Saturday, October 20, 2018

Innovative jazz-rock band Soft Machine to perform at Reggies in Chicago as part of Progtober festival

Soft Machine is touring the United States for the first time since 1974, which includes an appearance on Oct. 21 at Reggies, 2105 S. State St., Chicago, as part of the Progtober IV festival.


With the release of its new album, "Hidden Details," UK jazz-rock band Soft Machine remains as innovative as when it first burst on to the scene in 1966.

In support of the new album, the band is touring the United States for the first time since 1974, which includes an appearance on Oct. 21 at Reggies, 2105 S. State St., Chicago, as part of the Progtober IV festival. The show will feature special guest drummer Gary Husband.

Tickets are $40, available at

I had the chance to talk to longtime Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge  about the tour.  

Q – Great talking to you. Of course, the band has a new album out, "Hidden Details." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you have accomplished them?

We went in to make this album at quite short notice, so Theo and I wrote quite quickly. We also feature a high percentage of improvisation on our albums – so that's an 'in the moment' experience – so no preparation as a band, just bringing one's life experiences to the table.

The whole thing was recorded in a couple of days more or less live in the studio, which is how we like to work. Also the late Jon Hiseman's inspiring input helped us to work quickly and effectively.

We're very happy with the outcome. A good balance of new tunes, old tunes and improvisation.

Q – There seems like there should be a story behind the album's name. Is there? 

It does sound like there should be! We like to be enigmatic in our titles – so perhaps we are referring to the hidden details of the history of Soft Machine or perhaps we are referring to the hidden details in the music...Unclear enough for you ?

Q – How has the tour been going and how have people been reacting to the new songs? 

The tour has been really fabulous. Soft Machine have not been in the U.S. since 1974. 

Marshall and Babbington are veterans of that tour (I missed it by one year!)  We have been so amazed at the dedication, knowledge and tenacity of our fans over here.

We've just done five great shows in New York City ( The Iridium), and the audience seemed to know all the songs and all about the band. The new songs and album have been gleefully received.

It's such a good feeling when the audience recognizes all the old tunes and is hungry for the new ones. Brilliant!

Q – The band has been praised over the years for its innovation and creativity. When you first joined Soft Machine in the 1970s, did you think the band was on the cutting edge and creating something fresh and different? Were you a fan of Soft Machine before you joined the band?

I was so flattered to be asked to join in 1975. Basically Allan Holdsworth gave them my number, which I'm very grateful for as they had not heard of me in their world (although I'd had some great attention in the Prog world).

I really felt I was joining the premier band of the time in Europe in this area of music. I had seen the band a couple of months before and suddenly I was a member. Mind blowing!

I also felt I was the right man for the job, even though it was quite a challenge touring the repertoire that Allan had recorded. I was a fan of this particular incarnation and did not know an awful lot about the earlier incarnations.

I do now and really appreciate them.

Q – What is it like being in the band these days as opposed to in the 1970s?

The band has a much improved atmosphere socially. I really think this group is fulfilling all the potential that was latent in the first incarnations but was thwarted by personal problems, bad management and strife.

I personally am extremely happy with the way this has happened as there were so many lost opportunities in the '70s. It's almost a healing process!

Q – You also have been praised for your innovation. Pat Metheny has called you "one of the best guitarists." What is your approach to guitar playing? 

That's a big question! My playing over the years has covered a big range of influences and areas.

This was not necessarily the intention. My primary mode was and has been the way I play in Soft Machine.

But out of the blue, I got a call to tour with Stephane Grappelli and as I'd always loved Django, I couldn't resist.

I knew the repertoire and brought my own voice to it (Grappelli didn't want imitations!). Since then I have worked for a long time with John Williams in duo – which also requires a different approach, but at the same time it's still me!

I'm not a session musician!

Q – I understand that one of your first influences was Eric Clapton, and that you were impressed with how he made the guitar sing. Who impresses you these days?

My first hero was Django Reinhardt, who was hardly heard in 1963. I lucked into hearing an album and was blown away.

On all levels, that's the business! First of all as a kid, I loved the speed, then later the tone, then later the harmonic adventurousness and melodic creativity. It's all there.

I heard Eric in 1965 and was astonished by the sound and expressiveness. It's very important to remember that he started the whole overdrive blues/rock thing.

Talk about launching a thousand imitations! More like 10 million! of the guitarists at the time, the only ones who are NOT influenced were Steve Howe, Robert Fripp and Albert Lee.

