Friday, September 19, 2014

Chicago band Renegade Lightning Rebellion bringing unique sound to Beat Kitchen in support of new EP


Chicago band Renegade Lightning Rebellion's sound is as distinctive as its name.

The band will perform Sept. 25 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, in support of its new self-titled EP. Also on the bill is The David Mayfield Parade.

The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $12, available at

I had the chance to talk to frontman Brian Stark about the new EP.

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, the band will be performing at the Beat Kitchen on Sept. 25 to celebrate the release of the new EP. In sitting down to make the EP, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

Great to be here!

In the three years since the release of our first LP, "Four Statues," we had gone through a lot of changes in membership, style, and especially repertoire - it was to the point where our live shows sounded almost nothing like our record.

We wanted to give our fans something they could take home that actually sounded like the show they just heard, and give people who hadn't heard us yet a meaningful preview of what to expect from us at a show.

We tried recording some new songs on our own (the same way we'd done "Four Statues"), but for a multitude of reasons, couldn't quite get ourselves to finish them. Fortunately, we met producer Scot Stewart when we played at the Throne Room, and he offered to produce us.

So we started over again, picking four of our favorite songs to play and knocking them out really quickly. Scot did a great job capturing our sound, and we are very happy with the recording. 

Q - It seems like there is a story behind the band's name. Is there? Do you think the fact that the band has a unique name has drawn more people to its music? 

Ha ha, if anything it seems to make it harder for people to remember our name! We get called Renegade Lightning Brigade a lot, which is wrong.

Renegade Lightning Rebellion I think captures the playful energy of a band of close friends constantly trying to surprise each other, which is what we are. The name is also a spinoff of a name I used for my solo material - you can still find those old songs on iTunes.

I'm not going to tell you what that old project's name was, you'll have to follow these clues. 

Q - Your live shows must be fun affairs. Do you think that performing live is the band's strongest suit?  Is it hard performing the songs live because they are so musically complex? 

Performing live is my favorite part of music. An important distinction between our new EP and our old LP is that "Four Statues" was conceived before I even had a band to play the songs, and recorded before we ever played most of the songs live, whereas the material for our new eponymous EP was written specifically for the members of this band and further honed by years of live performance.


The biggest challenge we've had in performing live is that none of us are trained vocalists, however I'm very proud of how much we've all grown as singers since this band's inception.

Q - Do you have any favorite places to play in the Chicago area? What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see the band fitting into it? Are there other Chicago bands out there that you admire what they are doing? 

We fill an interesting niche in the Chicago music scene, in that many of us are active as professionals outside the band: Jessie has played in the orchestra for Candid Concerts and American Chamber Opera companies, Marty regularly plays in the pit for musicals at Drury Lane, Keith does studio work, Brandon plays weddings and I've had the good fortune of having been commissioned to compose a cantata for Covenant Presbyterian Church, in addition to regular work with some jazz dance bands.

Cantata Selection: 

So we are bringing this wide range of influences and experiences into the rock and roll/singer songwriter scene, and we find it draws us into some interesting non-musical associations - we often get asked to play alongside comedians, we played as the pit orchestra a musical production my friend wrote, and we have an upcoming association with another comedian to be part of a collaborative creative revue based on one of Shakespeare's early works.

Aside from that, my favorite venues in Chicago are still the Gallery Cabaret and Uncommon Ground, because they represent opposite ends of the discipline/insanity spectrum, and I think that is what Renegade Lightning Rebellion is all about.

The bands I follow the most closely personally in Chicago are probably John Dorhauer's Heisenberg Uncertainty Players and Bryant Scott's Great Postmodern Nightmare - two large jazz ensembles with incredibly creative and talented writers at the helm.

Q - How did the band come together in 2011? How do you think the band's sound has evolved since forming and how do you see it continuing to grow? 

I assembled the band to perform a suite of songs I composed while backpacking in Europe that eventually became "Four Statues." I invited friends from college, from work (Starbucks at the time) and from church (Evanston Vineyard, at the time).

My initial concept for the band was to completely defy conventional instrumentation by selectively eliminating or re-orienting the bass and drum parts, and also to have everybody playing instruments they weren't comfortable playing. This is how we all became singers, and all of us took turns being the drummer.

After playing out a bunch and working new material into the mix, we've settled into a slightly more conventional format with bass and percussion at the center of the mix. The two main things I'm trying to accomplish with this band musically as we move into the future is a greater embrace of musical space, and incorporation of more danceable beats.

Q - The David Byrne/Talking Heads influence in the band is strong, in my opinion. Would you view him and the Talking Heads as major influences in the band's music? Who or what are the band's other major influences? 

When I heard Talking Heads for the first time in college, it was an amazing validation and encouragement to me - finally a singer in a successful band who has a voice like mine and is using it effectively! David Byrne's vocal style and free-associative lyrical approach were huge influences, and I think are especially evident on our early song, "Nature."

The next great vocal archetype I came across was Spencer Krug, especially his work with Sunset Rubdown. He wraps his voice around unconventional melodies with a power and assurance that I found very inspiring. 

His songwriting was also a great challenge to me - he had a way of organizing lyrical motifs and images that reminded me of how a great composer would arrange musical motifs in a symphony. "Four Statues" was in many ways a tribute to Sunset Rubdown and the lessons I learned from listening to them over and over again. 

Krug's associate Carey Mercer, from Frog Eyes, has also been an inspiration - his commanding, warbling voice was the impetus that led me to compose a series of "Pirate Songs," from which "The Swashbuckler" on our EP is derived.

Aside from that, I think everyone in the band has great admiration for the Dirty Projectors, who are a constant inspiration to perform difficult music at a high level.

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

This EP contains less than half of the exciting new material we've introduced in the last three years. We hope that through our release show and sales of the EP we can raise enough money to record at least another EP's worth of music.

Our long-term goal is just to keep working on our music so we can connect with audiences on an ever deeper level for the rest of our lives.

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