Saturday, November 23, 2019

Clinard Dance to premiere 'Everyday People Everyday Action'

Dance meets photography in Clinard Dance's latest project, "Everyday People Everyday Action."
Clinard Dance and Japanese photographer Akito Tsuda have teamed up to create an interdisciplinary work based on Akito's photos of Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood in the early 1990s.  The show will premiere at 2 p.m. Nov. 24 at The National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St., Chicago.

Ticket are $25 for adults and $15 for youth/seniors,

I had the chance to talk to Clinard Dance artistic director Wendy Clinard about the show.

Q – Great talking to you again. Of course, "Everyday People Everyday Action" will premiere Nov. 24 at The National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. How did you team up with Akito Tsuda and what is the idea behind the show?
In early 2016, I first saw an article in the now-defunct magazine "Chicago Voz" about the Japanese photographer Akito Tsuda's photographs of Pilsen in the early '90s when he was a student at Columbia College. I felt an immediate spark of recognition as a creative person who has raised a family and developed my art in the neighborhood; I founded Clinard Dance in 1999.
I reached out to Tsuda, who hadn't been back to Chicago in about 25 years. At the same time, Cultura in Pilsen had reached out to Akito and in fall 2017 Tsuda returned to Pilsen to share his photos and, at this point, we started our exchange on this interdisciplinary project.
The idea behind the show is to create a work that tells a story about everyday people and their everyday actions in service of celebrating and magnifying ordinary and everyday beauty. How do we do this?
By using the flamenco interplay between singer, guitar and dancer, but in this work it is between photo, dance (hip hop and flamenco) and music (flamenco, beatboxing, Son Jarocho and violin).
Q – How did you like collaborating with Akito? Do you see more collaborations with him? 

Our physical time together has always been limited but the time we have spent together, writing each other and working with his photos now for the last few years, has been more than adequate in cultivating a depth in friendship and an understanding both of the photos and photographer while living and walking in Pilsen in the day-to-day sense.

I carry these images everywhere I go and, as a result, I can see new ones all the time. We still have the tailor shop, laundry mats, families sitting on porches, basketball games, and the unsuspecting smiles when passing each other on the street. Akito and I are talking about his dog photos; let's see if that makes for another project?

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

One thing a lot of my work has to do with – and certainly this piece is not different – is people matter and caring for each other is how that functions. People all over the world create and thrive on a sense of belonging and, many times, the way people create this is by seemingly ordinary and simple ways and, in Pilsen, just walking around, sitting on porches, talking to our neighbors, being curious about each other instead of fearful has always been part of the neighborhood.

Making this piece has something akin to this too – we all show up with our disciplines at the service of the photos and we see where we connect; how an image inspires a sound, a movement, etc. and when we work this way we make something entirely new because we are exploring the capacity that each discipline has to interacting with each other.

And because we are all out of our comfort zones in this mixed disciplines piece, the method is simple – we fool around, go back and forth and the piece discovers us.

Q – Of course, Clinard Dance is also celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Has Clinard Dance lived up to your expectations? What dream projects do you have? 

Clinard Dance has allowed me and all the fine artists who we've worked with a platform to make originally devised artworks and, at the same time through the school and Flamenco Quartet Project, to hone in as craftspeople on the art of flamenco; I am grateful. 

We have just been awarded a 2019 MacArthur International Connections Fund. We will be working with Compania Elena Andujar from Madrid, Spain.

We will be working with seniors in Chicago and gitano youth in Spain in one component of the exchange.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Adventurous Chicago band The Phantom Broadcast releases new vinyl record, will perform free show at Emporium


With the vinyl release of "Antiquities," Chicago band The Phantom Broadcast is proving that it is one of the most adventurous bands around.

To celebrate its release, The Phantom Broadcast will perform a free show Nov. 5 at Emporium, 1366 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. The show starts at 8 p.m.

I had the chance to talk to The Phantom Broadcast frontman Evan Opitz about the project.

Q – Great talking to you. Of course, you will be celebrating the release of "Antiquities (Vol I)” and "Antiquities Vol II" on a vinyl LP with a show at Emporium in Wicker Park on Nov. 5. In sitting down to make the albums, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

Thanks for chatting with us! We are so excited to finally put this release out into the world.

