Saturday, February 26, 2011

Local musicians banding together to raise money for Parkinson's research

A group of local musicians is proving that music can heal.

Eight local musicians/songwriters and bands are compiling a recording to benefit Parkinson’s research. The release of the recording will coincide with Record Store Day on April 16. 

Record Store Day is a celebration of the independent record store and what it means to indie music and to the community at large.

The project, entitled “Made In Aurora,” is a local-artist vinyl record compilation project spearheaded by Steve Warrenfeltz of Kiss The Sky record store in Geneva and Benjie Hughes of Backthird Audio in Aurora.

Recording and contributing on the album will be the band Hoss, Dave Ramont and Dave Nelson of the band Dick Smith, Noah Gabriel, Kevin Trudo, Jeremy Keen, Greg Boerner and Dave Glynn with the Empty Can Band.

“There are some fantastic musical talents in the area,” said Steve Warrenfeltz, who is acting as executive producer for the project. “Our intent is to shine a spotlight on them.”

The project will be heavily collaborative, with musicians joining in on others’original music. The entire project will be recorded over a three-day period beginning Monday. All of the artists involved will come together to collaborate on a single song towards the end of the process.

The collective also intends to generate awareness and financial contributions to a local grass roots charity, the Paul Ruby Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease.

Artists participating in “Made in Aurora” all make music that could be broadly categorized as “Americana.” Warrenfeltz hopes this will be the first of many projects to come, with other projects potentially focusing on other genres of local music.

The collective also plans to take the project “on the road” so to speak, performing the album live in its entirety at local venues to be determined later.
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Chicago band The Bright White making its presence known on stage


On stage is where Chicago band The Bright White comes to life.

Fortunately for all of us, the band will take the stage again soon. The Bright White performs March 12 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

The Bright White will open for South African sensation The Parlotones. The show starts at 10 p.m., and tickets are $12, available at

The band,,  is comprised of Matthew Kayser on lead vocals, Joe O'Leary on guitar, Peter Krutiak on bass and Steven Zelenko on drums.

I had the chance to talk to Kayser about the band and how it sees itself fitting into the Chicago music scene.

Q - How did you guys get together?

We met via Craigslist. Joe responded to my ad nearly a year ago, and we spent the better part of 2010 searching for the right rhythm section. After nothing but misses, we found our hits in Steve and Peter in November.

Q - Any meaning behind the band's name?

Joe is a graphic designer, so he was quick to point out the many aesthetic possibilities of using white in some form. We purposely aimed for a name that is memorable. 

We also really want to do something that positively connects with listeners. We like how some people have said that at some point they were drawn to a bright, white light. That works for us.

Q - How would you describe the band's sound?

We are 100% committed to combining the raw energy and drive of garage rock with the epic nature of bands such as early U2, Oasis and The Killers. 

We believe it is possible to write big, spacious songs that people can sing along to while still maintaining a somewhat careening energy.

We want to create a sound that is just polished enough to make it to radio, but that still has the integrity of a late night rehearsal. Soaring vocals, loud guitar, and a driving rhythm section is definitely not a new concept, but it works.     

Q - Who would you say are the band's biggest musical influences?

We are currently heavily inspired by the overall mood of The Beatles’ Revolver. Other albums that make us want to write and perform are U2’s "War" and "Definitely Maybe" by Oasis.

We are also inspired by The Replacements, Big Star and The Killers. Bigger is better, in our opinion. 

Q - The band's shows have been generating good buzz. Would you say your shows are the band's calling card?

Yes. Every band that we are drawn to has at some point completely owned the stage when they perform. We want people who see us live to get their money’s worth, to really feel as though they are watching something worth getting excited about.

Our live show is definitely not fancy, but it is spirited. We’re singing and playing our hearts out, hoping that someone in the crowd can relate. 

I hope it’s a stark contrast to some of the emotionally bankrupt pop that is currently buzzing in my ear.

Q - What were the band's goals in sitting down to make "Until Then?"

We want The Bright White to be about something larger than our little lives. We are four working class guys who refuse to stop dreaming the dream. 

