Thursday, December 26, 2013

Chicago band Mooner bringing melodic power pop to Schubas Tavern

Chicago band Mooner's Americana-tinged power pop demands attention.

The band,, recently released "Making Americans," a song recorded by Mike Hagler, known for his work with Wilco and Neko Case. Mooner will perform Jan. 4 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

Shiloh and Innkeepers also are on the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $8, available at

I had the chance to Mooner frontman Lee Ketch about the new single. 

Q - Great talking to you. In recording the single "Making Americans," what were your goals and do you think you achieved them? 

My brother David, who used to play guitar in the band, moved to Belgium at the end of this summer and we wanted to document one of his songs "Down on Marston Blues" (the b-side to the single) before he left. We also didn't yet have any recordings with our new keyboardist, Steve, and bassist, Taylor. 

We  recorded, mixed and mastered both the single and the b-side in two days, and it was very intense trying to get a sound we were happy with that quickly. When you're working on a budget, as we always are, you have to be able to make decisions quickly, know exactly what you're going to play, when to cut something that isn't working, etc.

Working under the gun can be good because you you usually get a leaner product in the end.

Q - How did you hook up with Mike Hagler and what do you think he brought to the recording process? 

We found Mike and his studio Kingsize by asking around about quality studios. The live room has 40-foot ceilings of steel and concrete and everything you put in there sounds magical.

Mike makes drums sound huge. He has an amazing selection of vintage amps. He's worked on records for some local heroes like Bobby Conn and Wilco.

It's amazing to watch him work. To me, it looks like he just haphazardly throws mics in front of the amps and drums but then when we go up to listen to the takes and everything sounds perfect.

He also knows what to do to keep the sessions moving.  There's not a lot of sitting around.

If someone has an idea, we're able to try it a few minutes later. He's totally affordable and works super fast.

I can't imagine going anywhere other than Kingsize. I wrote a more detailed report of the session:

Q - It seems like there should be a story behind the band's name. Is there? Do you think the name has garnered interest in the band?

My then girlfriend/now wife and I were driving around Clackamas, Oregon and she suggested it after I said I wanted an "-er" name like Weezer. I wanted a name that was evocative but still abstract enough so that when people think of Mooner they just think of the band.

When you say Weezer you don't think of a guy who wheezes, you think of the band. Same with Wilco, it used to mean farming suppliers, but now everyone knows it as a rock band.

I like how the name is kind of ridiculous but also has a dreamy, weird quality to it.

Q - Who are the band's biggest influences and how do you think they have influenced your music? How do you think Mooner's music has evolved since forming in 2009?

Everyone in the band has diverse musical interests and I think that's really cool. I like Warren Zevon, Wilco, Weezer and death metal. 

Our guitarist John is a Neil Young devotee. Adam is the biggest ELO fan you'll ever meet and likes Hum and 90s guitar bands.

Steve likes Randy Newman, Fiona Apple and a lot of other singer-songwriters. I can only think of a few bands Taylor likes.

I know he turned me on to Kylesa and I'm for that I'm grateful. 

The band has changed membership so many times that it's hard to keep up with how the sound has changed. My brother David leaving the band this year has caused a big shift.

There aren't two songwriters any more. John's guitar playing is very different from David's.

Steve joining on keyboards has expanded our palette quite a bit. Taylor and Adam, who have been playing together for years, are one of the best rhythm sections in Chicago.

I'd say in general we've become a better live band and I've learned to put the songs together with lots of input from the guys as opposed to simply writing all the parts and having the band play them, like I did in the past.  

When I started writing and recording music, it was just me playing all the instruments and recording myself. It's taken some time for me to learn how to write for and trust a band.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see Mooner fitting into it? Does the band have any favorite venues to play? 

Growing up, "Chicago music" was always synonymous with Wilco. They are probably our biggest influence, so I guess we fit that highly subjective, narrow definition of the Chicago scene.

As for venues, I love playing Schubas, where we'll be playing on January 4th.
They have great sound and an amazing history. Cole's is one of my favorite stages. It's one of the few bars in town with a built in audience -- people come whether they've heard of the band or not.

