Friday, July 14, 2017

Chicago singer-songwriter Sacha Mullin expands his musical vision with new album, "Duplex"



By ERIC SCHELKOPF 

Musically adventurous singer-songwriter Sacha Mullin will celebrate the release of his solo album "Duplex" with a show on July 15 at Cafe Mustache, 2313 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. 

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

Q: Great talking to you. Your solo release, "Duplex," is being released this month. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?



Thanks for having me, Eric. My only real goal was to make a record I was completely proud of, and that certainly happened!

Q: Did you set about to do something different than your past efforts?

Yeah, I’d say so. You never really want to admit during any promotional stuff that you were unhappy with what you’re schilling, but I had so many hang-ups doing the making of my debut record, "Whelm." Promoting that record felt like torture. 

First, let me say that one of my favorite things to do is be a backing singer. It’s a supportive, thoughtful art, and a real thrill when your voice resonates with someone else’s.

The music industry is essentially the opposite of those qualities, whether you take that literally or figuratively. "Whelm" was plagued with marketing, production, and general record label issues, and there I was, not really able to talk about that.




It’s so strange making such a thematically personal record, and feeling like you’re making it for the whims of other people. By the end of it, I bought the rights back, tried to salvage what I could, and ended up just wanting it over with. I felt isolated and fatigued.

I know fans get frustrated when they see artists dismiss their work. I want to clarify that I’m not dismissing my debut at all.

I really like "Whelm." I really love the songs, and I think there are a lot of good ideas — but maybe my ambitions got the best of me at points? I was stressed out, not realising that I was probably trying to do too much. I remember Todd [Rittmann] calling it “overwrought."

I made it my charge that if I was going to do the “solo thing” again, that I would do it with both a better head space, and on my own terms. I wouldn’t need to compromise my ideas, just learn to execute them better. So here we are with "Duplex," and I couldn’t be happier.

Q: The album was produced by Todd Rittmann. How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brought to the table?

I’ve known Todd for a while, and I’m lucky to call him my friend. We first worked together when he was producing stuff for Lovely Little Girls and Cheer-Accident, and we built a good rapport.

Both of us have similarly adventurous tastes in music, and love the same kinds of jokes. But otherwise, we’re really different people. I mean, he’s really cool, whereas I’m pretentious (laughs). What I think really brings us together is a mutual respect for each others’ work, and a fearless honesty.


Todd and I have had a lot of really good conversations over the years, and when it came time to sort my songs out, he was the first person I thought of. He's like an ambassador with sounds: he understands how to blend various competing elements to sound like they belong together.

Moreover, it's hard to articulate, but Todd knows how to find the darkness hidden beneath something in the most stunning way. You can really hear what I mean his Dead Rider material, and on Evelyn Davis’s "The Wit of the Staircase." Those are polar opposite projects, and yet there's his unmistakable sensitivity.

Working on "Duplex" specifically, he brought that all of that usual, uh, Toddness, plus some much needed patience, cheerleading, and a janky coffee machine with some Folgers.

Q: You have been a talent scout/casting assistant for the television show "America's Got Talent." What did you learn from that experience? Were you surprised at all by any of the acts trying to make it on the show?

Oh, lord. That part of my life was so long ago that it almost feels like another life. I got into that world through a friend.

We would scout various clubs at all times of the night. It was so surreal. It’s funny, actually, I was just going through a box and found my old “staff” shirt. 

I loved that job and the people I worked with very much. But I’d always been a bit cynical on talent competitions. I mean, you see the same swooping, sparkly crane shots, the contestant’s struggles that are milked for ratings, and then just a general appraisal for the mediocre.

All the while you see supernaturally talented people that you scouted get turned away. I have a lot of conjecture about why that was a common thing, but that aside, I got so drained from seeing so many broken hearts.

That’s probably why I turned my focus towards education, so I could directly develop what it is that I saw in certain people. 

