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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan provide behind-the-scenes look at "The Walking Dead"



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

It's no surprise that Steven Yeun and Lauren Cohan - who play Glenn and Maggie on the popular series "The Walking Dead" - drew a captive audience during a Q&A session at the recent Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo.

The two provided many details into the filming of the series (such as the season finale of Season 2, where Rick ends up killing Shane), and provided clues on what will come next in the series.


Q - What was the atmosphere like filming the season finale of Season 2?

Lauren - We didn't realize the effect the season would have on us. We become so close working on the set. We are the "Walking Dead" family.


Q - Did you agree with Rick's decision to kill Shane?

Lauren - I think it had to happen. I think Shane wanted him to do it.

Q - Why do you guys always refuse ever at any point to say the word zombie? You use words like walkers.

Lauren - Because the word zombie doesn't exist in our world. There are no zombie films. We don't have George Romero. We don't have any of that. So we just call them what they are doing.

Q - After losing Dale as the real voice of reason, Glenn, do you feel you are going to become that new voice of reason and Maggie, are you going to support him?

Lauren - Definitely. Maggie really believes in Glenn.

Steven - I think it's mutual. I think the way that things are heading, it's more of a team. It's not necessary to bash this brontosaurus and bring it home.

We're working together. Glenn and Maggie are working together. That's how it works in the comic books, too.

I think that's the beauty of the relationship. It's two people who love each other doing cool shit.

Q - What do you do after an emotional scene?

Lauren - You don't really come down from any of it until the season is done.

Q - Is the zombie stuff scary for you in the moment?

Steven - The actors who play the zombies are so good.


Q - Will you and Maggie tie the knot later on in the series?

Steven - We really don't know. We have no scripts. That happens in the comics. 

Q - Is Glenn ever going to take over the group, because he's obviously the sanest one.

Steven - I don't know. I think the trajectory that Glenn is headed is testing himself more, looking out for the people he cares about and trying to do still what's right to him. 

Now that he has someone to live for and now that someone has him to live for as well, it's going to be a nice scene.

Q - Do you fantasize in real life what you might do when it comes to your character?

Lauren - I feel like I could be pretty similar to the way Maggie is. She's tough when she needs to be and she gets the job done.

I definitely want to pick up as many skills as possible before the apocalypse happens. Being on the show does remind you of the things that you need to know for survival, like how to build a fire and shoot a gun.

Steven - I was raised in the rough and tumble streets of  Detroit, Mich. It's as suburban as it gets. I know how to order a really solid plate of spaghetti.

I'd think I'd be helpful in a situation like that. I don't know if I would necessarily lead a group.

Q - So Lori is going to have a baby. Is it really a good time to have one, after the apocalypse, and are Glenn and Maggie about to volunteer for the cause? Are they going to have their own baby?

Lauren - I think we are going to see how Lori's goes. 

Q - Do you have any advice for up and coming actors?

Lauren - Never give up. So many people will tell you no, 99 percent of the auditions will be no. You just have to believe in yourself.

Steven - Know yourself. Be self aware. And don't think that you know it all. 

If you know you need to work on certain things, go work at it. Don't just let it go.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cuddle Magic bringing chamber pop sound to Chicago area


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Whether you call Cuddle Magic a chamber pop collective or an arty dream-pop band, the group continue to set itself apart through its intensely reflective music.

The Brooklyn/Philadelphia group, comprised of brothers Ben and Tim Davis, along with Alec Spiegelman, Kristin Slipp, Christopher McDonald, Cole Kamen-Green and David Flaherty, in March released its third full-length album, "Info Nympho." Cuddle Magic will perform April 20 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston.

Anais Mitchell also is on the bill. The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets range from $12 to $24, available at www.frontgatetickets.com.

I had the chance to talk to the members of Cuddle Magic, www.cuddle-magic.com, about the new album.



Q - The new album opens with the song "Disgrace Note," which revolves around the theme of suicide. That's a complex issue to discuss, let alone address it in your opening song. What made you want to address the topic and what would you like people to come away with after listening to the song?
Tim Davis- Ben and I took Christmas Day two years ago as a working day. We were alone at my house sitting down to write when I found out Vic Chesnutt, who is my favorite songwriter of all time, had killed himself. 

