Saturday, October 21, 2017

"Unplugged: A Survivor's Story in Scenes & Songs" to be presented at City Winery Chicago


In an all too familiar story, "Unplugged: A Survivor's Story in Scenes & Songs" tells the tale of a 27-year-old rock star struggling with depression and post-traumatic stress in the wake of childhood sexual abuse.

The musical, based on a novel written by Evanston author/performer Paul McComas, will be presented Oct. 22 at City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph St., Chicago. Doors open at noon and the show starts at 1 p.m.

Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 the day of the show, available by going to  Eighty-five percent of proceeds from ticket sales will benefit RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)’s National Sexual Assault Hotline, and The Kennedy Forum, which works to eliminate the stigma around mental illness and enforce parity for behavioral healthcare.

Playing the part of lead character Dayna Clay is co-creator Maya Kuper. The album is being released on CAUDog Records, a label connected to Chicago Acoustic Underground.

I had the chance to talk to Paul and Maya about the project.

Q – Do you feel yourself identifying with this character?
Maya – I have found myself identifying more and more with this character. I didn't at first, and I've been working on this character for a few years now. 
Dayna Clay has some pretty serious mental health issues, and she's also a trauma survivor. She was a survivor of childhood rape. What I've learned from working on this character is that there are parts of her experience that I can relate to. 
The idea of being in a relationship where you are not treated with respect is something that many, many people can relate with. It doesn't have to domestic abuse or sexual violence, but emotional abuse is I think way more common than a lot of people realize because it's enough not talked about. 
And a lot of times people don't realize it's happening to them. And so, that part of Dayna is something that I relate to. And the parts of Dayna that I don't have experience with, like the fact that she's suicidal and is dealing with serious post traumatic stress, those are things that I've learned a lot about from working on this character.

I lost a friend to suicide a few years ago. I almost feel like everyone knows someone or has someone in their circle – a family member, a friend, a colleague, who either has been suicidal or they lost somebody to suicide.

And it's often not talked about. It's often swept under the rug. There's the fear that talking about it can actually push somebody over the edge.

But in my opinion, we need to talk about it more. Because if it's true that one in five Americans deals with a mental health issue in any given year, than it's an epidemic.

And it's something we need to talk about more and more. Because the only way we are going to reduce that stigma is by speaking about it out loud.

And so the more we talk about it, the more we make it OK to talk about.

Q How did the death of Kurt Cobain affect you and inspire you?

Paul – I was a fan of the man and of the music. There seemed to be a lot of talk about the heroin abuse, as if he had died of an overdose. He put a gun to his head. The heroin abuse was a symptom of the depression that killed him.

I founded this music project called Rock Against Depression with some other musician friends. We all felt like honoring Kurt while at the same time trying to steer young fans away from the path that he took.

Halfway through the five-year run of this project, it occurred to me that I was addressing these issues through someone else's work, but haven't done so through my own writing and music and performing. And that was sort of the genesis of "Unplugged." 

Q Is Dayna Clay supposed to be a female version of Kurt Cobain?

Paul – Not really. She's supposed to be her own person, and she is.

But Kurt was definitely an inspiration, and you can see the elements, I think, of him in her, in terms of attitude and excessive empathy regarding the pain of other people, which is a classic symptom for some people struggling with depression. I say this as someone who does struggle with depression. I say this as a depression survivor myself.

After I had recovered from depression, I started working on the novel. His death was a major inspiration for writing the book.

I wanted to write about someone similar, not the same but similar, who was able to step back from the brink in a way that he was not permitted to do. She has an opportunity that he does not get.

Q – As far as putting the novel to music, did you always envision that you would be putting on a show like this?

Paul – Maya was the one who said she always wanted to write a musical. I was working on a song in this character's voice while I was working on the novel. 

I didn't have in mind a full-fledged 90-minute two act musical. This is a whole other animal, what we're going here and now.

Maya – I would say that it started out as what you might call a song cycle, with songs that were written in the voice of the character. When I started working with Paul on this material about four years ago, I had this rich novel of source material to draw from and these ideas to fill in the blanks.

Q – Even though there is a 20-year age difference between the two of you, it seems like you guys have a musical kinship. Is that right?

