The Tonic Room is completely packed tonight. It’s a Saturday so that’s not surprising for a bar on the edge of downtown Chicago, but it is a special night. For months the WNUR multimedia crew and I had been following Highness, a five-piece, all-female band and collective. Everything has culminated to the release show for their second EP The Highness Collective. Or THC, a nod to what, presumably, drives the creative process behind their music.
The venue is standing room only with people spilling through the front doors into the Chicago cold. Tonight, a variety of artists join Highness onstage: Akenya, with her raw and rhythmic single ‘Disappear’, Via Rosa and her delicate song “Beautiful Stranger”,and DJs Gemini Jones and Nosidam. It is nearly midnight when Highness dons the stage. Ora, the guitarist, lights a stick of incense. Redd, the drummer, lights a joint. And the crowd, showered in hot and hazy red stage lights, is ready.
The collective met at Columbia College and began as a band of nine before narrowing it down to the golden five: There’s vocalist Loona Dae with round steampunk-like frames, and an air of mysterious wonder; vocalist and producer Gem Tree, or Madam Tree if you like; vocalist, keyboardist and producer Schenay Mosley, guitarist Ora, and the ever-cool drummer, Redd. Onstage together, Highness embodies a regality that is all at once performative and organic. Although they’ve been in the scene for a while now, it was only until recently with their first mixtape Young Taboo, and the newly released THC, that the collective has gained more attention. Their sound, which they describe as ‘omnisoul’ rides the line of rock, jazz and soul.
A couple weeks before the release show, Highness hosted an early LP listening party at Pilsen’s eclectic DIY art space, The DOJO. For those unfamiliar, it is a small apartment converted into a makeshift art gallery and performance space. It is a place that harbors a sort of alternative spiritual energy. Feathers, bones and fake birds cover the walls of the main room and next door, Highness music videos play from a projector in a mirror-covered room. In the midst of it all, Highness sits nestled atop embroidered pillows and Redd holds a blunt languidly between her fingers. They play the album for us, and speak on the themes they explored in the music.
Elevation is a staple in their lexicon. It is what they want their music to do, their listeners to feel, and also their state of mind to be in when they’re creating. It is late and eyelids are low. Nonetheless they have a clear sense of their collective identity, purpose and music. “We are all individuals that come together to make greatness,” Gem Tree says. And much of the greatness they are searching for is self revelational. In the song “Because 789” Gem Tree spits first to a bubbly and bouncy disco beat: Finally I confess/I loved myself and I won’t forget/You’re a gem, wear it on your chest/Introduce your mind, your views, your use. Gem explains, “On this track I was basically saying you can choose to deal with the problems or you can choose to say you’re alive. And you’re alive.” When Schenay hops on later, she talks about finding deliverance. “Holding onto negativity and just finally letting it go. Of course, you’re not positive all the time, happy all the time, you’re human.” There is a duality to life. But there’s also harm in keeping negativity festering inside your soul.
Duality also makes an appearance in “Pearl,” the opener for the tape. Loona’s vocals, half-submerged in the rolling beat, have her wishing for ascension: I just wanna get you/Roll it up tight/I just wanna get you/Let your fears fly away/I just wanna get you higher, higher. It is an exploration of the physicality of getting high, but also the spirituality of becoming heightened. “Culturally speaking, people get involved with [weed] because it heightens your senses, and it heightens your awareness, and it heightens your community,” Loona says. The theme of collectiveness, sharing, and community serves as the mission for their music. In individual self revelation the community also benefits and gains new perspective.
Towards the end of their set at The Tonic Room, they perform “Your Highness,” a jazzy, liquid song that acts as an introduction to each member of the band. And in the moments where they chant “Your highness” during the chorus and the audience repeats it back to them, there materializes a circle of self-empowerment and peer empowerment. In a way, the regality of Highness is also about celebrating the regality and power in ourselves and the rest of the community.
My first encounter with The Highness Collective was when I missed one of their performances.
After a late night of music with my friends, I hadn’t thought much about our early exit from The DOJO, a thriving DIY gallery and venue, to catch the train back to Evanston.
The next day my Facebook newsfeed was flourishing with compliments to the many Chicago-based musicians who were involved that night. But I noticed a particular influx of admiration for a specific band that I hadn’t witnessed:
“BOW DOWN TO HIGHNESS,” read one post, accompanied by similar praises on the event page.
I was curious. I needed to know what I missed and, most importantly, who I was supposed to be bowing down to. But one SoundCloud binge later, I was sold. From beyond the screen, Highness managed to pull out my soul, elevate it, shoot it back through my body and send my fingers into a frenzied email to their manager.