Everybody else is a variation of Clapton '65. And it still brings them in .. look at Joe Bonamassa. 

How ironic that Clapton himself abandoned his own unique style in about 1970. Life is strange!

These days I'm impressed by so many. The level of proficiency is ridiculously high.

I wouldn't like to be a young player starting out. We had just a few influences and no teachers. So we're all self taught (my generation), and all have our own idiosyncratic techniques, etc.

It's an advantage in some way – but of course we lack academic training. That's the way we are!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Chicago band The Streets on Fire back in furious fashion with new album, the band's first since 2010


Even though the members of Chicago band The Streets on Fire are currently spread out between Chicago, Los Angeles and Nashville, they recently came together to record a new album, "Dead Styles," the band's first album since 2010. 

I had the chance to talk to guitarist and keyboard player Yuri Alexander about the new album.

Q – Great talking to you. Of course, you have a new album, "Dead Styles," that was recently released. It is your first album since your 2010 album, "This is Fancy." Why the big gap between albums? 

We’ve been working on this project on and off since the last album and never really felt a rush to get it done. We spent a lot of time growing as individual musicians and as a group, exploring different ideas and sounds.

Some of the songs go back to 2012/2013 while others were recorded a couple of months ago. It’s a good yearbook for the band, I guess.

Q – What kind of album did you want to make and are you happy with how it turned out? What is the meaning behind the album's title?

The last album, "This Is Fancy," was recorded on a 1981 MCI 8-track tape machine we picked up in Nashville. And the sound of that album had a kind of a psychedelic garage, space rock vibe.

I guess that was the phase the band was in at the time, or at least me personally. When approaching this album, we spent a lot of time experimenting with new tones and instruments.

Drummer Gabe Palomo used the Maschine, which helps make beats that he laid acoustic drums on top of. I learned how to play the harmonium and played the Wurlitzer 200 through effects pedals.

And Chadwick Anderson, in my opinion, really grew as a vocalist and lyricist on this album. We were able to give him some time to write some words down rather than just laying down the blueprint for a song and throwing him in the booth.

We didn’t really have a specific sound or genre in mind when writing the album but I will I say, when I listen to it as a whole now, it is definitely a very aggressive/fast paced release. And I wouldn’t say that was intentional, but when we get together in a studio, we tend to be genuinely excited so the songs usually have a boundless energy.

Q – What is the story behind the band's name?

"The Streets on Fire" is something Chadwick and [bassist] Sebastian Brzek came up with when we were at a 4th of July party and the street ended up catching fire. It was a flippant remark which ended up being the band's name. Mostly because we needed one.

"Dead Styles" was a name that I've had bouncing around in my mind for a while. And with some of the songs being so old, to us, anyways, they seemed like they were once dead and brought back to life.

Q – Your music has been described in different ways. How would you describe it?

While the 'post-punk dance rock' label is certainly appropriate, the undertones of psych-pop, garage, kraut-rock and techno allow The Streets On Fire to take you on a journey from “past' to “now," all while forcing the listener out of the comfort of a bar stool and into a feverish whirling dervish dance fury.

Q – Who are your biggest musical influences and what kind of impact did they have on your music?

I was listening to a lot of XTC, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Pink Floyd and Bowie as far as older music, but I also love a lot of new albums that sit with me creatively like "Slave Ambient" by The War on Drugs, "Innerspeaker" by Tame Impala and albums by Django Django and Hookworms. 

But with influences, sometimes it doesn’t really even show through to your music because of your own creativity and filters.

Q – Will you be touring on the new album?

I wouldn’t say we would be touring to support this new album because the band members are spread out between Chicago, L.A., and Nashville at the moment, but we will play a Chicago show before the end of the year; kind of a proper “release party,” I guess. 

And we would entertain the right opportunity to do a show if it came along, as well. I would love to play in Eastern Europe someday. 

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you fit into it?

I wouldn’t really know right now, to be honest. It’s been so long since our last show, which I think was at The Metro or Double Door.

I do have a lot of really good friends who are always playing and touring, but I would be remiss if I tried to describe the scene as it is right now.

Chicago is such a melting pot of styles from just one neighborhood to the next which I think is great. And it’s fluid, always changing. Which is healthy.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Chicago musician Brandon James lifting up music scene, will perform at Reggies Music Joint in Chicago


Chicago soul singer Brandon James' latest single, "There She Goes," is filled with so much joy that it will leave you smiling long after song's last verse.

