - The renowned Michael Smith appeared on your first three albums and you have worked with him on different projects. What you you take away from working with a musician of such caliber?

He is a master songwriter and his songs have been an inspiration to me since the first time I heard “The Dutchman.” His songwriting style helped me learn and understand the process of how to tell a story through music. 

The use of imagery and poetry are very strong aspects in Michael’s music and he has inspired me to do the same within my own songs. I am forever grateful for Michael’s influence in my life and in my music.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you think you fit into it?

Hmmm…good questions. Chicago has an amazing music scene. 

Since I’ve focused my attention on presenting my music in a story-telling, multimedia format, I think it limits my opportunities to perform in many music venues. My music requires a listening audience and frankly I think “listening” venues are few and far between in Chicago. 

I mostly focus on colleges, universities, performance art venues and libraries to market my music. A cool thing that’s happening for "Mearra" is WYCC - Channel 20 public television station is going to air my release concert that I performed in March of this year. 

I’m hoping that this opportunity will expose "Mearra~Selkie From the Sea" to a broader audience! Keeping my fingers crossed.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chicago band Smidgen bringing muscular sound to Reggies


Chicago band Smidgen is a band built upon years of friendship. 

Three of the band's members - bassist Steve Strauss, guitarist Fred Ephrem and drummer/keyboardist/vocalist Alex Beblis, have known each other since the '80s, which helps contribute to Smidgen's muscular sound.

Smidgen will perform Nov. 14 at Reggies' Music Joint, 2105 S. State St., Chicago.  Circleswitch and Skyway Stereo also are on the bill.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $8, available at www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to Strauss about the upcoming show.

Q - Great to talk to you. You, Fred and Alex - have known each other since the early '80s. Why do you think the three of you connect so well musically? 

It's just years of fighting like brothers where you sonically have a trust and a respect for each other. We know our faults and our strengths in putting together music. 

Most importantly we can talk honestly and direct with each other. And it will not bruise egos. We write for the song.

Q - In sitting down to make your self-titled EP, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

The album is on iTunes and Spotify, plus a host of other Internet music outlets thanks to Tunecore and songs are playing on Internet radio. Still need to put EP to college radio. 

We plan to do that in February. We still need to generate more revenue to finance studio time for our next songs.

Q - Tell me a little about the making of your song "Bring to Life" off the EP. I understand that your lead singer, Nick Chirikos, had not finished writing the lyrics to the song before you sat down to record it.


We recorded the track in L.A. when we attended the NAMM convention. Danny Naim is a great producer and engineer in LA, that we hang out with at NAMM. He suggested recording in his studio the Cave than fighting LA traffic going back to convention. Musically we had finished the song three weeks before. When the tracks and recording started to lay down easily Nick rushed upstairs with me and penned the lyrics. 

Q - Nick really stretches his vocals on that song and he reminds me of Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) in his vocal range. How did you get together with him and what do you think he brings to the table?

Nick was found by the bassist in Alex and Fred's other musical project at a block party. He was singing covers. 

What he brings to the table is a gifted voice. We can write decent songs but if you do not have a decent singer, you have squat. Nick's voice defines Smidgen.

Q - Another song, "Take My Throne," is featured in a short film, "iDig," which you act in. Do you think the song works well in the movie? How long have you been acting and do you need both acting and music in your life?

Speaking with the directors, it strangely does fit perfectly. We did not write "Take My Throne" for the film, but the song addresses a sense of regret to redo one's life go back in time. Those elements were in the film as the main character tries to reconnects with his old classmates to pull his life out of a downward spiral.

I always have acted. I started in junior high, and had lead roles throughout high school, then college. 

After college, I was in the Second City classes and was invited to become part of the troupe. When I heard the pitch for "iDig," I loved the role for Eric and tried out. 

With improv, live stage, and film you have to listen and work with the other players just like music. If you grandstand the vibe goes bad. 

I will do spot roles for Motion Source, which is also producing the video for "Bring to Life." But because of time constraints, I am focusing on music. 

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think the band fits into it? 

We see a lot of bands and players from our generation still being a factor in the music scene. Wilco is Chicago's house band.

With Chicago's great original music venues and music fests it's a very vibrant scene. We are making some of our best music now and getting very positive response with great crowd turn out and website activity is up 600 percent from last year. 

Our sound fits in that straight ahead, hooks, kinda grunge post modern groove.

Q - The music industry has changed a lot since you first started playing music. Is it easier or harder to be a musician these days? How are you using today's technology to get your music out to more people? 

