Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chicago band Dastardly bringing eclectic sound to scene

Whether you call their music Americana or grunge polka, Chicago band Dastardly is one of the more eclectic and interesting bands on the local music scene these days.

Dastardly, www.myspace.com/dastardlytheband, will perform Dec. 9 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, to celebrate the release of its debut album, "May You Never...".

Glittermouse, Chaperone and Jared Bartman are also on the bill. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are $6, $8 at the door, available at www.schubas.com.

I had the chance to interview Dastardly frontman Gabe Liebowitz about the band and his vision for putting together this gifted collection of musicians.

Q - You guys are touring pretty heavily in the next few months. Is it the band's goal to conquer the country? Does the band prefer being on stage rather than being in the studio?

Well, that would be nice. Honestly, we've been together for almost a year and have played only one out of town show, and that was, like, two weeks ago. 

I'm grateful for establishing a really great base of fans and a respectable roster of bands to play with in Chicago, but it's definitely gotten me hungry to take the show on the road. I'm generally a homebody by nature, I've never been much of a traveler, so I'm kind of forcing myself to go on tour and see if I can handle it.

As far as conquering the country, I see these upcoming tours as, like, filling out an uncharted map. I'm going to be going on the west coast tour pretty much solo while my band mates continue with their "jobs," "school" and "lives," just so I can start meeting bands, people, and venues...so that if I want to go again with the full band, I have better relationships out there and the whole endeavor will be much more worthwhile. Going on a long tour is a huge commitment, and can even lead to, like, losing your job, so it's definitely got to count.

I am taking the whole band to the east coast in January, which I am very excited about. I'm from Rhode Island, and now pretty much all of my friends are dispersed between Providence, Boston and New York City, which means that we should have good turnouts for each of those dates.
In this coming year, we're going to be focusing mostly on working on our presence in the Midwest. If we can start building reliable in fan bases in Milwaukee, Madison, Iowa City, Indiana and Ann Arbor, I think that we will be in a very good spot.

To answer the second part of your question, I feel that the studio and the stage are completely different beasts. The stage...nothing compares to the energy of connecting to people who are like three feet away from you. It's just a phenomenal feeling. 

But with our instrumentation, we've got accordion, banjo, mandolin...these are instruments intended to be played acoustically, but we play in a rambunctious rock setting, which isn't always easy to do sound for. So for our live shows, the sound doesn't always do us justice. 

In the studio, we got to really produce this record and make sure everything ended up sounding exactly how we intended it to, and you just don't have that kind of control live.

Q - How did the band come together? What did you have in mind in forming the band?

I had actually broken up my second unsuccessful/terrible band in Chicago, and I was taking some of that "soul searching" time, where I was searching for a style of music that I was more comfortable with. The process involved learning a lot of songs...soul songs, folk songs, jazz standards, etc. 

I started learning a lot of Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt, two artists I've always greatly admired, and something about the country style really gelled with me. The simplicity of the structures and the straight forward, "tell it like it is" lyrics really opened a lot of doors for me as a songwriter. After that, I started really discovering country music...Hank Williams, George Jones, Louvin Brothers, Carter Family, Patsy Cline...I ate everything up.

After I felt I had a good grasp on the genre, I started writing a shitload of songs. Nothing too original, just how I thought a country song would have been written in the '50s. 

Then I made a five-track demo under the name Dastardly called "Hands on the Wall" that I recorded with Shane, who was in my last band called Lyon and the Notary. Once it was done, I posted it on craigslist to try to get an actual band together, and I started getting responses from some really tremendous musicians.

So yeah, initially my game plan was to play country songs. But then, once we got the whole band together, the excitement started flaring. We all listen to a lot of music, and we wanted to create our own unique sound. 

So we basically kept the country sound as a platform, and began a logical progression of tacking on some progressive shit, some more raucous attitudes, some tribal drum beats...it's all been a very natural change in the sound in the past year, but we're definitely proud of what we've become and feel that it's a sound unique to ourselves.

Q - How do you determine what instruments would fit best on a song? What kind of goals did you have for the debut album?

Luckily, we have a lot of versatile players, so we have a lot of options instrument-wise. John mostly plays banjo, but he also plays the harmonica and guitar. Pat is kind of our bombshell secret weapon, he's a master of guitar and mandolin, and also isn't too shabby at the pedal steel. 

