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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thomas Dolby releasing first album in 20 years, giving special performance Oct. 7 in Chicago



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

It only makes sense that the man who wrote the song "She Blinded Me With Science" went on to form the tech company Beatnik Inc., which created the ringtone synthesizer embedded in more than three billion mobile phones shipped by Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson and others.

Now retired from Beatnik, Thomas Dolby, www.thomasdolby.com, on Oct. 25 will release his first new studio album in 20 years, "A Map Of The Floating City," featuring such guest stars as Mark Knopfler, Regina Spektor, Natalie MacMaster, Bruce Woolley and Imogen Heap. He worked on the album in a studio he built aboard a 1930s lifeboat in the garden of his beach house in England.

In addition, Dolby in June debuted "The Floating City" transmedia game, a living world that changes and reacts to player contributions.

Dolby will give a special solo performance and lecture Oct. 7 at Martyr's, 3855 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 6:15 p.m., and tickets are $17, available at www.martyrslive.com.

I had the chance to talk to Dolby about a variety of  topics, including his view of the changing music industry.

Q - I saw a YouTube video of you and Imogen Heap talking about the song, "The Toad Lickers." It looks like you had a fun time making this album.

Yeah, it's been really good fun. I've been away from music for a while. I'm finding that I'm having a lot of fun doing it, and it's really nice to be back and I'm not feeling at all jaded.



Q - I know one of your goals was to make this album sound really organic. You didn't want it to sound like there were a lot of synthesizers on it. 

It was actually more that I didn't want it to be about the sounds. I wanted it to be about the songs.

So whatever musical style I used for each song and whatever production style went along with it is to reinforce the message of each song, really.

Q - How long did you work on the album?

I suppose all told, about three years. But that included building my studio and my life back.

Q - How was that experience? Why did you want to build a studio in such a unique setting?

Well, we're really on the edge of the world, on the east coast of England here. England is actually tipping.

It may take a millennium, or it may happen next year, with global warming and everything. We're basically doomed.


So I couldn't build the proverbial shed in my garden like most guys do. And I came up with the idea of me having a lifeboat, which would be able to rescue me and my family when the flood waters come.

Q - How is the studio working out? I understand it is powered by renewable energy.

It's powered by a wind turbine on the mast, and solar panels on the roof. And I took out the diesel engine and put in a bank of batteries, so if I charge them all day, I can usually work late into the night.

Q - So the studio is working out for you? It's as you envisioned?

Yeah, it's been great. And I can't get more than a couple of other musicians in here. With a lot of this album, I just corresponded with musicians across the world.

Regina Spektor did her own stuff in New York, and Natalie MacMaster did her stuff in Cape Breton, I think.

Mark Knopfler invited me down to his studio in London to do his guitars.

Q - Did you hand pick these musicians? What made you want to get these specific musicians on the album?

Well, a couple of people I've worked with at the TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) conference. Natalie and Regina both appeared at TED.

Eddi Reader, who sings on the song "Oceanea," is an old friend. And I produced stuff for her, so we're longtime collaborators. 

Mark, I've always admired his guitar playing. He took a shining to the demo of "17 Hills." He thought his guitar could be a counterpoint to my storytelling.

Q - And of course this album is your first one in 20 years. What made you want to leave Beatnik?

Beatnik matured and got to a point where it was really about engineering and sales. It was no longer very stimulating.

I came to understand about myself that I am most interested in companies when they are really at the start up stage, and when nobody really knows what they're doing (laughs).

Q - Is that the stage where you think you can really lend a hand and really help out and get things going?

It's more that all things are possible. Nobody's really expecting you to turn over a profit every quarter, and so on.

I had the most fun at Beatnik really in the early days. And it probably would have gone up in smoke like a lot of other dot-coms if it were not for the fact that we kind of backed into the situation with Nokia, where we were making the sounds software for all of their phones.

Now they're the world's top mobile phone company. So the business finally got very focused, but it lost its appeal for me.

Q - What ringtone do you have on your phone?

Actually, I'm speaking on a iPhone, which is one of the few phones that doesn't have Beatnik in it. I think I use the sort of submarine ping.

Q - It seems like all your life you've kind of taken a do-it-yourself approach. I understand that you used to go bin diving to find parts to make your own synthesizers.

When I was a teenager, yeah, I used to do that. Synthesizers were very hard to come by and expensive and heavy and didn't stay in tune.

