Monday, January 27, 2014

Chicago band Zookeeper generating buzz


Even though Chicago band Zookeeper only formed last autumn, it is quickly garnering a loud buzz.

The band, comprised of Rick Schlude, Matt Kaufman, Ido Moskovich and Zane Muller, will be working with noted producer and engineer Neil Strauch on its debut EP, who has worked with the likes of Iron and Wine and Andrew Bird.

Zookeeper will perform Jan. 29 at The Burlington, 3425 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago. Mtvghosts, Fat Hot and Jollys also are on the bill.

The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are available at

I had the chance to talk to Muller about the upcoming show. 

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, the band will be playing this month at The Burlington. Have you played there before? Do you have any favorite venues to play? 

This will be our first show at the Burlington, and actually only our fifth as a band - we've only been playing together since late autumn. I'm not sure we have a favorite, we’ve never played anywhere more than once.

We had a recent show at Hostel Earphoria that was a blast.
Q - I'm sure you have heard your music described in many ways. How would you describe your music and who are your biggest influences?

When we first got together and talked about our influences, we looked at the list and realized about 70% of the bands we came up with had animal names - your typical late-2000s laundry list of prominent indie rock bands, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Deerhunter, etc. That’s where we originally came up with the name Zookeeper - sort of a joke that we only listen to bands with animal names. 

However, once we’ve started putting together our own songs, I’d have a hard time pinning down our sound - it definitely falls within indie rock, alternative pop, whatever you’d call it. We do a lot with loud guitar textures, driving/tribal drums and bass and lots of harmonies.

Our focus is less in adhering to a specific aesthetic than trying to write really well-constructed, catchy songs, with lots of hooks and vocal melodies. I’m inspired a lot by Ariel Pink, and his approach of crafting these incredible, perfect pop songs and then defacing them with his pervy idiosyncrasies.

It’s like he paints these masterpieces and then scribbles graffiti penises on them. We’re not such purists to indulge in every creative spasm that comes out of the process, but we do try to write songs that hit that pop music sweet spot and do it in our own way. 

So maybe we’re just a pop band that plays guitars?  We hear a wild variety of descriptions and comparisons, everything from the Talking Heads to a skinny white boy version of TV on the Radio to a "noise rock version of The Beach Boys."

Q - How did the band come together? Is there a story behind the band's name? Is it because the band shares a similar sound with bands like Deerhunter and Animal Collective? 

Rick and Ido and I have known each other since high school - Rick and I played in a band together then, and did some shows with Ido’s band as well. We all went our separate ways for college, but we all ended up back in Chicago after graduating for various professional reasons.  

A while after moving back, kind of getting settled into the realities of 9-5 (or longer) jobs, we realized that this was something we wanted to do. After a few drunken late-night acoustic jam sessions, we decided it was time to get serious.

We put up a Craigslist ad to find a drummer, and received I think four replies. We held sort of informal tryouts, and Matt was the last guy we heard.  

About 30 seconds into the first song, I looked over and I see Rick is laughing at me, cause I have this big ridiculous grin on my face that basically says “this is the guy." 

I think all of us at a younger age sort of reluctantly accepted that pursuing music full time wouldn’t have been practical or socially acceptable or met with enthusiasm from our families. So we played our cards more conservatively, got degrees and jobs, and in the process came around to the fact that, you know, you have your whole life to earn money.  
Q - The band released a few demo songs last year. Can we expect the band to release an album anytime soon? What would the goals be for the album? 

We're in the process of putting together our debut EP, which we've decided to call "Tall Men with Feelings." The name’s taken from the title of an episode of “Orange is the New Black”, this Netflix show, and it was actually proposed to us by some friends as a possible name for the band. 

It’s a bit self-mocking, but I think the tone of it fits what we’re trying to do and kind of speaks to some of the natural insecurity you feel when you explain to your acquaintances and co-workers for the first time that “Yes, I’m in a band, I sing up on stage, etc."
We’re really excited to be working with Neil Strauch on this record - he’s produced bands that we really look up to, like Iron and Wine and Andrew Bird. He just finished up the new Owls record.  

We’re launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the album in the next few weeks, and we’re aiming for a late spring/early summer release.
I think our goal for this EP is to realize our songs to the fullest potential, to sort of create a document of our earliest stage as a band, and hopefully expand our audience. And land a record deal, an international tour and go viral and all of that, of course.
Q - The music business is constantly changing. Do you think it is easier or harder for a band to make music these days?

I think it depends on how you look at it. The barriers of entry to playing in a band, in terms of the cost of doing something like creating an album, promoting it, etc., have obviously been demolished within the past 10-15 years with the rise of social media and home recording.

But as a result there’s so much more competition, so many bands that want to be heard, that it’s harder, once you’ve crossed that barrier, to get noticed and to get people to hear you.  
But I do think that it’s sort of ridiculous when people talk about the supposed injustices that artists today face in terms of how much they are compensated for their work. The expectation that an album “should” cost $10-$15 is based on a really strangled, unnatural model, where you have a small handful of winners who are in a position to leverage a cartel-like media-industry complex. 

It was in place for about five decades. People so often mistake what they are used to with what’s right, and the music economy is no different.  
I don’t think artists should charge anything for a digital file - it costs them literally nothing to reproduce, and there is an ocean of great artists who will never get heard anyway. Basic supply/demand. 

I personally refuse to pay for downloads. Vinyls, sure. Concert tickets, absolutely.  Mp3s? Nah.  

I’ll find a torrent if I want to check it out, and if I like it I’ll pay to see you when you swing through Chicago.  
Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think the band fits into it?
Honestly, there’s no other city in which I’d rather be based.  I think Chicago brings the best of both worlds - you have a huge market with sophisticated music fans and tons of great venues and opportunities to play, but without the piranha ethos of N.Y. or L.A.

Other bands will listen to your set and talk to you after the show - it feels much more collaborative than competitive.

At least in our neck of the woods there’s a strong strain of punk/garage rock centered on the house show scene that I find really appealing as well. We’re not a punk band, and it wouldn’t make sense for us to try to be, but I think that our sound probably comes off louder and garage-ier live than on record. 

It’s just really refreshing to play to a basement full of people who have never heard of you before and have no reason to be interested other than that they’d rather see live music than shout at each other in a bar with three dozen TVs.

Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?
Short term, we really want to play some more DIY shows in the area and get to know some other local bands. The audience you get is always changing and the enthusiasm and feedback you get is awesome, and it’s the best way we’ve found so far to get our music to people who wouldn’t have heard us otherwise.

Long term, the plan is to conquer the world, define the sound of a generation, and transform the very idea of pop music. Still thinking about the medium term.