Thursday, February 4, 2016

Chicago band Wellthen helping put fresh face on music scene


Wellthen is helping put a fresh face on the Chicago music scene.

The band will perform Feb. 12 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 West Belmont Ave., Chicago. Wray, New Canyons and Foreign Shores also are on the bill.

The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets range from $8 to $10, available at www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to Wellthen frontman Aurelio Damiani about the band's activities.

Q - Great talking to you. I know that the band has released some demos in advance of your CD. Are these songs representative of what people should expect from the new CD? In sitting down to make the CD, what goals did you have?

We think of the demos of more of a rough sketch of what the album will look like. The album we’re putting together will be 10 songs and the five demo songs were all re-recorded.

While the structures have stayed pretty much the same we think the overall dynamics, tone, and presentation are much more representative of what we had in our heads when we originally wrote these songs. 

Q - I understand that you haven't done many shows yet, and will be doing your fourth show in February. What have you been trying to do with your live shows?

We think first and foremost, we’ve just been trying to entertain people and have a good time.

Some of these early shows have really been about finding our footing as a live band and really trying to identify our weakness and just improving on them. We have a good deal of live playing experience individually, but this band is kind of a new thing for a few of us.

For example, this is the first band I’ve played in as a lead singer.

I’ve mostly only played drums in bands so there’s definitely been some nerves flare up that I haven’t really felt since high school.

Fortunately the rest of the guys are all pros and I just lean on them to make us look and sound good. 

Q - I understand that three of the four members have played in other bands together. Has that helped to strengthen the musical chemistry in Wellthen?

Definitely! Christian and I have been playing in bands together for more than 10 years and Matt has been playing with us for nearly 3 or 4. I think it creates a nice shorthand and conversations go really smoothly more often than not.

And while Andy is technically the newest of our group, he has really slid in like an old friend. Sometimes I forget that he wasn’t in past bands with the three of us.

It all feels strangely familiar. 

Q - In forming Wellthen, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? How do you think the band has evolved since forming?

Not sure if we had any specific goals in mind when started aside from just playing good music and having fun. We’re definitely not in this to be rock stars.

I think our biggest goal so far has been the record. And by that I mean, recording it and eventually releasing it (which hopefully will be soon). 

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

So the name was from a previous short lived project between Christian and myself. We were kind of just singing duel leads over each other’s songs and were stumped in finding a name.

One day when texting back and forth, we realized that we often start and end a lot of our texts with “well then” and it just kind of fit.

When we started this project we kept hitting a wall on what to call it and Wellthen just seemed to fit. It was probably the easiest the band name we’ve ever come up with. 

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

We’ll find out, I guess. We’ll have to see how many '90s rock bands are playing in the scene now. We’ve been in a little out of touch for the past few years, so we’re really anxious to see what people are doing these days.

We’re sure it will be great! 

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

I think short term it would be release the record, get it out there for some people to listen and just play locally and maybe a little regionally. Long term, well, I think we’re more a short term goals kind of group.

Planning too far ahead is difficult and it’s maybe best just think about things in the present.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Chicago band Freaks for Geeks releasing new EP, will perform at the Beat Kitchen


Whether you call them rap-rock or rock-hop, Chicago band Freaks for Geeks is helping add to the vibrancy of the Chicago music scene.

The band will release its third EP, "TIN," on Feb. 9, and will celebrate the release of the album with a show on Feb. 13 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.

Lionize and Roger This also are on the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $10 to $12, available at www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to Freaks for Geeks lead singer Eric Slager about the new EP.

Q - In sitting down to make "TIN," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a meaning behind the EP's title?

I think the main goal that we had for this EP was simply to give these four tracks a permanent home and in doing so, further craft the style and voice that we have been working towards since day one. I think that TIN will be a sort of a milestone for us going forward as this EP represents the last batch of songs that have been kicking around for some time.

If you’ve seen us live any time in the past year or so, chances are you’ve heard one, two, three, or even all four of these songs. These are tracks that we feel very strongly about and are thrilled will finally have a permanent home.


The EP gets its name from Tin Nguyen, a fantastic filmmaker and friend of the band who also graces the cover. On the day that we were scheduled to shoot the cover art in the city, I was stuck in a downpour in the south suburbs.

The rest of the crew went out to location scout and this photo came from that session. Since we were already up in the air on a name for the EP, we thought that it was a fitting way to pay homage to the friends that come out and support us show after show. And we’re not done yet…

Q - Is the band's name a reference to the TV show "Freaks and Geeks?”

It most definitely is! As a band, we are rabid consumers of popular culture. The movies, books and TV shows that we experience definitely help to shape the way that we interact with the world.

