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Friday, March 21, 2014

Canadian band Aidan Knight bringing introspective, intelligent music to Chicago




By ERIC SCHELKOPF

As demonstrated on its latest album, "Small Reveal," Canadian quintet Aidan Knight continues to make introspective, intelligent music.

The band, www.aidanknight, will perform March 27 in a sold-out show at Lincoln Hall in Chicago, supporting James Vincent McMorrow.

I had the chance to talk to frontman Aidan Knight about the album and the band's current activities. 


Q - Great talking to you. You recently premiered the video for "Margaret Downe," which was directed by William Wilkinson and Oliver Brooks. What was your vision for the video and do you think the end result fulfilled your vision? 

Will and Oliver can take all the credit for their amazing work in that video. They put all of it together in about 2 weeks, and shot it in two days.


It's incredible to me that we live in a time where it's possible to put something like that together so quickly.

Q - What was the thinking in recording "Small Reveal" in 10 different locations? How did you think that helped the album's overall sound? 

http://aidanknight.bandcamp.com 

It's a common thread in creative people: how can we make this thing great, in less time, for less? We had some kind friends and family who allowed us to use their spaces to destroy sound in.

It shaped the overall sound in the sense that we had to put things back together afterwards. 

Q - I understand that part of the album was recorded in a cabin and that you had to create a makeshift studio. How was that process? 

Long. Many wheelbarrows. No cars on the island.


It sounds romantic - the concept of it, kind of a Canadiana/Bon Iver/vacation but the reality was swimming in the ocean everyday, recording while looking into the woods and cooking whole fish with your close friends.

And then you tear it all down in wheelbarrows and take a ferry home.

Q - You have referred to "Small Reveal" as being the first full collaborative effort with your band. Do you think that was a natural evolution of the band? Was it a more fulfilling experience for you working that closely with your band, as opposed to working on your own?
 

It was natural, yeah. The guys (Olivier, David, Colin, Julia) and I have been touring and making music since 2009. There's a closeness and natural collaboration that happens when you play together longer and longer.

I can only imagine a family band must be an intense musical bond. 

Q - I am sure you have heard your music described in many ways. How would you describe your music and who are your biggest musical influences?
 


I don't describe my music much anymore, but I do count many musical heroes: Constantines, Julie Doiron, Wilco, The Clash, Broken Social Scene, Emmylou Harris, The Band and David Bowie.

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
 

Any of those guys up there would be dreamy. 

Q - What can we expect from the band after the current tour ends?
 

I think the expectation is to write more music and record it, but we'll have to see what life brings. It's already been a great year, wouldn't want to overdo it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Chicago band Burnside & Hooker bringing powerful sound to Goose Island's Brewpub



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Led by the powerful vocals of Rachel Bonacquisti, Chicago band Burnside & Hooker has injected a fresh sound into the local music scene through its intoxicating mix of folk, soul and indie pop/rock.

Burnside & Hooker will perform March 21 at Goose Island's Wrigleyville Brewpub, 3535 N. Clark St., Chicago. Honey & the 45s, Mystery Loves Company and The J.R. Miller Project are also part of the bill.

The show starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door, available by going to www.ticketriver.com. The show is part of Merch Madness, where one can get tickets for free with the purchase of band merchandise.

I had the chance to talk to guitarist Mike Vogus about the show and the band's current activities.


Q - Great to talk to you. Of course, the band is part of Merch Madness. What made you want to be part of this promotion? Do you have any favorite venues to play in Chicago?


There are quite a few reasons we wanted to play this show. We've always had a great experience working with Swizzle Steve. 

The first show we played as Burnside & Hooker was at Goose Island, so we have a good history with them. When they brought the idea of Merch Madness to us, we thought it was a great way to [offer] our fans something new and different.


Then we found out we'd be playing with Honey & The 45s and Mystery Loves Company; it was a no-brainer!

We have been fortunate to play most of the great venues in the city - Goose Island, Beat Kitchen, Schuba's, Lincoln Hall, Metro, House of Blues... any place where people show up is a great venue!

