By ERIC SCHELKOPF
On its new EP, "Half a Second," musically adventurous Chicago band Hemmingbirds embarks on a new direction.
The album is more upbeat than its previous efforts, a reflection of the band's latest influences. To celebrate the release, Hemmingbirds will perform Feb. 26 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Carbon Tigers and The Noise FM also are part of the show. The show starts at 10 p.m., and tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, available at Schubas' website.
I had the chance to talk to Hemmingbirds' frontman Yoo Soo Kim about the album.
Q - Great talking to you again. The mood on "Half a Second" is decidedly more upbeat than your last album. In sitting down to make the EP, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?
We really looked to make a smaller collection of songs that we felt were very strong in writing, arrangement, and production. While I am proud of the last two LPs we made, it was a struggle to make a full-length while everyone in the band was also juggling jobs and other priorities.
So we felt like a big goal was to only pick a handful of songs and really dedicate [ourselves] to make them as strong as possible.
I think the record is more upbeat because we're listening to a lot more music outside of rock. I've been getting into a lot of pop, hip hop, and EDM.
Because of that, I've been into the type of energy that those genres bring. I also feel like I'm in a lot better place as a person compared to the last couple albums. There are aspects of my life that I'm happier with and that makes me feel like writing more upbeat stuff.
Some artists we sought influence from were St. Vincent, Vampire Weekend, Bleachers, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. Katy and Taylor are clearly the outliers there, but, for the other artists listed, I really liked the way they took conventional rock and put some sort of innovative twist in their production.
We really looked at creating unidentifiable guitar tones by recording our regular guitars and then tweaking further with digital processing. It wasn't about capturing how we sound live. It was recording our parts and then [messing] with them with plug-ins and stuff.
Coming back to Katy and Taylor, I just really love that style of production where the drums and sounds are so immediately memorable from the first few bars. I wanted to capture that essence in our songs.
Q - What was the concept behind the video for "Mess of Things?"
Well, we're friends with the Wheel Show team in L.A. They used to put on shows here in Chicago called "The Late Live Show" and "Creative Control." They make a lot of sketch videos and one-off TV pilots that we all think are hilarious and really well done.
So we thought they really had the capability to make something special. I came up with a concept and pitched it to them. They scrapped it and came up with their own concept that's in the actual video.
I think I asked them in passing once how they came up with the idea, and they mainly thought it'd be hilarious to have a skeleton doing those human things. That really might be the extent of how the concept came together. From there, they just threw their really smart writing into it and made it the awesome video it is.
Q - The Kickstarter campaign to fund "Half a Second" was a success. Does the fact that people were willing to give to the campaign in order to hear more music from the band make you feel more connected to your audience?
Absolutely! Honestly, successfully raising funds for that Kickstarter was one of the hardest things I've done in this band. It's way more work than I realized it would be and just a lot of worrying if we were going to make our goal.
But then you see these fans share your Kickstarter, and you see friends pledging that you haven't talked to in a long time. And that just made me feel extremely grateful.
There are these people that our going out of their way to help realize your dream and that really makes me feel connected with them knowing that they are into our music.
Q - What are the challenges of being an indie act and do the pluses of being an independent band outweigh the negatives?
I think the huge challenge is not having the team you want to help you get to where you want to be. If it were up to me, I'd love to have a larger scale physical distribution, marketing, touring, radio, etc.
Having to do all that yourself is a lot of work, and, obviously, you don't have the same capabilities that a label would have. Plus there are hundreds of bands out there at our level doing the same thing, so it's tough finding a way to stand out amongst all those bands.
The plus is the level of freedom you have. We're not on a label, so we're free to do whatever we want creatively, which is awesome.
There's no one higher up dictating what we can or can't do with our music and vision, so that's awesome.
Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think the Hemmingbirds fits into it?
I think Chicago has a sweet music scene. Hip hop is clearly a national center of attention here. Rock-wise, I feel like there are a number of cool bands that I have the privilege to know.
But for some reason, there aren't the same number of rock bands breaking out compared to hip hop bands. It could be that there's a negative stigma attached to Chicago and its rock music, and A&R folks maybe aren't looking for bands out of Chicago as much as they are in NYC, LA, or Nashville. I'd love to see a way in the future where Chicago starts getting focus as a center of where cool rock music is coming out.
I think we fit into the segment of indie rock bands that have been around for a few years. I feel like within that circle, we're buddies with a number of like-minded bands. We're all in it trying to figure out how to take ourselves to the next level.
Q - What does the rest of the year hold for the band?
Well we've got another video we'd like to put out for our latest single, "Stay." We've got a tour in the works for this upcoming summer in support of "Half a Second."
Other than that, we'll just see how things go. I've become a fan of just taking things as they come and seeing what happens. Hopefully we'll make some sort of splash with these songs, and go from there.