Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chicago musician Cole DeGenova bringing vibrancy to scene


Cole DeGenova and his band The Peoples Republic continue to keep the Chicago music scene vibrant through its fresh mix of jazz, R&B and soul.

DeGenova,, and his band will perform Aug. 30 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, in celebration of his new album, "Another Country."

Sidewalk Chalk and The Heard also are part of the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at

I had the chance to talk to DeGenova about the new album.

Q - Your new album, "Another Country," will be released on Aug. 28. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals? Do you think you've achieved them?

I was looking to make a complete, cohesive album that could accurately paint a picture of where I, as well as many other people in my age group, were at in our lives at the time.

I wanted the songs to have a general theme and vibe, that could of course leave you humming along after you were done. Going into the project with that mindset, I think we did a pretty good job.

Q - You started playing at age 15 in jazz and blues clubs on Chicago's South Side. What did that experience teach you?

Everything. How to hustle and make a living playing music (even if you were only getting paid 15 bucks a night), how to really connect with an audience and feel the music, the importance of our American musical tradition, and, honestly, spirituality.

I learned more from spots like the old Velvet Lounge and Von Freeman's New Apartment Lounge than I did from any school.

Q - You also trained with the esteemed Danilo Perez. What was that experience like and what did you learn from him?

We really connected on our love of roots music - African, Caribbean, New Orleans, and classical even. The most important thing he told me was that I had already had my own sound and that I should spend my time honing that instead of trying to sound like other people.

I really took that to heart. He's a really deep, inspiring guy.

Q - Meshell N'degeocello had some very complimentary words for you. What do you get out of working with acts of her caliber?

Their wisdom. It's not just what they say, but HOW they say it.

Meshell had a real deep wisdom and vibe to her. Just being around that left its mark. She also gave me a lot of tips for producing music that I still consider whenever I'm recording something.

Q - How do you think you and your band have evolved since first forming? Where do you see the band going from here?

I first formed the band The Peoples Republic when I was living in Boston and going to school, so I then had to form a new version of The Republic when I moved back to Chicago.

Ultimately, the band has seen many lineups and every member has left their mark on the sound of the band as well as my songwriting. The lineup right now is real solid and I'm looking forward to seeing what we can come up with from here on out.

It's all about spreading the music!

Q - Where do you see yourself fitting into the Chicago music scene?

Well,  I have my background in the South Side jazz scene, but then when I moved back to Chicago a couple years ago, I found myself playing more and more around the North Side rock clubs.

I think I, as well as my music, am somewhere in between those two things. So what I'm trying to say is, I'll play anywhere and usually get a good response.

I'm a chameleon of sorts. We're all a Chicago family and I'm all for connecting with as many different types of people as possible.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"The Voice" contestant Rebecca Loebe making her mark on and off TV

Folk singer Rebecca Loebe admits she didn't think she had a chance of getting on the show "The Voice."

She was wrong. Loebe earned rave reviews during her appearance on the show last year, and is getting ready to release her third full-length album, "Circus Heart," set for release on Sept. 18.

Loebe,,  is bound to play songs from the new album when she performs Aug. 28 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston.

Anna Vogelzang also is on the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets range from $10 to $18, available

I had the pleasure of talking to Loebe about her latest activities.

Q - Your new album, "Circus Heart," will be released on Sept. 18. In sitting down to make the album, what kind of goals did you have? Did you want to build on your last two albums?

My main goal in making Circus Heart was to open up my mind to new possibilities - I was working with a new group of people and I wanted to let go of previous habits and preconceptions.

Without realizing it, I had created a set of rules for myself in terms of what I did and didn't do in the studio (in terms of instrumentation and arrangement possibilities, mostly). 

Before my first conversation with Matt Sever - aka Matt the Electrician - aka the producer of the album, I made a conscious decision to let all of that go and to just follow the songs where they lead.

Q - You turned to your fans again to fund this record. Does that make putting out an album even more special for you, knowing that people will pay for you to put out an album?

Absolutely! It's incredibly touching to know that people support what I do enough to buy the album on the promise that I will get it done, eventually, with their help. It's also very motivating!

Q - I'm sure that people have described your music in many different ways. Do you find it hard to describe your music to people who might not know you?