I may be biased, because a drunk dude once came up to me after a show there and said, "You guys sound just like "Summerteeth!" 

We finally got to play the Hideout a few months ago. I've seen some of my favorite artists there, so it felt really cool to be on stage.

They also have excellent sound. We released our last EP at the Empty Bottle around this time last year and that was one of the best shows we've played.   

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

We want to record our first ever LP!  Come to a show and buy a T-shirt so we can afford to, please.

I wrote out a list of goals in a notebook at the start of the year with things like "play WGN Morning Show," but that list has changed many times since then. When opportunities come up, you take them and then re-evaluate afterwards.

When nobody cares who you are, you can do whatever you want!

Friday, December 20, 2013

"One Night Only" bringing new musical every night to Chicago audiences


It's one thing to stage a musical. It's quite another thing to create a new musical every night.

That's exactly what the cast of "One Night Only" is doing. Audiences are treated to a improvised musical each night based on their own suggestions.

"One Night Only" opened on Dec. 17 and will continue through Dec. 28 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.

Showtimes are at 8 p.m., and tickets are $15, available by calling 773-327-5252 or at

I had the chance to talk to "One Night Only" producer and creator Michael Girts about the production.

Q - Great talking to you. How have your openings days gone?

Our first two shows were fantastic! Our audiences gave us some really fun suggestions, and the cast hit it out of the park. 

On Tuesday, they improvised "DON'T KILL THE CAT: THE MUSICAL," which told the story of an army of cats invading a city where everyone is allergic to cats. 

And last night, our suggestion was "RIGHT PLACE, WRONG TIME: THE MUSICAL"  – which told three intersecting love stories. It also featured singing-and-dancing cuckoo clocks. Last night's show was one of my favorite musicals yet.

It makes me sad that we'll never see either of these musicals again... but that's why we call it One Night Only.

Q - Have you been getting good suggestions from the audiences? Will you act upon any suggestion, or are there some topics you won't tackle?

 Yes, I'm constantly thrilled with the great suggestions we get from people. I think people are attracted to One Night Only because they get to participate in creating the musical, so they tend to give us great titles for made up songs they really, really want to see. 

They feel a part of it, so they don't try to mess us up.

We'll tackle pretty much any topic. The only time we tend to decline a suggestion is if we've already had it before. (The cast is tired of doing cat musicals.)

Q - What's the hardest part of doing improvised musicals?

We have a very complex but rewarding structure. At the top of our show, we improvise a sung overture using the song titles the audience gives us.

Then later in the show, we reprise those very same songs. Our actors have to create a brand new song, and then 30 minutes later they have to remember and repeat a song that didn't exist 31 minutes ago.

The actors make it look easy. But it's hard! 

As Tom Hanks once said, "It's supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great."

Q - What made you want to be part of this project?

I'd been studying and creating musical improv with The Second City and other Chicago theaters for years – and loved it – but I'd always wanted to find a way to up the ante.

Then in 2012, I had the opportunity to pitch a show to a Broadway production company called The Araca Group. They produced shows like "Wicked" and "Urinetown." 

I decided I wanted to show them how great an improvised musical can be, so rather than pitching them with a Keynote presentation, I recruited my favorite musical improvisers to make up a spontaneous musical in The Araca Group's conference room.

It worked. They loved it, and they selected us to appear Off Broadway. That's how "One Night Only" was born.

Q - It seems like musical director Mike Descoteaux is the perfect person to be part of the production, having composed 1,000 improvised musicals. What does he bring to the table?

This show wouldn't be possible without Mike Descoteaux. He'll be embarrassed that I'm saying this, but he's the best music director on the planet. 

The way he weaves together memorable melodies, all while recognizing what the show needs thematically and comedically, is truly unparalleled. Chicagoans should come to see this show for Mike D alone... before he returns home to Boston!

Q - How did you go about putting together the cast? What criteria did you use in choosing the cast members?