As far as the writing and recording processes go for the record, we spent a lot of time with details and each individual song rather than viewing the project as a whole. We went into writing without a full concept and without thinking about a fixed number of tracks.

Everything sort of grew organically, with a lot of writing sessions taking place between guitarist/vocalist Dave Hollis and me (and sometimes violinist/vocalist Lucy Little) on acoustic guitars in my living room. 

We would workshop ideas and bring them to our practice space to further expand on with bassist Nick Soria and drummer Colin Rambert.

One thing Dave and I wanted to be mindful of when writing was only creating lyric/vocal sections when deemed natural and appropriate with the music. There are some extended instrumental sections of certain songs (i.e., “Mast” and "Leaving Appleton").

Instead of trying to write more or squeeze more words into a song, we decided to let those sections breathe as they are and make the purpose and thought behind the lyrics stand more deliberately.

By the end of the writing for the record, we started to realize a lot of subconscious themes and concepts throughout, such as a plethora of nautical and existential metaphors in lyrics written by Dave and I individually. We would both contribute to lyrics for songs, sometimes more heavily on one’s individual concept rather than a collective concept.

Oddly enough, a lot of times we found ourselves writing about the same or similar things but from different angles.

It is difficult to get all of us in a room together so the writing process was really drawn out. I do feel like we could have had more time to elaborate on certain things, but due to scheduling and availability, some things were streamlined.

I think moving forward we want to try and keep our writing sessions more consistent and have it be a constant staple in how we rehearse. 

Q – It seems like there should be a meaning behind the band's name. Is it a nod to the 1933 movie, "The Phantom Broadcast"? 

To be honest, there isn’t as much of a connection to the film as there probably should be (ha ha ha). I spent days going through lists of old films in search of something fairly obscure and cryptic.

I thought it was interesting how a movie from that time period had such a mysterious title. Musically, the band has always had a foot in the experimental and enigmatic. The title seemed to fit the imagery. 

Q – How did the band come together?

The group, as it exists now, consists of friends that I have made over the last decade. Nick and I went to the University of Illinois together and have played in a ton of bands over the last 8 or so years.

Colin also was at the university with us getting his masters; he and I both played in a group called The Martian Mellows based out of Decatur, IL (Millikin University). It gets weirder as Dave and I met while working together in a call center when we both first moved to Chicago but Dave, unrelated, went to college with Colin at Millikin.

Lucy and I met when we both played with L.A.-based pop artist Fiona Grey. I’d say the short answer of how we came together is the Law of Attraction. 

Q – How do you think the band's sound has evolved over the years? Do you think the sound will continue to evolve? 

I’d say the sound has 100% evolved over the years in all aspects: our brand and content, our style and genre(s), our lyrics and themes, and our compositional and arranging abilities. The band started as a theatrical, emo, post-hardcore band and became more of a folky, orchestral, fusion indie band.

The magnitude of our life experiences has always been the cornerstone for inspiration and development. Already our sound is evolving again from this most recent release as we move forward in writing new material and reimagining our songs for our upcoming tour. 

Q – You are also part of several other bands. How do you find the time to be involved in so many projects? Do you consider The Phantom Broadcast as your main project? 

I would consider The Phantom Broadcast to be my creation and primary vehicle for musical expression. I’ve made it my life goal to be a professional artist and I’ve found that I can make time and schedule rehearsals and tours around all the projects I commit to as long as I stay organized. 

Thankfully, right now, there isn’t a ton of overlap, but each project is always looking to rehearse, play shows, or write. I love switching gears and playing different styles of music and getting to play with some of my best friends (and some of the best musicians) on this planet.

November is busy as I have tours with The Phantom Broadcast in the Midwest, then Catherine Campbell in the Southeast, and finally Emily Blue on the East Coast and Canada.

I am very thankful to be able to be a part of all these amazing original projects.

Q – I also see that you are a guitar/bass instructor at School of Rock in Oak Park. What are some key things that you try to convey to your students? 

I love teaching and being able to have these connections with young, inspired artists. I try and teach all of my students to be honest, to be confident, and how to work through discouragement.

