Monday, February 17, 2020

Celebrating the big life of musician Michael Heaton

Noah Gabriel and other musicians paid tribute to Michael Heaton as part of "Celebrate the Big Life of Michael Heaton" on Feb. 15 at Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora. Heaton passed away in December after a battle with cancer.

By Eric Schelkopf

Hundreds of people came to Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora to celebrate the life and music of Michael Heaton. His former bandmates along with other musical friends performed his songs during the show. In a fitting tribute to Heaton's generosity, the night also served as a benefit for the family of toddler Wrenley Rose Pavels, who died in late January after battling idiopathic aplastic anemia.

Heaton's songs revolved around everyday themes. He wrote about the ordinary and made it extraordinary.

Singer Pete Lindenmeyer and other musicians, including the horn section from the band Pawnshop, perform Michael Heaton's song "Smells Like Gasoline."

 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 "C'est La Vie."

Pete Jive performs the Michael Heaton song "The Good Times." 

Pete Lindenmeyer and Kevin Trudo lead the band in a version of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," which Heaton played on a regular basis at his shows.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Clinard Dance to premiere 'Everyday People Everyday Action'

Dance meets photography in Clinard Dance's latest project, "Everyday People Everyday Action."
Clinard Dance and Japanese photographer Akito Tsuda have teamed up to create an interdisciplinary work based on Akito's photos of Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood in the early 1990s.  The show will premiere at 2 p.m. Nov. 24 at The National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St., Chicago.

Ticket are $25 for adults and $15 for youth/seniors,

I had the chance to talk to Clinard Dance artistic director Wendy Clinard about the show.

Q – Great talking to you again. Of course, "Everyday People Everyday Action" will premiere Nov. 24 at The National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. How did you team up with Akito Tsuda and what is the idea behind the show?
In early 2016, I first saw an article in the now-defunct magazine "Chicago Voz" about the Japanese photographer Akito Tsuda's photographs of Pilsen in the early '90s when he was a student at Columbia College. I felt an immediate spark of recognition as a creative person who has raised a family and developed my art in the neighborhood; I founded Clinard Dance in 1999.
I reached out to Tsuda, who hadn't been back to Chicago in about 25 years. At the same time, Cultura in Pilsen had reached out to Akito and in fall 2017 Tsuda returned to Pilsen to share his photos and, at this point, we started our exchange on this interdisciplinary project.
The idea behind the show is to create a work that tells a story about everyday people and their everyday actions in service of celebrating and magnifying ordinary and everyday beauty. How do we do this?
By using the flamenco interplay between singer, guitar and dancer, but in this work it is between photo, dance (hip hop and flamenco) and music (flamenco, beatboxing, Son Jarocho and violin).
Q – How did you like collaborating with Akito? Do you see more collaborations with him? 

Our physical time together has always been limited but the time we have spent together, writing each other and working with his photos now for the last few years, has been more than adequate in cultivating a depth in friendship and an understanding both of the photos and photographer while living and walking in Pilsen in the day-to-day sense.

I carry these images everywhere I go and, as a result, I can see new ones all the time. We still have the tailor shop, laundry mats, families sitting on porches, basketball games, and the unsuspecting smiles when passing each other on the street. Akito and I are talking about his dog photos; let's see if that makes for another project?

Q – What would you like people to get out of the show? 

One thing a lot of my work has to do with – and certainly this piece is not different – is people matter and caring for each other is how that functions. People all over the world create and thrive on a sense of belonging and, many times, the way people create this is by seemingly ordinary and simple ways and, in Pilsen, just walking around, sitting on porches, talking to our neighbors, being curious about each other instead of fearful has always been part of the neighborhood.

Making this piece has something akin to this too – we all show up with our disciplines at the service of the photos and we see where we connect; how an image inspires a sound, a movement, etc. and when we work this way we make something entirely new because we are exploring the capacity that each discipline has to interacting with each other.

And because we are all out of our comfort zones in this mixed disciplines piece, the method is simple – we fool around, go back and forth and the piece discovers us.

