Monday, January 27, 2014

Chicago band Zookeeper generating buzz


Even though Chicago band Zookeeper only formed last autumn, it is quickly garnering a loud buzz.

The band, comprised of Rick Schlude, Matt Kaufman, Ido Moskovich and Zane Muller, will be working with noted producer and engineer Neil Strauch on its debut EP, who has worked with the likes of Iron and Wine and Andrew Bird.

Zookeeper will perform Jan. 29 at The Burlington, 3425 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago. Mtvghosts, Fat Hot and Jollys also are on the bill.

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

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

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, the band will be playing this month at The Burlington. Have you played there before? Do you have any favorite venues to play? 

This will be our first show at the Burlington, and actually only our fifth as a band - we've only been playing together since late autumn. I'm not sure we have a favorite, we’ve never played anywhere more than once.

We had a recent show at Hostel Earphoria that was a blast.
Q - I'm sure you have heard your music described in many ways. How would you describe your music and who are your biggest influences?

When we first got together and talked about our influences, we looked at the list and realized about 70% of the bands we came up with had animal names - your typical late-2000s laundry list of prominent indie rock bands, Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Deerhunter, etc. That’s where we originally came up with the name Zookeeper - sort of a joke that we only listen to bands with animal names. 

However, once we’ve started putting together our own songs, I’d have a hard time pinning down our sound - it definitely falls within indie rock, alternative pop, whatever you’d call it. We do a lot with loud guitar textures, driving/tribal drums and bass and lots of harmonies.

Our focus is less in adhering to a specific aesthetic than trying to write really well-constructed, catchy songs, with lots of hooks and vocal melodies. I’m inspired a lot by Ariel Pink, and his approach of crafting these incredible, perfect pop songs and then defacing them with his pervy idiosyncrasies.

It’s like he paints these masterpieces and then scribbles graffiti penises on them. We’re not such purists to indulge in every creative spasm that comes out of the process, but we do try to write songs that hit that pop music sweet spot and do it in our own way. 

So maybe we’re just a pop band that plays guitars?  We hear a wild variety of descriptions and comparisons, everything from the Talking Heads to a skinny white boy version of TV on the Radio to a "noise rock version of The Beach Boys."

Q - How did the band come together? Is there a story behind the band's name? Is it because the band shares a similar sound with bands like Deerhunter and Animal Collective? 

Rick and Ido and I have known each other since high school - Rick and I played in a band together then, and did some shows with Ido’s band as well. We all went our separate ways for college, but we all ended up back in Chicago after graduating for various professional reasons.  

A while after moving back, kind of getting settled into the realities of 9-5 (or longer) jobs, we realized that this was something we wanted to do. After a few drunken late-night acoustic jam sessions, we decided it was time to get serious.

We put up a Craigslist ad to find a drummer, and received I think four replies. We held sort of informal tryouts, and Matt was the last guy we heard.  

About 30 seconds into the first song, I looked over and I see Rick is laughing at me, cause I have this big ridiculous grin on my face that basically says “this is the guy." 

I think all of us at a younger age sort of reluctantly accepted that pursuing music full time wouldn’t have been practical or socially acceptable or met with enthusiasm from our families. So we played our cards more conservatively, got degrees and jobs, and in the process came around to the fact that, you know, you have your whole life to earn money.  
Q - The band released a few demo songs last year. Can we expect the band to release an album anytime soon? What would the goals be for the album? 

We're in the process of putting together our debut EP, which we've decided to call "Tall Men with Feelings." The name’s taken from the title of an episode of “Orange is the New Black”, this Netflix show, and it was actually proposed to us by some friends as a possible name for the band. 

It’s a bit self-mocking, but I think the tone of it fits what we’re trying to do and kind of speaks to some of the natural insecurity you feel when you explain to your acquaintances and co-workers for the first time that “Yes, I’m in a band, I sing up on stage, etc."
We’re really excited to be working with Neil Strauch on this record - he’s produced bands that we really look up to, like Iron and Wine and Andrew Bird. He just finished up the new Owls record.  

We’re launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the album in the next few weeks, and we’re aiming for a late spring/early summer release.
I think our goal for this EP is to realize our songs to the fullest potential, to sort of create a document of our earliest stage as a band, and hopefully expand our audience. And land a record deal, an international tour and go viral and all of that, of course.
Q - The music business is constantly changing. Do you think it is easier or harder for a band to make music these days?