Each student has the potential to be one of the greatest musicians of all time and it’s my job to instill that. When I was growing up there weren’t many places like School of Rock that were so inclusive; so encouraging to learning how to play music.

I am constantly trying to demonstrate to my students how I go about learning new music or how to practice something I may not be the best at. I also want my students to see that no matter what age and what accolades one artist might hold, professional musicians are always trying to be their best and never stop practicing or learning something new. 

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think The Phantom Broadcast fits into it?

Personally, I have had quite an auspicious time here in Chicago and I’m very thankful for it. It is hard as an upcoming artist to find relevance and to find success.

A lot of developing a project like this comes from paying your dues and learning from what’s happening around you (a lot of times, the hard way). All of the projects I am a part of or that I’m friends with are working together and trying to grow together.

Having such an inclusive and supportive community is not something to take for granted. I would say The Phantom Broadcast has had a slow burn to fit in to the Chicago scene, but I feel we fit in more and more with every release and with every year we are active.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Chicago band The Lilacs releases first new album in more than 25 years, will perform free show at Phyllis' Musical Inn


Chicago band The Lilacs are in fine form on "The Lilacs Endure," the power pop quartet's first new release in more than 25 years.

To celebrate the release of the album, The Lilacs will perform a free show Oct. 19 at Phyllis' Musical Inn, 1800 W. Division St., Chicago. The Last Afternoons also are on the bill and the music starts at 9 p.m.

I had the chance to talk to Ken Kurson and David Levinsky about the new album.

Q – Great talking to you. The name of the new EP is "The Lilacs Endure." Is it a good feeling to have just released your first release in more than 25 years? In sitting down to make the record, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

David Levinsky: My goal was to do the best that we could do with a pretty amazing alignment of circumstances. The songs were good.

The rhythm section was made up of long-lost friends. The producer, Richard Lloyd, had played on one of the great rock albums – Television’s "Marquee Moon." Considering there were no rehearsals, we had never played with this rhythm section, and these are first and second takes, the results are astounding.

Neither Ken or I are Neil Young, but yes, we met our goals. We worked up to capacity. This is the best Lilacs record.

Q – "The Lilacs Endure" is produced by Richard Lloyd, known for his work with the band Television and Matthew Sweet. How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brings to the table?

Ken Kurson: I am a voracious consumer of rock ‘n’ roll memoirs, so when Richard Lloyd’s book "Everything is Combustible" came out, I pre-ordered it and read it without putting it down the instant it arrived. 

I also listened to the audiobook, because Richard’s flat and direct affect as he relates these unbelievable adventures elevate an already excellent memoir to some sort of new performative art form. I have been an enormous fan of Television’s perfect first album and underappreciated nearly-as-good follow-up from the moment I heard them.

So after I read it, I had that urge you sometimes get to meet the author of a book that moved you. I play in a cover band in New York called The Editors with Ira Robbins, the brilliant rock journalist and founder of Trouser Press.

I asked Ira if he knew Richard and of course he did, and he put me in touch. I was a little bit afraid of Richard’s reputation for brutal honesty, but when I emailed him he was friendly and approachable and said he’d be open to hearing about the project but wouldn’t produce unless he heard something that would benefit from his input. 

My wife and I drove to a crazy bar in upstate New York to see him perform a solo show. It was a revelation. Richard doesn’t have a classic singing voice, but his otherworldly guitar playing combined with the utter heart he brought to this collection of really excellent new songs from his latest record, "The Countdown," really moved me.

We talked a bit But I still wasn’t sure he’d be interested in producing The Lilacs because at that point this “project” was just recapturing two great songs from the old days – "Monica" and "Blue Spark" – that had never made it to tape. But then Dave sent me a new song of his I hadn’t heard, just a demo of him playing guitar and screaming on his iPhone.

The song was amazing, “Shadow of Doubt.” With its Sticky Fingers groove, I thought I heard a hit if we got the exact right drummer on it and recorded it right. Moreover, it inspired me to write a song for the first time since I left Chicago in 1993.

I don’t know if you call it competitiveness exactly, because I’ve always loved and championed Dave's songs and I consider all songs by any of us equally to belong to The Lilacs, but it did make me feel like “Shoot, if Levinsky can do it, I can do it.”