Every song that we’ve written is rooted in pop culture and naming the band Freaks for Geeks is our way to carry on the legacy of one of the greatest unfairly cancelled shows of all time.

Q - I know Freaks for Geeks formed following the demise of your band May Queen, which was more of a funk-rock band. What made you want to switch musical directions? 

I think that the idea of hip-hop influenced vocals has always been present when we are writing music. With May Queen, we were taking a lot of inspiration from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Anthony Kiedis’ unique rap-talk vocals are obviously a major part of that sound.

When Ryan and I first got together to start writing music for this project it was 2008, the same year that Flobots’ “Fight With Tools” got its national release. That’s no coincidence.

While we’ve always been fans of hip-hop, we were heavily inspired by that record and the way that it so seamlessly blends rap and rock. It doesn’t feel like an emcee rapping over a live band, it just feels natural. And that’s what we strive to accomplish. 

Q - I am sure you've heard your music described in several ways. How would you describe your music and who/what are your biggest musical influences?

Genre tags have always been a bit of a sticking point for us. It’s very easy to throw out "rap-rock" when describing our sound, but for anyone that lived through the early '00s, that term can conjure up some less than ideal comparisons.

We generally like to describe ourselves as a rock band with hip-hop influenced vocals. We’ve recently started throwing around the term “rock-hop” as a friendlier alternative to “rap-rock”… I guess we’ll see if it sticks.


As for musical influences, we are all over the board. Between the five of us, there probably isn’t a record out there that at least one of us wouldn’t get into.

I think as a band some of our main musical inspirations come from groups like Rage Against The Machine, Sublime, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Twenty One Pilots.

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

As someone who has spent time both playing music in Chicago as well as writing about the local scene, it’s hard for me to form a cohesive opinion about it. There are days where I’m intimidated by the saturation of the scene and others where I’m thrilled by its variety.

It’s always been a bit of a struggle for us to find our niche here. We’ve had a wonderful time sharing the stage with bands from just about every genre, and we like to think that our sound can fit in almost anywhere that there’s a distorted guitar. 

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

Short-term, we’re really looking forward to getting TIN out into the world and starting work on our next release. As I mentioned before, the tracks on TIN represent a few of the last tracks that we’ve been sitting on.

We’re really excited to, for the first time, be writing new songs for a specific release. Long-term, we’d love to plan a short Midwestern tour and take our tunes outside of the city limits.

There’s a full-length record on the road map as well as some vinyl way out there down the line. The support that we’ve gotten from our first two releases has been wonderful and we’re really excited to see where we can go from here.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Eric Bibb pays tribute to influential musican Lead Belly


Critically-acclaimed acoustic bluesman Eric Bibb pays tribute to influential folk and blues musician Lead Belly on his latest album, "Lead Belly's Gold."

Bibb will perform with Corey Harris at 8 p.m. Jan. 30 at Fermilab's Ramsey Auditorium in Batavia. Tickets are $28, $14 for ages 18 and under.

I had the chance to talk to Bibb about the album.

Great talking to you. I believe we last spoke in 2011, when you were touring in support of your album, "Booker's Guitar."

Q - Of course, you were inspired to write that album after playing Booker White's own guitar. "Lead Belly's Gold" is a tribute to the legendary Lead Belly. Was it just the right time to do this album?

Well, there was a lot of activity around Lead Belly's 125th anniversary. There were quite a number of tribute concerts around the world and actually I was part of one in London with Van Morrison and some other folks at Royal Albert Hall.

I got wind of that just about the same time I was planning the album, so it was really just fortuitous that all this attention was being focused on Lead Belly at the time I was doing this record.

Q - How did you determine what Lead Belly songs to cover and what did you try to do with them? For instance, for me, there seems to be a Zydeco feel on "Midnight Special."

Well you know, the thing is Jean-Jacques Milteau, my collaborator, is a player with a wonderful wide vocabulary when it comes to styles. We just thought it would be interesting to touch on that Louisiana thing, being that Lead Belly is from Louisiana.

And he does that so well, kind of invoking the accordion with his harp.

When it comes to songs, God knows, there are plenty to choose from. If you were to assemble all of Lead Belly's recordings, it ends up being hundreds of songs. But there were songs I remember from my childhood that really meant a lot to me.

And there were some unknown ones that I discovered. But mostly, we just experimented until we found songs that we felt we could make our own. 

I didn't want to be too radical with the arrangements. I wanted people to let people know that I was being respectful of Leadbelly's take on things, but at the same time, we had to put a personal stamp on it.

Q - Are there any songs that you wished you did do but unfortunately you weren't able to do on this album? Maybe those songs might be on a future album?

