Friday, September 19, 2014

Chicago band Renegade Lightning Rebellion bringing unique sound to Beat Kitchen in support of new EP


Chicago band Renegade Lightning Rebellion's sound is as distinctive as its name.

The band will perform Sept. 25 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, in support of its new self-titled EP. Also on the bill is The David Mayfield Parade.

The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $12, available at www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to frontman Brian Stark about the new EP.

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, the band will be performing at the Beat Kitchen on Sept. 25 to celebrate the release of the new EP. In sitting down to make the EP, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

Great to be here!

In the three years since the release of our first LP, "Four Statues," we had gone through a lot of changes in membership, style, and especially repertoire - it was to the point where our live shows sounded almost nothing like our record.

We wanted to give our fans something they could take home that actually sounded like the show they just heard, and give people who hadn't heard us yet a meaningful preview of what to expect from us at a show.

We tried recording some new songs on our own (the same way we'd done "Four Statues"), but for a multitude of reasons, couldn't quite get ourselves to finish them. Fortunately, we met producer Scot Stewart when we played at the Throne Room, and he offered to produce us.

So we started over again, picking four of our favorite songs to play and knocking them out really quickly. Scot did a great job capturing our sound, and we are very happy with the recording. 

Q - It seems like there is a story behind the band's name. Is there? Do you think the fact that the band has a unique name has drawn more people to its music? 

Ha ha, if anything it seems to make it harder for people to remember our name! We get called Renegade Lightning Brigade a lot, which is wrong.

Renegade Lightning Rebellion I think captures the playful energy of a band of close friends constantly trying to surprise each other, which is what we are. The name is also a spinoff of a name I used for my solo material - you can still find those old songs on iTunes.

I'm not going to tell you what that old project's name was, you'll have to follow these clues. 

Q - Your live shows must be fun affairs. Do you think that performing live is the band's strongest suit?  Is it hard performing the songs live because they are so musically complex? 

Performing live is my favorite part of music. An important distinction between our new EP and our old LP is that "Four Statues" was conceived before I even had a band to play the songs, and recorded before we ever played most of the songs live, whereas the material for our new eponymous EP was written specifically for the members of this band and further honed by years of live performance.


The biggest challenge we've had in performing live is that none of us are trained vocalists, however I'm very proud of how much we've all grown as singers since this band's inception.

Q - Do you have any favorite places to play in the Chicago area? What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see the band fitting into it? Are there other Chicago bands out there that you admire what they are doing? 

We fill an interesting niche in the Chicago music scene, in that many of us are active as professionals outside the band: Jessie has played in the orchestra for Candid Concerts and American Chamber Opera companies, Marty regularly plays in the pit for musicals at Drury Lane, Keith does studio work, Brandon plays weddings and I've had the good fortune of having been commissioned to compose a cantata for Covenant Presbyterian Church, in addition to regular work with some jazz dance bands.

Cantata Selection:

So we are bringing this wide range of influences and experiences into the rock and roll/singer songwriter scene, and we find it draws us into some interesting non-musical associations - we often get asked to play alongside comedians, we played as the pit orchestra a musical production my friend wrote, and we have an upcoming association with another comedian to be part of a collaborative creative revue based on one of Shakespeare's early works.

Aside from that, my favorite venues in Chicago are still the Gallery Cabaret and Uncommon Ground, because they represent opposite ends of the discipline/insanity spectrum, and I think that is what Renegade Lightning Rebellion is all about.

The bands I follow the most closely personally in Chicago are probably John Dorhauer's Heisenberg Uncertainty Players and Bryant Scott's Great Postmodern Nightmare - two large jazz ensembles with incredibly creative and talented writers at the helm.

Q - How did the band come together in 2011? How do you think the band's sound has evolved since forming and how do you see it continuing to grow? 