Q - Last year, you released your debut album, "Rail Yard Hymns." In sitting down to record the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 


We had a few goals and I think we accomplished most of them. First and foremost, we wanted to have something to shop around the city for booking shows and getting radio play.

http://burnsideandhooker.bandcamp.com

Our sound is constantly evolving the longer we play together and the more we write together. I think the album captures the essence of who we are as a band. 

I think on our next recording, we'll try to capture more of the feeling of our live shows. We really didn't go for that this time around and I think that will be the goal for the next one.

Q - So what's the chemistry of the band like? Does each member have something unique to contribute to the band? Is six members a good size for the band? 


Similar to the music, our chemistry is constantly evolving, as well. We are definitely starting to hit our stride a bit, and it feels like with every practice, every show and every new song we write that we are getting better and tighter as a group. And the more we play together, each member continues to contribute more and more.

Each person definitely contributed unique elements to the album and to the live show. We all have unique backgrounds and influences, and when we pull that all together we get a very interesting sound and style. 




Rachel (vocals) has brought in a hefty dose of blues and jazz, Diana (viola, keys, vocals) is classically trained and plays in a metal cover band, Teddy (cello) is also classically trained and is in to the current indie scene, and Michael (drummer) used to be a rapper and loves hip hop. 

I grew up playing in alternative rock bands... so as you can see the styles are all over the map. But we feel that having all of the influences will keep our style interesting and unique and will appeal to a lot of people.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you see yourself fitting into it?  


Personally, I love the Chicago music scene. There are so many interesting bands and people in this city.

We've made some great relationships in the scene, and we hope some of them like us! I've always felt that we would know we're successful when people in other bands in the city will say "Burnside & Hooker, yeah I've heard of those guys, they're good!"

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


Short-term, we are focusing on shows and festivals for the summer and we're targeting getting back in the studio towards the end of the year. Long-term, we just want to keep playing together and make music that has a positive impact on the Chicago scene.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Chicago band Magatha Trysty working on new album, will play Metro show


By ERIC SCHELKOPF 

With its strong harmonies and catchy melodies, Chicago power-pop band Magatha Trysty is a band that demands your attention. 

The band will perform March 21 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago. Tickets are $6 in advance and $9 at the door, available by going to www.metrochicago.com. 

Husband and wife team Christopher David and Catherine Louise front Magatha Trysty, which is also comprised of Billy Blastoff on bass and backing vocals along with drummer John Monaghan. 

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


Q - Great talking to you. Will you be previewing a lot of songs from your new album at the Metro show? What should people expect from the new album and how would you compare it to your first album, "Your Clothes Will Wear Themselves?" 

Absolutely. Metro crowd, expect to hear new things! The audience should anticipate a few old favorites, but mainly a preview of things to come. 

In general, this new album just has more depth. We'll always love our first record - always. 


But, there was an element of, "OH MY GOSH, WE ARE MAKING A RECORD, LET'S RELEASE IT RIGHT NOW!" to it that will be absent with this one. 

We're taking our time. And we're focusing on our strengths: narrative songwriting, lush harmonies, more complex arrangements. 

Q - You front Magatha Trysty with your husband. Do you think the band has a better chemistry because of that relationship? I understand that the two of you met in college. How did you decide to form a band and what were your goals? 

I'd like to think that our relationship lends to the band's chemistry. A few of the songs on the upcoming record are a bit bleak, so I'd hate for people to read too much into that. Musically, though, it definitely gives us more of a connection. 

When we met, we were both musicians. Chris had previously fronted a pretty successful band, and I was studying classical voice and piano. We started writing some alt-country-style tunes together, actually, and then we sort of came to the realization that what we were writing would be better with more musicians.

More noise. We're not naturally quiet people! 

And we also realized that we were itching to do something that was more "pop." And Chris is such a rock guy... we just wanted to do something that would let us branch out a bit more. 

Q - What is the story behind the band's name? Do you think it gives the band an extra edge because you have such an unusual name, that people might want to check you out because of your name? 