Sarah mostly plays accordion, but she is also a phenomenal percussionist. So with so much at our disposal, there's definitely a lot of trial and error that goes into the arrangement of each song.

As far as our debut album, we really just wanted to show where we're at right now. It's definitely not a see-all end-all of how Dastardly is going to sound...we're definitely still in a rapid state of evolution. 

However, we feel it's a collection of our seven strongest songs, and that it demonstrates all of our strong points. It's something we feel is relevant to the current musical climate yet also has sentimental value. 

We just hope people love it. The songs all meant a lot to me when I wrote them. We also hope we get a multi-million dollar publishing deal.

Q - I am sure that you have heard the band described in many different ways. One reviewer described a song of yours as "grunge polka." How would you describe your music?

I used to get really pissed off whenever anybody would refer to us as bluegrass. Like, I remember after one of our shows, this really nice dude went up to me and was like, "Hey man, I really dug your sound. I'm definitely going to check out some more bluegrass!" And I just lashed out on him. "Really? Bluegrass? You think this is bluegrass? Do you even know what bluegrass is?" 

I was a total dick. I don't know why it got to me so much. We definitely use mandolin and banjo, two instruments that pretty much define the bluegrass sound. They're used in bluegrass more than country. 

I like grunge polka. But to simplify things, if you wanted to describe us to anyone, I think the two most predominant traits we have are roots, Americana music and modern indie rock. So, “Americana Indie.” That's the ticket.

Q - What do you think of the music that is played on mainstream radio today? Who inspired you to become a musician and what bands or artists (past or current) do you admire?

I think there is a lot of really exciting music that's coming out right now, and I'm glad I got out of my pretentious "music was only good before the '80s" phase. First of all, it's really cool to see bands like Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire and Animal Collective topping the Billboard charts...they're making music that's original and exciting, and they're pushing some serious units. 

Even Lil Wayne, one of the top-selling artists of the decade, is a phenomenal artist and a tremendous lyricist. In fact, I'm not even joking, my songwriting tradition for the past year has been blasting a track from "Tha Carter III" and downing a Red Bull before hitting the paper and pen. 

I think it's definitely a great time for music. I mean sure, there's still Justin Bieber and all that garbage. But I mean, when Led Zeppelin was around, there was also the Bay City Rollers...that's just how it goes.

I actually started out as a drummer, when I was 13. And the world of bombastic rock drumming, especially Keith Moon and John Bonham, really opened up a lot of excitement for me in music. 

I definitely try to immerse myself in as much music as possible, but the artists who have really knocked me on my ass and influenced my approach to music: Nick Drake, Red House Painters, Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith, Townes Van Zandt, Harry Nilsson and Roy Orbison. Those were the big guns for me. 

Buckley was an avid appreciator of all facets of music and seamlessly weaved all of his interests into his own unique sound, which has always been the big goal of mine. Harry Nilsson, I think of as the Jim Henson of music. He just had an unparalleled creativity, especially in his vocal harmonies, a kind of starry-eyed adventurous quality I've always tried to emulate. 

And besides being obsessed with trying to be able to sing like Orbison, his song writing is ungodly. He mastered the art of a three-minute opera, starting from a low point and gradually progressing it to a thrilling high point that really knocks you on your ass.

Q - Describe your previous bands. Were they similar to Dastardly? Is this a dream project for you?

My first band in Chicago was called Gabriel Lyon. I changed my unbearably Jewish last name [Liebowitz] to try to please the gentiles. The music wasn't very good. I was 19. It was mostly singer-songwriter stuff. Then I was in a post-punk power trio with Andy Taylor, who is currently the drummer of Dastardly. 

I think we did some cool stuff, but it was very obviously music that wasn't in my comfort zone, and we couldn't really get people out to more than a couple shows. Dastardly came about after I had a talk with my friend Tom, who gave me some cold hard reality. 

His main point was that my music was so inconsistent that it made people uncomfortable and disinterested. I definitely had the Buckley complex of liking a LOT of music, but instead of fusing everything together...I'd do like, a folk song, then a punk song, then a calypso song. It was just a mess.

I'm tremendously proud of Dastardly because there is a consistency. I'm really happy with the flow of the record especially. 

There are a lot of different influences in the music, but it all finally makes sense. I definitely wouldn't want to make any other kind of music right now. 