What I learned most from that job was how to handle professional crises in a calm, timely manner. Oh, and that Sharon Osborne only likes “non-chain Italian food”. That’s important, right? (laughs)

Q - You are also a voice and talent instructor. What are some of the things that you try to convey to your students?

How to be a critical thinker. How to figure out the emotional rationale between theory and technique. 

How to be kind to yourself. How to respect others time.

How to actually listen. A lot of general life skills that seem to get amplified when it comes to performing, really.

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

I fit in? When did this happen? This is a thing that has happened? (laughs)

Honestly, it’s really interesting, and I have to think about this a lot. I grew up in the Minneapolis scene, where shows are basically a kamikaze Whitman’s Sampler of genres, and I barely fit in there!

As an observation, I’ve found that I'm either too much or not enough of one thing for a lot of people. 

I swear I’m not consciously aiming to be outside the box or whatever, I just have a lot of really disparate influences.


My former voice teacher Judi [Donaghy-Vinar] introduced one of my recitals by saying that I “liked the box OK." I still find pretty amusing. 

After many years, I still don't really have a clear grasp on the scene here. Like, I get the politics of it, and the attitudes, but there's still a lot of mystery for me to uncover.

That said, moving to Chicago was really important for me. It’s here that I was able to grow into my own, work diligently, and collaborate with others who also liked just doing their thing.

The camaraderie I've found here has been inspiring.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Second annual Localpalooza to raise money for ALS research




By ERIC SCHELKOPF
 

After raising more than $4,000 last year for The Patrick Grange Memorial Foundation for ALS Research, Localpalooza will return for a second year later this month.

Headliners The Ivorys, independent hip-hop artist Rich Jones, indie soul band Honey & the 45s, Americana/punk group Bad Bad Meow, indie rock band Namorado, garage/rockabilly trio The Dyes and opener Elle Casazza are set to perform July 22 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. 

More information is available by going to www.eventbrite.com. I had the chance to talk to Burnside & Hooker guitarist Michael Vogus, who once again is organizing the event.


Q - Great talking to you again. This is the second year of Localpalooza. How successful was it last year? Did it achieve all your goals? 

Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me. You have always been super supportive of us and the local music scene as well, and we appreciate that.


I think last year was a great success - we raised more than $4,000 for the charity and had a great turnout. What I found really cool about this event is that it provided a platform for all parties involved to reach a new audience.

We had a great turnout from people associated with the charity, who may not have known many of the local bands in the scene today and it allowed the charity to reach a new audience of people who weren't familiar with them. I think that is a huge accomplishment and we look to build on that again this year.

Q - Are you glad to be moving to a bigger venue - Lincoln Hall - for this year's event? Was it cramped for space at last year's event at Schuba's Tavern?

 Lincoln Hall is definitely one of my absolute favorite venues in the city, so we are thrilled to be there. I don't think last year was necessarily cramped, but Lincoln Hall is better suited logistically to handle an event with seven bands on the lineup.

We also have several bands on the bill that have sold out Lincoln Hall on their own, so we are expecting a full house and can use all the space we could get!

Q - How did this year's lineup come together? None of the bands played at last year's event. Do you want to feature new bands every year? 

This year's lineup came together extremely quickly; I was surprised at how many bands were interested in the event! We had over 60+ bands reach out to us, so landing on a lineup of only seven was really difficult.



I have known most of the bands on the lineup for quite some time - either playing shows with them, having our paths cross at festivals, or just being a fan of their music. This lineup is stacked from top to bottom, so come out early and plan to stay late.

I haven't really thought about if we want to have new bands every year, the lineup just happened to work out that way. I think we won't have the same bands play back-to-back years so we keep it fresh, but I would absolutely welcome back any of our bands in the years to come.

Q - Does the fact that so many bands are willing to play at Localpalooza say something about the Chicago music scene?

Yeah, I think it speaks to the work ethic in this scene. There are a TON of great bands across all genres in Chicago and they work their tails off in creating and promoting their art.