Ahhh, the band name. OK, the short story is, it's named after our cat, Agatha. 

She's a rescue, and her previous owner was a writer. We liked that. And, since we give all of our pets stupid nicknames, "Agatha" became "Magatha," and "Trysty" was our attempt, clever or not, to allude to the relationships that are the center of so many of our songs.


As for whether or not we have an extra edge, I'm not sure. People tend to forget the name, or say "huh?" the first time they hear it. 

But, really, there are so many odd names out there. I'm not sure "Magatha Trysty" is any weirder than "Porno for Pyros." 

But we like it, and it's personal, and it hearkens back to when Chris and I were just starting to write music together, in our little apartment, with our scrawny rescue cat. So it means something. 

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see Magatha Trysty fitting into it? Are there other bands in the Chicago area that you listen to and admire what they are doing? 

Chicago is tough. That's not sour grapes; I'm not just talking about getting people out to our own shows. 

In general, Chicago is a tough place to draw. But Chicago's talent is seriously unparalleled.


It's ridiculously diverse. Admittedly, there are places where the local scene is much more alive - Brooklyn, Raleigh and Nashville, among others. 

But, even though those places may boast larger draws, I defy anyone to find a city more talented than Chicago. As for Chicago bands and musicians who have caught our attention - gosh, there are so many. Panther Style; Tristen; Elements of Style; 10,000 Light Years; Mooner; The Blisters... Chicago is overrun with talented musicians.

Maybe that's why more people don't GO to shows. They're all out playing their own. 

Q - Who are your biggest musical influences and how you see them influencing your music? 

Too many. I grew up on opera, The Beatles, Patsy Cline, and Roy Orbison.

I love a memorable melody. I love a big voice. In college, I went crazy for The New Pornographers and never looked back.

http://magathatrysty.bandcamp.com/album/your-clothes-will-wear-themselves 

Our harmonies and arrangements, at least as far as I'm concerned, are composed with them at least partially in mind. If you sprinkle in a bit of R.E.M. and some late 50s girl groups, you've pretty much got me figured out. 

As for Chris, he's strongly influenced by classic power pop. The Raspberries, Cheap Trick, Big Star - that's where it started. But, he's also a big KISS fan.

Actually, "big" is an understatement.  He's a rock guy at heart. 

If you couple Chris' and my influences with Billy and John's, you kind of start to understand our sound. Billy was in The Vindictives; he's got a punk background, and that comes through, even in our pop-centric style. John is an obsessive listener and absorber, and a lifelong musician: all styles, all genres - which helps to shape our overall sound. 

Q - The band is not signed to a label. How much harder does that make it in getting your name out there and promoting the band? Would you ever want to be signed to a label? 

Do you know something? Do you know someone? We're in!

Seriously, though, yes, we'd absolutely be interested in the right label. But, we'll always want to have control over our sound.

As for whether or not that makes things more difficult...well, yeah, I'm sure it does, in a way. We would like the universe to listen to our songs, and we don't think that's so much to ask. And the right label might make that easier. 

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

Short-term? Play a ridiculously wonderful Metro show. Record our next album, which will make our first album pale in comparison. Be heard by many. 

Long term? I don't know. Album three. And four. And world domination. Also, a cure for cancer. A musical cure for cancer.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Much to appreciate on new album by Chicago-based Chris Greene Quartet



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Those who don't already appreciate the music of Chicago-based The Chris Greene Quartet will find even more to appreciate on the group's latest album, "Music Appreciation."

The group shows off its formidable chops on the album. To celebrate the release of "Music Appreciation," The Chris Greene Quartet, www.chrisgreenejazz.com, will perform March 8 at Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 8 p.m. and there is a $12 cover charge. More information is at www.greenmilljazz.com.

I had the chance to talk to Greene about the new album.



Q - Great talking to you again. Of course, your new album, "Music Appreciation," is being released this week. In sitting down to record the album, what were your goals and do you think you achieved them? How do you think it compares to your past efforts?

