Wednesday, October 22, 2014

With new album in tow, Chicago musician Angela James bringing original sound to Constellation in Chicago


On her new album, "Way Down Deep," Chicago musician Angela James channels classic country music artists like Patsy Cline and Rosanne Cash while creating a sound all her own.

James will celebrate the release of the new album by performing Nov. 1 at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave., Chicago. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and tickets are $10, available at www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to James about the new album.

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

When I first set out to make the record, we wanted to begin with some live recording in one of my favorite places to play and hear music in Chicago - Comfort Station. My husband, Jordan Martins, is the co-director of that space and it has incredible acoustics and energy.

It was also winter time and I was interested in recording and playing in a cold environment. At that point, Comfort Station wasn't very well-insulated. 


For some reason I wanted to see if I could hear/feel the cold in the recording, but I didn't want it to be too uncomfortable. I brought space heaters and plenty of bourbon to the two sessions we did there so people could keep warm.

We taught the musicians the song when they got there and Nick Broste recorded a few takes of each song. Jordan wanted to capture the energy of people just learning a song so it's still fresh and tenuous and we also wanted to record with people that I wasn't playing with already.

It was a great excuse to get some improvising musicians I admired involved in the project. So that was first. Then I worked on getting some foundation tracks at Minbal with Benjamin Balcom (who recorded and mixed my EP) and I continued work on those with my friend Robbie Hamilton at Pieholden Suite Sound. 

I then went back to work on the final songs for the record with Nick Broste at Shape Shop. I think my goal was to make a record in many different places with a lot of different people to reflect the music communities I'm fortunate to be a part of. I literally wanted it to be a record of my experience being a musician in Chicago thus far.

As far as the title goes, I wrote the song "Way Down Deep" in the style of a murder ballad to reflect my Eastern Tennessee roots, and it also tells the story of how I came to meditation and yoga. I think the line, "I found my closest kin way down deep within" is very significant.

Q - I understand that the album is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency and is partially supported by an Individual Artist Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, as well as a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. That seems like a unique way to make an album. Did it validate your efforts knowing you had other people supporting you?

Absolutely; it was great to be validated and supported in my first full length album. And I wouldn't have been able to finance making a record without those grants (Individual Artist Grant from DCASE and an Individual Artist Support Grant from the Illinois Arts Council). 

Most emerging artists I know are financing records through Kickstarter and other crowd-funding sites as having record label support is pretty rare unless you're a more established musician. I feel incredibly fortunate to have received two grants and feel like I can at least "break even" on making a record.

Q - I am sure you've heard your music described in different ways. How would you describe your music?

I always say: Like Patsy Cline on Quaaludes. It's kind of a joke, but also accurate.

Q - How did you go about picking the musicians that are featured on the album and what do you think they brought to the project?

Some of them - Anthony Burton, Justin Brown, Dan Mohr, and Bill MacKay have been playing with me from the beginning, or I've been involved in projects with them for a few years. Jordan is involved in the jazz improvising community, primarily through booking shows at Comfort Station and formerly the Relax Attack Jazz Series at the Whistler. 

He got to know a lot of the musicians that are featured on the album as a fan of their music and as someone who booked their groups at other venues. When the time came for us to put folks together for the recording he suggested some players, as well as my drummer Charles Rumback. 

I have grown and improved so much through playing with so many musicians from different communities/backgrounds. It's been incredibly inspiring to be around musicians who are so dedicated to their instruments/craft and play every day and gig several nights a week. 

That kind of passion and dedication pulled me through the more confusing moments of making this record.

Q - How do you think growing up in Eastern Tennessee has affected your music? It seems like alternative country artists are the ones going backing to the roots of country music rather than mainstream country acts. What do you think of the country music scene these days?

I wrote a Master's thesis centered around country music, nostalgia and the music you hear in your youth, but I'll keep this brief - you can't escape what sounds are around you growing up before you've formed your own "taste." It's going to come back somehow. 

I didn't set out to write songs that were inspired by classic country. It wasn't like I made an artistic decision, it's just what came out of me.

