Saturday, February 27, 2016

Chicago band Poison Boys releasing new EP

The members of Chicago band Poison Boys were heartbroken following the unexpected death of rhythm guitarist and his fiancee.
To honor them, the band decided to carry on with a new lineup. To celebrate the release of its new EP, "Headed for Disaster," the band will perform March 4 at Cole's Bar, 2338 Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

American Breakfast and The Glyders also are on the bill. The show starts at 10 p.m.

I had the chance to talk to lead guitarist Matt about the new EP.

Q - Great talking to you. Congratulations on the upcoming release of your EP, "Headed for Disaster." I know the band has been through a lot of heartache following the unexpected death of Mike and his fiancee. How did you go about making the decision to carry on the band following his death?

Hey, thanks Eric. Yeah, that was a tough decision.

Basically, we decided this was a way to carry on playing in Mike and Jenna's honor as well as continue making bad ass rock and roll that we love in the vein of what me and Mike were writing for this band.

I believe that's what they would have wanted.

Q - How did you go about finding your new bassist and what do you think he brings to the band?

Our new bassist Adam sort of fell into the spot. He and our drummer Andy had previously been in Scoundrel together and we had known each other for years.

He was coming to Poison Boys shows prior to being in it so it was natural. He brings the joint...ha ha.

Besides that, he brings a lot of commitment and dedication as well as some unexpected bass lines that make the songs sometimes. Plus, we've sort of wanted to be in a band together for years and have very similar musical tastes, so yeah, it's awesome having him in the band.

Q - In sitting down to make "Headed for Disaster," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a meaning behind the EP's name?

Our goals for this EP were to get a record out. We just took three songs from an LP we recorded for partly during Mike's time in the band, but mostly afterward during early 2015.

The label we recorded the LP for dropped us after we basically finished the record, so we figured it was cheaper to do an EP rather than find a label to release an LP by a band who was virtually unheard of at the time.

The title of the song comes from the story behind the song. A person getting into a relationship that they can already see is headed for disaster, but down to take that risk anyway.

Q - Who are your biggest musical influences and how have they shaped the band's music?

Our biggest musical influences are the New York Dolls, Dead Boys, Nervous Eaters, the Joneses, Slaughter & the Dogs, etc. Just trashy rock and roll and punk mostly from the 1970s era, but also bands that sound like that from any other era.

Also girl groups from the 1960s like the Shangri-Las and the Ronnettes. And of course also Chuck Berry, Vince Taylor, Jerry Lee and endless other early rock and roll gods from the 1950s.

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

The Chicago music scene is really diverse. There's too many scenes to really put them all into one catagory... We sort of fit into the garage rock scene I guess? The Chicago punk scene really just melted into the hardcore scene now and we don't really fit into that type of music.

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

Short term - Play a bunch of sick shows and get people having fun, movin' n shakin' to our rock and roll sounds. Put out more awesome records for people to listen to and love.

Long term - Tour internationally, continue releasing and playing killer tunes (again same as short term), become a go-to band for people to put on when they want to get stoked and party to some rock and roll.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Chicago's Hemmingbirds moves in new musical direction on latest EP, will perform at Schubas


On its new EP, "Half a Second," musically adventurous Chicago band Hemmingbirds embarks on a new direction.

The album is more upbeat than its previous efforts, a reflection of the band's latest influences. To celebrate the release, Hemmingbirds will perform Feb. 26 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

Carbon Tigers and The Noise FM also are part of the show. The show starts at 10 p.m., and tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, available at Schubas' website.

I had the chance to talk to Hemmingbirds' frontman Yoo Soo Kim about the album.

Q - Great talking to you again. The mood on "Half a Second" is decidedly more upbeat than your last album. In sitting down to make the EP, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

We really looked to make a smaller collection of songs that we felt were very strong in writing, arrangement, and production. While I am proud of the last two LPs we made, it was a struggle to make a full-length while everyone in the band was also juggling jobs and other priorities.