Paul – She's my kid sister that I never had. I was the youngest of four and I always wanted a kid sister. It took a while, but I finally got one nine years ago.

Maya – Brother and sister is a good way to describe it, because we do pick fights all the time. He has things that I wouldn't have thought of, and I have things that he wouldn't have thought of, and that's why it's a good collaboration. We feel in the blanks for each other.

Q – What would you like people to get out of the project?

Maya – What I want people to get out of this show is that it is OK to talk about mental health issues, it's OK to talk about traumatic events in your past. And what's more, it's good to talk about them. It's healing to talk about them.

It's necessary to talk about them in order to reduce the stigma and raise awareness. We'll never get better if we do not speak out loud.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Chicago band The Obleeks releases debut album, will perform Oct. 23 at Schubas


You can call The Obleeks' debut album a happy accident.

The Chicago power-pop band didn't set out to record an album when it contacted Amos Pitsch of the Wisconsin band Tenement to record a few songs. Pitsch ended up recording, mixing and recording the album at his Crutch of Memory studio in Appleton, Wis. He also also designed the cover and all of the artwork for the album.

To celebrate the release of the new self-titled album, The Obleeks will perform Oct. 23 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

Also on the bill are Terriers and Dan Durley. The free show starts at 8 p.m.

The band is comprised of brothers Andy and Lee Ketch along with Nick Harris. I had the chance to talk to the Andy and Lee about the new album.


Q – Great talking to you. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

Andy – This album came about very strange way. There was never a moment when we decided that we were going to record an album.

It came about very incidentally. Originally, we contacted Amos to record a few songs to test if we wanted to record at Crutch of Memory for an album with a different band the three of us are in, Mooner.

On talking about it more, we realized the Crutch of Memory sound wasn’t quite right for Mooner, but since Amos had agreed, we decided to record four songs for The Obleeks over a weekend, not sure what we were going to do with them.

They turned out really well, and so a couple of months later we went back up to Appleton to record five more songs.

The only thing we had in mind for the record was that we wanted to record in a way we never have before. When we would go up there, we would record basics for two songs the first day, basics for another two or three songs the second day, and then all of the vocals/overdubs on the third day.

I have been personally inspired by albums like "In the City" by The Jam, and "L.A.M.F." by The Heartbreakers, and always wanted to make a record like that – very stripped down and recorded as fast as possible. I think we all saw this as our opportunity to do that, in a way.

Q – How did you hook up with Good Land Records? How do you think you fit in with the other artists on the label? It seems like the majority of the acts on the label can be described as power pop bands.

Andy – Amos got us in contact with them! We have never, ever had any luck with labels, but he finally broke us through into the big time.

We’ve always been a fan of a lot of their artists (Dwight Twilley, Midnight Reruns, Tim Schweiger). We had a chance to play with Tim when we went up to Green Bay last year, and had a great time.

We are very lucky to have a relationship with some bands in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin, and actually are pretty envious of what they have going on up there. I would say we fit right in without doing anything special.

Q – What was it like working with your brother on the album? Do you a share a musical kinship?

Andy – I loved it. As Lee’s younger brother, he greatly influenced my musical tastes growing up (introducing me to Wilco, Big Star, etc.), and so we end up thinking about music in similar ways.

My favorite thing about sharing a foundation is that we both have built off of it in different ways – I gravitate more toward the punk side of things, while Lee is more interested in songwriting and production, which I think are the essences of power-pop.

I think the result is a record which stays in the realm of power-pop, but has enough variations within that genre that (I hope) the listener can appreciate.

Also, Nick Harris, the bassist/songwriter/singer, was indispensable for the album. He brought a lot of the poppiest stuff to the record (and the best song), and was very much an integral part to the whole process.

This was very much a surprise, because Lee and I are very much nepotistic when it comes to music, and we both were very happy to find we could share a kind of deep music kinship with someone outside of the family (but we have since married him into the family for the sake of nepotism).

Lee – It was great. Whenever Andy wouldn’t play a drum fill, I would just noogie him into submission. Less luck with Nick.

Q – Will you be touring to support the new album? Is there a meaning behind the band's name?

Andy – Uh, we hope so. We very much want to go up to Wisconsin, Ohio, and Nashville, but no concrete plans as of yet.