I assembled the band to perform a suite of songs I composed while backpacking in Europe that eventually became "Four Statues." I invited friends from college, from work (Starbucks at the time) and from church (Evanston Vineyard, at the time).

My initial concept for the band was to completely defy conventional instrumentation by selectively eliminating or re-orienting the bass and drum parts, and also to have everybody playing instruments they weren't comfortable playing. This is how we all became singers, and all of us took turns being the drummer.

After playing out a bunch and working new material into the mix, we've settled into a slightly more conventional format with bass and percussion at the center of the mix. The two main things I'm trying to accomplish with this band musically as we move into the future is a greater embrace of musical space, and incorporation of more danceable beats.

Q - The David Byrne/Talking Heads influence in the band is strong, in my opinion. Would you view him and the Talking Heads as major influences in the band's music? Who or what are the band's other major influences? 

When I heard Talking Heads for the first time in college, it was an amazing validation and encouragement to me - finally a singer in a successful band who has a voice like mine and is using it effectively! David Byrne's vocal style and free-associative lyrical approach were huge influences, and I think are especially evident on our early song, "Nature."

The next great vocal archetype I came across was Spencer Krug, especially his work with Sunset Rubdown. He wraps his voice around unconventional melodies with a power and assurance that I found very inspiring. 

His songwriting was also a great challenge to me - he had a way of organizing lyrical motifs and images that reminded me of how a great composer would arrange musical motifs in a symphony. "Four Statues" was in many ways a tribute to Sunset Rubdown and the lessons I learned from listening to them over and over again. 

Krug's associate Carey Mercer, from Frog Eyes, has also been an inspiration - his commanding, warbling voice was the impetus that led me to compose a series of "Pirate Songs," from which "The Swashbuckler" on our EP is derived.

Aside from that, I think everyone in the band has great admiration for the Dirty Projectors, who are a constant inspiration to perform difficult music at a high level.

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

This EP contains less than half of the exciting new material we've introduced in the last three years. We hope that through our release show and sales of the EP we can raise enough money to record at least another EP's worth of music.

Our long-term goal is just to keep working on our music so we can connect with audiences on an ever deeper level for the rest of our lives.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chicago band Ten Foot Tail to bring its eclectic sound to House of Blues



Chicago band Ten Foot Tail is not the type of band to be pigeonholed. 

The band, featuring brothers Chris and Paul Castelli, believes that music is to be explored. Over the years, the two brothers have done just that, sharing the stage with the likes of Heart and Lynyrd Skynyrd and working with esteemed producer Bob Ezrin. 

Ten Foot Tail will perform at 8 p.m. Sept. 24 at House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago.

I had the change to talk to Paul Castelli about the upcoming show.

Q - Great talking to you. You guys will be performing at the House of Blues. For those people not that familiar with your music, what should they expect? 

People should expect an eclectic mix of music with a great vibe that will make people feel good. They can also expect some longer jams and some improv during certain songs we are feeling.

Q - You guys dip into a lot of musical genres. Is that a result of being exposed to different music and/or not wanting to be pigeonholed? Is the band currently working on new music?

Yes, we love all sorts of music and to be honest, get bored playing the same styles. It is fun to be able to take different genres and use them as influence for a song. We currently are writing and heading into the studio to record in January or February of 2015.

Q - In the late '90s and early 2000s, you were part of the band Escape From Earth. The band's EP "Three Seconds East" was produced by well-known producer Bob Ezrin. What was that experience like and what did you learn from the experience?

That experience was amazing and it is the reason Ten Foot Tail's sound is what it is. Bob told us to go back to our "roots" and start jamming classic covers to give us more feels and ideas. 

Well, we took his words to heart and it is the best creative awakening we have ever had.
No genre is off limits to us. 

I like to think we have our own sound. When you hear us you know it is Ten Foot Tail, but you also get an eclectic mix of sounds, feels and styles.

Q - The both of you also have played with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Heart. Did those experiences give you more insight into the music business?

