From the first track of his newest album From Your Bones, the Chicago-based singer/songwriter Briar Rabbit takes listeners on a quick musical ride where lyrics and tracks are sometimes beautifully mismatched. Up-tempo, folksy and sugary in sound, “So Long” is about an ending, but only in the last few bars does the music slow down enough for listeners to realize it’s really a goodbye.
Though his self-dubbed “thought-pop” album has its highs and lows, Briar Rabbit really shines on “Invisible,” where he asks: “Why am I invisible when I’m not putting on a show? Why do I see myself through all these eyes? They’re not my own, no they’re not my own.” Another standout is “Gifted Girl Blues” where the complexity and darkness is less hidden. Anger is seeping in on “Bad Blood,” but it doesn’t feel as dark as it could - yet it’s lyrically impressive just the same.
Covering love, the pain of break-ups and coming face-to-face with one’s self, From Your Bones is an easy way to hear the truth (as unflattering as it may be) wrapped up in feel-good-at-first-listen tunes. But, with every play, one is sure to hear a little more than before.
From Your Bones
Engineered and Mastered by Michael Hagler at Kingsize Sound Labs
Secret Colours has perfected the balance between Britpop and psychedelic ’60s sounds. Hailing from Chicago, they’ve just released a new album called Peach, which is the exact representation of their declared genre: indie rock and psychedelia.
This album is a perfectly-orchestrated mix of the music our parents listened to, and the music that is secretly taking over the scene today. With a heavy emphasis on electric instruments and a generous use of distortion pedals, Peach puts you right back in the decade of Woodstock and tie-dyed t-shirts. Great throwbacks include “My Home is in Your Soul” and “Legends of Love.”
This album still connects with today’s generation, though, as there is still a level of indie rock that lingers in each of the songs. One example is “World Through My Window,” which features a heavy guitar lead and some chill symbols and drum fills.
This is a must-have album for all the reasons above and more. The tracks feature a very laid-back sound that goes hand-in-hand with the LP’s theme, and the album, as a whole, connects with multiple generations, something most bands find increasingly difficult to do.
The 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival is just around the corner, kicking off on July 19. Every summer the festival takes over Union Park in Chicago for three days of impressive and provocative music and has become a staple event in the neighborhood. Since its inception in 2006, the festival has grown into one of the most internationally renowned exhibitions of music and art, providing attendees with a wide variety of big name and unknown artists. Chris Kaskie, Pitchfork’s charismatic and dedicated president, sat down with Performer to talk the 2013 line up and future plans.
How did the Pitchfork Festival come about?
We wanted to find new ways to reach our fans and the festival was designed to showcase the purpose and content of the magazine in the real world setting. When we first started the festival, we viewed is as a way to expand our presence and connect with our audience. The idea and creation of the festival was very organic, we new we wanted to bring together talented artists and we knew we wanted to do it in a way that was engaging to our fans.
How do you and your team choose the festival line up every year?
We think about our content, about what our fans want to see and then try to create something that’s unique from year to year. The curation process has evolved but is really just a group of us in a room hashing through all the things we’d like to see and the things we think our fans would like to see. The variety of bands is really important and there isn’t one thing we look for or one approach we take. We sit down and figure out who is new and who we’ve never had before. We try to bring a good mix of emerging and well-established acts. Honestly, we think about the acts that we’ve dreamt of having.
How do you choose your headliners?
We don’t really approach the process by trying to first determine who will or won’t headline. We take the festival as a whole and instead we look at what acts we want. The team looks at who has played in previous years and tries to figure out who the fans want to see most. We take careful care when deciding and really want to get acts in that we feel will be the most fun and will bring something new to the festival each year.
Is there anything that bands can do to make the line up? Any advice you give those interested in being chosen for 2014?
Not really. It’s an outreach process for us; we go searching for the artists we want. While variety and range are important and while we want to showcase up-and-coming bands, we really don’t look at demos or materials submitted by bands. Instead our team works with agents to find bands that will be the best fit for the year. Even though materials may come across our desks, we don’t really put out a call for bands. We look for what will be the best fit.
When creating your line up, do you and the team draw from years past? Do you invite bands to return or try to create something totally unique from year to year?
We’ve had bands perform multiple times and there’s no hard and fast rule about that. That said, we try to get as much new as we possibly can. On average, about ninety-five percent of what we have is stuff we’ve never had before. In year’s past we’ve had unknown artists and bands who are well established, and if having a band return feels right, we’ll do it. We definitely want the festival to be the most fun and most daring it can be and that means striving for creativity and giving the fans something new and exciting every year.
