Saturday, September 27, 2008

Everyone Has One...And Yours Smells Horrible: The Return to Form Album

Recently, my iPod and I were going for a jog. iPod decides we should listen to “Decent Days and Nights” by The Futureheads. This got me to thinking about how great their eponymous debut album was, and how disappointing their last two outputs have been. On those last two albums they strayed from what made The Futureheads so great. See, the Futureheads got caught in that indie rock Catch-22 of being criticized for not evolving their sound, or being criticized for getting too ambitious/pop/over-produced/weird, or all-of-the-above. As far as the Futureheads are concerned, they fell victim to the second part of the trap by venturing too far down the pop route. Now, where do they go from here? Do they continue evolving, tweaking their sound in the hope of finding something new or the correct combination that works, or do they go with the “Return to Form” album?

This brings us to the discussion point: The “Return to Form” album (hereinafter, “RTFA”). Recently, the new Metallica album has been touted as such. Were they successful? To be kind (because I can’t think of a reason why Metallica doesn’t deserve our kindness…right?), let’s just say the opinions are mixed. But let’s talk about the RTFA on a wider scale. Is the RTFA the kiss of death? A stamp that your band has reached permanent irrelevance? (Lars, put down the phone, we’re not necessarily saying Metallica is irrelevant, no need for more band therapy…right?) Has anybody successfully pulled off the RTFA? If so, who? Who is in need of a RTFA? Who has tried and failed? Let’s hear your thoughts.

--Travis Newman

October Shows in Chicago

Wed 10/1
The Heartless Bastards, Langhorne Slim @ Abbey Pub 8pm

The Wedding Present, Dirty on Purpose @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Rachael Yamagata, Kevin Devine @ Lakeshore Theater 7pm, 10pm

Lacona @ Beat Kitchen 8:30pm

The Bug, Ghislain Poirier @ Subterranean 9pm

Thurs 10/2
Beck, MGMT @ Aragon Ballroom 7:30pm

Weezer, Angels and Airwaves, Tokyo Police Club @ Allstate Arena 7pm

Gomez (performing Bring It On) @ Vic Theater 6:30pm

Saviours, Raise the Red Lantern, Slow Horse @ Beat Kitchen 9pm

Takka Takka, Grammar, Elephant Gun @ darkroom 8pm

Thee Oh Sees, Mother of Tears, Paul Cary @ Cobra Lounge 10pm

Truckstop Honeymoon @ Hideout 5:30pm

Deaf Center, Zelienople, Odawas @ Hideout 9:30pm

Joe Pug, The Blueheels @ Hideout 10pm

Liam Finn, The Veils @ Lakeshore Theater 10pm

Thee Oh Sees, Intelligence @ Permanent Records 5pm

Rahim, Darren Keen, Heligoats @ Ronny's 9pm

Fri 10/3
Beck, MGMT @ Aragon Ballroom 7:30pm

Headlights, Helicopters, World's First Flying Machine @ Schubas 10:30pm

The Dials, Mathematicians, The Ettes, The Deccas @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Brazilian Girls @ House of Blues 6pm

Sat 10/4
Sunset Rubdown, Vacations @ Empty Bottle 7:30pm, 10pm

First Friday, Lasers and Fast and Shit @ Double Door 8pm

My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult @ Metro 8:30pm

Dead Confederate @ Schubas 10pm

Sun 10/5
Slim Cessna's Auto Club @ Bottom Lounge 9pm

Band of Annuals, Judson Claiborn @ Hideout 9pm

Mon 10/6
Black Kids, The Virgins, Team Band @ Abbey Pub 6pm

Black Kids, The Virgins, Magic Wands @ Metro 7pm

Office, Bob Nanna, Ed Laurie @ Schubas 9pm

Autumn Defense, Bart Davenport, Canasta @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Robert Pollards' Boston Spaceships, High Strung @ Double Door 8pm

Chinese Stars, Brilliant Pebbles, Dead Gods @ Empty Bottle 9:30pm

Sweet Cobra, Trap Them, Furnace @ Subterranean 8:30pm

Tues 10/7
Peter Hammill (of Van der Graafe Generator), Cheer Accident @ Abbey Pub 7pm