Q – Of course, Clinard Dance is also celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Has Clinard Dance lived up to your expectations? What dream projects do you have? 

Clinard Dance has allowed me and all the fine artists who we've worked with a platform to make originally devised artworks and, at the same time through the school and Flamenco Quartet Project, to hone in as craftspeople on the art of flamenco; I am grateful. 

We have just been awarded a 2019 MacArthur International Connections Fund. We will be working with Compania Elena Andujar from Madrid, Spain.

We will be working with seniors in Chicago and gitano youth in Spain in one component of the exchange.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Adventurous Chicago band The Phantom Broadcast releases new vinyl record, will perform free show at Emporium


With the vinyl release of "Antiquities," Chicago band The Phantom Broadcast is proving that it is one of the most adventurous bands around.

To celebrate its release, The Phantom Broadcast will perform a free show Nov. 5 at Emporium, 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. The show starts at 8 p.m.

I had the chance to talk to The Phantom Broadcast frontman Evan Opitz about the project.

Q – Great talking to you. Of course, you will be celebrating the release of "Antiquities (Vol I)” and "Antiquities Vol II" on a vinyl LP with a show at Emporium in Wicker Park on Nov. 5. In sitting down to make the albums, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

Thanks for chatting with us! We are so excited to finally put this release out into the world.

As far as the writing and recording processes go for the record, we spent a lot of time with details and each individual song rather than viewing the project as a whole. We went into writing without a full concept and without thinking about a fixed number of tracks.

Everything sort of grew organically, with a lot of writing sessions taking place between guitarist/vocalist Dave Hollis and me (and sometimes violinist/vocalist Lucy Little) on acoustic guitars in my living room. 

We would workshop ideas and bring them to our practice space to further expand on with bassist Nick Soria and drummer Colin Rambert.

One thing Dave and I wanted to be mindful of when writing was only creating lyric/vocal sections when deemed natural and appropriate with the music. There are some extended instrumental sections of certain songs (i.e., “Mast” and "Leaving Appleton").

Instead of trying to write more or squeeze more words into a song, we decided to let those sections breathe as they are and make the purpose and thought behind the lyrics stand more deliberately.

By the end of the writing for the record, we started to realize a lot of subconscious themes and concepts throughout, such as a plethora of nautical and existential metaphors in lyrics written by Dave and I individually. We would both contribute to lyrics for songs, sometimes more heavily on one’s individual concept rather than a collective concept.

Oddly enough, a lot of times we found ourselves writing about the same or similar things but from different angles.

It is difficult to get all of us in a room together so the writing process was really drawn out. I do feel like we could have had more time to elaborate on certain things, but due to scheduling and availability, some things were streamlined.

I think moving forward we want to try and keep our writing sessions more consistent and have it be a constant staple in how we rehearse. 

Q – It seems like there should be a meaning behind the band's name. Is it a nod to the 1933 movie, "The Phantom Broadcast"? 

To be honest, there isn’t as much of a connection to the film as there probably should be (ha ha ha). I spent days going through lists of old films in search of something fairly obscure and cryptic.

I thought it was interesting how a movie from that time period had such a mysterious title. Musically, the band has always had a foot in the experimental and enigmatic. The title seemed to fit the imagery. 

Q – How did the band come together?

The group, as it exists now, consists of friends that I have made over the last decade. Nick and I went to the University of Illinois together and have played in a ton of bands over the last 8 or so years.

Colin also was at the university with us getting his masters; he and I both played in a group called The Martian Mellows based out of Decatur, IL (Millikin University). It gets weirder as Dave and I met while working together in a call center when we both first moved to Chicago but Dave, unrelated, went to college with Colin at Millikin.

Lucy and I met when we both played with L.A.-based pop artist Fiona Grey. I’d say the short answer of how we came together is the Law of Attraction. 

Q – How do you think the band's sound has evolved over the years? Do you think the sound will continue to evolve? 

