Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ron Haynes keeping jazz scene vibrant with band Game Changers, will play at Andy's Jazz Club

As a member of groundbreaking band Liquid Soul, trumpet player Ron Haynes brought new excitement to the Chicago jazz scene.

He continues to do so with his current band, Game Changers, which will perform at 9:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Oct. 30 and Oct. 31 at Andy's Jazz Club, 11 E. Hubbard St., Chicago. There is a $15 cover charge.

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

Q - How did you go about forming your band Game Changers?

After working on the road w/a lot of different bands I decided to put a band together and talked to Norman Palm, my trombone player in the band, and asked him to help. We searched around til we found the right musicians and formed the band.

Q - Why do you think the members work so well together?

Some of us worked together in other bands before and the group has a good work ethic and doesn't mind rehearsing to develop.

Q - Has the band lived up to your vision for it?

Yes, because when you play arrangements that your working on and you see it coming together, you can see the band developing more and more.

Q - The band released "Game On" a couple of years ago. Are you working on new music?

We're in the process of writing new songs and we plan on going into the studio in the beginning of the new year.  We will be performing some of the new music during our live shows to see what works and what doesn't.

Q - What should people expect from the next album?

They should expect more elaborate arrangements and more of the band' sound developing. It's should be on a different level than the first CD.

Q - You have worked with so many people over the years, including the late Bernie Mac. What was that experience like and what did you learn from the experience?

Working w/ Bernie Mac I learned that you have to keep pushing forward and keep developing. And when someone in the business tells you 'no', it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Hard work and diligence pays off.

Q - You are also a longtime member of Chicago band Liquid Soul. What made you want to join the band and how do you think your music evolved as a member of that band?

It was a chance to write new music, and Liquid Soul was on the cutting edge of acid jazz. I was interested in funk and hip hop, and it was a chance to try out new arrangements on that audience.

It was a good opportunity to try out improvisational skills.

 I think my improvisation skills developed a lot, and I was able to look at jazz from another angle.

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

I think the Chicago music scene is always changing and I think this band is coming at things in a fresher manner.

Q - What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the music business?

I would say to develop your skill level...Have your business head on a swivel,  and be prepared to jump on opportunities when they present themselves.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Chicago's Cold Country releases new EP, will perform at The Hideout


As leader of the experimental folk-driven Chicago band Cold Country, Sean McConnell's delicate vocals wrap around you like a warm blanket.

Cold Country will celebrate the release of its new EP, "Fall," with a show on Nov. 19 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago. Arts & Letters and Ty Maxo also are on the bill.

The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10, available by going to www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to McConnell about the new EP.

Q - Great talking to you. Your EP, "Fall," comes out on Nov. 17. I understand the songs on the EP were songs that didn't make it on to your "Willow" album, which was released earlier this year. Why didn't they make the cut for the "Willow" album and did you always plan to release them in some type of format?

I had a long list of songs that could've made it onto Willow. And yah, I knew I'd get them released at some point.

I ended up having to make decisions about what songs to include based on what I thought fit with the album, because with Willow I wanted to make something that was sonically and somewhat thematically cohesive.

Not a concept album necessarily, but I wanted it to all fit together the right way. The songs I've included on the Fall EP were ones that ultimately felt like they'd be a little out of place. Like they were speaking to something different than the others.

In fact two of the songs, "Letter to my Daughters" and "To Providence," were not even recorded until after Willow was released because I had decided earlier on that I wouldn't include them. In this way they feel altogether new to me, and I'm glad for that.

Q - What were your goals in putting together the band Cold Country and do you think you accomplished them? How did you go about choosing the members of Cold Country?

My goal for Cold Country has always been to produce the music I write in the most fully realized way. Meaning I knew I would need a band in order to get the dynamics and sound that I wanted.

I didn't want to be performing these songs solo with a acoustic guitar all the time. And up to this point, I feel like I've accomplished this pretty well. There are always things you wish you could go back and change, things you'd do differently if given another go at it.

Most often these are things I attempted to do myself rather than collaborate more with the band, and I ended up having to settle for something that could've been better. But I'm proud to say I haven't let that happen too often. 

As for the band members, I really have to give them so much credit. They've stuck with me this far and have made everything about these songs so much more interesting. Chris and Jayson have been there from the very start, and as a rhythm section, I think they vibe so well.

Anna's got such a lovely voice. She's always finding the best harmonies. I don't write that stuff in, usually. 

And what can I say about Will? He's just a madman! He really helps bring a rawness and spontaneity to the live performance.

We've even added a new member I'm very excited about, vocalist Hannah Gamble. They're all people I know and love.

I love playing music with my friends, and that's how I've built Cold Country.

Q - Is there a meaning behind the band's name?