Many of the themes on "Until Then" are themes that everyone can relate to. There is adoration, celebration, and a good deal of frustration.

We want the EP, as much as it can in five songs, to relay our view that giving up on the things we want and adore is often a mistake. We are passionate about the people and things that matter to us, some of which we’ve lost or not yet attained. We view "Until Then" as a declaration of the feelings that are involved in all of that.

Q - How does the band see itself fitting into the Chicago music scene?

Nicely, I hope. The rest of the guys are Chicago natives, but I just moved here a year and a half ago. I’m still trying to figure out the musical pulse of the city. I am, however, familiar with Chicago’s long line of bands that have done big things.

What I like about the successful bands from this city is that they all have had the reputation for doing something big and heartfelt. If that is any indication, I believe we’ll do very well here.  

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

We are determined to soon play big shows at the top venues in Chicago. While we are doing that, we would like to create a genuinely strong buzz here and in cities such as New York and Nashville. The short term goal is to build a very solid following while catching the attention of someone who can help launch us.

Our long term goal is to create music that is on par with that of our favorite bands. We want this as a career, so we're working towards a certain level of success to make that happen. I won’t go into details, but we are thinking very big with this project.

We’ve all been in a number of bands before The Bright White, but none have excited us the way this has. We sincerely believe that timing is everything.
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Young Dubliners bringing Irish roots to Chicago area in March


The Young Dubliners has been at the forefront of Celtic rock since forming in 1988.

After moving to the United States, Dublin native Keith Roberts started feeling homesick for his Irish roots, leading him to form the Young Dubliners,

The band will perform at several area venues in early March, kicking off March 1 at Ballydoyle Irish Pub, 5157 Main St., Downers Grove. In addition, the band will take the stage March 2 at Ballydoyle Irish Pub at Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale, and March 9 at Ballydoyle Irish Pub, 28 W. New York St., Aurora.

More information is at

I had the opportunity to talk to Roberts about the band's latest activities .

Q - You guys are taking a break from the studio to go and tour. Is this a good time to start a tour?

There is no way we can sit around and not play during March. We work it out so we can do this.

At the beginning of the year, we are just sort of writing away. Everybody is coming up with their own ideas and then we do the tour, and maybe do some of the new stuff live if it develops quick enough.

Then we come back in April at the end of it all and we lock ourselves away and actually start writing. That's sort of the way we do it.

We always release albums usually around March. We're either promoting a new album or we're touring on the very end of another one. It just doesn't seem right not to play in March.

I think everyone would be bummed out if we didn't.

Q - Are you going to play new songs on this tour?

I never agree to that because you never know. We're very picky about how are songs are, what level they are at, before we play them live.

It will all depend on where they are at.

Q - What should people expect from the new CD? Are you building on what you did previously?

Yeah, that's what we do basically. We set goals. On our last album (2009's "Saints and Sinners,") we put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

We won't know until we see all of the material exactly what direction we will be going in. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be relevant and be a bit of a leader in the Celtic rock genre.

We approach every album like it's the most important album we've ever done. That's why we don't rush it. We have a no filler policy.

Every song has to be something that we are already proud of and want to be on the album. That determines how many songs will go on the album.

Q - How do you think the band has been a leader in the Celtic rock genre?

We are sort of the elder statesmen of the genre. When we started, the only band I knew that was doing anything in America at that time was Black 47.

I hope that if you listen to our albums chronologically, you can see how we pushed ourselves.

We all loved rock 'n' roll, we all loved writing songs, and we also wanted to be true to where were from in our music. It became known as Celtic rock, a blend of the two styles.

Q - Do you think it's an appropriate label?

I don't know, really. There are so many labels out there. Obviously, when we started the band, we were just two guys from Dublin playing acoustically, and then they called us The Young Guys from Dublin.

The next thing you know, we were The Young Dubliners. When we got the record deal, we wanted to change the name to something else, and it was sort of told we couldn't.

The label Celtic rock is kind of wide. It's a little bit too generic of a term. It's kind of like the term alternative rock.

Q - That's true, because bands like Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, they have more punk elements in their bands.