I think it depends on how you look at it. The barriers of entry to playing in a band, in terms of the cost of doing something like creating an album, promoting it, etc., have obviously been demolished within the past 10-15 years with the rise of social media and home recording.

But as a result there’s so much more competition, so many bands that want to be heard, that it’s harder, once you’ve crossed that barrier, to get noticed and to get people to hear you.  
But I do think that it’s sort of ridiculous when people talk about the supposed injustices that artists today face in terms of how much they are compensated for their work. The expectation that an album “should” cost $10-$15 is based on a really strangled, unnatural model, where you have a small handful of winners who are in a position to leverage a cartel-like media-industry complex. 

It was in place for about five decades. People so often mistake what they are used to with what’s right, and the music economy is no different.  
I don’t think artists should charge anything for a digital file - it costs them literally nothing to reproduce, and there is an ocean of great artists who will never get heard anyway. Basic supply/demand. 

I personally refuse to pay for downloads. Vinyls, sure. Concert tickets, absolutely.  Mp3s? Nah.  

I’ll find a torrent if I want to check it out, and if I like it I’ll pay to see you when you swing through Chicago.  
Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think the band fits into it?
Honestly, there’s no other city in which I’d rather be based.  I think Chicago brings the best of both worlds - you have a huge market with sophisticated music fans and tons of great venues and opportunities to play, but without the piranha ethos of N.Y. or L.A.

Other bands will listen to your set and talk to you after the show - it feels much more collaborative than competitive.

At least in our neck of the woods there’s a strong strain of punk/garage rock centered on the house show scene that I find really appealing as well. We’re not a punk band, and it wouldn’t make sense for us to try to be, but I think that our sound probably comes off louder and garage-ier live than on record. 

It’s just really refreshing to play to a basement full of people who have never heard of you before and have no reason to be interested other than that they’d rather see live music than shout at each other in a bar with three dozen TVs.

Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?
Short term, we really want to play some more DIY shows in the area and get to know some other local bands. The audience you get is always changing and the enthusiasm and feedback you get is awesome, and it’s the best way we’ve found so far to get our music to people who wouldn’t have heard us otherwise.

Long term, the plan is to conquer the world, define the sound of a generation, and transform the very idea of pop music. Still thinking about the medium term.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chicago musician Kory Quinn bringing honest songwriting to scene


Americana artist Kory Quinn continues to receive critical acclaim for his fresh, honest approach to songwriting.

Quinn, who is calling Chicago home these days, will perform Feb. 8 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago, as part of the Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Fest,

The Lawrence Peters Outfit is also on the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are available at

The show will also be a part of the vinyl release party for Quinn's latest album, "At the End of the Bar." I had the chance to talk to Quinn about the upcoming show.

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, you will be playing at The Hideout next month as part of the vinyl release party for your latest album, "At the End of the Bar." Do you think your music is well suited for vinyl? Why do you think vinyl has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years?

Thanks. I’m truly excited about this show. Finally after years of talking about it and trying to make it happen, Lawrence Peters and I will share a stage!

I’ve been a big fan of his since I supplanted myself in The Hideout scene a handful of years back. On to your questions…my brand of Americana was conceived in the crevices of ol` dusty saloons and then born into this world on vinyl. 

It only felt proper to convey these songs through this medium. Of course not everyone has a record player so you have to plan for that contingency in the contemporary market with CDs and download codes, etc. 

If I had my way, I’d release this record only on vinyl but I’d be shooting myself in the foot in the long term. In that way, though, the whole industry has seen a shift to niche marketing and vinyl is a symbol of that. 

I saw somewhere, in "Tape Op" magazine I believe, that vinyl sales grew by, like, 33 percent in the last year. Although it has its work cut out for it in terms of the grand scheme of things, it’s been one of the few mediums where true growth has been recently seen in the industry and will continue as such. 

We are in the midst of a new American renaissance in terms of our culture as a whole and what's more American than vinyl?

Q - In sitting down to record the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

First and foremost, it’s all about accurately capturing where you’re at in your life. Then you balance your efforts in making the best possible recording you have ever made with the resources available to you at the time.

All my favorite records were recorded in a few days with little to no overdubbing and very limited production. I wanted that and I think we achieved that. Although if I was to do it again, I’d approach it much differently in terms of pre-production and production schedule.

Q - I understand you are dividing your time between Chicago and Portland these days. What made you want to do that? How do you think the music scenes in the two cities differ?

