By ERIC SCHELKOPF
To say that Western Automatic singer/guitarist Alex Chadwick is a wealth of musical knowledge is an understatement.
He was featured in a video made by Chicago Music Exchange titled "100 Riffs (A Brief History of Rock N' Roll), in which he gives viewers a chronological history of rock 'n' roll. The video has garnered more than 14 million views on YouTube.
I had the chance to talk to Chadwick about Western Automatic, which recently played at the Metro in Chicago.
Q - Great talking to you. I understand you guys are working on a new album. When do you plan to release the album and what should people expect?
Yeah man, we've been working for the last six months on our first full-length and we're probably a month out from having all the tracking finished. We're hoping to have everything ready to go out later this year although we haven't set a date.
Our first EP was kind of all over the place stylistically, these new songs are a lot more cohesive and thematically linked. The album overall is a little heavier and spacier than our earlier stuff and lyrically its a bit darker.
Q - Is there a story or meaning behind the band's name?
The band name actually came from a place on Western Avenue with a big sign on the front of an old brick building that said, Western Automatic Music. I was passing it on the way to work every day.
I think they used to sell record machines and jukeboxes, and the whole thing looks pretty run down at this point. It just made me think about the idea of technology versus decay, how even our best and smartest work will eventually lose out to nature, and that theme started to creep into the songwriting.
Plus, I just think it sounds cool.
Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think the band fits into it?
I've never been able to get a solid grip on the music scene here in Chicago, it all seems so disparate. I know a lot of bands and have a lot of musician friends but it seems to me like there are several isolated scenes that just happen to be in the same city.
I honestly have no idea where we fit, we've shared stages with a lot of really great bands but I can't say we're tied to any real scene. We just go and play and hope it connects with somebody, and I don't worry about anything past that.
Q - I am sure you are constantly asked about the "100 Riffs" video, which has received more than 14 million view on YouTube. Did you ever expect the video would create such interest?
I do get asked about that video a lot, and it's always cool to be recognized for it. It really never gets old, I always feel like a rock star when people bring it up, even though it's three years old at this point.
I definitely didn't expect it to get as big as it did, I just put it together for fun after David Kalt (the owner of the Chicago Music Exchange) wanted something cool for our YouTube channel. It took a few weeks of arranging the songs and a few hours of trial and error in front of the camera, and a couple weeks later it blew up.
I got to do a bunch of radio and print interviews all over the world and it got me into some weird and cool places, but the coolest thing to come out of it might be when I ran into Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and he told me I screwed up their songs. He was kidding but it was pretty funny, and definitely surreal for me.
Q - How hard was it to do 100 guitar riffs in one take? How did you decide upon these particular riffs to do?
I really wanted the video to come off as a history lesson of sorts, something you could watch and see the trends in rock music over the years. I looked over "Billboard" charts and old "Rolling Stone" articles and tried to find songs that were popular and musically impact-full, and after that it was just a matter of picking and choosing which ones flowed into each other.
There were plenty of great songs I had to leave out, otherwise it could have gone on for days. It wasn't that difficult to put together the hundred I used, by the time I figured out which riffs I was going to include I knew them each pretty well.
The hard part was deciding which ones would be cut.
Q - How many guitar riffs do you think you know?
I've played in a lot of cover bands over the years and for a while I made a living playing acoustic shows around Illinois, so I would bet the riff totals would easily be somewhere in the high hundreds. I used to play for all sorts of audiences so I had a set for rock, blues, classic rock, country, it was all over the place.
Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?
Short term, I want to make this record as good as possible and put on the best shows we can in the meantime. Long term, I want to continue making great music with these guys and have a good time, and if we can grow our audience in the process, that would be great.