Honestly, I'm working with my comedy heroes. This was a project ambitious enough and with enough stature to approach all the people I most wanted to work with. 

Our director TJ Shanoff is one of the most accomplished comedy guys in the city. No one I know has his vast knowledge of musical theater history combined with a knack for broad yet smart comedy. 

Watching TJ and Mike D lead these guys in rehearsal is like sitting in a masters class. They make the whole thing go.

To cast "One Night Only," TJ and I knew we needed the right mix of people. People who are not only fearless and funny, but also have the vocal talent and the dramatic sensibility to create spontaneous musical theater. 

Our actors can land a moment just as hard as they can land a joke.

Kate Cohen, Matthew Van Colton, Katie Dufresne, Nicole Hastings, Andrew Knox and Kate McGroarty are the most talented musical improvisers I know. Also, I consider them all dear friends. It was easy to cast them... I'm just relieved they keep saying yes.

Q - You are also part of the cast along with being the producer. Is it hard to do both? Do you desire to be both on the stage and behind the stage?

It's really hard to do both. We grew the cast this run in large part so I didn't have to play every show and could focus a little more on my producer responsibilities.

I love being on stage. I consider myself an actor first. 

But I tell young improvisers all the time: your favorite projects will inevitably be the ones you make happen on your own. My friends and I have shaped "One Night Only" to be exactly the kind of show we wanted to create. 

You have to do some behind-the-scenes work to make that happen.

Q - After "One Night Only" closes, what's next? Do you have any dream projects? 

Here's the thing: "One Night Only" is my dream project. And when we close this run at Stage 773, my hope is we find a way to do it again and again and again.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Chicago radio legend Larry Lujack dies

Larry Lujack passed away Dec. 18 following a battle with esophageal cancer. Rest in Peace, "Uncle Lar." Your voice will always live on.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chicago musician Derek Nelson bringing new band, Martin Van Ruin, to Lincoln Hall


Chicago singer-songwriter Derek Nelson has been garnering acclaim since he first burst onto the scene in 2009. 

Now Nelson,, has a new project that will likely generate a large following - the band Martin Van Ruin, comprised of members of Derek Nelson & The Musicians, Jenny Dragon and Planetsexploder. 

Martin Van Ruin will celebrate the release of its debut album, "Every Man a King," by performing Dec. 20 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. The album was recorded and engineered by Neil Strauch, known for his work with Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Iron and Wine.

The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are available by going to

I had the chance to talk to Nelson about his latest musical project.


Q - Great talking to you. Of course, your new project Martin Van Ruin, will be releasing its debut album, "Every Man a King," on Dec. 20. In putting together the band and CD, what were your goals and do you think you achieved them? What is the meaning behind the project's name?

Our goal was just try to make something that we would really like to listen to, and take whatever direction felt right as a group. The final album turned out be the sound we had in our heads, and Neil (who produced it) had a lot to do with that. 

The name is just a weird historical reference. It's what they called Martin Van Buren when the economy tanked.

Q - Do you have any favorite tracks on the new CD? What songs are you looking forward playing live?

We're looking forward to playing it all. I really want to do the songs that can show off a lot of the layers of the new sound. Songs like "Wilderness" and "Gold and Love and Gin" come to mind.

Of course, you will also be releasing your latest solo EP, "Missouri," on Dec. 20. Is it just a coincidence that you are releasing the two CDs at the same time? Which do you consider your main project?

Nah, it's not really a coincidence. I recorded a lot of the solo songs in the middle of sessions for the MVR album. MVR is the focus, and is something new and very important to me. But I'll never stop writing and recording solo songs.

Q- Do you see Martin Van Ruin and your latest solo album as showing off your different musical sides? How would you compare the two albums lyrically and musically?

I'd say they're completely different. All the MVR songs are written collaboratively with six other people, and were written in a different state of mind altogether. I wrote most of the solo EP in my head when driving back and forth from Missouri, and it keeps that sparse feel. But there are common threads between the two.

Q - I understand that you only played your first gig in 2009. Is it especially gratifying then to be named as the "top band to see at Taste of Chicago?" How would you say your music has evolved since you first started?

