Friday, July 3, 2015

Chicago band Dastardly explores new musical horizons on "The Hollow," will play at Lincoln Hall

Chicago band Dastardly is the type of band that believes in exploring new musical horizons.

The band does just that on its new album, "The Hollow," a record which pushes past its folk-based sound. Dastardly will play the album in its entirety during a CD release party July 11 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

Gold Web and Oshwa are also on the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $10, available by going to http://www.lh-st.com.

I had the chance to talk to Dastardly frontman Gabe Liebowitz about the new album. 

Q - Great talking to you again. The last time we spoke, the band was releasing its debut album. In sitting down to make "The Hollow," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a meaning behind the album's name?

The goal was to make an album without creative compromises, and I think through the course of a couple years we were able to achieve our vision pretty fully. I'll let the listeners get their own meaning from the album title, but it certainly ties together a lot of lyrical themes throughout the album.

Hollows are traditionally backdrops in old American songs where romance and death occur. 

Q - The album veers from your folk-based sound. Are you afraid that you might lose some fans because the band is going in a new direction?

No, we're a constantly evolving band and are going to present ourselves with whatever music excites us the most and best expresses ourselves, regardless of how we may have been previously established. 

Q - I am sure that you will be playing a lot of the new songs at your July 10 show. Do you have any favorite songs off the new album that you enjoy playing live?

We'll be playing the whole album at the show! It's definitely been a challenge to figure out how to perform these songs live since they're such products of the studio, but they've been coming along really nicely. 


We do a really fun version of "So Long Ma," and it's always a visceral experience doing "St. James Infirmary."

Q - I understand you started writing the album in August 2012. What made you want to spend so much time on this album?

I didn't want to set deadlines so that our main goal was making the most amazing music we were capable of making, no matter how long it took. That process involves a lot of trial and error, experimentation and failing until a vision snaps into place, and sometimes for a very involved piece of work, that can take many years. 

Q - What are the pros and cons of being an independent band? Do the pros outweigh the cons?

Everything is in your power. How you sound, how you look, how you present yourself, where you play. However, sometimes it gets exhausting to have to cover all grounds by yourself!

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you think Dastardly fits into the scene?

Chicago has one of the most inspiring art scenes in the country. There are a lot of bands doing what I like to call "art rock" - not overly experimental, but not simple or easy to peg into categories either.

I think Oshwa and The Gold Web are two of the strongest acts in that circuit and we're excited that they're joining us at Lincoln Hall! I also curate a showcase the last Thursday of every month at Cafe Mustache, where 10 artists of various genres do two songs each, and that's been a great way to be involved with a variety of different amazing performers.

Q - The band has six members, which is large for a band. I understand that you recently added a couple of members to better replicate your sound live. How has that been going?

Yea, essentially the core four of us worked on the record (myself, Sarah Morgan, August Sheehy and Andy Taylor), but the songs are so big and have so many parts that we had to enlist two more people to pull them off live! It has been about a year long process to work out the live show.

We're now incorporating Joe Darnaby (from Brighton MA and Bailiff) on electric guitar, and Natalie Turner on clarinet. We've been practicing a ton getting ready for the show and I really feel like it's fallen into place.

It's really a different experience from the record. 

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

Keep making music! And do another "Total Scene" interview in three years!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Chicago band Western Automatic working on first full-length album, recently played at Metro

To say that Western Automatic singer/guitarist Alex Chadwick is a wealth of musical knowledge is an understatement.
He was featured in a video made by Chicago Music Exchange titled "100 Riffs (A Brief History of Rock N' Roll), in which he gives viewers a chronological history of rock 'n' roll. The video has garnered more than 14 million views on YouTube.

I had the chance to talk to Chadwick about Western Automatic, which recently played at the Metro in Chicago.

Q - Great talking to you. I understand you guys are working on a new album. When do you plan to release the album and what should people expect?

Yeah man, we've been working for the last six months on our first full-length and we're probably a month out from having all the tracking finished. We're hoping to have everything ready to go out later this year although we haven't set a date.
Our first EP was kind of all over the place stylistically, these new songs are a lot more cohesive and thematically linked. The album overall is a little heavier and spacier than our earlier stuff and lyrically its a bit darker.