At the moment I’m a victim of circumstance. My good friend, Ryan Sweeney (the booker at Uncommon Ground), likes to mention how I left Chicago five years ago for a tour and never came back. 

I come home only for the winter holidays but this time I didn’t get a return ticket. I'm in Chicago for an undetermined amount of time right now, so the tour continues. 

Both cities are world class in terms of culture and civic mindedness. Of course there are things to nitpick about both "scenes," but I like to focus on positives. 

Portland has just started to develop its street cred; it’s got some work to do but the seeds have been sown. Its definitely here to stay. 

It’s the New-America out there. On the other hand, Chicago feels like it’s at a point where it needs to reassert its authority as a musical hub. 

It seems to have lost some of its mystique. I have been to a dozen shows in a dozen venues since I’ve been back and only a few of those to me stand out as worthy of support: David Grisman’s Folk Trio at City Winery, Robbie Fulks at The Hideout and Henhouse Prowlers at Martyrs'. 

I understand that that’s my brand of music and it isn’t for everybody, but deep down I feel I'm being called back like the Prodigal Song to lend a hand in reestablishing this. At the end of the day, though, this is just one man’s opinion.

Q - Some people might describe your music as Americana music. How would you describe your music and who are your biggest influences?

I'd label it "sincere." At this point, you can’t get away from genre. 

It's good as a placeholder during conversations. Shortly thereafter, though, I find myself, when trying to describe someone’s music, comparing him or her to other bands, not genres. 

It’s another shift we're in. It feels like we are striving towards singularity and away from blanket ideas/statements. I read an article the other day about my favorite Portland band, The Blue Cranes, and how in [the writer’s] opinion (and mine) that they are one of a very few bands that have completely done away with genre and just are "The Blue Cranes." 

They are wholly and completely themselves. There is no genre other than "The Blue Cranes" that could encapsulate what they do. I strive for that but also I don’t work within their box. 

Therefore it’s hard to achieve that within the well-worn tradition of 1-4-5.

As an artist/songwriter, you have to constantly evolve the idea of “song.” As in “every song!" 

The Blue Cranes do that. I guess my evolution is attempting to twist and tangle “twang.” My biggest influences are the people I surround myself with, especially my family. 

They are my support, my lifeline, and my blood. They introduce me to everything I have and will ever know. 

My stories and these characters are what I choose to write my songs about. In terms of my musical life, I listen to everything under the sun but at the present moment I’m into Aloe Blacc, Topher Jones and The "Inside Llewyn Davis" soundtrack.

Q - Why do you think there has been renewed interest in Americana music the past few years?

Once again, we have been lost in complacency in the last 10-15 years and we need to find what it means to be an American again. This renewed interest is part of the journey. 

Therefore, what’s our new crusade? The occupy movement was an outburst of that. 

I think there’s more of that to come, in many differing ways, and it’s scary to think about but somewhat necessary. The roots of selfishness and corruption run deep throughout our institutions. 

We certainly aren’t out of the woods just yet, but there is a new horizon on the rise. In that same way, our culture as a whole has deviated so much from what is important in life. 

Therefore, to me, Americana is my generation's version of the youth and rebellion that occurs in every musical revolution. I mean, if you don’t know the words to “Wagon Wheel,” you’re either too old or too young. 

It’s the sound of our generation. We need to own these colors and carry that flag.

Q - Of course, next month's show is part of the Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Fest. Have you been able to catch any other acts that have played as part of the fest? What do you like being part of a festival like this?

Yeah. I’ve been to a handful of the shows and plan on going to a bunch more. Most of them lack any semblance of either genre but like I mentioned just above, what’s in a genre anyway. 

Personally, I think it should be called the “Chicago Americana Festival.” In that same vein I like the diversity that the festival has provided. It’s been a great learning experience watching all these successful and accomplished musicians/songwriters perform. 

I’ve been able to take away a lot of lesson and stories. 

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

Yes, There are two [dream projects] in particular. There's a bunch of great songwriters out there and I'd like to co-write then record a different tune with them all. 

It's a long term project that essentially would have no end, just volumes, and [we would] release them as we go. There's also this little project/event that's more short-term that I've wanted to do for a while and that's a "Sock Hop for Homelessness" and hopefully I’ll get to do it this year. 