The song is no more than a record of trying to sit down and write when confronted by such a loss. It would be like sitting down to design a giant skyscraper on 9/11. 

So I  just thought of all the suicides I could name and wrote them into the song too. It's a list song, like "I've Got Life," from Hair, but sadder. In the end, it made me feel so much better to write and produce something I think Vic would've liked.



Q - The album was engineered and mixed by Bryce Goggins, known for his work with Swans, Akron/Family and Larkin Grimm. What did he bring to the table? Are you a fan of any of the bands that he's worked with?

Ben - I really like the Larkin Grimm album "Parplar," which Bryce mixed. Recently, I've had the pleasure to play bass with Larkin, which has been fascinating and inspiring.

Q - Describe the collaboration between the band members in writing the songs for the album. I understand that with the song "Baby Girl," all of the parts in this song are comprised of strict subsets of a single 21-note cycle.

Alec - I started writing "Baby Girl" when I was recovering from oral surgery and playing lots of guitar (and no wind instruments!).  

I was also listening to a lot of Mississippi John Hurt, and thinking about how he would sing vocal melodies that matched up exactly with some of the notes in his flowing finger picking patters.

For instance, he might sing every fourth note he played, and hold those out as the guitar continued underneath.  With "Baby Girl," I wanted to see how much melodic and formal variety I could squeeze out of a relatively short finger picking pattern.  

I brought in the vocal melodies (and lyrics) and a few counterpoint lines and bass lines. And then, in typical Cuddle Magic fashion, the entire band learned the 21-note cycle and the 'rules' of the compositional world together, and contributed much of the arrangement as we workshopped the piece.
 
With so many writers in the band, we're constantly inspiring and pushing each other:  This method of composition, which we've started calling "baby lines" amongst ourselves, can be found in nascent form in earlier Cuddle Magic songs (Ben Davis' "Anyone," from the album "Picture"), and many other places, sometimes less or more strictly, as in Kristin Slipp's song "Handwrit."


Q - You've been described as a chamber pop collective. Is that an accurate description? How would you describe the band?

Cole- Often when describing the band I use the word "chamber," and after that the descriptive words vary. Sometimes "pop", "indie", "rock," etc.  

It is hard to prescribe a genre to new music which draws from so many places.Chamber-something seems right because of the instrumentation and the specific arranging ideas.

Or if you could imagine different artists having a baby together they would birth a child named Cuddle Magic. How about if Micachu and The Notwist had a baby and somewhere along the line David Longstreth's guitar and Morton Feldman hung out with that baby? 

As a toddler, this child spent time in West Africa and North India before returning to the U.S. Here the child soldered circuits of vintage Casio keyboards and sculpted unique percussion contraptions.
 

People always like a story or at least something they can relate to. Sometimes genres can be either too specific or encompass to wide a rage of sound. It is through giving examples of other bands, or an imagined scene, or a story that the sound of Cuddle Magic can be as imaginatively described as the music is conceived and heard.

Q - When the band first formed at New England Conservatory in Boston, what were your goals? Do you think the band has achieved those goals?

Q - Does the band find it hard recreating its songs live? Which do you prefer, being in the studio or playing live? Or do you need both?

Alec - That's a particularly interesting question relative to our newest album, "Info Nympho", which we recorded with all the players live in one room. So the arrangements were developed for live performance with those ten musicians, with all the concurrent limitations. 

We did a similar thing for our first, self-titled record, "Cuddle Magic." I think much of our band's energy and cohesion comes from the fact that we've always put so much emphasis on live performance.


That said, we can also enjoy the freedom studio work allows for overdubs and a different style of post-production composition. There's more of that on "Picture" and there will probably be more of that on the next record.

Q - The band started out not using any amplification. Has the fact that you are plugged in now changed the direction of the music?

Alec - Without changing anything too drastically, it's introduced a few new sounds.  Now that we've allowed ourselves to plug in, a necessity of sounding good in rock clubs and on festival stages, we've started imagining more parts for burbling synth bass and for the crackle of an overdriven circuit bent toy keyboard.

Q - The members of the band have collaborated with a wide variety of artists, including Beyonce, guitarist and composer Fred Frith and progressive string band Joy Kills Sorrow. Do you need those collaborations to fulfill your musical needs away from Cuddle Magic?