Those experiences gave us the thrill of playing large venues with a lot of people seeing us. Working with Bob Ezrin was a true insight into the music business.

Bob has done it all and seen it all. His words were golden. It's an honor to play with bands such as Heart and Skynyrd and it was a lot of fun.

Q - Escape From Earth had a harder rock sound than your current band. Do you have a favorite genre of music?

I think we all just really love rock based music. Escape from Earth was going for a particular sound and was geared towards a look and fitting in.

Ten Foot Tail is basically the complete opposite. We don't want to fit in, we want to do whatever we want without thinking about genre.

Chris has a very soulful voice so bluesy and soulful styles fit him, however, we love jamming at getting funky and loud. If I have to say a favorite, we all would agree that classic rock bands in the styles of Cream, Zeppelin and Floyd is def our favorite.

Q - What are the advantages of being in a band with your brother? Do the pros outweigh the cons?

The advantages are that we can pretty much read each other's minds at this point and yes the pros outweigh the cons. We have a lot of respect for what each other is good at and trust each other to just do it.

Our likes are extremely similar and we pretty much have the same vision for the band. Of course, we have our moments, lol.

Q - The both of you have been in the music business for a while. Is it easier or harder to be a musician these days?

It is way harder to be a musician these days. In every aspect of the business. 

We love playing live, but venues rely so heavily on the bands to bring out people that the music gets lost. Every aspect of the business is the bottom line. 

We get it cause it's business, but music is also art, so it is a different kind of business. I wish clubs would get a bit more creative with promoting themselves instead of relying on musicians to keep their club afloat.

We don't rely on them to write our music and play our instruments. As far as record deals
and all that jazz, we don't even think about it. We write, record and play live. Repeat.

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

We really have no clue about the scene, ha ha. Seriously, we just do our thing and kind of have blinders on. 

I have seen some really cool bands we have played with, but we are so in our own world, it is hard to keep up with everything. As far as us "fitting in," I think we can play with anyone because of our diversity and originality. 

We don't gear ourselves toward only playing with certain style bands. If there is a gig to be played, we don't care where or what, we will do it. 

We just love playing live and taking risks.

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

Our short term goal is to record a new EP at the beginning of 2015. Long term goals are to get on more festival gigs and create more of our own little following around the Midwest.

We know we can, just need more exposure. Playing for us is the easy part, getting that following is the hard part. 

So thank you for helping us spread the word about Ten Foot Tail, we really appreciate it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Guitar master Andy McKee coming to SPACE in Evanston with new EP in tow


His inventive acoustic guitar playing has garnered Andy McKee millions of YouTube fans.

But his latest EP, "Mythmaker," features McKee playing electric guitar and piano as well as his trademark acoustic guitar playing. McKee will perform at 7 p.m Sept. 21 at SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston.

Tickets are available by going to www.ticketweb.com.

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

Q - Great talking to you again. Of course, you are touring in support of your new EP, "Mythmaker," which features you playing electric guitar and piano in addition to acoustic guitar. What made you want to do something different on this EP? Are you happy with how the EP turned out? 

I'm really happy with how the EP turned out. It was great to break out a little bit from the strict solo acoustic guitar thing and it's something I'm sure I'll do at least a bit more of as my career continues. 

At this very moment though, I am completely enraptured with Michael Hedges' music again. I mean I guess I always am, but at the moment I'm going through a particular fascination again.

I'm hardly listening to anything else!

Q - The piano piece "June" is dedicated to your mother and grandmother. What was their biggest impact on your life? 

Well my mother pretty much raised me, my parents divorced while I was quite young and then my mom and brother and I moved to New Mexico for a few years so she was a very strong guiding force for me. She taught me a lot about empathy, and still does. 

My maternal grandmother passed away before I was born, sadly. I wanted to write a piece that was somber but reflected hope as well in some way, in her honor. Her name was June.

