Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Vancouver band The Belle Game coming to Chicago


Led by the sweeping vocals of Andrea Lo, Vancouver quintet The Belle Game continues to garner critical acclaim for its debut full-length album "Ritual Tradition Habit," released in May on Boompa Records.

The band will likely garner more fans when The Belle Game, www.thebellegame.com, makes its Chicago debut by performing Nov. 1 at Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago. Bear Mountain and Hawaiian Lion also are on the bill.

The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Lo about the band's upcoming appearance.

Q - Great to talk to you. Of course, you will be playing in Chicago for the first time on Nov. 1 at the Empty Bottle. What have you heard about the Chicago music scene and what are your expectations for the show? 

Chicago is a major Midwestern city, so I can only expect that the music scene in the city is diverse, bustling and exciting. It's our first time in the city but the second or third time for our friends Bear Mountain, so we're very excited to meet their fans, and hopefully we'll leave a good impression as well!

Q - This seems like a pretty grueling tour. The band will perform almost every day from now until mid-December. Do you like being on the road that much? How do you prepare for such an intense tour? 

Going on tour can make you feel like you're Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day," except that it involves carrying gear to and from places (hotel, venue, venue, hotel) and spending a lot of time in a van with the same people. 

It can also be an emotional roller coaster. When everyone has been eating Tim Hortons and Starbucks wraps for 10 days straight, nutrition is low and people get moody. 

But if you're lucky, like I am, to be surrounded by your best friends and those who (for the most part), know how to make light of of the dark, then you're in good stead. Not to mention the reward of playing a good show, the goal and the hope keeps the momentum and motivation going strong. 

This is our first "Big Kids Tour" as we've never been out on the road for longer than 13, 14 days, so in a hypochondriac frenzy I went out and bought every blend of liquorice tea, a kettle, a nebulizer, vitamins and as many hippie and ancient druid remedies as I could possibly afford. 

Q - You recently released your debut album, "Ritual Tradition Habit." What were your goals for the album and do you think you achieved them? Is there a meaning behind the album's title? 

The album has acted more as a facilitator for us achieving our goals, with having it out we're finally projecting the image that we want. At the beginning of the year before we released the album, we all sat down and shared our hopes and goals for the band and I'm happy to say that we've checked a good amount off our list in the latter half of this year. 

We're just in the process of completing our first venture into the states, and in November we'll be making our way over to Europe for the very first time, so those are two big check marks off our list.

The title "Ritual Tradition Habit" manifested as a result of us coming to the realization of a common theme that was playing out within our songs. It focuses on those three things exactly, on a personal kind of level. 

We bring these things into our lives whether they are something passed onto us from parents and generations before us, a result of the environment that surrounds us or the behaviors and reactions we have subconsciously learned to take on in order to protect ourselves while going through our lives. 

So, ultimately, the album is about the struggle and apprehension we encounter when we reach the fork in the road of deciding if we keep with what we've come to know and what we've come to be, or if we make the choice to work hard and push past into unfamiliar territory (whether physically, psychologically or spiritually) so that we can be closer to our true potential. 

In short, it's just about growing up and making choices.

Q - The band teamed up again with Kheaven Lewandowski for the video for "River." What concept did you have for the video? What did Kheaven bring to the table in creating the videos for "River" and "Wait Up For You"?

For "River," we handed the concept and creation of the video entirely over to Kheaven. He wanted to explore the meaning of the song through a character in a subculture completely unknown to him and many others whilst creating a feeling that was something people could strongly empathize with.

Kheaven and his team are a very very talented group of people. The shots are always breathtaking and the concept is never simple or shallow. 

We feel lucky to be able to work with such incredible minds.

Q - You have received critical acclaim for your powerful vocals. What made you want to join the band and who are your biggest musical influences? 

I joined the band by a major fluke. There was no set intention of being in a band or even being a musician myself, one event just rolled into another, time passed and before I knew it we had released an album. 

The challenge of confronting my fears, doubts and insecurities on a constant basis is one thing that keeps me along this path. That and my bandmates, I guess they're an important part of the equation as well.

Currently I'm listening to a lot of Mount Kimbie and Tulpa, but the first album that ever made my ears really perk up was Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Fever to Tell."

Q - How do you think the band's sound has evolved and in what musical direction do you see the band going? 

I think we've evolved by learning to cultivate our own style as opposed to trying to replicate what we enjoy listening to.

