Friday, December 21, 2012

Chris Connelly bringing music of David Bowie to Chicago in benefit show


Chicago musician Chris Connelly has lent his unique musical vision to such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks.

Now Connelly has formed Sons of the Silent Age with drummer Matt Walker. Joined by guest vocalist Shirley Manson of the band Garbage, Sons of the Silent Age will perform the songs of David Bowie on Jan. 11 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago. The show will benefit the Pablove Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding pediatric cancer research and to the empowerment of the families of cancer victims.

Also on the bill will be the Waco Brothers playing the music of T. Rex and Death on the Autobahn playing the music of Kraftwerk. The all-ages show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door, available at

I had the chance to Connelly about a variety of topics, including what he thought of the Chicago music scene.

Q - Sons of the Silent Age sounds like a great project. How did the idea come about? How did you go about choosing what David Bowie songs to perform at the benefit?

I was working with (drummer) Matt Walker on one of his tracks, contributing vocals, and I mentioned that it put me in mind of David Bowie; not any particular song or sound, just the feel of the track. 

A few days later I asked him why we'd never played [Bowie’s] music before-we love it and are very intimate with it, [so] it seemed like it would be great fun.

Q - How do your think your music over the years has been influenced by David Bowie? Is Sons of the Silent Age just a one-time project for the benefit or can we expect more from the band in the future?

In many ways-on one level, melody, lyrics, phrasing, and on another level, change: how to challenge an audience and still sound commercial...I've tried all these things; I just never sold any records! 

I would like to carry on with this project - I think we ALL would; we have/are putting a lot of work into it, and it's great fun!

Q - You have said that you spent most of the '90s wondering what to do with your career. Are you happy with the current direction of your career? Which do you prefer, writing music or writing books? Or do you need both in your life?

I am happier now because I have learned where to keep my past-the stuff I did in the '80s/early 90s which I spent so much of the mid to late '90s trying to disown! 

Now it has gained some respect from a lot of people whom I respect musically too. As far as the music I make now, I wander far and wide; I am exploring a lot of different sounds - I wish I had a little more time, but I am compelled strongly, so I make time! 

Books are hard; I have had one sitting dormant (i.e. not finished) for a few years now, but I think it's a good story: just how to get it on to paper, I find records a lot easier to make

Q - How do you think the current Chicago music scene compares to when you first arrived here? Is it as creative? How do you think Chicago's scene compares to other parts of the country?

Right now, at this minute, I'm afraid it seems a bit stale. I don't know why; there maybe just are not any exciting bands in my immediate view. 

I usually wait until bands hit me in the face; I don't actively search for them. However, I could say that for the entire current climate. If you'd asked [me] that about a year ago, I would have said different, but it will change again. 

I'm not one of these older musicians who complains that nothing is good any more. I am constantly inspired. 

When I first got to Chicago, I was in a bit of an industrial/Euro-dance bubble, but I was soon introduced to a lot of exciting things musically and indeed culturally; people working together in giant loft spaces, making films, sculpture and experimental music!

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

It's always going to have it's challenges, isn't it? But if you want to do anything creative, rather, if you are compelled to, then you will find a way, it is as hard now for me as it was when I was playing to nobody with the Fini Tribe back in 1983, but I chose a pretty unconventional path [and] still do. 

What I will say is at least you can make decent sounding records at home without having to pay for studio time; that was always a big problem.

Chicago musician Todd Kessler talks about appearance on "The Voice"

Chicago musician Todd Kessler has had quite a year.

Along with releasing a new CD with his band, The New Folk,, Kessler made an appearance on the music reality show, "The Voice."

The New Folk will perform Jan. 4 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Vintage Blue and Tree also are on the bill.

The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at

Kessler will also be hosting a month-long residency at Uncommon Ground, 3800 N. Clark St., Chicago, with the following guests:

Wed, Jan 9 - Tom Schraeder
Wed, Jan 16 - Miles Nilesen
Wed, Jan 23 - The Lims
Wed, Jan 30 - Shuma

More information is at

I had the chance to Kessler about his current activities.

Q - It seems like this has been a banner year for you. Has this year been bigger than you ever imagined?

Going in to 2012, there were three big things that I knew were going to happen: I was turning 30, my album was going to be finished and I was cutting off my dread locks. 

But I never would have thought that those things were going to be outdone by being on national television. I had been working on my album for almost two years, knowing that my dreads (which I had for 12 years) were coming off when it was done, so clearly I'm not one to jump in to big decisions slowly. 

But then I decided to try out for "The Voice" only a few weeks before the audition.