I could absolutely think of a volume two for this tribute, because there are so many good songs that appeal to me. We just had to make some hard decisions to go with what we had.

Q - You were talking about Jean-Jacques. What do you think he brought to the project?

Well, his wonderful musicianship, first of all. He's just a great player.

And as I said, his vocabulary is so wide. He goes into so many zones with his playing.

Q - I know that you have three of your own songs on the album, including "Swimmin' in a River of Songs." What would you like for people to take away from that song in particular and is there a meaning behind the song's name?

Well, Lead Belly was definitely a person who was immersed in a river of songs. His whole life was surrounded by songs that he either wrote or made his own.

I just wanted to add my own songwriting to the mix. Lead Belly among other things was a fine songwriter, and I just wanted to see how my songs resonated in the context of his own songs.

I wanted to kind of write his perspective as if I were him.

Q - Of course, you were recently nominated for two Blues Music awards by The Blues Foundation for your album, "Blues People." What did you try to do with that album?

I had the chance to stretch out a little in the studio working with The Blind Boys Of Alabama and Taj Mahal, which was a thrill. Harrison Kennedy is somebody I recently saw in Canada and just loved working with.

Ruthie Foster is a soul sister from way back, and Glen Scott, the producer, is somebody who I am just crazy about working with. His creativity is boundless. 

I always wanted to make a statement about where blues people have come to and talk about the whole journey and the whole African-American experience to some degree in those songs.

I think we managed to make some really good music.

Q - It must have been a thrilling experience to be in the same room with all those talented musicians.

Yeah, it really was. It was an unforgettable experience, especially with The Blind Boys of Alabama, who I had never worked with before. They were wonderful people and great singers, so yeah, it was a thrill.

Q - You've already done so much in your career. Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

I've got a list of people who I would love to work with. I had a chance to record with Mavis Staples and her father, Pop Staples, back in 1997, and I would love to be able to work with her again.

We'll see. We'll see what happens.

Like I said, there's no end to fabulous musicians. I like working with my own songs and own ideas, but there's nothing quite like working with other musicians and seeing what they bring out of you.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Chicago band Man Called Noon releases new CD, will perform at House of Blues

Chicago band Man Called Noon takes another step forward with its second full-length album, "The Bad Guy."

The album is chock full of infectious melodies and bolstered by the urgent vocals of lead singer and rhythm guitarist Tony Giamichael.

To celebrate the release of the album, the band will perform Jan. 29 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Deaborn St., Chicago. Band Called Catch, Big Wig Mechanic, Burnside & Hooker and Leo Kidd also are on the bill.

The music starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $10 in advance, available by going to www.livenation.com.

I had the chance to talk to Giamichael about the new album.
Q - In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a story behind the album's name?

A personal goal for me was to write songs for the new album that where a little catchier then our last album. A little more pop oriented.

But we wanted the songs to still have a maturity to them. It can be a tricky thing to write a catchy song but not sacrifice respectability or honesty. We didn’t want it to be phony.

Lyrically, it was important that we never went over that line either. The songs mostly explore
relationships and the success and failures of them, as most pop songs do.

But I didn’t want it to be tongue in cheek or hokey. Hopefully they are able to convey that. A little maturity and a little seriousness in an otherwise catchy tune.

The album got its name from the first track, “The Bad Guy.” The idea of who the bad guy is in a relationship at its tail end. Where the finger is being pointed.

Everyone always wants to know whose fault it is/was or what went wrong. The two people
in the relationship point fingers and everyone else surrounding it points a finger.

It’s the strangest thing. We all want a bad guy or a specific reason to fall on. When really, most of the time the situation doesn’t really call for it. So that’s where that comes from.

Q - Does the band take its name from the book/movie "The Man Called Noon?"

Never heard of it…ha ha, kidding. I actually got the book from my father. It was originally my grandfather's. An old paperback I used to read over and over when I was a kid.

We had a hard time coming up with a name as most bands do. But my mind kept coming back to that. 

It brought about the right imagery. It felt a little mysterious and seemed unique at the time.

Q - I see the new album has landed on college radio charts. Are you hoping the new album will help you widen your audience?

That’s actually pretty awesome to hear. We are definitely hoping to widen the audience with every album we make, and hopefully improving on our sound and songwriting every time we get in the studio.

Having the final product is a big shot in the arm and we all feel a significant amount of pride in just following through with a project and finishing it. But when people actually like it? Or want to listen to it? Man, that feels really good.

Honestly, telling a band or any musician that you like a song or show they play really makes their day. At least for me and I’m sure I speak for everyone in MCN.

Q - Do you think you are building on what you created with your last album? How do you think the band's music has grown since Man Called Noon formed in 2009?

