Saturday, January 6, 2018

Chicago band Fischer's Flicker releases new album, will perform at Emporium in Chicago


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

On its latest album, "Open 28 Hours," Chicago band Fischer's Flicker once again paints a rich musical tapestry as the album veers from funk to prog to pop and everything in between.

The band will perform Jan. 18 at Emporium Arcade Bar Chicago, 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Tautologic and Wes John Cichosz also are on the bill, and the music starts at 8 p.m. Admission is free.

I had the chance to talk to frontman Scott Fischer about his goals for the new album.


Q – Great talking to you. "Open 28 Hours" is your seventh album. What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them?

Hey Eric - thanks for having me. I suppose the biggest ambition of this album was “giving birth” to the 10-minute track "Mother of a Ship." I’d say that it was probably my most ambitious recording to date. 

Granted, there have been a few other tracks over the years that have pushed further as far as duration goes (“Alone on the Moon” was about 18 minutes itself), but this one’s production and arrangement was beyond over-the-top. Then it becomes a matter of taking the right things away as opposed to making sure there’s enough there to work with.



As far as the rest of the album went goal wise, I don’t really think there were particular goals in mind other than continuing to maintain my high-standard in execution and production value as well as writing in styles that don’t confine me to one particular genre.

I definitely accomplished that this time around as well with heavy hitters like “3 6 9” (and “At Least The Boy Dreams” which was lopped off of the official release and included as a bonus track on the Deluxe Edition of the album), all the way to the lighter extreme of songs like “Zen."

Q – The album kicks off with some '70s style funk on the song "The In-Betweener." Musically, how did you want the album to stand out from your other albums? Was it hard to convince the other members of the band to dress in drag for the video for the song?


Musically, I wasn’t really going for anything specific – just writing in different genres. “The In-Betweener” is definitely a “poppier” feel than I typically go for but I think it works great as an opener (and an introductory single).


Funny about convincing the other members to dress in drag….. those that I thought would have no problem with it were probably the most reserved while those that I thought would “put up the biggest fight” embraced it in a way that was a bit too comfortable – ha! Overall, everyone  had a lot of fun that night and I think it helped a lot of entertainment to the video.

I have illusions of grandeur right now and I’m trying to put together a full video for the 10-minute “Mother of a Ship” and try to tell at least some of the in-depth story there. After thinking back to how much work went into the 4-minute “In-Betweener” video,  I’m wondering what I’m getting myself into on the “Mother” video!  ;)

Q – I understand the idea for the album's title came from an episode of "Futurama."
 

Yup!  The album was going to be called “Mother of a Ship” all along but the actual spaceship that I’ve been building out for the coming video wasn’t quite done in time for the album release, so I was a bit torn on how to handle it.

A few friends had recommended that I go back and give “Futurama” another try as the series never really pulled me in and I got a big kick out of a tiny moment where they showed a 7-11 convenient store in the future and it boasted that it was “Open 28 Hours."

I thought that did a great job of speaking towards my work ethic with the band.

Anyone who knows me would say that I have a tendency to put way too much time into my projects and often wonder how I squeeze it all in. The title seemed to tie it up nicely and the idea for the cover sort of instantly fell into place to “seal the deal."

Q – I heard that your fellow band members are longtime friends. Do you think that type of relationship has helped the music?
 

Yes, we actually just went through the process of “saying goodbye” to our rehearsal space (dubbed ‘The Cooler’) that we had been rehearsing in off-and-on since high school days. What a weird experience!  While I do sometimes have a concern that I get a little too comfy with the guys, our lineup has still changed a bit over the years.

However, the majority of the time, the “new member” is typically someone we’ve been friends with forever in our musician circle of friends and it usually helps us to get back on track at a quicker pace that way.  Not to mention the “in” jokes all still work out!

Q – What made you want to cover The Kinks' song "No More Looking Back"? What did you try to do with the song?  
 

Great question.  I always feel that there are two different methods of covering others’ songs: either make it completely your own or go for a note-for-note mimicry. 

I’ve certainly tried both approaches but lately, these note-for-note mimicries tend to work well for me. I usually pick the “unsung hero” songs that, to me, are the highlights of someone else’s career but never got the attention they deserved.

On the last album, it was Alice Cooper’s “Halo of Flies." This time around, it happened to be “No More Looking Back." In the past, we tend to set up recording sessions around four-song increments and, when going that route, we’d often throw in a cover or two since we’re all there and setup.