I’d say the sound has 100% evolved over the years in all aspects: our brand and content, our style and genre(s), our lyrics and themes, and our compositional and arranging abilities. The band started as a theatrical, emo, post-hardcore band and became more of a folky, orchestral, fusion indie band.

The magnitude of our life experiences has always been the cornerstone for inspiration and development. Already our sound is evolving again from this most recent release as we move forward in writing new material and reimagining our songs for our upcoming tour. 

Q – You are also part of several other bands. How do you find the time to be involved in so many projects? Do you consider The Phantom Broadcast as your main project? 

I would consider The Phantom Broadcast to be my creation and primary vehicle for musical expression. I’ve made it my life goal to be a professional artist and I’ve found that I can make time and schedule rehearsals and tours around all the projects I commit to as long as I stay organized. 

Thankfully, right now, there isn’t a ton of overlap, but each project is always looking to rehearse, play shows, or write. I love switching gears and playing different styles of music and getting to play with some of my best friends (and some of the best musicians) on this planet.

November is busy as I have tours with The Phantom Broadcast in the Midwest, then Catherine Campbell in the Southeast, and finally Emily Blue on the East Coast and Canada.

I am very thankful to be able to be a part of all these amazing original projects.

Q – I also see that you are a guitar/bass instructor at School of Rock in Oak Park. What are some key things that you try to convey to your students? 

I love teaching and being able to have these connections with young, inspired artists. I try and teach all of my students to be honest, to be confident, and how to work through discouragement.

Each student has the potential to be one of the greatest musicians of all time and it’s my job to instill that. When I was growing up there weren’t many places like School of Rock that were so inclusive; so encouraging to learning how to play music.

I am constantly trying to demonstrate to my students how I go about learning new music or how to practice something I may not be the best at. I also want my students to see that no matter what age and what accolades one artist might hold, professional musicians are always trying to be their best and never stop practicing or learning something new. 

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think The Phantom Broadcast fits into it?

Personally, I have had quite an auspicious time here in Chicago and I’m very thankful for it. It is hard as an upcoming artist to find relevance and to find success.

A lot of developing a project like this comes from paying your dues and learning from what’s happening around you (a lot of times, the hard way). All of the projects I am a part of or that I’m friends with are working together and trying to grow together.

Having such an inclusive and supportive community is not something to take for granted. I would say The Phantom Broadcast has had a slow burn to fit in to the Chicago scene, but I feel we fit in more and more with every release and with every year we are active.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Chicago band The Lilacs releases first new album in more than 25 years, will perform free show at Phyllis' Musical Inn


Chicago band The Lilacs are in fine form on "The Lilacs Endure," the power pop quartet's first new release in more than 25 years.

To celebrate the release of the album, The Lilacs will perform a free show Oct. 19 at Phyllis' Musical Inn, 1800 W. Division St., Chicago. The Last Afternoons also are on the bill and the music starts at 9 p.m.

I had the chance to talk to Ken Kurson and David Levinsky about the new album.

Q – Great talking to you. The name of the new EP is "The Lilacs Endure." Is it a good feeling to have just released your first release in more than 25 years? In sitting down to make the record, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

David Levinsky: My goal was to do the best that we could do with a pretty amazing alignment of circumstances. The songs were good.

The rhythm section was made up of long-lost friends. The producer, Richard Lloyd, had played on one of the great rock albums – Television’s "Marquee Moon." Considering there were no rehearsals, we had never played with this rhythm section, and these are first and second takes, the results are astounding.

Neither Ken or I are Neil Young, but yes, we met our goals. We worked up to capacity. This is the best Lilacs record.

Q – "The Lilacs Endure" is produced by Richard Lloyd, known for his work with the band Television and Matthew Sweet. How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brings to the table?

Ken Kurson: I am a voracious consumer of rock ‘n’ roll memoirs, so when Richard Lloyd’s book "Everything is Combustible" came out, I pre-ordered it and read it without putting it down the instant it arrived. 