The night would be a set of doo-wop street corner singers and two sets of early rock and roll classics. All the proceeds will go to a program that provides shelter and awareness for the needy. Give Us Your Poor,, is a great one. 

Not sure how either would play out at this moment; still in the infancy [stages].

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cold Basement Dramatics continues to create interest with new play, "At His Best"

In her new play, "At His Best," playwright Cassandra Rose explores the lives of two women from different decades linked by a visit from the same man. 

Rose is also the artistic director of Chicago-based Cold Basement Dramatics,, which is staging "At His Best" through Jan. 26 at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

General admission tickets are $15, available at

I had the chance to talk to Rose and director Mike Mroch about the play. 

Q - Great to talk to you. In writing "At His Best," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

CASSANDRA - I started this play with the hope that I could showcase the difference between a nice guy and a good person. The character Sam Brogan in the play has a lot of good intentions inside him, but sometimes intentions are not the same as reality.

From the discussions I've had with audience members after the show, it seems that this flaw in Sam Brogan's character can be intensely felt and pitied. I also love playing with the element of time, so having the play split between the 1980s and the present was a challenge I was more than willing to tackle.

I hope these two times impact each other in a tangible way in the audience's mind. 

Q - What should audiences expect from the show? Any surprises? 

CASSANDRA - Lots of surprises! Yes! Cold Basement Dramatics' mission statement is to present plays about the things we hide from ourselves and others, so naturally the family at the center of this play has a lot of secrets.

One family member has taken a secret to the grave, which is why you might hear a door slam too many times or notice the lights flickering over the kitchen sink when Sam is left alone. Just be ready for some reversals and revelations along the way.

Photo by Brandy Reichenberger

Q - You are also artistic director for Cold Basement Dramatics. How do you think the theatre company fits into the Chicago theatre scene? What are the short and long-term goals of Cold Basement Dramatics? 

CASSANDRA - I like to think of Cold Basement Dramatics as Chicago's lint trap. My ideal play would be one that other theatre companies would be too afraid to produce. 

As such, we're constantly looking for fresh, difficult stories told with great insight and love. During the play submission season my inbox becomes a litmus test for our current culture, where these wonderful playwrights are walking this razor-thin line between what people don't want to talk about and what people need to talk about.

Last year, we got a lot of plays about babies - having babies, not having babies, wanting babies but not being able to have babies, etc. This year with marriage equality flourishing across the country, I've already noticed an uptick in the number of plays we're getting about LGBTQ issues.

Something else we take into consideration when searching for new material is what is this story telling? Because honestly, sometimes we get a story that tackles a very important issue, but the play ends on an incredibly racist note. 
Or the moral of the story is that a woman can turn a gay man straight with enough emotional blackmail. And those are lessons we just don't want to be teaching folks.

If we are telling stories that others are not, we have a responsibility to make sure our stories uplift people, not divide them. So, our short term goals are as follow: We'll have our annual ten minute play festival Secret Stash III this spring, along with a staged reading series, followed by our production of "The Half-Life Of Memory" by Jason Lindner at the DCA Storefront this June.

As for long term, we're taking full length play submissions until Feb. 15th, and we recently received our 501(c)3 status from the federal government. So things are looking up. 

Q - Mike, I know you have worked with Cassandra before. What made you want to direct, "At His Best?" 

MIKE - It's true, Cassandra and I went to college together, and I always wanted to direct her work. We finally got a chance last year with Cassandra's ten minute play, Margret. 

CASSANDRA - That was a play about a couple that really wanted to have a baby, but their unborn child had a genetic abnormality called Trisomy 13. See? Even I'm not immune to the litmus test. 

MIKE -  I like working on new plays and being a part of that shaping and collaborating process. When Cassandra first brought this play to me two year ago I was excited to focus on how we tell secrets.

It's a play about people in two times and two places; it's a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but each person in the story is only there for a snippet of it. This play highlights how blurred the lines can be between two different perspectives [for example between Ann and Brogan in their relationship].

And there are heightened dramatic moments without it being overly theatrical. For the most part, it's about people trying to do the right thing.

Whether it's the right thing or not, ultimately, can be up for debate- but at no point is anyone trying to objectively hurt anyone. 

Q - Cassandra and Mike, what would you like to do next? Any dream projects? 

MIKE - Besides new plays, I'd love to tackle John Logan's work. I like Red, but I love Peter and Alice even more.