This was in London during the era of punk, so it was quite rare that anybody had a synthesizer. So yeah, I would go bin diving behind London universities.

Q - Was it because you had an idea what a synthesizer should sound like and you wanted to make your own?

Well, actually I didn't have an idea of what a synthesizer should sound like. That's a criteria for me. A lot of the session work I did, working with Foreigner, working with Def Leppard, these are not keyboard oriented bands, so it was not at all clear what was going to work and what wasn't.

So that's an exciting challenge to me.



Q - Tell me about the concept for the game. How did that idea come about?

There are three parts to the album: Oceanea, Amerikana and Urbanola.

I did the first as an EP just for my fan club only. And the second I released commercially. 

It struck me that people aren't buying records really much these days, but they are spending a lot of time playing games and on social networks. I wanted to get a younger audience, really. 

There are the guys who have stuck around through the decades and still listen to my stuff, and that's great, but most people under 40 have never heard of me.

So I needed a method that was more appropriate for reaching a younger audience, really. So I thought, "Well, I'll make a game."

I was determined that the players themselves would sort of dictate the outcome of the story. So it's really about collaborative fiction writing.

It turned out to be a lot of fun. And there were lots of interesting twists and turns that we never anticipated. So I was very pleased with the way the game worked out.

The winners, as you may know, get to have a private concert of the whole album.

Q - How have people been reacting to it?

They've been fanatical about it, actually. Interestingly, maybe half the people playing the game were committed Thomas Dolby fans, but the other half were gamers, alternative reality game fans, but they knew nothing about my music.

There's a lot of the music in the game, because you get to download songs as you can complete them. So hopefully I've introduced a lot of new fans to my music.



Q - Do you think new technology is making the music business better or worse?

Well, I think for the old school music business, it's definitely made things worse. But they've just got to recognize that they are obsolete, like steel mills or ship building yards They've had the golden era, and it's time to move on.

I think that the point that is missed very often in the industry press is that when they talk about falling CD sales, yeah the sales are falling, but the cost has plummeted, beginning with the cost of making an album.

You can do it on a laptop in your back room. It costs me a bit more because I built my lifeboat studio. 

The whole economy of making music has really changed. And then there's distribution.

To create a demand to sell a product, you need the audience to fall in love with the music. In the old days, it used to cost a fortune to get them to hear the music, because you paid for radio promotions, you paid for videos and put them on MTV.

Today, potentially, you can reach tens of millions of people at a very low cost. And you can have a buy button right there, so for those of them that do fall in love with it, they can pay for the song on your website. You have a point of sale right where they fall in love with your music.

It's potentially a much, much better system. And I think it can be more profitable than ever because the cost can be lower.

Q - Do you plan on releasing albums on a more regular basis? Do you know what you will do next?

No, I'm going to wait another 20 years (laughs). I really enjoy playing live, and I want to get back to tour regularly.

This mini-tour that I'm doing in the states is really just sowing the seeds for that, and then I'll be back in the spring with a band, and playing some dates around North America.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Australian duo An Horse returning to Chicago after playing at Lollapalooza


By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Chicago is quickly becoming a second home for Australian indie rock duo An Horse.

The band, www.anhorse.com, comprised of Kate Cooper and Damon Cox, performed at Lollapalooza in August and returns to Chicago on Sept. 22 for a show at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave.

Magic Milk and Warm Ones also are on the bill. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at www.ticketweb.com.www.ticketweb.com.

I had a chance to talk to Cooper about the band and its new album, "Walls."


Q - You are returning to Chicago a little more than a month after your appearance at Lollapalooza. How was that experience? Was it different than you imagined?

It was really great. I didn't really know what to expect. It blew my mind. It was so organized and so much fun. We had a great time.

Q - You guys are touring in support of your second album, "Walls." How do you  think your music has evolved since you first started making music together? What goals did you have in sitting down to make "Walls?"

Well, with "Rearrange Beds," we didn't really intend to make a record. We were just two friends mucking around.

With "Walls," we actually were out to make a record. We had played a lot of shows and we had grown as musicians. I can hear that on "Walls." My only goal was to make a record and we did that and I am happy with it.

  An Horse by anhorse 

Q - The duo Tegan & Sara asked you guys if you wanted to tour with them after you gave them your demos. Was that a big boost of confidence for the band? Do you think that was a turning point for the band?

For sure. Before that we hadn't played many shows at all. We went on tour in the U.S. and got a record deal. It was really life changing and awesome.