I had been holding on to the shell of this tracking session for quite a while (since sessions that led to the "Fornever and Never" album), and it seemed to work really nicely with the sequencing of this album.  The song has always met so much to me in my personal life.

When a relationship of intimacy ends, it’s not a clear, defined line that is drawn but rather something that affects you in waves and often lingers longer than you care to admit to.  Some of Ray Davies’ lyrics in there: “Just when I think you’re out of my head, I hear a song that you sang or see a book that you read. Then you’re in every bar, you’re in every cafe, you’re driving every car, I see you every day….”

I just love that internal conflict.  I feel that’s something that nearly everyone can relate to – and certainly something that resonates with me!

Q – You also are a contributor to the Frank Zappa podcast, Zappacast. What kind of impact did Frank Zappa have on your music and your approach to music?

Great question!  Zappa is such an enigma to the world. I hate the overuse of the term, but he was absolutely a freakin’ GENIUS!


He is someone I aspire to in many ways.  His work ethic was unprecedented so that’s definitely my largest takeaway!

I often feel that my writing isn’t very much like him though, so it’s weird when he often comes up in comparison. However, on this album,  I would definitely say that you can hear Zappa elements in the track “Mother of a Ship” for sure.

But Frank is certainly not the only source of inspiration on that piece either!  I also love his whole AAAFNRAA philosophy (stands for "Anything Anytime Anywhere for No Reason At All”).

As a matter of fact, that’s pretty much the cause of the track “Farther to the Sun” that acts as a sort of odd prelude to “Mother of a Ship." I felt like the more serious pieces on the album could use a sort of “palette cleanser” from diving into the insanity in “Mother” so I came up with that “Farther to the Sun” one day with not much to work with in advance. 

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

I’m not sure if it’s a “sign of the times” or my age but I don’t feel that I “fit into it” much at all. Most of the bands that I have a tendency to share bills with tend to be out of mutual circles of friends than shared musical interests. 



It works out nice that way though because the event offers a little bit of something for everyone.  However, I’ve felt that a lot of venues have changed in the scene and it feels like, year by year, the emphasis on draw over talent, ingenuity, creativity, etc., seems to take hold. 

I still love the live aspect though and 2017 has sort of shot us in the foot there for a multitude of reasons. I’m looking forward to changing that this new year and will hopefully have a lot more live shows to offer.

Q – Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
 

Hmm….. yes and no! Yes, in that I constantly have a million ideas and they don’t always fit into the Fischer’s Flicker umbrella or, for that matter, whatever current project we are undergoing.  However, I’d have to answer “no”, in that I typically pursue any of those dream projects or collaborations.  

Some of the other members of the band have expressed wanting to contribute to the writing lately so, presently, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes from that. In the meantime, I’ll continue throwing everything I can at the wall and seeing what sticks!  ;)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Chicago bands to perform as part of holiday clothing drive


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Once again, a group of local musicians are getting together to help make this holiday season a little merrier for those who are economically disadvantaged.

In 2011, musician Matthew Kayser started Warm, Safe & Sound, a concert and clothing drive that will be held Dec. 21 at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago. The concert will feature North by NorthSecret ColoursMonomaniaThe Handcuffs, and Star Tropics.

Tickets to the show are $10, or free with a coat donation. The organization that will receive the clothes is Cornerstone Community Outreach.  Tickets are available at www.eventbrite.com.

I had the chance to talk to Kayser about the benefit.
 

Q. Great talking to you again. You started Warm, Safe & Sound in 2011. Has it lived up to your goals? What goals do you have for this year's event?

Thanks for reaching out. I've been very pleased with what we've accomplished with Warm, Safe & Sound.
 
We've been able to gather thousands of coats and sweaters for our fellow Chicagoans. This year should be even better.
 
My goal is to gather 250+ pieces of clothing. Between the top-notch lineup, the legendary venue (The Empty Bottle), the timely cause, and the assistance of the fine folks at Cornerstone Community Outreach, I'm confident that we will top our goal.
 
I'm thrilled at the prospect of helping some of our homeless neighbors. 

Q. How did you go about putting together this year's lineup of bands? How do you think this year's lineup stacks up to past years?

In the past, I focused primarily on booking bands that fit a certain style of music. This year I booked local bands that I knew would draw extremely well.
 
To be honest, this time I wanted Warm, Safe & Sound to offer the best of both worlds. I believe it will, as I was able to build a bill that features buzz bands North by North, Secret Colours, The Handcuffs, and Star Tropics, all of whom are capable of packing out Chicago venues on their own.
 
 
Having them all on the same bill and excited about the show is a godsend. 