That's the story of the real life inspiration for Peter Pan meeting the real life inspiration for Alice (from Alice in Wonderland), and the two work out what it means to be a cultural celebrity. Also, I want to work on Chekov again, definitely.

CASSANDRA - As for me, I'm hoping to go back to the Kenyon Playwrights Conference again this June. It's a wonderful week-long conference in Gambier, Ohio, if a little pricey.  

Last year I created an indiegogo campaign called The Dictionary Project, where people would give me donations and a random page in the Random House Webster's Dictionary, and I would write a play based on one word on that dictionary page. By the end of the summer I wrote 30 one page plays, 15 three page plays, and 6 ten minute plays.  

No matter what, the writing goes on.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Chicago band North By North to celebrate release of debut album, "Something Wicked"

Kendra Blank, left, and Nate Girard, right, of Chicago band North By North.

On its debut album, the sprawling double album "Something Wicked," Chicago band North By North channels the energy created by bands like The Black Keys and Queens of the Stone Age while creating a sound of all its own.

North By North,, comprised of Nate Girard on vocals and guitar, Kendra Blank on vocals and keyboards and Dylan Andrews on drums, will celebrate the release of "Something Wicked" by performing Jan. 23 at The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago. To commemorate the release, the band has brewed its own beer,  Mole Negro Stout.

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

I had the chance to talk to Nate and Kendra about the new album.

Great talking to you. Releasing an 18-track album for your debut album seems like a daunting task. Why did you want to make your first album a double album?

Nate - Well, there are two major factors in the decision to release a double LP. Kendra and I had been ready to record a standard 10 song debut album more than two years ago.
Unfortunately, the plans just kept falling apart in terms of finding the right drummer to bring into the studio. 

It was frustrating because there was a lot of backtracking and bringing new members up to speed, only to see it fail to work. We probably went through five different drummers over the course of those two years. 

We kept playing live consistently and had a great buzz surrounding our live show, but it just was not in the cards to get into the studio during those first two years.
Kendra - By the time we found Dylan, we had continued writing well beyond the original 10 songs. We were talking to the guy who would later become our producer for the album, Don Bates, and we mentioned that we actually had 15 songs completed. 

He was very excited with the prospect of tracking all of them, and we had made a lot of fans who had literally been waiting for years for this music, so we just said, "What the hell, let's just put everything on the table!" 

We ended up finishing all the principal tracking in 40 hours, which was crazy in retrospect.

Nate - The other factor was an artistic decision. We could have stayed with 15 songs and been done with it, but we had also gone into this project knowing specifically that it would be pressed on vinyl. 

Taking advantage of the mechanical aspect of flipping a record over, I wanted to establish something that (I hope) will become a beloved feature of our recordings. 

Because each side of an LP is, in a way, it's own collection of songs, I decided to write four low-key intros to begin each side of the record. They were intended to act as a pallet cleanser between sides and break up the straight-forward rock sound of the remaining songs. 

Three of these intros ended up having their own track numbers for the sake of flexibility, but they were written to specifically introduce and set the tone for the song that follows.

Kendra - We also ended up keeping the intro for the title track, Something Wicked, attached as one song, feeling like both disks should be symmetrical with 9 songs each.

Q - In sitting down to record the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

Kendra - Because of the sheer amount of material that we had to cover, there was a lot of premeditation regarding what our goals were for each song. We went into this project wanting to make a 'studio album' that captures the power and energy of our live show and builds upon that with little bells and whistles throughout.

We definitely feel like there's a different (and totally equal) experience that a person takes away from hearing a recorded sound versus a live performance and, while we feel like we were pretty modest with regards to post production, we definitely wanted those nice little extras to really make the album a different experience. 

We tracked 18 songs in 40 hours. We did everything we could think of in the studio. 

We released 60 minutes of music on vinyl for our debut. Given all of those factors, I definitely feel accomplished.

Nate - We definitely had to go in as prepared as possible because we had a strict budget. I remember we had an entire spiral notebook filled with notes and things that we wanted to experiment with on a song by song basis. 

Everything was carefully orchestrated to get the most bang for our buck.

Q - I understand the late Ray Bradbury had a great impact on your writing, and even the album's title, "Something Wicked," is based on his 1962 novel, "Something Wicked This Way Comes." How would you say he has influenced your writing and the songs on the album?

Nate - Bradbury's work is something special to me. I've always been a fan of Gothic mystery and science fiction short stories, and his have always been especially noteworthy in my opinion. 

