By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Chicago band Farkus is not the type of band that can be labeled.
The band is just as comfortable playing hard edged songs as they are a folk song. The band has been writing new songs, and will debut five new songs when it performs July 17 at the Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison St., Chicago.
Vandalay, PJ & Soul and Skippin' Rocks are also part of the bill. The music starts at 8:30 p.m. and tickets are $7 in advance and $10 the day of the show, available by going to www.ticketweb.com.
I had the chance to talk to Farkus frontman Tony Maguire about the band.
Q - Great talking to you. I understand the band has been writing new songs. How has that been going? Will you be playing a lot of new songs at the Cubby Bear on July 17?
Great talking to you as well. Thanks for the opportunity.
For the last six months or so, we’ve focused primarily on writing new material. It’s been going great.
We have more ideas than we’ll ever be able to use for our next record, but it still takes a lot of work to distill these ideas into completed songs. We will be debuting five new songs for our Cubby Bear show that we’ve been anxious to finally perform.
Q - What should people expect from the new album? In sitting down to write a song, what comes first for the band, the words or the music? Is it a collaborative effort?
We’re definitely taking more chances and covering some new territory. One song is very ambient, another with a really funky groove, and a good ol’ fashion Americana style rock tune.
We even have an unabashed pop song titled “Until Tulum,” but we’ve spiced it up with some Latin influenced rhythms and a jazzy chord progression. We joke that it sounds like Santana meets Steely Dan.
The new arrangements we’ve been working on give us more opportunities to jam and improvise live, which is a strength of the band I don’t think we’ve exposed enough. Some of our best moments at our rehearsals are just jamming on a chord progression or a vamp someone introduces while we’re waiting on someone else getting a beer.
Writing is a very collaborative process for us, but it happens in a variety of ways. Typically Brian (Gillham, guitarist) or I introduce a riff to the band and we jam on it trying various approaches. I experiment with some vocal melodies using complete gibberish for lyrics.
After everyone has an idea of the song, we work on our parts individually and then regroup. Often we’ll find that ideas we have worked on independently work well together and we start developing the arrangement.
On occasion, I will come with a song almost fully fleshed out or I’ll have a lyric or melody I will work with Brian to write some chords around.
Q - When did you make the video for the song "This Happens Everyday" and what was that experience like? What was the idea for the video?
We filmed the video for “This Happens Everyday” in January of this year. Our friend Bubs, who filmed our “Ally of the Enemy,” video wanted to expand from having a video of just the band performing.
We listened to the record together and discussed potential ideas for each of the songs. “This Happens Everyday” already had the makings of a video built into the story of the song’s conception.
I took about a month long road trip to the West coast and back a few years ago after I was let go from a project I was working on that was abruptly cancelled. I figured I may as well make the most of the time off, so I just packed up the car and hit the road.
I camped, couch-surfed, and stayed with some friends along the way. I toured some national parks, saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, and met a lot of amazing people.
I wrote the song in the process and recorded it originally in L.A. with Dave Rieley, who produced our album, “Thought You Should Know.”
We decided to just recreate that trip and it was a great excuse to escape the Chicago winter for a week. It obviously wasn’t practical to bring the entire band, but luckily our bass player, Kevin (Coyne, was able to join us.
He has a cameo as the hitchhiker in fact. The three of us flew out to Vegas, rented a car, and just made it up as we went.
It’s basically a very well documented vacation. We had a blast.
Q - It seems like you guys are just as comfortable playing harder edged songs as "Ally of the Enemy" as you are playing more stripped down songs like "This Happens Everyday." What is the band's approach to making music? Who or what are your biggest musical inspirations?
We don’t have much of a set approach and don’t set any boundaries for ourselves. That’s why you’ll end up hearing a hard rock tune and a folk song on the same album.
We write music that we enjoy and as a band we have wide variety of influences.
We share a lot of favorites as a band such as Rush, Pearl Jam, Tool, and Primus to name a few, however, individually, we all have a plethora of personal influences.
After we wrap up a practice, we usually spend some time playing some music we want to share with the other band members. Kevin will jam some Melvins or Tomahawk, Brian will treat us to some Guthrie Govan guitar mastery or lately Megadeth, Dave constantly reminds us of some overlooked classics from bands like Black Sabbath or deep cuts from someone like Smashing Pumpkins, and I’m usually pushing whatever band I’ve seen lately, such as Faith No More, since they just came through town.
It’s a great exercise to examine the songs together and helps to spark our own ideas.
Q - How did the band get together in the first place and how do you think Farkus' music has evolved over the years? Is there a meaning behind the band's name?
I had been playing guitar with Brian since high school and I was visiting him at U of I back when the Bears were playing there for a season. Brian and I were playing some songs at a party and Dave (Durdov) introduced himself and mentioned he played the drums.
I got together to jam with Dave back in Chicago and when Brian was back from college, he joined up with us and our bassist at the time, Matt Kircher. Kircher eventually left the band when he started his career as a doctor.
We were looking for a new bass player and I had heard great things about Kevin, who Brian and I also went to high school with. Kevin came by to jam with us and we immediately knew we had found our new bass player.
Our music has evolved quite a bit. Our earliest material consisted mostly of songs I had written as solo acoustic guitar pieces before the band had even formed or in its infancy.
Then having a band opened up new possibilities to me as a songwriter. Eventually we began collaborating on the music more and more as we gained experience jamming together.
This increased our musical palette exponentially. Each band member also spends a lot of time working to further develop their abilities, which has helped speed up the evolutionary process. Fun new equipment we pick up along the way always helps too.
There isn’t really much of a meaning behind the name. Farkus is the bully in the movie "A Christmas Story," who Ralphie overcomes in a fit of rage.
During the scene the narrator says, “Farkus, what a rotten name.” With an impending gig we were offered, we needed something and we wanted it to be short and simple.
Our friend, and fellow local musician of Mazes, Pat Cavanaugh, tipped us off to the name, actually.
Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see the band fitting into it?
Chicago has such an abundant music scene which is great although it can make it very tough to pin down a “scene” at all. There are some obvious trends towards the folk or indie sound for instance but aside from that, it is hard to find much cohesion.
We find ourselves in a weird state of limbo. We’ll get billed with indie sounding bands one night and then some really heavy bands another, but we’re too heavy for the former and not heavy enough for the latter.
I also don’t know of any other bands that will do a cover of a band like Living Colour or Rush without trying to be ironic.
We’re not concerned, though. As our friend Neil suggests we must put aside the alienation. “All the world is indeed a stage and we are merely players; performers and portrayers. Each another’s audience outside the gilded cage.” (hint, hint)
Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?
In the short term, we are focused on finding more opportunities to gain exposure in Chicago. It’s such a huge market that we don’t feel the need to pack ourselves in a van and start driving across the country until we’ve penetrated the market here sufficiently.
We’d really love to get a chance to play a street festival, for instance. We’ve been very fortunate to have a good consistent base of fans that come see our shows, but it can be difficult to find new ears when most of the people coming to your shows are coming because they are already familiar with your music.
In the long term, we’re continuing to write new music and planning to have a new release ready relatively early in 2016. We have been kicking some ideas around of hitting some other cities in the Midwest.
Short weekend trips where we hit two or three cities for instance. We’ve also done a couple of private shows in our practice space and they turned out great.
We’d like to do this on occasion and invite other bands to join us. In the meantime, we’re just going to continue having a blast creating music together.