On Oct. 14, James will continue his 'Soulful Sundays' residence at Reggies Music Joint, 2105 S. State St., Chicago. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available at

I had the chance to talk to James about his music and how he fits into the Chicago music scene.

Q – Congratulations on the release of your new single, "There She Goes." It seems like there should be a story behind the song. What was your inspiration for writing the song?

I wanted to write something positive and bright that would be super relevant to current events but inspires optimism as the same time.

Q – You have been called a modern day Luther Vandross. What do you think of the comparison? Do you count him among your musical influences? 

YES!! He’s an idol of mine and honestly that compliment flatters me and makes me nervous at the same time.

It’s always hard to be compared to the greats! 

Q – Who are your biggest musical influences and what kind of impact have they had on your music?

Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson, just to name a few. The one thing they have in common is their ability to not only write a song but to tell a story. 

Q – I understand that you first became interested in music in elementary school as an outlet for depression. How has music changed your life and what would you like your music to do for other people?

I really struggled to find something that belonged to me or made me feel special when I was younger and music came along and really not only brightened my outlook but took me to another place; a place that made me feel loved and secure. I would love to be able to touch people in that same way. 

That would be the ultimate satisfaction for me! 

Q – After earning a degree in music performance and music business in 2009, you had the chance to perform with the band Earth, Wind & Fire. What was that experience like and what did you learn from that experience?

It was definitely a surreal experience and one I will likely not forget. It definitely taught me to adjust to the unexpected as we did not know they would be performing and it also taught me that it’s not just being successful; I want to leave a legacy like these amazing men have done.

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

I think Chicago has a very rich, underrated and amazing music scene. I think I fit into it by default because I am from Chicago and I represent its flavor and sound.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Q – You have a residency at Reggie's Music Joint called "Soulful Sundays." What do you like about the residency?

Soulful Sundays at Reggie’s just fills me up! It’s an amazing room and we have had some truly talented people out that have made the event so so special.

I’m so happy to see something that I envisioned come to light.  

Q – What are your short term and long term goals?

My short term goal is to be successful and move hearts and the long term goal is to do the same but on a larger scale!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Chicago dance company Ishti examines divided country in new production, "Prakriti: A History of the Present"


In its latest production, "Prakriti: A History of the Present," Chicago dance company Ishti examines how divided the county has become in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.

Creating productions that are both relevant and accessible is part of Ishti's mission. “Prakriti: A History of the Present” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 and at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at Indian Boundary Park, 2500 W. Lunt Ave in Chicago. General admission tickets are $20 and student tickets are $15.

I had the chance to talk to choreographer Preeti Veerlapati about the production.

Q – How were you inspired to create this production? Is the production coming together as you envisioned?

After the 2016 election, we witnessed just how divided the country had become. People could no longer communicate with each other without letting their emotions take over to the point that friends and family members would no longer talk to each other.

Kinnari’s good friend and his twin sister stopped talking to each other because of this and that is what inspired us to create this production. How have we, as humans, have arrived to our present-day climate? How and why can we be so unwilling to listen to views, beliefs or behaviors that are different from our own?

We journey to our most primitive/primal times to discover our need for tribes, reactions to the different and ability to find balance. 

The production in pretty close to what we had envisioned conceptually.  Due to some technical challenges, limitations with the space, budget and man-power, we are learning to find a balance between our dreams and reality.

Q – The production will also feature an original score and live music by composer Bob Garrett, visual art by filmmaker Shawn Convey and light design by Geoffrey Bushor. How did you come to collaborate with them? Do you all share the same ideas for the production?

We have been very lucky to collaborate with some super talented, like-minded artists who believe in our work and have inspired us all along.

At the time of conception, we had envisioned a music mix with rare instruments: ancient (yay bahar, Tibetan glass singing bowls, Indian mouth harp), Indian classical and folk music, ancient chanting as well some new age electronic. Considering all this, composer, sound designer Bob Garrett was an obvious choice.

Once the story board was shared, Bob came up with the original score almost as if it were a painting, landing the score a visual appeal.

The honesty, emotional depth and healing qualities of Shawn Convey’s work has always appealed to us. We learned more about his process of filmmaking, his beliefs and our shared ideas after our work in progress.

We absolutely enjoyed our collaboration with Shawn, his encouragement of our silliest ideas and his enthusiasm for the project.

Geoffrey Bushor’s experience, creativity and willingness to work in a nonconventional space and with unconventional lighting had shaped our very first production. When we approached him with Prakriti, he came up with a map of the 1800s and the history of the performance venue, Indian Boundary Park, and so started the detailing and finishing of the project.

