Monday, September 2, 2019

Chicago band Kid Bear to celebrate release of new album with show at FitzGerald's




By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Chicago musician Matt Neuroth experienced a life-changing moment when he was living in New York City and the legendary Steve Earle stopped in the store he was working at, Matt Umanov Guitars.

"He picked up an acoustic guitar and just started strumming some chords," Neuroth related. "And…I don’t know how to put it except to say that, when he played G and C, it was every country song ever written. When I played G and C, it was just a couple of chords. But, when he did it, it was deep; it had soul and groove and power. It really blew my mind. I’d been touring with all these loud rock bands (including Oh My God) and had all these chops, but he had the song in every strum. I’ve been chasing that ever since."

These days, Neuroth is releasing music under the name Kid Bear. Earle's influence can be heard on Kid Bear's latest release, "EP 2." To celebrate the release of "EP 2," Neuroth and his band will perform Sept. 5 at FitzGerald's, 6615 W Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. 

Also on the bill is The Claudettes. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, available at ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Neuroth about the EP and other topics.

Q – Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "EP 2," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

Great talking to you, as well! 

It’s an interesting question with this EP because, in a lot of ways, my goals for this EP were really more personal than musical. For most of my career in music, I’ve really struggled with perfectionism. 

I would make recordings and then decide they weren’t good enough for one reason or another and then I’d just basically bury them and move on to the next one. Predictably, this has meant that I’ve done a super horrible job of getting anyone to listen to the music or to care.

They never even had the opportunity because I guess I was just too afraid of failure to really put it out there.

So, this EP is different for a few reasons. The first is that it’s a mix of new songs and some older ones that, with the distance that time brings, I decided actually might be good enough and that I wanted to share wit people. And secondly, we’ve actually hired a publicist and are going to try and see if we can get some attention.

So yeah…I mean, I care a ton about the craft of songwriting and of record making and I could talk about that for hours. But I also just want to push myself and find out if anybody other than me actually might like my music.

I’ve never really had any sort of fan base and I’m simultaneously terrified and super excited to find out what that might be like and whether my music could actually mean something to people other than my family and friends.

Q – The first few chords in the song "A Simple Thing" sound like they could be in a Steve Earle song. How much of an impact did Steve Earle have on this EP and your music in general?

If I’m getting anywhere close to sounding like Steve Earle, I must be on the right track! It’s funny…in a way, I don’t actually spend a ton of time listening to Steve Earle himself (although I really enjoyed his recent "So You Wannabe an Outlaw" album), but he had a really huge influence in the sense that he just really opened my ears to the power and importance of the song. 

Of course you need a good song, but I’d always kind of been drawn to big, complicated songs – Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Radiohead. Even if the songs were simple chordally, they had big riffs or complicated arrangements or were hard to sing. Or all of the above! 

But just hearing in-person the power of a couple simple chords really opened my ears to all this old country and folk music. My personal style still has a lot of rock and roll in it, but I just fell in love with trying to do more with less and thinking about songs from a place of groove and melody and storytelling rather than fancy riffs. 

The opening track from my new EP, “A Simple Thing," for instance, is just those same three chords throughout with no real variations.  But those old country songs…they’re not flashy, but they’re DEEP. 

I think I used to chase flashy and now I’m trying to dig deep. 


Q – So can you still remember the day that Steve Earle stepped into Matt Umanov Guitars in Greenwich Village? What do you remember about that day? How did you feel following his performance?

Well, I’ve simplified the story a bit for the purpose of the bio because I actually worked at Matt’s and Steve was a regular customer. So, my first impression of him was just how friendly and absolutely hilarious he is.

He’s a fabulous storyteller in-person and just very charismatic in a down-to-earth kind of way, which intrigued me immediately. But I absolutely remember the first time I experienced him just conjuring up a whole song in a single chord.

There was a rack of less expensive guitars in the middle of the sales floor and he picked up a little Seagull guitar. They’re like $300 guitars and great for the price, but it’s not some vintage Martin or something.

He picked it up, strummed a G chord for a minute – BOOM magic! – and then put it down and said, “those are really great little guitars.” He left a couple minutes later and I picked up that guitar and…ya know…just a G chord.