So I sat down and wrote “I Saw Her First” and thought “Wow, this is pretty damn catchy.” I later discovered that Dave had actually written "Shadow" a while ago, so it wasn’t quite “new” but it was new to me.

So I sent all these demos to Richard and asked if he found them production worthy, and he did, on the condition that we practice the vocals and commit to a studio in Tennessee – he lives in Chattanooga – that would bring out the bar band feel.

He picked a place he thought was appropriate for our sound, which turned out to be Scotty Moore’s Studio 19 in Nashville. I practiced my vocals on the phone with Richard and he gave me exercises to do on my own which I committed to.

He really liked Dave’s guitar playing from the other Lilacs records I’d sent and I sort of knew after I got a sense of Richard that he and Dave, who had never met or spoken, would instantly hit it off because of their shared weird obsessions with everything from old time guitar sounds to ancient middle eastern mysticism. Richard was the best kind of producer.

Most producers have the reputation of being either very heavy-handed like Mutt Lange, where it almost becomes their record and they cowrite some of the songs and every record they produce sounds like a Mutt Lange record no matter how different the artist. Or being very light handed where they sit back and let the band be great but you wonder how much they bring to the table other than encouragement.

Richard was the best kind of hybrid because he let us rock when we were in the pocket and making a joyful noise. But he also issued strong correctives when our guitar sound wasn’t quite on point or we were morphing into a jam band that didn’t really fit our pop sensibilities. 

But to be honest, part of the way in which Richard elevated our experience is just the awe in which we all hold him. Sitting in a room with a guy who had played on four or five of the greatest records of all time, a guy who literally learned at the knee of Jimi Hendrix (and had the honor of being punched in the face by the great one), I think that just gave us confidence not to feel like old guys in rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp. 

Here was the guy who had literally booked CBGB‘s and discovered many of the bands that wrote America‘s punk songbook, and he had chosen to invest his time with us, so maybe we really did have the right to ask for three minutes of an audience’s time.

Q – I understand The Cars were a big influence on the band. Ken, I saw a picture of you with Ric Ocasek from last year. How did The Cars influence your band?

Ken Kurson: I’m so glad you saw that picture! The Cars were an enormous influence. 

"Just What I Needed" was the first song my first band ever covered, and learning song structure, guitar melody, harmonies and just how fucking great Ben Orr’s voice is were all foundational in my desire to play rock music. I don’t know that Ric was particularly influential on my songwriting, per se, because his obscure and often incomprehensible lyrics are the exact opposite of my own, which are always very direct.

Where Ric would talk about “nuclear boots” and “drip-dry gloves,” if I say “I drank vodka with Diet Rite,” I mean exactly that. But The Cars were a hugely important bridge for me in terms of taking essentially a punk aesthetic and marrying it to these irresistibly catchy pop songs with the musical proficiency of the rock ‘n’ roll gods.

I only met Ric that one time for an hour in the photo you saw, but it meant a lot to me that many of my friends told me that they thought of me when he died.

Q – I understand the songs on the EP were cut live. Why was it important to the band to record the songs in that fashion?

David Levinsky: The Lilacs play rock and roll. Rock bands are best in sweaty little bars like Phyllis’. That’s what we wanted to capture – four people who know each other and like each other in a room playing rock and roll. Is there anything better than that?

Q – The late Jim Ellison named the band and produced the band's first album. What kind of impact did he have on the band?

Ken Kurson: Jim Ellison was a huge influence on The Lilacs and thank you for preserving his memory by asking about him. Firstly, Jim named the band and gave us a ton of our early shows, including opening for Material Issue just as they were becoming a big national act. 

As you mentioned, he produced our first EP, "The Lilacs Love You," and even played a little guitar on the song “It Seems Like Years.” More than that, Jim was an inspiration to us simply because the genius of Material Issue was so simple.

Write good songs, look really cool, work really hard, and the labels will come a-callin’. Jim had been my friend for years before The Lilacs because he was a big fan of Green and had even played rhythm guitar in the band for a bit before I joined. 