This is a dream project. I'm working with people who I've gelled with better than anything I've ever done collaboratively...not just music. I don't want it to stop.

Q - Do you think Chicago has a thriving music scene? What do you think separates the group from other bands on the scene?

I don't know if there's really a scene in Chicago per se. I don't think we're at a point where you can count on people coming to your show just because they want to see live music. You still have to hit the pavement, get your friends out, and your friend's friends out. 

The bands that draw well in Chicago, they don't do it because they're good. They do it because they bust their ass getting people out. There definitely are nice communities of like-minded artists, though. 

I'm a friend with a lot of bands who I admire out here, and it's a very supportive relationship. We book tours for each other, bring people to each other's shows, fix each other's cowboy shirts, it's very.

As far as what sets us apart from everyone else...I think that we are the only country-sounding act in Chicago fronted by a Jew from the east coast.

Q - Technology has changed the music business. Do you think it is easier to make and distribute music these days? What are the band's long-term goals?

I think Facebook is huge, as far as getting people out to shows. Just being in constant contact with people makes sure they always know what's going on with the band. 

I remember, we hanging out with this guy, J. Chris, who sang in the choir on our record, and Sarah asked him, "Have you seen our new video?" and he just replied, "I had no choice." The Internet, it makes it easier to cram yourself down people's throat. Perverts, go nuts on that one.

As far as our long term goals, like I said before...we're going to be concentrating on getting our name out on a more national level, especially in the Midwest. We hope to be growing our fan base in Chicago. We hope to sell a lot of CD's. We've got a thousand of 'em. 

Most importantly, we're looking forward to evolving our sound and continue making music that excites us and hopefully other people as well. This whole band has grown organically in the past year, sound-wise or career-wise...nothing has been forced, which was my big mistake for my last band. 

I just had a chart that literally listed each show in the upcoming year, and how many people we should bring to each one, and where we should be. It was just ludicrous. I remember
I asked my friend Jon from a great local band called Color Radio what they were up to. He said, "Play, record, tour. That's all you can do."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dada carrying on with a little help from its fans


After releasing its first album in 1992, California trio Dada still has a rabid fan base.

That was made evident by the fact that the band's Dec. 29 and Dec. 30 shows at Schubas in Chicago sold out so quickly. Those without tickets might consider traveling to Philadelphia or Boston to see the band.

I had the chance to interview drummer Phil Leavitt about the band and its current activities, which thankfully includes a new album.

Q - It seems like Chicago is good to you guys.

Chicago has been incredible to us since the very beginning. That's why when we thought about doing some dates at the end of the year, we wanted to come back there.

Q - Is it still surprising to you that after all these years, there are such rabid fans around?

I don't know if surprised is the word I would use. But it is very gratifying. You never know. You put a show on sale, and the first show sold out in a couple of hours.

We haven't been back in a few years, so it is very gratifying to know that people are still connected to you in that way, and it is very inspiring. It makes you want to come back and get in front of that audience and maintain that connection with people that have been with you for so long.

Q - What should people expect from the shows in Chicago? Any surprises?

We're definitely going to mix up the set list a little bit from night to night. We've been working on new material this year, so I would expect some of that will be in the mix.

There might be a few surprise covers. I can't give away all the surprises. They wouldn't be surprises then, now would they?

They can expect a great night of high intensity music with a great vibe in the room. That's what I expect.

Q - Last year, of course, was 2009. Was it weird playing "The Spirit of 2009?"

When we wrote that, 2009 seemed so far in the future (the song was on the band's 1996 album, "El Subliminoso"). We played it in Philadelphia on New Year's Eve in 2009. It was very odd that finally we had arrived at that point.

It wasn't that long ago, but it was still sort of a look into the future at the time, and there we were, the future is now.

Q - Do you think you might write a 2010 song now?

I don't think so. But we've got a couple of songs that were sort of prophetic in their look into the future, "2009" being one of them.

When you really delve into what the song "Dizz Knee Land" is about, it takes a look at instant fame, which is kind of what we are in the midst of now, with reality TV and the like.

In that song, our character robs a grocery store and is famous, and goes to Disneyland. And now, you can get a TV show by being from New Jersey or being an obnoxious prick. It's funny how that developed over time. I think we were a little ahead of our time.

Q - And of course there's a reference to George Bush in the song, but it's a reference to the first Bush. And then another Bush becomes president. Did you ever think there would be two George Bushes as president?