How has the festival grown over the years?
We’ve gotten much bigger. Over the years we’ve added more days and more bands. We’ve expanded the structural organization and improved the caliber of booking. But the festival has grown primarily in terms of production, services available to attendees and the behind-the-scenes operations. We’ve really tried to make the entire festival run more smoothly. We’re always looking at possibilities for growth and expansion but our location is a key component. We’ve really become apart of the neighborhood and we don’t want to lose that.
Where do you see it in the next five or ten years?
It’s hard to say. I think we’re pretty comfortable in the location we’ve been in. We’ve been here for nine years and the audience is happy here. The arguments for getting bigger always stay the same and we have expanded internationally, but it’s about setting realistic expectations year after year. Keeping things easily accessible for attendees and staying all about the music is the main goal. We could get bigger but we don’t want to go crazy and we don’t the festival to become something over-the-top or driven by sponsors. It’s not about money, it’s about the fans and the music and the magazine. This festival means something to Chicago and to our readers and fans and we want to continue to improve, but never lose that connection.
Great Divide Great Divide
“Rock n’ soul custom-made for a sweaty live setting”
Great Divide is certainly hitting their stride on their second release, delivering classic blues-rock with a healthy dose of soul. All they need to do now is take this record and hit the road. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see this band share a bill with contemporary soul artists like Allen Stone or Sharon Jones. Yet, influences of ’60s rock and jam bands such as the Grateful Dead and The Band are also evident, especially in Great Divide’s songwriting and lyrics. While the album itself leaves little to be desired, one can’t help but imagine how these songs would set a live audience on fire.
The record is filled with examples of how to build energy and momentum with a pedal-tone vamp. One such tune is “Shine,” a feel-good anthem that builds to a climax on the classic (or clichéd) refrain, “Let Your Love Light shine.” A hidden gem on this release is “Tennessee,” a punchy, up-tempo tune, with a bouncy groove reminiscent of Phish. These songs are sure to strike a nerve with live audiences who will be even more impressed when they hear the album at home. Here’s hoping that Great Divide wastes no time planning their next tour.
Produced by Daniel J. McMahon, Darren Garvey & Great Divide Engineered by Joshua Miller, Jeff Burke, Jeff Leibovich, Dan McMahon & Darren Garvey Mastered by Glenn Meadows at Mayfield Mastering, Nashville www.greatdivideband.com
Chicago-based EDM (electronic dance music) trio Krewella has only been around for four years, but has worked out a killer combination of collaborative music making and explosive live performances. Continue reading →
Manipulating Track Ideas in Cubase Before Hitting the Studio
Chicago hip-hop has never been this smooth. Sorry Kanye, the WHOevers have found that feeling that A Tribe Called Quest imbibed and put their own kiss on it. They’re confident, “far from the regular” and are focused on making feel-good music to which listeners can bop their heads, as evidenced on the group’s debut album Renovations and their upcoming mixtape, due out this month. Continue reading →
Since their inception in 2004, Windy City quartet Maps & Atlases have been an amicable and ever-evolving entity of the rock-persuasion, featuring abstruse melodies, keen rhythms and a sharpened sense of lyrical wit. Comprised of Dave Davison, Shiraz Dada, Erin Elders and Chris Hainey, the group is set to take their mercurial blend of post-folk technical rock on the road, touring Europe this spring before embarking on a 31-date summer stretch through North America in support of their sophomore album.
On songwriting: “Different from our usual tight-knit, puzzle piece approach to songs, with this record we would feel out the mood and ride it as long as we could.”
Released last month on Barsuk Records, Beware & Be Grateful is one part organically dynamic rock, one part open-heart croons, and a third part of vivaciously sexy dance quarrels. This triptych is a product of the band’s growing creative patience and adroit musicianship. “There is a real cohesiveness to the record,” says guitarist Erin Elders. “We let the songs run wild a little bit before tying them up. Different from our usual tight-knit, puzzle piece approach to songs, with this record we would feel out the mood for a song and ride it as long as we could.”