I also listened to the audiobook, because Richard’s flat and direct affect as he relates these unbelievable adventures elevate an already excellent memoir to some sort of new performative art form. I have been an enormous fan of Television’s perfect first album and underappreciated nearly-as-good follow-up from the moment I heard them.

So after I read it, I had that urge you sometimes get to meet the author of a book that moved you. I play in a cover band in New York called The Editors with Ira Robbins, the brilliant rock journalist and founder of Trouser Press.

I asked Ira if he knew Richard and of course he did, and he put me in touch. I was a little bit afraid of Richard’s reputation for brutal honesty, but when I emailed him he was friendly and approachable and said he’d be open to hearing about the project but wouldn’t produce unless he heard something that would benefit from his input. 

My wife and I drove to a crazy bar in upstate New York to see him perform a solo show. It was a revelation. Richard doesn’t have a classic singing voice, but his otherworldly guitar playing combined with the utter heart he brought to this collection of really excellent new songs from his latest record, "The Countdown," really moved me.

We talked a bit But I still wasn’t sure he’d be interested in producing The Lilacs because at that point this “project” was just recapturing two great songs from the old days – "Monica" and "Blue Spark" – that had never made it to tape. But then Dave sent me a new song of his I hadn’t heard, just a demo of him playing guitar and screaming on his iPhone.

The song was amazing, “Shadow of Doubt.” With its Sticky Fingers groove, I thought I heard a hit if we got the exact right drummer on it and recorded it right. Moreover, it inspired me to write a song for the first time since I left Chicago in 1993.

I don’t know if you call it competitiveness exactly, because I’ve always loved and championed Dave's songs and I consider all songs by any of us equally to belong to The Lilacs, but it did make me feel like “Shoot, if Levinsky can do it, I can do it.”

So I sat down and wrote “I Saw Her First” and thought “Wow, this is pretty damn catchy.” I later discovered that Dave had actually written "Shadow" a while ago, so it wasn’t quite “new” but it was new to me.

So I sent all these demos to Richard and asked if he found them production worthy, and he did, on the condition that we practice the vocals and commit to a studio in Tennessee – he lives in Chattanooga – that would bring out the bar band feel.

He picked a place he thought was appropriate for our sound, which turned out to be Scotty Moore’s Studio 19 in Nashville. I practiced my vocals on the phone with Richard and he gave me exercises to do on my own which I committed to.

He really liked Dave’s guitar playing from the other Lilacs records I’d sent and I sort of knew after I got a sense of Richard that he and Dave, who had never met or spoken, would instantly hit it off because of their shared weird obsessions with everything from old time guitar sounds to ancient middle eastern mysticism. Richard was the best kind of producer.

Most producers have the reputation of being either very heavy-handed like Mutt Lange, where it almost becomes their record and they cowrite some of the songs and every record they produce sounds like a Mutt Lange record no matter how different the artist. Or being very light handed where they sit back and let the band be great but you wonder how much they bring to the table other than encouragement.

Richard was the best kind of hybrid because he let us rock when we were in the pocket and making a joyful noise. But he also issued strong correctives when our guitar sound wasn’t quite on point or we were morphing into a jam band that didn’t really fit our pop sensibilities. 

But to be honest, part of the way in which Richard elevated our experience is just the awe in which we all hold him. Sitting in a room with a guy who had played on four or five of the greatest records of all time, a guy who literally learned at the knee of Jimi Hendrix (and had the honor of being punched in the face by the great one), I think that just gave us confidence not to feel like old guys in rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp. 

Here was the guy who had literally booked CBGB‘s and discovered many of the bands that wrote America‘s punk songbook, and he had chosen to invest his time with us, so maybe we really did have the right to ask for three minutes of an audience’s time.

Q – I understand The Cars were a big influence on the band. Ken, I saw a picture of you with Ric Ocasek from last year. How did The Cars influence your band?

Ken Kurson: I’m so glad you saw that picture! The Cars were an enormous influence. 