Q - Of course, your band, The New Folk, recently released its debut album, "Sea Fever." In sitting down to make the album, what goals did you have and do you think you accomplished them?

When first sitting down with producer Manny Sanchez, we talked a lot about making sure this album was going to be radio-ready — that was something I feel I hadn't had from my previous albums. 

Also, I wanted to expand on the sound that I had previously achieved in the studio, opting for a more pop approach to the songwriting and production, and I feel we achieved those things.


Q - How do you think the band has evolved since its formation? Where do you see the band fitting into the Chicago music scene?

The band has evolved quite a bit since we started in 2007 as a quartet. Bob Parlier, Graham Burris, Sam Smiley and I first got together when I needed musicians for an EP I did in 2007, which led to another EP in 2008. 

From there, we started playing shows. Then, in 2008, when in the studio I added a second vocalist and strings and horns to our sound [it] increased the size of the band from 4 to 9, and we played as a 9-piece for two years until we began recording "Sea Fever." 

The band has evolved once again as our original guitarist Sam Smiley has moved away and in lieu of strings and horns for every show, we've added Chris (our former Cello player) on guitar and Shane (who engineered the album) on guitar and keys.

The music scene in Chicago is similar to Chicago itself in that there are so many different music communities within the scene as a whole—similar to the neighborhoods of Chicago—that fitting in is somewhat a relative thing. I describe our sound as “Alternative/Folk/Pop” and we have done really well at clubs that showcase those styles, such as Lincoln Hall, Schuba’s and Double Door.

Q - You will be hosting a month-long residency at Uncommon Ground in January. Was that another goal of yours? What do you think of the bands you will be supporting?

I actually hosted a similar residency at Uncommon Ground back in 2008, so it was something I wanted to return to. I have been playing at Uncommon Ground since I started out in 2005 and have formed a really great relationship with the club and the owners. 

It had been a while since I played there so I thought it would be a really nice thing to do, especially in January since it will be cold outside and Uncommon Ground has such a warm and intimate atmosphere.

All of the artists joining me are friends of mine who I've done shows with in the past and each night is going to be something different. We're going to have Tom Schraeder, Miles Nielsen, The Lims and Shuma.

Q - I understand friends convinced you to audition for "The Voice." Were you satisfied with how far you went on the show? What did you learn from the experience?

That's right. When the first season of the show ended, I had two friends tell me about it and that I should try out for the second season. 

I had never seen the show, so I caught a couple of reruns and thought it was a really cool concept. So when the auditions came through Chicago I decided to go for it. 

I made it through a couple of call backs, but ultimately did not make the show. But I decided to watch from the beginning of the season to see what it was really all about. 

I ended up loving the show and when I heard season three auditions were coming back through Chicago I decided to go for it again. 

Actually, at first I wasn't sure the timing was going to be right as I was not completely finished with "Sea Fever," but ultimately decided that it was too big an opportunity to pass up.

Obviously I would have liked to make it a bit further on the show, but I really wouldn't change anything about the experience. I learned so much and made some great friends in the process.


Q - What made you want to cut your dreadlocks and do you ever have second thoughts about the decision?

I do occasionally miss my dreads but cutting them off was something I just had to do. When deciding to go in to the studio to record "Sea Fever" I had already made the decision that I was going to  cut my hair when the album was complete and what really solidified that for me was when Manny Sanchez (the producer) said to me on the first day of tracking, "You know when this record is done you have to cut you hair, right?" 

I was kind of shocked when he said that; I thought "how did you know?!" But what it came down to was new beginnings. 

The making of this album was a departure from everything I had ever done with my music in the past, from the songwriting to the production. Really the only logical thing to make the transformation complete was to cut my dreads.

Q - Are you already seeing more fans because of your appearance on the show? How do you think the show compares to other music reality shows? What advice would you give to someone auditioning for a music reality show?

Yes, I had a big surge [of] fans on Facebook and Twitter when my episodes were airing and have had people recognize me at gigs and around town. 

Even now that my run on the show has been done for a number of weeks, I am still getting new fans sending me messages that they saw me on the show and they love my voice and my songs. It's been a really humbling experience.

The biggest reason I tried out for "The Voice" was because it is so different from the other music reality shows out there. I've watched a couple of seasons of "American Idol" throughout the years and never wanted to go that route. 

But as soon as I saw "The Voice," I knew it was something I wanted.It has a different vibe than the other shows and it is a much friendlier environment for real artists, as has been shown by my good friend Nicholas David making the finals this season.