At WNUR it is our mission to provide a platform for underrepresented music. That’s been the goal of this student group far before I clumsily signed my name on their clipboard at the freshman activities fair.
But through my newfound position as Media Team Coordinator, I’ve realized my potential to further enact this mission. And likewise, through my lifelong position as a woman of color, I’ve realized my potential to ensure that WNUR is inclusive to art from a variety of identities and backgrounds.
I am honored that the women of Highness have given us the privilege of attending and documenting their shows and stories for almost four months. I am also happy to have made them the subject of the first mini-documentary published under WNUR’s name.
This project could not have been completed without the cooperation of the band and the drive and enthusiasm of the WNUR Media Team. There have been struggles, but I owe my gratitude to the media team members who have been on the project since day one and to the new members who came to the rescue later in the game. These last few months have been filled with concert lights, freezing train platforms, misplaced lens caps and naps in the backs of Ubers, but they’ve also been unlike anything I’ve experienced.
I thank Highness for making me fall in love with their music. But to be more specific, I thank Loona for her restful aura, Ora for her laughter, Red for her very essence, Schenay for her radiance and Gem Tree for her glowing grace. I also thank their manager, Aaron, for allowing us to connect with the band.
I hope to continue meeting artists and creating documentaries in the future. My hope is that this project will: Perpetuate a tradition within the station to document the stories of artists in intimate and creative ways, and further connect WNUR with members of Chicago’s underground music community.
Ellis Paul is an American singer-songwriter and folk musician. Born in Aroostook County, Maine, Paul is a key figure in what has become known as the Boston school of songwriting, a literate, provocative and urbanely romantic folk-pop style that helped ignite the folk revival of the 1990s. His pop music songs have appeared in movies and on television, bridging the gap between the modern folk sound and the populist traditions of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. Paul came to perform at Evanston S.P.A.C.E. on February 28 and WNUR was there to cover it.
As a self-diagnosed folk music addict, I was pretty stoked that a staple in the industry for more than 20 years, Ellis Paul, was coming to Chicagoland. Over his lengthy career, if Paul has perfected one thing, it’s the art of engaging his audience. He did everything from mock Donald Trump while tuning his guitar for a new song to give us a detailed account of his obsession with “The Walking Dead.”
“I’m going to play two sets tonight, but I need to get home before ‘The Walking Dead’ starts at nine,” he said to kick off his show, as he started strumming the opening chords for “Ain’t No Jesus.” It wasn’t just his banter that kept the audience engaged during the rainy Sunday evening show, upbeat jams like “3,000 Miles” also did the trick to get everyone tapping their toes and clapping along. Paul even broke out a harmonica for his catchy love song, “Rose Tattoo.” (But is it even a folk concert without a harmonica?? I think not.)
Paul is a four-piece band wrapped into one: He expertly mimics the sound of a drum set with his guitar while simultaneously creating enticing chord progressions, he sings and blows his harmonica at the same time. “I’d like to introduce the band. They’re really impossible to work with,” he joked before breaking into one of his most popular songs, “The World Ain’t Slowing Down.”
My favorite song was one he claimed to have written on the drive to Evanston from his previous night’s show in Columbus, evidenced by the book he showed us that he had scrawled the lyrics onto and tentatively titled “You Ain’t From These Parts.” Indeed, I can confirm that he had been furiously writing in aforementioned book when I went backstage to interview him before the show.
“It sounds like a folk song right? Well it’s still green. It’s gonna be a rap song by the end,” Paul teased from the piano bench as he played generic-sounding intro chords. But it ended up being anything but ordinary. It was hilarious, poking fun at all the crazy town names found around America and the unusual connotations that come with them.
Midway through Paul’s first set, WNUR photographer Steve Seong leaned over to me and said, “He really seems like he enjoys what he does.” That is what summed up his show for me more than anything: enjoyment. Not only did Paul enjoy himself on stage, but the audience obviously enjoyed it too. And what more can you ask for from a musician, really?
WNUR: How did you get into the music industry in the first place? You grew up on a potato farm and you wanted to be a social worker, right?
Ellis Paul: Yeah, I mean I didn’t really want to be- I was an English major and it just kind of happened by default. I was playing open mic nights and that’s where I got my start I guess.
Where did you get your inspiration for your song writing?
Paul: Well you know I listened to people’s stories. I feel like everybody’s got some nugget story that kind of defines who they are in the big picture. It might be a chance meeting with somebody or an accident or maybe they won the lottery. This one little nugget story can encapsulate someone and that’s what has me interested in songwriting, because all of my songs are about people.
Do you use your own personal stories too or do you prefer to focus on other people?