Q – What are the different dance forms that will be part of the production? 

The production is influenced by various dance styles. Most of the choreography has been about creating a new vocabulary influenced by traditional and modern dance forms.

It is rooted in Bharatanatyam – a South Indian classical dance form – along with various forms of Indian folk dance styles. Kalaripayattu – a martial arts form from India, also is represented, as well as modern and contemporary dance.

You may also see the influence of Performance Art and Theater.

Q – Is this production more challenging than other productions Ishti has done? How does the production fit in with Ishti's mission? 
Absolutely. The abstract nature of the subject and the in-depth research and thought put in for each movement, each moment and the intensity of emotions without a physical story was new for us.

The number of dancers, the diversity in their dance training and backgrounds have been a gift and challenge at the same time. Use of Solkattus (vocalization of percussive syllabus in South Indian music), chanting a shloka (verse from ancient Vedic meter in Sanskrit), wearing non-traditional costumes, conceptualizing the dance first (with the music composed after) are all unique to "Prakriti."
Q – What would you like the audience to take away from this production?

We believe that it will open up a dialogue: sensory, emotional and cerebral. However, the takeaway message is left to the audience.

It may be a life-changing for some, it may be an evening of pleasing visual aesthetics, unique music and atmosphere for others. We do not intend to impose our ideas on anyone – there is no right or wrong.

Each of our performances end with a talk back and a chance to share the process, ideas, etc.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Area musicians provide many memorable musical moments in benefit concert for fellow musician Michael Heaton

Hoss frontman Pete Lindenmeyer and other musicians perform Sept. 1 at Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora as part of a benefit concert for fellow musician Michael Heaton, who is battling cancer.

Musician Noah Gabriel Giblin painted this portrait of Michael Heaton, which was auctioned off in a silent auction as part of the benefit concert.

In a show that put the true meaning of friendship on display, area musicians performed on Sept. 1 at Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora in a benefit concert for fellow musician Michael Heaton, who is battling cancer.


 Kevin Trudo performs the Michael Heaton song "We're Not Sleeping."

Singer Pete Jive and other musicians, including noted guitarist Pat Bergeson, perform Michael Heaton's song "The Good Times." 

Musician Michael Heaton thanks his fellow musicians and those who came to a benefit concert for him.

Musician Ralph Covert performs the Michael Heaton song "Souvenirs." 

Joined by noted musician Pat Bergeson on harmonica, musician Dave Ramont performs the Michael Heaton song "Rhum and Coffee (For Guy Clark)."

Joined by the horn section from the band Pawnshop, Hoss frontman Pete Lindenmeyer performs Michael Heaton's song "Smells Like Gasoline." 

Musicians perform Sept. 1, 2018, at Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora as part of a benefit concert for fellow musician Michael Heaton, who is battling cancer. 

Kevin Trudo leads the band in a version of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," which Heaton has played at his show on a regular basis.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Eric Peter Schwartz to perform Aug. 27 at Uncommon Ground in Chicago