Q - Is there a story or meaning behind the band's name?
The band name actually came from a place on Western Avenue with a big sign on the front of an old brick building that said, Western Automatic Music. I was passing it on the way to work every day.

I think they used to sell record machines and jukeboxes, and the whole thing looks pretty run down at this point. It just made me think about the idea of technology versus decay, how even our best and smartest work will eventually lose out to nature, and that theme started to creep into the songwriting.
Plus, I just think it sounds cool.
Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think the band fits into it?

I've never been able to get a solid grip on the music scene here in Chicago, it all seems so disparate. I know a lot of bands and have a lot of musician friends but it seems to me like there are several isolated scenes that just happen to be in the same city.
I honestly have no idea where we fit, we've shared stages with a lot of really great bands but I can't say we're tied to any real scene. We just go and play and hope it connects with somebody, and I don't worry about anything past that.

Q - I am sure you are constantly asked about the "100 Riffs" video, which has received more than 14 million view on YouTube. Did you ever expect the video would create such interest?
I do get asked about that video a lot, and it's always cool to be recognized for it. It really never gets old, I always feel like a rock star when people bring it up, even though it's three years old at this point.

I definitely didn't expect it to get as big as it did, I just put it together for fun after David Kalt (the owner of the Chicago Music Exchange) wanted something cool for our YouTube channel. It took a few weeks of arranging the songs and a few hours of trial and error in front of the camera, and a couple weeks later it blew up.
I got to do a bunch of radio and print interviews all over the world and it got me into some weird and cool places, but the coolest thing to come out of it might be when I ran into Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and he told me I screwed up their songs. He was kidding but it was pretty funny, and definitely surreal for me.

Q - How hard was it to do 100 guitar riffs in one take? How did you decide upon these particular riffs to do?

I really wanted the video to come off as a history lesson of sorts, something you could watch and see the trends in rock music over the years. I looked over "Billboard" charts and old "Rolling Stone" articles and tried to find songs that were popular and musically impact-full, and after that it was just a matter of picking and choosing which ones flowed into each other.
There were plenty of great songs I had to leave out, otherwise it could have gone on for days. It wasn't that difficult to put together the hundred I used, by the time I figured out which riffs I was going to include I knew them each pretty well.
The hard part was deciding which ones would be cut.
Q - How many guitar riffs do you think you know?
I've played in a lot of cover bands over the years and for a while I made a living playing acoustic shows around Illinois, so I would bet the riff totals would easily be somewhere in the high hundreds. I used to play for all sorts of audiences so I had a set for rock, blues, classic rock, country, it was all over the place.

Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?
Short term, I want to make this record as good as possible and put on the best shows we can in the meantime. Long term, I want to continue making great music with these guys and have a good time, and if we can grow our audience in the process, that would be great.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Legendary musician Wendell Holmes passes away from complications due to pulmonary hypertension

You will be missed.

Wendell Holmes, vocalist, guitarist, pianist and songwriter of the critically acclaimed soul/blues band The Holmes Brothers, died on Friday, June 19, at his home in Rosedale, Maryland of complications due to pulmonary hypertension. Earlier this week, Wendell addressed his fans and friends in an open letter as he moved into hospice care. He was 71.

Wendell retired from touring earlier this year when he was first diagnosed. Holmes Brothers drummer Willie "Popsy" Dixon died on January 9, 2015 of complications from cancer. Brother and bassist Sherman Holmes continues to carry on The Holmes Brothers legacy with The Sherman Holmes Project featuring Brooks Long and Eric Kennedy.

In September 2014, The Holmes Brothers were honored with a National Endowment For The Arts National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor the United States bestows upon its folk and traditional artists. They won two Blues Music Awards including Blues Band Of The Year in 2005. The Holmes Brothers are featured on the cover of the current issue of  "Living Blues"  magazine. 

Wendell is survived by his wife, Barbara, daughters Felicia and Mia, brothers Sherman and Milton, and three grandsons.