I do find it hard, and sometimes frustrating. I've found that different words mean different things to different people, depending on their history and the context in which they've encountered that word in the past. 

One person could think 'folk' is the best music in the world, the other could think it's a dirty word, and both could be huge Joni Mitchell fans. You know what I mean? That's why I started calling my music "Post brontosaurus indie folk/crunk." Also because I was getting jealous of punk rock bands that get to describe their style using tons of hyphens.

Q - On the album, you cover the song "Bad Reputation." What did you want to do with the song? Would you consider Joan Jett a musical influence at all?

I would consider Joan Jett more of a life influence than a musical influence. I remember trying to make out with a boy in middle school, while "I Love Rock 'n Roll" played from a nearby jukebox. 

She gave me confidence. A decade later, I got to see her play at 4 in the morning in an airplane hanger in New Hampshire, where I was volunteering for the Howard Dean campaign. 

She was traveling with his campaign and, even though they were running very behind schedule and didn't land until after 3 a.m. she got out with her band and played a short set to the crowd of volunteers. In short: she is a total bad ass. 

I wanted to cover "Bad Reputation" because I like the message; I like the fact that she says 'I couldn't care less what you think of me,' over and over and over again. 

I think it should be required listening for little girls! As with most songs I cover, I knew from the outset that I didn't want to bother singing it in the style of Joan Jett - she already nailed that! Matt and I worked to tell the story of the song from the point of view of a different character.

Q - Speaking of cover songs, your versions of "Creep" and "Come As You Are" were well received on the show "The Voice." Why did you want to be on the show and what did you learn from the experience?

Funny you should ask. At first I didn't want to be on the show! Since it was the first season and noone had heard of it, the casting directors were inviting a lot of working musicians to audition, and when they reached out to me I wasn't really interested. 

I don't watch a lot of TV and, not to sound ungrateful, I haven't traditionally been a huge fan of reality singing competitions. 

The casting folks had also asked about a few friends listed on my website, and I didn't want to turn down the invite on the behalf of everyone, so I went just for the experience of meeting some folks in the entertainment industry. 

I felt pretty confident that they wouldn't choose me, that they didn't put folk singers on national singing TV shows, and it turns out I was wrong. I misjudged them. 

That's a big lesson I learned - keep your mind open! I also feel like I got a quick primer on some of the differences between the music industry and the entertainment industry. Turns out they are entirely different fields with some overlapping similarities, but a lot of profound differences.

Q - There are now several music talent shows on TV. Are there too many of them? Are they just another way for up-and-coming musicians to get their music out there?

You know, who's to say what is "too many"? There could be some new format that hasn't even been thought of yet that comes along and blows them all out of the water...I think that the more platforms we can create for artists and artisans to share their work, the better!

Q - I understand that you have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. Can social media be a double-edged sword when it comes to musicians trying to get their music out there? Can it be a case of sensory overload?

Ohhhh, I sure do! Don't you? I think social media is a double edged sword for EVERY carbon based life form, for anyone trying to keep up with the speed of the culture we have built for ourselves while also trying to fill our basic needs of eating healthy, breathing deep, sleeping enough, spending time under the sky, interacting with other humans in a meaningful way.

It's hard to make time. One of my biggest concerns about Facebook and other social media platforms, besides the fact that they take time away from practicing instruments and reading books and hanging out face to face, is that they can create an environment in which we are all advertising to each other, and what we're advertising is ourselves. 

We only share what we feel is our best news or cleverest ideas, and as a result we get a skewed stream of information from those in our networks. I think this answer is a case of sensory overload :-)

Q - What are your short-term and long-term goals?

Short term  - I want to get through this breakneck CD release tour schedule I have crafted for myself this fall without going absolutely insane! And without my car breaking down.

In the near future, I'm hoping to be able to hire folks to help with some of the business stuff that I have been frantically trying to cover on my own as I get my career off the ground. Ideally, I'd like to share that work with people who are better at it than I am, so that I can spend a little more time writing songs, practicing instruments and working on musical/artistic stuff.

Long term, my goal is pretty simple: I want to build a career that is emotionally and financially sustainable, performing original music for audiences who connect with what I do.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chicago musicians to unite at Alzheimer's Association benefit

Local musicians are a giving bunch.