Great question. What is really great about present time is you do not need a record deal to make your music.

With Pro Tools, social media and the Internet, you can self-produce a high quality product. With Internet radio, we are getting plays over 45 countries globally. And our costs are manageable. 

So in that respect, it's easier. Getting sustainable revenue for the music is an issue and labels help a lot in distribution.

We use Instagram, Facebook, and other social media. We use Tunecore for distribution. We are on Jango Internet radio. Bandzoogle is our vendor for maintaining our website.

All these technological advances really help bands like ours.

Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

We want to play out at all great venues and music fests locally about eight to 10 times a year. We plan to send 300 copies of the EP to college radio stations next spring. We want 10k-20k downloads.

We want to hook up with a local studio and producer to produce our next eight songs. With "iDig," we want to play South by Southwest in March. We know a booking agent in Austin, who is a Smidgen fan.

Long term is maybe get signed to an indie label.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Brooklyn trio Mesiko to bring unique, captivating sound to Chicago

Brooklyn trio Mesiko is not the type of band that can be easily labeled.

Strands of folk and psychedelia weave their way through the band's full-length album debut, "Solar Door."

Mesiko will brings its captivating sound to The Gingerman Taven, 3740 N. Clark St., Chicago, on Nov. 11 for a free show.

Jeff Taylor also is on the bill. The music starts at 8 p.m.

I had the chance to talk to singer/guitarist Raquel Bell, guitarist David Marshall and drummer Ray Rizzo about the new album.

Q - Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "Solar Door," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a meaning behind the album's name?

Rizzo: "Solar Door" has lived up to and exceeded our expectations. It was important from the get-go to be specific about how we would become a band and shape the music. We prepared for a year and a half before we recorded "Solar Door."

Bell: To get in the room with the people we got to be in a room with was our goal and our wildest dream. For the rest, we're just holding on to the floor, if you get my drift.


Marshall: But oh what a feeling when you're dancing on the ceiling...You know. Nicole Ritchie's Dad.

Rizzo: In our Mesi-world, many words and phrases including our band name and "Solar Door" have appeared to us like found art to help us identify and navigate things that otherwise can be very trying to discuss. Solar Doors are real things for us. We like to open them.

Q - Sam Cohen, Kevin Ratterman and Joe Lambert, who all have impressive resumes, worked on the album. How did you hook up with them and what do you think they brought to the table?

Rizzo: I had previously worked with Sam and Joe.

Bell: We knew Sam from working in the Dumbo Arts Festival.

Rizzo: I knew Kevin from Louisville since he was in Elliot, but none of us had worked with him. One of Mesiko's earliest shows was for The Lebowski Fest in Louisville.

That's where we all met Kevin. He was dressed like a nihilist from the dream scene wearing a smoldering red shiny body suit and we thought, clearly this is the guy for us.

Bell: Yeah, we need this man. This wizard is IN.

Rizzo; As delicate as we could be with shaping the music, our record had to rock, and we needed the presence of people we trusted and were inspired by in order to complete the gesture. Sam and Kevin and Joe helped us step into the sweet spot.

Q - Michael Shannon is featured in the fundraising video for the new record. It seems like that was a fun video to make. I understand that he plays in the band Corporal with Ray. What is it like working with him?

Marshall: He's a seriously talented man, the sort of artist that inspires you to bring everything you've got. Be it sharing the stage or a pint, it's serious, and you know it's going to be great.

Rizzo: Mike is an encyclopedia of music, a true artist and a profound songwriter. He plays Thelonious Monk melodies on the piano and always has a song or album that he is obsessing over. He's filled in on bass for a Mesiko show.


Bell: Anytime you get to work with an artist as enthusiastic and all-in as Michael, it is the best.

Rizzo: We had everything ready to go for the Pledge Music campaign but we needed a video. Mike was down to help so I showed up at his place with a script and a few props and David's white cat helmet and we took turns filming each other. We did it in about 30 minutes. It was indeed very fun.

Q - Ray, what made you want to co-found the Motherlodge Festival in Louisville, Kentucky and has the festival met all your goals?

Rizzo: Moving to Brooklyn from Louisville, the aspect of travel and mixing the communities of New York and Kentucky was essential to Motherlodge. In New York, I'd gotten to know many inspiring independent-minded theatre and music makers who were responding as I was to a culture of underwhelming art experiences resulting from the commodification of the arts in the 20th century. 
The impact of artists' dependency upon non-profit structures, arts funding and focus groups not only negatively affected the immediacy of many artists' work - it also limited the expectations of the audience and artist for what is possible in an artistic exchange.