It's an honor to be able to give them a platform, and more importantly PAY them for providing that art. I can't encourage people enough to get out and see local shows...every band at some point starts out as a local band playing small clubs.

You never know when you'll stumble upon "the next big thing." Plus everyone loves having that story of when "I saw that band at Schuba's when they only had 20 people in the crowd!"

You can only get those stories from getting out and going to shows like this!

Q - Unlike last year, your band, Burnside & Hooker, will not be playing at the event. It seems that the band is busy recording these days. When can we expect a new album from the band?

Yeah, while I haven't put much thought into having the same bands play the event each year, it was a bit intentional not having Burnside play it every year. I didn't want to be "that band" that makes the event about them.




I want this to be something much bigger than just a Burnside show. That's not to say we won't play it again, but it will not be something we headline every year.

We are in the studio now working on a new single that should be released at some point this summer, and we're working on having another release at some point in Spring 2018. We've had a pretty crazy year since we played Localpalooza in 2016 - three of our seven members had a kid, and we're expecting one more in September.


Once we all get back on normal schedules, we'll be back out playing shows again.
 

Q - Are you looking to make Localpalooza an annual event? How do you see it evolving in the future?

Yes, our goal is to have this continue every year. The idea is to continue to grow as much as we can and keep raising a ton of money to support the charity and fund ALS research and awareness.


Based on the interest we had this year, and depending on turnout this year, we are talking about doing a two-night event next year with more bands. We'd like to eventually get to the point where we could do this outside as a festival.

So please come out and support us and help us continue to grow as the show is only $10 and all funds go to the Patrick Grange Memorial Foundation!

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Day in the Country festival celebrating 10th anniversary, will take place June 25 at The Hideout in Chicago




By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Now in its 10th year, the music festival A Day in the Country will feature two-time Grammy Award winner Jim Lauderdale along with an array of other artists, including Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, Lint Trappers (feat. Tony Magee), The Lawrence Peters Outfit, The Hoyle Brothers and The Family Gold.

The festival will take place at 2 p.m. June 25 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $12, available at www.ticketfly.com.

A full schedule is below:

Front porch:
 

2 to 2:30 p.m. - Jess McIntosh
2:40 to 3:10 p.m. - Northside Southpaws
3:20 to 4:05 p.m. - Lint Trappers
4:15 to 4:45 p.m. - The Family Gold
 

Backroom:

5 to 5:30 p.m. - Becky Levi & Mike Vanier
5:45- 6:15 p.m. - Hoyle Brothers
6:30 to 7:30 p.m. - Jim Lauderdale
7:45 to 8:15 p.m. - Lawrence Peters Outfit
8:30 to 9:30 p.m. - Rex Hobart And The Misery Boys
9:45 to 10:15 p.m. - Dirty Green
10:30 to 11 p.m. - Dan Whitaker & The Shinebenders


I had the chance to talk to organizer Lawrence Peters about the festival.


Q - Great talking to you again. Of course, this is the 10th year of A Day in the Country. What does it mean to you that the festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year? Are you surprised the festival has made it to 10 years?

It’s cool, man! I’m excited and honored that this grassroots event has managed to come this far, mostly through word-of-mouth.

Q - What do you think of this year's lineup? How did you go about choosing the bands for this year's festival?

I’ve been proud of every year’s lineup, but I’m extra stoked about this one. Jim Lauderdale is a long-time favorite of mine, and it’s going to be incredible seeing him on the Hideout stage, as part of my festival.


He’s an ace songwriter and singer, and a helluva showman. I’m not always impressed by the Grammys, but that guy has earned both of his. 




I usually start the year with some new local favorites in mind, and a headliner wish list. I put the word out from there, and see which headliners are an actual possibility, when the smoke clears.

After I have my star attractions, I balance out the lineup to include what I think is the right mix of honky tonk, bluegrass, string bands, and so on.

