Wednesday, May 24, 2023

With new album in tow, Chicago musician Joe Rian to perform at The Hideout on Wednesday


Chicago musician Joe Rian writes songs that tap into the human soul.

His latest album, “Midwest Boy,” is set for release on Friday. Rian was adopted as an infant and raised in Rock Falls.

Rian and his band The A.M. Drinkers will perform at a record release party at 8 p.m. Wednesday at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago. Also on the bill is Chicago based singer-songwriter Vivian Garcia.

Tickets are available at

I had the chance to talk to him about the new album.

Q – Great talking to you. In a recent interview you talked about how, through your songs, you try to tap into experiences that people might go through. How do you think your own experiences have shaped your songwriting? 

I'm not sure if my experiences merit songs but, as time goes on, you can put more experiences into your conscience. I've been through recessions, wars, suicides, obesity, molestation, alcoholism, drug death or abuse; the list goes on and on.

I figure if I or my immediate circle has been through that, there are probably many others that have too. I think that once I tapped into what I have been through or what my circle has had to go through and experience, you can pull a little deeper than the same old love song stuff.
Q – In making "Midwest Boy," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?
Making records is the fun part. I just wanted to make a record of songs that were real stuff, with no particular sound or production.

The hard part is finding the funding to get it heard.  When you are an independent like myself, everything comes from your pocket.

My goal was to find funding for Midwest Boy and I wasn't going to put out another record without some type of funding. That's when I went into the music NFT space, took a year to learn the platform and built a community of NFT collectors. They act as the label and provide the funding for publicists and that type of thing.
Q – I know that after you moved to Chicago, you started working at Buddy Guy's Legends. Did you get any one-on-one time with Buddy Guy? If you did, what did you guys talk about?

I would always ask Buddy how to play certain guitar licks or ask him about some of the famous pictures on display or his stories. Like, there's a photo of him and Junior Wells on one of Junior's records.

They looked happy and toasted. I asked him what was happening when that shot was taken.

He told me they were playing poker with Clapton and some others. I think he said that Clapton took the pic but I could be wrong.

I asked why he'd always come to the open mic nights and hear the struggling beginners. He said that the mistakes would give him ideas. 

We discussed things like the train ride across Canada where he opened for the Grateful Dead and used Steve Miller in his backing band. 
Q – You also started busking around the city. What did that experience teach you? Do you think that helped you to connect with listeners? 

I think that busking is the loneliest and rawest type of performing. It does provide you with some great connection methods. 

It also teaches you quick that you need to negotiate a corner. Sometimes I would need to buy my corner. 

If four guys are working a bridge, one musician is going to steal the money from the passersby. To get that corner, sometimes you would need to pay off whomever staked it out and figure out which adjacent ones had been claimed.

Connection methods on the street are different than on stage. You can't make the city or a group of gatherers go silent like you can in a club where there is no outside noise. 

It did teach me things, though. You had to be more flamboyant on a street to get the hustle going.

You don't really need that on a small stage.
Q – What do you like about the Chicago music scene? How have you tried to set yourself apart from other Chicago musicians? 

We are apart from the other acts since no one really knows me and I don't travel in the "cool kids club." I gave up caring if people liked my stuff a long while ago.

Either you get it or you don't. We definitely don't sound like other acts.

I'm just a guy with a good band who writes tavern music. The Chicago music scene is very cliquey. There are some popular clubs that book the same bands over and over and over. 

I'd rather be a band from Chicago than a band in Chicago. The money is better out of town and, believe it or not, small towns are dying for original music.

Here you compete with the same acts that play the same clubs and have to deal with a bit of gatekeeping. Get out of town; you'd be amazed how hungry people are for something original. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

With debut album in tow, Chicago band Miirrors to perform at Andersonville Midsommarfest next month


On its debut album “Motion And Picture,” Chicago band Miirrors delivers an album that is both musically and emotionally adventurous.

The band will perform at next month’s Andersonville Midsommarfest, 5200 N. Clark St. in Chicago. Miirrors is set to take the stage at 8:30 p.m. June 10 on the Center Stage.

Tickets are available at

Miirrors was formed by singer Brian McSweeney and drummer Shawn Rios. I had the chance to talk to McSweeney and Rios about the show.


Q – Great talking to you. Chicago-based Pravda Records released “Motion And Picture” in March. It’s great that you’e on this label. For one thing, it’s local. For another thing, there’s a lot of great musicians on it and it seems like this label supports many different genres of music.

Rios – They really do, and I’m grateful for that. There is no interference in creativity and at the same time, they really get involved in you, not only on an artistic level, but also, on a personal level.

Q – This was your debut album. Did that put a lot of additional pressure on the band as far as making the album?

McSweeney – Not really. We started making and honestly, finished making the album on our own and independent of a label.

So we really didn’t feel any pressure from anyone necessarily. I guess any pressure would have been self-imposed on account of our own kind of expectations and standards.

And I feel like we would bring the same kind of pressure and expectations on ourselves, whether it was album one or album five.


Rios – I agree fully with Brian. I think the only other pressure we felt was in answering the question about what a live show looks to us and how do we reflect that and how do we reflect the album live.