Q - Howard Redekopp, who has worked with Tegan & Sara among other bands, produced "Walls." How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brought to the table?

Howard mixed "Rearrange Beds." While he was mixing the record, he said he would be really keen to work with us some more.

We got to know him and we love him. It was the logical choice. He is a great guy with a gift!

Q - How was it recording in a studio with his dog Fanny? I guess you learned quickly that Fanny wasn't as nice as it seemed.

Fanny nearly ripped my face off. Only after this did Howard tell us that he had to take our assistant engineer, Jarrett to the hospital because Fanny had bitten his FACE. Jarrett added that Howard made Jarrett sit next to Fanny in the car to the hospital.

Q - What are the pros and cons of being in a duo? Do you ever plan to add more members?

It's all pros and no we don't plan to add anyone but never say never, I guess.

Q - I understand the two of you met while working together at an independent record store. What musical tastes do the two of you share? Do you think independent record stores can continue to exist in this age of digital music?

Damon and I like a lot of similar music. It's really important, in my opinion, to have a varied taste in music. The record store we worked in closed down. I have no idea if they will continue to exist.

I am sure random boutique stores will always be around but I can't be sure. There is a whole generation of young people who don't even realize you have to pay for it. It's become so common place to give tracks or
albums away. 

It's a shame because it means we have to work harder and we don't make any more money. It's sometimes very exhausting and overwhelming.

Q - Does it get frustrating having to explain that An Horse is indeed grammatically correct?

Yes.

Q - How do you think the music scene in Australia is different from the one in the United States? Do you think it is harder or easier for a band from Australia or any other country to get airplay in the United States?

The music scenes are very different, but to be honest, I don't live in Australia at the moment and I am not really involved in any music scene.

I haven't been to many shows this year because when I am not on tour, I don't really want to go see a band. As for airplay, I have no idea.

I think it's hard for bands to get played on the radio full stop, but radio doesn't mean as much as it used to in some respects. I think it's definitely harder being a band from Australia touring in the U.S. then being from the U.S. 

It's a costly exercise and it is very far away.

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.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Chicago blues legend Willie "Big Eyes" Smith passes away, leaves rich legacy

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Another Chicago blues legend has left this world too soon.

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, www.williebigeyessmith.com, passed away Sept. 16 at his Chicago home following a stroke. He was 75.


During his illustrious career, Smith, www.williebigeyessmith.com, played with everybody from Muddy Waters to Pinetop Perkins. In February, he won a Grammy award in the category of best traditional blues album for "Joined at the Hip," an album he recorded with Pinetop Perkins.

Fortunately, blues legend B.B. King continues to thrill us, such as in his duet with Shemekia Copeland on Steve Cropper's new album, "Dedicated." He turned 86 today.
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Michael Gira taking reformed Swans on tour, will perform this month in Chicago


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Although Michael Gira doesn't consider himself a music pioneer, there is no debating the influence his band Swans has had.

Swans is enjoying a new life these days following its hiatus in 1997, and is touring in support of its 2010 album, "My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky."

Swans, www.younggodrecords.com, will perform Sept. 22 at the Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake St., Chicago, www.bottomlounge.com.

The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $25, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Gira about a variety of topics, including why he decided to reform Swans.


Q - I noticed that you have a lot of players from different incarnations of Swans over the years. Was everybody excited about the fact that you wanted to reform the band?

Yeah. I called the people that I wanted to be around for a long period of time, and also that I thought would contribute the most to the music. It just kind of naturally worked out.

As far as we're concerned, this is the best lineup of Swans ever.


Q - Why do you think that is?

It's the dynamics and the level of commitment to the music, the willingness to put a physical capability into the music, physical and spiritual, I guess.

Playing live is quite an ordeal for us and the audience, but in a good sense. The songs are quite long now. Some of the songs go on for 25 minutes.

They just kind of keep getting more and more intense as they progress. It's really an experience.

It's not really like watching a band play its songs. It's more like everybody's involved inside the sound, the audience included.

Q - So the audience really comes along with you on this musical journey?

Yeah, we've had the best responses that I've ever had in Swans.

Q - It's nice that people have that attention span.

You're either in it or you're not. It's sort of like you're in the whirlpool. You decided to jettison yourself, or you go with it.

The set is about 2 hours, or 2 hours, 15 minutes. Our audience is pretty committed.

Q - I understand that in deciding to reform Swans, you wanted to drive the band forward. It wasn't like a nostalgic trip at all.