No magic. He summoned like a whole genre and I summoned…a G chord. Nothing special at all. 

That just blew my mind because it was such a stark contrast: same chord, same exact guitar…and the results were so stunningly different. I still enjoy playing lead guitar and such, but that really redirected my head.


Q – Do you think it was fate that you happened to be in the store at the time? What kind of music do you think you would be making these days if that encounter didn't happen?

When I moved to NYC, I had actually decided that maybe I should “grow up and get a real job” or something and try to quit pursuing music so seriously. But I needed a job – any job – in order to actually move and it just so happened that I walked into Matt Umanov’s about an hour after one of their sales people had just said he was quitting.

So, they pretty much hired me on the spot and then I ended up working there for three years and getting to meet a lot of my heroes and finding new heroes and just generally getting inspired all over again. And it wasn’t just Steve Earle, but some of the most significant relationships and experiences of my life came directly out of that store, including my wife, some of my current bandmates, lifelong friends, crazy tour adventures, ill-advised nights in the bar and all the rest.

So yeah, I think it was fate in a lot of ways and, without it, I might not be making music at all!


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

Great question and my honest answer is that I’m still trying to figure it out.

I moved back to Chicago from Brooklyn in 2012 and then my wife and I welcomed a couple little kids into our lives, so let’s just say it’s been a lot harder to have the time and energy to really get out on the scene like I did in NYC. 

That said, I think this show we have coming up at FitzGerald’s on 9/5 is a clue. FitzGerald’s is such a great venue and certainly a real home to so much Americana and traditional American musical styles. 

And it’s right down the street from where I live! And we’re playing with The Claudettes, who have a unique take on blues, ragtime, punk…well…you just gotta hear them. 

I played with their chief madman and piano player, Johnny Iguana, in his old band, Oh My God, and we’ve been friends for years. And I knew the guitarist in my band, Dave Mendez, in college here in Chicago.

A place like New York is so full of change and excitement, but it’s harder to have roots there. But Chicago is just so full of amazing musicians who are lifers, ya know?

Actors, musicians, etc. Chicago makes it possible to be a serious artist and still afford your life and that’s something I think is amazing. 

And the kids sleep through the night now, so my wife and I can actually get out of the house once in a while and I’m excited to explore the scene in a lot more depth.

Q – What is the significance of the band's name? 

My real name is Matt Neuroth, which nobody can spell, pronounce, or remember. So, we needed a name!

I used to go by “Matt Lenny” (long story), but I wanted a band name because I’m not usually a solo acoustic act. Then one day, my son was talking to me about bears (he’s five now, so bears are pretty interesting) and he asked me about “kid bears” because he didn’t know the word cub.

It just kind of stuck with me as a phrase and I like the way it could sound kind of indie or kind of folky and also that it came from my kid and something he was excited about, so I went with it. Like I said at the beginning, I’m trying to overthink things less and just roll with it.

Q – I understand that you work for a software company. How do you juggle that job with being a musician as well as a husband and father?

It’s not easy! And I say that in a “first world problems” kind of way.

I mean I’m incredibly lucky to have the life that I do and it’s a hell of a lot easier than mining coal or something. But yeah, I think the biggest thing is that I married well.

My wife really understands that music is something I viscerally need to do or I just can’t function. She’ll periodically say to me, “Your brain is breaking! You’re awful to be around. Go play guitar!” which is simultaneously accurate, kind of insulting, and a huge relief! 

And then it’s a combination of commitment – I get up at 5 a.m. a lot of days to go play music in my little home studio – and just making it a priority. At my job for instance, one of the reasons I decided to work at my current company is because they were OK with me keeping a guitar in the office and taking music breaks periodically when inspiration strikes.

Tech can definitely have hard hours and stressful situations, but they do also place real value on creativity and they understand that me playing guitar for 30 minutes might allow me to be twice as effective for the rest of the day. But I had to ask for that, which was kind of hard to work up the courage to do.

It’s also had good effects that I didn’t really expect. For instance, I recorded and mixed “A Simple Thing” entirely at home out of sheer necessity.