I thought that, even with no money, something could be started that in its essence could rejuvenate the creators and throw some new light on dim circumstances. In some ways, Motherlodge is more successful philosophically than in application, but the goal is still to share the creative moment with audiences that aren't as exposed to live art and to keep broadening the communities that take part. 

Technically, my wife and I are taking a year off to build an infrastructure that can better support Motherlodging, but we'll probably be in Louisville making something happen on the last weekend of February 2015. It's a tradition now.

Q - How did Mesiko form and how do you see the band fitting into the New York music scene? Who or what are the band's biggest musical influences?

Rizzo: I had been playing my own songs, and when Raquel asked me to play drums, we asked Steve at GBBM if he would give us a longer slot for Raquel's residency and we threw our jams together. We were Mesiko from the first show.

Marshall: After Ray and Raquel joined forces, Bell called me (having been in past projects together) to bring some of my sounds to these songs, that's when I met Ray and saw the potential.

Rizzo: I'm very proud about how much New York music comes out of us on "Solar Door," and proud of what I consider to be our version of American Pop. The shreds of Can and Bowie and X that people pick up on are come by honestly, but we didn't strategize those things or hole up with records. 

We arrived at the music being as it is because we are heatseekers and novice lucid dreamers.

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

Rizzo: Always. Mesiko is a big one.

Bell: Bring Michael Jackson back to life and do the "Hamptons BJ" dance in space.

Marshall: My dream is basically realizing Raquel's dream of touring in a self contained, mobile, live studio/stage vehicle, performing where we land. Park 'N Play. The Mesi-bus.

Rizzo: I've never heard this in my life.

Marshall: What? That's impossible.

Rizzo: Nope, but I like it.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Chicago musician Laura Glyda performing at Uncommon Ground with new music in tow

For those fans of Chicago musician Laura Glyda who have been anxiously waiting to hear more of her emotionally stirring music, the long wait is over.

Glyda recently released the EP "After Everything and All This Time," her first new music in 10 years. To celebrate the release, Glyda will perform Nov. 7 at Uncommmon Ground Lakeview, 3800 N. Clark St., Chicago.

Also on the bill is Nick Peay. The music starts at 8 p.m.

I had the chance to talk to Glyda about her new EP. 

Q - Great talking to you. It's been 10 years since you've released a CD. Why has so much time passed between "A Little Truth" and your debut solo EP? In sitting down to make "After Everything and All This Time," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

The last album I released was with my full band back in Boston in 2004. After leaving the band to move back home to Chicago, it was basically the end of a long-term relationship.

I felt like I just wanted to be by myself for a while, focus on my writing, on my style, and being more agile in where and when I could perform. Coordinating four schedules and schlepping band gear had me a little weary...I was looking forward to being solo.


But that also brought limits to the sound I could get from a single acoustic guitar. So I went through a period of some pretty heavy writer's block, where everything I wrote felt the same.

But I kept writing as it came to me, and eventually I had this collection of material I felt good about. I also thought 10 years was way too long...so my goal was to release something in 2014. "After Everything" was the answer to that. 

Q - How do you think you have grown as a musician over the years?

I have definitely found inspiration in wider varieties of music.  (Although I'm still embarrassingly in love with '90s pop records...)  I've still stuck mostly to guitar as my primary instrument for writing, but I've recently gotten back into composing on the piano, which I've been playing by ear as long as I can remember.

I still have a lot of room to grow in performing on that instrument, but I write differently on a piano than I do on a guitar. I have to think more about rhythm and every note that goes into a chord. 

On guitar, it's easier for me to define a meter or pattern because it comes more naturally to me. But in the end, my writing style still feels very honest and open, and is based on experiences, senses, and memories...I think this is the core of what I do.

Q - You are a Chicago native, but spent 3 1/2 years playing shows in New England with your band. What made you want to come to back to Chicago? What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do the two scenes compare? 

I actually got homesick for Chicago while living in Boston. I really enjoyed living in that city, and it still feels like home in a way. 

I spent seven years out there between college and the years following, and it had a profound effect on me. Honestly, I wasn't sure I would want to come back to Chicago after college - I wanted to travel all over the world and never live in the same place for too long...but one day I just wished I was back here in the Midwest.

Shortly after that, I decided to move home. The Boston music scene is really fascinating - The Laura Glyda Band started when I was at school at Northeastern University, so we had kind of a built-in audience of our friends and classmates.