So we felt like a big goal was to only pick a handful of songs and really dedicate [ourselves] to make them as strong as possible.

I think the record is more upbeat because we're listening to a lot more music outside of rock. I've been getting into a lot of pop, hip hop, and EDM.

Because of that, I've been into the type of energy that those genres bring. I also feel like I'm in a lot better place as a person compared to the last couple albums. There are aspects of my life that I'm happier with and that makes me feel like writing more upbeat stuff.

Some artists we sought influence from were St. Vincent, Vampire Weekend, Bleachers, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. Katy and Taylor are clearly the outliers there, but, for the other artists listed, I really liked the way they took conventional rock and put some sort of innovative twist in their production. 

We really looked at creating unidentifiable guitar tones by recording our regular guitars and then tweaking further with digital processing. It wasn't about capturing how we sound live. It was recording our parts and then [messing] with them with plug-ins and stuff.

Coming back to Katy and Taylor, I just really love that style of production where the drums and sounds are so immediately memorable from the first few bars. I wanted to capture that essence in our songs. 

Q - What was the concept behind the video for "Mess of Things?"

Well, we're friends with the Wheel Show team in L.A. They used to put on shows here in Chicago called "The Late Live Show" and "Creative Control." They make a lot of sketch videos and one-off TV pilots that we all think are hilarious and really well done.

So we thought they really had the capability to make something special. I came up with a concept and pitched it to them. They scrapped it and came up with their own concept that's in the actual video.

I think I asked them in passing once how they came up with the idea, and they mainly thought it'd be hilarious to have a skeleton doing those human things. That really might be the extent of how the concept came together. From there, they just threw their really smart writing into it and made it the awesome video it is.

Q - The Kickstarter campaign to fund "Half a Second" was a success. Does the fact that people were willing to give to the campaign in order to hear more music from the band make you feel more connected to your audience?

Absolutely! Honestly, successfully raising funds for that Kickstarter was one of the hardest things I've done in this band. It's way more work than I realized it would be and just a lot of worrying if we were going to make our goal.

But then you see these fans share your Kickstarter, and you see friends pledging that you haven't talked to in a long time. And that just made me feel extremely grateful.

There are these people that our going out of their way to help realize your dream and that really makes me feel connected with them knowing that they are into our music.

Q - What are the challenges of being an indie act and do the pluses of being an independent band outweigh the negatives?

I think the huge challenge is not having the team you want to help you get to where you want to be. If it were up to me, I'd love to have a larger scale physical distribution, marketing, touring, radio, etc.

Having to do all that yourself is a lot of work, and, obviously, you don't have the same capabilities that a label would have. Plus there are hundreds of bands out there at our level doing the same thing, so it's tough finding a way to stand out amongst all those bands.

The plus is the level of freedom you have. We're not on a label, so we're free to do whatever we want creatively, which is awesome.

There's no one higher up dictating what we can or can't do with our music and vision, so that's awesome. 

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

I think Chicago has a sweet music scene. Hip hop is clearly a national center of attention here. Rock-wise, I feel like there are a number of cool bands that I have the privilege to know.

But for some reason, there aren't the same number of rock bands breaking out compared to hip hop bands. It could be that there's a negative stigma attached to Chicago and its rock music, and A&R folks maybe aren't looking for bands out of Chicago as much as they are in NYC, LA, or Nashville. I'd love to see a way in the future where Chicago starts getting focus as a center of where cool rock music is coming out.

I think we fit into the segment of indie rock bands that have been around for a few years. I feel like within that circle, we're buddies with a number of like-minded bands. We're all in it trying to figure out how to take ourselves to the next level.

Q - What does the rest of the year hold for the band? 

Well we've got another video we'd like to put out for our latest single, "Stay." We've got a tour in the works for this upcoming summer in support of "Half a Second."

Other than that, we'll just see how things go. I've become a fan of just taking things as they come and seeing what happens. Hopefully we'll make some sort of splash with these songs, and go from there.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Chicago musician Mike Zabrin keeps the funk coming on latest album


On his album "Funktastic," acclaimed bass player Mike Zabrin surrounds himself with an all-star group of musicians, including members of The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown, Kool and the Gang, Parliament-Funkadelic and Fishbone.