On Aug. 30, Brad Cole's Acoustic Circus presents "A Tribute to Van Morrison," with net proceeds going to benefit The Alzheimer's Association. The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Uncommon Ground, 3800 N. Clark St.

Cole is only one of the musicians who will perform that night. Also set to perform are Steve Dawson, of Dolly Varden, Dan Connolly, John Michaels, of Seven Ships, Mike Maimone, from the band Mutts, Matt Campbell
and Michele McGuire.

All performers will cover two Van Morrison tunes in honor of the iconic singer's 67th birthday on August 31.

Admission is $20. More information is available at

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stars share their insights at Chicago Comic Con


To say that Lou Ferrigno is a nice guy is an understatement.

Ferrigno, of course, is best known for playing The Hulk in the television series "The Incredible Hulk," and was the voice of The Hulk in the movie "The Avengers."

I was able to ask Ferrigno a couple of questions as he greeted fans at this weekend's Wizard World Chicago Comic Con.

Q - What do you like about doing conventions like this?

I like the fans. I like the people. I like being with my peers. I represent The Hulk.

How was it being in "The Avengers" movie?

Fantastic. I enjoyed doing the voice because I know how The Hulk thinks and feels, so I wanted to be part of the movie.

You couldn't miss The Kingpin at Comic Con.

James Hong, whose illustrious career has included being in the movies "Big Trouble in Little China" and "Blade Runner" and more recently as the voice of Mr. Ping in the "Kung Fu Panda" series, also entertained the crowd in a Q&A session:

Standing in front of the crowd as he entered the programming hall, Hong said: "I'm looking for the John Carpenter lecture. Wrong hall, right?"

Hong wasn't always an actor, as he told the audience: "I became a civil engineer to please my parents. I designed the curbs and gutters for Los Angeles.

I found that too boring, to make two lines for the curb and one for the gutter, so I told my supervisor I was going to take a leave of absence for one year and try acting. He thought I was out of my mind, but I did it anyway, and never looked back. Now, I have approximately 500 credits to my name.

Even now, I can't quit, because they keep calling me back, like for "Kung Fu Panda."

Hong also revealed that his favorite role was playing ghost sorcerer Lo Pan in "Big Trouble in Little China," and that actor Jack Nicholson was the smartest person he ever met in Hollywood.

Both man and beast were at Comic Con.
Dean Cain, who of course played the role of Clark Kent/Superman in the TV series "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," and Laura Vandervoort, Supergirl in the TV series "Smallville," also provided some interesting perspectives.

Cain talked a little about the new reality show he is in, "Stars Earn Stripes."

"It's an amazing show. I've never really done reality television. This shows pairs us with real life military operators, Navy Seals, Delta Force guys. They're the toughest of the tough.

We trained with them and ran missions with them. All the money we're competing for goes to our charity of choice. I played for the Wounded Warrior Project."

They also talked about the effect their iconic roles has had on their lives.

Vandervoort: "When I was cast as Supergirl, I didn't know much about her. I didn't know Supergirl existed, to be honest with you.

I know that's horrible, because now I really appreciate her and the comic books.

Just being on "Smallville" in general really got me into the public eye. Hopefully I did an alright job playing Supergirl for you.

And I wish there was more of her. I wish there was a movie, I wish she had said goodbye to Tom in the final episode.

And now I can tell my future kids that they can't lie to me, because I'm Supergirl.  

Cain: "I read for the show. I was the first person the producers actually brought in. I was very young at the time, certainly a lot younger than anybody who ever played Superman, versus Supergirl.

At the time, I was 25, I think. I went in and auditioned, and I didn't hear anything for three weeks. Normally, in an audition process, you hear something pretty quickly. I didn't hear a thing, so I figured, that's just done.

Next thing you know, I was in another round of auditions. It ended up being myself and another gentleman who's here today, Kevin Sorbo, and we all know how that one turned out, don't we.

He's a big dude, he's a real big dude, Kevin is. I don't want to get him mad. He's a great guy and we were friends and knew each other. We had clearly two different takes on the character. 

It's wonderful to play a character so icon like that. I never thought that people would be calling me Superman at the age of 46. And I had never had any problem with people calling me that either. I'm so proud of being part of this, and I always will be.

