Friday, March 13, 2015

Steve Leaf & The Ex-Pats bringing mesmerizing sound to the Tonic Room in Chicago


Channeling bands like Radiohead and Pink Floyd while at the same time creating a sound all their own, Chicago band Steve Leaf & The Ex-Pats continues to gain attention in the Chicago music scene.

The band will perform March 28 at the Tonic Room, 2447 N. Halsted St., Chicago. Valentiger and Joshua Powell also are on the bill.

The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $8, available by going to

I had the chance to talk to Leaf about the band.

Q - Great talking to you. Last year, you guys released "Three Circles & A Speaker." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

In retrospect, that makes for an interesting question. At the time we started recording, we were a trio and we've since grown into a four piece, adding a keyboardist in May of 2014.

That change has inevitably helped the sound to evolve and change. In recording "Three Circles & A Speaker," we wanted to capture the sound of the band at that time and I think we definitely accomplished that.

In addition, I had just finished a stint living in Australia, and I was able to write a lot so we were able to capture those songs at a solid stage. Also, we recorded half in Chicago at Experimental Sound Studios and half in Kalamazoo at Double Phelix Studios, which was a blast.

There are things I would have done differently but as I record more and more, that's the challenge, honing in on your skills and the process. It's like searching for Bigfoot.  

Q - I understand that all of you are originally from Michigan. How does the music scene there compare to the Chicago music scene? What made you want to move to Chicago?

The scenes in both are robust and vibrant and still very different when compared to each other. Michigan has a very tight knit community of musicians and people willing to listen.

Chicago is similar but the scene like the city is huge, so there is something for everybody. Hip hop, death metal, Americana, Chicago has it all.

Michigan does too definitely, just on a smaller scale. We all moved here originally for our professions.

There are a lot of Michiganders here in the city so if you want to feel nostalgic and talk about the Great Lakes state while sipping a Bell's Two Hearted, there's no shortage of great people!

Q - Do you have any favorite venues to play in Chicago?

I've got two. Lincoln Hall is an incredible space. We love playing there, the sound is amazing, and the interaction with the crowd is so close.

Probably my favorite spot to play and see a show. Second, I used to play guitar in another Chicago band, Go Long Mule, and we played Fitzgerald's all the time out in Berwyn.

All the guys in Go Long Mule are from around Oak Park, so playing there is always a bit of a homecoming vibe. Doesn't hurt that its a great room and superlative sound.

Bill and Kate have something real special out there.

Q - The band's sound has been compared to such bands as Pink Floyd and Radiohead. Who do you consider the band's biggest influences and how do you think they have influenced your music?

We love those bands, no question. They have had a huge influence on tons of bands of course and for good reason.

Other bands in the sphere of influence would be Talking Heads, Neil Young, Ratatat, Sigur Ros, Damien Rice, and Wilco. I love the intersection between ambient music and Americana.

That's my favorite sound, something like "Poor Places" by Wilco. Incredible lyrics, songwriting, and sound.

And I love to draw from other musicians as well. The first time I heard the album "Takk" by Sigur Ros, I freaked out. I had one of those, "What the hell was that?" kind of reactions.

We don't want to just copy those bands, but you can definitely hear their influences weaving in and out of the record.

Q - How did the band form and what do you think each member brings to the table?

Nick Young, Dan Haefs, and myself started jamming in the basement of my place when I was in Logan Square in the spring of 2012. We played for a while as a trio but we definitely needed something else in there.

We then brought in keyboardist and synth player Joe Ridgway in the spring of 2014. Everyone brings something different.

Dan is an engineer by day and brings that kind of precision and discipline to the drum kit. He is always in the pocket and keeps us in check rhythmically.

Nick Young on the bass plays jazz in a few projects, so he brings that kind of spontaneity to the sound. Joe Ridgway is a bit of the professor, creating soundscapes with his keyboards and synthesizers.

Lastly, I bring the songs, sometimes fully baked and others half baked. The band has gotten to a great place being able to flesh out the tunes after I bring in an idea.  

Q - What do you see as the band's short-term and long-term goals?

We put out a record last year and we are proud of it and excited for more to hear it. We also recorded an EP in the winter and we'll be putting that out in the summer.

Short term, that's a good question, we've got a rehearsal tonight so hopefully that goes well! We are more focused on the long term: recording and putting out good records!

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