We never could have possibly considered that would be the case. But I have to say that when he arrived, we definitely had mixed feelings. It was like, hey, that song is still good.

Q - It kept the song timely, didn't it?


Q - That song hit so big. Was it both a blessing and a curse?

It is hard to say that it was a curse. This music business is so hard to break into, any kind of success is a blessing.

And then it is about what you are going to do afterwards. But you can't hate your hit. That's kind of silly.

Because if it were not for that song, I don't know if we would have gotten the exposure and that people would know about us.

I guess you could say it's a curse if some people only think of us for that song. Then they don't really know the band. But overall, I would say that song is a blessing because it put us on the map.

Q - Was there a lot of pressure to follow up that song?

Second records for any bands are difficult. All of a sudden there are ton of expectations. I thought we did pretty well on our second record ("American Highway Flower"). I thought the record company dropped the ball, though.

A lot of people like our second record. I'll stand by it, and I'm proud of it.

Q - And who was the basis for the character in the song, "Bob The Drummer."

It is a fictional character. But there's a lot of guys in L.A. who play gigs around town and maybe looked at something bigger at one time.

That's what that song is about. It is about paying your dues and grinding it out as a professional musician. There's a lot of glamor associated with being a rock star, but there's a lot of heartbreak associated with being an artist, and even more so, trying to be a professional musician, trying to make a living at it.

It's a hard row to hoe, and it's not all groupies and bags of money. Sometimes you have to play a bar mitzvah. That's just how it is.

Q - You said you are working on new material.

We're really excited about stuff we are doing now. That's kind of the reason we wanted to get out and play some dates, because we spent most of the year working on new material.

We wanted to get back to what this band really does, and that's getting in front of an audience. That's so invigorating for us to play in front of a crowd.

That's kind of what the band stands on, it's live reputation. People love our records and that's great, but I think we've made our reputation really as a live act.

It's great getting back on the road. I'm always into going into Chicago, particularly in winter.

Q - Why's that?

To me, you go into Chicago in winter, you have to be a little hard to deal with the Chicago winter. It's rock 'n' roll. Chicago and winter to me is rock 'n' roll.

There's something inspiring about that you have to deal with the elements. It makes you come together a little bit as a group.

Q - When are you looking to get out the new album?

I've love to get it out next year. 2012 is going to be our 20th anniversary as a group. We would like to get the new record out in 2011, and get behind that a little bit.

We will kind of gear up for 2012, which should be a fun year for us. You make it to that kind of milestone, you might as well celebrate it.

Q - What should people expect from the new album?

You continue to evolve as a band. I think we're a better band than we started, certainly. We are not signed to a label right now, so we have the freedom to do whatever we want.

We've always been kind of an eclectic band, and now there's no reason at all not to be, because we have no one looking over our shoulder telling us to rein it in. We can pretty much go in any direction we want to go in, which is great for us.

Our goal is always to make the best record we've ever made. That's the goal. As far as what that is, you don't know until you get there.

Q - When you guys first got on the scene, what do you think separated the band from other groups out there?

We've got this wide range of influences, between classic songwriting, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and all the stuff from the '60s coupled with really strong harmony singing, which you don't hear as much anymore.

And then I think we have a wide range of styles and influences, which people tend not to want todo because it is hard to sell that. Record companies discourage that kind of thing. They want you to be as specific in what you do as possible.

And we were always very eclectic. We were always willing to go in a lot of different directions.

That kind of separates us. We are playing pop music, but we are playing pop music that has a lot of different flavors to it. There's a lot of different elements to what we do.

We always like to do that, because we get bored doing the same thing over and over again.

Q - That's what I've always liked about the band. Each song stands on its own.

That was always our goal. Whatever the song wants to be, that's what you make it. To me, it always comes back to The Beatles.

The most inspiring thing about The Beatles is they played the entire gamut of what was pop music history, and they reinterpreted it in the course of their career. That's what we like to do.

I'm inspired by that. There are no limits to what you can do musically.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ingram Hill coming to Chicago next month with new record in tow


While their second record with Hollywood Records didn't gain much attention, Memphis-based rock trio Ingram Hill has never stopped working.

Cutting ties with Hollywood Records, Ingram Hill now has a new label - Rock Ridge Music, along with a new album, "Look Your Best," which was released in September.