I think we are just getting better at understanding the business and making the right friends along the way. So much of this is just a struggle to understand everything beyond the songwriting.

For this album we were lucky to be introduced to Stephen Shirk at Shirk Studios by our co-producer Matt Cerritos. They really brought the best out of us and genuinely wanted to give us their best every time we were in the studio.

I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes for the album and the sound when everyone is in pursuit of the singular goal of creating a better song. Not just pushing buttons. Being involved. Plus they are just good guys.

Speaking on the songwriting, I think we’ve made a jump this album. Mostly due to the rapport between bassist Dave Aitken, drummer Josh Fontenot and I. We’ve just done a good job at finding patience and figuring out what makes the other person tick.

Q - I know that you have a few new band members. How do you think that has changed the band's sound?

When we started writing the album, we knew we were going to have a broader sound and add a little more depth. Keys, back-up singers, new guitar players.

It was honestly just a matter of being patient enough to wait for the right people to come along. Everyone has been fantastic and has put so much work into this.

Really good people and all close friends. Having a larger band really opens up so many layers to songs that we didn’t have access to before.

I think the best thing any band can do is find people to play with that are spectacular at whatever your individual weaknesses are. And I think we’ve all done that.

It’s hard to be good at everything. But as a unit and a band, I think we are getting pretty tight.

Q - The band recently signed with Tinderbox Music, which represents a diverse group of musicians, including Ingrid Michaelson and Imagine Dragons. How did you hook up with the company and how do you think the band fits in with the other artists on Tinderbox Music's roster?

Just lucky. We just got very lucky to be introduced to such a stand up company and bunch of people. 

Danny Surico of the Chicago band “The Future Laureates” is affiliated with them and he was kindly introduced to me.

He liked our sound and passed our stuff along to Tinderbox Music. I didn’t know what we were getting into. It was a HUGE learning experience and still is.

But man if they aren’t some down to earth, very helpful people. To be in the same breath as the bands you just mentioned is an honor.

I’m not blowing smoke on this either. Tinderbox Music has been the biggest help of our musical career. Jon Delange, the force behind Tinderbox Music, has treated us with way more respect then we even deserve.

Always helps us out. Always makes time for us. Always answers questions with honesty and respect.

A huge breath of fresh air. Same for Danny Surico & The Future Laureates. I can’t speak more highly of them without sounding like a complete fool.

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

The Chicago music scene. So diverse and so underrated. Great bands like The Baby Magic, Band Called Catch, Burnside & Hooker, Goose Corp., AyOH. I can go on and on.

Bands that honestly are a step ahead of us and bring people out to shows and never take a song or show off. Crush it every night.

These are the types of bands that fill our city. I don’t care how we fit in. Just as long as we are involved and that we strive for their respect.

Q - One can hear the title track off the new album on your show, "The Zach and Tony Show." How were you inspired to create the show and what should people expect from the show in 2016?

My good friend and drummer of the band, “James Manno & The B.O.T.s," Zach Finch, is also an actor and writer. We just talked about the idea of writing a web-series that made us laugh.


Something that we could hone specific crafts with. We got better at writing with it, I learned how to edit with Adobe Premier Pro, and we enlisted the help of Chicago podcast enthusiast, Logan Conner of AWESOMonster Podcast, to do camera work.

So much fun and a very low stress project. We were inspired by shows like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," "Key & Peele," etc. It seemed like the obvious thing to do to cross promote and use it as a small platform to showcase a couple songs off of Man Called Noon’s new album.

Q - I'm sure you have heard Man Called Noon's sound described in a number of ways. How would you describe the band's music?

It’s pop-rock ‘n’ roll. There are a lot of different sub-genres in the new album. But at the root, its Rock ‘N’Roll.

BUT here is a more specific answer that we lean on for various bios. "Our songwriting is fundamentally rooted and guided by, whom we deem to be, some of the great, classic
Americana artists; Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Sam Cooke.

When we start working the songs in the rehearsal process, the various influences of the band members start to take over and ultimately shape the sound. Precision locked bass and drums and crushing guitars combined with interweaving keys and melodic voices creates music that sits comfortably in the company of contemporaries such as Gaslight Anthem, The Killers, and Arcade Fire."

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

Short-term: Play good shows, have a good time, and gain a larger following while paying of the cost of the new album.

Long-term: It’s always uncomfortable expressing your ambitions or goals in conversation or on paper. It feels like the moment you even whisper them its like letting the air out of a balloon.

You keep them close to you because they are your dreams. You don’t want anyone crushing
them, damaging them, punching you in the gut.

Without being specific, I would assume we are like most bands, though. Go as far as you can.

After that? Keep going.