Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chicago band The Congregation bringing fresh take on soul, rock


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Led by the roof rattling vocals of Gina Bloom, Chicago soul-rock band The Congregation is a group that delivers music in a righteous fashion.

The Congregation, www.thecongregationband.com, has been generating a strong buzz after being together for only a year, being named one of 11 Chicago bands to watch this year.

The band will perform Sept. 29 at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, www.doubledoor.com. VertiKal, Daryl Hance (former guitarist for JJ Grey and Mofro) and The Dirty Rooks also are on the bill.

The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $7, available at www.ticketfly.com. 

Bloom has a strong musical background. She is the daughter of Bill Bloom, who co-wrote the 1981 hit, "Double Dutch Bus."

I had the chance to talk to her about a variety of topics, including how The Congregation formed.

Q - How did your dad influence you musically and what did you think when you first heard "Double Dutch Bus," knowing that he helped write it?

Yeah, my dad has always been a huge influence on me musically and otherwise. Both of my parents have really done more than I could even begin to enumerate in support of my musical interests, and I'm thankful for everything I either inherited or learned from them.

When I was growing up, my dad was always at the piano playing music or singing in the grocery store or wherever we might be. My sisters and I used to complain to him that he was embarrassing us by singing in public, but now that's me - in the produce section, at my desk at work, walking down the street - singing all the time.

"Double Dutch Bus" came out before I was born, so I always knew that was my dad's big hit - the gold record was hanging on the wall (in the house that the song paid for).


I've always known all the words and can even decipher the slang parts. The song was my "fun fact" my whole life, with its cool factor rising a bit when some of my favorite rappers sampled it during my college years.

But I always wanted to have my own thing, so these days I'm proud to say that being in The Congregation is my "fun fact" - having my own million selling single would be nice though!

Q - The Congregation was named one of 11 Chicago bands to watch in 2011. Are you really trying to build on that and get your name out there?

Yeah, we definitely are. This year kind of caught us by surprise.

Last year at this time, we were a band that had just kind of gotten together. Nobody had ever heard of us.

We put out this EP, "Not for Sleepin,' '' and I guess a few people heard it, and we somehow got on that list, and things have been kind of happening for us since then.


We've been trying to take advantage of all the opportunities that have come our way. This year, we've been playing a lot of dates and really trying to keep our name out there and make new fans and friends.

Q - How did the band come together?

It was kind of a series of coincidental meetings, I guess. Three of the band members were in another band together, which was actually an alt-country band.

The three of them got the idea they wanted to do something else. The idea was to do a Stax-era type of soul band.


I was singing and playing drums in a cover band at the time. It was the first band I had ever sung in.

My band and their band rehearsed at the same studio. The rehearsal space would put on a showcase every month of bands that rehearsed there. So they put on one of these showcases, and we got put on the same show together. 

So the three of them were there when my band was sound checking. I started to sing, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" on sound check. The three of them all kind of looked at each other at the same time, and said, "That's our singer."

We got together about a week later, and I think we ran through some covers of some old soul stuff, and then we went through one of Charlie's original songs, "He's Gone," which ended up being on our EP.

I kind of clicked with them immediately, and we realized we might be on to something.

Q - Why do you think you clicked so well?

I think what makes it work is that we all really love music in general, and we are all really passionate about what we are doing.

I've actually been surprised at how well it has worked, considering there is eight of us. We all come from very varied backgrounds, and it's hard to make even small groups of people work well together.

But we've all been very passionate about the project, and it's been fun. We get along more than we don't, so it's worked so far.

Q - You don't consider the band to be straight soul. The band describes itself as "bluesy garage soul."

There's definitely a strong rock 'n' roll influence in the band. I've played in blues bands before, so there's that coming into it. I think there's a lot of different things.

Q - It seems like there's a new interest in soul music. You have a lot of different Chicago bands incorporating soul into their music. 

There's something about soul music. It's kind of timeless.

In Chicago, there is a long history of it here, with Chess Records. It's the right environment for that kind of thing to happen here.


Q - Do you consider Otis Redding to be a big influence in the band?

He's a definite common interest for all of us. I've always been a big fan of his, and someone I consider to be one of the best soul singers ever.

Q - I understand Elvis was actually one of your first influences.

Yeah, he really was. I was a little kid, and somehow I just latched onto Elvis, and I decided I wanted to be a rock star when I grew up.

I took guitar lessons and would only play Elvis songs. They wanted to teach me other songs, and I wanted to play "Hound Dog" and stuff like that.

One of the things that we were fortunate to have happen to us this year is that we got asked to participate in a contest that Reggies was having to fill a spot on the showcase they were doing at South by Southwest.

So we entered this competition and ended up winning it, and we ended up going to Austin. But along the way, we drove through Memphis and we stopped at Graceland and made a little pilgrimage to Elvis' grave site.

That was kind of cool for me since I have been a fan for so long. But that was definitely a fun experience for me that has come out of being in this band.

Q - Do you also all have day jobs? You sell insurance, right?

Well, I'm not a door-to-door saleswoman, but I work for a financial services firm.

We all have full time jobs, in addition to being in the band. We spend our days at our jobs, and then the rest of our time, we are spending on the band and neglecting our other responsibilities.

Q - Ultimately, would you like the music to be full time?

In my ideal world, I would love to be singing and not have to have a day job. But I don't know how likely that is to happen.

Q - I understand the band is working on a full-length CD.

We don't know how long the recording will take, but we hope to get it out as soon as possible in 2012. We want to get new music out to everyone.

At the Double Door, we're going to play at least one of the new songs we've been working on. I don't think we have shared any new originals in a while.

The songwriting we are doing now is more reflective of the band that we have become. In recording the new album, we want to get more of the live energy into what we're doing. 

I think we're going to try to get everybody in the studio at the same time, and try to really capture that energy.