Not at all. And when we play live, we only play one older song, and that's really been transformed.

Everything else is either from the current album, or from the new album we're working on. There's two or three pieces that haven't been recorded yet. 

Q - In sitting down to make "My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky," what goals did you have?

Well, you always want to push yourself physically and make something that surprises you and leads you into a different world. Finding music that seems utterly urgent and necessary.


Q - So you are working on some new songs now?

Yeah, we just recorded for a week in Berlin. While we were on tour, we had a hiatus, and we recorded some of the new songs there.

The new record will come out sometime next March or April. In the meantime, I've completed mixing a live album, and it will probably come out in October.

I'm going to make 1,000 handmade CDs initially, and sell them through the website to help raise money for this studio album, which is quite expensive.

After those are sold out, I'll release a commercial version of it.

Q - It seems that more artists are taking that route these days.

You kind of have to do anything you can right now. But I don't mind it. The music's good. The live album is called, "We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head."

Q - And by raising that money, it shows how committed the fans are to the music.

When I did 1,000 copies of demos for the first album that way, we sold out in 10 days on the website.

Q - Wow. Was that pretty gratifying?

Yeah. I had no idea what was going to happen. It was surprising to everyone.

Q - I understand the idea for reforming Swans came when you were touring with your band Angels of Light. What went through your mind in wanting to reform Swans?

I just wanted to be inside this kind of maelstrom of sound again. I was playing with Angels, and the chords were sustaining themselves in a way that I associated with Swans.

Once I found myself inside of that again, it planted the seed to reform Swans again.

Q - Swans broke up in 1997. Did you think it was the right time to break up Swans at that time?

At that point, it had been 15 years of constant struggle. It was such an undertaking to do a Swans record. Each time, we had to borrow the money, or beg to be on somebody's label and not get paid.

It was a constant ordeal, constant work, 24 hours a day, for 15 years. In the end, I just said I wanted to do something simple, so I started Angels of Light.

 
Q - And do you think Angels of Light kind of ran its course too?

Yeah. For now. 

Q - Do you see yourself as a music pioneer?

No. You can't really think that way, otherwise you'll put yourself in a corner.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Singer-songwriter Candye Kane keeps upbeat on new CD, performing at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Only Candye Kane can tell the story of how someone who became a mother and pinup cover girl by the time she was 21 goes on to be an acclaimed blues singer.

Kane has lived that life, so it only makes sense that she stars in the autobiographical musical "The Toughest Girl Alive."

Along with performing in the musical this summer, Kane also recently released her 11th CD, "Sister Vagabond," the followup to 2010's CD "Superhero," which was nominated for a Blues Foundation Blues Music Award in the category of best contemporary blues CD.

Kane, www.candyekane.com, will perform Thursday, Sept. 15, at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.

Seth Walker also is part of the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets range in price from $12 to $20, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to the outspoken Kane on a variety of topics, including her ongoing battle with cancer.


Q - Is that fun for you doing the play?

Oh yeah, it's amazing. It's the story of my life. I play myself, and there's 23 original songs in it, but we just play snippets of the songs.

For example, I tell a story about my mom teaching me to shoplift when I was 9, and then the actress becomes my mom and talks about it from her perspective.

Q - But it's only 99.9 percent true, I understand.

The only reason that we say that is because we change the sequence of events. Everything in it is actually true.

My book ended in 1992, when I got my first record deal with Antone's Records, because my book was my quest from being a little girl in East L.A. getting positive attention from strangers as a singer to having a recording career.

But we included in the play the death of my friend Robert "Tiny" Gibson, a drag queen/sex worker, who was murdered during an act of prostitution.

We included that because we wanted to show the link between violence and sex work, and also because much of the play is about my five years in the adult entertainment business, and how that paid for my musical career, and how I had put myself in dangerous situations.

So really, the .1 percent is because Tiny's introduction into it doesn't happen until much, much later in my life. He actually died in 1998, but my book has him dying in 1992.

Q - It's been a busy month for you. Your new album, "Sister Vagabond," was released on Aug. 16. Your last album, 2010's "Superhero," was so well received, with some people calling it the best album of your career. How do you top that?

It's funny, because that's what they're saying about this one. Everyone has an opinion. Allmusicguide.com just called "Sister Vagabond" the best of my career. 

You can't make a record hoping that you're going to get someone to say that it is the best one of your career. You have to just make a record because you have something to say, or something to share, and hope that people like it.