I had never written songs before either. Sad songs come naturally to me, I'm from Eastern Tennessee, I like bending my voice, and I have a bit of a southern accent, so I guess it was bound to happen. 

I'm not trying to make much of a statement and "Way Down Deep" is much more subtle in the country references, I think. My EP "Down and Out" was me confronting that influence more directly and now maybe I'm not as focused on it, or I'm just playing music with more people and that's changing my sound.

It's really hard for me understand what genre I fit into. As far as the country music scene now, I really don't know anything about it because I don't intentionally listen to it. 

I kinda listen to everything but contemporary country, actually.

Q - Your husband is part of your band. Are there more pros than cons in having your spouse in your band?

Many more pros. It's the best. He's the first person that hears me develop a song, he helps me write songs, and he's great with arrangement advice.

He's basically my co-producer. It wasn't an easy thing to do at first; we had to figure out a system and get better at it.

There were some definite awkward moments and arguments, but now I think we're pretty great at working together. I can't really think of a con, actually.

He would probably say that he doesn't get paid very fairly, which is true. Hopefully I'll get to a point where I can pay him what he's worth!

Q - Along with being a musician, you are also a yoga instructor. How did you get involved in yoga? How do you think yoga has helped you with your music?

I got involved in yoga right after finishing college while living outside of Asheville, N.C. I was fortunate to encounter a great teacher right off the bat, Fred Brown, who opened my eyes to the amazing world of yoga and committing to a practice of self-realization.

I was hooked and it has completely changed the course of my life. When I moved to Chicago, I almost immediately began studying with Gabriel Halpern and started apprenticing with him shortly after attending classes at his studio, the Yoga Circle. 

He has been immensely supportive of me pursuing music and following a creative path. When I first met him I wasn't playing music at all, I didn't even call myself a musician. 

Through his support as a mentor, I found the courage to take a risk and "go all in" with music. My yoga practice mostly helps me with keeping perspective on life and music. 

I think that all creative people have serious self-doubt and loathing. In fact, I think all human beings do, but when you're creating something so personal to potentially share with others there are definitely some dark moments. 

I also think it helps me embrace failure in a healthy way. I've failed a lot in the past three years, and sometimes on stage, which is not fun but really not a big deal at the end of the day.

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

I love making music in Chicago. It's a incredibly generous place to play music and a lot of the scenes cross-pollinate in interesting ways.

I love that I've only been making music here for three years and I feel so comfortable and confident in playing with new people and pursuing new projects. Generosity is really the best word to describe it.

There's also such a great history of improvisation in this town that I find inspiring. I'm not an improviser, but I draw a lot on the spirit and energy of it in performance. 

As far as where I fit into it - I really have no idea. I mean, there are singer-songwriters I feel an affinity with, but my music doesn't really sound like theirs.

I collaborate with people in many different genres and feel pretty awkward when I try and figure out where I fit in. I don't want to evade the question entirely, but maybe somebody else can answer that question better than me! 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Chicago band The NightTimers bringing energetic sound to music scene, will play at Silvie's Lounge


Chicago band The NightTimers is helping to add to the vibrancy of the Chicago music scene through its energetic sound and catchy melodies.

The band will perform a Halloween show Oct. 31 at Silvie's Lounge, 1902 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago. 

I had the chance to talk to bass/rhythm guitarist Ian Capilouto about the upcoming show and the band's latest activities. 

Q- Great talking to you. You guys have only been together a year, I understand. How did the group come together and are you guys musically where you would like to be now? Why do you think the members work well together?

We came together when Sonny, who plays drums, wanted to create a band and started rehearsing with Ryan and Brian. Ryan plays lead guitar and Brian bass/guitar/keyboards. 

I joined when I answered an ad on the Internet for a guitarist who could play rhythm and sing a bit. So that’s me, Ian. 


Musically, I’d say we are still developing, but we are happy with where our development has taken us so far. We write a lot of original songs that are unique.

Of course, every band has its influences and has some similarities in sound to previous ones, but never try to ape anybody meaning there is no intentional decision to sound like anyone or anything. 

Basically, if the song is a good one, we play it.