After taking the stage as an actor and comedian – including being part of the Geneva Underground Playhouse – the spotlight is squarely on Aurora resident Eric Peter Schwartz these days as a musician.
Schwartz is becoming a familiar face on stage as he is constantly performing. He will perform Aug. 27 at Uncommon Ground, (Edgewater), 1401 West Devon Ave., Chicago.
A full list of his upcoming shows can be found on his website at
I had the chance to talk to Schwartz about his music.
Q – Since 2013, you've been a solo acoustic artist, right? Prior to that, were you playing with a full band?
Before that, I was doing mostly theatre and sketch comedy stuff. I was writing songs behind the scenes. Every once in a while, I would go out and do open mikes by myself. But it was pretty rare.
Most of my time was spent writing or doing theater or sketch comedy.
Q – What made you want to explore music?
I really just wanted to go and do something by myself, where the only thing I had to worry about when I had a show was me. It was time to do some stuff on my own.
Q – How have you been enjoying it?
I love it. I always wanted to do this. Even when I was with Gag Reflex comedy group, I was trying to book us like a band.
I love going around and playing shows. I used to think it was a terrifying notion to just stand up their by yourself, but I've really come to enjoy it.
Q – What do you like best about the experience? Is it the interaction with the audience?
Interacting with an audience is great. If you're kind of playing background music at a bar, there's not a ton of interaction.
When I do have a show at a place like a coffee shop where people are actually listening, then yeah, interacting with the audience and talking to them and things like that, that's always great.
I love playing at Kiss The Sky record store in Batavia. The people who are there are there because they love music. In 2016, I did a little tour of record stores.
I took like a week, and did eight shows between Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. I just kind of went around to all these different record stores.
Most of them seemed to have plugged into the idea of also being a music venue for the local musicians. It's a good deal for record stores to do that with local musicians.
Q – I know that you were named songwriter of the year in 2014 by Twirl Radio. Was that a ego boost?
Mike Lidskin, who runs Twirl Radio, has been a big supporter of mine. I was surprised and yeah, it was a ego boost. Absolutely.
Q – You describe your music as kind of folky and kind of quirky.
I usually would put me with somebody like John Mellencamp or Paul Simon, kind of that folk rock and probably just slightly more quirky. I've got stuff that would probably fall within Warren Zevon a little more and some of his quirkier things.
Not that I'm as good as any of those people, but if I had to find where I lie, it's in there.
Q – Are you working on any new material?
I'm always writing. When a song comes to me, then it comes to me. And then I write it down.
I usually will try it out at a show, and if it's working, I keep it, and eventually, maybe record it.
Now that I'm doing this full time, I'm probably going to have to set aside time. That was the one thing 
I started noticing that as soon as this became my job, the songwriting was slowing down because I was far more concerned with the fact that I would have to book a lot of shows and get paid.
But I'm always working on something. I carry notebooks around with me.
I have a little cassette recorder, and if I have just a little snippet of a musical idea, I'll record it on there. Or I will record it on my phone.
Q – Do you have a process for writing a song?
Sometimes I'll think of the lyrics first, other times, it starts as music and then I add lyrics to it.
It just sort of comes to me. I don't have a set time of day that I write, or anything like that.
Q – Do you think your music has evolved since you first started?
Oh, yeah, I think so. The performing itself has gotten better.
Over time, you're going to get better. The songs seem a little more polished when I'm done with them now.
When I'm done with a song and I'm ready to play it, it either feels more polished or I'm just more willing to play it in front of people.
There's been days when I've finished a song in the morning and I play it at a gig that night.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Acclaimed Chicago band Martin Van Ruin releases new album, will perform Aug. 17 show at FitzGerald's


Following the release of its 2014 critically acclaimed debut album,  "Every Man a King," Chicago band Martin Van Ruin continues its adventurous ways with the album "Current Day."

Martin Van Ruin  will celebrate the release of the album with a show on Aug. 17 at FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. Tickets are $10, available at

I had the chance to talk to Martin Van Ruin bandleader Derek Nelson about the new album. 

Q – Your first album, "Every Man a King," enjoyed rave reviews. Did you feel any pressure in following up the album? 

None at all. This whole thing is pretty free of pressure. If we feel any, it’s just about making sure that we’re making something that feels right.
Q – In sitting down to make the new album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

We wanted to write songs and tell stories that were somewhat appropriate for the times we’re living in. There are parts of music and songwriting that are universal and timeless, but we didn’t want to make music that was a tribute to the '70s, even though those influences will still come through.
Hence the name of the release,  "Current Day." 

Q – Mike Lust recorded and engineered the record. How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brought to the project?

Lust is the very best. He goes way back with Pete Falknor (drummer/songwriter/everything else), and he records in the same practice space as us and has recorded us before. 

So, it just made sense. It was good to have another songwriter in there to help guide things in the right direction.

We needed him, actually. We recorded in so many stops and starts that it wouldn't have worked without somebody who could pull it all together.

Q – Are you just concentrating on Martin Van Ruin these days? What do you like about leading this particular group of musicians?  

I’m definitely not leading anything here; it’s a collective effort from all of us. We all just do whatever interests us. 
What the seven of us share is a need to make music without wondering what we’ll get out of it other than the music. That’s enough. 

Q – The band has been compared to Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Do you consider them to be a big influence on the band's music? 

Yes, for sure. I think what’s drawn people to them for so long — I mean, the songs of course — but also that they’re free. They do what they feel like.

I remember seeing Neil Young do a show solo, and he had all these instrument stations set up around the stage, and after every song he’d just wander around in slow-mo and decide what to play next. It was like watching somebody rehearse, except it’s Neil Young.

Q – Do you have any dream projects or collaborations? 
I've always been obsessed with T Bone Burnett, so he'd have to be high up on the list.