That's been my strategy throughout my life. I've never tried to make a record that would get nominated for a Blues Foundation award, or tried to make a record that only had one style of music on it. 

I've pretty much stayed true to my love of all Americana roots music, and that's why there are many different styles on my records, which I get criticized for and complimented for. 


Q - I like the diversity myself. I don't like albums that are basically one note albums.

I do too. I think it's more interesting, and I think it makes for a more well-rounded musical experience. The records I like have a mixture of styles on them as well.

Q - On "Sister Vagabond," you again are collaborating with guitarist Laura Chavez. What did you like about her? Why did you want to work with her in the first place?

Sue Foley recommended Laura to me. Laura was playing in kind of an unknown band in San Jose, and my guitar player had quit.

Sue is a longtime friend of mine and is a great guitar player also, so she knows what I like in guitar players. 

So I asked if Sue knew any guitar players and she recommended Laura. I picked up Laura at the airport and we were wearing the same shirt, and I found out that we had shared a lot of the same interests, and we became friends.

Laura is just an amazing player. She's still young, so she's still developing as a player. She's quite shy, so sometimes I really, really have to stand behind her and push her into the spotlight.

She's not entirely comfortable with a likeness of her being on the cover of a record, but she's extremely talented and it's been a really great musical collaboration and partnership.


Q - When you started out professionally in your music career, was it hard to shake what you did in the past? 
Did people think of you as a novelty act?

I still am marginalized because of my choice to be outspoken about my background. I paid a price by being outspoken, but it was something early on that I decided to do.

I didn't want to change my name. I had already started recording under the name Candye Kane as early as 1983, and I also had an advice column in "Gent," which was adult magazine, called "Candye's Corner."

I wrote about music in my column, as well as giving sexual advice. I didn't want to change my name, because I had already established a fan base with my early recordings and my column.

So that was the price I paid. By keeping the same name, by being honest and candid about my past, I've been marginalized and overlooked by certain segments of the blues community and music community.

But that's OK, because by being honest, I've gained the acceptance and love and support of the queer community, and the fat girl community, and the rockabilly community.

And I'm probably one of the only blues artists who has played The Hooker's Ball in San Francisco. I've been able to cross over into a lot of musical communities and otherwise because of my desire to be honest about things.

Q - Blues fans can be stuck up and purists.

Well, I think they are ignoring the obvious, which is that the blues is one of the unique genres where women were sexual beings. As early as the 1920s, you had women like Bessie Smith singing, "I need a little sugar in my bowl."

Bessie Smith was rumored to have performed in bathhouses. Memphis Minnie certainly wrote songs about prostitution. "In My Girlish Days" is a blatant song about prostitution.

So there is a rich legacy and history of sex working in the blues in particular and of songs that are ripe with innuendo. So blues fans, especially blues purists, should be more aware of the history of sexuality in blues.

The fact that I embrace my past and talk about it openly gives me a certain amount of power over it. But I pay a price for that power.


Q - Your last album was named "Superhero," and you have overcome a lot in your life, including cancer. How is your health these days?

I'm OK. I'm in an ongoing fight with neuroendocrine cancer. It's the same kind of cancer that Steve Jobs has, and I will continue to be in a fight with this disease, probably for the rest of my life.

I'm lucky to keep working and to feel healthy most of the time, and be able to do my job. 

Music gives me a lot of joy and a lot of passion, and a reason to stay alive. My life is really blessed and amazing. I've had some tough bumps in the road, but it has all strengthened me to be the person I am today.

I'm ready and willing to tackle any obstacle.

Q - Do you see yourself as a superhero?

No, I don't. But it's positive affirmation that if you sing it enough, it makes you feel more powerful.

The same thing with the song "The Toughest Girl Alive," which is the name of the song and my stage play. I'm not the toughest girl alive, but when I sing that song 250 days a year, when I sing that I'm a superhero, it feels like I can accomplish and overcome anything.

And that's really 80 percent of the battle. If you feel like you can win, than you can.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sevendust to bring heavy sound to UPROAR festival in Tinley Park


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

As Sevendust proved on its last album, 2010's "Cold Day Memory," the band has not lost any of its hard- driving energy since first forming in 1994.

That energy will be on full display when Sevendust performs Sept. 18 as part of the Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival, www.rockstaruproar.com, at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park.

Avenged Sevenfold, Three Days Grace, Seether and Bullet For My Valentine are among the other bands on the bill. Tickets are available at www.livenation.com.
 