I've already spoken to a number of people who have approached me about auditioning and I tell them all the same thing: "Be yourself." What the show is looking for is artists that have a good idea of who they are and what kind of music they want to make, so it's really important to go in to the audition and show them that. 

And on the show that is something they said to us a lot, "just do you."

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

My short terms goals are to obtain representation in the form of management and booking. The exposure I got being on "The Voice" has been huge so I'm looking for a team of people to help me really capitalize on that. 

Long term, I would like to make my music full time. Right now I also teach, and although I love what I do, I'd like to be able to focus on my music and make my whole living on playing shows and writing .

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chicago musician Deanna Devore releases intoxicating new album, will perform at Schubas next month


On her new EP, "X Number Of Days," Deanna Devore's intoxicating voice floats above a hypnotic blend of electronic beats and acoustic guitar.

Her unique musical vision has led her to work with the likes of drummer Matt Walker, known for his work with Filter, Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage. Devore will perform Jan. 10 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave. Chicago, as part of a CD release party for "X Number Of Days."

The Loneliest Monk and Leslie Hunt also are part of the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $8, available at 

I had the chance to talk to Devore,,  about the new album and her influences. 

Q - What goals did you have for the album and do you think you accomplished them?

I wanted to make an album that accurately represents the current sound I am going for. One that is a mix of electronica and real instrumentation. 

Some songs are more electronic and synth driven, while others are more acoustic guitar driven. It was hard to find a balance of both without feeling that one was lost over the other, but I think I achieved it and I’m happy with the end result.

Q - What made you want to move from Toronto to Chicago? How does the Chicago music scene differ from the one in Toronto?

I came to Chicago purely for the purpose of recording with a producer/engineer back in 2006. I had never been there before and over the course of about six months I met a lot of musicians and really took a liking to the city.

Toronto, like Chicago, is a great city. Now, I haven’t spent too much time being a part of the Toronto music scene since I’ve been in Chicago for a while, but from what I gather, Toronto has a big indie/rock scene. 

And I feel that Chicago has more of folk/Americana type of music. That’s not to say that either city doesn’t have other types of music, but when I hear music from a lot of Chicago artists, they seem to fall more into that category.

Q - Do you think the success of Canadian bands like Arcada Fire has spurred new interest in bands from Canada?

I think there’s always been a lot of talented artists coming from Canada, but many of them don’t “break into” the American market, which is unfortunate. 

Arcade Fire is one of those lucky bands that made it. And with that came a huge wave of Canadian indie music like Broken Social Scene, Metric, Feist, etc., breaking through as well. There became a bit of an indie revolution, so to speak.

Q - I understand that your interest in Brazilian music comes from your dad. How do you think your parents have influenced your music? What were your goals in starting out as a musician?

A lot of people have a hard time pinpointing the genre of my music, which can be a good and bad thing. I think a lot of it has to do with the music I grew up with. 

My parents wanted me to be exposed to many different types of music and I think they are a big reason why both my taste in music and the music I write is so diverse.

As far as my goals in starting out as a musician, I was a musician at a very young age. I wrote and played instruments when I was a kid and just loved writing for the sake of writing. 

I would sit down with a guitar and write a song without any sort of idea or goal in mind. Of course I wanted to grow up and be successful, but I think there was a sort of innocence and “love for the music” I had when I started out.

Q - How was working with Matt Walker and what did the experience teach you?


Matt only played on one of the songs on the last album. He’s not just a fantastic drummer, but an all around great guy - very approachable and easy to talk to. 

It was great to work with someone who has played with so many successful artists, a very humbling experience.

Q - Where do you see yourself fitting into the Chicago music scene? What are your short-term and long-term goals?

I think my music can be seen as different stylistically compared to a lot of other artists coming out of the Chicago music scene. But what is great about the Chicago music scene is that it is very accepting of diversity. 

You can be paired up with other artists on the bill that aren’t similar sonically and everyone is still really receptive. I’ve had great feedback in Chicago.

My short term goal is to have a successful EP release show in Chicago. Good turnout, press, reviews, etc. 

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve released something, so I really want to push this new album. With that said, the long term goal would be for this album to hopefully reach a broader audience. 

Lots of marketing, which does seem like the hardest part of being an artist. Creativity comes easily, the business side, not so much. 

I’d love to do more extensive touring in the hopes of promoting this album and just really try to get my name out there.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chicago band Penthouse Sweets releases fine new album


Chicago band Penthouse Sweets delivers the musical goods in electrifying fashion on its latest album, "It's Fine It's Fine It's Fine."