Q - What was your idea for creating A Day in the Country in the first place and has it lived up to your expectations?

I started the festival with the intention of giving the Chicago country music scene an event that we could call our own. It seemed that we were being under-represented in the bigger festivals, so starting a country-centric event was my solution to that.



Folks are already asking to be part of next year’s line-up, and that is a good sign that the event is achieving the goal of supporting the local country scene.
 

Q - Your band is again part of the lineup. What is the band up to these days? Are you working on new songs?

Yes sir, I always include The Lawrence Peters Outfit in the lineup. As much as I enjoy watching my favorite bands playing my favorite kind of music, I like singing and playing, even more. It’s a highlight of my year.

The band has been busy! We recently won our second Chicago Music Award, in the Best Country And Western Entertainer category, and we are nominated for the Reader’s Best Of Chicago Poll, also in the country band division (please vote for us!).
 


We’ve also been getting some solid shows. We opened for Wanda Jackson (a career highpoint!), and we have a bunch of cool events on the calendar ( Summer Dance on July 9, Navy Pier on Aug. 6, the season's last Picnics On The Porch, on Aug. 25, at the Hideout, and a bunch of other rad stuff).

It’s being a good year for us. We also recently tracked eleven songs, and are in solid shape for a spring 2018 release. We’ll do vinyl, CD, song books… the whole shebang.

All of the songs are originals that I finished since our first record, and I’m very excited about the recording. Gonna be a good one!

Q - Where do you see A Day in the Country going in the future? What are your goals for the festival?
 
I’m hoping I can keep walking that fine line between a small, friendly event, and a festival that can afford to give the local musicians a great day, and a solid paycheck, while bringing the great touring acts I want. I have an ongoing list of folks who are making the kind of country music I like, and I’ll be contacting many of them for next year’s event. 


It feels real good to know that there is excitement and anticipation for this yearly event.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Blues on the Fox festival provides many musical gems

Chicago singer Shemekia Copeland provided many captivating moments at Blues on the Fox festival.

Shemekia Copeland shows off her son at Blues on the Fox festival.

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Despite some weather hiccups, the 21st annual Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora on June 16 and 17 provided many lasting memories.

The weekend started off on a soaring note with two goddesses of the Chicago music scene - blues belter Shemekia Copeland and the legendary Mavis Staples.


Copeland is rightly called the Queen of the Blues these days, although she rejects the title, arguing that it should stay with the late Koko Taylor.

Although she took the stage with a cold, she shook it off in commanding fashion, tearing through songs such as "Pie in the Sky" along with delivering a passionate version of her father Johnny Copeland's signature song, "Ghetto Child."

The legendary Mavis Staples performed with a joyful exuberance that lifted the crowd at Blues on the Fox.
As fiery as her performance was, it couldn't match the one delivered by Staples, whose energy belies the fact that she is about to turn 78. She brought fresh energy to The Staples Singers' classics like "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There" along with conveying a joyful exuberance that lifted the crowd.


Chicago musicians again ruled the day during the second day of Blues on the Fox as Guy King brought his soulful blues to the stage, provided some electrifying guitar licks alongside his band's tight horn section.


Unfortunately, an approaching storm cut Elvin Bishop's set short, but Bishop and his band made the most of their abbreviated time on stage. Bishop also has a Chicago connection as he was schooled in the Chicago blues while attending the University of Chicago.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist/songwriter Elvin Bishop performed on the second day of Blues on the Fox.
Bishop and his band played with the looseness of a group of people just hanging out to jam together. Because of their limited time on stage, they could only choose a few crowd favorites, such as the song "Got To Be New Orleans" and his hit single "Fooled Around and Fell in Love," brought to new life by the uplifting vocals of Willy Jordan.


Blues on the Fox has become a cultural treasure in the Chicagoland area. And hopefully those who came out to this year's festival treasured the musical gifts that were provided.