“Over the last year we have been working on material for this record and once we had a decent amount of ideas we spent a few days at Dave’s [Davison - vocals/guitar] parent’s house in Indiana, where [producer] Jason Cupp brought abunch of keyboards he found at a farmer’s market. We used those to work out the songs before breaking up the actual recording into three separate sessions at ARC studios in Omaha.” He adds, “What is really exciting about the songs on this record is that we really embraced some sounds and ideas that our younger selves would have thought, ‘No way will I ever wanna have a wah guitar part or a blistering guitar solo in one of our songs,’ and that element of personal and creative risk was really fun for us.”
He finishes by adding, “We are always pushing ourselves and each other creatively, constantly interested about what will come next; it’s all about exploring our limits and trying to keep the music interesting, as musicians and as a band.”
Streamlining Their Sound & Re-Evaluates Rock Orchestration
photos by Stephanie Bassos
Richard Edwards, the primary songwriter/vocalist/guitarist behind the Indianapolis band Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s, speaks candidly about the years his band was signed to, and later ignored by, Epic Records. “There was just a lot of turnover. We were signed…and then a few months later the people who signed us were gone, and we sort of felt like an afterthought.”
After an explosive debut on the indie label Artemis, the band came to the attention of the aforementioned major label, only to get into an artistic dispute with record execs who, and we’re paraphrasing Edwards here, “Didn’t understand anything about our music, and didn’t really understand who signed us or what we were doing in their building.”
2008 saw the unique dual release of the band’s album Animal! One version of the record was put out as it was originally envisioned by the group. Epic decided to release their own version of the album (with different song selections) at the same time, appropriately titled Not Animal.
On Margot’s previous direction: “We were doing something where we thought not a whole lot of people were orchestrating music this way.”
After their departure from Epic, Margot released Buzzard in 2010, featuring a more stripped down, less-orchestrated sound than heard on previous releases. After some more time on the road, the band is back with a brand new album, Rot Gut, Domestic, featuring some of the rawest, most abrasive sounding Margot tracks to date.
Edwards has one final, defining statement on his time spent with a major label: “I just lose interest and get pissy when I’m not doing exactly what I want to do, you know? It’s not very attractive.” At this point, the focus of the interview moves to the band’s current process, and in particular, the shift toward a more “traditional” rock sound.
Going back to your last record [Buzzard] – I know the sound on that was different. I guess “less orchestrated” is the best term I can come up with. Was that a conscious artistic decision to go more streamlined and “rock and roll” or did it evolve more naturally?
Yeah well, it kind of devolved. I had been making music like that [more orchestrated] for a long time, so to me that was more like going back home – I didn’t have to figure out ways to change; that kind of music comes naturally to me. If anything, I think that with the Animal stuff it just got stupid, you know? We recorded for four months and everything was overdubbed. We were putting a lot of shit on songs [so as] not to hurt band member’s feelings. It just got really, really stupid. [It was] kind of the opposite end of the too much strippers, cocaine, rock and roll scenario. We had the really nerdy overdose: way too much time sitting around and thinking about shit, way too many people in the kitchen.
“You know, we were always trying to make kind of small music with all those instruments, if that makes sense.”
You were getting into Pet Sounds territory…
Yeah, but I mean that’s a kind way of putting it. I don’t know what we were getting into. People weren’t concentrating that much on performances; there wasn’t energy. It just got to be damaging in a way that I didn’t really enjoy. So for Buzzard it just got to be like, ‘Man, I just don’t want to make music like that anymore – I don’t want to even hear music like that anymore – it kind of happened by accident.’ Margot was not supposed to be a band that was like, I don’t know, the Arcade Fire or something. It’s unfortunate for the second record we went really heavy in that direction, because the first record wasn’t really that heavily orchestrated, as far as I can remember. There’s like a violin on it here and there, a few horns…
On tighter recording schedules: “When you’re working at that pace, I don’t think your mind has as much time to get blocked up on stuff, you know?”
Yeah, I would say you get into that on the second record, but I think that’s where more people heard you and pegged you as that type of group. So I didn’t know if that sort of expectation crept into your head…
No, I didn’t really care about that. I mean, I found it slightly obnoxious, obviously. You know, I think what were trying to articulate…when we started and we were making kind of orchestrated music there were a couple reference points, like Neutral Milk Hotel or the Decemberists or something, and then by the time we made the second one the Arcade Fire just got so huge. We just came along at the wrong time, really. We were doing something where we thought not a whole lot of people were orchestrating music this way. It turned out that the ONE other band that was orchestrating rock just became so massive that…[trails off]
And won Grammy for Album of the Year and all that stuff.