I had the chance to talk to him about his current activities.

Q - Great talking to you. I know you are touring in support of your latest album, "Funktastic." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

As a sideman, you are mostly stuck in the norm of playing other people's music. So for me, writing my own album was ultimate freedom.

With "Funktastic," I wanted to write a collaborative album that captures the voices of the more than 25 musicians who recorded on it. I remember thinking to myself how I wanted to record an album that showcases me, but not have the end result a "solo bass" album.

In fact, some of the most fun I have had recording was working with other's creative input. It can be as simple as them coming up with a melody, or lyrics I would never had thought of...that's what kept it fun for me!

So, yes I had definitely accomplished that goal. When one goal is reached though, I am always thinking about achieving my next goal. I think that is the mentality musicians have to have for those who want to sustain a career in music. 

Q - The album features several prominent musicians, including members of The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown, Kool and the Gang, Parliament-Funkadelic and Fishbone. How did you get everyone to be on the album? Did any of these bands shape you musically?

That's a funny story. I was in Anaheim, California, at the NAMM Show and I was showcasing a bass that was built for me at the Warwick booth. Someone picked up a bass and started jamming with me, and we really dug each other's playing.

I later learned that his name was John Heintz, ringleader and producer of The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown (a collaborative funk record featuring George Clinton, members from Kool & The Gang, and more).

We had stayed in touch for months. I eventually showed him a couple of the songs I had recently recorded, and John told me that he would like to use some of the Big Ol' Nasty Getdown musicians on my record.

So next thing you know I am in Los Angeles tracking idols of mine over my songs. We recorded vocalist Kendra Foster in the studio, then raced her back to her soundcheck with Parliament Funkadelic!

It was also a blast to collaborate with Michael Ray from Kool & the Gang and Norwood Fisher from Fishbone.

All of these musicians have helped shape the musician that I continue to grow into. These are the bands that encouraged me to start playing bass when I was 15 years old.

Their arrangements, their production skills, and groove is what I still listen to often. 

Q - Who are your biggest musical influences and what kind of impact did they have on you?

Sly and The Family Stone, Erykah Badu, The Roots, and Snarky Puppy, to name a few. These are bands where the bass is an essential ingredient in the music, and wouldn't be the same tune without that certain bass line.

No matter what instrument you play, you will walk away from listening to Sly and The Family Stone thinking about Larry Graham's percussive bass lines. They completely changed my perspective of what the bass is, and how bass supports the music.

It is all about FEEL and GROOVE!

Q - Your bass playing has earned rave reviews. What have you tried to do that makes your playing stand out from other bass players?

I studied jazz in college, so I was always listening and transcribing horn players and would try to emulate them on my bass. I also don't really play piano very much, so I would often figure out different chords and harmony on my bass.

I also  try to be as versatile as possible. I think people are sometimes surprised when they listen to "Funktastic" and it's not just straight funk music.

Q - I understand you have been playing bass guitar since you were 15. What drew you to the bass in the first place?

I was a freshman in high school and auditioned to play electric guitar in the jazz band. The band director told me I didn't make the audition, but I could still be in the jazz band if I played two strings less and played the bass!

So I  started playing upright bass in the high school orchestra and jazz band. The rhythm section in the jazz band all loved rock music and wanted to start a band. I went out and bought an electric bass, and stuck with it ever since!

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

I really didn't know how big the Chicago music scene was until I started fronting my own band. Within the Chicago music scene, there are so many circles and different genres of musicians.

While it's impossible to know everyone in it, I think Chicago truly has a great music scene. There are lots of opportunities to work in Chicago and many people who support live music.

I am lucky that a lot of my gigs are in the city right now. When we do play outside of Chicago, even into the suburbs, I think the audience really appreciates that we can bring the "Chicago scene" on the road to them.