Ingram Hill will open for label mates Sister Hazel Dec. 17 and Dec. 18 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn Ave., Chicago.

Tickets are $26 for each night, or $48 for a two-day pass, available at www.livenation.com.

I had the chance to talk to lead singer/guitarist Justin Moore about the band's latest activities.

Q - The group reunited with producer Rick Beato for your new album, "Look Your Best." He worked with you guys on your first album. Was the timing just right to work with him again?

I think so. We worked with him so much on our first record, and did some B-sides with him and movie soundtrack stuff with him. We got to the point where we figured out that stylistically, we work really well together.

We really trust his opinion. We mesh so well together with Rick that it seemed the right thing to do.

Q - So you guys read each other well?

Yeah, pretty much so. I know what he is going to say to me before he even says it. For somebody that we don't see that often - he lives in Atlanta and we live in Memphis - it's amazing how well he knows us and our music and how well we know him and his style.

Q - As I understand it, a lot of these songs were road tested.

A few were, yeah. We tried to set a deadline for ourselves to try to write 20 songs in a month.

And we had some older songs that we were putting in the pile of songs for the record. And some of those songs we had been playing live. A song called "Hey Girl" we had been playing live for a year and a half, maybe longer.

We got a really good reaction from fans every time we played it, so it was a no-brainer that it was going on the record.

Other songs are brand new and we had never played them live. They are getting their first live performances now, after the record is out.

Q - Why did the band decide to part ways with Hollywood Records?

I think it was the fact that they couldn't stand our second record, and then they had the Jonas Brothers.

Q - So they didn't promote the second record enough?

No, not at all. They were not fans of it. At that point, they had their hands full with the Jonas Brothers. Our record almost got put on the shelf. We were lucky to get the record out.

Q - How did you make the decision to go with Rock Ridge Music?

A lot of our friends are with Rock Ridge. Ken from Sister Hazel mentioned to us on several occasions about Rock Ridge, long before we even signed with them.

We talked with Rock Ridge, and realized that we were a good fit for each other.

Q - It seems like your sound fits in with the label.

I think they know how to present us to the market, what to do with us and how to sell our records.

Q - I'm sure over the years you've heard the band described in different ways. How would you describe the band?

I just think we are a rock 'n' roll band. We definitely lean in the pop-rock direction, and sometimes we sound a little southern.

I almost hate to say that because then people think we are a southern rock band like Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Q - So you don't play "Free Bird?"

No "Free Bird" in our set. But the "Free Bird" guy seems to follow us at every concert.

Q - Of course, you and your guitarist, Phil Bogard, are childhood friends. How long have you known each other?

Since a week before we started kindergarten. Our grandmothers lived across the street from each other.

Q - And when did you decide you wanted to be in a band together?

He had been playing guitar since he was 8, and I had been singing for as long as I can remember. When we were kids, we would goof off and start playing and singing Aerosmith songs.

I was in a cover band at the beginning of college and we just happened to be firing our guitar player. I hadn't seen Phil in like a year. Our drummer in our band ran into Phil at a party and told him that we fired our guitar player.

And sure enough, Phil ended up in that band, and then that band broke up. Phil and I started writing songs, and it kind of went from there.

Q - Does it help being in a band with someone that you've known that long?

I think so. We've known each other for so long, we're kind of like brothers. We know our differences, and what we can do to help us get along.

Like Phil and I never room together. It just works out better. I like to watch sports on TV, and he likes to watch "Law and Order."

And we also kind of know each other inside and out. I tend to know what he is going to do musically, and he tends to know what I am going to do.

Q - You guys are friends with Sister Hazel, and of course you will be opening for them in Chicago. They have been playing together for a while. Have they given you any advice on how to survive in this business?

Oh, sure. The band has all the same five guys after all these years, and they all seem to get along. They have a good model of making sure they still have fun, and making sure that it's still a democracy.

It's not one person's show. Everybody in that band has equal input. I think that's helped them, and I think that helps us.

Q - Early on in your career, you had a couple of radio hits. Are you looking to repeat that success?

It always helps to have songs on the radio. It's just a matter of getting the right song, and getting some people to pick it up, and hopefully it snowballing.

We would definitely prefer to have a couple of more hits under our belt.