Yeah. I’m not trying to compete with something so massive and anthemic. You know, we were always trying to make kind of small music with all those instruments, if that makes sense.
I got you. So how did that experience influence the songwriting on the new album? I know there was a time where you were in seclusion during the writing process…
I got sick this time around, which is normal for me. I had gotten off a tour that was kind inspiring. I went out with the band and had a good month tour and felt rejuvenated. I was still feeling kind of sick, so I went out to this place that I remembered from touring and just sat and concentrated for two or three weeks. I took scraps from stuff I had throughout the year and just concentrated on writing, and if not writing, then finishing things that had been started and never finished.
Do you write a lot on tour?
I never write on tour; it’s just hard to get into that headspace. Every once and a while you’ll be doing sound check and jot down a little melody to come back to later, but, you know – I don’t know, maybe if we had a tour bus and got to the city at 10 a.m. and went straight to the hotel, maybe we’d have more time to write. But the way we tour, [we're] constantly moving. I guess if you’re moving, you’re definitely not thinking, ‘I should devote an hour to writing a song.’
So when the writing is done, what does recording look like for you guys? Do have a set process, or is it different each time out?
It’s been extremely different each time out. The first time we did it completely by ourselves, and we kind of had to sneak around this studio that we didn’t own and couldn’t afford. So we’d record at very strange hours at night.
And this time?
This time around we did it with this guy, John [Congleton], who had been put in touch with me through an old manager and said he was interested in doing it. I guess the big change was that he moved around his schedule to do it in 11 days. And, you know, you think about 11 days, and that’s like a song a day. I kind of panicked. He calmed me down a bit and I agreed to trust him. It was really shocking actually; I felt like we had more time and we actually [recorded] it all in nine days.
So you feel more productive when you set up a block of time?
It moves so fast with him. I had never experienced that pace of working before, but he’s just like “zip zip zip.” You go back later and hit stuff if you don’t like it, but one thing is when you’re working at that pace, I don’t think your mind has as much time to get blocked up on stuff, you know? And the second thing is that I actually think everything you do is totally yourself, because you’re also not given time to really be too precious with the music.
I think if you drag it out, you just tend to over think it and then the self-doubt starts to creep in…
Absolutely. And [John] is just really good at – I mean, he’s a great engineer and a great producer, too – but probably the most valuable thing is that he’s constantly a) keeping everything moving and b) keeping the energy really high.
What sort of gear are you using in the studio?
We did the first week at Electrical Audio in Chicago. So, you know, we recorded some stuff with Pro Tools, we recorded some stuff with tape. And then we mixed it down with automation, that kind of a mixture of processes. As far as guitars and stuff, I used a modified [Fender] Twin amp for most of it. It’s like a weird – I don’t even know what it started as – kind of monster Twin stack at Electrical Audio. I played through that most of the time. Guitar-wise, I played a ’60s Les Paul for some of it; for some of it I used an SG.
Now are you a guitar guy, or do just kind of pick up whatever’s lying around the studio?
I’m neither one of those. I’m definitely not a guitar guy, but I’m definitely not the ‘pick up and play’ type. I mean, I’m very specific about how I want it to sound, but I’m absolutely not someone who knows a whole lot about gear.
I know a lot of people are throwing around the term ‘panic pop trilogy’ when it comes to your recent albums. I’m not sure if that’s something you came up with or something you roll your eyes at – care to comment on what that means?
I definitely don’t roll my eyes at it – I like it a lot. I feel like we were way more successful when we spent most of our time coming up with funny words for blogs. We had ‘scarf rock’ for a while.
Yeah, I remember ‘scarf rock.’
With Buzzard and this new record, and maybe this thing I’m writing now, I’m definitely trying to make pop music; I want it to be really as catchy as it can be. That’s what I really like to listen to. However, the flip side of that is lyrically and performance-wise, it’s definitely strange in a way that’s very specific to me, and that’s I guess where the ‘panic’ part comes in. I don’t know exactly what it is, but when I try to think about exactly what it is that makes it strange…maybe it’s like a dark sense of humor, but I don’t know if it’s always that way. I hope there’s a bit of humor.
I get you. Now, I know you guys are hitting the road in support of the record. Do you still enjoy touring?
I’m enjoying it less and less. I mean, I’m 28 years old; I’ve been doing this more or less full-time since I was 20, so that’s a lot of tours and hours on the road. So that part’s hard, and the other part is I have a kid and the other guys have their stuff going on. That makes it less fun than when you were 21, but at the same time when you get out – most of the time – you actually do realize how much you love it. How much it feels like home in a lot of ways, you know?