Paul: Yeah. If I’m writing about other people, it’s going to be tainted by my own experiences. It’s like if Van Gogh is painting a field of sunflowers, it’s still a field of sunflowers but we see his personality in the painting even though there’s no person in the painting. There’s no way to escape our fingerprint even when you’re writing outside of yourself and your experiences.
Do you have any musical inspirations?
Paul: Like heroes? Well, you know there was an era of music between the mid- to late-sixties up until the mid-seventies where there were a lot of sing-songwriters. Jim Croche, early Billy Joel, Dylan and Joni Mitchell, Neil Young. There was sort of a heyday of folk rock when it was the hippest music. It’s not that way anymore. It’s not like hip-hop or R&B. Not that it’s nonexistent… There was a time when folk music was predominantly in the pop world and heard everyday. That era is what I liked most.
How has that change in popular music culture influenced your work, if at all?
Paul: Well, you know, I keep an eye out for what’s happening, and I listen to people’s music. I bought the Adele record; I bought the Taylor Swift record. And anytime I hear something I like, I try to follow up and see what’s happening. I try to keep up with what stuff I like and try to get inspired. That includes people who aren’t in the popular vein of music, struggling songwriters who are living out of the back of their cars and travelling around the country. Those people are sometimes just as talented as the people on the pop charts. I try to keep an eye out for anybody.
You’ve been in the industry for a while. Do you have something that you consider to be the highlight of your career? What has been your favorite moment so far?
Paul: Tonight is going to be my favorite moment. [laughs] At least that’s what you hope! I don’t really have one; I’ve had a lot of great experiences. I got to go into and write music to a Woody Guthrie lyric, like my music was put to his words. That was a really big highlight. But any night when all cylinders are firing and the audience is completely captivated, it’s a highlight. And I’ve got lots and lots of those.
You’ve written a couple of books, too…
Paul: I’ve written two children’s books and I’ve got one that’s for adults. It’s kind of a sci-fi.
What was that writing process like? Was it similar to your writing process?
Paul: Well the language is kind of the same. It’s really just me spilling my guts on something. It’s not that the medium is that different, but it is drier. When you put music to words, it’s like techicolor, not just black and white. Music is a little more emotional than books, but books are great. I love writing in any medium really.
What’s next for you?
Paul: I just started writing songs for my next project. It might be a year away. It’s going to take a while to get 20 songs, and then we pick the best of the 20. So it’s definitely going to happen, but likely not until the end of the year.
It’s that time of year again! Phoneathon programming hit airwaves this Friday (the 26th). WNUR is a non-commercial, student-run radio station that’s kept alive through listener donations from our annual Phoneathon Drive. Still confused about what Phoneathon is?
Fear no more, because the WNUR Media Team sat down with DJs to talk about the importance of this event and to give our listeners a look at the faces behind your favorite music programming.
Here’s a moment of complete honesty: I hate change. I get sad when I return from a few months away at college to find that my parents have painted one wall in my childhood home a different color. But let me tell you, in the case of Hey Marseilles, change has been nothing but good.
With the Feb. 5 release of their third full album, the self-titled “Hey Marseilles,” the once folksy band has exposed its fans to a whole new side of its persona. A side that lead singer Matt Bishop says has a “shiny kind of aesthetic.”
What changed? The group brought in a producer, Anthony Kilhoffer, who has won four Grammies for his work, among which are producing Yeezy’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and John Legend’s “Get Lifted.”
Don’t get me wrong though, Hey Marseilles has kept their essence. Their unique use of the cello, played by the talented Sam Anderson, was what initially attracted me to their sound. And they have seamlessly incorporated just as many string solos into tracks from their new album as they did in 2013 when I first encountered their music.
Hey Marseilles’ Jan. 29 concert at Lincoln Hall blended their two styles just as faultlessly as their album did. Because their album hadn’t dropped yet at the time of the show, there were moments when the crowd wasn’t able to sing along to all of the lyrics. Nonetheless, the crowd’s enthusiasm was palpable whenever an old favorite was played, most notably when they began “Rio,” and Anderson tossed a maraca into the crowd.
The woman directly in front of me caught it- not that I’m salty about that or anything. But it was still a great time for us non-maraca-players, which can be attested to by the woman who grabbed my hand and forced me to do a twirl as we belted the lyrics, “Love is a hazard in lower Manhattan/You cannot escape, and mustn’t be saddened/By men who abandon your eyes for another’s/There are always Brazilian boys to discover.”
The band played several new tracks such as “Perfect Okay,” their catchy opener, “Crooked Lines” and “West Coast,” their latest single. All of the songs seemed well received, but they always brought it back to the beginning, closing out their encore with “To Travels and Trunks,” a favorite from their first album.
