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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Chicago band The Sweet Maries expands musical horizons on latest album


On its latest release, "Tall Trees & Riverbeds," Chicago area duo The Sweet Maries builds on the harmonious relationship between musical soulmates Amy Shoemaker and Susie Lofton.

The band will perform material from the new album during a CD release party from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at The Rock House, 1742 Glenview Road, Glenview. 

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

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, you released "Tall Trees & Riverbeds" last year. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

The Sweet Maries - Our goals were to broaden the sound a bit by adding drums, and create a more indigenous inspired and rootsy feel. We believe we did. 

We also hired producer Jeffrey Wood to bring his expertise and vast experience into the studio, to help shape and mold our vision…and it worked.

Q - You have been working together since 2011. How did you come to work together? 

The Sweet Maries - We met thru a colorful and quirky mutual acquaintance who thought we might connect musically. We did. 

Q - How would you describe your collaboration? Do you both contribute equally to the writing process? 

Susie Lofton - This album has the first co-write for us, "Box Canyon Blues," however most of the previous album’s material is Amy’s writing and my contribution has been the harmony voicing and percussive accompaniment. 

Since then, however we’ve added a song or two to our repertoire that I wrote.  We spend a lot of time together and are always discovering new colors in the writing process.

Amy Shoemaker - We were both hungry to find a partner who would listen, and focus and be supportive of one another AND a good communicator. 

We found each other and it just clicked! 

Q - How would you say your voices blend together? 

The Sweet Maries - We think we have a unique harmony to our voices. All together heavenly. 

Q - Susie, I know you have worked in other genres of music. What drew you to the folk/Americana genre? 

Susie Lofton - It's true, I have become very eclectic in my tastes in music and largely attribute that to the many voices I hear running thru my head! The genre I find myself in now is a return to the early days of my exploration at The Old Town School of Folk Music. 

I was so smitten by the singer songwriter style. The art of the story. The beauty of harmony. 

I love the intimate space it allows for that I haven’t too often found in other genres.

Q - It seems like there has been a growing interest in the folk/Americana genre in the past few years. Why do you think there is a renewed interest in the folk/Americana genre? 

The Sweet Maries - It's all about the singer. Truthful colorful storytelling about real life. 

Real feelings. Real people. There always has been and always will be singer/songwriters. 

Music trends ebb and flow, but singer /songwriters are a constant in American music. Whether it's folk, gospel, blues or rock, it’s the story of America.

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

The Sweet Maries - Chicago has a rich history of holding its own in the singer /songwriter genre. We like to think we’re part of that tradition. 

We’re grateful for the family of singer / songwriters that we’ve found here in Chicago, and we’re gonna keep going - 'til we make Americana Great Again! (wink!)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Acclaimed Chicago band Hemmingbirds will perform farewell show on Dec. 29


Fans of critically acclaimed Chicago band Hemmingbirds will have one last chance to see the band before its three members go their separate ways.

The band will perform Dec. 29 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Mutts, Archie Powell & The Exports and Jesse W. Johnson also are on the bill.

The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10, available at

I had the chance to talk to Hemmingbirds frontman Yoo Soo Kim about the band's career and the upcoming show.

Q - Great talking to you again. When we last talked in February, the band had just released its new EP, "Half a Second." Was this just the right time for the band to call it quits?

Great talking to you too. I think it more or less was the right time to call it quits.

We’ve been together for six years and just felt burnt out with the band. Creatively, we did a few writing sessions to toy with the idea of doing one more EP, but we just weren’t on the same page with what we liked anymore.

We went on tour for a few weeks to promote “Half a Second” and didn’t quite get the response we’d hoped. It just felt like things weren’t quite clicking the way we wanted with the band.

And as an artist or a band, if your heart’s fully not into it, then it’s just not fair to yourself or your fans to keep doing it.

Q - What should people expect at your farewell show? Will the band be performing songs from throughout its career?

We’re going to play songs off our two LPs and recent EP. Most will be songs that people have heard regularly at our shows.

We’re going to be self-indulgent and play some deep cuts that we like a lot. Bear with us on that.