Q - It seems like "Funktastic" was a dream project for you. Do you have any other dream projects or collaborations?

My main project right now is my live group, Mike Zabrin's Funktastic. We just headlined the Metro Feb. 19, and I am very lucky to have a regular group of amazing musicians playing with me regularly.

We are already halfway done with the next record. Another dream of mine includes touring regularly with Funktastic.

Outside of my group, I also tour around the U.S. with Chicago Blues Hall of Famer, Joe Moss.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

"Hero Cats" will again take the spotlight at this year's Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo


After introducing C2E2 goers to his "Hero Cats" action comic book series last year, writer/creator Kyle Puttkammer will return to C2E2 this year with a special guest - Sonic the Hedgehog artist Tracy Yardley, who is working with him on a new series called "Galaxy Man."

C2E2 will be held March 18-20 at the South Building At McCormick Place, Chicago. Tickets are available at

I had the chance to talk to Kyle about his upcoming C2E2 appearance.

Q - Great talking to you again. I know that you will be at C2E2 with Sonic the Hedgehog artist Tracy Yardley. Of course, he is working on "Galaxy Man and Cosmic Girl #1," set for release later this year. How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brings to the project?

Tracy Yardley is an incredible talent and we're really looking forward to showcasing his art this year.  Not long ago there were very few all ages comics available on the marketplace.

My daughters had a hard time finding suitable comics to read and as a response I decided to create some new characters. I was at Heroes Con promoting a four-issue "Galaxy Man" small press run that was distributed through Diamond in 2012 when I met Tracy.

He really enjoyed the concept of a father & daughter team and their mission to find mom, who is lost in space. Tracy's enthusiasm for the project inspired additional stories.

His art really validated our efforts.  Since I was in production of "Hero Cats of Stellar City," it was agreed that "Galaxy Man" would play a wonderful part in the background of the stories (Cassiopeia is Cosmic Girl's Cat).

He's even prominently featured in "Midnight Over Stellar City #3," which ships this week.

Q - I know the character of Galaxy Man has been around for a few years, and stemmed from an art class contest. How do you think the character has evolved over the years and do you see the character evolving even more?

"Galaxy Man" started out as a classic take on traditional superheroes. Origin story and secret identities abound.

As the story grew, we found new meaning and depth to his character. Since he believes his wife is still out there and that he can find her, he's very driven.

Suzie, his daughter, knows that her father can get deeply depressed sometimes. His only escape is to play the part of the city's superhero.

He finds joy in helping others, even though he works every day to bring the love of his life home again. The biggest growth is shown in the new series title.

"The Adventures of Galaxy Man and Cosmic Girl" reflects Suzie's role in the story, and in many ways, she has become the main narrative.

Q - The comic is aimed at families. "Galaxy Man," after all, is a husband and a father in addition to being a hero. What have you heard from families who have read the comics?

The most interesting feedback was from a divorced father.  He related to Stanley's struggles and having to raise a child on his own.

He found encouragement in the stories. But the feedback that we here the most is that the series fills that need for fresh stories that every can enjoy.

Q - The third "Hero Cats" paperback was recently released. For those who are not that familiar with "Hero Cats," but might want to check it out, what should they expect in the new paperback?

"Hero Cats" is an amazing journey for me as a writer.  I never expected the characters to take us where we've gone.

I can really put the "Hero Cats" into just about any situation and the characters lead the way. They've saved the world in the third trade paperback and it represents our most ambitious storyline.

If you include the "Midnight Over Stellar City" series, it comes out to a six issue story arc. We're currently working on a storyline where they tour the world.

After that, it gets even more wild! We have big things in store for readers and we can't wait to share them.

Most importantly, the stories are crafted so that new readers can pick up any trade and jump right in.  They will recognize the characters right away and fall in love with them.

It's very new reader friendly.

Q - I know the last time we spoke, you talked about the possibility of "Hero Cats" being made into a movie. Anything new on that front?

Fans of the series tell us all the time that it would work very well as an animated show. Early on, we were still discovering what kind of stories could be told with the "Hero Cats," but now we're confident.