Daniel Francis Doyle, Yellow Fever, Mittens on Strings, Darren Keen @ Empty Bottle 9pm

MSTRKRFT, Felix Cartal @ Metro 8pm

Talkdemonic @ Schubas 9pm

Wed 10/8
Jamie Lidell, Janelle Monae @ Metro 8pm

The Dodos, Au, Light Pollution @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Jeff Hanson, Chris Koza @ Schubas 9pm

Thurs 10/9
My Morning Jacket @ Chicago Theatre 7:30pm

Broken Social Scene, Land of Talk @ Vic Theatre 6:30pm

Tegan & Sara, City and Colour, Girl in a Coma @ Riviera Theatre 5:30pm

Fri 10/10
My Morning Jacket @ Chicago Theatre 7:30pm

Silver Jews, The Mattoid @ Metro 9pm

Stereolab, Le Loup, Monade w/ Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab @ Vic Theater 8pm

Statehood, Kid, You'll Move Mountains, The Fake Fictions @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Ben Folds, Missy Higgins @ Congress Theatre 8pm

S. Joel Norman, Dylan Kloska @ Elbo Room 8:30pm

Prisonshake, This Moment in Black History, Pale Gallery @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Beach House, Jana Hunter, Santa Dads, Lexie Mountain Boys, Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez, Teeth Mountain, Nautical Almanac, Lizz King, Creepers, WZT Hearts, Ed Schrader, Sandcats @ Epiphany 6pm

Shelley Short, Alexis Gideon, Machineshop @ Hideout 7:30pm

Sat 10/11
The Kooks @ Riviera Theatre 6:30pm

Cold War Kids @ Vic Theatre 7pm

Matt Bauer, Judson Claiborn @ Av-aerie 8pm

Throw Me the Statue, Locksley, Hymns @ Beat Kitchen 7pm

Valient Thorr, Black President, Black Tusk @ Cobra Lounge 9pm

Pierced Arrows, Lover!, Big Knife @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Dan Deacon, The Death Set, Adventure, Videohippos, Future Islands, Nuclear Power Pants, Dj Dog Dick, Blood Baby, Height, Cex, Smartgrowth, Double Dagger @ Epiphany 6pm

Justin Townes Earle, Ben Weaver @ Hideout 9pm

Catfish Haven, Brighton, MA @ Metro 8pm

Sonya Kitchell, The Slip, Brad Barr (The Slip) @ Schubas 10pm

Oh My God, Baby Teeth, My My My @ Subterranean 9:30pm

Sun 10/12
Pinback, Make Believe @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Fleet Foxes, Frank Fairfield @ Metro 8pm

Jay Reatard, Cola Freaks, The Frankl Project @ Double Door 9pm

The Bronx, Haymarket Riot, Vicelords @ Reggie's Rock Club 8pm

Mighty Mighty Bosstones, ALL, Jay Reatard, Horrorpops, The Casualties, Leftover Crack, TSOL, DOA, Big Drill Car, Mustard Plug, Municipal Waste, Paint it Black, Teenage Bottlerocket, Valient Thorr, Black President, The Methadones, The Ergs @ Congress Theatre 11am

Mon 10/13
Shearwater, Hospital Ships @ Lakeshore Theater 10pm

The Mountain Goats, Kaki King @ Park West 7:30pm

Office, Big Science, Thin Hymns, Gold @ Schubas 9pm

USAISAMONSTER @ Empty Bottle 9pm

Tues 10/14
Okkervil River, Crooked Fingers, Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears @ Metro 8pm

Ben Kweller, Whitley @ Bottom Lounge 7pm

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Ill Ease, sBACH @ Empty Bottle 9:30pm

Digable Planets @ Park West 8pm

Matt Hales, KaiserCartel @ Schubas 9pm

Wed 10/15
Crooked Fingers, The Uglysuit @ Schubas 9pm

LadyHawke, Bumblebeez @ Av-aerie 8pm

Thomas Function, Mother of Tears @ Empty Bottle 9:30pm

Mirah, No Kids @ Epiphany 8pm

The Residents @ Lakeshore Theater 8pm

Thurs 10/16
Mr. Gnome, An Aesthetic Anaesthetic @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Crystal Antlers, The New Ghosts, White / Light @ Empty Bottle 9:30pm