We’re going to have friends come on stage and play with us. We just want it to be as fun as possible and enjoy the history of the band in a way that gives back to everyone who’s supported us over the years.

Q - Hemmingbirds has received critical acclaim over the years. What do you see as the band's legacy? What kind of impact do you think Hemmingbirds has had on the Chicago music scene?

That’s a great question. It’s hard to identify any sort of legacy because we’re still so close to the end of it.
I guess in a blunt, self-evaluating way, we were a band that I believed put out three very solid records. But we were an example of a band at a local level that didn’t have the production on our songs necessary to take off. 

We had good songs, but we didn’t have that one “hit” song to take us to the next level. Outside of the music, we didn’t have the image and vibe quite there through most of the life of the band to take off.

I think “Half a Second” was as close as we got to being a representable package of a band that could’ve broken nationally, but, even then, it was not enough. So I guess that’s what I believe is our legacy: a good local band that almost had it together, but just wasn’t quite there.

Regarding our impact on the Chicago music scene, I think we were a solid band in the scene that other musicians liked. For whatever it’s worth, I’d like to believe that we were pretty nice dudes who tried to help support the scene by going to shows, buying records, and sharing local music.

I’d also like to believe that, as an Asian-American, I’ve helped inspire other Asian-Americans to believe that it’s okay to create art seriously and have that be your main endeavor.

There’s a lot of societal and familial influence in what you do with your life when you’re Asian, and I want fellow artists to say that they can be an artist too because this Korean guy is fronting a rock band.

Q - Does the band have any unfinished goals?

I think goals for the vast majority of bands and artists is perpetual. It would’ve been cool to tour more nationally, play certain venues, play certain festivals, etc.

You hit certain goals and then you want more. We would’ve liked to release another EP and gone through the whole cycle of that, but the energy for us just wasn’t there, so we left that on the table.

Q - What does the future hold for you and the other members of Hemmingbirds? Will you be forming another band or are you going to make a solo album? Or will you be doing more producing and engineering work?

I think it’ll be pretty difficult for any of us to just stop playing music. In one form or another, we’ll still be doing it.

I know Tim has a collection of songs he’s recorded that he’s figuring out how to release. Zach played drums on Jesse W. Johnson’s upcoming record, and I’m sure will continue to drum for other bands. 

I will take a back seat for a bit to figure out what I want to do. It will definitely be another project…but I don’t know if it will be strictly a solo record or a band.

Maybe it will be in a Broken Social Scene style or something in that there are no limitations on who can creatively participate on songs. I’m producing some artists right now – Mia LeBlon, Hiber, Jesse W. Johnson – and definitely will keep doing that.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Chicago band Trick Shooter Social Club releases new album, will perform at House of Blues

On its second full-length album, Chicago band Trick Shooter Social Club attempted to create a piece of work that felt alive and urgent.

The band does that and much more. Trick Shooter Social Club is bound to perform songs from "Generator" when it plays Dec. 29 at the House of Blues,  329 N Dearborn St., Chicago.

DNK, The Giving Moon and Owens Room also are on the bill. The show starts at 7:15 p.m. and tickets are $10, available at

I had the chance to talk to singer/guitarist Steve Simoncic about the new album.

Q - You guys recently released your second full-length album. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

Our goal for this album was to try and create a piece of work that felt alive, urgent and vital. We wanted to give the songs the space to swell and flow and ebb in a very organic way - and let every member of the band invest him or herself into the moments.

We also wanted the album to have some nutritional value. To story tell.

"Generator" is essentially about resilience and redemption - of a moment, of a life, of a country. We tried to tell stories that felt like now - of folks finding their footing and figuring it out.

Generators are loud and messy. But they signify strength and hope - that was our central metaphor for the album.

In the moment after a disaster - it is the sound of a generator off in the distance that signifies the first step toward figuring shit out and moving forward to seek a little glitter in the rubble.

We hope we accomplished at least some of this is the making of the album. You never know - but we hope we at least got somewhere on this path with the album.

Q - Is there a story behind the album's name?

There is. It is two-fold. There is the practical/physical notion of a generator - that thing that starts the recovery - that loud, oily machine that fires up after the worst has passed.