The process is a lot more open now. I like writing songs with other people more than by myself.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see your music fitting into it?

 I think the music scene has gotten a lot more helpful to one another in the past couple years, and the barrier to entry is lower, which is a good thing. There are things popping up like the Chicago Songwriter Alliance (by Tom Schraeder, Gabe Liebowitz, Donne Biggins, Ryan Sweeney) where talented people can get up and play good shows without having to worry about draw or name recognition or any of that. 

It's a big step in the right direction, because it'll be about merit and songs instead of all the other stuff that doesn't matter.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Kansas post-punk band Müscle Wörship bringing powerful sound to Chicago

Photo by Nathan Clay Barbarick


Lawrence, Kansas post-punk band Müscle Wörship has garnered the reputation of being that city's loudest band. 

Chicagoans can judge for themselves when the band performs Dec. 15 at Quenchers Saloon, 2401 N. Western Ave., Chicago. Suns, An Aesthetic Anaesthetic and Electric Hawk also are part of the bill.

The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $5, available at www.yourticketstand.

I had the chance to talk to Müscle Wörship frontman Sean Bergman about the upcoming show.

Q - Great talking to you. You guys are coming to Chicago this month. For those who might not have seen the band live, what should they expect?

My pleasure. Definitely, expect a loud show. We're only touring as a three piece though, so don't be scared.

Q - Do you live up to the hype of being the loudest band in Lawrence?

Yes. Lawrence knows no equal.

Q - I know the band in September had the chance to play with Joan of Arc, a Chicago band that has a rich history. What do you get from playing with bands of that caliber?

We all love that band. We would have driven to Wichita just to see them.

Playing was just the icing in the cake. We played with them a couple of years back in Lawrence as well.

They always seem right in their element every time I see them. One of my favorite rhythm sections and Kinsella's lyrics always bring a smile to my face.

It's mostly just nice to see a band continuing on for the right reasons and enjoying themselves in the process.

Q - You are touring in support of your self-titled debut album that you released earlier this year. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you achieved them?

Our goal during those sessions was to capture the live show as close as we could. We had tried a couple of times before that to Pro Tools our way to a record, but it left something to be desired.

We ended up just setting everything up in a room together and tracking live, sans the vocals. There are scars, but we're fine with that. Better to keep the energy than iron the crap out if it.

Q - I am sure you have heard your music described in a variety of ways. How would you describe your music and who are your biggest musical influences?

I like a lot of old SST Records stuff = Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. We're pretty fond of Polvo and Bastro too.

Anything squirrelly, really. As far as new bands go, we're all over the place.

Q - Your drummer also plays in The Appleseed Cast. Does that ever pose conflicts between the two bands or are there more pros than cons?

We've toured together a few times now and it is always a load of fun. To answer your question though, there are way more convicted felons than professionals in The Appleseed Cast.

We're pro all the way.

Q - You guys played at SXSW in 2012. Was it important for the band to play at a high profile festival like that and do you think it widened your fan base?

We went down to support Replay Records, one of our local Lawrence labels. Played nice and early, drank margaritas all night. Saw a lot of friends play.

A good time was had. That's pretty much what happened.

Q - The band's name is unique. How did you go about naming the band?

We were gifted it by a friend from Wichita.

Q - Do you think having a unique band name has helped generate interest in the band?

I think it definitely peaks the interested of a certain minded individuals. Then they Google it and see things that can't be unseen.

Don't forget the umlauts.

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

We aim to finish touring the states on this record. Canada and Europe are in our sights as well.

We start recording a new record when we get back from this tour.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Los Angeles band Stars In Stereo bringing Christmas cheer to Chicago


Los Angeles band Stars In Stereo wants to make Christmas a little brighter for those children in need.

The band,, has teamed up with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program on its national tour supporting Halestorm. The tour on Dec. 15 comes to House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn Ave., Chicago. Also on the bill is Redlight King.