Do you picture a day when Margot becomes a full-time studio band and doesn’t tour?
It’ll just depend on how we feel. I mean at a certain point, if more people don’t buy our records, that’ll happen just because I’m not going to put up with the nonsense that goes along with releasing records at that scale, you know? If we keep growing with each record, then we’ll probably keep it going until there’s some serious physical reason not to. But if [after] the next record nobody likes it, and after the next record nobody likes it, then at a certain point I might just make records for myself.
Is there anything you can say to our readers about the new record or any impressions that you want to leave them with?
I mean, I don’t know…
Say it’s great. Tell them how great it is.
Yeah, yeah, [laughs] it’s fucking shit. It sucks.
That’s going to be the pull quote, you know. I’m going to put it over a big picture of you – ‘The record sucks’ – with your name under it.
Well I’m used to it [laughs]. No, I like it. I’m proud of it. I’m excited to do the next thing; I’ve kind of moved on. You know, I hope people listen to it and however they feel about it, great. If they hate it, cool. If they like it, even better.
Having released a riveting new album, Secret Colours are paving new ground with their rich, haunting musical ideas, conquering Chicago and beyond. They’ve been widely respected for the creative design and structural palate found in their songs. With a name paying tribute to the best of historic British rock, this sextet delivers a profound message in their work – clear and compelling.
2010’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” is captivating and charming, delivered as a mixture of sounds reminiscent of the best of Beatles lore. Exploring a broad channel of textures and rhythms, the group of Tommy Evans, Dave Stach, Dylan Olson, Justin Frederick, Margaret Albright, and Nate Wiess are sonically like no other group in the Midwest.
Officially, the band began rehearsing and playing out in 2004, with their first show at the Bottom Lounge in September of 2009.
“We got the band name from a combination of song lyrics from the Beatles and Blur,” explains front man and lead vocalist Evans. “I think we arrived at Secret Colours because of the nature of our ambiguous songwriting, in which the lyrics are usually simple but metaphorically dark, or complex. We spell ‘Colours’ like the Brits as homage to the bands we grew up with and love.”
The band looks to stir quite a shiver to the souls of SXSW festival goers this month. In these upcoming shows the Colours are eager to wistfully capture a watershed of pure energy-driven rock with their current material, as well as numbers from their follow-up LP, recorded at Engine Music Studios with producer Brian Deck.
A spellbinding wall of sound, Secret Colours are thrilled to perform high energy shows, eager to present future melodic gems such as “Black Hole.”
As the band continues to grow and evolve in the studio and on tour, each member reflects on their success so far, and appreciates those fans who continue to support them during their journey. With a dose of fate and blessings, most likely their buzz in the spotlight will accelerate as new club listeners come aboard. “We have some great dedicated fans that we always love to see at our shows. We are happy to see all the people that enjoy our tunes. It’s been amazing.”
On their self-titled debut, Gauntlet Hair reaffirms their echo-y, disheveled, bombastic rock sound, which as lead singer and guitarist Andy R. says, was the goal.
“We wanted to really hone and maintain solidarity with that sound on this record,” he explains. So, what is that sound? Maybe it’d be best described as organic Animal Collective with way more soul and spunk.
The Denver duo is originally from Chicago, which also could explain their sound. Armed mainly with their guitars and drums, Gauntlet Hair delivers on their debut. While the album offers up several variations on their distinct sound, a few tracks really stand out. That’s not a slam, either. Overall the record is solid – better than solid, really. It’s just that songs like “Mop It Up” with its catchy chorus, booming bass and drums and “Top Bunk” are just a few levels above the rest.
The aforementioned song “Top Bunk” – one of two songs released to promote the album – especially highlights the band’s ability to do what they do best: propelling through dissonance and jagged guitar lines into a mucky, yet beautiful break down.
Other highlights include “Keep Time,” the catchiest tune on the record, “Lights Out,” which, while it still straddles the volume redline, shuffles along into an excellently cool chorus. It’s also peppered with fun fills from drummer Craig Nice. Perhaps my favorite song on the album, “Showing,” is a perfect closer. The band is a little more willing to ease up a bit, letting the melody flow and shine through a catchy, soaring chorus. Do yourself a favor and pick this up. That’s it. (Dead Oceans)