Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Chicago band Low Swans bringing captivating sound to House of Blues


Chicago electronic rock duo Low Swans has a captivating sound that demands attention, as it proves on its latest album, "The World Has No Clothes." 

Low Swans will perform Jan. 9 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. King By Friday, Justin Sumler and White Radio also are on the bill.

The show starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are $13.15, available at  

I had the chance to talk to frontman Jon Scarpelli about the upcoming show.

Q - Great talking to you. Your latest release, "The World Has No Clothes," was released in November. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

I think the first goal was to make something that pushed the electronic aspect of our sound without sacrificing the dynamic impact of the songs I was writing or a feeling of the music being live. I think the vibraphone, guitars and vocals take the electronic tracks to a place that comes off like a band more than a fully programmed arrangement... so in that regard I think we were mostly successful.  

Another thing was more about production and sonic quality. I have generally taken a somewhat off the cuff approach to producing the songs.

Tons of first take stuff, rough around the edges and spontaneous. This record was intentionally poured over and cleaned up over the course of the year it took to produce.

Not to suck the life out of it, but to me it was a matter of the songs translating the best they could to the audience. We had a lot to say lyrically and musically and made sure that no technical short comings would get in the way of what we wanted to get across.

In that regard, I'm definitely happy with the outcome.

Q - What is the meaning behind the album's name?

It's a pretty obvious reference to the story "The Emperor's New Clothes." It's kind of an assertion that despite all of the arguing and debating that goes on in the world about pretty much any issue, it seems to me that everyone is choosing to ignore the core problem that is at the root of all problems. 

Not sure I need to get into the specifics of that, except to say, I feel that our society is set up in a way that we have to collectively have faith in a system that no longer serves its purpose in order to maintain the status quo.

The songs on the album, one way or another, address this idea from difference perspectives.

Q - What was your vision for the band when you put it together? How do you think the band's sound has evolved since its inception?

I'm not sure we had a specific vision other than just making the music we wanted to make. I think in the past, the bands we had been working in created their own sort of limitations.

This is not to say that the groups lacked anything, but because of how specific the sound of the groups were, moving forward and growing was somewhat confining. At this point Low Swans feels like a synthesis of so many influences that it will be fertile ground for a long time.

Q - I imagine you have heard the band's sound described in many ways. How would you describe the band's sound?

This is always a tough question to answer, not out of hubris, but just because I think of the music in terms of my main songwriting influences, yet I always hear back from people that it sounds like stuff that has nothing to do with where I think I'm coming from.

By definition we're an indie band, but I don't think the music really reflects that. I think we're a little bit more broad, for better or for worse. 

Let's say, electronic singer/songwriter rock. That's a lame description...

Q - Who or what are the band's biggest influences and how have they influenced the band's music?

Dead Can Dance is a huge influence. There's a song on the record that I feel is essentially an homage to them... I just can't say enough good things about that group. Truly unique.

Their music is almost always setup on a rhythm and a chord progression that gets built up on as the piece progresses. Rarely do they shift tempos or feels or make drastic changes to the harmony.

It's a trance like approach to songwriting, which I think very much applies to what we're doing. In a way it relates to a lot of EDM stuff, which was definitely an influence in the production sense.

But beyond that there is a ton of 80's stuff that is an obvious influence... Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears a little bit of Depeche Mode. Then there is a huge contingent of singer/songwriters who are a major influence as well.

Ryan Adams, Jeff Buckley, Thom Yorke stuff like that. And also stuff like James Blake, Chet Faker, Modeselektor.

I think the result in our music tends to be more in spirit of many of those influences, rather than in specific techniques or ideas.  

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think the band fits into it?

From what I can tell, there is a ton of talent and variety out there. I think in general Chicago has always had variety as a strength when it comes to music. 

I'd like to think that we're filling a place between something potentially mainstream and the more eclectic interesting stuff that happens on the fringes. That's not to say that I think we have anything fringe-y about us.

I just think our sensibility might be more interesting to audiences who like unique stuff and variety more than those who like the status quo, yet somehow scratching a kind of mainstream itch.

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

The goal, like the vision, is just to be in a position to keep doing it. To be able to get across to people in a way that gives momentum for us to continue.

I would hate to get to a point where its just a narcissistic thing for us to go out and play a show. I know pure art can sometimes be seen as being for the sake of itself or uncompromising to the public opinion.

But frankly, I'm not about to ask my friends to come to my show and not try and entertain them.  People have to put effort into being a fan and I really want to respect that.

I see no point in putting out music and putting on shows that are just for us. I feel like if an artist has something to say that they should make every effort, short of being phony, to get those ideas across.  

What I'm most happy with in Low Swans is that it's both authentically us, but it also can speak to others. That's really the goal at all times.