Friday, June 10, 2011

Chicago band Santah signs to record label on strength of vibrant sound


It must say something about the Chicago music scene when Chicago bands left and right are landing record deals.

Chicago band Santah has signed to West Coast based independent record label No Sleep Records, which has re-released the group's album, "White Noise Bed."

Santah will perform June 18 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, as part of a record release party.

Pet Lions and The Names That Spell also are on the bill. The show starts at 9:30 p.m., and tickets are available at

I had the pleasure of talking to frontman Stan McConnell about the band's latest activities.

Q - So you guys released "White Noise Bed" on your own last year and now it's being re-released on No Sleep Records?

That's pretty much the story. Last May, we finished the record, and we just printed out 500 copies, and just kind of hit the road. Sooner rather than later, some people started taking notice, and then that kind of led to the record deal.

Q - You guys formed while going to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Is that a good music scene?

It was definitely sufficient for us. I think most music scenes are definitely what you make of them. Anytime you have 40,000 young people going to a university, you're going to find your crowd.

I think the music scene is thriving down there. There's always new bands popping up. A lot of people are taking risks down there, which is cool.

We're excited to re-release the album so we can put it in front of a lot more people.

Q - How did you get acquainted with the record label?

I think they just heard our stuff and liked it. We have a manager in New York, and I think the initial contact was made by him.

Actually, maybe initial contact happened because of our plans to go on tour with the band Now, Now from Minneapolis. We were at the South by Southwest festival with the band. They are on No Sleep Records.

That might have put us on their radar as well.

Q - That label seems to have an eclectic mix of artists. Do you think you fit well on the label?

I think we do. I think what Chris Hansen at No Sleep is trying to do is just put out good music, whatever genre that is.

There's a lot of harder stuff on the label, but lately there's been this trend towards more straight-ahead rock, or indie pop, whatever you want to call it.

Q - Your own music is eclectic, I think. I think it's good when you can't pigeonhole a band into a certain genre of music. That said, how would you describe your music?

Well, thanks. I think you are right. It's hard to figure out a lot of bands, because everyone is trying to do their own thing. In broad strokes, I would say we are kind of folk-rock, with a healthy dose of psychedelia.

Q - The album was recorded at Pieholden Suite Sound, which of course was the late Jay Bennett's studio. How was recording it there?

It was awesome. Being in Pieholden studios, we were surrounded by these amazing guitars and these amazing synthesizers, courtesy of Jay Bennett's collecting habits, when he was on the road with Wilco and prior to that, and after that as well.

A lot of the times the instruments will become part of the arrangement, or the arrangement will be sort of dependent on what instrumentation you choose. It definitely is going to add a different personality to the song.

Q - Would you consider Jay Bennett and Wilco as influences?

Definitely. That's actually one of the first bands all five of us wholeheartedly agreed that we love three years ago when we were forming the foundation of the band.

We knew it wouldn't be a bad thing to try to follow in their footsteps. We especially liked the "Summerteeth" and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" era. We liked the rich keyboard textures and sort of atmosphere around what are just really, really great songs.

Q - What goals did you have in making the album?

We wanted for people to totally love every song individually, but also to listen to the album from the front side to the back side and just really, really dig it.

Largely, we were experimenting, and just trying to find our legs. I think these songs work really well together. When we were instrumenting them and stuff, they sort of all had this similar vibe as well.

I think we wanted to make music that people could sing along to, but that was also interesting tonally and structurally.

Q - Tell me the background about the band's name.

We kind of just picked the name because we thought it was cool. We liked the spelling of it, because it takes all the good things that people think about with Santa, but it changes the identity of it a little bit.

I think anybody can access it. You don't have to just be of the white Christian tradition. It's kind of fun. We think it's fun. It has a little adventure to it.

We've kind of grown into the name as well. I just think of it as us, as far as who we are.

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

Our short-term goal is to tour in support of the record. We really believe in a lot.

I think people should hear it as a whole. I think they are good songs, and we want to share the album with as many people as possible.

That's our agenda for the next six months, just to jam, jam, jam.

Long-term goal? I just want to make a record that resonates more than "White Noise Bed." I just want to keep making more and more music. Expect an EP in the not to distant future. After that, we are just going to be working on trying to make the greatest record of all time.

That's not a goal. I don't know if I could handle that, if we did that. We just want to make another really, really great record. We definitely will be stretching our boundaries.