Kristin - I wouldn't see it as a need, necessarily, but a want. Personally, it's kind of an unspoken goal of mine to try and collaborate with as many different kinds of musicians as possible. 

I always learn something from each of these experiences, whether it's recording a vocal piece for Zeena Parkins or singing at a wedding. The more varied my musical experiences are, the better I feel I can communicate the music in Cuddle Magic. 

And the better I can perform our music, the more fulfilled I feel.

Q - Does the band ever find it frustrating to draw attention to what it is doing? What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?
 
Cole-We all feel very fortunate that we spend most of our time playing music together and with others around the world. All of us have put so much time and effort making Cuddle Magic what it is today. 

Personally, it is a bit frustrating to not always feel like you are getting back what you put in to the music, the booking, the records, etc. However, we have done everything on out own terms.

We have our own label, we are not in debt to anyone, we have never compromised our vision, and many people appreciate what we are doing. These things go a long way, although in many cases not long enough where many of us are not stressing about rent, student loans, etc. 

I'd say we are taking the slow but sure route to sustainable success. Rock star status was never the goal, but a sizable following  would defiantly be nice. We are just about 6 years in, and we still feel our best is yet to come.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chicago author reveals Batman tidbits in new book; makes appearance at C2E2 expo


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

If you are playing a trivia game filled with questions about the caped crusader Batman, you would do well to have Evanston author Bruce Scivally on your side.

Scivally recently penned a book, "Billion Dollar Batman," that traces Batman's first appearance in 1939 as a character in "Detective Comics" to his stature today. The book is available on his website, www.brucescivally.com.

I had the pleasure to interview Scivally about the book during his appearance last weekend at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo.


Q - What made you want to write the book?

The "Billion Dollar Batman" book is one that I wrote because I had done a book previously on Superman. And when I went around promoting that one, everyone kept saying, ''When are you going to write a book about Batman?''

It took a little while, but after three years of research and writing, I finally got it all done.

I was doing as many interviews as I could, and I went through newspaper archives and magazine archives. I was trying to debunk some of the myths that are out there, like the story that ABC got the idea for the Batman series because the serial was screening at the Playboy Mansion.

It actually screened at the Playboy Theater, which was a theater in the Chicago in the '60s. ABC was already planning to do the series before those screenings, so that's not true.

 
Q - Did you grow up on the TV series?

I was a little kid when the Adam West series came on TV. I was a huge fan of Adam West's Batman. I was living in L.A. for many years, so I went to the premiere of the 1989 "Batman" movie and saw a press screening of the "Batman & Robin" movie.

I was here in Chicago when they were shooting "The Dark Knight." So it's sort of almost by happenstance that I've kind of been in the right place at the right time for a lot of those things.

Q - Who did you interview for the book?


Well, one of the first people I interviewed was Michael G. Wilson. He's the son of Lewis Wilson, the first live-action Batman (he was in the 1943 film serial "Batman.")

Michael G. Wilson is now the producer of the "James Bond" movies. Also, I talked to Michael Uslan, who's the executive producer of all the current "Batman" films and Lorenzo Semple Jr., the writer and sort of co-creator of the "Batman" TV series.

I spoke to Jane Adams, who was Vicki Vale in the 1949 "Batman" serial. So pretty much anyone I could get, I spoke to.

Q - And everyone was cooperative?

Everyone I spoke to was very cooperative, yeah. Of course, I tried very hard to get an interview with Adam West. He didn't want to give an interview, but he said I could use anything I wanted from his book, and he provided some photos for the book. So that was very nice of him. 

Q - As far as the movies, do you think they have paid justice to the Batman character?

One of the things I chart in the book is how the character changes through the years. When they made the TV series, as much as some hard-core fans want to say, ''Oh, it's too campy and silly,'' that's the way the comic books were at the time.

 

Q - What do you think about the new "Batman" movie that's about to come out in July?

I'm really excited to see "The Dark Knight Rises." I'm sort of purposely trying not to find out much about it before I see it, because I want to be surprised by it.

I think Christopher Nolan is a great filmmaker, and did a really terrific job with those first two movies he made. He really set the bar high with "The Dark Knight."

Q - Is Batman your favorite superhero?

I like a lot of them. When I was a kid, I think maybe Superman was more of my favorite.

