Thursday, March 10, 2016

Chicago band Common Allies releases new CD, will perform May 11 at The Original Mother's


Conor and Ryan Ashe have come a long way since they first saw the movie "School of Rock."

The movie inspired the brothers to put together a band. Their current band, Common Allies, has a new EP and will perform May 11 as part of an EP release party at The Original Mother's, 26 W. Division St., Chicago.

Captain Coopersmith also is on the bill. 

I had the chance to talk to Common Allies singer/songwriter Conor Ashe about the new EP.

Q - What were your goals for completing your EP and do you think you accomplished them?

When we were discussing an EP release, I didn't know if we would have enough time to make our dreams a reality. However, with the show at Mother's coming up, I figured we could push to make it an unforgettable event for the band and all those associated with it.

Whenever we manage to get in to the studio, time is of the essence. We needed to make sure to operate on an efficient schedule, all while ensuring that our songs were materializing in the way I initially planned from the second I first began humming the basic melody in my head.

We went in with the intention of recording a five song EP, which would authentically and stylistically convey what it is that we have to offer as both musicians and songwriters. I would definitely say that we accomplished these goals, for we were all more than satisfied with the outcome.

Q - What is it about "School of Rock" that made you want to start a band?

Funny you should mention that movie. I love it and have always loved it! "School of Rock" was the musically inclined "Rocky" for my brother and me.

We were only in middle school when it was released and were still very impressionable. It inspired us to no end because the characters were exactly like we were. They were unremarkable, conventional, ordinary grammar school kids, whose greatest concern was fitting in with others.

At least, this was the case at face value. Once exposed to an expansive list of game-changing rock 'n' roll classics by the illustrious Ned Shneebly, the kids established community with one another as well as personal identity.

The realization that something as seemingly simple as music could accomplish this blew us away. As preteens, we didn't realize all of the great music we were missing out on, due to limited access to millennial audiences.

There seems to still be a misconception that younger generations won't have any appreciation for genres and artists that brought popular music to the forefront. I can't understand this! The second we heard groups such as Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Led Zeppelin, our lives would never be the same again.

What we ultimately took from "School of Rock" was the fact that, if you are truly passionate about anything you do, you will thrive at it, regardless of who you are or how others perceive you. Plus, we associated the guitar with being cool.

We wanted to be among the cool guys who played the guitar! 

Q - What was it like opening for Huey Lewis and The News as Runaway Freight Train, and what did you learn from this experience?

Man, what a blast from the past! Yeah, we were awarded that slot at Naperville's Rib Fest after taking first place in the local battle of the bands way back in 2009. Runaway Freight Train was more or less a fun after-school activity.

Four close friends with a similar taste in music got together once a week to learn and rehearse a plethora of classic rock covers akin to what's played daily on Chicago's Top 40 "rock classics" stations. In retrospect, we probably wouldn't touch most of the material we covered back then nowadays!

We had a few sub-par but catchy party rock originals. My brother and I were still building our musical identities at that point and being able to perform on the main stage in front of a wide array of people was the opportunity of a lifetime!

Given an event like Ribfest's multitude of offerings for entertainment, we were just excited that people were choosing to listen to us. The crowd reception was great and their energy definitely rubbed off on all of us.

We each got a little more experience with a professionally executed stage setup and truly learned the importance of engaging with the audience. A performance is a social event and there needs to be less of a divide between the performers and the listeners. 

A bridge in the gap, if you will. 

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you think you fit into it?

This is a great and yet puzzling question. I will do my best to effectively express my thoughts! The music market in Chicago is like any other, saturated.

The behemoth that is Chicago is naturally the home of myriad painters, actors, comedians, and musicians, all of whom have the same goal in mind; to stand out from the rest. My brother and I had a conversation not too long ago with Erich Awalt, one of the founding members of the '90s nu metal outlet, Disturbed.

He helped to shed some light on the matter from his experiences. According to him, before the evolution of technology and skyrocketing increase in accessibility, original music had more prominence in the Chicago scene.

Now, with an even larger and more diverse population, more people than ever are producing their own music. I'm not trying to sound condescending here, but a considerable sum of these individuals have the means to do this, but don't necessarily have the talent or creativity.

As a result, those who frequent venues with live music assess risk in going out to see an act they've never heard of perform. There's tons of terrific new underground local music in Chicagoland. However, at this point, it seems like the casual concert goers prefer what's familiar to them.

Therefore, the Chicago music scene is full of tribute bands, many of which take precedent over a group who plays original material for a given weekend slot. I should know, my brother and I are also in a Janis Joplin Tribute band and venues don't think twice before booking us when we reach out to them.

Yet, when I'm trying to break into a new venue with Common Allies, they will proceed with caution and ask us to provide a great deal of information to ensure that we can meet their expectations and actually keep an audience's attention. So, after all of that rambling, this brings me to your question of where we fit into the Chicago scene.

Unfortunately, I don't quite know. Chicago has loads to offer in hip hop, blues, funk, and jazz. We're a singer-songwriter jam trio with roots in the psychedelic '60s, both in America and Europe.

I'm sure there's room for us somewhere in the Chicago scene. However, once we get enough of a following to start touring, we may find that there's more of a demand for what we do elsewhere.

At this point in time, the sky is the limit!

Q - Who are your major musical influences and how have they shaped your music?

This is a question that I love being asked, yet is so hard to answer! I typically keep the list to a top three. Among the big three would have to be Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, and The Beatles, with Pink Floyd at the top.

The Grateful Dead taught us that each musician in a given group is just as important as the next. Each performer must be in tune with the others and should never try to make it about him or herself.

The Beatles inspired us to write music that dabbles in many different genres, placing emphasis on explosive instrumentation and to use vocal harmony to make it sound its absolute best. Pink Floyd taught us the most important lesson of all, take a chance and be weird. Write music that challenges conventions and embraces the unique.

They taught us not to be afraid to express our darkest feelings, even if it may make the audience feel a bit uncomfortable. There's always a light at the end of the tunnel and we never hesitate to express this in an eruption of an instrumental climax. 

We want to do more than perform our recordings for people. We want to provide a true escape into the most hauntingly beautiful areas of the mind's domain.

I'd like to think that we've started to do this, but we still have a hell of a long way to go. 

Q - What are your short term/long term goals?

I'll keep it simple. For the short term, we just want our music to be heard.

For the long term, my brother and I want to play music for a living. It's what we've always wanted to do and it's a journey upon which we're currently embarking.

We've gained and we've lost. Each loss has been a blessing in disguise, for we've bounced back a bit stronger with each fall. I don't know what the future holds, but with enough determination, I can say confidently that it looks bright.