Our goals for recording a new album never start out too lofty. We’d added 13 new songs to our repertoire since “A Group Effort” - our previous CD - that hadn’t yet been recorded. 




We’d just come off of a two-month weekly residency at Andy’s Jazz Club. We’d also done several weekend stints at Pete Millers’ in Evanston (our home base of sorts) and other supportive venues in the northern and western suburbs.

I always look forward to making music with my guys, but the new material was starting to take shape in really cool ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. And the responses from audiences were getting more and more enthusiastic. 

I booked three days of studio time at Uptown Recording. Our producer and engineer (Joe Tortorici and Rob Ruccia, respectively) came up with some creative ways to capture the band’s sound and vibe in a studio setting. Because we’d been playing together so much, most of the songs on the new album are first or second takes. 

We finished recording all 13 songs in a day and a half.

“A Group Effort” was a live album, so it gave people a chance to hear what our live show is like. “Music Appreciation” hopefully serves to show the listener the breadth and range of all the styles of music we like and…appreciate.

Q - The album features both originals and interpretations of other people's songs. How did you go about choosing those songs to interpret and what did you want to do with them?

That’s simple: we play the songs that we like. The John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Charles Mingus covers on the album are pretty self-explanatory; we’re students of jazz history and we dig playing standards, but it’s important to us put a distinctive stamp on those songs.
 


So we’ll make changes in the feel, style or meter of the song. If it’s musically interesting for us, I believe we can make it interesting for any audience.



So, for instance - we turned Coltrane’s “Equinox” from a modal tune into a dub reggae song. And we turned the Mingus song into something resembling a 1940s slow grind, rhythm-and-blues song.

It’s also important to me to pick songs for the band that are already quirky, distinctive and challenging. I’ve been an admirer of (Chicago keyboardist, vocalist, bandleader) William Kurk’s music for about 7 years now. I love his writing. I knew I wanted to include a song of his in our repertoire. So his “Day of Honor” seemed like the perfect tune for CGQ. Same thing with (Brazilian composer and singer) Ed Motta. He writes stuff that is both challenging and soulful. His tune “Papuera” (in 5/8 time) seemed like a natural fit for us.

Q - How did growing up in Evanston shape your musical background? How do you think your approach to making music has changed over the years?

Evanston is one of the most racially, culturally, and economically diverse suburbs that I can think of. I grew up around all types of people, and as a result, I got exposed to many different types of music. 


I started playing saxophone at 10 years old, and I started playing in my junior high school jazz band two years later, but I didn’t get super serious about learning how to improvise until my junior year of high school. I was a Prince fan and 80s hip-hop fanatic up to that point. 

I don’t think my approach to making music has changed that much over the years: I inundate myself with (hopefully) good music from other people and then I’ll practice my horn and write. Hopefully some good music will come out of me in the process.

Q - Since your music roams through a number of musical genres, do you consider yourself strictly a jazz musician? What is your definition of jazz?

For lack of a better term, I am a jazz musician, and CGQ is a jazz band. But I’m constantly on the lookout for good music - of any style or genre - that’s going to make me better at my craft. 




As a collective, we’re reasonably versed in most aspects of jazz history and technique from Louis Armstrong to the present. At the same time, it isn’t 1945 or 1959 or 1970, so there’s a lot of other music that each of us have dealt with individually before we decided to become jazz musicians - hip-hop, classical, funk, rock, R&B, gospel, etc. 

It’s all part of our makeup as artists, so to me it’s all valid if it’s done with nuance and integrity. As far as my definition of jazz goes, I’m with Kurt Elling when he says, “Jazz is like porn; I know it when I see it.”

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene as opposed to music scenes in other parts of the country? How do you see yourself fitting into the scene?

I’ve always played mainly around Chicago musicians, so I can’t speak on music scenes in other cities. However, I can say our scene is a little more fragmented than it was in the mid to late 90s.


The rock guys are over here and the jazz guys…well…the fusion guys are in one place, the creative/free guys are in another, the mainstream traditionalists are in another, and the smooth guys are in another. 