Superman sort of represents hope, goodness and justice, the things we aspire to, whereas Batman is more about revenge and sort of dark motives and things we can relate to more.

Superman is what we aspire to be, but Batman is who we are.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Speedy Delivery man Mr. McFeely comes to C2E2's neighborhood


By ERIC SCHELKOPF 

Of all the celebrities at last weekend's Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, no one is more beloved than David Newell, best known for playing Speedy Delivery man Mr. McFeely on "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Newell about his character and the show. Those watching to catch up on the show can watch episodes at www.pbskids.org.

Q - What intrigued you about the character?

Well, I think what intrigued me about playing Mr. McFeely was that Fred Rogers was using it as a learning tool.

Mr. McFeely was always in a hurry. Fred Rogers wanted to show children that you don't do things right if you rush all the time. 

On the show, we would do little films about how people make things. And I loved going around to different factories and show kids about how people make crayons and stickers and different things they would be familiar with.

 

Q - What was it like working with Fred Rogers?

He was wonderful. He was a genuinely caring man, and really wanted to use television to provide constructive information to families of young children. And I learned so much from him.

He had a degree in child development, along with degrees in philosophy and psychology and in theology and music. So all those disciplines worked together.

What we were doing in television was really benefiting a lot of children. We talked about topics like children's anger, and how they could deal with anger. 

Q - How do you feel about being remembered to this day?

It's been very rewarding. When I was working on the show, I felt like I was doing the program in front of four walls in a television studio. You don't have an audience.

And then you get out, and you see the impact that television has. All these generations are here at the expo. We have people in their 50's, 40's, 30's, 20's, and people are watching now.

And Chicago has been a very popular city for "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." They really loved it in Chicago.

It's been a pleasure to be here and to meet everybody who grew up with the program.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Toronto band Boys Who Say No gaining new fans; coming to Chicago


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Toronto band Boys Who Say No continues to hone its sound on its debut full-length album, "Contingencies." 

The album, which is garnering rave reviews, was produced by Dave Newfeld, known for his work with Broken Social Scene and Los Campesinos!

Boys Who Say No, www.myspace.com/boyswhosayno, is bound to play songs from the new album when it plays April 15 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. Japanther, Sleepovers, and Little Dave Merriman of the band The Arrivals also are on the bill.

The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Boys Who Say No bassist Antonio Naranjo about the new album and the band's other activities.
 
Q - How's the new tour van? Have you been able to sell the old one yet?

The new van is great.  We’re very happy to travel in an insulated vehicle that doesn’t look like that van your elementary school teachers warned you never to approach.

We’ve sacrificed some cargo space for comfort. THERE’S A DVD PLAYER AND SCREEN THAT FLIPS DOWN FROM THE ROOF!

We’re still in the process of selling our old van, so if you have any friends who are in the market for a creepy looking van with lots of character that runs great, send them our way!


Q - Your new CD has been earning rave reviews already. What goals did you have for the album? How do you think the band's sound has evolved since releasing your EP?

When we made our EP, the approach was to really capture the raw energy of our live show.  It felt like a documentation of where we were at both as a band and as musicians. 

With "Contingencies," we set out to create something more realized.  To create an album that would push the boundaries of our own musicianship, take us out of our comfort zone a bit.  

We wanted to go somewhere to do everything ourselves. Somewhere we could really take our time and have complete control and freedom to create something we could be proud of.

I think we exceeded that goal. The band’s confidence and sound has evolved to the point now that we are starting to make the music that we have always been striving to make.

Q - Dave Newfeld, well known for his work with Broken Social Scene and Super Furry Animals, produced the album. How did you hook up with him and what do you think you brought to the table?

We tracked the record ourselves in Luke - our lead singer’s - family cabin over the course of a month. When it came time to mix everything, we had been sitting on these songs for so long that we were beginning to lose sight of what we were creating.

We thought it would be best to bring in someone with fresh ears and a fresh perspective on the material to mix the record. We made a sort of wish list of producers we wanted to work with and were lucky enough that Dave (who was tied for first on our list) wanted to take on the project.

Dave is a real talent - a kind of musical savant. Just having a conversation with him, you can get an idea of the kind of musical genius that is floating around in his head all the time.

Wed initially hired him on just to mix the record, but his take on our songs were so drastically different than anything we could have imagined for them; he really put his stamp on the album and took on the role of a producer just through the mixes he’d done.