The power pop band, comprised of Andy Hansen on lead vocals and guitar, Lou Hallwas on guitar/vocals, Eric Chial on bass and Adam Yoffe on drums, combines catchy melodies with punched up pop rock to make an album sure to appeal to all music lovers.

Penthouse Sweets will perform Jan. 4 at a CD release party at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

Warm Ones and The Safes are also on the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10, available at

I had the chance to talk to Hansen about the making of the new album.

Q - Your new album, "It's Fine It's Fine It's Fine," was recorded in the basement of a house. How was that experience and what do you think it added to the album?

Actually it wasn't recorded in our basement. Lou and I have been living in the house depicted on the cover and practicing in the basement for five years now. 

It's been like a clubhouse sorta deal and some of its quirks and personality have rubbed off on us and the music. That's why the art has been so focused on the house.

But we actually recorded the album in a proper studio. Maybe we'll do the next one in the basement.

Q - What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them?

We didn't really have any goals beyond capturing the batch of tunes we had as well as we could. Yea, I think we did that.

Q - How has the band transitioned since the departure of your keyboard player? How do you think the band has evolved since first forming in 2002?

There's a lushness/fullness that you can achieve with a keyboard player that you can't get so easily without one. I miss that sometimes, but mostly I don't. 

With less dudes playing, everyone's part becomes more you can't hide behind stuff and your part's gotta be good. I miss playin/hangin with Eric (Quinlan - keys) though. Great dude. 

He came up with the album title when, in response to something (don't remember what), he banged thrice on a snare drum, while declaring "ITSFINEITSFINEITSFINE". Plus it's easier to wrangle four guys for a practice or a show.

We started when our previous band, The Dorks, broke up. We wanted to get away from the pop-punk kinda stuff we were doing in The Dorks, and into more varied material.

Lou got on board and helped widen the scope. It's evolved with the departure or addition of people...everyone brings their own style and personality...and changes the shape a bit. 

Adam is newest, he came on board over the summer and I'm psyched to see where things are headed with him when we really get down to writing new stuff. 

Q - What is the meaning behind the band's name? Any reference to 1970s glam rock band Sweet?

No real meaning. It was just slightly better than the other possible names we had scribbled down at the time. I don't know Sweet too well. 

Q - The Chicago area has also produced such power pop bands as Cheap Trick and Shoes. Do you consider those bands influences? Who are the band's biggest influences?

Not so much for me, but Lou is pretty into Cheap Trick and Material Issue. He played 2nd guitar in a recent reunion of remaining (R R R....alliteration!) Material Issue members.

Influences are different for each of us, but we come together on the classics, Neil Young and The Stones probably being the biggest ones.

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

Personally, I just want to get more stuff done. More songs written and more records put out. 

Our approach to the band for most of it's history has been pretty casual - an excuse to hang out, drink and play. Which is great, but we don't have a very extensive discography to show for it. 

Looking to change that. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chicago bands team up for clothing drive


While no one would mistake The Bright White frontman Matthew Kayser for being Santa Claus, he is trying to do his part for making this holiday season a little brighter for those who are economically disadvantaged.

For the second year, Kayser is organizing "Warm, Safe and Sound," a concert and clothing drive that will be held Dec. 20 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. The concert will feature Chicago band The Bright White along with several other acts, including Panda Riot, The Second, Panther Style and Adam Ashbach.

The show starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are $8 with the donation of winter gear for the needy, available at

I had the chance to talk to Kayser about the benefit.

Q - This is the second year of the "Warm, Safe and Sound" benefit. How successful was it last year? What made you want to put it together?

I was inspired to do this type of show a few years ago when I lived in New York City. Homelessness and poverty are also rampant there, and their potential risks are made even more obvious during the harsh winter months. 

We'd all love to provide shelter for those who need it, but that's not always possible. We do, however, have other excesses. 

Everyone I know has more than enough clothing, so giving some of it away is a practical solution to the problem. After moving here, I decided to do a Chicago version of Warm, Safe and Sound, and was fortunate enough to find several people who supported the concept. 

Last year's show was very successful. We gathered close to 200 clothing items that helped dozens of our fellow Chicagoans. We hope to do even better this year.

Q - How did the other bands come aboard? Did you handpick them or did they want to get involved anyway? That says a lot about the local music scene that so many bands would want to get involved in this benefit.

Since it's still a new event, this year's bands did not know about it until I approached them. But their response was overwhelming. 

Their enthusiasm and willingness to participate is quite inspiring. It does say a lot about the Chicago scene that I had to turn down several of the bands I originally invited because the response was so positive. 

