Saturday, February 21, 2015

Chicago band Casimir Pulaski presents a sound that's revolutionary, will perform March 6 at The Store


The music of Chicago band Casimir Pulaski is as distinctive as its name.

The band's mix of folk and calypso music is in the spotlight on Casimir Pulaski's debut EP, "Heads and Tails." The band, comprised of Maximillian Nishida and Xavier Maldanado, will perform a free show March 6 at The Store, 2002 N. Halsted St., Chicago.

The Midwest and Leah Druzinsky also are on the bill. Doors open at 9 p.m.

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

Q - Great to talk to you. You recently released your debut EP, "Heads and Tails." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

Thank you, it’s great to talk to you. Sharing my music was the main goal for the album.

As funny as it may seem, it was more difficult for me to feel comfortable about putting the songs out there then reaching some kind of recognition or fandom.

I was scared of how people would react. I had been playing and writing songs for a long time now, more than eight years, and I was starting to forget some of them, so it was time to record.

When we started this project, it felt like now or never. For a long time, I just kept my music to myself.

I would play shows and open mics, which felt safe, but if I put something down on a record, then it’s permanent. I'm capturing that moment forever, which was scary for me at the time.

We have greatly surpassed the goals of the album. Xavier and I could not be more happy with it.   

Q - You met each other in high school and have been collaborating since 2012. What makes your musical partnership so strong?

Xavier is above all else a great friend. The guy goes above and beyond for his friends. He’s also one of the nicest people I have ever known.

Every once in a while he will says the craziest shit - he’s wicked funny. When it comes to making music, it’s easy. How wouldn't I want to work with  Xavier?

It all started off while we were chilling at a friend’s party and I played him one of my songs. Yeah, I was that guy at the party.

He loved them and from that point on, we have been working with each other. I will say Xavier’s knowledge of music, from bands to theory, helps us take our music to new heights.

Just listen for the bass and you'll get it.

Q - What made you want to change the band's name from Sound of the Silent Age to Casimir Pulaski? Do you think have such a distinctive name has helped draw more people to your music?

For starters, we picked the name Sound of the Silent Age because it was the best we could think of at the time. We figured, we will go with this for now.

The name was a reference to a David Bowie song about aborted fetuses. Now we feel really comfortable with the name Casimir Pulaski, it fits us well.

Our name has a strong connection to the school system of the inner city of Chicago, because all the Polish kids wouldn't come to school on Casimir Pulaski's birthday.

So CPS (Chicago Public Schools) just gave everybody the day off to save on the budget. The whole thing is treated as a snow day.

When I tell people about our name they always say, "I think I've heard of you guys before." Now, a couple things could be happening here, including that they might have heard of us before. That is slowly happening more, which I think is just insane.

They drive on Pulaski Road a lot (his name is literally all over the city). They might know who Casimir Pulaski actually was. Or lastly, they know the name from the Sufjan Stevens song, "Casimir Pulaski Day."

Sufjan Stevens in one of my favorites and I like that we can throw in that Easter egg in our name.

Q - How will the band observe Casimir Pulaski on March 2?

First we will be practicing and then will be celebrating. I think I will spend a little time that day also looking at paintings of wooden ships and the American revolution. The rest can not be discussed we like to keep March 2nd holy.

Q - Who would you say are the band's biggest influences and how have they influenced your music?

There are so many... a few that stand out are Miniature Tigers - their first album is crazy good, Harry Belafonte's record "Calypso," Sufjan Stevens, Willy Mason, and Luka Bloom.

To me that's what I hear when I listen to "Heads and Tails." It’s a rhythm over here or a chord struck over there.

I know where all the little pieces and ideas came from. They are big influences on this record.

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

I think the Chicago music scene is strong. Chicago loves its music, we all know that every band comes to Chicago.

When I first realized that bands don't stop in every town it blew my mind. (I grew up in Chicago). 

Right now, I feel the Chicago music scene is a lot about the Neo Soul. I don't know how it happened, but it did. Even with people doing hip hop or rap, Neo Soul is there, it’s everywhere.