"Contingencies" wouldn’t be what it is without him.

Q - Three of the four members went to high school together. How do you think that helps the band's chemistry?

Growing up together and being so close and familiar with each other as friends has definitely afforded us an advantage for working together in a creative capacity.

Nobody is afraid to be vulnerable in front of the rest of the band. None of us are afraid to share an idea that the rest of the guys, regardless of whether they love it or tell you it’s total shit.

We learn to check our egos and bullshit at the door when we get into a room together. Great art is vulnerable and honest, and if you’re going to make great art with other people, you need to all be honest with one another and you need to be comfortable enough with one another to be vulnerable.

Q - You all have very diverse musical backgrounds. Has it been hard meshing those backgrounds?

Individually, each of us in the band comes from a different world of influence and background, be it the straight-up rock and roll of The Clash and the folk music of Julie Doiron, to the industrial sound of Nine Inch Nails or synth indie of Wolf Parade.

We find a middle ground in our shared enthusiasm for bands like Wilco or The Walkmen, whose sound is more country-rock influenced, or the great pop music created by Elvis Costello and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.

It’s fascinating to see every member contribute something to a song that is completely contrary to the rest of the band’s musical intuition. All of us are quite strong headed and we fight hard for our ideas until we arrive at a compromise that works for everyone.

We refuse to play something we don’t like.  At the end of the day, the band’s greatest asset is our members’ diverse range of musical influence and background, and the recipe that’s created when we combine them.

Q - Explain the story behind the band's name.

The name was taken from a Joan Baez poster, which was made during the time that the U.S. military was drafting young soldiers into the Vietnam War in 1968.  It doesn’t have much to do with the message we put forward now, because we aren’t a radically political band. 

Basically, the story is that Frank, our drummer, had this poster up on the wall in his room and when we were trying to think of names, the name Boys Who Say No quite literally stood out at us.


Q - You guys show off your dancing skills on the video for "Ms. Lee." Was it hard making that video? Do you think the band might become as well known for that video as the band OK Go did in showing off their moves on treadmills in the video "Here It Goes Again?"

The hardest part about making the “Ms. Lee” video was learning to dance.To dance well, actually.

We spent about two weeks learning choreography and rehearsing for the video shoot, but when it came time to actually perform the dance when shooting, we weren’t nearly as polished as we thought we were. 

That’s the charm of the video though; that we’re not trying to make something that’s polished. We’re not trying to fool anyone into believing we’re good dancers. We are just four guys who decided to dance to our song in a restaurant.

I don’t know if our video will find the same viral success that OK Go’s did. I hope so, but how can we compete with treadmills!? 

There is something so genuinely entertaining about that video and they continue to push the boundaries of what a music video is and should be.

Q - How do you think U.S. audiences differ from those in Canada? Of course, plenty of Canadian bands have found success in the U.S., but do you think it's harder for a Canadian band to get attention in the U.S.?

I feel that it has been harder for bands north of the boarder to find mainstream success in the U.S., mostly because the American market is already so over saturated with musicians trying to make it that there hasn’t been much of a need to look to Canada.

That being said however, Canada and the town we’re from, Toronto, is basking in what is being called “our Seattle moment." The editor of the New York Times I believe recently wrote an article about Toronto, dubbing it the best music city in the world right now.

Bands like Austra, Fucked Up and obviously Drake are finding enormous success in the U.S., so we feel very lucky and excited to be a part of the Toronto boom.

That being said, every show we’ve played anywhere in the U.S. has been great! American audiences are so openly enthusiastic about discovering new music and supporting independent artists.

Canadian audiences tend to be a little more standoffish.It can sometimes feel as though the crowd want you to prove that you’re worth their attention. 

They stand at the back of the room arms folded, anticipating disappointment.  This isn’t every Canadian crowd though! Don’t be deterred to play north of the border. Most Canadian crowds are amazing!

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

In the short term, we are headed on tour through the U.S. and Canada with our friends Japanther. We’ll be heading out through the Mid-West all the way to Southern California. After that, we plan to release a 7-inch in the fall.

In the long term:  tour more and more all the time, continue to grow as musicians and share our music with more people, crack your mainstream U.S. market and take some dance classes.