"Just What I Needed" was the first song my first band ever covered, and learning song structure, guitar melody, harmonies and just how fucking great Ben Orr’s voice is were all foundational in my desire to play rock music. I don’t know that Ric was particularly influential on my songwriting, per se, because his obscure and often incomprehensible lyrics are the exact opposite of my own, which are always very direct.

Where Ric would talk about “nuclear boots” and “drip-dry gloves,” if I say “I drank vodka with Diet Rite,” I mean exactly that. But The Cars were a hugely important bridge for me in terms of taking essentially a punk aesthetic and marrying it to these irresistibly catchy pop songs with the musical proficiency of the rock ‘n’ roll gods.

I only met Ric that one time for an hour in the photo you saw, but it meant a lot to me that many of my friends told me that they thought of me when he died.

Q – I understand the songs on the EP were cut live. Why was it important to the band to record the songs in that fashion?

David Levinsky: The Lilacs play rock and roll. Rock bands are best in sweaty little bars like Phyllis’. That’s what we wanted to capture – four people who know each other and like each other in a room playing rock and roll. Is there anything better than that?

Q – The late Jim Ellison named the band and produced the band's first album. What kind of impact did he have on the band?

Ken Kurson: Jim Ellison was a huge influence on The Lilacs and thank you for preserving his memory by asking about him. Firstly, Jim named the band and gave us a ton of our early shows, including opening for Material Issue just as they were becoming a big national act. 

As you mentioned, he produced our first EP, "The Lilacs Love You," and even played a little guitar on the song “It Seems Like Years.” More than that, Jim was an inspiration to us simply because the genius of Material Issue was so simple.

Write good songs, look really cool, work really hard, and the labels will come a-callin’. Jim had been my friend for years before The Lilacs because he was a big fan of Green and had even played rhythm guitar in the band for a bit before I joined. 

We played dozens of shows together, and I watched how professionally he approached even the tiniest gig in an airport hangar in Carbondale.He acted like a rock star way before he became one.

Jim took a lot of abuse in Chicago’s very judgy indie rock scene for the crime of being careerist, but I saw the way his businesslike approach to rock benefited not just his career, but also his songwriting.

If he admired a band like The Tweet he would listen to “Fox on the Run” over and over until the vocal build up on “A Very Good Thing” was more like a Material Issue song than a Sweet song. Rock ‘n’ roll is such a formulaic enterprise.

I’m addicted to these videos by this guy Rick Beato, who does these incredibly thoughtful explications of what makes a song great. He’ll take apart a song like “Limelight” and explain why it really is alternating measures of 4/4 and 3/4 rather than single measures of 7/4.

But the fact is if you wander too far from a Charlie Watts backbeat, it might be a good song, but it ain’t rock ‘n’ roll. That Jim Ellison was able to take these very elemental chord progressions and craft them into a very distinctive Material Issue sound inspired me.

After Jim’s suicide, I wrote a long obituary. His mother called me in New York crying on the phone and thanking me for having captured his personality.

I wrote the liner notes to the band’s final LP. But man, I can’t help but think how many great songs never got written because of the early deaths of so many rock n roll greats.

And I wonder if those sad early endings played a role in us deciding to end The Lilacs at the peak of our powers in the mid 90s. Dave and I can be quite intense people, especially when we were young, and that doesn’t always end well.

Q – David, I understand that you stopped making music from 1998 to 2012 as you pursued religious studies. What brought you back to music?

David Levinsky: A mentor who died a few weeks ago pushed me to reintegrate things I left behind in order to become an “adult” back into my life. So I started studying Hasidic texts again and I started playing rock and roll again. One of the best decisions I ever made. This show is for him and for all of the others no longer with us who helped us.

Q – What's next for the band? Are you working on new music?

David Levinsky: We are writing music and for the first time we plan on writing music together. If we can put a set of good new songs together, it would be great to record another album.

In the meantime, we have a show in New York City at the International Pop Overthrow Festival on Nov. 6.

Q – Do you see this as the next chapter in the band?

Ken Kurson: I do! Only hashem knows what’s next, but we sound pretty fucking good.