We played dozens of shows together, and I watched how professionally he approached even the tiniest gig in an airport hangar in Carbondale.He acted like a rock star way before he became one.

Jim took a lot of abuse in Chicago’s very judgy indie rock scene for the crime of being careerist, but I saw the way his businesslike approach to rock benefited not just his career, but also his songwriting.

If he admired a band like The Tweet he would listen to “Fox on the Run” over and over until the vocal build up on “A Very Good Thing” was more like a Material Issue song than a Sweet song. Rock ‘n’ roll is such a formulaic enterprise.

I’m addicted to these videos by this guy Rick Beato, who does these incredibly thoughtful explications of what makes a song great. He’ll take apart a song like “Limelight” and explain why it really is alternating measures of 4/4 and 3/4 rather than single measures of 7/4.

But the fact is if you wander too far from a Charlie Watts backbeat, it might be a good song, but it ain’t rock ‘n’ roll. That Jim Ellison was able to take these very elemental chord progressions and craft them into a very distinctive Material Issue sound inspired me.

After Jim’s suicide, I wrote a long obituary. His mother called me in New York crying on the phone and thanking me for having captured his personality.

I wrote the liner notes to the band’s final LP. But man, I can’t help but think how many great songs never got written because of the early deaths of so many rock n roll greats.

And I wonder if those sad early endings played a role in us deciding to end The Lilacs at the peak of our powers in the mid 90s. Dave and I can be quite intense people, especially when we were young, and that doesn’t always end well.

Q – David, I understand that you stopped making music from 1998 to 2012 as you pursued religious studies. What brought you back to music?

David Levinsky: A mentor who died a few weeks ago pushed me to reintegrate things I left behind in order to become an “adult” back into my life. So I started studying Hasidic texts again and I started playing rock and roll again. One of the best decisions I ever made. This show is for him and for all of the others no longer with us who helped us.

Q – What's next for the band? Are you working on new music?

David Levinsky: We are writing music and for the first time we plan on writing music together. If we can put a set of good new songs together, it would be great to record another album.

In the meantime, we have a show in New York City at the International Pop Overthrow Festival on Nov. 6.

Q – Do you see this as the next chapter in the band?

Ken Kurson: I do! Only hashem knows what’s next, but we sound pretty fucking good.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Chicago band Kid Bear to celebrate release of new album with show at FitzGerald's


Chicago musician Matt Neuroth experienced a life-changing moment when he was living in New York City and the legendary Steve Earle stopped in the store he was working at, Matt Umanov Guitars.

"He picked up an acoustic guitar and just started strumming some chords," Neuroth related. "And…I don’t know how to put it except to say that, when he played G and C, it was every country song ever written. When I played G and C, it was just a couple of chords. But, when he did it, it was deep; it had soul and groove and power. It really blew my mind. I’d been touring with all these loud rock bands (including Oh My God) and had all these chops, but he had the song in every strum. I’ve been chasing that ever since."

These days, Neuroth is releasing music under the name Kid Bear. Earle's influence can be heard on Kid Bear's latest release, "EP 2." To celebrate the release of "EP 2," Neuroth and his band will perform Sept. 5 at FitzGerald's, 6615 W Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. 

Also on the bill is The Claudettes. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, available at

I had the chance to talk to Neuroth about the EP and other topics.

Q – Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "EP 2," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

Great talking to you, as well! 

It’s an interesting question with this EP because, in a lot of ways, my goals for this EP were really more personal than musical. For most of my career in music, I’ve really struggled with perfectionism. 

I would make recordings and then decide they weren’t good enough for one reason or another and then I’d just basically bury them and move on to the next one. Predictably, this has meant that I’ve done a super horrible job of getting anyone to listen to the music or to care.

They never even had the opportunity because I guess I was just too afraid of failure to really put it out there.

So, this EP is different for a few reasons. The first is that it’s a mix of new songs and some older ones that, with the distance that time brings, I decided actually might be good enough and that I wanted to share wit people. And secondly, we’ve actually hired a publicist and are going to try and see if we can get some attention.

So yeah…I mean, I care a ton about the craft of songwriting and of record making and I could talk about that for hours. But I also just want to push myself and find out if anybody other than me actually might like my music.