We never stopped playing, we never stopped touring, we never stopped working. So it would be hard for us to say that we are making a comeback, because we never actually stopped working.
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chicago band bringing vibrant sound to scene


Chicago band Kyle Mann Combo has morphed into a new band that is bringing a new and unique vibrancy to the local music scene.

Sometimes atmospheric, sometimes disarming, Dozens' music, www.dozens.bandcamp.com, www.myspace.com/dozensband, demands a listen. The band will open for Why Intercept? at 8 p.m. Nov. 24 at Pancho's, 2200 N. California Ave., Chicago. Also on the bill is The Atlas Moth.

I had the chance to interview frontman Kyle Mann, who formed Dozens with guitarist Vince Naples and drummer John Norman, about his latest incarnation.

Q - What happened to the Kyle Mann Combo? Were you happy with all that the band was able to accomplish?

Dozens is really the evolution of what started as the KMC. I am happy with what we accomplished. We made good connections and learned a lot from writing, recording, touring and the business side aspect of running a band that we’ve brought over to Dozens.

In 2008, Matt Nagrodski, (the original drummer for KMC) developed severe tinnitus in his ears and had to give up playing drums. Vince and I started looking for a new drummer and asked John Norman to jam with us.

We were blown away by John’s drumming and asked him to join the group. We played a few shows with John as KMC, but throughout rehearsals and performances we recognized a new group dynamic.

With fresh material, new members and varied instrumentation, it was time for a reboot. I was also enjoying a lot of music that was stylistically miles away from what I had been listening to when I wrote "Goodbye Kites," and I felt limited by KMC’s sound in terms of the kind of music I wanted to be making.

We are writing and producing differently now, integrating denser synth, guitar and electronic textures into our music. These songs are written with more of a collaborative process between the band, which is a clear departure from a singer-songwriter format with accompanying musicians. 

Q - Vince was also in the Kyle Mann Combo. Was he a perfect fit for the new band? How would you describe the band's chemistry?

Definitely. Each of us bring different skill sets to Dozens. I'll usually take a song into a rehearsal, and together the three of us tweak things until we have a working live arrangement.

Vince will usually whip out the red pen on some lyrical passages, and we all go back and forth with the editorial process. A lot of decision making happens in the studio, as Vince works with all the pedals and effects he has to create a textural bed for John and I.

In KMC, Vince was mainly playing electric and acoustic bass. In Dozens, there is no bass player; he and I both play guitar and keyboards, covering the bass with an octave pedal or synths live.

Vince also mixed and produced the Dozens EP...even with KMC, he blurred the roles of producer and performer. John is not only a phenomenal drummer, but a great arranger, trumpet player and singer as well.

He wrote the string and brass parts on the EP. All three of us sing and harmonize, and have started to split up lead singing roles.

Q - What are the short and long term goals of the band? What are the band's current projects?

Right now we are working on our debut full length record. We hope to have the full length out by summer of 2011.

We are also looking to release a single and make a few videos. I’d say our long term goal is just to keep making music that we are happy with.

Q - Are you happy with the current music scene in the Chicago area? How do you think the band fits into the current scene?

Music in Chicago is very diverse just like any big city, but I think it’s a great scene and it has been very good to us. There are plenty of outlets for bands in the indie/rock modicum, and venues like the Double Door, Schubas, the Whistler, Subterranean, etc. have been very accommodating.

There is also a wealth of venues catering to classical, folk music, free jazz, punk, fusion and world music, as well as a thriving theater scene. For as many clubs as there are in town, there are underground artist run loft spaces that are well curated with fresh music.

In the last eight months, Dozens has already played more shows than KMC ever did in a year. It’s been a great run for us so far.

Q - The music business continues to change. Is it easier to make music these days? How is the band trying to keep up with new technology?

In terms of recording music, I think it is easier than ever since there is so much accessible and affordable technology. We track at our respective home studios and at Shivaree, the space Vince runs in Logan Square.

The flexibility that comes with not having to watch the clock, and the option to take the time to experiment has been crucial in the development of our sound. New technology is proliferating at an overwhelming rate, and we're always encountering new tricks and gimmicks at shows or online (Vince is kind of addicted to Synthtopia.com), but at the end of the day, technology serves to address some particular obstacle or problem.

We are always experimenting with new ways to make the big trio sound work live, including tinkering with Ableton, elaborate looping rigs and sample pads etc. in order to make our arrangements come across.

