Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chicago musicians in the spotlight at Independent Chicago Songwriter Festival

Photo by Cory Dewald

When she is not helping give Chicago area musicians a voice through Chicago Acoustic Underground,,  Hannah Frank is performing around the area.

Frank will perform at 11 p.m. June 27 as part of the fourth annual Independent Chicago Songwriter Festival sponsored in part by Chicago Acoustic Underground. Other sponsors include Seven Sided Records and Apple Graphics. 

The festival will be from June 26 to June 29 at Jerry's, 1938 W. Division St., Chicago. Tickets are $10, and more information is at 

I had the chance to talk to Frank about the festival and her music.

Q - Great to talk to you. You will be performing at the Independent Chicago Songwriter Festival. What it is like being a part of the festival? Are there other musicians on the bill you are looking forward to seeing? 

It's refreshing to "just" be a performer. I usually book shows. Each day of the four-day festival is curated by a different songwriter, so I'm looking forward to seeing everything given the diverse pockets of activity in the songwriter scene. Specifically, Sue Fink, Julie Jergens, and Natalie Grace Alford.

Q - What do you think separates the Chicago music scene from other music scenes across the country? How do you see yourself fitting into the Chicago music scene? How would you like to see the Chicago music scene improved?
The Chicago music scene is international. I have a friend Tati that is Indonesian and I remember the first time I hung out with her and her Indonesian friend and they were talking about the country's history as a Dutch colony, and the fruit in Indonesia being as big as basketballs. 

I saw Indonesian music in Millennium Park and I began realizing how international of a city Chicago really is. In Pilsen, I can see a guy walking on the sidewalk in full Mariachi garb. It's like living in a National Geographic.
I spent a lot of my early songwriting life on a Midwestern farm playing in silos for the good acoustics, pretending to be Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, or a field hand blues player. The city to me is a melting pot of styles.
I fit in by soaking it all in. As a sound engineer I meet musicians, such as Adam Haus of Chicago Samba, who introduced me to Latin rhythms, and Leon Hoffman, who gave me the chance to look at a cello built in the 1600's. 

The woodwork was so advanced it was amazing. We forget with all this digital technology the power of humans to create with our hands. 

The Chicago music scene is about meeting different people and different types of music you didn't even know existed. There's blues, jazz, metal and indie rock, but also Cuban music in the middle of a beautiful park [Millennium Park Summer Music]. 

Chicago isn’t a stepping stone to SXSW, it’s an international living museum, it’s everyone’s heritage.
Plus, Chicago has the CSO and classical music. No matter where you go there are people that get it and those that don't get it. Why have specific expectations? It's about being open minded.
For musicians that want to learn, I started Chicago Music Clinics, which lists clinics in Chicago for independent musicians to take clinics or local classes. 

Q - You perform as part of a group, trio, duo and solo artist. What do you prefer, or do you need them all in your life?

I prefer any situation that makes me feel like I am creating. The different formats are flexible for gigging; it's a luxury and a blessing. 

I need to be surrounded by innovators, whether they are friends or band mates. More info about other great projects my collaborators do is linked from my Hannah Frank Group website,
Q - In May, you did a tour of Chicago venues called "5 Gigs In 5 Days." Are you used to playing every night? What are some of the obstacles that confront musicians trying to get gigs, especially independent musicians?
I am not used to playing every night, which is why I did the tour. It was very humorous to me, to do a tour all in the city limits. 

For a short time it was interesting to live the life of a consistently gigging musician. I also was running out of my house being like, “Where’s my capo?!”
The same factors that confront independent musicians trying to get gigs, are actually the same factors for a major label artist. What does your music bring to the table? It's the same obstacles that confront people looking for a job. What is the goal, and making sure your gigs match your goal. 
In general, to Chicago's credit, it's not a challenge to get gigs if you're breathing.
50 Cent has an album "Get Rich or Die Trying" and I have yet to see an indie band album titled "Get Gigs or Die Trying", so I think if you really want to play out, you will find a way.
Q - You taught yourself to play guitar. What made you want to become a musician in the first place? Who are your biggest musical influences?
There's a difference between teaching myself guitar and just continuing to strum on it to make sound come out. I did the latter. 

Then, I changed my fingers around and was like, ohm, monkey make tool. I had no idea of what chords I was playing other than the first 3 frets. 

Now, 10 years later, I may sit with my Berklee 1-2-3 book and play sheet music to a metronome, sans teacher, which is actually teaching myself. 
The anti-establishment way of "learning" traces back to when I was in Nashville and I saw this sign on a wall that said, "There are no notes on a dulcimer, you jus play it". 

Yes, the "t" was purposely left out of 'just' to give it country charm. For a long time that's how I approached guitar, there are no notes on it, you jus play it. 
Just to play my life out on an instrument, that's being a musician to me. My biggest musical influences have been Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan box set, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Frank Zappa, Pete Townsend, Mississippi John Hurt. On a local level, I like the band The Walkie-Talkies.

Q - I understand that you decided to take guitar lessons after hearing a big band arrangement of the song "My Sharona." What was it about the arrangement of that song that compelled you to take guitar lessons?
It was the epiphany that music is malleable. Growing up songs seem set in place on the radio  or CD. To see Brian O'Hern remake the song “My Sharona”, and to hear it live, with a 10 or 12 piece big band was like whoa - this music is a language. 

I wanted to take guitar lessons as Mike Allemana, (guitarist in the group), was playing this really cool laid back music during that set. I associated with that as a guitar player, and was like I want to do that. 
I wanted to know what a b minor flat 5 is, and it changed everything. Sheet music became like Morse code. 

As long as I can sit down with it, I can figure it out, and write in it. It takes me awhile, but I at least am aware of that whole other language now.

Q - What are your short-term and long-term goals as a musician? What are your hopes and goals for Chicago Acoustic Underground?

I have three styles: country/blues, introspective and a small handful of pop tunes. I'd like to give each style the royal treatment with an album. Short term goal is to find my capo.

Hopes and goals for Chicago Acoustic Underground are that it keeps doing what it does best, giving a voice to original musicians.The goal is to let people know everything CAU does - the podcast, live show bookings at several clubs and the record label. 

CAU presents 'Singing for Your Supper' at Act One Pub on the first Tuesdays of each month, and is booking the COYOTE festival this fall.  

I encourage people to reach out to CAU on Twitter and Facebook. I would see CAU growing to be a “first stop” for any original musician playing in Chicago, both local and touring.