I had the chance to talk to longtime guitarist Clint Lowery about his latest activities and his decision to return to Sevendust in 2008.


Q - How has the tour been going?

The tour's good. The crowds are good, and we've experienced a lot of new fans, believe it or not, after being out for 15 years. It's been good so far.

Q - I'm sure you've come across bands that kind of look up to you guys and almost have modeled themselves after you guys. Is that a great compliment?

Yeah, that's always a good thing to hear. It's kind of like the cycle of music. We've got a lot of people that we've looked up to and idolized.

So I know the feeling, about being a new band, and you can't believe you are out with these guys that you grew up listening to. It's very flattering, it's very cool, and it's very humbling at the same time.


Q - What should people expect when they go to the show? Are you guys going to be doing a retrospective of the band's career?

We only have 30 minutes. We play a few songs off the new record, and two older ones, and that's pretty much it.

There's not much we can do. It's 30 minutes, so we just get out there and bang it out. It's the same Sevendust energy as we've always had.

Q - People are hearing a lot from you these days. You just released your "Uncomfortable Silence" EP as part of your "Hello Demons Meet Skeletons." Why did you feel it was important to get those songs out now?
 
To me, it's just another creative outlet that has nothing to do with Sevendust. It's very easy for me to do it. I don't have to go through a label, I don't have to go through a management company.

I really enjoy the connection with the small group of people that are into it. It's just a small group of fans that can understand some of the stuff I'm talking about with recovery and trying to improve yourself.

It's just about observing the world around you and looking at yourself.

Q - Is it kind of therapeutic for you, to talk about your recovery through these songs?

It's very therapeutic. The more I express it, the more power I take away, which is kind of where the name comes from, "Hello Demons Meet Skeletons." It feel good to have that me behind me.

Q - Have you heard from fans who might be going through similar problems?

Absolutely. People come forward with their stories too. That's what it is about, helping each other. The more people I talk to about it, the better I feel, the more strength I get.

Q - You rejoined Sevendust in 2008. What made you want to rejoin the band?

It was based on friendship first, reconnecting with Morgan and just talking to the rest of the guys first and seeing how everyone was doing after a few years away from each other.

It's a family out here. We wanted to get the family back together.

Q - You had left Sevendust in 2004 to play with your brother, Corey Lowery, in Dark New Day. When you left the band, did you feel it was the right time to do the project?

My heart was in the right place. I just wanted to create some music with my older brother, and get away from everything going on at the time.

I thought it was the right decision at the time, but I could have done it a little differently. But I can't change that now.

Q - Do you think there will ever be a time to get Dark New Day started again?

I don't know. I can't answer that. There's some B-side stuff that we are going to release because we worked so hard on it, but as far as getting back together, that probably won't happen.

Q - But you did work with Corey on your new EP. Was that cool to be collaborating with him again?

Yeah. He's my brother. I will always be in some type of working situation with him. 

He helped out on the last Sevendust record, and he will probably end up producing this next one too.

Q - You've probably heard Sevendust's music labeled in many different ways over the years, including being called thrash metal or hard rock. How would you describe the band?

We're a hard rock, metal band. It depends on how you label it. Whatever makes you comfortable. 


Q - It seems like you try not to sacrifice melody in your songs.

I'm just all about the melody. It's a cool contrast with heavy music to having that melody sitting on top of it.

Q - It seems like there is always a place for hard rock. Why do you think that is?

It's about immersion with that music. There's a certain aggression or spirit to that music. I think it is always going to be relevant, as long as people put a new spin on it.

I like the evolution of music. I don't want it to stay the same. I want people to change it up.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Members of Tokyo Police Club challenge themselves on new covers project, coming to Chicago this week

Photo by Chrissy Piper


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

The members of Canadian rock quartet Tokyo Police Club believe in constantly challenging themselves.

So they were more than up for the daunting task of covering 10 songs in 10 days taken from the last 10 years.

Tokyo Police Club, www.tokyopoliceclub.com, is sure to perform some of those songs when the group takes the stage at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, at The Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. 2nd St., DeKalb, as part of the Middlewest Fest.

More information is available at www.middlewestfest.com.

Tokyo Police Club will also play at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11, at the A.V. Club Fest in Chicago. More information is at www.avclub.com/fest.

I had the chance to talk to keyboardist Graham Wright about the group's latest project and his own solo album, "Shirts vs. Skins."