The first five fans who bring an unwrapped toy to the House of Blues at 6 p.m. will receive a pair of tickets to the show along with a copy of Stars in Stereo’s debut self-titled album. A representative for the band wearing a Stars in Stereo shirt will be stationed outside the box office/will call window to collect the toys and give out the tickets that night. 

After the 10 tickets have been claimed, any remaining fans that have brought a toy will receive a copy of the band’s CD. The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are available at 

I had the chance to talk to lead singer Bec Hollcraft and guitarist Jordan McGraw about the tour.

Q - Great talking to you. The Toys For Tots tour kicked off recently. What made you want to be part of this tour? Is it a good fit that you are supporting Halestorm, which is another female-fronted band?

Jordan - Ya this tour is pretty amazing! Who wouldn't want to tour with Halestorm?! We've been out with them before and just love them and their music. 

The Toys For Tots aspect of the tour is actually just something we decided to do on our own when we found out we were touring around the holidays.

Q - You are touring in support of your debut album, which debuted at #12 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. In sitting down to make the record, what were your goals and do you think you achieved them?

Bec - When making this record, all we wanted was to make something we were proud of, songs that we would want to tour the world performing. We are always striving for better but are so happy with how the record has been doing so far.

We achieved making an album we are extremely proud of, still working on the world tour though.

Q - The video for the single "Every Last Thing" has received more than one million hits on YouTube. Why do you think it has connected with people so well? What was your concept for the video?

Jordan - We just hit one million hits on Thanksgiving. We were pumped! 

It's our first million of anything. A few extra shots were had that night that's for sure. 

As far as the connection, our aim was to either gross people out, piss moms off, or hook people right off the bat and I think it worked. The comments are pretty funny everything from, "I missed most of the video because I was cringing at the violence" to "DON'T LET YOUR KIDS WATCH THIS!" to "That was like a movie!"

Pretty fun to see.

Q - Bec, you had signed with the Sony Japan label before becoming a part of Stars In Stereo. You had never been in a band before. What made you want to be part of the band?

Bec - I had a great time working in Japan and loved my label, but I was ready for something new. I always wanted to be in a band, it was just about finding the right people to do that with.  

I feel so lucky we all found each other.

Q - How do you think the music you were making before joining the band compares to the music you are making now?

Bec - I am so much more grown up now, obviously because I'm older but also this band has inspired me to speak from the self that was scared to for so many years. The music is more mature and it's a lot heavier than what I used to do, and I love that.

Q - Jordan, what do you think she brings to the table? Did your styles just naturally fit together?

Jordan - She's the best singer I've ever heard. This band wouldn't be Stars In Stereo without Bec.  

Plus, when we all sat down to write for the first time it felt like we'd been writing together forever. Perfect fit.

Q - Bec, I understand that Meredith Brooks wanted to work with you after hearing a tape that you had made, saying that you had a "powerhouse" voice. What was it like working with her and what advice did she give you?

Bec - She guided me and gave me so much advice that I would have been lost without. She pushed me to be a better artist and I am very grateful.

I was only 13 when we met and she really helped me grow up. She never went easy on me which at the time sucked but those lessons are paying off now.

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

Jordan - We just want to tour, make new music, and keep learning and getting better at what we do. We see more and more people singing along at shows and there's no better feeling. 

We have our first few headlining shows coming up which we can't wait for! Dec 17th at Firebird in St Louis, the 19th at Marquis in Denver, and the 20th at Black Sheep in Colorado Springs.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Energy Commission energizing Chicago music scene


The name of Chicago area band The Energy Commission only hints at the excitement the group creates onstage.

The Energy Commission,, on Feb. 4 will release its debut album, "Consistently Inconsistent."

I had the chance to talk to husband and wife Jay Weinberg and Danielle Cales, who lead the group, about the new album.

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

Jay - The main goal was to give listeners a fraction of the energy of why we make music. It's something that we've been carrying into our live performance over the past couple of years.

It's no small task to make a cohesive "Consistent" representation of our "Inconsistent" approach to songwriting. I took special care in the order of the songs on the album to see that they flow from one another in spite of their diversity.