Citay, The Horse's Ha @ Hideout 9pm

The Residents @ Lakeshore Theater 8pm

The Silent Years, Envy Corps, Northpilot @ Schubas 9pm

Fri 10/17
Against Me!, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Future Of The Left @ Riviera Theatre 7pm

DMBQ, Pit Er Pat, An Albatross, Plastic Crimewave Sound @ Abbey Pub 8pm

The Everybodyfields, Katie Herzig, Samantha Crain, McCarthy Trenching @ Double Door 8pm

The New Year, Jennifer O'Connor, Sonoi @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Ian Moore, Loquat, Greycoats @ Hideout 9:30pm

Deerhoof, Experimental Dental School, Flying @ Metro 6pm

Hercules and Love Affair @ Metro 11:30pm

Chuck Ragan (of Hot Water Music), Ben Nichols, Tim Barry (of Avail), Sundowner @ Reggie's Rock Club 8pm

Matthew Dear's Big Hands @ Sonotheque 9pm

Vast Aire, Qwal, Seel Fresh, Phero @ Subterranean 10pm

Minus the Bear, Annuals, Themes @ Vic Theater 6pm

Sat 10/18
Wire @ Metro 8pm

Man Man, Tim Fite @ Bottom Lounge 5pm, 9pm

Genghis Tron, Teith, Yip Yip, Black Cobra @ Beat Kitchen 9pm

The Handcuffs, Killing The Enemy, Javelinas, Kelroy @ Double Door 8pm

The Red Eyed Legends, Mountain High @ Hideout 9pm

Old Crow Medicine Show @ Riviera Theatre 6:30pm

Horse in the Sea, Scattered Trees, Cheyenne @ Schubas 10pm

Sun 10/19
Crooks and Children, Michael Zapruder, Steve Dawson @ Double Door 8pm

The Dead C, Wolf Eyes @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Musee Mecanique @ Hideout 9pm

Toadies, People in Planes @ Metro 8pm

Matisyahu @ Riviera Theatre 8pm

Canasta, Bearsuit, Pale Young Gentleman @ Schubas 8pm

Mon 10/20
Office, Birthmark, Netherfriends @ Schubas 9pm

Mount Eerie, Julie Doiron (ex-Eric's Trip), Calm Down, It's Monday @ Av-aerie 8pm

Duffy @ Riviera 6pm

Tues 10/21
Elephant Six Holiday Surprise Tour @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Murs, Kidz in the Hall, Aristacats, Astonish, Seel Fresh @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Yelle, Funeral Party @ Logan Square Auditorium 8pm

The Little Ones, Other Lives, Hey Champ @ Schubas 8pm

Wed 10/22
TV on the Radio, The Dirtbombs @ Riviera Theatre 8pm

Asobi Seksu, Blackstrap @ Empty Bottle 9:30pm

Wovenhand @ Bottom Lounge 8pm

Thurs 10/23
Diplo, Abe Vigoda, Boy 8 Bit, Telepathe @ Abbey Pub 9pm

Electric Six, The Golden Dogs @ Double Door 9pm

Titus Andronicus @ Empty Bottle 9:30pm

Pillars and Tongues, Reminder @ Hideout 10:30pm

The Spinto Band, Frightened Rabbit, The Laureates @ Metro 8pm

Fucked Up @ Reggie's Rock Club 6:30pm

Friendly Foes (members of Thunderbirds Are Now! @ Ronny's 9pm

Darker My Love @ Schubas 9pm

Fri 10/24
Secret Machines, The Dears @ Metro 6:30pm

The Rumble Strips, Birdmonster, Time Bomb Symphony @ Abbey Pub 8pm

Apollo Sunshine, Wax Fang @ Beat Kitchen 10pm

Backyard Tire Fire @ Double Door 9pm

The Legendary Pink Dots @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Sat 10/25
Fujiya & Miyagi, Prototypes @ Bottom Lounge 9pm

Lykke Li, Friendly Fires @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Crystal Castles, Lymbyc System @ Metro 6pm