Between not having enough hours in the day and having real-world expenses that eat up my money, I couldn’t hire a producer and go to the studio with the band like I would have in the past. So, I just had to learn to do it myself and, while it was not easy and I’m still not gonna win a Grammy for “best mix” or anything, it’s pretty empowering that I can make professional sounding records at odd hours in my own house!

Q – Do you have any dream projects or collaborations (perhaps working with Steve Earle?)

I think I’d be afraid to work with Steve Earle, but also pretty excited. He’s the real deal as a songwriter and I kinda think he might think my songwriting isn’t up to snuff…I mean he learned from Townes Van Zandt!

But it would be an amazing learning experience to write a song with him.

I’d love to make a record with Dave Cobb in Nashville. I love the old school way he works – live in the studio, no pre-production - and he just keeps producing some of my favorite current records. 

That’s actually a goal of mine that I blogged about a while back. It’s not just that the recording process would be awesome, but I’d give up a lot to be part of the scene in Nashville he seems to be at the center of – Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, John Prine, Brandi Carlile, and on and on.

The music is great and they all seem like super cool people, too.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Spirit of Woodstock on display at The Venue as it celebrates festival's 50th anniversary

Channeling Joe Cocker, Chad Watson performed at The Venue in Aurora on Aug. 16 as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Joining him on stage is guitarist Scott Tipping.

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Woodstock showed how the power of music could bring together almost half a million people.

The spirit of that festival was in full display during The Venue's celebration of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

The Venue is fast becoming a place where musicians and music lovers can come together and enjoy the bond they share. Those who attended the first day of the festival on Aug. 16 were able to experience that sense of community the festival created.

Here are some highlights from the first day of the two-day festival:


Scott Tipping provided much of the energy during the night.


Audience members added to the ambience of the night.




Channeling Joe Cocker, Chad Watson performs "With a Little Help from My Friends" on Aug. 16, 2019, at The Venue in Aurora as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.



Lisa G & the Lucky Ones with special guest Mirabelle Skipworth perform Crosby, Still, Nash and Young's song "Long Time Gone" on Aug. 16, 2019, at The Venue in Aurora as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. 


Emily Tipping performs "Me and Bobby McGee" on Aug. 16, 2019, at The Venue in Aurora as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.



Mick Ducker performs Aug. 16, 2019, at the 50th anniversary celebration of Woodstock at The Venue in Aurora.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel coming to House of Blues in Chicago, on tour with The Alarm, Modern English



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

The strong songwriting that propelled Gene Loves Jezebel to the top of the charts in the '80s and '90s is is abundance on "Dance Underwater," the first studio album of new material by Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel in 14 years.

The band is currently touring the country with The Alarm and Modern English, which will make a stop on Aug. 16 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and general admission tickets are $30, available at houseofblues.com/chicago.

I had the chance to talk to Jay Aston about the tour and the band's latest activities.


Q – Of course you are on tour with The Alarm and Modern English. Your guitarist, James Stevenson, also plays with The Alarm. How does that work?

It just worked out that he gets to two sets, which is a little unusual.

Q – So he's actually playing with The Alarm on this tour as well?

Yes, you get the full spectrum of his abilities.

Q – He must be tired at the end of the night.

You would think so. But he's just loving it so much. It's a long night for him, yeah.

Q – Besides that, how has the tour been going? Do you think playing with The Alarm and Modern English is a good fit?

 It's worked out really well, actually. We all do our own kind of thing.

We're all from the U.K. and two of us are from Wales. It's been great fun. We're actually enjoying it.

Q – And I see that some of the shows were sold out, so obviously people want to see you guys.

It's a good bill. It's a great chance to see three bands that normally don't tour together. 

Q – And of course you're touring in support of 2017's album "Dance Underwater," the band's first studio album of new material in 14 years. In making this album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?


The goal was that if we were going to do an album, let's do it properly. We wanted to get a good producer, so we used Peter Walsh (who has worked with everyone from Peter Gabriel to Stevie Wonder).

It was just a wonderful album to make. It was special.

Q – Have you been doing audience requests on the tour?

A lot of songs pick themselves. Obviously we are going to play "Desire (Come and Get It)," and we're going to do "The Motion of Love" and "Twenty Killer Hurts." There are certain songs that we always loved.