Memorial service arrangements have not yet been announced.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Musically adventurous Chicago band The Ars Nova to perform at House of Blues


In refreshing fashion, Chicago band The Ars Nova likes to be musically adventurous, roaming through such genres as blues, funk and rock.

The Ars Nova will perform June 20 at the Green Acres Music Festival in Bourbonnais. Later that day, the band will perform at House of Blues, 329 Dearborn St., Chicago, as part of the Spring Stash concert. Tickets to that show are available by going to livenation.com.

I had the chance to talk to The Ars Nova guitarist/vocalist Ryan Form about the band.

Q - Great talking to you. I understand you are finishing up a new album. When will it be released and what should people expect from the album? 

Good talking to you too, and we appreciate you taking the time for this interview. In regards to the album release, we’re shooting for some time in July or August but it’s pretty difficult to say for sure.

The tracks from our latest studio session are still in production, but we hope to have them finalized and mastered within the next couple weeks. After we have everything sounding just right, we need to take care of the logistics such as album art, printing, and the release party.

Gotta have the party. 

Q - How do you think the band has grown since first forming? How did the band form in the first place? 

We all met at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. As the four of us became friends we realized that we all played the instruments to make a band, so we decided to go for it.

It started off with about six months to a year of just messing around on acoustics and hand drums since we didn’t have a kit down there, but then Jon brought his drums down and the Ars Nova came into full swing.

As for how the band has grown, the reasons are uncountable. First off, our sets have gone from primarily covers to maybe one per show.

Our songwriting and attention to detail have made us much more critical, yet satisfied with our tunes. If you even listen to where we were at in the studio one year ago compared to today you can notice that.

And after playing together for these last few years we’ve developed a certain telepathy that allows for our jams to stay tight. Having everyone riding those same mental waves is what makes jamming so much fun. 

Q - The band roams through several genres of music. Does the band have a favorite genre of music or do you need the diversity? 

We certainly need the diversity. While individually we may have a preference to particular songs or styles, switching it up is what not only keeps our listeners on their toes, but ourselves too.

None of us want to get stuck in one particular genre, and more importantly we have a certain sense of pride in the fact that no two shows are the same. Bridging multiple genres has a huge hand in that. 

Q - It seems like the band puts a lot of energy into its live shows. What do you try to do in your live shows? 

Oh yeah, live shows is what music is all about. As I previously mentioned, we never play two shows the same.

A lot of bands will play the same songs in the same order every show. We play different songs and we play them in different ways.

There certainly are some staples that we play pretty much every show, but we make them different. We also like to branch out in our live shows.

We experiment with riffs and chords and jams that we never recorded because in our eyes in a live show it’s better to expand the creativity beyond what you will hear on the radio. 

Q - Is there a meaning or story behind the band's name? Do you think it helps that the band has such a distinctive name? 

Yeah, the name comes from a music appreciation class we took in college. Ars Nova was a musical movement in the late middle ages and it means “new art” in Latin.

We thought it sounded cool and we knew we were playing music nobody else was playing so it seemed fitting. We have discussed the name a lot amongst ourselves and we have all agreed that its uniqueness helps it stand out.

The only problem is people knowing how to spell it, but that really comes with any band’s name. 

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

The Chicago scene is killer. We absolutely love all the venues and bands we have worked with.

Everyone tries to help each other out and support one another, it’s really cool. The fact that we cross so many genres has actually made it kind of difficult to really place us anywhere in particular into the scene.

We play with jam bands, alternative bands, blues bands, classic rock bands, you name it.

We think that’s really awesome though, the more new ears we get to listen to our tunes the happier we are. 

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

It’s kind of hard to distinguish the short-term from the long-term since this whole musical adventure is constantly evolving and new and unexpected things are always happening. I guess some of our short-term goals would be getting this upcoming album perfected and out to the masses/media, getting outreach into other cities to grow our fan base, and playing as many festivals as possible.

Some long-term goals are opening for big name artists on tour ultimately leading to our own tour, more and more recording, and in the end we just want to spread the joy of music by playing music that both our listeners and we love.