I’m sure I sound like an old man, but there seemed to be a lot more cross-pollination and experimentation back then. As far as CGQ fitting into the local scene goes - I like the fact that on any given night, our audience can consist of jazz aficionados and people who just want to have a good time. 

Is it our legacy to bring all those people together? Time will tell.

Q - You are a musician that has always been in demand and most recently appeared on Shawn Maxwell's new CD/project, "Shawn Maxwell's Alliance." And you have worked with the likes of Common and The Temptations. Why do you think so many musicians have sought you out and what have you learned from your experiences?

I have no clue. I’m humbled and flattered when anyone hires me to do anything.


This town is overrun with great saxophone players. That said, I’d like to think versatility, stylistic range, a good sound, and a strong work ethic play a part in any band leader’s decision to collaborate with me. 



I learn something from every musical situation I’ve ever been in. From the pop and soul people you mentioned, I’ve learned the value of entertaining people with a kick ass show. 

And Shawn Maxwell has the most integrity of any musician I’ve met. He plays his music on his own terms and makes no apologies for it. That’s the kind of musician I like to be around. 

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

Right now, I’m happy to be working with my band as often as I do. But I’m always down to rock a stage with anyone making good and honest music from the heart. 


Local, regional national, international - I don’t care.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Chicago's Otherworld Theatre Company to present Midwest premiere of "Of Dice and Men"




By ERIC SCHELKOPF
 
Chicago's Otherworld Theatre Company knows the value of science fiction and fantasy in helping us understand each other better.

In that same fashion, Otherworld Theatre, www.otherworldtheatre.org, this month will present the Midwest premiere of "Of Dice and Men." The production will run from March 6-30 at The Public House Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St., Chicago.

Tickets are $15, and are available at www.pubhousetheatre.com.

I had the chance to talk artistic director and founder Tiffany Keane about the upcoming production.


Q - Great talking to you. Otherworld Theatre Company next month will present the Midwest premiere of "Of Dice and Men." What made you want to direct the play in the first place? 

Initially, we struggled with finding the right fantasy play for Otherworld Theatre to produce. 

We had just ended our production of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." The production left us so invigorated and inspired.

We received such an amazing response from our patrons - how they were impacted by the storytelling. The best compliment came from a middle aged couple who came up to me after the show and told me that they were going to start reading more. 


To me, it solidified to me why the work we were doing was important. It answered the question for us to why putting science fiction on stage is important. 

So after "Fahrenheit 451," we needed a play to answer that question for our fantasy storytelling. 

After reading at least 30 fantasy plays and books that we could have adapted, I stumbled on Cameron McNary's "Of Dice and Men" accidentally while searching for a book. I remember reading the one sentence synopsis: "Set in 2006, the play is about a group of Dungeons and Dragons players and what happens when one of the players enlists to go into the Marines." 

I immediately contacted Cameron and asked him if I could read his script. I remember how weirdly nervous I was waiting for him to respond.

I was researching the play - how the script was showcased as a staged reading at PAX - how people waited in line for hours to see the show. How people reacted to the storytelling. I was anxious and excited. 

Cameron promptly sent me the script. From the first page I was hooked and by the last page, these characters had become my best friends.

John Francis, who serves as Dungeon Master for the narrative as well as the game, has a crisis. As his good friend enlists to the military, why does he feel compelled to play make-believe and play Dungeons and Dragons? 

Is it childish to play make-believe when there are greater things at stake? 

Now, to answer your question, I wanted to direct this play because the characters were asking the same questions I was at the time. Why does fantasy matter? Why is what we imagine important?

What do we get from fantastical storytelling? At the end of the day, that's all gaming that is: it's a group of friends who sit around the table to tell each other stories. 

So, if you want those answers, go see this play. 

Q - How did you go about choosing the cast and what do you think they bring to the roles? 

The cast is a great blend of actors in our ensemble and people we who auditioned for particular roles. My focus in casting this show in particular was finding the right dynamic between characters and to pair the right energies.