Q. Congratulations on being a new dad. How is that going? Has that been a balancing act?

Thank you! This pregnancy was exceptionally difficult for my wife, and we had our share of scary moments.
 
Unsurprisingly, she was amazing throughout, and now we are beyond blessed to have a healthy son. He's our fourth child, but it's been 10 years since our last one. We are having to quickly relearn all the tricks of parenting an infant.
 
It's slowly but surely coming back to us. And yes, it is always a balancing act. But I adore my family, my teaching career, and my music, so making time for everything is not as difficult as it might seem. 

Q. What can we expect from your latest musical project, Monomania, in the future?

I am beyond excited about Monomania. I have reunited with Joe O'Leary, who was my guitarist in The Bright White, and our good pal Curtis Schreiber.
 
Monomania is all about triumphant and driving rock n' roll, with a bit of jangle and a whole lot of energy. We are inspired by early R.E.M., Television, and Guided by Voices.  
 
Monomania is a brand new project, though, so we're still hashing out our goals. We do want to record in the early part of 2018.
 
We will be making our live debut at Warm, Safe & Sound, so I can't wait to reveal the band to everyone. Good times ahead.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Paramount Theatre creates holiday magic with "Elf: The Musical"

Photo by Liz Lauren
By ERIC SCHELKOPF

The Paramount Theatre's production of "Elf: The Musical" is everything that a holiday musical should be – and more.

Brightly colored sets, catchy songs, sparkling choreography and a stellar cast combine to create a joyful production that leaves audience members full of good cheer.

The musical is based on the 2003 movie "Elf." For those not familiar with the story, "Elf: The Musical" tells the story of Buddy the Elf, who finds out that is actually human and goes to New York City in search of his father.

In her director notes, director/choreographer Amber Mak took note of the challenge to live up to the audience's expectations, given the film's popularity. In her capable hands, Mak puts a fresh face on the production, as she did in presenting stellar versions of "The Little Mermaid" and "Hairspray."

Kyle Adams, who is new to the Paramount stage, captures some of that wild-eyed enthusiasm that Will Ferrell brought to the role of Buddy in the film "Elf." He also has the vocal power and strong stage presence the role requires.


We discover his love for Christmas during the rousing opening number, "Christmastown." But the production is full of outstanding performances, including Roger Mueller's hilarious take as Santa Claus. Samantha Pauly also turns in a fine performance as Jovie, Buddy's love interest.

Pauly understands the complexity of her role as she transforms from someone who is not a fan of Christmas to one that embraces the wonder of the holiday. Kudos also go out to 14-year-old Oliver Boomer, who makes his Paramount debut in the role of Michael Hobbs. He already has an extensive theater resume under his belt, and his performance in this production will hopefully lead to bigger roles in the future.


Sometimes, theatrical productions can suffer from a drop in energy level, with the second act not living up to the energy of the first act. That is not the case with this production.

It's almost like the first act was just a warm up for the cast. Case in point – the rousing song and dance number "Nobody Cares About Santa," which opens the production's second act.



Start off your holiday season right by seeing "Elf: The Musical" at the Paramount Theatre."

"Elf: The Musical" is being presented at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora, through Jan. 7. For tickets, go to ParamountAurora.com or call 630-896-6666.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Blues musician James Armstrong releases new album, will play at Buddy Guy's Legends


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Decades after he first broke into the music business, the blues continue to be good to James Armstrong.

Armstrong, 60, formed his first band in the 7th grade, and by age 17 he was touring around the country. On his latest release, "Blues Been Good to Me," the Springfield resident works with legendary producer Jim Gaines.

Gaines, who serves as associate producer on the album, helped Armstrong rediscover himself after he was stabbed in a home invasion in 1995 that resulted in permanent nerve damage to his left hand.

Amstrong will perform Dec. 2 at Buddy Guy's Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago.
Chicago musician Paul Filipowicz also is on the bill.

The show starts at 9:30 p.m. There also is a free acoustic set from 6 to 8 p.m. featuring Nigel Mack.

Tickets to the show are $20 and are available by going to www.buddyguy.com.

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


Q – I imagine that you will be playing a lot off the new CD at your upcoming show.

Armstrong – Right. The new CD is called "Blues Been Good to Me." Right now, I think it's #6 on the Living Blues radio charts.

  
Q – Are you surprised that it's doing so well?

Armstrong – I really am, I really am. You always hope that they do well, but this one is doing well and better than we all expected, so we are really happy with that.

Q – Of course, the CD is called "Blues Been Good to Me." Is there a story behind the album's name?