We also liked the more metaphorical aspects of "Generator" as it relates to being an artist - the idea of making something out of nothing - conjuring and constructing something you believe in that didn't previously exist - and just the grit and sweat it takes to put it all into action and make it real.

Q - The band blends a number of genres, including rock, country, blues, soul and folk music. What kind of sound was the band striving for? Is the band's sound a result of your different influences?

It's funny, Larry and I didn't have a grand vision for our specific sound, but we did have very specific ideas about our rules of engagement. We wanted everything to be organic, real, authentic.

We also wanted to tell stories and always, always serve the song. That said, Larry and I share influences that cross punk, rock, country and blues - ranging from Kiss to Steve Earl to Social Distortion to Grand Master Flash (Larry used to be a DJ).

All of those influences contributed to our musical soup. 

Q - How did the band come together in the first place?

Larry and I had been in another band that broke up. We found ourselves getting together in a basement studio in Lakeview writing these really simple acoustic songs - just shaping the songs and stories over a few months.

At some point, the material started to take shape and we decided grow the project. We very consciously decide not to create a traditional band - four guys staring at their shoes.

Instead, we created a Social Club - and by that we mean a collection of music that ebbs and flows. We have a core/nucleus, but we always invite musicians to sit in a and collaborate and jam and play shows with us.

It is always fresh and evolving - all about community. 

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

The scene is strong. Chicago has so much talent and people tend to really be about the music - not just about the presentation.

We have been lucky to play with cool bands and cool people. If we had a wish it would to have be more event/festivals of like minded bands.

There is some of that happening - but a greater degree of curation of music nights would be awesome.

Q - It seems like Trick Shooter Social Club could fit comfortably in the Americana genre, a genre that has seen more interest in the last few years. Why do you think there has been so much interest in Americana music?

I think it is timeless. The progressions, instrumentation and central themes of Americana lie in roots music - early American music.

I think as a people we are sort of hard-wired to receive these sounds and stories. Musical styles and genres come in and out of fashion - but organic music that tells stories is something I think we all sort of relate to as a tribe.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Paramount Theatre presents rousing version of "The Little Mermaid"

Photo credit: Liz Lauren


The Paramount Theatre in Aurora has once again taken a familiar classic and made it fresh.

On the heels of last season's acclaimed version of "Hairspray," director/choreographer Amber Mak has done it again with this rousing production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid."

For those not familiar with the story, "The Little Mermaid" is about a mermaid who longs to leave her enchanted underwater kingdom to find love up above. Paramount newcomer Kari Yancy seems destined to play the role of the ever optimistic Ariel, and her sunny disposition is what helps bring so much joy to the production.


Her powerful vocals also are a highlight of the production, and it's no wonder that the evil Ursula wants to keep that memorable voice for her own purposes.

Another Paramount newcomer, Christina Hall, brings the right amount of devilish charm to the role of Ursula as well as a commanding stage presence, something else the role requires.


Other cast members such as Jonathan Butler-Duplessis - who is no stranger to the Paramount stage having starred in "A Christmas Story," "Tommy" and "In the Heights" - add to the strong overall performances in the production. Butler-Duplessis also shows off the fact he is multi-talented. Not only is he the voice of Ariel's crab friend, Sebastian, he also is tasked with controlling the strings of the puppet.

Actor George Keating, another Paramount Theatre alumnus, is also kept busy during the production playing the dual role of Grimsby and Chef Louis. His unbridled take as Chef Louis leaves the audience in stitches and is one of the many highlights of the production.


Not to be outdone is Michael Ehlers, who turns in an incredibly charming performance as Scuttle the seagull. Along with the strong performances, eye-popping visuals, sparkling choreography and a soaring score by the Paramount Orchestra help make this the perfect event for the family during this holiday season.

Because of record advance sales, Paramount Theatre has announced a one-week extension of its upcoming, holiday-season production of "The Little Mermaid." Originally scheduled for a seven-week run through Jan. 8, it will now run through Jan.15.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid is rated G. The Paramount Theatre is located at 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora. 

Tickets are available by calling the Paramount at 630-896-6666 or visiting its website,