We've all got our own vibe. Hopefully for all of us, there's an audience for us out there.

Q - Why do you thinking blending rock and Irish music works so well?

In general, when you mix Celtic music and rock music, it's fun. It's fun music to listen to.

Q - U2 is an Irish band, but their Irish influences aren't that apparent in their music.

That was a band that came up during the rock-pop era in England. As a band in Ireland, you had to get to England if you wanted to make it big.

So that's what U2 did. They started out as a rock band.

Back when they were beginning, I was beginning as well, and my bass player Brandon Holmes. We were starting bands in Dublin, and that's what we were doing too. There was no talk of anything Irish being included.

But when we moved to America, that sort of home sickness kicked in, and all of a sudden I realized how much I missed Irish music. It was just a cool way to stay in touch with all that.

I think that's where we try to be unique. Had we just become a rock band from Ireland, there would be all these U2 comparisons. We were not striving to be U2. We were striving to be original.

Q - After your U.S. tour dates, you guys are going back to Ireland. How are the audiences over there compared to U.S. audiences?

The audiences over there are great. We also bring a lot of American fans with us when we go to Ireland.

It's fun, because the band is Irish and the band is American. It adds a great vibe to the tour.

Q - You guys have been together for a while. Do you have any advice for an up and coming band?

You have to learn to live together and give each other a break now and again.

You have to get along with each other, and that's not always about playing together, it's about hanging out, having dinner and a few beers, and talking to each other about your personal lives.

In our band, we do disagree a lot, but we agree way more. That's a huge part of the longevity of a band.

St. Charles band Kampfire Kowboys back together, rustling up a new sound


After being on hiatus for several years, St. Charles band Kampfire Kowboys is back together, and they are ready to create a new group of fans.

This time around, the members of Kampfire Kowboys are emphasizing their country influences even more in their music. To that end, they have added a fiddle player, Ray Henaughan, who has played in numerous country and bluegrass bands during his career.

The band's current lineup consists of original members Tom Colton on lead vocals and guitar, Dave Piper on bass and vocals, and new members Henaughan and drummer Nick Gee.

Kampfire Kowboys will debut its new incarnation at 7:30 p.m. March 4 at Penny Road Pub, 28W705 Penny Road Pub, Barrington. More information is at

I had the chance to talk to Colton about his decision to reform Kampfire Kowboys and his goals for the band.

Q - What's the idea behind the new incarnation of Kampfire Kowboys?

The idea was to put this back together and be a country band, and play country music as close to traditional as possible.

I'm going to play country guitar. I'm not going to play rock guitar as much, maybe a little bit if it calls for it.

The show is about vocals and my lead guitar playing and the fiddle player. And that's different than the old Kampfire Kowboys. It's going to be sort of a rockin' back and forth between fiddle and guitar.

Q - What should people expect from your shows?

I've kind of put together a country band that does covers, songs that people know, and then just throw the Kampfire Kowboys songs at them as we go along.

The energy level is still going to be there for Kampfire Kowboys. That's not going to change. It's still going to be a things flying off the stage type of sound.

Q - You were in a number of rock bands after Kampfire Kowboys had broken up. What made you want to get Kampfire Kowboys back together?

I can sing Tom Petty for the rest of my life. I can sing Styx or whatever else I was doing with Centerfold. But it doesn't do anything for me.

But when I sing, "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down" or "There Goes My Heart" by The Mavericks, I just love singing that stuff. It's just fun.

And playing guitar in a country band, it's challenging. It's constantly moving. It moves from one chord to the other. So you are really moving around a lot. It's almost like progressive rock.

Q - How has adding the fiddle changed the band's sound?

This new Kampfire Kowboys is more about playing country music. The best way to put it is that we are still a country rock band, but with due respect to traditional country music.

We like traditional country music. Traditional could be Brooks and Dunn, it could be The Mavericks or Dwight Yoakam, or even going back to Waylon Jennings.

So it's not like traditional country music that goes back to the 1930s and '40s so much, but more that goes back to the '70s and '80s.

Q - It's certainly not Taylor Swift, then.