We recently completed a two-week music residency at the Banff Centre for Arts, which was directed by Kevin Drew. I'm not sure if it was purely the rivers of rose quartz that ran underneath the town, the glacial mountains, or the incredible, expansive and innovative minds we were surrounded by, but something shifted within us. 

What we thought was going to be simply a retreat to write and rehearse turned into the complete reinvention of our attitude towards our creative process. I see us letting go, talking less, and just playing more, allowing the art to flow more naturally instead of trying to control and structure every aspect of it. 

What exactly will come from that I'm not sure, but I guess we'll find out!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Chicago band Diana & the Dishes to celebrate Halloween by playing "Thriller" at Martyrs'


Music fans in Chicago know they can expect the unexpected on Halloween. 

In that vein, Chicago band Diana & the Dishes will perform Michael Jackson's iconic album "Thriller" on Oct. 31 at Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, as part of a Halloween Flashback Party.  

Chicago-based Terrible Spaceship, which will perform "Invaders 1938" and "Zontar, the Thing from Venus," and The Lincoln Squares, which will perform Nirvana’s "Nevermind," also are on the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10, available by going to www.martyrslive.com.

I had the chance to talk to Diana & the Dishes frontwoman Diana Lawrence, www.dianalawrence.com/music/diana-and-the-dishes, about the upcoming show.

Q - Diana & the Dishes will perform "Thriller" at the upcoming show. What made you want to choose that album to perform and what should people expect?

All the members of Diana & the Dishes have played lots of covers in various other projects, but as a full band we haven't ever done a cover show and we've been thinking for some time about finding an opportunity to do one. 

When we connected with Martyrs’ about doing a show on Halloween, we decided that night would be the perfect opportunity, and "Thriller" (aside from being one of the best albums every made) has obvious Halloween connotations, so we decided to go for it. 

Our instrumentation is very different than what you hear on "Thriller" so we won't be making any attempts to sound just like the album but, in putting our own spin on the songs, audiences can still expect those amazingly danceable grooves, lots of humor and as much of the "soul of MJ" as the Spirit of Halloween can send me that night!

Q - The band formed in 2008. What were your goals in forming and do you think you achieved them?

I formed the Dishes to explore my own original songs in full band context with the best and most creative musicians I could find. In the last five years, we've really become a little family, and we have a great time together. 

Every time I bring a new song to the band, they open the song up in a way that I never would have been able to find on my own. I feel so lucky to get to make music with them.


Q - Diana and the Dishes has garnered comparisons to Ben Folds and Fiona Apple. Do you consider those comparisons accurate? Who are your biggest influences?

Yes, both those artists have been huge influences on me personally. As all the members of the band have varied influences, the full band pulls in lots of different genres, from the rock and pop to soul, jazz and even cabaret. 

We like to keep audiences on their toes.

Q - You also have a solo career and are a member of the band Balkano, whose music is in stark contrast to what Diana and the Dishes does. How do you juggle your different projects and do you feel you need each in your life?

I enjoy having lots of different projects in my life, though it's true, it can get hard to juggle them all sometimes. As I move forward, I find myself focusing more on songwriting and original music projects, but part of me feels that if my own music was all that I did, it would be like staring into a mirror all day, and that would just get weird. 

So I definitely value being involved in other people's projects as well as my own.

Q - In addition, you are a music director and this year collaborated with eight Chicago playwrights to present "Next Stop: A New Chicago Musical." How was that experience and do you see yourself doing even more of that in the future?

I work often in the Chicago theatre community, and a excited to continue developing "Next Stop" with the Route 66 Theatre. I'm also excited that other musical theatre writing projects are starting to appear in my life; I definitely hope to keep writing music for theatre in Chicago and elsewhere.

Q - What's new on the horizon for Diana and the Dishes. Is the group working on new music?

We are!  We're starting to collect and develop new songs for a new album, though I can't say yet when it would be released.  

In the meantime, people are welcome to go to www.dianaandthedishes.com to check out our 2010 album, "Take A Picture."

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Linchpin Theatre to bring fresh perspective to Chicago theatre scene


Linchpin Theatre, www.linchpintheatre.com, promises to bring a fresh perspective to the Chicago theatre scene with its inaugural production of  William Shakespeare's seldom performed pay, "King John."

"King John" will run from Oct. 25 to Nov. 11 at Linchpin Theatre's home within Josephinum Academy at 1500 N. Bell Ave., Chicago.  Performances will take place at 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Monday evenings. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased at the door or at www.brownpapertickets.com

Producers and Co-Artistic Directors David Fehr and Kathryn Bartholomew shortly after obtaining their master of fine arts degrees in acting and directing from the University of Missouri - Kansas City, with the intention to continue the theatre production work they began in grad school with their company, One Night Stand.