Lotus @ Park West 9pm

Sun 10/26
David Byrne @ Civic Opera House 8pm

Magnetic Morning, The Life & Times, Head of Skulls @ Empty Bottle 9:30pm

Mon 10/27
Jolie Holland @ Congress Theatre 10pm

Of Montreal, Sinkane @ Riviera Theatre 8pm

Starfucker, Mother Mother @ Hideout 9pm

Office, The Living Blue, Hardy Mums @ Schubas 9pm

Tues 10/28
Yeasayer, Chairlift @ Bottom Lounge 9pm

White Lies, Japanese Motors @ Empty Bottle 9:30pm
Coheed & Cambria @ Riviera Theater 6:30pm

Jedi Mind Tricks @ Subterranean 9pm

Wed 10/29
Quatre Tete, Dropsonic, Bear Claw @ Double Door 8pm

Akimbo, Sweet Cobra, Millions @ Empty Bottle 9:30pm

Coheed & Cambria @ Riviera Theatre 7:30pm

Thurs 10/30
Copeland, Lovedrug, Lydia, Lights @ Bottom Lounge 6pm

Donavon Frankenreiter, Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek) @ Double Door 8pm

Joan of Arc, I Kong Kult @ Hideout 9pm

Coheed & Cambria @ Riviera Theatre 7pm

Fri 10/31
Kings of Leon @ Aragon Ballroom 7:30pm

King Khan & BBQ Show @ Bottom Lounge 9pm

Detholz!, Aleks & the Drummer, The Hood Internet @ Empty Bottle 10pm

Indian, Rabid Rabbit @ Hideout 10pm

Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band @ Vic Theater 6:30pm


Monday, September 8, 2008

Okkervil River
The Stand Ins
Rating: On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being Astral Weeks and 1 being R.E.M.'s Monster), I give this record an Achtung Baby.

The Stand Ins
by Okkervil River is not a b-side collection to last year’s The Stage Names. Rather, it’s more of a dizygotic twin that continues the story of the more seedy side of fame. At first glance, the triumphs and failures of artists, narcissists, groupies, pop stars, et al, appear to be rather inconsequential when juxtaposed against the great, grand scheme. However, Okkervil River continues to demonstrate that there is a worthy story here; and that’s once the lights are dimmed and the makeup is washed off, a human element emerges that is not only interesting but also nearly universally relatable.

Is this album better than The Stage Names? Not to betray the intended purpose laid out below, but I don’t know, honestly. The novelty of the theme obviously isn’t as strong as it was on its predecessor, but the songs are just as fun and cohesively written. It’s separated into three parts, distinguishable by the tracks “Stand Ins, One,” “Stand Ins, Two,” and “Stand Ins, Three”; all instrumentals, which serve as nice intros and interludes but that’s about it.

After “Stands Ins, One”, the album opens up with “Lost Coastlines” which is a nice send-off to Jonathan Meiberg as he and Will Sheff share a duet. In fact, if I had to take a guess, I bet after they laid the track down and listened to it in the studio, Meiberg turned to Sheff and said, “Wait, tell me again why you’re the lead singer?” and then packed his bags and hit the road with Shearwater. I’m kidding, of course. We all know Sheff is the lead singer because he’s one of the best songwriters alive, and his imperfect voice is, in turn, perfect for telling the stories of black sheep and (sometimes) disgraced artists dealing with mild doses of fame. And “Lost Coastlines” certainly picks up where the last record left with a stripped down rock piece and Sheff singing “And every night finds us rocking and rolling on waves wild and wide/Well, we have lost our way, no one’s gonna say outright.” This navigates into a nearly two-and-half minute song-ending “la-la-la-la” chorus that is bolstered up by a Motown bass line and Travis Nelsen’s drumming. Any fan of The Stage Names will certainly feel at home with this song, and those yearning for the good old days of Down River of Golden Dreams, will have to hit “stop” and go find their copy of Down the River of Golden Dreams.

“Singer Songwriter” is the jewel of the album. Through periodic guitar licks, it’s another hole-in-the-wall-bar-like rocker that weaves a tale of a “cultured” lad whose most redeeming personal qualities lie in his artistic and musical preferences. When Sheff sings “You’ve got taste/What a waste that that’s all that you have”, I can’t help but think of everyone I’ve met that seeks validation through their finely displayed collection of Vonnegut books.

