Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Chicago's Cold Country releases new EP, will perform at The Hideout


As leader of the experimental folk-driven Chicago band Cold Country, Sean McConnell's delicate vocals wrap around you like a warm blanket.

Cold Country will celebrate the release of its new EP, "Fall," with a show on Nov. 19 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago. Arts & Letters and Ty Maxo also are on the bill.

The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10, available by going to www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to McConnell about the new EP.

Q - Great talking to you. Your EP, "Fall," comes out on Nov. 17. I understand the songs on the EP were songs that didn't make it on to your "Willow" album, which was released earlier this year. Why didn't they make the cut for the "Willow" album and did you always plan to release them in some type of format?

I had a long list of songs that could've made it onto Willow. And yah, I knew I'd get them released at some point.

I ended up having to make decisions about what songs to include based on what I thought fit with the album, because with Willow I wanted to make something that was sonically and somewhat thematically cohesive.

Not a concept album necessarily, but I wanted it to all fit together the right way. The songs I've included on the Fall EP were ones that ultimately felt like they'd be a little out of place. Like they were speaking to something different than the others.

In fact two of the songs, "Letter to my Daughters" and "To Providence," were not even recorded until after Willow was released because I had decided earlier on that I wouldn't include them. In this way they feel altogether new to me, and I'm glad for that.

Q - What were your goals in putting together the band Cold Country and do you think you accomplished them? How did you go about choosing the members of Cold Country?

My goal for Cold Country has always been to produce the music I write in the most fully realized way. Meaning I knew I would need a band in order to get the dynamics and sound that I wanted.

I didn't want to be performing these songs solo with a acoustic guitar all the time. And up to this point, I feel like I've accomplished this pretty well. There are always things you wish you could go back and change, things you'd do differently if given another go at it.

Most often these are things I attempted to do myself rather than collaborate more with the band, and I ended up having to settle for something that could've been better. But I'm proud to say I haven't let that happen too often. 

As for the band members, I really have to give them so much credit. They've stuck with me this far and have made everything about these songs so much more interesting. Chris and Jayson have been there from the very start, and as a rhythm section, I think they vibe so well.

Anna's got such a lovely voice. She's always finding the best harmonies. I don't write that stuff in, usually. 

And what can I say about Will? He's just a madman! He really helps bring a rawness and spontaneity to the live performance.

We've even added a new member I'm very excited about, vocalist Hannah Gamble. They're all people I know and love.

I love playing music with my friends, and that's how I've built Cold Country.

Q - Is there a meaning behind the band's name?

Yah, I got the name from something my dad would say whenever he referred to the Midwest (he's from Minnesota). He liked to call it the cold country. "Ah, so you're moving up to the cold country huh?" Or "Yah well, I'm from the cold country, you know..."

Stuff like that I remember him saying and I always thought it was a nice homage to his kind of old-time language. My dad is a sort of "dying breed" as far as the way he was brought up and the time he's from.

He's an old timer. Has been all his life. So it's an homage to him, and to the changing of tides I guess.

Q - Before forming Cold Country, you were an engineer working with such bands as The Bears of Blue River, Dastardly and Teenage Rage. In working with different bands, what were you trying to bring out of them?

A: As an engineer my goal was always to do best by those bands in terms of their artistic visions. I was always confident in what I could offer them but also knew I could grow with them. I learned so much about my own process through those bands. We ended up with, I feel, some pretty great sounding records, and I came away with a lot of experience and new friends.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it? Who are your biggest musical influences?

Hmmm, the Chicago music scene... Is there such a thing? I guess I often feel, as do a lot of people I know trying to make music in this city, that it's pretty fractured.

There's just a whole lot of people all gunnin' for the same gold. And everyone's out for their own.

I think we could all be better about supporting each other and carving out more definitive scenes that nurture artistic growth rather than work against it. I hear a lot of folks discouraged when a hundred people said "yes" to the Facebook event and only 10 show up. 

But I also feel like a lot of those discouraged maybe aren't doing all they can themselves. So it's a double edged sword.

Yes, the scene could be better. But the artists need to be willing to work harder to support not only their own projects, but those of the next guy, or gal.

I don't want to come off too cynical though! If Chicago has one thing going for it, it's the DIY music scene. I think our DIY venues and the bands that occupy that niche are some of the best in the country!

I'm blown away at the crowds that get pulled into some of these events. And they're really there for the music too. There's a quality to it that I think is hard to find in other cities this big. It's a big city problem for sure. 

Cold Country is somewhere in there... We tend to ride the fringes a little bit.

And I don't mean in an edgy, cool kinda way. Just that we haven't really found our scene. Like, not gritty enough for the punks, and not clean enough for the big wigs... I don't know, ha ha.

And that can be frustrating when you're looking for the support of the locals. But we've been doing pretty good. Our friends and fans have been very kind to us! I think we pull a little bit from everywhere. And that's nice.

As for influences, so much of what I know about music has come directly from an adolescent obsession with classic rock, I think. I missed out on some pretty awesome angsty stuff cause I was drowning myself in Beatles, Zeppelin, Neil Young, Dylan and the like, and I thought that most modern music wasn't very good.

In hindsight, I was wrong. I love so much new music now.

Lately I can't stop listening to Kurt Vile. That guy just can't do wrong!

I've been into a lot of psych rock lately too. I think I pull from that genre quite a bit.

Q - What's next for Cold Country? Are you working on new music?

Always trying to work on new stuff! And still so much to share that's been on the burner, so expect another EP very soon. And a full length sometime  later in 2016.

For now, I'm going to try and get the band on the road come spring/summer.

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