Armstrong – Yeah, there really is. A friend of mine named Andrew Blaze Thomas, who is an incredible drummer and is playing drums on this CD, was asked one day about playing the blues.

Him and I, like many other players, have traveled the world, we make money, and life is really good. So it's not all about having a bad life playing the blues. A lot of people think the blues is depressing and not any fun.

But for us, it's been pretty successful. The blues have been really good to us.

Q – So the album title kind of sums up your career?

Armstrong – Exactly. 

Q – And I know that Jim Gaines was associate producer on the album. And I guess he really pushed you, huh?

Armstrong – Yeah, Jim is just great. I had another CD called "Guitar Angels" that he co-produced. After my injury, there were a lot of things that I literally thought I could never do again. And I just stopped trying.

He had me start to try them again, and we were able to pull some of them off. He inspired me very much to just try new things.

Q – I noticed on the song "Second Time Around" you start out with a riff from "Secret Agent Man." Is there a story behind that?

 
Armstrong – When we recording, just in between songs, the rhythm guitar player, Johnny McGhee, he did that lick and I don't know, a couple of hours later, the drummer said, "I've always wanted to put that lick in a song." And so we kind of picked the song and a place to put it. We just decided to throw it in right there.

Q – The transition is cool.

Armstrong – Yeah. 

Q – I understand that in making the CD, you were much looser than you usually are.

Armstrong – I'm really anal when it comes to recording. I like to have everything in order. 

But at the beginning of the year, we were in Europe a lot and we were extremely busy. So I didn't have time to prepare with demos as much I usually do. 

I didn't have things in mind head like I wanted them and I was really nervous. I wasn't sure how it was going to come out.

We just went in and played it by ear, in a way. It was like, "Let's try this, let's try that." And I had never done that before.

Q – You are quoted as saying that this was the most exciting album you have done in years. Do you think that approach was the reason why?

That's one of the main reasons. Like I said, I kind of always have an idea how it's going to turn out in my head. On this album, I had sort of an idea, but not much.

So when we were recording, it was so much freer. When we sat down to listen to everything afterwards, it just turned out to be so much looser. 

We were all kind of having fun with it, compared to some of my other projects, where it's a little more serious. 

Q – You have a very soulful voice.

Amstrong – It's interesting. My music gets called soul-blues a lot, but I never thought of that.

I think the reason I get called soul-blues is because of the voice. I'm not a screamer, and I think a lot of blues guys yell and scream, and I never did that.

I didn't start off playing blues. I started off playing country. And then I went to rock. I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix when I was young. I didn't want to be B.B. King or Albert King.

But over the years, I realized how important the blues was to me, and so I just kind of wanted to bring it back to the table. 

I hear all different types of genres in my music, but everything I do, I think it sounds bluesy to me.

Even if it's a country song, I try to make it bluesy.

Q – On the album, you cover Robert Palmer's song, "Addicted to Love." Was it just the right time to do the song?

 
Armstrong – Yeah, because I had been doing it live for a little bit. I wasn't totally sure we were going to put it on the CD, but it's been coming off really well live. It was perfect timing to have that one on the CD.

Q – And of course, you also cover the song "How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You."

Armstrong – Yeah, and it's interesting. Marvin Gaye made a hit out of it, and so did James Taylor.

But I remember James Taylor's version more than I remembered Marvin's. It was just really nice for me to put a swing on it. It was a lot of fun.

Q – And you also do a new version of your song "Sleeping with a Stranger." What made you want to do a new version of the song?

Armstrong – "Sleeping with a Stranger" was my debut song when I got hired by HighTone Records.

I've been asked to do that song probably a few thousand times, and I just never did. I wanted to retrack and see how it turned out. I wasn't sure if we were going to use it.

Q – How do you think this version stands up to the original version?

Armstrong – It's cool. It swings a little but more. The other version has more of a pop-rock feel, and this one, it swings a little bit more.

It has a little bit more of a blues feel to it. The lyrics were always really strong, and I think I wrote a really good groove back in the day, so it still works today.

Q – Of course, several blues legends have unfortunately passed away in the last several years. What do you think the future of the blues is?

Armstrong – Let's put it this way. It seems like the face of the blues is changing.

That's evolution. Everything does change. Rock is not the way it used to be, country's not the way it used to be.


Blues is a guitar based music, as we all know. And it seems like a lot of the guitar is changing to rock style, and it's more speed than feeling.

That kind of bothers me. It's not that I can't play like that anymore, but it's the point that the whole feeling of the music is changing.