Q - How did the covers project come about?

It was just an idea that had been floating around for a while. There's usually ideas floating around, but for whatever reason, this one sort of stuck.

It was just a matter of having some time to actually do it.

Q - How did you go about choosing the songs?

Well, we got out a bunch of lists of songs that were released, and then it was pretty easy at the get go to narrow the list to songs that kind of made sense for us to do.

But then we wanted to pick songs that we liked and made sense for us to do, but didn't necessarily make so much sense to do that they would be kind of boring and predictable.



Q - This isn't a totally new concept for you. You had worked on a project, "Novels," with a couple of other musicians. You guys wrote and recorded an entire EP in 24 hours.

It was actually more like 14 hours. We had allotted ourselves 24 hours to do it.

Q - What made you want to do that?

That was just an idea my friend Will and I sort of cooked up between ourselves. I've done some quick studio work before just because I didn't have a lot of time. I've done an EP of my own stuff sort of in an afternoon, and I really enjoyed how fast it had gone.

The natural progression was to try to get people together who had never worked together before and then to see if we could make something good really fast. It's fun to see what you are capable of, and see how you are going to react to different scenarios that you aren't necessarily used to as musicians.

Q - How do you think the songs turned out?

Great. I was thrilled. It's still probably one of my favorite things I've ever done musically. It was a really pure form of collaboration that sort of creatively flowed right out of all of us, and that was it.


Q - Tokyo Police Club recently played a cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone." How did people respond to it?

People dug it. I think everyone loves that song. It's an undeniably good pop song.

And I think our band at heart is just a pop band. We're not as polished or mainstream as Kelly Clarkson maybe, but the music is coming from the same place at the end of the day.

People who like our music are going to like songs with catchy, good choruses.

Q - You also found time to release your own album in June, "Shirts vs. Skins." When did you record that?

I recorded that over a long period of time. I did it at whatever available opportunity I had.

I finished it right after Tokyo Police Club finished recording "Champ." It was like two days here, and two months later, three more days, that sort of thing. It was a very drawn out, extended process.

Q - And of course it's your debut album. What kind of goals did you have for the album?

Right now, I just want to make and release records. That what's I like to do. I like to write songs, I like to record, I like to be in the studio.

So if I could just do that, and play shows when I felt like it, that would make me very happy.

Q - So these songs, you don't think they fit within the context of what Tokyo Police Club is doing?

Just by virtue of the fact I wrote them, they don't fit into Tokyo Music Club. Early on, Dave and I agreed that it made no sense to have two songwriters in the band.

You have to be a really, really good band to have two individual voices and still somewhat sound cohesive. I'm happy to be able to do my stuff on the side, and there's no conflict.

Q - It does seem like Canadian acts like Arcade Fire and Tegan and Sara have found their way into the mainstream. Is it something about the Canadian music scene that is getting people's attention?

It always amuses me when people talk about the Canadian music scene. It's a really big country.

There's always been good music in Canada. I think it took a band like Arcade Fire to sort of bust out and people to say, "Oh, that's band awesome and it's Canadian."

It's sort of how Nirvana broke out, and everybody started checking out Seattle, and discovered there were other good bands there. It's the same sort of thing, where all it takes is one or two good bands to break through.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

We Barbarians bringing raucously beautiful sound to Chicago's Empty Bottle

Photo by Marleigh Dunlap
By ERIC SCHELKOPF

We Barbarians has already garnered a reputation for delivering raucous live shows in opening for such bands as Cold War Kids and Passion Pit.

Now the band, www.webarbarians.com, is headlining a tour in support of its new EP, "Headspace," produced by Dann Gallucci, of Modest Mouse and Murder City Devils fame.

We Barbarians will perform Sept. 7 at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago. ANR and Bigcolour also are on the bill. 

The show starts at 9:30 p.m., and tickets are $8, available at www.ticketweb.com.

The trio consists of frontman David Quon, bassist Derek VanHeule and drummer Nathan Warkentin. I had the chance to talk to Warkentin about the band and its latest activities.


Q - You guys are on a pretty grueling tour in September. Do you find it hard keeping the energy up night after night?

We are a band that actually really enjoys touring, despite the busy schedule and circumstances. We often joke about being institutionalized by our van. 

Even if we had the freedom to be somewhere else, we would probably just return to the tight quarters of the van as it feels like home in a really weird way.