When we formed this band, one thing that was clear from the outset was that I would try to combine his whimsical, yet macabre style into my own work. Because the resounding theme behind our music is this necessity to reconcile popular rock music with narrative, dark subject matter, it made a lot of sense to take cues from a man who made an early living as a writer for pulp mystery and sci-fi anthologies. 

Q - It seems like there should be a story behind the band's name. Is there?

Kendra - There's a couple different angles we each took with the name. Nate is originally from Texas, I spent a solid chunk of my childhood in South Carolina and our drummer at the time was originally from Southern Ohio. 

Because each of the members all happened to migrate 'North' to meet in Chicago, it was as if fate had ordained that we had only one direction to travel and were destined to form this band here.

Nate - When I first heard the name North by North, I immediately latched on to it because it reminded me of the film, North by Northwest, which tied in strongly to our lyrics' subject matter. Her explanation made a lot of sense too, and was much more meta.

Q - How did North By North come together? What do you think the different members bring to the table?

Kendra -
Nate and I had met in high school, shortly after each of our families had relocated to the Chicago area. We had performed in several other bands during the year following graduation, and eventually decided to split off with our own project to pursue our creative and artistic direction. 

We started out as a two-piece, as was the trend of the moment. I was playing drums and Nate was on guitar and vocals, but eventually we decided to fill out the sound by moving me to keyboard and seek out a drummer to fill my place.  

Two years and five candidates later, we happened to find Dylan's ad on Craigslist, and have been working with him swimmingly ever since. 

Nate and I have such a strong musical rapport and artistic vision, so we really needed to find a drummer who was versatile enough to just go with the flow and let us have creative control.

Nate - Kendra and I are definitely the creative engine behind the band. Our roles work very much like an assembly line. 

I will have a loose idea (like a riff or a chorus progression) and will bring it to Kendra who will then brainstorm to find the missing pieces. She's classically trained, which comes in handy by helping us decide which direction a song should go based on her knowledge of music theory. 

Once we have the principal parts written, we'll basically bring the song to Dylan and let him bounce different rhythmic ideas around the framework. Once all that is solidified, Kendra and I will decide on an idea for a story based on the tone of the composition. 

Then we write the lyrics.

Q - I am sure you have heard the band's sound described in a number of ways. How would you describe North By North's sound and who are your biggest musical influences?

Nate - I love when people use adjectives to describe our music. It's definitely not an insult to be directly compared to another artist, but it doesn't really do us justice. 

What I tell people is really just a collection of my favorite adjectives that people have bestowed on us over the years: heavy, angular, frantic, possessed, energetic, narrative, bombastic, intense and riff-tastic. I definitely think we should look into copyrighting "Riff-tastic."

Kendra - We have a ton of influences! Immediately you will notice echoes of classic arena rock staples like Zeppelin and Sabbath, but we also try to channel some rhythmic elements from late 60's hard-bop jazz. 

It might seem like we're snobs for the classics, but we definitely feel like right now is one of the best eras for music.

Nate - True, there are quite a few current bands and artists we dig on. We're big fans of Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, The Black Keys and many more.

Q - Tell me a little about Mole Negro Stout. Is it the perfect beer to serve at your record release party?

Nate -
We'll find out soon enough! I think it's pretty darn tasty. We also jar our own salsa, which has become a beloved staple at our merch table. 

One of the rotating flavors we offer is a chipotle mole salsa, so when we decided to brew a stout, it was a logical step to infuse it with some south-of-the-border flair. Other rotating flavors have include mango, cranberry, tomatillo verde, blueberry and apple salsa.

Kendra - One thing we try to focus on is having fun, quirky merchandise for our fans. We want to bring things to the table that will make us stand out from the crowd. 

That also played a big role in our decision to release the album exclusively on vinyl and digital formats. We wanted this album to be something different from just your run-of-the-mill CD.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you see North By North fitting into it? Do you have any favorite venues to play?

Nate - I think the Chicago music scene is a double-edged sword. Outwardly, it can be pretty difficult for a new band to penetrate into the right clubs and the right circles... but once you've cracked the code, there's a very dedicated base of Chicagoans who still value music.

There are plenty of great venues and plenty of talent, but it does take some time to really find your niche.

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

Kendra -
I guess our short and long term goals are one in the same. Our plan is to stay busy, stay relevant and keep putting out as much content as possible. 