I had the chance to talk to Bartholomew about their new nonprofit theatre and the upcoming show.

Q - Great to talk to you. What made you want to do "King John" as your inaugural production? What should people expect from the show?
David started talking to me about King John in about 2006/2007, though he’d had it in his head years before then.  He had a passion for the characters and the story and found it echoing through history and time. 

We discussed why it isn’t produced more, really enjoyed picking the script apart, and became excited to mine the gold within and bring it to an audience.

Q - What were your goals in creating Linchpin Theatre? What lessons did you learn through your company One Night Stand?

Our main goal is to bring a great story to an audience, any audience, and to inspire the artist within them. We’d like frequent theatregoers and new theatregoers alike to sit down together at the Josephinum and feel welcome and inspired to invest in the story.

We believe that goal can be reached by respecting the intelligence of the audience. At Linchpin, we create theatre with a core idea, a vein that runs throughout all aspects of the production.

The truth is that every play can be about many things. But choice is the key. 

If all the artists involved in our production agree together on one distinct idea as the touchstone, we can present a clear story that will, in turn, enhance other notes within the play. Freedom within structure.

One Night Stand was a fantastic learning experience for us. We were in grad school in Kansas City when we started, and wanted to know what it meant to produce theatre together on our own.  

We wanted to put into practice the things we had learned, to experiment with the things we didn’t know yet, and to know what it felt like to be completely responsible for our artistic choices as a team.

We learned quickly how difficult being a producer is and how many fires flare up every single day.  We started to enjoy the challenge of balancing the artistic development of the story as designers and actors within a show, and the demands of promoting and nurturing the production from a business perspective.

We have learned lessons, triumphed and failed along the way (and continue the risk), but we enjoy the work, and there is a rush in knowing that you are “all in” for the art you want to create.

Q - What do you think of the theater scene in Chicago and how do you see Linchpin Theatre fitting into that scene?

Chicago theatre is full of creative minds who are producing because they have a passion for it and want to share that. They have something to say. You can’t beat that.

Chicago theatre is for people who don’t mind getting their hands dirty. We are surrounded with artists who are curious and inventive.

There is a dedication here that is unparalleled. That inspires us. 

We hope we can add to that discussion, and that Chicago theatre audiences appreciate what we have to offer. 

Q - What do you think about the cast for "King John?" Are you trying to encourage young actors to get involved that might not have as much theatrical experience as other actors?

It is a large cast - 15 actors in all, including understudies. We have pared-down the characters in the original version of the script a bit for several reasons, one of those being that our stage can’t hold 20 plus actors all on stage at once. 

We always want to encourage young actors. No matter what age, if we see an actor with curiosity, work ethic, passion for the story, and an open mind, we are happy to consider them.

Experience is fantastic, and we certainly think it is a testament to dedication, but there is always more to consider than that alone.

Q - Of course, the both of you are also part of the cast. Was it important for the both of you to be in the inaugural production? Is it hard to juggle being in the cast and producing the show at the same time?

We love acting. We love directing. We love producing. 

We felt that if are going to create this company, we need to put our money where our mouth is. It is definitely a complex process juggling all of these positions at once, no doubt about it.

It requires a lot of planning, patience, and breathing. But we love working as a team and find the effort worth it.

Q - Tell me a little about the educational outreach that Linchpin Theatre plans to do. How would you like Linchpin Theatre to be part of the surrounding community?

We are in the unique position of having support and encouragement from a wonderful school, the Josephinum Academy in Wicker Park, where David teaches. Together, David and The Jo have developed a thriving theatre and fine Arts program from the ground up.

There, young women, some of whom have never stood in front of an audience before, are given the opportunity to do everything from play Prince Hal in a school production of "Henry V" to having discussions and opinions about how to direct “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

The Josephinum values the lessons and skills that theatre can provide and we couldn’t be happier about that. We believe that acting and directing are art forms that can be learned. 

The idea of talent is nice, but craft more so. It is a living process, and the key to owning and developing your own perspective. 

Creating theatre doesn’t have to be obscure. The mystery, curiosity, and wonder of theatre should come from the story and how we invest in it.