Q - The band has toured with plenty of other bands like Passion Pit and Foster The People. Do you put more pressure on yourselves now that you guys are on a headlining tour? What have you learned from touring with those bands and others?

It's definitely a reality check to step out on our own, but ultimately a positive move.

We have been very fortunate to support some great bands in the last couple years, and have made some really great friends in the process.

I think spending time touring with other bands and seeing an inside view has really helped us gain a clear vision of the path that we want to take.

Q - The band has received rave reviews for its live shows. Do you try to put that raucous energy in your albums?

Capturing live energy in a studio environment is always our goal. However, it always ends of being a lot more challenging than we initially think. 

There is something indescribable that happens during a live show that is very hard to put your finger on.

Q - Of course, the band is touring in support of its new EP, "Headspace." What goals did you have for the album? How did you hook up with Dann Gallucci and what do you think he brings to the table?

This EP really represents a new chapter and transition for us as a band and serves as a bridge from our first album to what is coming next. We met Dann through our friends in Cold War Kids. 

He was a member of Murder City Devils and Modest Mouse and someone who we really respect as an artist.

Dann has the unique ability to create a very peaceful and creative environment. He really brought some new life and a different perspective to the songs.

Q - I understand the band worked on the album while preparing to move to Brooklyn. What made the band want to move to New York? How is the band adjusting to its new surroundings? How do you think the music scene in New York is different than that in California?

All three of us grew up in California and have spent our whole lives there. We have always romanticized the idea of living on the opposite coast and have spent a decent amount of time touring in New York and the surrounding cities, which always seemed to draw us in. 

It just felt like the right time to make a major move and there is no time like now. Everything in New York just feels like it moves faster and people are forced to work harder. We knew it would be a good kickstart as we take the next steps as a band.

Q - Do you think the band's name is representative of its music?

It's hard to separate the name from the music now, but I think it does. Almost brutish simplicity is somewhat of a foundation to our music, which definitely comes across in the name.

Q - Should people expect a new full-length album soon? What direction will the new album take?

We have been writing for a full-length record since the move to Brooklyn and plan to continue to fine tune new songs that we are currently taking on the road. I think the new album will be a more realized extension of the EP with a few more highs and lows. 

We hope to have a new record out in the first half of next year.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"Soul Train" concert at Millennium Park to celebrate lasting legacy of show


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

The success of "Soul Train" is another example of why Chicago is at the center of the music universe.

"Soul Train," founded by Chicago native Don Cornelius, aired in syndication from October 1971 to March 2006 and is the longest-running, nationally-syndicated program in television history.

Several legendary Chicago acts will perform at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 5, in a free concert in the Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park in Chicago to celebrate the 40th anniversary of "Soul Train."

Jerry Butler, the original lead singer of the vocal group The Impressions, will perform along with The Impressions, The Chi-Lites, The Emotions, Gene Chandler, the "Duke of Earl," and Otis Clay.

They will be backed by a orchestra of veteran musicians lead by conductor Tom Tom Washington. 

Cornelius will be on hand during the festivities. A pre-concert dance party will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Millennium Park's Chase Promenade at Cloud Gate hosted by Chicago radio pioneer, V103 Radio's Herb Kent.

More information is at www.millenniumpark.org.

In addition, a "Soul Train" photo exhibition is on display at Expo 72, located at 72 E. Randolph St., across the street from the Chicago Cultural Center. The exhibition will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday. For more information, go to www.ExploreChicago.org.

I had the chance to talk to Mike Orlove, director of music programming at the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, about the concert.


Q - What made you want to put this together?

I think it was really taking a look at this timely anniversary and realizing that so many of these artists that helped launch the show, including the founder and host of the show, Don Cornelius, are alive and well.

It really is a big celebration of Chicago's very rich musical history.



Q - What do you remember about "Soul Train?"

Like everybody else, the dancing and the music. People wanted to watch to see what the new dance moves were going be.

Q - Was it hard getting everybody on board for this?

Everybody was receptive. 

Q - What made you want to get the acts that you picked for Monday's concert?

These artists, before "Soul Train" went national, were part of the very first series of shows that aired in mid-August 1970.


Q - Of course, there is a dance party before the concert with Herb Kent, who is a legend in his own right.

Absolutely.

Q - What made you want to include a dance party as part of the festivities?

It's part of the history of the show. It fits right in with what the show was about.


Q - What do you think the highlights are going to be?

The whole thing. I'm looking forward to the whole thing. 

All those artists on stage will be a highlight.