And we also do an acoustic set with Mike Peters from The Alarm playing tambourine. It's like the Rolling Thunder Revue in 2019. It's great fun.

Q – And you and your bandmates have been playing together for so long? What makes you work so well together?

We all give something that is unique to the thing that is Gene Loves Jezebel. The reaction has been fantastic. 

You can just see it in people's faces. Their eyes are wide open and they can't believe we're actually on stage, which is great. 

Q – I suppose you see a lot of old fans, but do you see new fans as well?

Yeah, we do. It's quite weird. We were at one gig and there was an older gentleman and a young girl and I said to the girl, "Oh, I guess your dad made you come, did he? And she said, no, no, I made him come."

Q – When you originally formed the band, what was your goal?

Just to be different, not to sound like anyone else. I think we achieved that. We don't sound like anyone else.


 We really don't fit into any particular genre, do we? And we're not in any particular box. And lots of different kinds of people like us.

So I think we achieved that. That was the goal.

Q – Of course, your brother has his own version of Gene Loves Jezebel. Have your heard if people are seeing both bands or what have you heard?

Well, let me just say that I've never heard anything positive about my brother's version of the band and let's leave it at that.

None of the members of his band are actually featured on any of our music, so it's an odd little cash cow for him, really.

Q – So what's your next goal after this tour?

I'll be doing some acoustic stuff in the United States after this. 

Q – So you are going to be going on your own tour?

Yeah, which I can't talk much about yet. There are many different sides of me.

I love the Gene Loves Jezebel shows. They're so high energy. My solo stuff is very introspective and it's very much in the moment. 

You never know if I'll make it to the next chord. It's much more living on the edge. And I enjoy that for very different reasons.

Q – Talking about high energy, I was watching some of your videos and people were commenting on the fact that you are still very animated on stage, you're still dancing around a lot. And so you enjoy doing that?

I get to express both sides of my personality with my music. You never know what may happen tomorrow. So we celebrate each gig.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Singer-songwriter Jeff Brown returning to Chicago area with new album in tow



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

With a new album in tow, former Chicago musician Jeff Brown will be returning to the area for a couple of shows in mid-August.

Brown will perform at 8 p.m. Aug. 9 at Ranger Recording Studio, 450 Dominic Court, Franklin Park. 94 Proof and Phil Circle also are part of the bill.

He will return to Ranger Recording Studio at 8 p.m. Aug. 10 to play with his band the New Black The Hannah Frank Trio also is on the bill.

I had the chance to talk to Brown about his latest musical endeavors.


Q – Great talking to you again. Your second album was called "Cutting Ties" and you did just that, moving from your longtime home of Chicago to the Shenandoah Valley area of Northern Virginia.

I saw what you did there.

Q – The title of your latest album, "1000 Ways,” is inspired by the saying that, ''when you are at your most lost, there are always at least 1,000 ways to come home again." Do you feel like you are at home these days?



It's certainly been an adjustment – I spent the last 22 years in Chicago, and to go from a metropolis to the country took some getting used to. I was a little reluctant to the change at first, but now after almost a year in Virginia, I feel like it's starting to feel more like home.

Chicago will always be the city that made me who I am, but it gets harder to call it home anymore.  I still miss a lot about it – mostly people, food, and ease of accessibility of basically everything.  

Virginia has been sneaking its way into my heart pretty steadily.

Q – How did you go about choosing the musicians on the album? I see you share vocals with Chicago musician Liz Chidester on three songs. What do you think she brings to the album? Is it just a coincidence that she is originally from Virginia and now lives in Chicago?

Ha, I'd like to think it was all part of my master plan, but the truth is, I wanted Liz on my album before I knew I would be moving, so it was more of a pleasant coincidence.

I was fortunate enough that of everyone I asked to join me on the album, only one person wasn't able to, and even that ask was a bit of a long shot.  The only thing I really knew was that I wanted a bit of separation between this project and my band, so none of them were a part of this particular recording. 


As the recording process began, I typically have pretty solid notions of arrangement and how I wanted the songs to sound – so from there, it's a matter of filling in the spaces and reaching out to people whose work I love and respect.

Liz is certainly one of those people that everything she touches becomes even more beautiful.  It's always a pleasure to work with her.  Her level of vocal control is maddening.