We want to share that with students at the Josephinum and throughout the Chicago community through after school programs, summer classes, and private coaching. This is why we focus on productions and educational outreach together: we want to inspire new artists and theatregoers.

Q - What future productions would you like to stage at Linchpin Theatre? What are your goals, both short-term and long-term, for Linchpin Theatre?

Ha! We’ve been dreaming of starting our company in Chicago since we were in grad school together - and that was about eight years ago - so our list of shows to produce is a few pages long now! 

But taking into consideration timeliness, audience, budget, opportunity, and what inspires us most at any given time will really be the key to what we put up next.

Our ongoing goal is to tell the stories we want to tell, entertain and inspire a diverse audience, challenge ourselves as artists, and empower young theatre artists. 

Short-term: We’d like to develop an audience.  Long-term: We’d like to develop a community of people who enjoy and are inspired by the stories Linchpin tells and the way we tell them.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Dumpster Hunter bringing fresh sound to Chicago


To say that Jeff Taylor is busy this month is an understatement.

The New Jersey-born, Brookylyn-based Taylor will be part of Los Angeles Philharmonic's world premiere of Frank Zappa's rock opera "200 Motels" on Oct. 23. He then will bring his band Dumpster Hunter, www.dumpsterhunter.com, on Oct. 27 to Reggies, 2105 S. State St., Chicago, as part of the "Get Off The Couch" music series.

Blow Wind Blow, Blackfoot Gypsies and Sam Wahl also are part of the bill. The show starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are available at www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to Taylor about the upcoming show.

Q - Great talking to you. You seem to have a busy month. Before you come to Chicago, you will be part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's world premiere of Frank Zappa's rock opera "200 Motels." What made you want to be part of the production? Were you a fan of the film?

I couldn't have foreseen my being involved with "200 Motels," or the Zappa family, let alone the LA Philharmonic and their beautiful home at Walt Disney Theater. This whole thing just fell out of the sky and into my grateful lap. 

I've never acted, and didn't have a vast knowledge of Zappa's music. Chris Haynes, the engineer who recorded my high school band's first demo tape, played us a 33 of Frank's record "Apostrophe," when I was 12 years old.

Hearing Frank singing "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow," was at once liberating and confusing as a budding writer. Later on I bought "Weasels Ripped My Flesh," which reaffirmed for me that he was a brilliant writer and a ripping guitar player whose lyrics made me smile a lot.

Q - Of course, you will be playing Larry the Dwarf in the production, the role that Ringo Starr played in the film. Are those big shoes to fill? What are you looking to bring to the role?

It's an honor to inherit the role of Larry The Dwarf from a Beatle. I think they may have asked Ringo to join for this production, so I'm grateful he demurred.

Q - Your band, Dumpster Hunter, will be coming to Chicago a few days after that production. The band's first album, "Frustration In Time Travel," is pretty eclectic. Would you say that the band's music is influenced by Frank Zappa at all? In sitting down to record the album, what were your goals?

When we were recording our first record, life was more predictable. We had constant access to a studio space, lots of time on our hands, and a budget.

The only goal was to finish, master, press, that kind of stuff. My mini dream was to simply finish something at all.

With that first one behind us, our personal lives turned completely on their heads, and no built-in budget to "worry" about, I'm actually feeling very liberated and fired up to finish the next project, which will be released very soon. It's a four song EP which we're making with producer Thomas Bartlett.

Q - There is a lot of eye-popping imagery in the video "Heart Hard." Your spastic moves in the video remind me a lot of David Byrne when he was in The Talking Heads. What were your goals for the video?

The "Heart Hard" video was a lot of fun to make. It was made many moons ago. Kneeon, a great film production team in Brooklyn, are responsible for that clip from start to finish. 

They made everything save the song, from scratch.

Q - What is the story behind the band's name? What kind of experience have you gained in opening for the likes of Trixie Whitley?

The name Dumpster Hunter is the punch line of an unfunny alcohol-fueled inside joke involving a young high school janitor and his academically challenged girlfriend. She’s 19 and struggling to bring up her GPA. 

The two of them enjoy mostly-harmless games of hide and seek on school grounds after her field hockey practices. One particular day, she hides in a school parking lot dumpster and he discovers her in the waste receptacle.

Touring with Trixie opened my mind to new levels of feeling in listening to and playing music. She has a wildly acute sense of meaningfulness and depth of art and writing which you have to experience first hand to truly understand. 

Go see Trixie Whitley live if you have the chance.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Evanston native Ezra Furman celebrating release of new CD with Chicago show


Evanston native Ezra Furman is the kind of musician that keeps the music world and his fans guessing.