We work well together because although sometimes we can be taskmasters with one another, it is with the understanding that the song is the number one priority. You have to check your ego at the door with us. 

That said, we have a lot of laughs and everybody puts forward a great effort towards each other’s ideas.

Q - I am sure you have heard the band's sound described in a number of ways. How would you describe the band's music? Who are the band's biggest influences?

I believe our sound is unique. At the core, it is rock 'n' roll, though. 

To me, if you have guitars, keyboards and drums with some type of singing, it’s rock 'n' roll. Whether that’s indie rock, classic rock, punk rock, twee pop or whatever other labels there are out there, that’s for the listener to determine on their own. 

But we tend to try sounds, beats, rhythms, tempos from all over the spectrum in the quest for finding what works best for the composition and the members too. Our biggest influences are everything under the sun that any one of us likes. 

We are all record collectors so, we’ve covered songs from the 1960s and 1980s, before and after those decades as well in all genres. Basically, if it is a song that moves me in any way I like it.

Q - Is there a meaning behind the band's name?

We came up with the NightTimers because we practice later at night at times. We all have days jobs, and at night time, this is our second shift.

Q - I understand the band has already recorded an album's worth of songs. When would you like to release the album and what should people expect?

We have recorded an album's worth of material this last spring at Strobe Studios here in Chicago. We are working on having some type of vinyl pressing out by the New Year. 


People should expect a fun party time of a record with numbers that you’d want to have in the background of a party you are throwing.

Q - You guys switch up your instruments, including during your live shows. Why do you like to do that? Do you think that helps add to the vibrancy of your shows? Anything special planned for your Halloween show?

We switch instruments simply because sometimes it’s easier to sing a song while playing rhythm rather than holding down a bass line or keyboard part. It also gives the sound of our band a little more variance. 

Each guy plays an instrument a little differently. Yes, people like seeing that change on stage. 

It brings a certain level of intrigue to the audience and they may take a moment to contemplate why Brian might be playing guitar or bass on a certain number. The Halloween show will be a big party at Silvie’s Lounge in Chicago over off of Damen and Irving Park.

We will dress up on stage, there will be a costume contest and prizes. We will play a cover set of songs and a set of originals.

Q - Do all of the members have an equal part in putting together the songs? What is your part in the songwriting process?

Yes, we all write songs and we all have suggestions, but the songwriter drives the bus as you might say. Usually the best result comes when the songwriter takes input and facilitates it into the original idea without losing track of the initial inspiration for writing the song.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you think the band fits into it? What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

I love the Chicago music scene. There are a ton of great venues to play and great bands too. 

I think as long as you make the effort to be a quality group, there is an audience out there for you and venues happy to have you. We fit in well wanting to provide a part of the vibrant Chicago nightlife at gigs. 

People in Chicago like to experience the metropolitan lifestyle while not being too cool for things. I think our band represents that lifestyle. 

Have fun, be cool but be inclusive to everyone and everything. Our short term and long term goals are to establish ourselves as a viable concert attraction and to put out records consistently.   

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chicago's Dead on TV releases new EP, will perform Oct. 18 at Township

With in-your-face bravado, Chicago punk band Dead on TV is a band that grabs your attention.

Dead on TV will celebrate the release of its new EP, "Creeper," by performing Oct. 18 at Township, 2200 N. California Ave., Chicago. The show starts at 6 p.m. and tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com. 

I had the chance to talk to lead singer/guitarist Daniel Evans about the new EP.

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, your new EP, "Creeper," will be released soon. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

When we sit down to write, we try not to think too hard. I don't think we set out with a plan, really. 


We just try to write songs we think are fun and catchy. With "Creeper," I feel like we accomplished that and we branched out into some new territory. 

We have some songs that are different for us, we usually play really fast songs, but on this one, our song "Screwdriver" reaches down into the realms where most other music lives, like 120bpm. I love playing that song. I think we captured a very sleazy moment.

Q - It seems like you had fun making the video for "I'm Easy." Does the video reflect your love for horror movies? What were your goals for the video?

The idea for the song and video came about at the same time. We do love horror movies, and we love the DIY mentality of the artists that work in that genre. 