Despite my hesitance to embrace change, especially Hey Marseilles’ newfound lack of an accordion, I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson from their speedy stylistic transition. While switching things up to find their identity was ultimately a great decision, sometimes it’s okay to take comfort in the familiar, and it’s always okay to embrace both.
WNUR: From listening to your latest single, it feels like you guys are going in a completely different direction now.
Bishop: We used to be more folksy, but I don’t even play acoustic guitar anymore. We’re working with a producer for the first time; Anthony Kilhoffer is his name. He primarily works in R&B and hip-hop and is based out of L.A., but he’s actually from Chicago. He definitely comes from a pop music world, and this is the first time we’ve had that kind of influence. [Our music] is a little bit more focused now.
Why did you decide to work with a producer?
Bishop: We’ve been a band for nine years and it’s the same core five of us. With the songwriting process, it can feel like there are too many cooks in the kitchen, you know? On our first couple of albums, we have a couple of songs that are six minutes long, and they have all this layered instrumentation. We really wanted to challenge ourselves by doing the “less is more” kind of formula. So that was the basic idea. Having a producer allows us to have one person make final decisions instead of having five people arguing.
You guys have been together so long. Don’t you get sick of each other?
Bishop: It’s kind of like a family. I grew up with four siblings, so that’s what it reminds me of. You see the best parts and the worst parts of everyone, and you learn to accommodate that.
You guys are based out of Seattle, and it seems like a lot of your lyrics have references to the West Coast…Are you homesick? What is it?
Bishop: Yeah, we’re not very creative…it’s mostly just when we’re writing songs, and we look up and see what’s around. I really need to stop using the words mountain and ocean and gray and city. But there’s also part of that that’s intentional. That’s the experience that we come.
What do you want people to take away from your music?
Bishop: I just want them to like it. [laughs] When you’re an independent musician, you just want to appeal to as wide of an audience as possible, but you also want the people you respect, the musicians and music critics, to find something challenging and unique about your music. So I think that if we challenge people to hear it and go, “Huh. I want to hear that again,” then we’ve done our job.
What’s been your favorite part of touring?
Bishop: We are on the road a lot. I’ve ruined a lot of relationships that way, which then I turn into songs. [laughs] But it’s definitely hard being on the road so much. Our favorite part is probably just meeting people…. Every time we go to a different city, we have people that we hang out with who are genuinely nice consumers of music and it’s really fun to make those connections.
What was it like recording with NPR for a Tiny Desk Concert?
Bishop: It was the best. I’m a big “All Songs Considered” fan. Bob Boilen and Stephen Thompson and all of those guys are kind of heroes in my mind. That was really cool
and definitely a highlight of our career so far.
Your new album, “Hey Marseilles,” [came] out February 5th. What should we expect from that? [Is it] more toward the style of your previous albums or your recent singles?
Bishop: The singles that we’ve released are pretty representative of the album as a whole… It’s a bit more produced and has more a shiny kind of aesthetic. They’re shorter songs with more electronic beats and less accordion.
How do you feel about having evolved so much stylistically?
Bishop: I love it. I mean I’m a singer/songwriter… So for me, the beauty of a well-written song is in its simplicity. I think our songs are still nuanced and complicated, but they’re not as overthought.
What’s your song writing process like?
Bishop: For this record, everybody wrote songs on their own time. It used to be that other people would write the music and then I’d write the lyrics and melodies on top of it. This time we each have three or four songs on the record and we came together to make sure they all sound aesthetically similar. But it brought diversity to the experience. I got tired of writing about, like I said, mountains and gray and oceans. Hearing what other people are writing about and having them engage in the entire process brought out some hidden talent and has been good for us all.
What do you expect for the future of Hey Marseilles?
Bishop: When you’re an independent musician, this record is kind of make or break. So hopefully, it’ll do well and we’ll make more following this same trajectory. It’s hard to know. We tend to make records every two or three years, so we’ll see if we’re still making music in that time frame. Right now, we’re focusing on this album and it feels fresh for us and for all of our fans. It’s hard to look past that.
Love X Stereo is a Korean electro-rock duo based in Seoul producing 90s’-inspired tunes. A budding international band, Annie and Toby have recently released a new single, “Hide and Seek,” and they’re about to release the Part.2 of “We Love We Leave.” I had a wonderful opportunity to interview Annie, the vocalist of the band. Toby plays guitar and base. Identifying themselves as the “ultimate 90s’ kids” in an interview with K-Sound, Annie says they draw inspiration from a wide range of music as well as happenings around the world.
