Thursday, December 30, 2010

Musician Kelly Hogan wrapping up a busy year





By ERIC SCHELKOPF

To say that Kelly Hogan is in demand is an understatement.

The former Chicagoan and Georgia native seems to be everywhere these days, including touring with Jakob Dylan earlier this year and appearing on Mavis Staples' new album, "You Are Not Alone."

One of her pet projects is The Flat Five, which will perform at 8 p.m. Jan. 7 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston, www.evanstonspace.com.

Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the show, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Hogan about her busy year.

Q - You moved to Evansville, a small town in Wisconsin. How is that going? Have you adjusted to life there?

It's like going from Chicago to Mayberry. When I get home from touring, it's quieter and I don't have to dodge gunfire from 15-year-old idiots on my street corner. If I am killed in some gang gunfire, tell people I was pissed. It's the wrong way to go.

Q - You've had such a busy year. You've had so many projects this year, from singing backup vocals on Mavis Staples' new album to touring with Jakob Dylan. What has your favorite project been?

That Mavis thing is pretty mind blowing. Jeff Tweedy (who produced the album) knew who I was and we've known each other for a long time. I've been a huge fan of hers for a long time. She's an amazing force of nature.

Q - Of course you did both projects with Nora O'Connor. Why do you think you're a good fit with Nora?

We just fit together really well. And she's a really good friend of mine. We don't have to verbalize. We just sort of fall in. It just like this unspoken thing.

We both can do high parts and low parts. We switch around all the time.

Q - And of course you are both in The Flat Five. That is a big pet project of yours, I understand.

I just wanted a band with more harmony. I'm a harmony junkie. When you sing harmonies, it's like this physical sensation.

Singing harmony or backup is completely different than fronting a band. We call ourselves the noble sidemen. Singing harmony is 90 percent listening and 10 percent output.

Q - What are you trying to do with the band?

We kind of just do The Flat Five for us. We kind of don't care. We just challenge ourselves musically.

It's fun to arrange. Our favorite thing is rehearsing. We always go to Nora's house and make a big pot of soup and drink wine. We rehearse for six hours at a time. It's super fun.

We just do any song we feel like. We recently learned the "Price Is Right" theme. I am not kidding.We just do it for musicianship and it's for fun. We just love it.

Q - And you're not worried that you are perhaps known more these days for being a backup singer?

That's all good. It's really a good way for me personally to be a better musician, singing with different people and different styles and different situations. I'm always trying to kind of scare myself all the time.

Q - You've worked a lot with Neko Case. Why do you think you and Neko get along so well?

Because we're both dirty, dirty women. And we like dogs more than anything in the world, dogs and music. We hit it off right away.

Q - I'm sure your fans would like for you to come out with a new album sometime soon. Are you working on new material? What should people expect?

I will be this winter. I try to play make out music, try to bring people closer together. I have folks who have contributed songs.

It's almost like I've been calling in markers. I've worked with all these different people, so I'm sort of calling in markers, like, hey dude, will you write me a song?

Q - Like who?

I don't want to talk too much about it, because I'll get in trouble with my manager. And also I just don't want to talk about it too much because I've got so much work to do this winter. I don't want to jinx it.

Q - Some people might be surprised that there are so many alternative country artists living in the Chicago area.

Country is not a region per se. Look at the popularity of so-called radio country music for the past 10 or 20 years. It's huge. It's more like a class thing.

When I first was considering moving from Atlanta, where I lived my whole life, to Chicago, I sort of had to scope it out.

Somebody sent me to Carol's Pub on the north side. I don't know if you've ever been there, but boy, is it filled with hillbillies. And then I said, alright, I can live in this town.

When I first moved to Chicago, there was a bar named Hillbilly Heaven over by The Green Mill. I thought, well, shoot, if I get homesick, I'll just come over here and have a can of beer.

Where I live now in Wisconsin, I call it the southern north or the northern south. There's a Piggly Wiggly grocery store and tractors. It's just like the little town my mom lives in, in Georgia.