We will be going to CatCon LA in June and imagine we'll meet many new contacts.  There's nothing in the works yet, but we are hopeful.

Q - Interest in comics seems to be at an all time high, with more and more movies and TV shows being made that are based around comic book characters. Why do you think there is so much interest in comics these days?

Comics represent an affordable way to tell elaborate stories.   Telling these kind of stories would take millions of dollars, but with comics we are able to test the market and grow the properties.

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

We're building a connected universe featuring all ages stories that are really high quality. We're proud of the talented artists that we get to work with.

As the series grows, we'll need more artists and I'll be at Portland Wizard World this weekend to scout for more talent. The "Hero Cats" team is always looking to grow.  Who knows what potential the future holds. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Chicago band Wellthen helping put fresh face on music scene


Wellthen is helping put a fresh face on the Chicago music scene.

The band will perform Feb. 12 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 West Belmont Ave., Chicago. Wray, New Canyons and Foreign Shores also are on the bill.

The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets range from $8 to $10, available at

I had the chance to talk to Wellthen frontman Aurelio Damiani about the band's activities.

Q - Great talking to you. I know that the band has released some demos in advance of your CD. Are these songs representative of what people should expect from the new CD? In sitting down to make the CD, what goals did you have?

We think of the demos of more of a rough sketch of what the album will look like. The album we’re putting together will be 10 songs and the five demo songs were all re-recorded.

While the structures have stayed pretty much the same we think the overall dynamics, tone, and presentation are much more representative of what we had in our heads when we originally wrote these songs. 

Q - I understand that you haven't done many shows yet, and will be doing your fourth show in February. What have you been trying to do with your live shows?

We think first and foremost, we’ve just been trying to entertain people and have a good time.

Some of these early shows have really been about finding our footing as a live band and really trying to identify our weakness and just improving on them. We have a good deal of live playing experience individually, but this band is kind of a new thing for a few of us.

For example, this is the first band I’ve played in as a lead singer.

I’ve mostly only played drums in bands so there’s definitely been some nerves flare up that I haven’t really felt since high school.

Fortunately the rest of the guys are all pros and I just lean on them to make us look and sound good. 

Q - I understand that three of the four members have played in other bands together. Has that helped to strengthen the musical chemistry in Wellthen?

Definitely! Christian and I have been playing in bands together for more than 10 years and Matt has been playing with us for nearly 3 or 4. I think it creates a nice shorthand and conversations go really smoothly more often than not.

And while Andy is technically the newest of our group, he has really slid in like an old friend. Sometimes I forget that he wasn’t in past bands with the three of us.

It all feels strangely familiar. 

Q - In forming Wellthen, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? How do you think the band has evolved since forming?

Not sure if we had any specific goals in mind when started aside from just playing good music and having fun. We’re definitely not in this to be rock stars.

I think our biggest goal so far has been the record. And by that I mean, recording it and eventually releasing it (which hopefully will be soon). 

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

So the name was from a previous short lived project between Christian and myself. We were kind of just singing duel leads over each other’s songs and were stumped in finding a name.

One day when texting back and forth, we realized that we often start and end a lot of our texts with “well then” and it just kind of fit.

When we started this project we kept hitting a wall on what to call it and Wellthen just seemed to fit. It was probably the easiest the band name we’ve ever come up with. 

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

We’ll find out, I guess. We’ll have to see how many '90s rock bands are playing in the scene now. We’ve been in a little out of touch for the past few years, so we’re really anxious to see what people are doing these days.

We’re sure it will be great! 

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

I think short term it would be release the record, get it out there for some people to listen and just play locally and maybe a little regionally. Long term, well, I think we’re more a short term goals kind of group.

Planning too far ahead is difficult and it’s maybe best just think about things in the present.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Chicago band Freaks for Geeks releasing new EP, will perform at the Beat Kitchen


Whether you call them rap-rock or rock-hop, Chicago band Freaks for Geeks is helping add to the vibrancy of the Chicago music scene.