Between web sites like bandcamp, soundcloud, reverb nation etc., there is also no shortage in ways to distribute your music or keep people informed, but the Internet tends to become a wash. I think a lot of bands are struggling with how to stand out in an over saturated blogosphere.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Singer-songer Bleu makes album for himself after writing hits for others


After writing for the likes of the Jonas Brothers and Selena Gomez, Los Angeles singer-songwriter Bleu, www.bleutopia.com, decided to make an album just for himself and his fans.

The appropriately named "Four," (it is his fourth solo album), was released this month on his own record label, The Major Label.

His fans are the reason the record is even seeing the light of day as they helped fund its release.

Bleu will perform Nov. 21 at the Mayne Stage, 1328 Morse Ave., Chicago, www.maynestage.com.

Also on the bill is Jim Bianco. The show starts at 8 p.m., and general admission tickets are $10, available through www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Bleu about the new album, which includes a song dedicated to his native Boston.

Q - How was your song "B.O.S.T.O.N." received when you were in Boston this past week?

It seemed like some people kind of already knew it. I think people get a kick out of it. 

Q - What made you want to write the song?

It was just one of those things where I was kind of looking for new angles on old subjects. I knew I wanted to write something about how much I loved Boston, but I wanted to put a fresh angle on it.

For me, that was the fact that I wasn't actually born in Boston. I wasn't raised in Boston, and I also no longer  live there. But I still really love it.

I spent much of my life in Virginia. I moved to Boston when I was 17.

Q - I understand that you really set out to make an album just for you and your fans.

Because I'm writing for other artists and sort of doing Top 40 type of stuff, I feel like I don't have to try to do that in my own music, which is kind of liberating. I enjoy doing both.

Q - It seems like you've been in the news a lot lately. You were recently the guest editor for Magnet magazine, where you had the chance to name your favorite things.

That was really fun, actually. I had a good time going through that.

Q - I have to agree with you about the movie "Children of Men." That's a great movie. And Jellyfish you said was the best power-pop band ever.

Well, they're my favorite. 

Q - The fact that you were able to raise more than $30,000 in 20 days for this new record, was that unbelievable to you?

It was incredible. We ended up raising $40,000 in 45 days. It was absolutely mind boggling. I was completely blown away, just flabbergasted. I was nervous about just raising the $8,000, which was what we needed to make.

I had no idea that the supporters of my music out there were that supportive. It really came as a big surprise. It sort of changed my whole outlook on what I'm doing.

Q - Does that kind of vindicate what you are doing?

It was amazing. It obviously gave me a lot of ideas for the future of my career, to think that a small but very dedicated fan base might actually be willing to continue to support me making records and putting out music.

Q - How are the songs on the new album translating live?

Pretty good. I play with a duo. It's not always the big, lush arrangements from the record, but I hope the songs speak for themselves and people enjoy the new arrangements.

Some of the arrangements that we do live are very different than the record, sort of on purpose to give the live versions their own life. A couple of songs in particular, "B.O.S.T.O.N." and "Dead In The Morning," we sort of do like dance music. It's like a house party. We try to have fun with it, and mix it up.

Q - Do you think that the work you do with artists like the Jonas Brothers takes away from your solo work?

I think it's quite the opposite. I think it gives me the freedom to do whatever I want with my solo stuff.

I'm not worried about trying to write hits, because I'm sort of doing that in my other life. 

Q - And you would like to work with Britney Spears someday?

That would kind of be the ultimate for me. I actually pitched a ton of songs for the new Britney record, and I didn't get any obviously or I would be telling you about that and I would be incredibly rich.

I'm actually a huge Britney Spears fan and I'll probably pitch a bunch of songs for her next record too. I love her production and the songwriting.

I think a lot of people still think of her as "Hit Me Baby One More Time." But her last few efforts, to me anyway, I think are pretty adventurous in terms of subject matter, songwriting and production.

Q - Of course the music business continues to change. Would you have any advice for up and coming artists, what they should do or not do?

I think the core of it is just about being good, being a good musician and being true to yourself.

Hopefully, then the rest will come. It's not about gimmicks. Having longevity as an artist means being true to making your music, whatever that means to you.

Q - You released "Four" on your own label. Do you have any long term plans for the label? Would you like to sign other artists to the label?

I would never want to act as a traditional record label. But I would love to at some point release other records that don't have a voice, like in particular bands that don't function as bands anymore, but maybe made great records that nobody heard.