Q - I understand that you've also created your own label called Mythmaker and that you plan to release your own music through the label as well as release music from other artists. What are your goals for the label? Are there any specific artists you would like to sign? 

I would love to have the Mythmaker label be a place where people can find creative and entirely unique musicians of all kinds. It's been trickier than I thought, but we are in talks with some people at the moment about making it something substantial.

I'd love to have some real creative guitarists, electronica musicians, hammered dulcimer, shoot anyone writing great original music really! 

Q - How are you balancing music with raising a 3-year-old? What does he think about your music? 

The main consideration has been balancing touring with family life. What we've been trying to stick to is two weeks on the road and two weeks at home.

I've been home most of this summer as well, aside from a quick trip to China for a handful of shows.

So far so good! Oh and I've also got a 1-year old now too. My wife has been using my tune "Lumine" to help them calm down and go to bed lately, so much so that they ask to hear it at night.

I guess you could say they like what I do so that's nice!

Q - In 2012, you toured with Prince in Australia. Was that a highlight of your career? What attracted Prince to your music and what did you learn from the experience? 

Yeah, that was unreal. I never could have dreamed someone like Prince would be a fan and would be interested in playing together.

He saw my music on YouTube like most folks that are aware of me. His personal favorite was "Rylynn."

Anyway, it was really amazing to play with him and the brilliant musicians that make up his band in front of like 20,000 people for three nights in a row in each city. Just crazy.

Ultimately though, I think I prefer writing and arranging my own tunes or interesting covers than being someone else's guitar player. We never really got a chance to work on anything new, it was more just learn these tunes and let's go play.

Perhaps if we work together again we can take some time to develop some really interesting stuff! 

Q - You are considered a guitar master. Do you consider yourself a guitar master? 

No, absolutely not. My secret is that I'm really not that great at the guitar.

I mean, I can write some interesting music and play it for people but I really, really don't feel like a guitar master. It becomes obvious when I'm asked to "jam" or improvise with other players.

I'm OK at it, but it's just not my strong suit. For me, the guitar is more of an outlet for the music I hear in my head.

I don't look at it as something to be mastered. It's just a tool to say the things I don't have words for. 

I think there probably is no mastering the guitar, but if you want to see someone who's got to be really close, take a look at Tommy Emmanuel! 

Q - Why do you think your music has connected with so many people? How do you see your music evolving in the future? 

This is something I think about a lot and well; I should first say that I am humbled and very honored that my music has meant a lot to some people. That's something that can never be taken away and when I am 80 years old, I can look back and be quite happy knowing I accomplished that with my life. 

Some of the messages I get on Facebook are so touching; from people using my music to deal with loss or drug addiction, to people naming their daughters Rylynn. It means more than all of the professional accomplishments to hear things like that.

When I write music, I try to put myself in there. I try to express myself as best as I can.

I like to think that I've succeeded in some of my tunes and that's what people are connecting with.

As for what the future holds, I can't say. I'm currently studying composition a bit in my free time.

I'm kind of wanting to explore new directions in my writing that is a bit more unconventional. Perhaps less of a "pop-song" format in my music (verse,chorus, bridge etc.).

We'll see what I can come up with! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Chicago band The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club to release new album, will perform Sept. 13 at Metro


Chicago band The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club continues to refine its sound, as evident on its new album, "Veva, Hold On!"

The band will celebrate the release of the album with a show on Sept. 13 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are available by going to www.metrochicago.com.

I had the chance to talk to lead singer and guitarist Bill Giricz about the new album.

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, your latest album will be released on Sept. 9. In sitting down and making the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? How do you think the album compares to last year's self-titled effort?

I definitely put more effort toward vocal melody with interesting phrasing, whereas on the previous album the vocal was more style-based. While our brand of indie rock has a 'roughed up power pop' edge, I wanted something a bit more accessible this time - slightly less quirk and more hook.


