Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chicago band Clip Art taking Schubas by storm

Photo by Brad Meese

It's not an overstatement to say that singer-songwriter Andy Rosenstein is the hardest working musician in Chicago these days.

Rosenstein is on tour this month with two bands, the post-punk soul band JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound along with his side project, the sweetly melodic band Clip Art.

Since Jan. 9, Clip Art has been headlining a weekly residency at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, and will return to the venue on Jan. 23 and 30.

All shows start at 8 p.m., and tickets are $6, available at Get a taste of the Clip Art's music at

I had the chance to talk to Rosenstein about Clip Art.

Q - How has the residency been going? Any surprises? What should people expect from the remaining two shows?
The residency has been excellent so far. When Matt at Schuba’s proposed it to me, it seemed like an ideal way to debut the new lineup of the band. It was just daunting enough that it would make us pull together, find our sound, and put a fire on us to work out new material. 

The fact that we've had a great audience turn-out the first two weeks and maybe raised our visibility a little has just been frosting.

I guess the most surprising thing for me has been just how much the band has evolved since we added James Johnston and Mike Holtz. I knew James would be an asset as a guitarist and harmony-singer, but he's started to play a couple of keyboard parts that I'd always felt were missing before. 

Mike's a really capable and inventive drummer, and he and Steve (Schuster, bass) have really locked as a rhythm section.

Last week we had a cellist playing with us, and the remaining two shows will also have special guests. This Monday (1/23) is something we're calling 'Clip Art Karaoke,' where some friends from the Chicago scene will come on stage and sing lead on a few of our songs, and we'll try out some fun cover tunes we've been playing with. 

The last week (1/30) will have another guest instrumentalist, and maybe another original tune debut. What should people expect? Songs that will make them smile and dance, and that will get stuck in their heads. 

They should also expect incredible opening acts. It's hard to believe that some of these groups were willing to play before us.

Q - The Uptown Sound is also touring this month. Has it been hard touring with two different bands?

Uptown has been a full-time endeavor for me for the last eight months, and for the first four of those, pretty much everything else (including Clip Art) was on hold. Before then, I had a more-than-full-time job and performed with four or five different bands. But this phase has been a totally different kind of busy.

This month has been particularly oddball because when I'm in Chicago, I'm either practicing with Clip Art or working on residency prep. Then I leave town to play theaters and come back just in time for the Monday residency. Life is good, but I constantly feel like I'm short-changing various groups of friends.

Q - What was your idea in forming Clip Art? How did you go about assembling the band?

I always try to write songs that I haven't heard before, but the flip-side to that is that my writing might be eclectic to a fault. I thought each song sounded like a different band, and that used to hold me back. 

The idea that grew into Clip Art was that no matter how eclectic the songs are stylistically, it all gets filtered through my abilities and my limitations, and it all comes out sounding like me. So I don't really worry too much about that anymore. 

The only challenge is describing the band to other people without being too vague, or getting verbose. I usually end up name-checking The Beatles at some point, but that could mean absolutely anything depending on who you're talking to.

As a recording and performing project, Clip Art started when my friend (singer-songwriter) Brent Puls hooked me up with the producer Josh Shapera and basically convinced me to record some of my songs first and think about what to do with them later. 

The musicians who performed on my EP with were all friends of mine and Josh's. We recorded the album and then played together around Chicago for about a year. That group started to break up when the rhythm section joined a band called Gold Motel and started to tour pretty constantly. 

At this point, I'm the only original band member left. Hopefully this current lineup won't change any time soon.

Q - Of course, James Johnston also has a new project, Dance Floor Plans. What do you think of his new band? Has it been hard finding time for Clip Art with everybody's other projects?

Dance Floor Plans came out of a band called Bumpus, which existed for over a decade, and who I played with for about 5 years. It was a dance band modeled on Sly Stone and James Brown, but they/we had good modern pop instincts as well. 

DFP is kind of a distilled version of that band, with extra emphasis on vocal harmony and horn arrangements. I'm still involved with them for songwriting and recording, and I'm sure that at some point I'll play with them again.

Everybody in Clip Art plays in at least a couple bands, and since I spend so much time as part of The Uptown Sound, it would be really unfair to ask the other guys to make Clip Art their number one priority. 

That said, we have all put in a massive amount of time to get ready for the Schuba's residency, and I think Clip Art has never been more excited or committed as a group. We're already looking to book gigs for the spring and hopefully get into a recording studio with some of the new material.

Q - The Uptown Sound has signed with Chicago-based label Bloodshot Records. How is it to be a Chicago band signed to a Chicago  label? What interested you in the label?

I actually only became a full member of Uptown around the time the Bloodshot deal was getting finalized, so I wasn't involved in that process. But I'm definitely a fan of Bloodshot's stable and history.

Of all the bands I've been in, this is the only one that's seen any real label support, and it's been exciting. Between Bloodshot, all the support we've seen from Wilco, and performing twice for the Mayor, I feel like Chicago has been and continues to be great to us.

Q - What goals did the Uptown Sound have in sitting down to make "Want More?" How do you think the album turned out?

I love "Want More," but the album was basically done by the time I joined the group. I sang some harmony on a couple of songs and wrote one organ line, but that's about the extent of my involvement in the recording. 

What's been exciting is seeing how the music has continued to evolve as we've toured on it. The arrangements keep getting refined, and in some cases we've totally rebuilt parts of songs. As a songwriter, that kind of stuff is always fun for me.

Q - The Uptown Sound recently played in Spain and Italy.  How does performing overseas differ from playing in the U.S.?

I'd say the biggest difference I found was that JC had to speak much more slowly during between-song banter. And a lot of jokes fell flat. There were also a few confusing moments working with sound engineers. 

But everybody worked with was kind, and the audiences were incredible. In Spain, a lot of them already knew the music.


Q - What do you think Clip Art contributes to the Chicago music scene?

I'd like to think that we're reclaiming the word 'pop' within a certain sub-set of music fans. Pop songs don't have to be shiny or cliché or based in modern R&B. And just because you aim to make music as art, it doesn't have to be obscured or drenched in reverb like a lot of Pitchfork-approved bands. 

I don't think my music is any more pure or honest or valid than anyone else's, but I am proud to be in a band where everybody has to work really hard to execute each song. When you see us perform, you know who is making which sounds, and that it's all happening then and there. Maybe it's more craft than “art.”

Q - Do you see a time when Clip Art is the sole priority for you? What are your goals for the band?

I would love for Clip Art to be my only priority, but right now that's pretty hard to envision. The immediate goal is making this residency as successful as it can be. 

After that, I'd like to record a song or two that we can put out as soon as possible. We're still a small band, but we actually have people demanding more recordings, which is great. 

But I'd also like to do it for the band and for myself. It's the newest songs that I think represent who we are now and where we're going. And beyond that, the live performances are good, but recording studios offer the opportunity to really get what's happening in my head out into the world. 

That's a really special thing to me.