After the vinyl release show, our next big project is to begin work on a music video for Run / Burn it Down. After that, we're planning to have a brand new album written and ready to start tracking this summer. 

For now, we're not planning any official tour, but we've got some out-of-state shows in the works and that will be something we want to focus on in the new year.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Chicago-based theatre company Commedia Beauregard to present new translation of "The Mandrake"

Left, Matt Beard, Lina Chambers, Arin Mulvaney and Mike Newquist. Photo by Brad Cantwell


Commedia Beauregard, a Chicago-based theatre company dedicated to producing plays in translation, is presenting a new translation of Machiavelli’s "The Mandrake." The production will run from Jan. 11 through Feb. 9 at the Raven Theatre Complex, 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago.

Tickets are available by calling 1-800-838-3006 or at In addition, there will be a Twitter Preview at 8 p.m. Jan. 10, and there will be a "Pay With Your Can" matinee at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 10. as part of a food drive to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  

Those who bring in one non-perishable food item will receive a $10 discount, and those who bring three food items will get into the show for free. Reserved tickets for January 12 are full price.

I had the chance to talk to translator and Commedia Beauregard artistic director Christopher Kidder-Mostrom as well as director Lisa Cantwell about the production.

Q - Great talking to you. In translating "The Mandrake," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 
CK - When I translated this in 2005, for a production in Minnesota, I had freshly come off a stint at Theatre de la Jeune Lune and I wanted to apply the acting methods that I learned there with the art of translation. 
Through a workshop process with eight actors we built this translation around a framework of a literal translation and physical acting.
Q - What should the audience expect? Should they expect some surprises? 
CK - A reinvented classic. The humor in the script itself is pretty brilliant. Machiavelli was actually a very funny guy, which may come as a surprise to some people, because his other writing, The Prince, is a very serious political work.
LC - This is Machiavelli's classic story adapted with a fresh, wry and witty approach by Chris. We have given it a sexy indie/alternative rock vibe using the original music, set design and costuming. 
Q - How did you go about assembling the cast for the production? How hard has it been to put on the production? 
CK - Like almost every Commedia Beauregard production, we held open auditions and we had an overwhelming response of talented actors. This cast was selected specifically by the Director, Lisa Cantwell.
LC - The wacky and wonderful cast has been a blast to work with every step of the way. They are a tremendously talented, fearless and dynamic ensemble who have really embraced these characters and made them unique and unforgettable.  

Q - I understand the production also features an original musical score. How do you think the music adds to the production?

CK - While not a complete score, the play features five original songs as intermezzi. The lyrics to the songs are completely new for this production, because the old ones featured Minnesota-specific language. 
So, with new lyrics, it was a perfect time to revisit the melodies as well. Brian Torosian has provided tunes with a heavy grunge influence which figures into Lisa's vision of the play.  

LC - The music is such an integral part of the story, and it was thrilling to work with Brian's fantastic original tracks and further develop them with Matt Beard and Lina Chambers.  

Q - I see that the Jan. 10 show will be a Twitter preview where audience members are encouraged to share their experiences. Is it important to use social media to get the word out about the production?

CK - Since coming to Chicago in 2010, all of Commedia Beauregard's productions have featured a Twitter Preview. It does help promote the production and it's a fun way to let people use their phones in a situation they normally wouldn't be allowed to. 
Normally, the Twitter Preview is one of our most popular nights.
LC - Using social media is such a fun way to get the word out about the show, and we are really excited about having this opportunity to do so. 
Q - I also see that the Jan. 12 show will feature a food drive to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Is it important for the theatre company to give back to the community?

CK - Our Pay-With-Your-Can food drive is an important part of what we do. Not only does it collect food donations for a local food shelf, but it also acts as our industry night.
Other theaters might do a discounted ticket or a pay-what-you-can night. We figured we should do some good at the same time. 
Our last Pay-With-Your-Can night brought in 275 lbs of food. 

LC - The chance to give back to the community truly enriches the whole theatrical experience and gives it that much more meaning. 
Q - Do you have any dream productions that you would like to do?

CK - Given our mission of doing translated works, there are so many choices from around the world. Most of what we've done since adopting the mission in 2006 have been plays from Europe and a couple from Latin America. 
I would love to explore plays from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa in years to come. 

LC - I am involved in developing several theatre projects right now. One is a monster story with a cinematic feel and the other is a rock musical adaptation.