But when we were messing around with the riff for that song, we sing it in a cheesy horror movie choir voice (like at the beginning of the video) and do ridiculous Bela Lugosi impressions. Then we just decided to run with that idea.

We also like to make unexpected pairings, conceptually. For instance, the lyrics for "I'm Easy" are extremely perverse and intense, while the imagery in the video is very slapstick and over the top.

We do the same sort of pairing with our song "Creeper." The music is very happy, almost too happy sounding and the lyrics are very disturbed.

I always appreciated that quality in art. With making the video, we wanted to do something fun, that we could make with our group of talented friends (everyone we know is an artist, director, visual FX, make up, graphic) really quickly. 

We shot the whole video in one night and it was just like a big party. We wanted to make an homage to Ed Wood and poke fun at the idea of the modern vampire. 

The twilight and the action star vampires. We took the idea of all the classic vampires we love, and shoved them into the modern day. The idea was to make something we could laugh at for the rest of our lives. 

I still laugh every time I watch that video. The gags are non-stop! 

Q - The band was recently nominated for a sexiest act award. Do you view that as an honor? 

Absolutely! We were nominated for that award at our home away from home, The Melody Inn in Indianapolis. Every Saturday they have a punk rock night, which is about the most fun you can have listening to rock 'n' roll in the Midwest.

We love going down there and we've made a lot of friends from playing those shows. It's great to know that people actually get what we're doing and it turns them on. 

I hope we've put at least a few people through puberty. 

Q - The band has developed a reputation for its energetic shows. In developing your live show, did you look at other bands to see what they were doing? Who are the band's biggest influences?

We love classic punk bands like The Stooges and The Dead Boys. Even though it might not have been intentional, we ended up just being that kind of unpredictable, in your face show. 

I've destroyed pretty much every guitar I've ever owned onstage. There is always some blood and bruises, again, it's not intentional, just happens to be how we communicate.

I've gone to the hospital numerous times after shows. I like that every show, nobody, especially us, has any idea what is going to happen. It keeps it fun and exciting for us. 

I see too many shows where the band is just going through the motions.

Q - How did the band come together? Is there a meaning behind the band's name?

Chris and I had played music together for a few years before we decided to start Dead on TV. He was the only other guy who was as pissed off and in love with rock as I was. 

Most of the other bands we played in were industrial or electronic of some sort. So we started writing all these songs in my friend's basement to a drum machine. 

Then Vince started playing drums for us and we started playing live. It just grew into a big destructive beast from there. 

Mike and Corey came on to fill it out and now we do still incorporate some electronic sounds and we play with a synthesizer live, but it's all rock still. The name of the band came from the first song I wrote called "Dead on TV."

It just perfectly summed up all of what we were trying to do. Take all the parts of modern life that drag us down and rip them apart.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think Dead on TV fits into it? What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

Chicago is the only place I've ever lived where you can go see a band play any night of the week. There will always be a blues band playing somewhere, even on Monday night.

It's more alive and vibrant than any place I've seen. This city has a history rich with rock and roll and experimentation. But it's all pretty segregated now. 

In the '80s and '90s there were bands like Big Black, Naked Raygun, Ministry, and they all this incestuous relationship where it was a mix of punk, hardcore, metal, and electronics, industrial, and the crowds, band members and shows all mixed. Although it seems like things are changing with festivals like Riot Fest mixing genre and promoting togetherness, the punk fans listen to punk music and go to punk shows, the metal fans listen to metal and go to metal shows, the electronic and indie fans do their thing and we fit somewhere in between all of that. 

Short term, we're working on some more videos from the "Creeper" release and playing shows. More long term, we already have some songs recorded for our next release and will hopefully have another batch ready within a year.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hollywood Palms in Naperville generates plenty of spooky fun

Some scary fun prior to a screening of "Night of the Living Dead" Oct. 5 at Hollywood Palms in Naperville.

Sheriff Rick Grimes is surrounded.

Uncle Fester knows how to light up a room.

You don't want to mess with them.

David Nordmeyer of Warrenville drew a lot of screams with his walker costume.