At the same time we had to make sure the album was visually arresting. The scrambled Rubik's Cube is a symbol. 

We simply paint one side pink and take ownership of leaving it "unsolved." It's all a rich metaphor for those willing to look. 

We challenge convention and that's why we aren't doing a run of CDs. Our only physical representation of the album is a Rubik’s Cube shaped flash drive, the USB protrudes as the pink sides align. 

The imaginations of complete strangers light up just seeing it. Even before they hear our music. 

Inside you find the album and other exclusive content. Being that you can use the drive thereafter for whatever you want, it becomes utilitarian. It is a symbol of renewal.

So our goal for the album is lofty. The aim was to use it as an illustration and invitation into what I am calling our movement: "New Renaissance Pop."

Q - One of the new songs on the album is a cover of "Time Is On My Side." Of course, The Rolling Stones recorded the best known version of the song. In recording "Time Is On My Side," was it important for the band to take the song in a different direction? What do you think about the way it was used by Austria telecom provider A1?

Danielle - I don't think we chose the song per say, it chose us. There are just too many "coincidences" that go way back.

My dad was a gigging musician and a huge Beatles and Stones fan. Growing up, I heard my fair share of classic rock. When either of his bands came on the car radio, expect it to be turned up. I mean three times as loud as any other music. 

When I was about 16, my dad brought home the movie "Fallen." Anyone who’s seen the movie knows how prominently "TIME IS ON YOUR SIDE" features in the story. 

Naturally, my dad loved it and belted right along with it. It’s an experience that stays with me. 

I always correlate the song with my late father and our movie night. He died later that next year. Rest in Peace, Dad. 

Fast forward more than a decade and Jay and I came across an ad agency that said they were looking for unique cover versions of the song for a possible commercial as it somehow slipped into the public domain. We found it it about 3 days before the deadline and had spent the next 24 hours contemplating how we would find the time to actually learn and record it right before the deadline. 

With my schedule at work, I chose to abandon it and it kinda left my mind. But then the night before Jay said, "I really think you should do this! I mean look they’re even suggesting using a ukulele!” 

Anyone who’s remotely familiar with us knows how vital Jay’s Pink Ukulele is to the band. It’s almost like another member with its own character. I still had my doubts. 

Then I woke up super early the next day and with all my gusto decided I might as well try. I found the chords for the ukulele, learned and recorded it all within an hour of having to be at work that afternoon. 

After submitting, we got a response from the agency that it had been passed on to execs but never heard anything back. Then about three months later we got an offer from someone working on an independent film who wanted to use it but nothing materialized. 

We knew it wasn’t a waste though, so we posted it on YouTube because we knew our fans would enjoy it. Now over a year later it was featured in A1’s TV ad and we are reaching people all across Austria. 

I feel in a sense, that "time has always been on my side." Those who know me know I’m not quite the early riser. 

I'm really glad that I decided to get up early that morning.

Jay - Everyone who saw the ad over here that knows us and our style said the ad looked just like something we would do. It follows two boys through life till they are grown. 

Sharing experiences like hospital visits bike rides and marriage showing the time that elapses in a deep friendship. The music video I did for our full cover version takes a little bit of both perspectives. 

It really leans hard on Danielle saying, "Time has always been on her side." It follows early footage from the infancy of our career and ends with us headlining the House of Blues. 

Always using symbols and metaphor. We rarely waste a scene, a brush stroke, or a word. 

Q - Jay, you climbed to the top of a gas station in Valparaiso in 2008 with your guitar and a megaphone to protest rising gas prices. In retrospect, would you do it again? How did that inspire you to start The Energy Commission?

I would indeed do it again. I would have changed a couple things, though. 

In hindsight I wish I wouldn't have posted bail, at least not so soon. I should have stayed in jail longer. I really started learning the value of exposure and being able to be in front of people. 

I had been making music with Tone, Danielle, and Nick for years but all we did was record. The necessity of having a band became instantly apparent.

Then of course the name for the band came from a telephone message we received. "This is Colonel Jacob Scott of the Energy Commission, we are shutting down your operation!"
Q - Does the fact that your wife is in the band make for a more cohesive band? Danielle, what made you want to be part of the band? 