No. Although were are doing some Brad Paisley and Keith Urban. I like Brad Paisley a lot. He's probably my favorite artist right now.

He's a fantastic guitar player. I certainly can't emulate everything he does, but I can give it a good go.

In the middle of all that, we're putting in Kampfire Kowboys songs, and they fit right in. They do.

I guess it's what I could have done 10 years ago, but that wasn't in the cards at that time.

Q - What are the band's future plans?

I'd like for the band to release a third CD. I have maybe seven new songs now, but I'm putting that on hold because I want to get this going.

I think this is where I fit in. The music business is really, really rough, so you have to be in the right place and happy in that place. This is the right place for me.

It's not playing Tom Petty. It's doing my music, doing The Mavericks, doing Dwight Yoakam. This is the kind of stuff I really like.

I'm looking for an audience, and I think the country audience is where I need to go.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chicago band Akasha bringing new beats to music scene


One of the joys of living in the Chicago area is its rich and diverse music scene.

Enter Chicago band Akasha. The band's roots reggae grooves and tight vocal harmonies are creating a stir in the music world.

Those who have not yet experienced the band live will have the chance when Akasha performs at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

The Drastics, Hood Smoke and Impala Sound are also on the bill. There is a $8 cover charge, and tickets are available at

I had the chance to talk to Akasha frontman Cosmos Ray about the band and its vision.

Q - Is there a meaning behind the band's name?  

Wikipedia says:  "Akasha means the basis and essence of all things in the material world; the smallest material element created from the astral world." 

I was studying a bit of Rudolph Steiner and Madame Blavatsky
at the time we formed the band.  They spoke of the Akashic records.
That any particle in the universe when properly accessed contains all knowledge of all time.  

We often get asked is our name in reference to vampire character made popular by the late singer Aaliyah in "Queen of the Damned."  The coolest reference I heard was just a couple weeks ago.  A fellow musician upon hearing the name said "Akasha?!, That's cool man, sounds like a Japanese sword."

Q - How did Akasha form? What was your idea in forming the band?

Doug Bistrow (bass) and Scott Moss (guitar) had a band called The Shift.  I was in a band called Star People. They sometimes would have me cameo on a song or two on their sets.  

After a while, Doug and I spoke about putting together an outfit.  On July 23, 2005, we did a show at Subterranean in Chicago.  We didn't have a name yet and were still trying to decide on a drummer.  

I told the venue to list this iteration as The Akasha Project.  The idea in forming the band was to be able to explore all the music we loved from blues, to rock, to hip hop to reggae.  

Whatever we were feeling, we were down to try.

The band since has had a rebirth.  Especially in 2010, there were marked advancements in light year measurements.  We added Shane Jonas to the mix.  He is an amazing trumpeter, keyboardist and vocalist.  

In May of 2010, we added John Barbush on the drums.  He solidified our deep pocket and we decided to focus more on our reggae sound.

Q - Political expression has been an integral part of reggae's history. Are their certain political ideas Akasha is trying to express in its music?

As they say, poly tricks are ever abundant in the shitstem.  Our music certainly has an edge to it.  

I would say more relating to social issues than political agendas per say.  A song like "One Man Rises," speaks to the inequality in our society with regard to economics, religion and politics.

With regard to all of these subjects, it asks the listener to consider the balance of things.  That by one man rising, another one or more has to fall.  

I think this is symbolic of our message.  How do we as people reconcile all the imbalance and bullshit around us and at the same time enjoy life and give to one another?

We also don't want to come off pedantic, so we have worked to find ways to emphasize love.  You can't go wrong with love songs.

I think we have struck a good balance of the social edginess, love songs and danceable grooves.

Q - How do you think the band's sound fits in with the Chicago music scene?

Chicago obviously has always had a strong musical scene.  Today is no different.  

I think our sound fits in well with the scene at large.  We embrace the many lenses of reggae, from ska to rock steady, from roots to lovers rock and even a little dub and dancehall here and there.  

We love to sing in four part harmony and make people dance with our grooves.  Although the reggae scene is more niche oriented in Chicago, we have been able to play on various bills, from indie rock to pop folk.