The lines she added to "Weather These Storms" were delicate and other worldly and completely perfect. And it's not just her: Laura Glyda's vocals are heart-wrenchingly emotional in all the right places.

I've been blessed to be surrounded by so much talent in my friends that it seems like a tremendous error to not try to include as many as I can in my own art.

Q – In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

I remember sitting at Schuba's with Rick Riggs (who recorded the album), and he asked me the same question as we were getting set to start work on the album.  Ultimately, I think that every musician sets out to make an album that they're proud to have their name on.

Something that they can hand to someone else and say, "I made this, and I love it."  I absolutely accomplished that. 

I'm proud of my first two albums, but this is definitely the best that I've done to date.  And I expect that I'll be able to say that about future albums.


I knew that at some point, I wanted to release music of mine on vinyl, and the more this album started to take shape, the more I felt that this would be the right project for that. A good album isn't just a collection of songs, but an experience that you can go on – and that's one of the things I love about vinyl. 

You start at the beginning, and then you see it through until the end.  I'm glad that these songs felt able to do that.

On a slightly more selfish note, I'd be lying if there wasn't the hope that this album could serve as "my break" – the album that gets people's attention and moves me up to the next level in this industry.  I remember as I was starting to record this, I went and saw Damien Rice at an outdoor amphitheater.

I had second row seats, and at one point, I turned around and saw a sea of thousands of faces, and thought to myself, "Every one of them would probably like my music." That moment has constantly been at the back of my head, and I would have loved for this album to be the one that would show all of them why.

Q – How are you settling into the music scene in Northern Virginia? How would you say the music scene there compares to the Chicago music scene?

It's taken a while, but I think I'm starting to figure out the music scene here. When I started in Chicago, I really didn't feel like I knew what I was doing, and didn't know who I really was. 

Now, I have all of that experience and history that I can hit the ground running in a new place.  The big thing with everything here is that Chicago is more compact.

There's opportunity everywhere because it's a major city and everything is everywhere. Things are much more spread out over here. Washington, D.C. is an hour and a half away, and it's the closest big city to where I'm at, so I have to work a little harder to find things out here.

There are a lot of places to make music close to where I'm at, but a lot of them are wineries that are looking for three or four hours of music on a Sunday afternoon, which can get exhausting alone. 

I think the biggest difference between the music scene in Chicago and the scene out here is that everything in Chicago was centralized because it's a city. Out here, I'm basically dealing with the music scene of an entire region, which gets tricky and requires a lot of driving. 

The town I'm living in doesn't have a music scene.  It doesn't even have enough people to fit in the Metro.

I have started working with another Virginia singer-songwriter, though. I'm super excited to see where that goes, and it's been nice to start making friends out here and creating the network of musicians that I felt like I was missing since I left Chicago.

Q – You reached your goal in your crowdfunding campaign to fund "1000 Ways." Does it make you feel good that so many people contributed to the campaign to ensure the album's release?

It's one thing to make a Facebook post and get a bunch of likes and whatever, but quite another to have people make an effort to support me and what I love. Every time somebody ordered a copy of my album felt like them saying, "Dude. I believe in you."

There are days when I barely believe in myself, so having someone tell you that they do is basically magic.  There isn't a way to fully express how good a feeling that is.


That said, I have to give it to my fans, friends, and family – they sure know how to make a guy sweat. The campaign wasn't fully funded until the evening of the last day.

I'll be honest, my self-esteem can be woefully inadequate on good days, so I spent at least 90% of that month trying to figure out how I was going to make everything work without the funding.  All of that made reaching the goal that much sweeter when it did happen.  

Q – Along with your new solo album, I understand your band The New Black is working on a new album. Has a release date been set? What should people expect from the new album?

It's true!  Although it's a bit of a more disjointed process since I don't live in Chicago anymore. 

As it stands, the drum tracking is completed, so it'll be a little while yet. I'm looking forward to more work on the band project.


Being in a rock band is a blast, and it'll be nice to work on a full on rock project after two albums of acoustic folk.  Expect a lot of big guitars, and more uptempo songs.

This will be the album to play in your car on an awesome road trip somewhere for sure.