I don't want to get into actually being a label. But I would love to introduce wonderful projects to people that they would never hear otherwise.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Georgia native bringing her sweet songs to Chicago's Elbo Room this month


Straddling the line between folk, rock and alt-country, Cyndi Harvell's songs are a refreshing departure in today's music scene.

The Georgia native will perform Nov. 15 at The Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Tickets are available at www.elboroomchicago.com.

I had the chance to talk to Harvell about her music and what it was like meeting famed producer Jack Douglas, who is a fan.

Q - I know you performed at last month's CMJ festival in New York. How was that experience?

It was great. It was a pretty full club. John Howland and I did a 20-minute acoustic set, and it was great.

Q - It's been a busy month for you. Your new CD, "From The Echo," was released last month. What kind of goals did you have for the album?

With this album, we just wanted to make the best album we could, the best batch of songs that we could, and do our best with touring around the country.

This is our first tour of the East Coast and across the country, so we are just trying to reach as many people as possible with it.

Q - I imagine you are playing a lot of the new songs on the tour. How are the songs translating live?

So far, it's been great. We recorded the album with a full band.

Just for the sake of tour budgeting, we wanted to keep it as low cost as possible, so we are touring just as a duo, but it seems to work out really well.

For some things, it worked out even better, because you can hear lyrics more clearly and you can hear the guitar melodies.

Q - You've probably heard your music described in many different ways. How would you describe your music?

I usually say it is folk-rock, with sort of an Americana twist. It's kind of hard to put a genre on your own music.

I say folk because it is sort of centered around stories and good lyrics.

Q - Just listening to the album, there's a lot of variety on it. You can't call it all folk, or all rock. Is that what you wanted to do with the album? Or is that just your natural way of writing?

I think it's just the natural way I write. You don't want to write the same song over and over and over again.

Q - It seems like your move to the Bay Area was a good career move.

Yeah, for my career and just for me as a person. Before that, I was living in Athens, Georgia, which was a great music town. That's kind of where I started and where I grew up musically.

I started there with open mikes and my first band and getting used to performing for an audience. After moving out to California, I ended up meeting musicians who I worked really well with and meeting the right people that had helped my last couple of albums. It was a good decision.

Q - What was it like meeting Jack Douglas, who has worked with everyone from John Lennon to Aerosmith? What advice did he give you?

He was very encouraging. He really liked the songs, and he thought we had potential to go somewhere. He hooked us up with this producer named Jim Greer, who we still work with.

Q - What did he bring to the table?

The main thing, I think, is that he really believes in the music. And he gave ideas that we wouldn't necessarily think of, or me personally.

Q - Are there other artists out there that you admire what they are doing?

My favorite artist currently who has influenced me a lot is Neko Case. She's kind of like an alt-country queen.

When I discovered her and her music, I was like, this is cool. This isn't the country pop stuff that's on the radio today that I'm not a big fan of. This has a country flavor to it, but it's good writing and good songs.

She's sort of been a nice influence and inspiration to me.

Q - Do you see yourself fitting into the alternative country genre?

Not necessarily. I think some of my songs are more pop-rock. There's a song on this album that somebody described as an R&B song. I don't think of myself as an R&B artist, but I guess if you just looked at that song, you might think that.

I think my music is friendly to alt-country ears. People who like alt-country I think would like my music.

Q - It seems like music has always been a big part of your life, ever since you were 6 years old and made mix tapes for your Barbie dolls.

I would make up little musicals with them, instead of just playing with them in the traditional way.

I didn't grow up in a super musical household. My family didn't play any instruments, and didn't know a whole lot about different kinds of music.

But from the time I was little, I liked to sing.

Q - Do you remember the first concert you saw?

I do. I was 18. It was a band I was really into, Guster. I was crazy about them in my later years in high school.

I grew up in a small town, and there was no live music around. So when I went off to college and moved to Athens, Georgia, it was the first time I was able to see live shows.

They put on a great show. They were funny, and kind of quirky. And they played good songs.

Q - Where do you see yourself five to 10 years from now?

Well, I hope I'm still making music. This being our first tour, it's kind of like testing the water and seeing how it goes.

We hope after this tour that we're going to be able to book another tour. I'd like to record as many albums as possible.

The music just keeps coming, so I don't think there will be a shortage of albums in the future.