That’s been equally important to us. I think we thought of a live show the entire time we were making the record. I remember many times being in the control room and being in a session with Brian and even some of the other guys in the band and trying to see what that would sound like played live and how would people receive that.

But internally, like Brian said, the only pressure we had was self-imposed, which is a good thing. It’s great to go to a label when your record is finished.

Q – I am sure the both of you have heard endless comparisons of the band to Radiohead. What were your goals in forming the band in the first place? Is Radiohead a big influence for the band?

McSweeney – I would say that a few of us in the band are big fans of Radiohead. They are one of our influences.

I would say that we have very wide ranging influences. But yeah, they certainly are an influence.

Q – Also, it seems like the band’s name has a meaning to it. Is there a meaning behind the band’s name?

McSweeney – One night Shawn and I were hanging out at a bar after rehearsing and we were just having a conversation about how human beings are mirrors to each other. When you’re talking with someone, their response is basically based on what you’re saying.

So when you hear that person’s response, they are mirroring back to you who you are. We are all mirrors to each other.

Q – One of the songs on “Motion and Picture” is your reimagined version of Jeff Buckley’s song “Gunshot Glitter,” which has received rave reviews. As far as what you wanted to do with that song, did you have certain things that you wanted to do with that song to kind of make it your own?

McSweeney – Yeah, I feel like we did. I feel like we accomplished that.

The original version very much felt like a demo. It very much felt like something that was in development.

There are sections that certainly go on and don’t feel like they’re complete. We had an opportunity to work with Jeff’s drummer, Matt Johnson, on that.

Before we were in a room with Matt, Shawn and I sat down and listened to Jeff’s original demo.

We put it into Pro Tools and we toyed with it and came up with different ideas. We had some idea of what direction it was going to go, so we weren’t going into completely blind when Matt Johnson was in the room with us.

We still had some things to figure out. We just kind of chiseled away at the song as we went. Like most art and like most music, it’s the process of just doing something and then taking a step back and responding to the thing that you just did and then just going from there.

So that’s really what we did. We started with the drums and the bass and then we just went from there as far as deciding what the next steps would be.

Q – And did you expect such positive feedback? Because everybody is just loving your version of the song. Did that take you by surprise at all?

Rios – Yeah. It’s difficult because you’re stepping I think on what some people might perceive is hallowed ground.

But to us, it wasn’t. Matt had made a comment to us when we began finalizing the arrangement. He told Brian, "This is what Jeff would have wanted. This is something that Jeff would essentially be OK with."

Obviously, those are big shoes to fill for more than one reason. He was someone that we really admired and really loved. We had come to know all of his music.

We really wanted to complete in a sense an idea that we started. We thought that would be a fun project for us.

I would hope that people would like it and that they would see it as an honest approach and that we served it well.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Aurora band Invisible Cartoons to perform as part of two-day Hong Kong Pizza Party in Plano

Photo by Liz Lowie


Listening to Invisible Cartoons’ music and watching the band’s unbridled energy on stage is bound to put a smile on your face.

Invisible Cartoons will bring its smile rock to the Hong Kong Pizza Party May 19-20 at the PNA Youth Camp, 10701 River Road, Plano. The band will perform at 10 p.m. May 20.

Tickets are available at

I had the chance to talk to Invisible Cartoons frontman Chris Shern about the upcoming show. The band also features Jeff Goluszka on drums and backup vocals, Ryan Caldwell on keytar and backup vocals, Ryan Worthy on bass and backup vocals and Justin Birchard on guitar and backup vocals.


Q – Great talking to you again. Of course the band will be performing as part of the Hong Kong Pizza Party. Have you played at the event before?

Yeah. It’s a fun festival. And then after the show, they do a big bonfire and people start congregating and having a good time.

Q – And I understand that a couple of your bandmates are in other bands that will also perform at Hong Kong Pizza Party.

Yeah, my bass player, Ryan Worthy, he’s also in a band called GoatBelly. And then my keytar player, Ryan Caldwell, he’s playing drums in a band called Jesus Coyote.

Q – Tell me about the band’s music. 

All our music is positive. We try to be uplifting and have a good time.

Q – I know smile rock is kind of your trademark phrase. You try to make people smile.

Oh absolutely. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel as far as where we’re coming from with our music.

We take being silly seriously. When you come to an Invisible Cartoons show, our goal is for you to have a good time and that’s it.

There’s no deeper meaning to what we do. We just try to have fun and we want people to enjoy what we’re doing.

We enjoy playing music with each other. And that’s what is so awesome about it. 

Q – That’s great. I understand that you are working on your second full-length album. What should people expect from the album?

We’re a small band, but we think big. This album is going to be big.

We’e going to have a horn section and strings and we’re going to make these big theatrical music videos, because I know how to do all that stuff.

I’m excited.

Q – What other projects are you working on?

We’re going to try and create a film based on our previous EP, “Space Cat.” I’m going to try and do a comic book as well.

Q – It seems like your audience continues to grow.

What I love about our fan base is that it is so diverse. You have people who are in their ’50s and ’60s along with people who are in their late ’20s and early ‘30s.

And then when we play all-ages shows, we play in front of kids and they have a good time. That’s what I love about playing festivals. You are playing in front of different types of people.