It looks like it will be mainly long-weekend mini-tours for us.

Nope, but I suspect Lee wanted to sneak his name in there somehow.

Q – Do you see The Obleeks as being a one-time project or would you like to make more records with the band as well as tour?

Andy – We absolutely want to keep making more records and play more shows. It is a great outlet for us.

But, like every other band out there, we’re just fitting it into our schedules with work and what not.

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see The Obleeks fitting into it?

Andy – We love it. This album wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the DIY scene here. We had a lot of encouragement from them, and playing our first shows at places like Club Soda and Auxiliary helped us feel much better about what we were doing.

Lee – Our first show was at a show space called the Auxiliary in Avondale. The music room is heavily carpeted. Right after we went on a crust punk band called The Fuckers played and their fans poured dozens of beers onto the carpet, making for a very squishy show.

Andy – The Fuckers were great and scared me a lot.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Chicago musician Dan Rico injecting freshness, energy into local music scene


On his new single "Flesh and Bone," Chicago musician Dan Rico updates the rawness and energy of '70s glam rock for a new generation.

Rico will celebrate the release of the single with a show on Oct. 14 at the Cafe Mustache, 2313 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Shenandoah Davis also is on the bill, and the music starts at 9 p.m.

I had the chance to talk to Rico about the new single and how he sees himself fitting into the Chicago music scene.

Q – Great talking to you. You have a new single, "Flesh and Bone." In sitting down to make the song, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a story behind the song's name?

The main riff and most of the lyrics to “Flesh and Bone” I’d been sitting on for a number of years. I actually have an older recording of this song that almost went on my first album, "Endless Love," that’s a little sludgier and more intense.

I’m a huge T-Rex fan and eventually just decided to embrace the T-Rexness of this track and try to reproduce some of the tropes I love about their songs.

I think there’s a very fine line between rip-off and homage, and I’m very interested in the history of rock music and recycling/redefining old ideas the way you see commonly with sampling in hip hop, etc. This particular track is one of my first endeavors into this field, with more to come. 

The title itself, “Flesh and Bone,” takes the attitude that though the narrator may be hurt or slighted by a romantic encounter, experiences of pain confirm our very humanity. And it’s good to be human. 

Q – How did you hook up with Shit in Can Records and how do you yourself fitting on the label?

Shit in Can found me on a music blog and contacted me about releasing some music. I think the punk roots of the music put me in their wheelhouse, and the songwriting got me on the roster.

Q – I understand that your two favorite producers are Prince and David Bowie. What did you learn from them? How have you been influenced by their music?  

Both were just filled with ideas. On the one hand there’s the idea that you should be able to dance to guitar music. They really embrace the dance qualities of rock and pop music. 

Prince specifically has some really cool guitar solos and isn’t afraid to take some of the arrangements to the extreme. David Bowie had a unique take on background vocals and arrangements that I found really accessible as a rock producer.

Q - There is a freshness and energy to glam rock and garage rock that other genres lack. What drew you to the genres and how have you tried to incorporate them in your music?

I like that glam rock is theatrical. In a sort of post-grunge-indie era when bands are still wearing t-shirts and flannel to perform, I like the imaginative costumes and grandiose bandstand stage set-ups; the idea that rock musicians can be larger than life.

Now that the (rock) genre is so oversaturated and in decline in mainstream popularity, I think it’s beneficial as an artist to celebrate its finer points and what originally made it so impressive and charming. 

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

The Chicago music scene has thousands of artists and bands. Many of these can be stratified geographically into different scenes.

I operate in a part of the city called Logan Square and play there frequently. In Logan, there’s a big rock/garage scene and I definitely grew up in and fall within that category. 

Like the city of Chicago itself, the sad truth is that the music scene has a strong racial segregation. It wasn’t until I spent a lot of time in southern cities like New Orleans and Atlanta that I realized how different Chicago is in this way.

Once you begin to notice that almost all the audience for any rock show is white it’s hard to un-notice. A lot of people have a “that’s just the way it is” attitude.

My hope in the future is to evolve beyond these barriers, to create music that all different people - white, black, brown, yellow, young, old, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, atheist - can enjoy and get down to.