I think our image and sound allow for us to play with many styles of music.  

Q - How do you think the members of Akasha fit together in creating the band's sound?

I personally grew up listening to hip hop, dancehall (which I knew to be dub), roots reggae, and my parents music (which spanned bluegrass to jazz).  

Doug has an extensive background in jazz and western classical music.  Scott studied opera and is a beast at rock music.  

Shane is versatile in jazz, gospel and soul music.  John can play anything, but his one drop and pocket are like granite.  

You can build Manhattan on his groove.  I think that all of our backgrounds are key ingredients to the ONE sound we create.  

We love to sing harmonies and our arrangements and orchestrations borrow from many sounds, though we focus this sound through the window of reggae.

Q - How would you describe the band's sound?

We are five piece outfit focusing on the canon of reggae.  We play ska, rock steady, roots, lover's rock, with some dub and dancehall sprinkled in.  

We also have a concept of no stopping during the set.  We try to keep the audience engaged and moving by truncating some songs and always making tasteful transitions between songs.  

Our sets are reminiscent to a selecta, selecting tunes at a party.

Q - Is technology making it easier for a band to get its music out to the masses? How has Akasha tried to use technology to get its music out to people?

Technology is definitely making it easier for musicians.  I think in general, the shake up of the conventional industry and the advent of economically viable technology is great for music.  

It means more musicians can create and distribute their work.  While not everything will be great, to me this allows for the art of music to grow in ways it could not in the convention set up by the mammoth industry giants.  

Akasha has utilized technology on several levels.  Our most recent project, which will be released this spring, was recorded entirely by us with our own equipment.  

That wasn't possible for most of us even five years ago.  We obviously use the Internet quite a bit for our distribution.  

We have pressed physical copies as well, but the online resources have distributed our music much more widely.  We have a website, which functions as our HQ, but we  also have Facebook, Twitter,, Reverbnation, etc.  

The opportunity to go viral with a song or video allows for any artist to be accessible over night.  That is priceless.

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

Short term, we would like to finish mixing and mastering this latest project and see if we can get someone interested in pressing it up on vinyl and distributing it.  

We would also like to hit the summer festival circuit hard and begin touring regionally.  

Long term, our goal is to be prolific.  To record and release as much material as possible and to make a living from playing music.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chicago band Smoking Popes to release new CD next month


The long wait is almost over for fans of Chicago band Smoking Popes.

On March 15, the band will release "This is Only a Test," its first CD of original material since 2008's "Stay Down."

Smoking Popes also will be busy touring in the next few months, including shows at 9 p.m. Feb. 19 at The Montrose Room, 5300 N. River Road, Rosemont, and at 10 p.m. Feb. 25 at Mojoes, 22 W. Cass St., Joliet.

For a full band schedule, go to

Last year, I had the chance to talk to Smoking Popes lead singer Josh Caterer of Elgin about the new album, and how he is juggling being in a band with his responsibilities as worship leader at Harvest Bible Chapel and raising a family.

Q - It seems like things are going full steam ahead for the Smoking Popes. I see that your current record label is releasing some of the band's previous material.

Asian Man Records put out a CD for us in February which was a collection of all of our old 7'' releases. That had been stuff that had come out in various collections over the years or was out of print until this year.

Q - I suppose that some of your die hard fans would already have these songs, but was it cool to have that material out there for your newer fans?

Totally. It's kind of sad to think that some of our songs would just disappear. They're like kids, really, you know. You want the best for them. 

You want them to have a productive life. If they just disappear, it makes you very sad and sort of uneasy.

Q - What should people expect from the new album?

Well, it's a concept album, written entirely from the point of view of a high school senior. The album is called "Teen Tragedies."

Q - Was this something you were mulling over for a while, to do a concept album?

I had never planned on doing a concept album, but once the idea hit me, it just all came like a flood. I started writing these songs really quickly.

Q - Is it autobiographical?

No, not really. It's inspired by some of my own thoughts and feelings as a teenager, but I definitely created a character other than myself to be the main character on the album. It gave me the freedom to express things that are not strictly from my own life.