“Starry Stairs” or sometimes called “(Shannon Wilsey on the) Starry Stairs” and “Blue Tulip” tone down the rock show just a tad. The former has horns and the latter is a beautiful song seemingly about one of this country’s favorite pastimes: building someone up for the sake of being able to tear them down. The song starts off with Sheff warning, “They’re waiting to hate you, so give them an excuse.” I’m not sure if anticipation of seeing a song live has any relevance in an album review, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the urge I have to witness the band plod through this painfully quiet song in some dark, rock club while the crowd hangs on Sheff’s every word.

A slight pickup from where “Singer Songwriter” left off, the band continues the raucous mocking of the disingenuous pop star on “Pop Lie,” only this time not even the audience or listener is spared. “He’s the liar who lied in his pop song/And you’re lying when you sing along.” Hey, damn it, I’m just here to have a good time.

“On Tour With Zykos” is notable because few bands besides Okkervil River could write this song. No one does a better job of putting himself in someone else’s shoes for the sake of a good story than Sheff. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be that original of a story. As is the case with “Zykos”, Sheff takes on the role of a lonely, scorned, and disgruntled groupie who’s no longer willing to play the part. She has her own grandiose dreams that could perhaps help reciprocate the rock star’s love, but they typically take a backseat to lying on the couch and watching television. Sound familiar? Yeah, same here.

I mentioned the sharp contrasts between this record and some of Okkervil River’s earlier work like Down the River of Golden Dreams, yet there is something eerily familiar with “Calling and Not Calling My Ex” and “Song About a Star” from the aforementioned Golden Dreams. Although there’s a slight role reversal, the idea remains similar, and that’s of a person watching their ex on television shortly after receiving their first break, and the deconstruction of the two lives that were once interspersed and are now light years apart. Capturing the dynamic of how two people relate or envision each other has always been a strong suit of this band.

Whereas The Stage Names ended on a such a high note with the triumphant tragedy of “John Allyn Smith Sails”, The Stand Ins calls it a night with a bit more of a whimpering tale with “Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel, 1979.” Aided by horns, the band stays on message and paints a picture of what is often left when mid-level fame begins to elude the mass-marketed pop star. And just because the end result isn’t often pretty, Okkervil River proves they can take any sad, pathetic story and make it beautiful once translated into song.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Interview: James McAnally of The Mirror Stage

Reggie's is celebrating its one year anniversary on Monday, September 8th with a night of music. One of the bands on the bill is the Mirror Stage who are currently making waves out of St. Louis. I caught up with lead singer James McAnally and picked his brain on their new EP Ten Thousand Tongues, and the pennant race as the baseball season winds down. (When I originally asked him these questions, the Cardinals were much closer in the wildcard standings than they are today.)

nql: Your band name tells me you guys are big fans of Jacques Lacan. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate his contributions to French philosophy and clinical psychoanalysis, respectively? (10 being huge; 1..not so impressed).

James McAnally: He gets a 7, with a few points docked for the fact that he’s incredibly difficult for the average person to read. If I didn’t have a professor explain his theories first, I’m sure I would have never delved into his work. When even the Wikipedia is difficult to get through, you have a syntax problem.

I think the idea of “the mirror stage” is one we use as much poetically as we do the psychoanalytic source. The idea of a child seeing its image in the mirror and developing a sense that it is imperfect, but there is an image in its mind perfected became something larger for us than Lacan perhaps intended. We see it playing out in our relation to film and photography creating our sense of ourselves and our sense of the world around us; the idea as performers changing on stage; the way we move through life immersed in an active visual landscape of advertisement and media. These are the ways in which our consciousness is created today, so it bears some relation to Lacan’s original concept. We play with the idea often in our live show, at times using closed-caption video cameras to tape the audience live and play their image back to them as a way to draw those connections visually.

nql: Ten Thousand Tongues has a pretty heavy and intense sound. Could you share some war-stories from the recording studio?