On his second solo album, "Day Of the Dog," set for release Oct. 8 on the Bar/None label, Furman storms ahead in raw and raucous fashion, a stark contrast to the folk-pop sound featured on his previous efforts.

Furman, www.ezrafurman.com, will celebrate the release of "Day Of the Dog" by performing Oct. 12 at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., Chicago. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $12, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Furman about the new record.

Q - Great to talk to you. You just had a listening party for the new record in your old house in Chicago where it was recorded. How did the listening party go? What kind of responses did you get? 

It was really fun. A lot of people came. It’s kind of a self-centered thing, to make everyone gather and be quiet and listen to the music you made. 

But it was tremendously satisfying to watch people listen to it and enjoy it. People had some pretty gushing responses. Then again, there was a lot of alcohol consumed. 

Q - You've said that more of the songs on "Day Of the Dog" were cut live than you've done in the past. Do you attribute that to the album's raw sound? In sitting down to make the record, what were your goals and do you think you achieved them?
The main point of this record was to be a manic, raw, up-tempo thing. I wanted to crystallize a certain insane feeling that my favorite rock 'n' roll music has. 

The way to achieve this is to have a great band that plays really well together. In my new band The Boy-Friends, I am blessed with a really great rhythm section. 

The drummer (Sam Durkes) and bass player (Jorgen Jorgensen) played most of the songs together and nailed it on the first take. I had to re-take most of the guitar stuff.  

But the general approach of being a band that can perform all the album’s songs just as well live, that reflects part of the whole point of the record: things happening in real time, barreling irreversibly forward, the teeth and claws coming out, being less careful and more wild.

Q - Bar/None picked up "The Year of No Returning" and now "Day Of the Dog" is being released by Bar/None. How do you see yourself fitting on the label?

They put out good music, we make good music. Perfect fit.
Q - After releasing four albums with the Harpoons, you decided to embark on a solo career. Was it just the right time to start a solo career?
Yeah. The Harpoons taught me most of what I know about music, and I finally knew enough to musical decisions on my own. 

They wanted to do other, greater things with their lives, and I wanted to expand my musical range, and so we have a solo career. I don’t care what people call it, really, I just want to make the best records I can make.
Q - How did you go about forming your latest band, The Boy-Friends? What do you think they bring to the table?
It was complicated, forming this band. Only one of them plays on "The Year of No Returning" - Ben Joseph, on keyboards.

But then I had to go on tour when it came out, and I didn’t actually have a band. Essentially I found the best musicians I knew who weren’t too involved with anything else at the moment, and it turned out they/we play really, really well together. 

They changed everything and made the new album what it is.
Q - Do you see "Day Of the Dog" as being the sequel to "The Year of No Returning?" What direction do you see yourself going on your next album?
It is definitely the sequel, but it’s the kind of sequel that’s the yin to the first one’s yang. It’s the Manic to the last album’s Depression.

It’s the guy from the first record after he has been through disillusionment and despair and the stripping away of all he relies on, and now is ready to fight, with nothing to lose. As for the next album, it’s too soon to say anything concrete, but I am currently thinking of it as being the third entry in this trilogy.
Q - You divide your time between Oakland, Ca. and Chicago. How are the two music scenes different? Do you prefer one over the other? What do you think of Chicago's music scene today compared to when you started out?
I am antisocial. It’s a serious character flaw, but I have trouble paying attention to the music scenes around me.

I do my thing, and I listen to musicians I like no matter where they’re from, and I go to their shows when they come through town. I’m musically placeless and I don’t know anything about scenes, and I’m sure I’m missing out because of it.
Q - How did growing up in Evanston and the Chicago area influence you musically? What advice would you give to an up-and-coming musician?
I consider Chicago the birthplace of rock 'n’ roll, or at least one of its birthplaces, and my love of my hometown probably has something to do with my interest in that 1950s music. But not all that much.

I think the kind of music I like and make has more to do with my neurology than my geography.
First advice to up-and-coming musicians: please quit, please don’t do this professionally, you could be so much more than this.

If that advice is unacceptable to you, then you’re ready for my second piece of advice: do this all the time. Play every possible show and say yes to everything and keep doing it until you want to quit, and then quit, but if you can’t quit then do it even more than before, every free moment that you possibly can.

Never say no to a show, and consider every single moment of music that you create as the moment you are introducing yourself to the world for the first time.