After that statement, an audience member shouted, "Because you are Superman!"

Is my hat straight?
Also providing insights into their iconic characters were Peter Mayhew, who played the beloved Chewbacca in the "Star Wars" movies and Jeremy Bulloch, who was bounty hunter Boba Fett  in the "Star Wars" movie.

On the question of whether they envisioned "Star Wars" would become the phenomenon that it has as they were making the movie:

Mayhew: The thing about it, "Star Wars" was a B movie. And B movies last maybe a year.

It's now been 35 years. You judge it for yourself.

We thought it was going to be good, but we didn't know how good it was going to be. Even George Lucas was surprised when we got the results of the opening weekend here and in Europe.

On the question of their favorite "Star Wars" movie:  

Bulloch: "The Empire Strikes Back." Actually, all of them.

Batman showing off his ride from the '60s television series.

With all the villains hanging out at Comic Con, two Iron Men along with Batman were needed to fight all the crime.

Jon Bernthal, who played Shane on the AMC television series, "The Walking Dead," took time to sign autographs during Comic Con.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Chicago musician Michael McDermott bares soul on new album


Author Stephen King once referred to Chicago musician Michael McDermott as "one of the best songwriters in the world."

It's been a long musical journey for McDermott, whose soul baring songs continue to earn rave reviews. His brutal honesty is in full force on his new album, "Hit Me Back," set for release on Sept. 25 on Rock Ridge Music.

McDermott, is bound to perform songs from the new album when he performs Aug. 25 at the Montrose Room at InterContinental O'Hare, 5300 N. River Road, Rosemont, as part of a birthday bash concert.

McDermott and his wife, Heather Horton, who also is a member of his band, both celebrate birthdays this month. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and general admission tickets are $12, available at

I had the pleasure of talking to McDermott about the new album.

Q- Great to talk to you. I had the pleasure of interviewing your wife last year. How has it been being in the same band as someone and being married to them, plus raising a child together?

I love it - you always seem to hear nightmarish stories but thus far, it's been amazing. To me, making music together is the most intimate of experiences. 

I love everybody I play with. When someone leaves the band I have a real sense of loss, fall into a funk after it. 

Traveling is more challenging with a child. Our daughter got quite sick in Italy last year, but for the most part, (knock on wood), it's been great.  

Driving down to Texas next month and that will be a bit of a challenge, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.  

Well, okay, maybe for the world but not much less than that.

Q - Heather joined your band in 2005. What do you think she brings to the band? Of course, she has her own music career as well. Has it been hard for the both of you to balance your careers?

First off, she's an incredible musician and an otherworldly singer. Secondly she's beautiful. Third, she's hysterical and a blast to be around.  Fourth... do I go on????

It has been very difficult to find a balance for her. She has graciously and selflessly put her work on hold for raising a child.

It's a source of great frustration for both of us, but I still do believe her time is yet to come. Her record "Postcard Saturdays" is just incredible. We also will have a side project album coming out in 2013.

Q - "Hit Me Back" is your first album with Rock Ridge Music. What attracted you to the label?

Jason Spiewak and Krista Mettler have been friends for quite sometime. We had always flirted with the idea of doing something together, but the timing seemed perfect this time around.

Q - The album deals with many personal issues, including your feelings after your mother passed away last year. Do you think the album is more personal than your previous albums? What goals did you have in sitting down to make the album?

I wouldn't say more personal, as I think I mined some more frightening subject matter on past albums. 

I always hope to have the listener be a little uncomfortable. It's that place of discomfort that people are usually forced to confront things and ultimately make decisions or choose to ignore them.

Q - Explain the album's title.

I love ambiguous titles: "Hey La Hey," "Gethsemane," "Ashes," etc.

"Hit Me Back" is fairly layered - it can be taken as a bit of the masochist, self-destructive nature, the need for pain and struggle that sometimes is self-induced.

Or "Hit Me Back" as in, "I'm still standing, gonna need a lot more than that to knock me out."

Or in modern vernacular, it's just, "Get back to me."  The waiting that we all endure, for salvation, for peace, for love, sex, food, drink.  Ah, the waiting, 'tis the hardest part, ain't it?