How did you guys meet?
Annie: First we met in 2005. We used to play in a band called Skrew Attack, after Toby first made the band in 1998. He was around since the 90s rock scene in Korea. After I joined the band in 2005, we did pop punk stuff. We had a transition in our music style to do something fresh and new, so that’s how Love X Stereo started. Mostly, just two of us make all the sound and music.
Why did you pick the electro-rock genre?
Annie: Toby is a punk rock kid, and I love rock music, but we’ve been doing punk rock for a long time. It’s not going anywhere, so we wanted to do something really fun and new. That’s how the synthesizers came in – we went back to our roots and tried to figure out what kind of music we really like.
In the 90s, I actually didn’t like techno because I thought it was very cold. Back then when I was a rock lover, I didn’t appreciate it much, but now that I’ve grown up, and as I’m trying to do something fresh and new, we really appreciate this type of music, especially electro bands like New Order, The Prodigy, Underworld, The Chemical Brothers. Those types of bands still inspire us because they are still in the field competing with the youngsters. We’re trying to not just stay in the rock box, but also do something special. We listen to every type of music to get inspired, not just rock and electro.
Where do you get inspirations?
Annie: A lot of music inspires us I think, and also what’s happening around us right now. We watch the news, we listen to a lot of music. Whatever happens tends to be melted in music. Usually, our music roots are in the 90s. We are the ultimate 90s kids, so we alternate music … punk rock, techno … all those fun stuff that happened in the 90s.
Your music videos have great style. Do you direct them?
Annie: We don’t direct the music video. We just kind of respect all the directors’ opinions, so usually the directors choose how he/she wants. We might say one or two things we want to switch, but mostly, we just let it happen.
Just wondering – do you currently belong to any labels?
Annie: We are totally independent. We are still looking for labels, but haven’t found a good label that will appreciate our music right now. Still looking for it.
What would you look for in a label?
Annie: I would say that their ability to promote the music might be the most important feature. How they treat artists as well – that really is important for us too.
How do you promote your music?
Annie: I think social media makes it both easier and harder to promote music compared to the older days. It’s easier to use the gadgets and apps to connect with our fans, but it’s not enough. We have had three tours in the States. One was a longer one and two were little shorter versions, but I think, at the end of the day, you have to meet the fans, so we’re trying to do more tours. It’s kind of hard because we don’t have any support system.
Where did you go in the States?
Annie: In 2013, we visited eight cities, including New York, Toronto, DC, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Chicago and Boston. The tours were linked with festivals, so we went to CMJ music marathon, South by Southwest, Culture Collide and Canadian Music Week. Performing at a festival is always cool, but I guess it depends on what stage you’re going to perform on, and what kind of audience you have. It depends on that a lot, so I can’t say that it’s all good, but if you’re at the right time at the right stage, it’s really fun.
How does American audience compare with Koreans?
Annie: Korean audience is very conservative, and they do not react as well as we hope. Usually they identify our music as dreamy electro thing, but in the States it’s kind of different because the audience knows we are from the nineties, and what type of music we’re trying to do, and such understanding of music in general is much easier to reach out to the fans in the States or in the western region of the world. I think Koreans are very used to K-Pop, so it’s quite different.
What are your goals?
Annie: We want to establish ourselves as an international band. It will take a while. But ultimately you need to have a song that people recognize at the end of the day. So produce better songs, get it out there and connect with people. Try to tour as many as you can. That will get you to a certain point we might all satisfy. It’s going to take a while, and I know it’s a little risky at some point, but our goal was never to settle in Korea, but it was from Day One to get the hell out of here, so yeah. We’ll see!
Pre-order their next EP “We Love We Leave, Pt. 2” at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/lovexstereo
If you want to learn more about LXS, check out their website: http://lovexstereo.com/
WNUR: Can you explain your involvement with Foreign Family Collective, and how you represent yourself at large?
Big Wild: It kinda started when I was on tour with Odessa for the first time in February and March, and they like, that was when they were getting the Foreign Family idea started. And they asked me if I was interested in doing a release, and I already had this song in the works. I showed it to them and they really liked it, so I finished it up during the tour and it ended up becoming Aftergold. So it was a pretty smooth and natural process. And the exposure from it was great, it’s opened a lot of doors, and when I play that song in my set everyone recognizes it… as an artist, when you’re first starting out that’s so big to be able to get that recognition, cuz when nobody knows your music it can be tough to connect with people.
What’s the transition like moving to LA?
BW: We’ll I’m originally from Massachusetts. The weather is totally different, but the music scene in LA is really big, especially for the kind of stuff I do, and Electronic music in general. It’s really cool to just meet artists in the city and have friendships based on that. I really like living there.