But that audience turns over every four years. You can experience this great surge in fan base and popularity, but as people move on and away from the city, you end up starting all over again to gain ground.

Obviously things have changed over time and now people can access music anywhere. Overall, Boston was a pretty small, tight-knit scene in my opinion. 

It was easy to get started, but hard to really break through the 100-person rooms you'd play once a month just to stay current. Chicago is teeming with venues of all shapes and sizes, and while I think there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to collaboration and camaraderie amongst artists in the city, it's a big place, and there are a lot of people willing to support local bands.

Q - Where do you think you fit into the Chicago music scene?

I am really proud to say there is a strong community of songwriters in Chicago, coupled with some wonderful venues and booking folks who work hard to keep the community thriving. The Chicago Songwriter's Alliance was formed last year which promotes not only a wide variety of artists for people to listen to and discover, but it's a fantastic way for artists to network and meet other performers to collaborate with. 

I've recently been attending a small songwriter workshop a friend of mine put together so we could hone our ideas, share our work, and get valuable feedback from other writers. It's challenged me in a way I wasn't able to challenge myself, which is pretty amazing.

As for the Chicago scene as a whole, I'd like to see some larger venues working to incorporate the local songwriting community into some of the larger-known acts they get coming through the city. I know a lot of artists tour together, but where there is an opening on a bill, there is likely a really talented local performer who could contribute to that experience for the fans and the club. 

Q - I understand that Patty Larkin is one of your musical inspirations. How did she inspire you? What is your approach to songwriting?

Patty Larkin was one of my heroes in my formative songwriting years (a.k.a. high school). She is an incredible guitarist and lyricist, and she challenged what I often feared was a dime-a-dozen category in the music business - the solo, female, singer-songwriter.

Her music also incorporates alternate tunings and witty storytelling...something that inspired and also motivated me to try and write to that level. I write very organically, usually with one phrase, melody, or line 'appearing' in my head and sticking with me until I write around it to bring it to life. 

Sometimes I'll hear a song in a store, walk out humming a few notes from that song and changing it a little bit with each iteration, and five blocks later I'm singing a completely different line than what I started with, and I'm compelled to find words to match. (And I couldn't begin to tell you what the song in the store was by that point...)

Like a lot of artists, I write best when I'm struggling with something, or when someone close to me is going through something I can try to internalize to understand. Sometimes it comes from going back to something that made you write an old song and 'digging' it up, so to speak, in order to feel what you felt that made you write in the first place.

Other times, a song just comes to me. That might sound weird, but honestly some songs feel like they write themselves.

Although in retrospect, the seeds for that melody or hook or pre-chorus may very well have been tumbling around in my head for months before it broke the surface and grew into a song... 

Q - You taught yourself how to play guitar at the age of 14. What made you want to start playing the guitar? I understand that you've also given guitar lessons. In teaching guitar, what are the fundamental lessons that you stress?

I spent a lot of time at my grandma's house when I was young, and my uncle had a guitar there. I used to just hide in the basement and make up songs on the guitar whenever we'd visit.

Then my mom bought herself a guitar and a book of chords, and I became obsessed with playing and learning. I think I played that guitar more than she did. 

But to me, a piano felt like handing someone a dictionary and saying, "Here, write a story using anything you find in this book." It was so open and overwhelming, all laid out like a linear, blank canvas. 

I've found I create much better with a bit of structure. With guitar, the strings were tuned a certain way, and I could only play where my fingers could reach; and because I played by ear, I wasn't bound by traditional chords. I could explore combinations of fingerings that sounded different or odd...and when I couldn't find a note I wanted, I'd mess with the tuning to create it.

In teaching guitar, I worked mostly with elementary school kids. What seemed hardest for them was playing loud or strong enough for fear of making a mistake. 

One of my favorite music teachers once told me, "If you're going to make a mistake, make a big one." It taught me that there is no room for fear in songwriting...you have to step fully forward into the light with your words and with your music, or it won't mean everything it could. 

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations? 

I have a running joke with myself that someday I will write an open letter to John Mayer convincing him that we should collaborate on a song, or two, or a whole album, or a tour...but I couldn't date him in order to get on his record.  (Although I do really think he is a captivating musician.)

Seriously, though, I absolutely adore Kathleen Edwards' music and would really love to perform or tour with her. I also dream about having a great indie rock band where everyone sings and plays everything (in the vein of Typhoon or Hey Rosetta!)...maybe for my next record...