Yah, I got the name from something my dad would say whenever he referred to the Midwest (he's from Minnesota). He liked to call it the cold country. "Ah, so you're moving up to the cold country huh?" Or "Yah well, I'm from the cold country, you know..."

Stuff like that I remember him saying and I always thought it was a nice homage to his kind of old-time language. My dad is a sort of "dying breed" as far as the way he was brought up and the time he's from.

He's an old timer. Has been all his life. So it's an homage to him, and to the changing of tides I guess.

Q - Before forming Cold Country, you were an engineer working with such bands as The Bears of Blue River, Dastardly and Teenage Rage. In working with different bands, what were you trying to bring out of them?

A: As an engineer my goal was always to do best by those bands in terms of their artistic visions. I was always confident in what I could offer them but also knew I could grow with them. I learned so much about my own process through those bands. We ended up with, I feel, some pretty great sounding records, and I came away with a lot of experience and new friends.

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it? Who are your biggest musical influences?

Hmmm, the Chicago music scene... Is there such a thing? I guess I often feel, as do a lot of people I know trying to make music in this city, that it's pretty fractured.

There's just a whole lot of people all gunnin' for the same gold. And everyone's out for their own.

I think we could all be better about supporting each other and carving out more definitive scenes that nurture artistic growth rather than work against it. I hear a lot of folks discouraged when a hundred people said "yes" to the Facebook event and only 10 show up. 

But I also feel like a lot of those discouraged maybe aren't doing all they can themselves. So it's a double edged sword.

Yes, the scene could be better. But the artists need to be willing to work harder to support not only their own projects, but those of the next guy, or gal.

I don't want to come off too cynical though! If Chicago has one thing going for it, it's the DIY music scene. I think our DIY venues and the bands that occupy that niche are some of the best in the country!

I'm blown away at the crowds that get pulled into some of these events. And they're really there for the music too. There's a quality to it that I think is hard to find in other cities this big. It's a big city problem for sure. 

Cold Country is somewhere in there... We tend to ride the fringes a little bit.

And I don't mean in an edgy, cool kinda way. Just that we haven't really found our scene. Like, not gritty enough for the punks, and not clean enough for the big wigs... I don't know, ha ha.

And that can be frustrating when you're looking for the support of the locals. But we've been doing pretty good. Our friends and fans have been very kind to us! I think we pull a little bit from everywhere. And that's nice.

As for influences, so much of what I know about music has come directly from an adolescent obsession with classic rock, I think. I missed out on some pretty awesome angsty stuff cause I was drowning myself in Beatles, Zeppelin, Neil Young, Dylan and the like, and I thought that most modern music wasn't very good.

In hindsight, I was wrong. I love so much new music now.

Lately I can't stop listening to Kurt Vile. That guy just can't do wrong!

I've been into a lot of psych rock lately too. I think I pull from that genre quite a bit.

Q - What's next for Cold Country? Are you working on new music?

Always trying to work on new stuff! And still so much to share that's been on the burner, so expect another EP very soon. And a full length sometime  later in 2016.

For now, I'm going to try and get the band on the road come spring/summer.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Chicago's The Forest of Love bringing new vitality to local music scene

The snarling vocals of The Forest of Love frontman Grant Mooney bring to mind the vocal delivery of another Chicago frontman, Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan.

But the similarities end there, as listeners will soon discover when they take a listen to the band. With an EP under its belt and new music on the way, The Forest of Love is providing an exotic and fresh soundtrack to the Chicago music scene.

The Forest of Love will perform Oct. 18 at Quenchers, 2401 N. Western Ave., Chicago. Bantam Foxes and Paradise Frost also are on the bill.

The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $7, available at www.ticketfly.com.

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

Q - Great talking to you. I understand you will be performing some new songs when you perform at Quenchers Saloon. When will you be recording the new album and what should people expect from the new album?

Thanks for having me. We’ve already started the process of recording the next EP actually.

If you listen to the last one we released, "reel_demo_real," the songs are a little more straightforward sounding rock songs, albeit with some weird elements and effects. The samples, the synths, the out of place harmonics, the effects pedals, etc.

But the point being, they’re all a certain type of song on that EP, and with the new one we want to kind of branch out a little bit more so people start getting to know the range of music that we’re capable of. There will be more alternative rock on there, but we’ve also got a ballad, an avant-garde funk/metal/rock song, and a weird acoustic Led Zeppelin-esque song.

That’s the best I can describe any of it right now. It should be out in a few weeks or months.

Q - You released an EP earlier this year. What were your goals for the EP and do you think you accomplished them?

Our goals for that EP were mostly to record the lineup that we had at the time, and to make a serious, cohesive, artistic statement. I’d released other demos, EPs, and other recordings under the name The Forest of Love before, and each one was a big learning experience.