Jay - It's not without it's challenges. There are different dynamics in a relationship between spouses and band members. 

But at the end of the day, I feel like we should all be family so it definitely makes things more cohesive in that sense. I wouldn't be able to do what I do without Danielle. 

Her contributions to both relationships are foundational.

Danielle - I'd been writing my own material for years. Then I started singing along with some of Jay's. 

We both help each other write. Jay helped me record. It was inevitable, two hearts are always better than one. To keep them separate was actually unnatural.
Q - Artist Clinton Worthington paints during your shows, and gives away the paintings to audience members at the end of a show. What does he add to your shows? 

Jay - Well first off we don't always give away the paintings. There are certain ones we have held onto and some are evolving concepts. 

First off, he does so much more behind the scenes that it would be wrong to only assume his contribution is painting on stage. I think that's one thing that's distinct about what we do. 

There are so many ideas that come to fruition in our productions it really takes a small army of passionate creative minds to execute. That being said, I feel his painting points back to the movement. 

We are more than just a band. His presence reminds people we are ARTISTS in every sense of the word. It helps remind people that everything you see from this band is produced by the band. 

I always wanted to clone myself so I could paint on stage. Now Clint fills that gap and takes it to a whole other place. 

At the same time it has me painting and drawing again outside of all of the design work I do for the band. His presence is an automatic suggestion to people who see us that there is something different, something more ambitious about this group.

Q - The audience seems to add a lot to your shows. Is it important for your shows to be interactive?

Jay - Yes to us our "Commissioners" are the show. The communal amplification of exchanging energy live is such a high. 

The magic that happens in unplanned exchanges with our fans is what makes it easy to believe in something bigger than yourself. I remember one gig at a prominent club in Chicago that looked like it was going to be a train wreck. 

We aren’t the most musically brilliant band in the world, but people connect with our honesty and sense of adventure. Our throwing tambourines for them to bang on and such. 

So much of our appeal is in our attitude. When you have issues with the parking attendant, the sound guy, the bartenders, the bouncers, and band members crying two minutes before you go on stage, that can destroy a group that thrives on vibes. 

But as soon as we took the stage and there were three busloads of our loving Commissioners chanting “ENERGY! ENERGY! ENERGY!” They boosted us up on their shoulders. 

It was an instant burst of adrenaline and that wound up being one of our best shows ever. That’s how they got on stage. It was their energy that animated us. 

We gave back to them and they gave more. Like a constant feedback loop. 

That’s why we say our fans are the show. It’s like you become a part of the organism. It’s a living thing playing live. 

Q - What are the band's biggest musical influences and how are they reflected in your music? 

Jay - Our biggest musical influence is the iPod. HA HA! I finally have an appropriate answer to that question for the first time. 

How is it reflected in our music? We take what ever life experience is trying to be expressed and try and write the best single song possible.

We don't worry about all of the other songs on the iPod or the other genres. We just write that song for that time. 

We live in a digital age of single songs being all a person listens to from an artist. One question I always find so disturbing is "What's your absolute best song?"

I can't answer that. I know some of my songs don't come as close as the others do to fully capturing the nuance, but the ones that do are all our "best song."

What's the Beatles' best song? What an absurd question. 

Then you are supposed to not just have one great song and be a one hit wonder. What doublespeak. 

It's all a matter of opinion. Especially when you cover the range of genre that we do.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see the band fitting into it? 

Jay - We have a couple of good friends that play in Chicago and we play with them often but honestly, I can't say that I see or understand the scene. We've played at the top venues in Chicago and I would love to continue to gain traction, but it's a double edged sword with us not having a particular genre we prescribe to. 

So there might be a hardcore, metal, or hip hop scene, we just don't fit snuggly into one of those narrow constraints. I can say that when we play Chicago, we without fail have a number of new people come up to us and tell us how invigorated they are by our performance.  

So I'd say our goal is to trail blaze and hope people are drawn to the fire and find the path.