JM: We treat the studio as another instrument. Not so much war stories as it is a playground. On the album, you can hear doors opening with bells on them in “Ten Thousand Tongues,” or four unmetered tambourine parts in “Electrical Storm.” Our producer, Brad Booker (, was always the cautionary figure saying we were ruining good pop songs with samples and loops, but he usually agreed with us after a certain point. On first listen, most people don’t pick up on how layered every track is, but every one of the songs on the EP was approaching a hundred tracks. Even a song as simple-seeming as “Electrical Storm” has dozens of barely perceptible elements that build into a coherent “pop song.” It began with four or five Rhodes piano parts that were overlaid into one sampled part that comes off as a simple loop, but has the underlying structure of a Steve Reich song.

Brea might call “Hymn of an Amen” a war story—we were planning on having a full choral group sing the choir part, but instead put the pressure on her to do each part rather than assemble and teach the choral group everything. She and I wrote and arranged the part around 8am, went to the studio at 9, then she recorded about eight different female vocal parts by around 11. Gregg, Brad Booker and I then added the bass parts in about an hour and we had a full choir part. Brea shocked us all by laying down octave-spanning parts flawlessly in one take. She did one high part that literally had one breath for the duration. We had a harder time doing one part than she did doing eight.

nql: I feel like I hear a lot of Explosions in the Sky influence when I listen to The Mirror Stage, the music is very grandiose. But at the same time, I would consider a song like “Body Politic” to be a pretty big lyrical triumph. Is there ever an accidental conflict between the music and lyrics? Meaning, do you ever worry the music will cause the listener to gloss over the lyrics or vice versa?

JM: Our songs so far have always started with the lyrics and music separately. I obsess over the lyrics the way that you’d imagine a composer agonizing over the instruments. Each word must carry meaning, interact with the sound, and hopefully be like anything else you’ve heard on an album. The lyrics are meant to be something a listener can spend time with and never exhaust. There are references buried incredibly deep, but hopefully they create a world for the listener that is poetic and unexpected as well.

One thing with this EP is that the songs were written very quickly. Of the five tracks, four of them were written or rewritten within about a week of recording. We had rehearsed a completely different set to record, then I wrote “Ten Thousand Tongues” and “Hymn of an Amen,” rewrote the music to “Body Politic” rewrote the lyrics to “At the Still Point of the Turning World.” Given that creative environment, we didn’t have much time to let the songs change. Since you mentioned it, “Body Politic” is the one song that I feel the music didn’t live up to the lyrics. The lyrics still completely move me when I sing them, but we’ve changed the music up consistently live trying to catch up to the power of the words. I’ve always been afraid of people listening to it like they would Coldplay. If people can listen to us with that filter on, then they’ll never understand how much depth is carried in a song like “Body Politic” that references everything from the Ella Fitzgerald song “Strange Fruit” to Bill Clinton’s questioning of the word “is” when on trial for perjury. It is littered with all of these historical and pop culture references trying to build up a litany of protest. But, at times, the song comes off too much like a Brit-pop song and that gets lost. We’re more careful now that our new songs develop an environment in which the lyrics and the music move together towards a meaning. We start with why we are writing the song, then move towards how it should sound.

nql: It seems like the music industry is constantly changing, especially in terms of distribution of music. What kind of avenues have you guys employed to try and get your music heard?

JM: We’ve always tried to be fairly experimental in our distribution. We were selling handmade copies of Ten Thousand Tongues for several months before our official release as a way to build a presence. We are a band in some ways coming out of nowhere, so we tried to be more creative. We recorded the album before ever playing a show, so it didn’t make sense to go through the traditional CD release model. We were waiting for fans and critics to catch up a bit and now it’s starting to pay off.

One thing we are getting ready to begin is a series of videos in which we will perform the new songs in interesting locations that have to do with the content of the songs. We’ve been looking at ways to begin to build anticipation for a full-length because we are really proud of the new material we’ve been working on and want to give people insight into the process as it grows. We’ve looked into jail cells, warehouses, abandoned buildings, chapels, and anywhere else that will create a meaningful context for the songs. We hope to start that in October. We’ll be posting them to our blog at over the next few months.

nql: What can you tell people about the music scene in St. Louis?