I had a number of bands in mind who would help make Warm, Safe and Sound an amazing bill, and was lucky to have all of them join the lineup. I could probably put together another show with all the bands that expressed an interest.

Q - I understand this will be the band's last show for a while. What will you guys be doing while the band is taking a break?

The Bright White will be waiting a few months to do our next Chicago show, but we hardly view it as time off. We have shows lined up in Nashville, Indianapolis and throughout the region as part of our plan to build a buzz in the Midwest. 

We think it's wiser to not over saturate our home market here in Chicago, so we are going to perform here every three months or so. In addition to performing regional shows, we'll continue to write and release new music and build our online presence. 

We're genuinely excited about what 2013 has in store for us and the Chicago music scene.

Q - It's been a busy year for the band. Do you think the band accomplished all it wanted to this year?

This year has been very productive for us. We achieved the two biggest goals we had, which were to write, record and release an entirely new EP and introduce ourselves to new markets. 

We released our second EP, "Lose Yourself," a few months ago and performed well-received shows in Nashville, St. Louis, Cleveland, and other cities. 

The goal now is to build on that momentum while playing important and smart shows here in Chicago. Warm, Safe and Sound is definitely the type of meaningful show we want to play in our hometown.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dale Watson carrying on true spirit of country music, will perform this month in Chicago


For those people tired of the syrupy pop that passes for country music these days, Dale Watson is the real deal.

His music channels the heart and spirit of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and others that went before him. Watson, who regularly performs at the Grand Old Opry and is a member of the Austin Music Hall of Fame, will perform Dec. 14 at Martyrs', 3855 Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $15, available at

I had the chance to talk to Watson,,  about his current activities, which include a new album.

Q - I understand your new album, "El Rancho Azul," will come out in January. What  should people expect from the album?

This is the first typical "Dale Watson" Ameripolitan record I've done in 8 years. The distinction is that I used my band and it isn't a themed album like the records I've released of late. This is a honky tonk record for sure.

Q - What inspired you to write "The Daughters Wedding Song?" What did your daughters think of the song?

I wrote the song because I'm always asked a recommendation for the father /daughter dance at weddings. I usually do "Farmers Daughter" by Merle Haggard, but the mom is dead in that song, so I wrote one that says what I, as a dad want a special song to say.

My daughters have not heard it, they're not fans of my type of music, really.

Q - Your  last album, "The Sun Sessions," has received plenty of critical praise. Did the album live up to your expectations? What do you think recording  at Sun Studios added to the record?

It turned out much better than I thought I was capable. Largely due to Matt Ross-Spang, the engineer and that magical room. There is just something about that room and the sound it fostered from day one that makes it ideal to record roots music.

I don't think it would make a metal, hip hop or any other style sound special. It's just the perfect room for the genre it created.

Q - Hank Williams III has called you the "savior of country music." Do you think you are the savior of country music?

Oh heck no. That's kind of Shelton and I love him for it, but quite frankly I believe there is no saving it.

The very term has been successfully changed to refer to the Nashville pop country. I believe what I remember as country music needs go the way of bluegrass music and create year round festivals and venues that will cater to the small audience that supports this type of music.

One person can't do it. It'll take passionate fans and artists with integrity.

Q - You  recently acted for the first time in the musical "The Ghost Brothers of  Darkland County." What got you interested in the project and how was the experience? Do you think you will do any more acting in the future?

I have been trying to hone in on more acting jobs for years now. "Ghost Brothers" was intriguing just from the  people involved - Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T-Bone Burnett.

I originally went for the lead and became the understudy and had a couple of performances, but most of my performances were the smaller role of Zydeco Cowboy. I hope to do more whether its TV, movies or theater.

 Q - You  made a video about Tiger Airways and how the airlines lost your box of  CDs. Do you think you would have been compensated for the loss and  reimbursed for the excess baggage fee if it were not for the video? Did  you feel compelled to make the video?

Oh yes, I never would have gotten compensation without the video. I originally agreed to not release the video if they compensated me , but it leaked out through online newspaper interviews.

I have to show it to those folks to get the interviews and if course once its on the Web, you lose control. It went viral and I was doing the biggest TV and radio shows in Australia and even went out to New York to perform it on the Fox Morning Show.

My advice, get people's names that treat you wrong and put it in song. Very therapeutic.

Q - Who would you say is your biggest musical influence? Do you have any dream collaborations or projects?

My biggest influence has to be evenly Elvis and Johnny Cash, then Hag and Hank.

I always have dream projects. My goal is to meet and record with as many of the great musicians that played on the hits I remember.

That way I can keep learning something about my craft.