But to be honest almost everything I’ve released up until now was pretty unlistenable. With "reel_demo_real," we wanted to create something that actually sounded semi-professional and would make people start to take us a little more seriously.

We do all the recording, mixing, and mastering ourselves. And "reel_demo_real" was the first release I felt like might be played on the radio and begin to garner any sort of attention from people. And it’s been played on the radio, so mission accomplished.

Q - The Forest of Love has seen several lineup changes over the years. How did the current lineup come together and how do you think it compares with the previous lineups?

Well, I’ve been playing under the name The Forest of Love since I was about 16. With a couple different projects and groups on the side, but this has always remained the one vision I wanted to seriously pursue, for better or for worse.

When you’re that young and playing in a band and writing all your own songs, you don’t really have any idea what you’re doing. So it’s really been just a process of growing and growing up.

I’ve learned after so many years how to write the kind of music that I would like to listen to, and I’ve learned how to work and communicate with others better. Even mentioning “lineup changes” this early in the game feels kind of silly, but without the people I’ve played with in the past, there’s no way we’d be where we are today.

Each lineup was a step closer toward my vision of who we are supposed to be. And at the same time we’re still open to growth and change. I’m really not so into the politics of who’s in a band and who’s not, I just want to play with people I admire, respect, and enjoy playing with.

Our drummer, Mateusz Matczuk, and I actually went to elementary and middle school together, and reconnected a few years ago and started playing together. And Alexsandra Castellanos (our keyboardist) and I went to college together.

We all work together really well and there’s a lot of motivation from all of us to start making things happen. 

Q - Is there a meaning behind the group's name?

Not really, ha ha! At least not in the traditional respect.

We didn’t take it from anywhere or anything like that. One of the first people I started playing music with in high school and I wanted to start a band, and of course one of the first things you do before you even start playing together is to come up with band names.

I came up with seriously hundreds, and just about all of them were awful. One stuck out to him though, and it was “Papa Bear and The Forest of Love.” On my part it was a silly, abstract joke, but he was really into it.

We eventually ended up shortening it to The Forest of Love, and something about it felt perfect. Maybe just the combination of the words or how they felt saying them.

And how ironic it felt having a name like that and playing dark, moody music. It just felt like it fit, I don’t know how else to describe it.

Q - The Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, and The Mars Volta are among the band's influences. What kind of impact have those bands had on The Forest of Love's music?

I don’t know if I can fully explain their importance to me. To me, those groups are more than just about the music itself.

What I’ve taken away from all of them is an uncompromising artistic vision that I can relate to. The Smashing Pumpkins were kind of like my Beatles.

I had a real strong emotional connection to the group’s music that I hadn’t gotten from anywhere else in my life up until that point. In fact, the entire reason I started writing my own music and why I even wanted to play in a band was because of that connection.

I felt like I had something I had to give back in a way. Then that spotlight started to shine on other groups: Radiohead, The Mars Volta, Queens of the Stone Age and Wilco.

I’ve spent countless hours not just obsessively listening to them, but reading about them and watching interviews with them, and getting to know who influenced them, and so on. I’m not only interested in their music, but what drives all these people to do what they do, and how their careers change, evolve, and grow.

It’s all part of the bigger picture to me. And of course Matt and Alex have their own influences that shape our sound in different ways, but at least from a songwriting perspective, there’s some of all those bands in everything I do.

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

Our short term goals right now are to just continue to expand our audience. The past few shows we’ve played have been amazing, and we’ve been making a lot of connections with people who really enjoy our music and our performances.

The main issue is getting them to keep coming back to more shows, or to like us on Facebook and all that. I think it would be cool to play a place like the Metro, but we have a lot of work to do in getting more people outside our immediate circle of friends to come to our shows. But it’s worth the challenge.

I think our big long term goal is to make a serious career out of this. If it’s possible.

Again, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s been a lot of hard work up until this point, and it feels like we’re only still just getting the ball rolling. But I don’t think there’s anything any of us want more than to be able to make a living off doing what we love.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Babysitter Massacre '78: The Musical" scaring up fun at The Public House Theatre


Following last year's hit,  "A Nightmare On Backstreet," Ricky Glore hopes to scare up more fun with his latest show, "Babysitter Massacre '78: The Musical."

"Babysitter Massacre '78: The Musical" is being presented through Oct. 31 at The Public House Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St., Chicago. Tickets are $20, available by calling 1-800-650-6449,
or at the theatre's website, www.pubhousetheatre.com.

I had the chance to talk to Glore about his new show.

Q - Great talking to you again. I know that "Babysitter Massacre '78: The Musical" opened recently. What was your idea for the show and has the show come together as you envisioned?­

The show came out of my love for horror films and musicals. I find that the juxtaposition between the two, is a really fun place to start. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I thoroughly love the musical, "Litttle Shop of Horrors," and am always inspired to make something as interesting and as fun as that.