We started our process with a table reading of the script, and for that we pooled mostly from our ensemble. The chemistry around table between the actors was so palpable, I knew they had to be in the show.

Casting the two characters of Linda and Brandon was initially a challenge, but in the end I found the right people. 

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsmsppAgXfNCZm8ZjRaz0uQ 

Every actor brings something unique to their roles, but what I love about this cast is what they bring to each other. They all listen to each other actively.

I have seen the show countless times in rehearsal, and I am never bored for a second. I am always intrigued by the chain of reactions that ripple throughout the cast.

When I watch them, it seems like they have all been friends for years when in reality they have only known each other for a year at the most. 

Q - What messages do you want people to come away from the play? Is it a message that everyone can appreciate, even those who are not fans of science fiction or fantasy? 

The messages I would like people to walk away with: The power of storytelling, friendship, and how people use those stories to face adversity in their real lives.

You do not have to be a gamer to appreciate "Of Dice and Men." I wasn't a gamer before I started this rehearsal process and I fell in love with the play.

It maybe about gamers, but it speaks to everyone. As the playwright Cameron McNary said, "You don't have to be a gamer to get "Of Dice and Men" and more than you have to be a 19th-century Russian Jew to get "Fiddler on the Roof." 

Gamers who have seen the play have said they felt like someone was finally telling their story; non-gamers have said they felt touched by hearing it." 

Q - What makes science fiction and fantasy so intriguing to you? 

They are two different facets of human imagination. Fantasy is the human potential in face of adversity taken to the extreme with the addition of the supernatural.

Science fiction a hypothesis in the consequences of human potential. I love that Otherworld Theatre has the opportunity to tell those stories side by side and offers us a unique lens into our own humanity. 

Q - You are the artistic director and founder of Otherworld Theatre. What was your idea in creating the Otherworld Theatre in the first place? How far do you think the theatre has come in meeting its goals since being started in June 2012? 

Otherworld Theatre Company was propelled by the loss of the author Ray Bradbury. He passed shortly after I graduated in May from Columbia College in 2012.

I was facing an unseeable future with a theatre degree, and it scared me to death.

My directing thesis was a production of "1984," and I saw the potential in pursuing science fiction and fantasy on stage, but I felt so young. There are so many theatre companies in Chicago, over 300, and the thought of starting my own theatre company right out of school terrified me. 

But then we lost Ray Bradbury. He was a personal hero of mine - he inspired me to be a storyteller. I felt a great emptiness with his passing and held such regret that I was never able to meet him.

That is when I had the idea to meet him through his work- to direct "Fahrenheit 451" - and to do that, I would have to produce and if I am producing, I might as well start a company.

Hence, Otherworld Theatre was born.

Otherworld's first goal was so put up the Ray Bradbury festival. It wasn't that I didn't have lofty dreams for Otherworld, but that is what the focus was.

We had fundraisers, parties, film festivals - I was desperate to do anything that would make sure that The Ray Bradbury Festival would happen and would happen right.

That goal was reached and has just skyrocketed since then to the point of receiving national attention. I'm still in a state of shock. 

Q - It seems that Otherworld Theatre has carved out a pretty unique niche in the theatre world. Do you think that has given you an edge, especially since there are so many theatre options out there? 

I am sure it gives us an edge, but that was never my goal when I created Otherworld Theatre Company. I just truly enjoy science fiction and fantasy stories and wanted to tell them on stage and sought out like-minded people.

I hope our true edge is that people recognize that we are a passionate theatre company passionate about what we do. 

Q - What's next for the theatre? What productions would you like to see Otherworld Theatre tackle? 

So many goals. So many dreams. 

We are looking into having a reading series of new work. "The Paragon Plays" will be a series of staged readings of new science fiction and fantasy plays where we can have our patrons actively engaged in our play selection process. 

Also, after the success of The Ray Bradbury Festival, we are looking into celebrating one famous science fiction or fantasy author a year.

We are in talks now of who we are thinking for our next festival, but we can't currently release any further information. It'll have to be a surprise.