Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Alternative art rock band Curious Grace & Black Rabbit releases new album, will play at Wire in Berwyn

Photo credit: James Caulfield

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

All bands should be as musically adventurous as Chicago band Curious Grace & Black Rabbit.

Featuring the work of husband-wife songwriting duo Tom and Mary Erangey, the alternative art rock band will celebrate the release of its new album, "World on Fire," with a show on June 28 at Wire, 6815 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. Chicago band Wilde also is on the bill.

The music starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $7 in advance, $10 at the door, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Mary Erangey about the album and the upcoming show.


Q – Great to talk to you. Of course, you will be performing at Wire in celebration of your new album, "World on Fire." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

We had this idea for a rock opera, something big and progressive. At the beginning, [co-band leader] Tommy Erangey called it "The Opus." We wanted to take our listeners on a journey, like a really killer road trip.

With scenery and sounds and textures that ran the gamut from beautiful to dark to hard-driving to lush and dreamy. And when we went into the studio with Rich Rankin of Mosaic Music,we told him we wanted these songs to hang together but to unfold organically – like an adventure – and they did.

We had so much fun making this album. Listen closely: you’ll hear us singing Russian, you’ll hear some Gaelic and you’ll hear our German Shepherd Anka and our guitarist’s daughter. 


Q – On the song "World on Fire," you address the president setting the world on fire. What can be done to help put the fire out? 

I think we need to start with really paying attention. At the beginning of our song "Fire Brigade," you’ll hear a little girl plead, “Mommy, wake up, it’s time to rise!”

Damn straight. 

Q – It seems like the album's title is appropriate given everything that is happening in the world these days. Why did you choose that title for the album and what are the main themes you wanted to address on the album? 

We called it "World On Fire" because it fit the moment and it fit the music. This album is big, bright, beautiful, dark and hopeful. Kind of like life.

It was born out of a desire to capture the madness and magic of living in a hyper-divided, digital screen- and Twitter-driven world; a world that flattens life into bytes and pixels even while we’re celebrating the ability to stay super connected.

And sometimes that feels kind of apocalyptic, you know? That’s why part of the Gaelic translates as...
 
“…this was the beginning of the dark times, when the whole world started on fire. The flames smoldered; smoke rose into the sky; and the Black Rabbit awoke…”
Q – How did you hook up with Swedish artist Mattias Gordon, who created the album cover? 

First off, we are thrilled with the original pop surrealism Mattias created for us. Working with Mattias is a great example of what’s possible through digital collaboration.

We’ve never even met him but we love working with him. We came across Mattias’ work on ReverbNation and were totally impressed by videos he made for an Irish band called Kila and a New York City blues-jazz-world music band called Hazmat Modine.



Mattias is wickedly clever, and he creates these rich visual layers. So we commissioned him to develop our 2013 music video Blue Umbrella by Curious Grace (an earlier formation of our band).

All you have to do is look at the Salvador Dali character in that video and you’ll know why we commissioned him again!

Q – Of course, immigration is a big topic these days. What are your views on what has been happening?

We are a band of immigrants. Ourselves, our parents, our grandparents.

We know the hard work and the depth of the sacrifices immigrants make to build new lives here in this country. Tom’s parents emigrated from Ireland and in the midst of U.S. turmoil, moved the family back there so that Tom grew up in Galway.

Our keyboardist, Bojan, emigrated to the U.S. from Macedonia. We respect the power of heart and spirit that immigrants contribute to this country.

They – we – are a huge part of what makes this country great.

Q – It also seems like there should be a story behind the band's name. Is there? It would also seem like people would be curious to find out more about the band because you have such an unusual name. Have you found that to be the case?

Yes, we have. Curious Grace & Black Rabbit is a groovy-beautiful name, right?

We started out with Curious. That was the root. And then the name Grace" kept coming up. We love strong women and we love our Irish roots.

So “Grace" stuck. But that sounded too nice, too simple-sweet.


We’re also steeped in psychedelic rock, so that’s where we brought in the black rabbit; he’s like a trickster playing with a D minor chord. We find that people either love our name or hate it.

Q – The band has a strong progressive rock sound in its music. Have you been influenced by any progressive rock bands? I detect a bit of The Moody Blues in your music.

Yes! That’s a great connection! We’ve definitely been influenced by progressive and art rock.

Muse. Dream Theater. Pink Floyd. David Bowie. And Blondie.

Progressive art rock means we get to explore and recombine rock with jazz and metal and symphonic arrangements and intense electric instrumentation. That’s part of what’s so great about working together as a big six-piece band; we’re a gorgeous melting pot of sound. 

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you see the band fitting into it?

Chicago’s got this incredible energy of musical experimentation and cross-generational live music experience. We go to shows and festivals and we see people of all ages out there making and soaking up live music.

That’s a beautiful thing! We’ve loved meeting other bands on the Chicago music circuit; there’s some incredible talent here. We met Wilde, which is opening our June 28 Wire show, playing a gig at The Elbo Room.

We know our fans in the west ‘burbs are going to love them and are going to love Wire, which is one of the best live music venues in the Chicago-area.