Was it difficult to break into?
BW: A little bit, thankfully a couple people who were already there, 2 artists named Developed, knew about my music and invited me early on to a grilled cheese party. I’d only been there a couple weeks, and the invite was randomly on twitter, but I was like ok, and went to a really cool f*ckin party. Hosted like once a month with all these super big people. From there I linked with other producers, it was almost like an incubator for electronic music. So it wasn’t to challenging for me, I was kind of lucky.
How long have you been out there?
BW: I’ve been in LA for a year and a half, and lived in San Francisco for six months before that.
How was the scene there, was it more difficult because there may be less going on?
BW: It was definitely more difficult, the music scene wasn’t as big. But there are actually some sweet venues there. That’s where I first performed and first linked up with different musicians. It was kind of like when I started to break through a little bit and connect with people I needed too. The scene’s smaller, but there’s still so much you can connect with.
What’s your creative process?
BW: Tough to say, I play piano and drums, but I’ve been teaching myself. My real strength is producing on the computer and writing songs. I feel like I’m a songwriter at heart. For that you don’t necessarily need to be great at any particular instrument. What inspires that is hearing a song that blows my mind… I’ll just analyze it and draw inspiration from it. Take out elements of it and realize what makes this song so good. Not copy it but look at like the way someone does a piano line which has a lot of emotion and do something similar with the guitar. You can never had a fully original idea it’s always based on something you’ve scene, heard, or experienced before. That’s how it is with music. The real creativity comes with how you’re gunna make it your own. How are you gunna take that idea and make it something that everyone is gunna love too.
How did you start?
BW: I started when I was in high school when I was 13. I honestly don’t know what prompted me to do it. I think I was just getting really into Hip-hop and I wanted to start making beats myself. I just downloaded fruity loops and f*cked with it for a long time, and my music sucked for a few years. But I was learning how to build the foundations of a song, how to structure it. Coming up with catchy melodies. That whole process was really long but it was super motivating, because once people started getting into the music it motivated me to keep going. SO I’ve been doing this for a while, and it was weird to because none of my other friends made music…for the most part kind of a solo thing. In my group of friends I was just kind of the music guy. Which was cool, almost the fact that there wasn’t a scene in Massachusetts helped me out because I didn’t like, have competition. I was just exploring sounds. It was a great way to get confidence in my song writing ability without having someone saying ‘oh this sucks’.
How many years was the “meh” process?
BW: Probably 2 years, I also just didn’t know what I was doing. There were no tutorials for it, so it was like totally in the dark about everything. My sounds sucked, so I was slowly building up a library of sounds. Kind of like learning everything by myself and once I started to get a good sound pallet my ear got better. I would send out my beats, actually start to sell them online to rappers and stuff. And was like alright I think this is going somewhere. Wasn’t until college that I started to go the more electronic route, and make music that didn’t necessarily need a rapper on it, and could kinda just be on its own. And I started to get more experimental with it…In to college, I felt like I had enough chops to start making stuff outside of just one genre. That’s when this sound that I do now started to take form. “
What do you like and dislike about being an artist?
BW: Probably one of my favorite things is the freedom I have, I don’t have a 9 to 5 I work on music whenever I want to. And I have the great opportunity to be able to explore all these places. This year I’ve been around the country, to Canada, Lake Tahoe because I make music. That’s so cool, I feel like I have this ability. I can’t literally do anything I want, but I definitely have more freedom than a lot of other people. I love making it, and playing it for people, and seeing how they react.
On the flip side, touring for example it can be really hard to make music, because you’re constantly on the move. It’s like two different mind states, one is producing and making and the other is performing, and they really are different. It took me a while to realize, I always thought they were kind of the same, but the more I performed I realized it’s like a totally different mind state. “
In interviews do you ever feel like it’s the performance side of you?
BW: I would say, ya probably doing interviews is a little bit of a performance, I try and be as candid as possible but sometimes its like, its hard to be fully open all the time. That said it has been a great experience touring this year and helping me get more comfortable. Kind of like opening up to the crowd more, not having this face all the time, just being myself. It’s also hard when you’re starting out money wise. It wasn’t until this year that I was able to like, drop the side job… Now I feel that freedom especially because I don’t have to do that side job. You worked your job, got back home, was like ‘I’m tired’, but you had to work on stuff. That was really tough too.”
What is your average day like?