On the other side of the map we have folk punk, cool stuff. Who doesn't love Andrew Jackson Jihad? 

Chicago also has a strong indie scene. There are a lot of house shows,  which is good and bad because at house shows bands figure their stuff out, work out kinks. Unfortunately I don’t think house shows are sustainable.

I think the Chicago music scene, more than any other, needs some love. Look at Chance the Rapper, He released his whole record for free on SoundCloud, that’s awesome, because who doesn't love free stuff especially when it really great free stuff. 

But the problem I see isn't something Chance will have to deal with, but what do you do when you're in that middle ground? You haven't made it but you have had a lot of success and give everything out for free? It’s not sustainable. 

For a lot of great music out there it will unfortunately just disappear, because everyone needs a day job and music isn’t paying. Anyway, thanks for listening to our ideas if you agree or disagree you can email me at

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

Well our first goal is to have an awesome show on March 6th at The Store 2002 N Halsted St. Outside of the show, writing, writing, writing!

Starting in March, we will be releasing a new song every month on We’ll do this through the year and at the end of the year, we’ll take the songs we love the most to the studio and put an album together.

That’s what we’re looking at for this year.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Chicago singer-songwriter to release sophomore EP, "Between Our Words"


Chicago singer-songwriter Laura Joy's brand of acoustic pop has garnered comparisons to such musicians as Joni Mitchell and Alison Krauss.

Joy will celebrate the release of her sophomore EP, "Between Our Words,"  with a show on March 5 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago.

Will Phalen is also on the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are available at

I had a chance to talk to Joy about the new EP.


Q - Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "Between Our Words," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a meaning behind the album's title?

Thanks! It had been more than three years since my last release and I've definitely grown a lot since that last one.

People were hearing a lot of songs at my shows that weren't recorded, and it was time to fix that. I had to have the funding in place, and I wanted to make sure I had the right team. 

I definitely found the right team. I've been wanting an actual band for a very long time.

I'm so happy to have Dave, Jamie, and Will with me on this project. They were collaborators, and their ideas really enhanced my arrangements.

The title is simply my favorite track from the album. It's a happy love song. 

The first one I've really written. The world needs more of those!

At the same time, I thought the phrase "Between Our Words" was kind of cool ... because that's where a lot of the music happens, right? Between the words.

Q - "Between Our Words" was produced by Will Phalen, who also is featured on the album. What do you think he brings to the table?

I went to Will because I really liked the type of sound he creates with his own music, and the work he did with Julie Meckler. We had done a little bit of demo work together for some of my stuff in the past, and I just found him to be super chill and fun to work with. 

He created parts to some of the songs on the EP that are really beautiful -- little layers of sound that I would never have thought of. Will is not only a great producer, but also a great musician.
I wanted something a little more "plugged in" sounding than I've done in the past, but without losing that acoustic, organic feel. Will got it spot on.

We laid out the basics for all but one of the tracks live in the studio in one day. That's crazy, and I love how honest it feels.

It's a testament to everyone's talent, too. I feel so lucky.

Q - How would you say that your music has evolved since your last album?

It's gone a little more pop, I guess, with the band and the song structures and whatnot. And my voice has changed significantly, I think for the better.

I have more of an idea of what I'm doing with it now. But I'm tired of being a solo-singer-songwriter. It gets so lonely, particularly when touring.

What I've been doing up to now, that's more of an intimate, listening room experience. I want people to dance a little.

That's more likely when there's a band than when it's just a single lady with her guitar, you know?  I'm happy to mix things up a bit.

The ultimate goal is to take the guys on the road with me.

Q - Given your last name, do you think that people have a certain impression of what your music should sound like before they have heard you? Is that hard to overcome?

Ha, no I've never even thought of that! What's hard to overcome is people believing it's actually my last name. 

No really. That's my last name. 

There are actually quite a few of us Joys. It's Irish.

Q - You have been compared to such artists as Joni Mitchell and Alison Krauss. Would you consider those artists as influences? Who has been the biggest influence on your music?

I would definitely consider Joni Mitchell a huge influence. My mom introduced her to me when I was in high school.