But I was thinking one day about the fact that when we were a young band, I would never intentionally write songs from a teenage point of view. 

I was always trying to pretend like I was more sophisticated. I was always listening to Frank Sinatra records and trying to capture his vibe.

It occurred to me that it would be funny if now that I am well into my 30s if I started writing songs from a teenage point of view. I had the first five songs for the album after coming up with the concept. 

The ideas were there, and I just had to take the time to write them out.

Q - Has this process been freeing for you?

It is freeing, to sort of paint yourself into a corner a little bit. You don't have to decide what in the world am I going to write about. Your subject matter is a little more obvious once you put some borders around it.

Q - You are juggling a lot of things these days, including being a worship leader at Harvest Bible Chapel.

I am on staff full time, actually as a worship pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel. The Popes aren't actually any touring right now.

Right now, we are just playing a few times a month around the Midwest, always within a couple of hours of Chicago. So it's really not that much of a conflict. I can be at my office all week and lead worship on Sunday, and still go out and play shows with the Popes on Friday and Saturday nights. 

If I had to choose between the two, I suppose I would choose worship leading.

Q - What do you like about being a worship leader?

Worship leading is better because it has eternal value. There is a verse in the book of First Corinthians that says, ''Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

So when I give myself to leading worship, I know that I am helping to build God's kingdom, and that it is something that is going to have value that lasts beyond even this life. The Smoking Popes are fun, but it is a fleeting thing.

Q - What about your side project Duvall? Is it still active?

Yeah, it was inactive for a few years. After the Popes got together, it sort of seemed Duvall evaporated. And a couple of months ago, we played a Duvall set at the Metro opening for our friends The Fold. 

After that, we've gotten offers to play a couple of different shows, and we're supposed to do a set on JBTV next month. Once I got the ball rolling, it has just picked up momentum on its own.

Duvall is actually going to start leading worship at the youth ministry at Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows once a month.

Q - And Duvall is writing new songs as well?

Yeah, I've been writing some new stuff for Duvall. Back when we were making Duvall records before, that was my only band. I was sort of on the fence whether Duvall would be a Christian band, or whether it should function in the general market. 

I think that my songwriting for that band was a little ambiguous because of that.

But now that the Popes are back together, my vision for Duvall is to make it a more explicitly Christian band, actually leading people in worship as a band.

Q - It seemed like labels kind of yanked the Popes around. Do you have any regrets about how things went in the past?

No, I don't. I think it was good that we were on Capitol Records. It got us a lot more exposure, and it helped us expand our fan base pretty quickly.

So that was beneficial. In the long run, I think we've always been an indie band. We're just more comfortable functioning on an independent label, because we have a pretty specific vision about how we want to approach making our music. 

We really don't like having to deal with the corporate structure in order to make that happen.

Where we are at now is a better fit, but I don't regret working with Capitol. If nothing else, it was a valuable learning experience, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Q - Tickets sold out really fast for the Popes' reunion show in 2005. Was that a surprise?

We didn't know what to expect. We knew that there was a dedicated core following of fans out there. When Duvall was touring, I would always run into people across the country that were really excited and really devoted. 

I figured there would be at least 100 really excited people at the show, but there was more like 1,100 really excited people at the show.

That night was really special for us. It was a lot of fun.

Q - For a while, the Chicago music scene was the big scene. What do you think of the Chicago music scene these day?.

Well, I live out in the suburbs and I work full time at my church, and I have two kids. I don't get out to a lot of shows. Pretty much the only shows I go to are the ones that I'm playing in. So I'm not an authority on the Chicago music scene.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Carrie Rodriguez bringing her brand of folk, country music to Old Town School of Folk


Austin-based singer Carrie Rodriguez is glad that her father gave her a Leonard Cohen album when she was nine years old.

Rodriguez,, is the daughter of the well-known Texan singer-songwriter David Rodriquez, and she has incorporated the musical lessons he taught her into her music.

This has been a busy month for Rodriguez. On Tuesday, she released "We Still Love Our Country," an album of duets with Ben Kyle of Romantica, and on Feb. 13, she will perform with Erin McKeown and Mary Gauthier as part of "An Acoustic Cafe Evening" tour.