BW: When I’m not on tour my average day is basically like, get up, eat breakfast, walk to the coffee shop, get some coffee, and work on music. It’s pretty simple. I live a pretty minimalist simple life, live with my girlfriend, who’s also my best friend. So we’ll go out sometimes at night to friends, or people spinning in LA. When I’m on tour it’s a totally different thing. I’ll work on my set, perform at the show, and anything can happen after the show. For the most part, it’s a pretty simple lifestyle; its how I like it.”
Listen to the latest edition of the LIVE comedy show sweeping campus! The January 2016 edition of “Are You Ready to Be a Comic?” features the musings of Northwestern’s Arielle Gordon, Andy Bayer, David Brown and Sam Saulsbury. Chicago Tribune political cartoonist Scott Stantis and WNUR’s Al Finley. Listen in for the laughter and see how many questions you can answer correctly!
Last night bands Nightmare of You and Even Thieves played at Double Door for Nightmare of You’s 10th anniversary show. The WNUR Media Team caught up with the two bands before the concert to learn more about their influences, sonic styles and more. Nightmare of You is an indie pop, new wave rock group from New York that draws its musical influences from bands like The Beatles, Squeeze and The Clash. Even Thieves is part new wave, part rock n’ roll. This six-member group draws their musical influences from bands like New Order and Nine Inch Nails.
WNUR: How’d you come up with the band name?
Adrian Day: There’s a song that has always stuck in my head. It was by a band called The Black Heart Procession, and they had a song called “Even Thieves Couldn’t Lie.” It was about a man of ill repute, if you will. The woman that he loves dies and he says, “Even thieves couldn’t lie.” He loved her so much that he couldn’t lie about it. When I was thinking of band names, I liked that you could say “Even thieves couldn’t lie” or “Even thieves,” like people were equals in a group.
Any thoughts on booking Double Door as a venue?
Day:To me, it’s kind of like the Metra. It’s like, I’m in a band in Chicago; I have to play at Double Door. It’s like a Chicago institution.
What has the past few months looked like?
Day: For us, starting to play shows was something that we really wanted to [perfect]. We don’t want to just be a band that’s figuring things out on stage. Once we had the full group, we took six months of just us as a band, writing things and creating a set. Hopefully, you get a sense of theatrics, and you get a starting point and an endpoint, a full experience.
What has been your favorite performance experience so far?
O.J. Garza: Adrian introduced Black English to me. I really liked them, so being able to play with a band that you have on your iPod or that you listen to was really awesome. The first song started off, and I was just shaking. I was so nervous because I hadn’t played a show for over a year, but once we started getting into it, it was a ton of fun.
Jeremy Atwood: I also liked the Black English show, because I was a big fan of theirs, so when we found out we were opening for them, it was pretty funny. We got to meet them and hang out with them and talk about stuff, so that was pretty awesome, and that being our first show too, that was definitely crazy.
Joe Chouinard: The last place that we played was at Burlington. When we went on, the place was packed. That was just so much fun, I just like that really personal feel, kind of dark and edgy, but really personal.
Tyler Leninger: I agree with Joe on everything he just said.
What influences your musical style?
Garza: I grew up listening to mainly pop punk, Green Day, Blink-182. When I came to look at these guys play, the style was really, really different, but I told myself that I need to be open-minded because I was super set on just playing for a pop punk band. But then, once I heard them play, I jumped on and played a few songs for them. I really got into it, so I’m glad that I kept myself open-minded, but punk is my roots.
Atwood: I like breaking down songs and figuring out interesting chord progressions, and combining everyone else’s influences into the songs we make. EvQen if it’s a totally different genre, maybe there’s a cool chord progression.
Leninger: I really like bands like Crosses, which is a side project of Deftones [and Far], and Nine Inch Nails, something that brings live instrumentation and electronic instrumentation, so that’s where I came from.
Day: Jeremy was an excellent piano player, who had some interest in synth stuff, and Tyler was an amazing drummer. We talked a lot about things like Nine Inch Nails, things where there was an electronic influence or there was a big live instrument thing. So when we first started writing, [what] influenced me was like the 80’s, like New Order, Joy Division, The Cure…All of them had that same live instruments, but also an electronic nature.
When you come and hear us, typically you’re not tied to, “oh, they sound like (insert someone here)”, whether it’s Alkaline Trio or Green Day or The Stone Age or Nine Inch Nails. I don’t think anyone can sit there and say, “Oh, this sounds just like them.” My hope is that there’s a darkness, a bit of dance, a bit of exuberance. You have got to get all of that, and blend that together.
Chouinard: Adrian and I both played in a punk band. I went to high school with a couple of guys from Fall Out Boy, including Joe Trohman and Pete Wentz. When I’d go to shows, I’d see Alkaline Trio play. I’d say, definitely for me, Chicago punk rock was a big influence on me and got me interested in playing music.