I’ve never really had any sort of fan base and I’m simultaneously terrified and super excited to find out what that might be like and whether my music could actually mean something to people other than my family and friends.

Q – The first few chords in the song "A Simple Thing" sound like they could be in a Steve Earle song. How much of an impact did Steve Earle have on this EP and your music in general?

If I’m getting anywhere close to sounding like Steve Earle, I must be on the right track! It’s funny…in a way, I don’t actually spend a ton of time listening to Steve Earle himself (although I really enjoyed his recent "So You Wannabe an Outlaw" album), but he had a really huge influence in the sense that he just really opened my ears to the power and importance of the song. 

Of course you need a good song, but I’d always kind of been drawn to big, complicated songs – Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Radiohead. Even if the songs were simple chordally, they had big riffs or complicated arrangements or were hard to sing. Or all of the above! 

But just hearing in-person the power of a couple simple chords really opened my ears to all this old country and folk music. My personal style still has a lot of rock and roll in it, but I just fell in love with trying to do more with less and thinking about songs from a place of groove and melody and storytelling rather than fancy riffs. 

The opening track from my new EP, “A Simple Thing," for instance, is just those same three chords throughout with no real variations.  But those old country songs…they’re not flashy, but they’re DEEP. 

I think I used to chase flashy and now I’m trying to dig deep. 

Q – So can you still remember the day that Steve Earle stepped into Matt Umanov Guitars in Greenwich Village? What do you remember about that day? How did you feel following his performance?

Well, I’ve simplified the story a bit for the purpose of the bio because I actually worked at Matt’s and Steve was a regular customer. So, my first impression of him was just how friendly and absolutely hilarious he is.

He’s a fabulous storyteller in-person and just very charismatic in a down-to-earth kind of way, which intrigued me immediately. But I absolutely remember the first time I experienced him just conjuring up a whole song in a single chord.

There was a rack of less expensive guitars in the middle of the sales floor and he picked up a little Seagull guitar. They’re like $300 guitars and great for the price, but it’s not some vintage Martin or something.

He picked it up, strummed a G chord for a minute – BOOM magic! – and then put it down and said, “those are really great little guitars.” He left a couple minutes later and I picked up that guitar and…ya know…just a G chord.

No magic. He summoned like a whole genre and I summoned…a G chord. Nothing special at all. 

That just blew my mind because it was such a stark contrast: same chord, same exact guitar…and the results were so stunningly different. I still enjoy playing lead guitar and such, but that really redirected my head.

Q – Do you think it was fate that you happened to be in the store at the time? What kind of music do you think you would be making these days if that encounter didn't happen?

When I moved to NYC, I had actually decided that maybe I should “grow up and get a real job” or something and try to quit pursuing music so seriously. But I needed a job – any job – in order to actually move and it just so happened that I walked into Matt Umanov’s about an hour after one of their sales people had just said he was quitting.

So, they pretty much hired me on the spot and then I ended up working there for three years and getting to meet a lot of my heroes and finding new heroes and just generally getting inspired all over again. And it wasn’t just Steve Earle, but some of the most significant relationships and experiences of my life came directly out of that store, including my wife, some of my current bandmates, lifelong friends, crazy tour adventures, ill-advised nights in the bar and all the rest.

So yeah, I think it was fate in a lot of ways and, without it, I might not be making music at all!

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

Great question and my honest answer is that I’m still trying to figure it out.

I moved back to Chicago from Brooklyn in 2012 and then my wife and I welcomed a couple little kids into our lives, so let’s just say it’s been a lot harder to have the time and energy to really get out on the scene like I did in NYC. 

That said, I think this show we have coming up at FitzGerald’s on 9/5 is a clue. FitzGerald’s is such a great venue and certainly a real home to so much Americana and traditional American musical styles. 

And it’s right down the street from where I live! And we’re playing with The Claudettes, who have a unique take on blues, ragtime, punk…well…you just gotta hear them. 

I played with their chief madman and piano player, Johnny Iguana, in his old band, Oh My God, and we’ve been friends for years. And I knew the guitarist in my band, Dave Mendez, in college here in Chicago.