Those lyrics and those soaring vocals stabbed my heart, in a good way. I don't really know where the Alison Krauss comparison comes from. I'm honored to be compared to her, but... I'm guessing it's a vocal thing?

I'll ask, the next time it's brought up. I mean, as musicians, we get comparisons all the time and they're always meant as compliments.

I've gotten some interesting ones. "You're like a female John Mayer... a female Jackson Browne... You're like Ani [Difranco] without the rage!"

I friggin' love Jackson Browne. Do I hear that in what I'm doing? Not particularly, but I'll take it!

Maybe my style is a slight challenge to pinpoint?

Q - The video for “Call Me Ishmael,” your parody of the song, "Call Me Maybe," has received more than 20,000 views. Were you surprised that it had such an impact? Why did you decided to do the video?

Was I surprised? Not all that much.

We hit the very tail end of that "Call Me Maybe" parody wave, and we hit it hard, nerd-style. It was really more of an experiment.

My friend Paula was doing research on how viral videos happen, she knew I could sing, and she knew I'd be into being ridiculous. She already had the lyrics, so I just added my voice and totally AWESOME acting skills.

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

The Chicago music scene is so large and so varied, I think anyone can fit into it, which is why I love it. Hideout is my favorite.

It reminds me of my cousins' old basement in the house they grew up in. It feels comfy, and I really adore their staff and sound system.

Q - Do you have any dream collaborations or projects?

If I could do something with the Muppets, I would die a happy lady.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Chicago Blues Fest to honor Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon

The 32nd Annual Chicago Blues Festival has announced that a special centennial celebration honoring Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon will take place at this year's festival, which will be held June 12 through June 14 along the shores of Lake Michigan in Grant Park. 

The weekend of free blues performances will culminate with a centennial celebration at the Petrillo Music Shell honoring Waters, the “father of modern Chicago blues,” and Dixon, the “poet laureate of the blues,” beginning at 5:30 p.m. June 14.
The two Chicago blues legends each had a hand in the origins of the Chicago Blues Festival. On Aug. 30, 1969, Dixon along with Murphy Dunne ("The Blues Brothers"), produced a blues concert at the former Chicago Band Shell located in Grant Park at 11th St.

The 10 hour precursor to today’s festival included performances by Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Walter Horton, Sam Lay, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Little Milton, Koko Taylor, Big Mama Thornton, Junior Wells and ended with Muddy Waters performing "Got My Mojo Workin."

Fifteen years later, the first Chicago Blues Festival was held in 1984 in honor of Waters, who had passed away the year before. This year’s festival, coinciding with the centennial of both musicians’ birth year, will now pay tribute with performance by protégés, former band mates, friends and family members. 

Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues will kick off the June 14 finale event at 5:30 p.m. at the Petrillo Music Shell. Branch, a Willie Dixon protegé, is an award-winning artist who honed his harmonica skills with harp masters Big Walter Horton, James Cotton and Carey Bell. 

The Willie Dixon centennial tribute will follow at 6:30 p.m. featuring Billy Branch, Keisha Dixon, Tomiko Dixon, Freddie Dixon, Alex Dixon, Bobby Dixon, Sugar Blue and John Watkins, among others. Dixon penned blues classics like “Wang Dang Doodle”, a song made famous by blues queen Koko Taylor and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” for Muddy Waters. 

At 8:15 p.m., Waters' musical legacy will be celebrated with a jam session by former band members, family and friends. The tribute will include Bob Margolin, Mud Morganfield, Big Bill Morganfield, John Primer, Rick Kreher, Bob Stroger, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, E.G. McDaniel, Paul Oscher, Jerry Portnoy and Barrelhouse Chuck. 

The Chicago Blues Festival is free and open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. The Petrillo Music Shell will feature headliners from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. June 12 and June 13. The stage will run 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. June 14. 

A complete lineup for the Chicago Blues Fest will be released this spring. Leading up to the Chicago Blues Festival, during May and June, there will be several preview performances and film screenings held at the Chicago Cultural Center at 78 E. Washington St. and Chicago Public Library locations throughout the city. The “official” Chicago Blues Festival preview on Daley Plaza is set for June 8.