How excited are you to open for Nightmare of You performing the entirety of their debut album from start to finish?
Day: I remember being in the van, and listening to that album. Having it open up this world, where everyone in the van came from [hardcore music] that I grew up on, but they were also coming from the other stuff I grew up on, like The Smiths or New Order. All these bands that were really melodic and very literary in how they wrote.
Vinnie DePierro: I agree.
Q: What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?
Chouinard: Piece Pizza.
Day: Kitchen 17.
DePierro: Lula Café.
Leninger: Cobra Lounge. Every Monday, they’ve got half-price burgers, and they’re incredible. Love that place.
WNUR: What was it like playing a sold-out show in New York?
Brandon Reilly: The Bowery Ballroom show was the first show that we performed in six years, and it was the first time that we ever performed the first album in its entirety. The show went better than we could have imagined. We really didn’t know what to expect; we hadn’t played in so long. A lot of loyalty was still there. A lot of our fans, they stuck around, and the show sold out. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
How did it feel to play the first album again?
Reilly: In many ways, it feels the same, but it also feels different in just as many ways. We’ve all kind of matured a lot, we’re all better players, and there’s a little bit of focus, so we’re a little more serious about it. We’re not just partying and getting all screwed up. It’s now only about the music, and I think that was reflected at our show at Bowery. It was arguably our best performance ever, and I think that has a lot to do with growing up and getting focused on what the real priority is- the music. The thing that remains the same is that it’s the same guys with the same inside jokes.
How do you think your musical style has changed over the years?
Reilly: If you listen, all three releases sound completely different. That was something that Joe and myself strived for, something we wanted to do on purpose. A lot of bands say this, but we felt that we didn’t want to make that same record twice, even if the first record ended up being the best record we ever made. We always want to challenge ourselves and try different things sonically. That was more of a conscious effort on our part, and not so much to do with the changing of members.
Compare and contrast your musical style with that of your opener, Even Thieves.
Reilly: Something I’ve noticed about them is that, sonically, we don’t sound even remotely similar, but we are drawing influences from the same exact bands. We processed the same influences, but the output ended up being a lot different. It still falls under this ode to new wave and eighties bands, mixed with some very subtle seventies and Americana. [Adrian Day, of Even Thieves,] sent me some playlists he made on Spotify, and it’s funny, because these are playlists that I could have easily made down to every single song on there, so that was kind of a cool coincidence that we got hooked up together.
Thoughts on booking Double Door?
Reilly: Unlike a lot of venues and promoters, they are actively promoting these shows on the Internet all over the place. I’m constantly seeing them talking about it, and that’s something that I appreciate a lot. This is completely word of mouth, through social media and the internet.
Any word on future plans?
Reilly: In the spirit of just being as honest and transparent as possible, we don’t know. We’re just taking it as it comes. We all have way bigger lives now. We’re seeing what comes in, analyzing it and deciding if it’s something that makes sense from a logistical standpoint. The ten year anniversary conveniently lined up with wanting to play again with those guys, so it was just extra-intensive to make that happen, being that the first album was coming up on 10 years.
Alto saxophonist Caroline Davis was kind enough to stop by AirPlay in early December for a solo set. The Northwestern alum and former teacher gifted us a soulful rendition of Warne Marsh’s “Background Music” against the background of WNUR’s jazz collection. The WNUR Media Team captured it on video.
With a background like hers, it makes sense that Caroline Davis turned out to be such an intriguing artist. She was born in Singapore in 1981 to European parents—her father was a British engineer, her mother a Swedish actor. She was raised in a primarily African-American section of Atlanta, where she fell in love with gospel and R&B. And she spent her teens in the very different setting of a middle-class Dallas suburb, where she played saxophone in her junior high band, influenced by her parents’ love of Michael Jackson, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and other rock and soul bands with horn sections. Having covered so much ground geographically, she continued her travels as a student of music, going beyond the ABCs of notes and chords.
This Thursday WNUR sold vinyl records on the ground floor of Norris, allowing students, staff and visitors the opportunity to look through and purchase a few gems from our extensive collection of sounds for $5 or less.
Due to the renovation of Louis Halls’ production studio, many of WNUR’s records were left without a home, so we organized the WNUR 89.3FM Winter Vinyl Fair to showcase many years’ worth of archived material. We also had a listening deck set up so that participants could sample the records available.
We appreciate the people who came through to support! Many browsed our collection, and WNUR DJs, music enthusiasts and people just passing by spent the day bonding over eclectic sleeve art and music from the past. Enjoy these pictures from the event, and stay tuned for more content.