A place like New York is so full of change and excitement, but it’s harder to have roots there. But Chicago is just so full of amazing musicians who are lifers, ya know?

Actors, musicians, etc. Chicago makes it possible to be a serious artist and still afford your life and that’s something I think is amazing. 

And the kids sleep through the night now, so my wife and I can actually get out of the house once in a while and I’m excited to explore the scene in a lot more depth.

Q – What is the significance of the band's name? 

My real name is Matt Neuroth, which nobody can spell, pronounce, or remember. So, we needed a name!

I used to go by “Matt Lenny” (long story), but I wanted a band name because I’m not usually a solo acoustic act. Then one day, my son was talking to me about bears (he’s five now, so bears are pretty interesting) and he asked me about “kid bears” because he didn’t know the word cub.

It just kind of stuck with me as a phrase and I like the way it could sound kind of indie or kind of folky and also that it came from my kid and something he was excited about, so I went with it. Like I said at the beginning, I’m trying to overthink things less and just roll with it.

Q – I understand that you work for a software company. How do you juggle that job with being a musician as well as a husband and father?

It’s not easy! And I say that in a “first world problems” kind of way.

I mean I’m incredibly lucky to have the life that I do and it’s a hell of a lot easier than mining coal or something. But yeah, I think the biggest thing is that I married well.

My wife really understands that music is something I viscerally need to do or I just can’t function. She’ll periodically say to me, “Your brain is breaking! You’re awful to be around. Go play guitar!” which is simultaneously accurate, kind of insulting, and a huge relief! 

And then it’s a combination of commitment – I get up at 5 a.m. a lot of days to go play music in my little home studio – and just making it a priority. At my job for instance, one of the reasons I decided to work at my current company is because they were OK with me keeping a guitar in the office and taking music breaks periodically when inspiration strikes.

Tech can definitely have hard hours and stressful situations, but they do also place real value on creativity and they understand that me playing guitar for 30 minutes might allow me to be twice as effective for the rest of the day. But I had to ask for that, which was kind of hard to work up the courage to do.

It’s also had good effects that I didn’t really expect. For instance, I recorded and mixed “A Simple Thing” entirely at home out of sheer necessity.

Between not having enough hours in the day and having real-world expenses that eat up my money, I couldn’t hire a producer and go to the studio with the band like I would have in the past. So, I just had to learn to do it myself and, while it was not easy and I’m still not gonna win a Grammy for “best mix” or anything, it’s pretty empowering that I can make professional sounding records at odd hours in my own house!

Q – Do you have any dream projects or collaborations (perhaps working with Steve Earle?)

I think I’d be afraid to work with Steve Earle, but also pretty excited. He’s the real deal as a songwriter and I kinda think he might think my songwriting isn’t up to snuff…I mean he learned from Townes Van Zandt!

But it would be an amazing learning experience to write a song with him.

I’d love to make a record with Dave Cobb in Nashville. I love the old school way he works – live in the studio, no pre-production - and he just keeps producing some of my favorite current records. 

That’s actually a goal of mine that I blogged about a while back. It’s not just that the recording process would be awesome, but I’d give up a lot to be part of the scene in Nashville he seems to be at the center of – Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, John Prine, Brandi Carlile, and on and on.

The music is great and they all seem like super cool people, too.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Spirit of Woodstock on display at The Venue as it celebrates festival's 50th anniversary

Channeling Joe Cocker, Chad Watson performed at The Venue in Aurora on Aug. 16 as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Joining him on stage is guitarist Scott Tipping.


Woodstock showed how the power of music could bring together almost half a million people.

The spirit of that festival was in full display during The Venue's celebration of the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

The Venue is fast becoming a place where musicians and music lovers can come together and enjoy the bond they share. Those who attended the first day of the festival on Aug. 16 were able to experience that sense of community the festival created.

Here are some highlights from the first day of the two-day festival:

Scott Tipping provided much of the energy during the night.

Audience members added to the ambience of the night.

Channeling Joe Cocker, Chad Watson performs "With a Little Help from My Friends" on Aug. 16, 2019, at The Venue in Aurora as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

Lisa G & the Lucky Ones with special guest Mirabelle Skipworth perform Crosby, Still, Nash and Young's song "Long Time Gone" on Aug. 16, 2019, at The Venue in Aurora as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. 

Emily Tipping performs "Me and Bobby McGee" on Aug. 16, 2019, at The Venue in Aurora as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

Mick Ducker performs Aug. 16, 2019, at the 50th anniversary celebration of Woodstock at The Venue in Aurora.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel coming to House of Blues in Chicago, on tour with The Alarm, Modern English


The strong songwriting that propelled Gene Loves Jezebel to the top of the charts in the '80s and '90s is is abundance on "Dance Underwater," the first studio album of new material by Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel in 14 years.

The band is currently touring the country with The Alarm and Modern English, which will make a stop on Aug. 16 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and general admission tickets are $30, available at

I had the chance to talk to Jay Aston about the tour and the band's latest activities.

Q – Of course you are on tour with The Alarm and Modern English. Your guitarist, James Stevenson, also plays with The Alarm. How does that work?

It just worked out that he gets to two sets, which is a little unusual.

Q – So he's actually playing with The Alarm on this tour as well?

Yes, you get the full spectrum of his abilities.

Q – He must be tired at the end of the night.

You would think so. But he's just loving it so much. It's a long night for him, yeah.

Q – Besides that, how has the tour been going? Do you think playing with The Alarm and Modern English is a good fit?

 It's worked out really well, actually. We all do our own kind of thing.

We're all from the U.K. and two of us are from Wales. It's been great fun. We're actually enjoying it.

Q – And I see that some of the shows were sold out, so obviously people want to see you guys.

It's a good bill. It's a great chance to see three bands that normally don't tour together. 

Q – And of course you're touring in support of 2017's album "Dance Underwater," the band's first studio album of new material in 14 years. In making this album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

The goal was that if we were going to do an album, let's do it properly. We wanted to get a good producer, so we used Peter Walsh (who has worked with everyone from Peter Gabriel to Stevie Wonder).

It was just a wonderful album to make. It was special.

Q – Have you been doing audience requests on the tour?

A lot of songs pick themselves. Obviously we are going to play "Desire (Come and Get It)," and we're going to do "The Motion of Love" and "Twenty Killer Hurts." There are certain songs that we always loved.

And we also do an acoustic set with Mike Peters from The Alarm playing tambourine. It's like the Rolling Thunder Revue in 2019. It's great fun.

Q – And you and your bandmates have been playing together for so long? What makes you work so well together?

We all give something that is unique to the thing that is Gene Loves Jezebel. The reaction has been fantastic. 

You can just see it in people's faces. Their eyes are wide open and they can't believe we're actually on stage, which is great. 

Q – I suppose you see a lot of old fans, but do you see new fans as well?

Yeah, we do. It's quite weird. We were at one gig and there was an older gentleman and a young girl and I said to the girl, "Oh, I guess your dad made you come, did he? And she said, no, no, I made him come."

Q – When you originally formed the band, what was your goal?

Just to be different, not to sound like anyone else. I think we achieved that. We don't sound like anyone else.

 We really don't fit into any particular genre, do we? And we're not in any particular box. And lots of different kinds of people like us.

So I think we achieved that. That was the goal.

Q – Of course, your brother has his own version of Gene Loves Jezebel. Have your heard if people are seeing both bands or what have you heard?

Well, let me just say that I've never heard anything positive about my brother's version of the band and let's leave it at that.

None of the members of his band are actually featured on any of our music, so it's an odd little cash cow for him, really.

Q – So what's your next goal after this tour?

I'll be doing some acoustic stuff in the United States after this. 

Q – So you are going to be going on your own tour?

Yeah, which I can't talk much about yet. There are many different sides of me.

I love the Gene Loves Jezebel shows. They're so high energy. My solo stuff is very introspective and it's very much in the moment. 

You never know if I'll make it to the next chord. It's much more living on the edge. And I enjoy that for very different reasons.

Q – Talking about high energy, I was watching some of your videos and people were commenting on the fact that you are still very animated on stage, you're still dancing around a lot. And so you enjoy doing that?

I get to express both sides of my personality with my music. You never know what may happen tomorrow. So we celebrate each gig.