Q - You're working with Stageit to do online concerts. Is that just another way to get your music out to people? Do you think that musicians have to find creative ways to get their music out as the music industry continues to change?

My friend Glen Phillips told me about it and thought it would be right up my alley.  It's pretty cool, still not a pro at it for it feels slightly vacuous to me, but I feel that may change. 

Nice to keep people from different parts of the world engaged. Even though I feel bad keeping them up until the wee small hours of the morning!

Q - Is it harder or easier to be a musician these days? What advice would you give to an up-and-coming musician?

It's never easy being a musician - the transitory life, the traveling, the cluttered landscape of music, where anybody with a computer is now someone you have to contend with to be heard. 

I love it, but it's not for everyone. Not for the weak of heart.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Chicago band JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound to hit Lollapalooza stage Saturday

Chicago band JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound will likely put on a sweltering set when it hits the stage at noon Saturday at Lollapalooza.

Before you go to the show, check out an interview I did last year with frontman JC Brooks:

A full Lollapalooza schedule is available at

Thursday, August 2, 2012

British band The Fixx keeping vital with new album, will play in Skokie this month

Photo by Liz Linder


The band that penned hits like "One Thing Leads To Another" and "Saved By Zero" continues to make music that matters.

The Fixx in July released its 10th studio album, "Beautiful Friction," an album that touches upon such timely topics as the Occupy movement and materialism.

The band,, will perform at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 25 as part of Skokie's Backlot Bash on Oakton Street in downtown Skokie. The show is free. More information is at

I had the pleasure of talking to frontman Cy Curnin about the new album and his other activities.

Q - It's an honor to talk to you. Of course, The Fixx's new album, "Beautiful Friction," was just released. What are your expectations for the album?

Always expect nothing but hope for everything. This avoids disappointment and I'm always pleasantly surprised.

Q - The album is the band's first since 2003's "Want That Life." Was it just the right time for the band to release a new album? Did the fact that Dan Brown returned to the lineup in 2008 put the pieces in place
for a new album?

These times we live in are perfect brain food for a band like us. Wehave been able to continue our legacy and witness the dawning of a new age of personal responsibility and a break from the addiction to cash as a reward.

Dan Brown's return was indeed the final piece to allow for a truly magical experience in the studio. "Beautiful Friction" deals with a number of issues, such as the Occupy movement.

Q - Do you think it is important for bands to offer their observations about what is happening in the world? Do you think "The Fixx" has done that throughout its career?

We have always felt that our work is the messenger's mission. We create music for the soundtrack of our lives.

Q - I understand most of the songs on the new album were recorded in one take. Were you surprised that the songs came together so well that you didn't need to do take after take? Do you think the fact most of the songs were done in one take lends to the urgency of the album?

Not all. The backing tracks were well rehearsed before takes. My vocals tend to be first takes as I lose passion by repeating the same thing in the same day.

Q - You said in another interview that "Just Before Dawn" is your favorite song from the new album. Why do you like it and what would you like other people to take from the song?

"Just Before Dawn" is a song of hope. I love the atmosphere of the arrangement. Great minimal parts that evoke many eras of rock.

Q - Of course, your latest solo album, "The Horse's Mouth," is set for release soon. What approach do you taking in your solo albums versus the albums you make with The Fixx? Is it important for you to make solo music while continuing as a member of The Fixx?

My solo works reflects my more vulnerable side. It's a good way of me staying focused on what The Fixx is as a vehicle in the broad sense. I don't want to bore the guys in the band with my personal hang-ups.

Q - You met The Fixx drummer Adam Woods in college and the two of you went on to form the band The Portraits. What was it about that musical collaboration that worked so well? Are you surprised that you are still making music with him today?

He married my sister and they split up soon after. But he really married me. We are the best couple on the planet. No secrets…we let it all hang out… no rules or curfews. Just love, respect and oh yes, we do see eye to eye on most things.

Q - "One Thing Leads To Another" was such a huge hit, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1983. Why do you think the song connected so well with people?

Great guitar hook. One chord song. Enigmatic words that ring as true today as they did then. Lies and politics don't mix, but we always have to suffer these fools. When will they learn that they are our servants, not our masters?

Q - What advice would you give to a band hoping to make their name known?

Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience.