Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chicago musicians in the spotlight at Independent Chicago Songwriter Festival

Photo by Cory Dewald

When she is not helping give Chicago area musicians a voice through Chicago Acoustic Underground,,  Hannah Frank is performing around the area.

Frank will perform at 11 p.m. June 27 as part of the fourth annual Independent Chicago Songwriter Festival sponsored in part by Chicago Acoustic Underground. Other sponsors include Seven Sided Records and Apple Graphics. 

The festival will be from June 26 to June 29 at Jerry's, 1938 W. Division St., Chicago. Tickets are $10, and more information is at 

I had the chance to talk to Frank about the festival and her music.

Q - Great to talk to you. You will be performing at the Independent Chicago Songwriter Festival. What it is like being a part of the festival? Are there other musicians on the bill you are looking forward to seeing? 

It's refreshing to "just" be a performer. I usually book shows. Each day of the four-day festival is curated by a different songwriter, so I'm looking forward to seeing everything given the diverse pockets of activity in the songwriter scene. Specifically, Sue Fink, Julie Jergens, and Natalie Grace Alford.

Q - What do you think separates the Chicago music scene from other music scenes across the country? How do you see yourself fitting into the Chicago music scene? How would you like to see the Chicago music scene improved?
The Chicago music scene is international. I have a friend Tati that is Indonesian and I remember the first time I hung out with her and her Indonesian friend and they were talking about the country's history as a Dutch colony, and the fruit in Indonesia being as big as basketballs. 

I saw Indonesian music in Millennium Park and I began realizing how international of a city Chicago really is. In Pilsen, I can see a guy walking on the sidewalk in full Mariachi garb. It's like living in a National Geographic.
I spent a lot of my early songwriting life on a Midwestern farm playing in silos for the good acoustics, pretending to be Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, or a field hand blues player. The city to me is a melting pot of styles.
I fit in by soaking it all in. As a sound engineer I meet musicians, such as Adam Haus of Chicago Samba, who introduced me to Latin rhythms, and Leon Hoffman, who gave me the chance to look at a cello built in the 1600's. 

The woodwork was so advanced it was amazing. We forget with all this digital technology the power of humans to create with our hands. 

The Chicago music scene is about meeting different people and different types of music you didn't even know existed. There's blues, jazz, metal and indie rock, but also Cuban music in the middle of a beautiful park [Millennium Park Summer Music]. 

Chicago isn’t a stepping stone to SXSW, it’s an international living museum, it’s everyone’s heritage.
Plus, Chicago has the CSO and classical music. No matter where you go there are people that get it and those that don't get it. Why have specific expectations? It's about being open minded.
For musicians that want to learn, I started Chicago Music Clinics, which lists clinics in Chicago for independent musicians to take clinics or local classes. 

Q - You perform as part of a group, trio, duo and solo artist. What do you prefer, or do you need them all in your life?

I prefer any situation that makes me feel like I am creating. The different formats are flexible for gigging; it's a luxury and a blessing. 

I need to be surrounded by innovators, whether they are friends or band mates. More info about other great projects my collaborators do is linked from my Hannah Frank Group website,
Q - In May, you did a tour of Chicago venues called "5 Gigs In 5 Days." Are you used to playing every night? What are some of the obstacles that confront musicians trying to get gigs, especially independent musicians?
I am not used to playing every night, which is why I did the tour. It was very humorous to me, to do a tour all in the city limits. 

For a short time it was interesting to live the life of a consistently gigging musician. I also was running out of my house being like, “Where’s my capo?!”
The same factors that confront independent musicians trying to get gigs, are actually the same factors for a major label artist. What does your music bring to the table? It's the same obstacles that confront people looking for a job. What is the goal, and making sure your gigs match your goal. 
In general, to Chicago's credit, it's not a challenge to get gigs if you're breathing.
50 Cent has an album "Get Rich or Die Trying" and I have yet to see an indie band album titled "Get Gigs or Die Trying", so I think if you really want to play out, you will find a way.
Q - You taught yourself to play guitar. What made you want to become a musician in the first place? Who are your biggest musical influences?
There's a difference between teaching myself guitar and just continuing to strum on it to make sound come out. I did the latter. 

Then, I changed my fingers around and was like, ohm, monkey make tool. I had no idea of what chords I was playing other than the first 3 frets. 

Now, 10 years later, I may sit with my Berklee 1-2-3 book and play sheet music to a metronome, sans teacher, which is actually teaching myself. 
The anti-establishment way of "learning" traces back to when I was in Nashville and I saw this sign on a wall that said, "There are no notes on a dulcimer, you jus play it". 

Yes, the "t" was purposely left out of 'just' to give it country charm. For a long time that's how I approached guitar, there are no notes on it, you jus play it. 
Just to play my life out on an instrument, that's being a musician to me. My biggest musical influences have been Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan box set, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Frank Zappa, Pete Townsend, Mississippi John Hurt. On a local level, I like the band The Walkie-Talkies.

Q - I understand that you decided to take guitar lessons after hearing a big band arrangement of the song "My Sharona." What was it about the arrangement of that song that compelled you to take guitar lessons?
It was the epiphany that music is malleable. Growing up songs seem set in place on the radio  or CD. To see Brian O'Hern remake the song “My Sharona”, and to hear it live, with a 10 or 12 piece big band was like whoa - this music is a language. 

I wanted to take guitar lessons as Mike Allemana, (guitarist in the group), was playing this really cool laid back music during that set. I associated with that as a guitar player, and was like I want to do that. 
I wanted to know what a b minor flat 5 is, and it changed everything. Sheet music became like Morse code. 

As long as I can sit down with it, I can figure it out, and write in it. It takes me awhile, but I at least am aware of that whole other language now.

Q - What are your short-term and long-term goals as a musician? What are your hopes and goals for Chicago Acoustic Underground?

I have three styles: country/blues, introspective and a small handful of pop tunes. I'd like to give each style the royal treatment with an album. Short term goal is to find my capo.

Hopes and goals for Chicago Acoustic Underground are that it keeps doing what it does best, giving a voice to original musicians.The goal is to let people know everything CAU does - the podcast, live show bookings at several clubs and the record label. 

CAU presents 'Singing for Your Supper' at Act One Pub on the first Tuesdays of each month, and is booking the COYOTE festival this fall.  

I encourage people to reach out to CAU on Twitter and Facebook. I would see CAU growing to be a “first stop” for any original musician playing in Chicago, both local and touring.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Stage keeps getting bigger for Chicago band Vintage Blue


Chicago band Vintage Blue has shared the stage with the likes of Fitz and The Tantrums and Sister Hazel. The band will likely gain more fans next month when it plays at Taste of Chicago for the first time.

Vintage Blue,, will perform from 1:20 to 2:20 p.m. July 13 on the Bud Light Stage at the Taste of Chicago in Grant Park. Admission is free.

I had the chance to talk to Vintage Blue's Ben Bassett about the band's current activities.

Q - The band will play next month at Taste of Chicago for the first time. Was playing at Taste of Chicago a goal for the band?

I think the main goal of the band is to always be moving forward. Whether that means playing more prestigious venues, or playing better time slots, or playing with bands who are making a name for themselves, we should always be improving, musically and as a brand/band. 

The Taste of Chicago has always been one of the hallmarks of Chicago, so playing the festival has always been on our radar, but it has undergone so many changes in the past few years, that we never made it a "focus" of our efforts. 

It happened this year that one of the awesome people from the city received our submission and liked our music, and the rest, as they say, is history. We are looking forward to funnel cake and RAWK!

Q - I understand the band is writing songs for a new album. How is that process going? What should people expect from the new album?

Yes! We basically have been writing, working on demos and performing new tunes live since our last record. We learned a lot from recording that first album. 

One of the primary things we want to do with this new record is to make a cohesive piece of art. Our first record spanned a lot of genres, a fact that we love, but something that will sound a little out of place on a 6-7 song EP. 

So we are writing tunes that we think will create a story, or a better representation of where the band currently stands musically. We have focused on making each song as great as possible, molding them into our live performance, and refining them so that we have a slew of great ideas for when we head into the studio at the end of the summer.

Q - Was it hard making the transition from a cover band to a band performing original music? Was it easier being a cover band?

Our original cover band, called Tanglewood, was fun, but also a very different challenge. When people go out to hear a cover band they have very different expectations. 

Some people just want to party, some people want to judge, and you never really know what mood people are in. I can remember one time we learned to do "Livin' on a Prayer" and totally destroyed it for a set at Wise Fools Pub here in Chicago. 

When we finished the song, wailing guitar solo, talk box, all of the parts, we were so stoked and felt like we had killed it and the crowd acted like we weren't even there. I think the biggest difference is that, when you are playing original music, you know that people are coming for you, just for you and your music. 

For cover bands, they are often just the background to a night of partying or drinking and people only come around when they play a song that they recognize.  We all love that people know all of our songs and are into our set from the first note.


Q - You changed your name from Tanglewood at the advice of Rock Ridge Music co-founder Jason Spiewak. What made you want to change the name to Vintage Blue? Do people ever confuse you with being a blues act?

Q - Jason was a pretty awesome guy, who taught us a bunch of things about the music industry, both good and bad. But the single biggest thing he did for us was suggest the name change. 

It was on our first phone call and he suggested we change it within a week. Ryan, the other songwriter in the band, and our buddy Adam Napp and I all went out to Pei Wei for dinner after a conference call with Jason. 

We started brainstorming some ideas, some of which were just awful, but we liked the idea of the word vintage. Even by definition it represents something of enduring quality, and we fancy ourselves a product of the classic rock that we grew up on. 

As we started pairing words with Vintage, we liked the idea of a color, and let's be honest, Vintage Yellow, doesn't sound very cool. We also thought that choosing blue, was a cool way to also pay some homage to the blues history here in Chicago, as well as being a "cool" color.

Q - Vintage Blue has played with the likes of Lifehouse and Fitz and The Tantrums. What did the band learn from those experiences?

For sure, Lifehouse, Fitz & The Tantrums, John Waite, Sister Hazel, Vertical Horizon, 10,000 Maniacs, Cowboy Mouth ... we have been pretty fortunate to have played with such accomplished musicians over the past two years. 

I think that each band has taught us a little something different about our music, or our performance, or about being professionals. Perhaps the single biggest influence has been Sister Hazel. 

We have played five shows with them now, including four sold out nights at the House of Blues Chicago. The guys in that band have spent 20 years perfecting their craft and they have been very great to us. 

It was the first night with them, when all the "Hazlenuts" (their most loyal fans) were coming up to us after the show and asking for CDs and autographs, that we became distinctly aware that we were doing something cool, and that we could hold our own on a stage with a band that has been that successful. 

It was a turning point for us, and one that has made us continue to focus on ways to grow and develop into true performing musicians.

Q - The band also has performed in Costa Rica. How was that experience? Do you find it hard to win over an audience that might not know a lot about the band?

Costa Rica was an absolutely amazing experience. We were booked for a private event down there and were treated like kings.

It was a very surreal experience, but we did have a couple friends down there that had built the band up. Our performance down there was just outside of a rain-forest/swampy area in Guanacaste and we rocked a set overlooking a beautiful vista where it was hard to not feel amazing. 

We loved every second of the night and even had the kitchen and wait staff asking for our information. The hardest part was that we had no idea how to say "Vintage" in Spanish. Lost in translation I guess; ha ha.   

Q - How do you see Vintage Blue fitting into the Chicago music scene? What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

Part of becoming an original band is learning your music scene. It is important to find other like-minded bands that are willing to work hard to put on excellent shows at great venues. 

We have been fortunate to make some good friends in the scene, that even though our music does not necessarily match, we work together to network and bring opportunities to each other when they come up. I think that Vintage Blue absolutely has a great home here in Chicago. 

We have a very loyal and dedicated group of fans and friends that support us and we are finding that people are really responsive to our music, as evidenced by that excellent mix of music festivals we have added for this summer.  

As for goals, our short-term goal is to create a killer record this summer. Long-term goals include a national late-night TV performance next year, Lollapalooza, and touring with a current national level act. 

Watch for all of it next year!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Nashville band Escondido bringing haunting "desert rock" sound to Chicago


Nashville band Escondido's "desert rock" sound has earned critical praise, including from director David Lynch.

Escondido,, comprised of Tyler James and Jessica Maros, will likely garner more fans when the band performs on June 15 as part of the Taste of Randolph Street festival. The band will play from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m. on the East Stage, and more information is available at

I had the chance to talk to the band about its current activities.

Q - Great to talk to you. You have a pretty busy touring schedule this summer. Does it ever get hard being on stage every night? How do you think the songs from "The Ghost of Escondido" are translating live?

Jess - Thanks for having us! One of the hardest parts is the driving. It gets tough day after day when we haven't slept much and it's just us in my VW Wagon. Other than that, I could do this forever.

I love altering a show last minute and gauging the audience. Every night is a different night.

Tyler - We're touring as a three-piece right now, so it's been a fun challenge rearranging the songs to fit this set up. I'm not used to taking guitar solos so it's a blast to try and rip some licks.

But we're a rock band at heart and we hope to start bringing our guys out with us soon. That's when it's really magic.

Q - How was it performing on "Conan?" Do you think that appearance, along with your cameo on the show "Nashville," have garnered you new fans? Do you view such outlets as just another way to get your music out to more people?

Jess - Conan was the first outlet that gave us a chance to show what we do best. They really took the risk to have us on their show and I’m really grateful for it.

I’m not sure if we gained a ton of fans but I like how people are discovering us organically.

Tyler - "Conan" was a career highlight for sure but we're grateful for any opportunity to get our music out there.  

Whether it's Nashville, radio stops, in-stores, or just playing at a coffee shop, every little thing helps.  Sure there's some glamorous stuff here and there, but for the most part it's the hard work in between that makes the difference.

Q - Director David Lynch took to Twitter to proclaim his love for your song "Black Roses." How did you react to that? Are your humbled to have his adoration?

Tyler -  I'm a huge David Lynch fan so obviously it meant a lot.  I once recorded a song based solely on the bass tone from the "Twin Peaks" theme.

Jess - The morning he posted that our phones went crazy. Ironically, he was one of the inspirations for  the "Black Roses" video we did with director Erik Lang so its funny how the world works sometimes. 

Obviously I’m honored, it’s a real treat when you see people that inspire you take notice.

Q - Escondido has been described as “If Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name stepped into a vintage El Camino and turned on the radio, Escondido would come blaring out of the speakers." Do you think that's an accurate description? How would you describe your music?

Tyler -  Ha ha.. that's a great description that we hope to live up to. Our record does have a desert flare, but it's rooted in the classics. The song is king and comes before anything else.

Jess -  I love Clint Eastwood and old westerns, but our music definitely goes beyond that influence.  We just say "desert rock" because it's easy.

Q - In sitting down to make "The Ghost of Escondido," what were your goals and do you think you achieved them?

Jess - My individual goal was to write songs that I could sing every night and never get sick of them. To write a song that is 100% true to who I am. Escondido is a magnified version of that. 

As a band? To capture a true and genuine moment on tape. I’m pretty happy with the outcome.

Tyler - I agree with Jess... just being true to ourselves, make something genuine. I also wanted to stand on my own as a producer and make something I'd take seriously if I was just a listener.

Q - The album was recorded in one day, which seems incredibly fast. Did the process go better than expected?

Tyler - We did a lot of pre-production and had the right musicians in the room, so I knew we could do it.  The time constraint was just another tool we used to get the sound of the record. 

It's exciting when everyone knows that each note and beat played will most likely be on the record. I was half expecting to rent some more studio time so it felt good to walk out with the record in hand.

Jess - It went way better than expected.  I think once we started we knew we could pull it off.

Q - Jessica, you found success as a clothing designer. What made you want to make music again? Will you be trying to balance both in your life?

Jess - As a clothing designer, I felt like a little secluded in being artistic. With music I get to enjoy the instant rewards. 

Making someone sing along to a song, seeing the instant response. With fashion, someone buys a garment and instantly replaces it. 

I feel a little more in my element with music. I don’t have to be backstage anymore. I’m trying to balance it, it's been really hard. 

I only sew for the band now. I make necklaces for our merchandise table and sew mine and Tyler's outfits.

Q - Tyler, you've been in the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and made music as a solo artist. How did those experiences shape you as a musician? How do you view your musical chemistry with Jessica?

Tyler - I spent all of my 20s just learning how to tour, how to write songs and produce records.  I didn't used to work as hard as I do now and it's taken a lot of trial and error.  

My time with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes opened my eyes to the joys of collaboration. I wouldn't have been looking for teammates if I didn't have that experience. 

 Jess and I balance each other well. She's got something special and I love making music with her.  She writes simple music and I lean complex, so our recordings are a mixture of both.

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

Jess - In the short term we'd like to continue to put on the best show we can every night and start bringing our whole band out with us. In the long term we'd like to make our next record and just continue to tour. I love it.

Tyler - To add to that, I just want to make the best music I've ever made. Brian Wilson made Pet Sounds in his 20s.

There's no excuses anymore.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Chicago musician Kate Quinby releases debut album, will play June 7 at Subterranean

Photo by Wallo Villacorta

For her debut album, "Tribute to Water," Chicago-based world folk musician Kate Quinby was inspired by something that connects us all - water.

Quinby,, and her five-piece band will perform June 7 at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., Chicago, as part of a CD release party for "Tribute to Water." They will incorporate live painting by Ecuadorian artist Noy Balda into their set.

Dramatis Personae along with Ode and Antony & the Tramps also are on the bill. Tickets are $10, available at

I had the chance to talk to Quinby about the album and her other activities.

Q - Great to talk to you. Your debut album is called "Tribute to Water." No matter where one lives, we are all dependent on water. Is that one of the main themes of the album? What inspired you to make the album?
The theme "Tribute to Water" found me over the course of the years. I’ve traveled to different places sometimes by choice, sometimes not, fleeing from New Orleans floods, flying over oceans, watching people drink water from faucets and from dirty defunct wells in the third world. 

After all this and more, water seemed to deserve a tribute, an homage, for the ways in which she sustains us. Funny enough, the phrase "tribute to water" never appears in the lyrics but encapsulates a running theme of human interdependency that appears song to song.  

The album is comprised of a selection of songs I've written over the past five or so years. They seem to be unified by the duality of inner and outer exploration. 

The former is my introspective and personal side.  The latter refers to the ways in which travel and exploration in turn shape our identity and place in this world.

Q - What made you want to sing the album in three languages? How did you hook up with the musicians on the album, such as Camilo Carabajal?

I didn't necessarily plan to sing in three languages, but, well, English being my first language I guess it makes sense that I'd sing for the most part in English :) The tune "Sin Parpadear" which means "Without Blinking" is the full first song I ever wrote and composed in Spanish, the only other language I speak fluently. 

This song is a tribute to the lights of Buenos Aires. It conjures up that sentiment when you leave a place and are desperately hoping that the memories won't slowly fade like blinking lights. 

Lastly, the song "Tribute to Water" incorporates a few words in Acholi, a tribal language in northern Uganda. The chorus repeats "rubanga" a word for God pre-colonization and "mego" which means mother.   

As for collaborating with musicians on this album, I couldn't be more thrilled with the level of commitment, talent, and generosity I experienced from literally everyone who played/sang on the album. Many of them are close friends and people who came highly recommended in Chicago. 

The album does feature two guest artists from outside Chicago. One is my old friend Michael Girardot, who emailed his trumpet part from New Orleans.  The other is Camilo Carabajal. 

In 2007, while living in Buenos Aires, I frequented this place called La Catedral, a warehouse with the most provocative, clandestine feel. People would gather to dance the tango, laugh by candlelight, and listen to live traditional folklore music. 

I was asked to open for Camilo's band at the time, which I did. Unbelievably, five years later when I started the album I thought, "I wonder if Camilo would remember me and be willing to play Bombo Leguero on a song?" 

It's proof that asking never hurts. He said yes to both questions and ended up emailing me his part from Argentina! 

I highly recommend anyone reading check out his band "Tremor" based out of Buenos Aires. They are part of an evolving world trend of mixing electronica and traditional music/folklore, not something to be missed!

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

Since the age of about 14, I have been writing songs, singing in choirs, singing back up in bands, writing lyrics/melodies/harmonies for other people's studio projects, everything from folk to hip hop. Finally, the time came for me to refocus on my own music and draw from my collection of almost 20 songs to create a mosaic of an album. 

Many of the songs on the album differ in style and sound. I think this has allowed me to explore my vocal abilities and my sensibilities with regards to where I fit in the categories and genres of modern music. 

Without consciously doing so, the album integrates jazz, folk, Argentine folklore, and soul. From here, I hope to continue to find my musical niche while constantly reinventing my sound.

Q - I understand that 50 percent of all album sales will go to the Dwon Madiki Partnership, an organization in Uganda that you co-founded. How will the money be used? What made you want to start the group?

I knew since the beginning that I'd want to give a portion of the album sales to the Dwon Madiki Partnership (DMP).  In about 2006 at Loyola Chicago, a group of us in conjunction with Caroline Akweyo, an immigrant from Uganda, co-founded DMP. 

The organization is governed and coordinated by locals in Uganda and funded mostly by benefits organized by college students at Loyola Chicago. The program sponsors the education of 17 children who have been orphaned by the conflict in northern Uganda. 

We have also put an emphasis on art exchange by exhibiting their drawings/poems in various locations throughout Chicago.

Because DMP is such a small community based organization with very little overhead, the funds go directly to the children's school fees, uniforms, school supplies, as well as the salary of our one staff member on the ground in Gulu, Uganda.

For anyone interested, you can get more of the back story on the website,

Q - Do you see yourself always using your music to further a social cause? Do you think more musicians need to do that?

I definitely expect to always be grappling with how to best integrate my music and my work in social and political justice. It's not a clear cut path. I'm only just beginning to discover how to best spread awareness in the least 'preachy' way possible.  

It's hard to stomach the countless ways in which people's rights, especially those of children and the most vulnerable, are violated on a regular basis. What's even harder to begin to see clearly is the unique role that the United States has played in perpetuating these economic, political and militaristic systems of violence worldwide.

I do think many people are beginning to recognize the power of music in building awareness and funding social initiatives around the glove. I have definitely been inspired by musicians who fearlessly did/do integrate social awareness into their music careers, like Joan Baez from the '70s and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. 

In the words of Joan Baez, "If people have to put labels on me, I'd prefer the first label to be human being, the second label to be pacifist, the third to be folk singer."

Q - What would you like those who come out to the June 7 show to come away with?

Above all, I hope people smile, dance, have a good time, and leave inspired to make art in new ways and to widen their horizons. We plan to bring performers and art forms to Subterranean that you'd never expect to find there. 

It will be a thriller of a night and we hope you can all make it! 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Chicago band The Heard bringing the funk to Taste of Randolph festival


While much has been said about Chicago being the blues capital of the world, The Heard represents the its funky side.

The six-piece instrumental band has built up a following in the city, in part through its weekly residency at aliveOne in Chicago. The Heard,, is bound to pick up some new fans through its appearance at the Taste of Randolph Street festival.

The Heard will perform from 7:45 to 8:45 p.m. June 14 at the festival's East Stage. More information is available at

I had the chance to talk to guitarist Taras Horalewskyj about the band and its current activities.

Q - Great talking to you. I see you guys recently were in New Orleans. Judging by the videos, it looks like the band had a good time. How was that experience? Would you say that New Orleans and its music has had a big influence on The Heard's music?

We had an incredible experience in New Orleans! We learned so much being down there in that hotbed of incredible music and people - I have a feeling that it will be a yearly trip for the band from now on.  

Aside from catching so many great shows, we had a blast playing five times in the week we were there. The music of New Orleans is a huge source of inspiration, and it definitely has a great influence on The Heard, especially the older legends like The Meters, Dr. John, and Allen Toussaint. 

We try to add some of the elements of their feel and sound into our modern style of funk.

Q - Speaking of New Orleans, The Heard has backed former Galactic vocalist Theryl "Houseman" DeClouet. How is it working with artists of such caliber and what did you learn from the experience?

Playing with Houseman was an honor; it was great. We couldn't believe that we had those opportunities to back him up. 

It was a huge learning experience playing with him and even just hanging out and talking about music. We learned to listen more as we played, not to just to Houseman leading things as the singer, but to each other at the same time. 

It was also a lesson in the virtue of maintaining a degree of looseness in order to achieve certain feels. We really had a blast working with him.

Q - What made the band want to form in the first place? Did you find that the members clicked from the very beginning?

I wanted to form a funk band right out of college after I had gotten into and been inspired by a lot of the newer funk that was coming around. I started The Heard with Mike, who I have been good friends with and played music with for about 12 years now. 

Having made music together for so long and knowing each other's playing so well, we already knew we clicked and were able to pick up momentum pretty easily. We didn't have a more fleshed out and complete line up as a band until about a year in - we met great players who eventually became crucial band mates through word of mouth. 

Our aliveOne residency really helped out in this respect.

Q - Who are the band's musical inspirations and how have they inspired the band?

We have a ton of musical inspirations ranging from the old cats like The Meters, The Ohio Players, Sly and the Family Stone, Roy Ayers, Earth Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, etc., to some of the "newer" acts like the New Mastersounds, Lettuce, and Karl Denson. 

We strive to approach this music the way the greats do - we learn from them, and from the way we blend all these sounds together and throw our own personalities into the mix is how we try to create our own flavor and style. 

We appreciate and pay close attention to studying the different take on pocket and groove that all these musicians have - this is something we put work into all the time.

With there being many funk and groove oriented bands in Chicago currently, we would like to think that the attention and care we put into striving to develop genuine and authentic pocket sensibilities helps us stand out. Back to the question of inspiration though, when it comes to our heroes, it's having the maturity and taste to get out of the way when needed and to serve the music as much as possible that inspires us the most.

Q - You guys are regulars at aliveOne Chicago. What do you like about the venue?

We love aliveOne, it's our favorite bar in Chicago! This is one of the only bars that has weekly music with no cover. The atmosphere is phenomenal, such a great vibe. 

The staff is great. The place is all about music, and you don't have to spend a lot of money there to have a fun night. There is free FUNK. What more could you ask for?

Q - How do you see The Heard fitting into the Chicago music scene? How would you rate the funk scene in Chicago?

When I first wanted to start The Heard I wasn't really worrying about fitting in the Chicago funk scene, I just wanted to start a tight band that people could dance too. 

Now I see us fitting in very well having a weekly residency and getting fun opportunities to open up for some larger national acts that come through Chicago. When the band first started there either wasn't a whole lot going on in terms of a funk scene, or we just weren't aware of what was going on. 

Now, a few years later, it seems like funk is on the rise and there is definitely more of a scene. We are friends with a lot of great musicians that perform music on the funk/soul spectrum - there is a tremendous amount of inspiring talent in this city - but by design, the vision for The Heard has been to lean quite heavily towards funk and a super deep pocket, and I think we occupy our own niche because of that.

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

Short term we hope to get into the studio and record this summer. We look forward to keeping the aliveOne residency going strong and to continuing to improve as a band as a result of it. 

Long term, take The Heard on the road when ready and spread our Chicago funk far and wide.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

"New face of the blues" Joanne Shaw Taylor coming to Chicago with Bart Walker as part of Ruf Records Blues Caravan tour


She has been called the "new face of the blues."

British blues musician Joanne Shaw Taylor,, will perform June 13 at Hard Rock Cafe, 63 W. Ontario, Chicago, as part of the Ruf Records Blues Caravan 2013 featuring Taylor and Bart Walker. Jimmy Bowskill had to pull out of the tour because of family illness.

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

I had the chance to talk to Taylor about her career and the current tour.

Q - Great to talk to you. You will be in Chicago as part of the Blues Caravan tour. What's it like being on a tour like this? Is it more fun to play with other musicians on a tour like this or to perform on your own?

It's a wonderful experience. I rarely get the opportunity to collaborate with other artists, so it's very refreshing for me. Bart is a wonderful talent and i think our styles work very well together.

Q - Last year, you played lead guitar for Annie Lennox at the Diamond Jubilee Concert for Queen Elizabeth II. How was that experience and do you view that as the highlight of your career to date?

It was an incredible experience and more than anything a wonderful highlight of my life more than career. How many people get to say they attended a historical event such as that let alone perform at it? Plus working with Annie was a dream come true.

Q - Considering that Lennox is best known for being a member of The Eurythmics and that her former bandmate, Dave Stewart, was the one who listened to your demo tape when you were 16, was playing with Lennox a case of life coming full circle? 

Yeah, I like to think so. It's funny in a way, because although my time working with Dave was an experience that certainly shaped my style, writing ability, etc., the label went bust before I could release an album. 

So 10 years later, once I'd established myself and had my career on track to have the opportunity to work with Annie and someone associated with Dave at a time in my career when it was hugely beneficial was a funny turn of events for sure.

Q - I understand that when Stewart first heard you, he said, "She made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end." How did you react when you heard that comment? Did you give you further proof that you were supposed to be a musician?

I think at the time I thought 'he's mad' :-) Personally speaking, I've always felt very blessed to have received such support from Dave and to have such a great deal of his respect so at the time, I was probably shocked he thought of me so highly.

Q - Jim Gaines produced your first album, "White Sugar." Gaines has worked with a variety of musicians, including the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, who I understand is one of your inspirations. Did you feel an instant connection with him?

Yes, it was easy to work with Jim.  Dave Stewart had actually put me in touch with Jim when I was 17. We had a long phone conversation while I was at Dave's house about working together. 

Ten years later, I finally got the opportunity and we both remembered that chat 10 years earlier and thought it funny it took us so long to get around to making an album!

Q - You released your third album, "Almost Always Never," last year. What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them?

I just wanted it to be a progression. I always want to do something a little different. It makes no sense to me to make the same album twice. 

I think the songs were a lot more diverse on this album and I was really pleased that I managed to achieve that and that it still sounded like a continuation of the previous two albums.

Q - You now live in Detroit, which like Chicago, has a strong musical history. What
made you want to move to Detroit and how has it impacted your music?

My first U.S. band was from Detroit, so it was an obvious base for me as we started touring over here more and it became apparent it would be beneficial to move to the U.S. 

I think it's widened my music tastes. Musically speaking, Detroit is a very diverse town. It obviously has got the Motown/rock history, but there's a strong country/rap/blues scene here too.

Q - What was the music scene like growing up in Birmingham, England? What made you want to pick up the guitar in the first place?

My dad and brother. I was surrounded by guitars from a young age. 

Much to my mother's dismay, the allure of my dad's Fender and Vox AC30 won me over more than the ballet shoes and barbies.

Q - Do you feel added pressure as a female guitarist to prove yourself in a field that is still dominated by men? Are there other female guitarists out there that you admire, blues or otherwise?

I think the main thing I'll never understand is people's need sometimes to compare me to other female players rather than male players who I'm more similar to just because we're the same sex and have completely different styles. 

Someone the other day was comparing me to Ani DiFranco. That's like comparing B.B. King to Steve Vai.

There are a few I know of, Laura Chavez from the West Coast is a wonderful player and a good friend. Debbie Davies too.

Q - "Blues Matters" magazine called you the "new face of the blues." Do you consider yourself the new face of the blues? Do you see yourself helping the blues gain a bigger audience?

Ha, it was a lovely compliment but I'm not sure I'm in a position to confirm or deny myself the new face of the blues.

I think anyone out there playing Blues or promoting their blues influences must be helping introduce new listeners and help maintain the genre. Hopefully, I'm doing that in some small way.