The show will be at 7 p.m. at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $22, available at

I had the chance to chat with Rodriguez about her latest projects and her upcoming tour.

Q - So the tour kicks off in Chicago at the Old Town School of Folk Music. Have you played there before?

I have. It's one of my favorite places.

Q - So it's a good place to kick off the tour?

It is. Beautiful stage, beautiful sound. And the audience is usually pretty warm over there.

Q - And of course you did the acoustic tour last year. What did you like about it?

I love getting to see what other artists are up to. In the second half of the show, instead of a more typical songwriter in the round thing that you might see, we work on each other's songs.

It's really fun. As a songwriter, you learn a lot. It's also challenging, just as an instrumentalist, to find ways to help your friends out and make them sound even better.

And it's different every night. Since the Old Town gig is the first show of the tour, it will be extra loose and spontaneous.

Q - Last year was a pretty big year for you. You released "Love And Circumstance," which was very well received, reaching number #2 on the folk charts and #3 on the Americana charts.Was that important to you that the record did so well?

It always feel good when you know people are enjoying it and you get responses like that, because you feel you are on the right track somehow.

The best part of performing music is playing for people. The idea that you are making other people feel something is very rewarding.

But I'm also excited about my next project. I've been writing new songs, and I'm excited to play new material in this upcoming tour and trying the songs out on audience members.

Q - On Tuesday, "We Still Love Our Country," an album of duets you did with Ben Kyle of Romantica, was released. What was your idea in wanting to do the album?

Ben is one of my favorite singers. I've been on tour with his band quite a few times, and we always end up singing together, singing duets.

It's really exciting when you find somebody to sing with. It's that spark that happens. You can never predict when it is going to happen, but I think with Ben, we have a really nice way of singing together.

I wanted to put it down on tape. We've been on tour together a few times, but we don't get together that often, so it was really fun to put our favorite duets down and write a couple new ones.

Q - How did you choose which songs to cover?

It's really an homage to our favorite duet singers and our favorite duets. We're both huge Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris fans.

It was just kind of a tribute to our heroes and the music that we love. In calling the album, "We Still Love Our Country," we wanted to make an album of good country songs. Country can get a bad rap, with all the new pop stuff, which is not really country music.

They put a pedal steel guitar in there, but it's 90 percent pop. There is so much great history in the country genre, and we wanted to pay tribute to that.
Q - And I suppose people have labeled your music in different ways over the years. How would you describe your music?

That's a tough question for me. I have a hard time putting one name on it. The term "Americana" gets used a lot, which is fine, but I don't really know what that means anymore anyway.

It is American music for the most part. My influences are mostly American songwriters and instrumentalists. But I draw from old-time film music, I draw from jazz, I draw from folk singer-songwriters and some rock bands.

Hopefully all those things poke their heads out at some point in my music.

Q - And do you think your dad (Texan singer-songwriter David Rodriquez) has been a big influence in what you have become?

Probably. He's a folk singer-songwriter, and some of my first memories are of him singing me these political folk ballads. It's probably found its way into what I do now.

Q - I understand he gave you a Leonard Cohen album when you were nine and you hated it, but by the time you were 13, you loved it.

I listened to it for a solid year, once I figured out how good it was. But most nine-year-olds aren't ready for Leonard Cohen.

Q - So you figured out the importance of the album and got to love it?

I think that being exposed to good, serious music even at a very young age is so valuable later on down the road.

Q - And your great aunt, Eva Garza, she was a pretty popular musician in the 1950s, I understand.

Yes, she was a big star, especially in Central and South America. She had a few gold records on Columbia. She sang all in Spanish.

Q - Are you going to try to incorporate more of your heritage in future projects?

On "Love And Circumstance," I recorded a song that she had recorded. That was the first time I had ever sung in Spanish.

I love performing it. And I do have the dream one day of making an entire album in Spanish. But I don't feel quite ready for that yet.

I feel that I need some more heartache and tragedy before I am ready for that.

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