This musical is inspired by '70s horror films like "When a Stranger Calls," "Black Christmas" and "Halloween." It is even more directly influenced and uses the urban legend, "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs."

I wanted this show to embody some of the inherent low budget campiness that is always apparent in '70s and '80s horror films, while also paying homage to some of the creepy suspenseful elements. We have successfully made sure that this isn’t a parody of those classic films, but an homage.

Q - You raised more money than your fundraising goal in order to put on the show. Did you feel even more inspired to put on the show after exceeding your fundraising goal?

­I couldn’t be happier at the love and support that this show has been given. A lot of the people who donated, are family and friends, and they gave money because they have been happy with our previous track record of shows, and want to help continue our dreams.

The campaign ended pretty close to the opening of the show, so we had already spent most of our budget from our own pockets, and the INDIEGOGO money, successfully helped us reimburse a lot of expenses. My number one priority as a writer and a director, whether it’s my material or not, is to entertain the audience.

I feel that concept is often lost. The audience, whether they are paying for a ticket, or just paying with their time spent, are already giving you something, before you give them anything.

We as creators are in debt to them, to try and make sure they have a good experience. This doesn’t always mean that the audience will like what they see, but the product you give them, should be worked on as hard as possible, with as much enthusiasm as possible.

Q - Last year, The Public House presented your show "A Nightmare On Backstreet,"
which has taken on a life of its own as Millikin University's Pipe Dreams Studio will be soon putting it on. How did the students hear about the show and what do you think about them wanting to put it on? Have you been working with them on the production?­

It is so cool to say that his show first came to life a year ago, and now a year later, is being done by people that I don’t know at all! I don’t fully know how they found out about the show. All I know is that we were in production for a show in February ("Bates: An '80s Psycho Musical Parody"), and during a rehearsal break, I checked my email, and saw I had a message from a student at Millikin. 

She said that she had heard about the show, and wondered if I would be interested in Pipe Dream’s Studio taking a look at it, and possibly do it as their fall musical. I of course said yes, and happily sent materials like script, music and a DVD of our recording.

I think it is really awesome that they want to do the show. There’s no better feeling than having others get excited about something you created.

I unfortunately have not been able to be too much help with them on the show, since I have been in pre-production and now production of "Babysitter." I made sure to tell them that if they needed me at any time,to call or email me, and I would make sure to be of an assistance, in any way I could.

They open Thursday, Oct. 22, and run till Sunday, Nov. 15. I will be attending and doing a Q and A after the show on Saturday, Nov. 7.

Q - What new shows are you working on? Do you have any dream projects or collaborations? ­

About two months ago, artistic director, owner and one of our executive producers, Byron Hatfield, asked if I would like to write and direct a Christmas show for December. Because I’m crazy and didn’t realize that my schedule was already hectic, I happily accepted.

I had no idea what I was going to do, but luckily, the next day, while in the shower, I thought of the title, "Maul Santa: The Musical." After I had the title, I slowly started to put together the story.

The real Santa, Mrs. Claus, and two of Santa’s helpers, go to as many malls as they can before Christmas. They do this to reinvigorate the spirit of the holidays in children. At this particular mall, unbeknownst to Santa and the gang, a zombie outbreak occurs.

For this show, I have just molded the story and wrote the script, while the very talented, J. Sebastian Fabal, has written the lyrics and music.We run the first three Fridays and Saturdays at 10 p.m., at The Public House Theatre.

Besides a couple of shows that I already have in the works (Maul Santa: The Musical and Fleetwood Macbeth, coming April 2016), I would really like to do a bigger scale monster horror musical, and then also do an inspirational children’s musical, that could possibly tour around schools.

Q - In writing a show, how are you inspired?

­I’m not saying this to gain points, but I am mostly inspired by my wife­-to-­be, and co-director of "Babysitter," Ali Delianides. She has so much faith in me, and believes in everything I do.

I believe I strive to create and produce shows, because it makes her laugh, she is entertained, and I love showing off and being like, “Hey, look what I can do!” Family and friends, who support and believe in me, also come as a huge inspiration.

The other executive producer on "Babysitter," is my brother, Eric Edwards, and regardless if he thinks my shows are funny or his cup of tea, he always believes in me and my vision. As I previously said, I am also inspired by the audience, and the things I’ve grown up loving.

Being passionate about things here and there, really inspire me to be imaginative and to create.

Q - What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the entertainment business?­

Do what you love and surround yourself with people that give off good energy. I am guilty of often being too cynical, so I try to remember that my personal energy could easily rub off and influence someone else.

If we all work to create a supportive and positive environment, we as individuals, should always feel compelled to explore and express themselves in ways that show off their passions.