The band will release its third EP, "TIN," on Feb. 9, and will celebrate the release of the album with a show on Feb. 13 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.

Lionize and Roger This also are on the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $10 to $12, available at

I had the chance to talk to Freaks for Geeks lead singer Eric Slager about the new EP.

Q - In sitting down to make "TIN," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a meaning behind the EP's title?

I think the main goal that we had for this EP was simply to give these four tracks a permanent home and in doing so, further craft the style and voice that we have been working towards since day one. I think that TIN will be a sort of a milestone for us going forward as this EP represents the last batch of songs that have been kicking around for some time.

If you’ve seen us live any time in the past year or so, chances are you’ve heard one, two, three, or even all four of these songs. These are tracks that we feel very strongly about and are thrilled will finally have a permanent home.

The EP gets its name from Tin Nguyen, a fantastic filmmaker and friend of the band who also graces the cover. On the day that we were scheduled to shoot the cover art in the city, I was stuck in a downpour in the south suburbs.

The rest of the crew went out to location scout and this photo came from that session. Since we were already up in the air on a name for the EP, we thought that it was a fitting way to pay homage to the friends that come out and support us show after show. And we’re not done yet…

Q - Is the band's name a reference to the TV show "Freaks and Geeks?”

It most definitely is! As a band, we are rabid consumers of popular culture. The movies, books and TV shows that we experience definitely help to shape the way that we interact with the world.

Every song that we’ve written is rooted in pop culture and naming the band Freaks for Geeks is our way to carry on the legacy of one of the greatest unfairly cancelled shows of all time.

Q - I know Freaks for Geeks formed following the demise of your band May Queen, which was more of a funk-rock band. What made you want to switch musical directions? 

I think that the idea of hip-hop influenced vocals has always been present when we are writing music. With May Queen, we were taking a lot of inspiration from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Anthony Kiedis’ unique rap-talk vocals are obviously a major part of that sound.

When Ryan and I first got together to start writing music for this project it was 2008, the same year that Flobots’ “Fight With Tools” got its national release. That’s no coincidence.

While we’ve always been fans of hip-hop, we were heavily inspired by that record and the way that it so seamlessly blends rap and rock. It doesn’t feel like an emcee rapping over a live band, it just feels natural. And that’s what we strive to accomplish. 

Q - I am sure you've heard your music described in several ways. How would you describe your music and who/what are your biggest musical influences?

Genre tags have always been a bit of a sticking point for us. It’s very easy to throw out "rap-rock" when describing our sound, but for anyone that lived through the early '00s, that term can conjure up some less than ideal comparisons.

We generally like to describe ourselves as a rock band with hip-hop influenced vocals. We’ve recently started throwing around the term “rock-hop” as a friendlier alternative to “rap-rock”… I guess we’ll see if it sticks.

As for musical influences, we are all over the board. Between the five of us, there probably isn’t a record out there that at least one of us wouldn’t get into.

I think as a band some of our main musical inspirations come from groups like Rage Against The Machine, Sublime, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Twenty One Pilots.

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

As someone who has spent time both playing music in Chicago as well as writing about the local scene, it’s hard for me to form a cohesive opinion about it. There are days where I’m intimidated by the saturation of the scene and others where I’m thrilled by its variety.

It’s always been a bit of a struggle for us to find our niche here. We’ve had a wonderful time sharing the stage with bands from just about every genre, and we like to think that our sound can fit in almost anywhere that there’s a distorted guitar. 

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

Short-term, we’re really looking forward to getting TIN out into the world and starting work on our next release. As I mentioned before, the tracks on TIN represent a few of the last tracks that we’ve been sitting on.

We’re really excited to, for the first time, be writing new songs for a specific release. Long-term, we’d love to plan a short Midwestern tour and take our tunes outside of the city limits.

There’s a full-length record on the road map as well as some vinyl way out there down the line. The support that we’ve gotten from our first two releases has been wonderful and we’re really excited to see where we can go from here.