There are still the supersaturated leads in songs like “Bob's Yer Uncle” and “Singlehandedly,” but presented with more control and melody, less grit and intimidation than the previous work.

I think our songs have graduated slightly from a standpoint of availability, no longer just the kid with the headphones rocking by himself up in his bedroom.

Q - In forming the band in 2009, what goals did you have? How do you think your music has evolved since then?

I suppose from the beginning, we've wanted to play better and better venues, while constantly improving musically, both individually and as a group. We were really just finding our style together at first. 

Over time, the band has become as close as family in many respects, and our music has evolved similarly. Initially, there was this type of song or that type of song, depending on who wrote it.

Now there is a cohesiveness and we tend to write together at least to some extent. Also, the live performances have become tighter, more fun and physically dynamic.

Q - Back then, the band was known as The Bishop. Why did you decide to change the band's name and is there any significance behind the name? Do you think it gives the band an advantage to have a unique name?

I really disliked the name from the get-go. I'm really big into imagery, and there really is not too much you can do with the name The Bishop.

A chess piece? A place of prominence in Catholicism? So you see where it almost becomes exclusive in a sense. 

Now, there were lots of band names bandied about, and it is surely a difficult thing to change a band name - you think of your Facebook and ReverbNation stats and whether, ultimately, your fan base will be OK with it. 

In an effort to retain a portion of what some had become sentimentally attached to, we kept the name The Bishop and put the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band spin on it. And what's more rock 'n' roll than motorcycles, rockets, and good old fashioned death defiance!? 

So there it was, The Bishop's Daredevil Stunt Club. Eventually, I would have a moment of affirmation: While in line at the Guitar Center store, checking my receipt at the door, donning my newish Daredevil Stunt Club T-shirt in shameless self-promotion, the clerk asked if I was in that club. 

Well, heck yes I was in that club. And now I want everyone to be in the daredevil stunt club. You want in? I'm signing you up, bam, you're in the club, welcome!!

Q - You have two lead singers. How do you decide which songs are more suited for you or for Paulette? Do you write songs in a collaborative fashion?

It typically depends on who originated the song. The songs tend to come about in different ways. 

I am constantly writing, so I typically end up with a lot of material per album. If I have an idea, I like to get our drummer, Luke, involved right away. 

We have a great chemistry, seem to have similar likes and direction for songs. From there Dan, Darin and Paulette get involved. 

I do like to mix our vocals, the male/female thing, as I think Paulette and I sound quite nice together harmonizing to each others' lead. Paulette writes some amazing songs as well. 

Her voice has a timbre that is unusual and super easy to mix because it sounds so naturally nice. Additionally, Dan tends to write one or two tunes per album, and his are always lyrically intriguing. 

In fact, the soon-to-be released EP, "Veva, Hold On!" is named after his song on the project. Darin typically adds his jingly/jangly, Big Star-type leads as the icing on the cake.

No matter who comes up with the tune, however, just about everything gets filtered through our exceptionally musical drummer.

Q - The band isn't signed to a record label. What have been the pros and cons of being an independent band? Would you ever want to be signed to a record label?

I have a huge revelation - music is a crazy biz! Of course, this is an understatement. 

Doing it yourself presents challenges, but there is flexibility. We spend our stash on what we think is important, we are fortunate to have a studio at our fingertips, and we have no debt.

The downside is that there is more uphill effort to get certain higher profile venues and getting our tracks on air. We have considered some opportunities, but thus far have not had an offer we didn't think we were better off to refuse. 

Would this change in the future? I guess it depends on the circumstances.

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

I LOVE the Chicago music scene! I'm not just saying that. I really do! 

Ever since my days at DePaul, I've been playing these venues for original music, and it is very seldom that a band on the bill has not been quite good. When I gig in this great city, I know it's going to be a great night!

I sincerely look forward to hearing the other talent throughout the night. And, hey, I'm with the band, so I get in free!