JM: The music scene is fairly diverse. Everything seems to thrive here, from rock-a-billy punk to math rock. We have some great bands making the national leap at the moment, especially Gentleman Auction House and So Many Dynamos. It has always been a bit of a locally-focused scene, with very few bands attempting to tour and promote themselves nationally. I think there is a general perception that to “make it” you have to move to a larger market. We’ve tried to short-circuit that by spending time on tour in larger markets like Chicago and New York, as well as keeping a constant rotation of cities in the surrounding area.

nql: What about those Redbirds…are they going to catch the Brewers for that wildcard spot? You realize, seeing the Cardinals in the playoffs would be every Cubs fan’s worst nightmare.

JM: I hope not…

My interest in baseball quickly dwindled after I learned I would never be as good as Andre Dawson or Ryne Sandburg.

nql: What would you say if I were to tell you I saw Ozzie Smith hit a home run in person? (This is a big deal because he only hit about 27 in his entire 18 year career.)

JM: What would you say if I were to tell you that I saw Rob Dibble hurl a cooler at the umpire when I was eight. Probably not that surprised, huh?

nql: Holy moly. Back to the music, how did you all get hooked up with Reggie’s for their one year anniversary show?

JM: We’ve been hearing great things about Reggie’s for a while, so we are really happy to be playing the anniversary show. We had been talking to Elle Diabla, one of the promoters/talent buyers for Reggie’s, about a festival called Bash on the Wabash with Murder By Death. That date didn’t eventually worked out, but she has been a great supporter of our music in the Chicago market and asked us to be a part of the anniversary show. She’s one of those people who actually put the quality of the music ahead of everything else, which is rare in this arena. We’re fortunate to have crossed paths.

Chicago’s been one of our favorite places to play. We plan on playing Chicago every couple of months once our schedule slows down a bit. The last time in town we played a Red Light Productions Showcase at Quencher’s and did an on-air performance and interview with Fearless Radio. Our supporters here in Chicago have been pretty vocal so far. We plan to be playing here about as often as we play St. Louis by the end of the year because it is such a great music scene.

nql: Is there anyone else playing on the bill that you’re looking forward to seeing?

JM: We are really excited to play with Sybris. They are one of the best bands out of Chicago right now, so we’re happy to be sharing the stage with them. It’s been a tightly-held secret that they are on the bill, but it will be a great nightcap.

nql: Driving up I-55, what will be playing in the van?

JM: The only guarantee will be Mavis Staples (of the Staples Singers), but there is usually a mix of soul, some electronic indie bands like The Notwist and M83, and more songwriter-based albums like Elliot Smith and Jens Lenkman. Our new drummer, Nate, just bought a ukulele for the road, so there may be some Kum-ba-ya sing-a-longs this time as well. Our last trip to Chicago, we didn’t have an iPod or most of our CDs, so we listened to XO 11 times and Animal Collective’s Feels about 9 times because it was all we had. We found those under the seat, which saved us from the radio.

nql: Any plans of releasing a full length soon?

JM: After our East Coast tour, we plan on coming back to St. Louis to write and record scratch tracks pretty intensively. We have about ten songs at various stages of completion. The songs are more melodic, but more challenging as well. There is much more of an old soul and gospel element that blends into larger, more complicated arrangements in a way we done much in the past. It is overall just more ambitious-songs with seven pianos and others with Taiko drumming.

If I have a title first, the rest seems to fall into place--right now we are working with the title “Trumpeter,” which relates to an idea of something being announced, some judgment or hope being called into being. We don’t work in “concept albums,” but everything we write is arranged along certain themes that create resonances over the course of an album. Ten Thousand Tongues was primarily concerned with how to speak of a world we don’t understand, whether that be responding to the over-hanging anxiety of a post-atomic environment or wading through an image-drenched world to weave together some truth. Trumpeter is more visceral and, in many ways, more relatable (which isn’t to say it isn’t as dense, unfortunately…).

nql: With all that is now at an artist’s disposal as far as DIY is concerned, I sometimes wonder why a band would even want to be on a label. As a band that is currently unsigned, what is your attitude on this issue?

JM: We’re trying to answer that one as well! What it comes down to for us is how to best have our music heard. On our own, we have toured, shot a professional music video for “Electrical Storm,” received radio play across the country and sold a fair number of CD’s. Not to mention the fact that we have handmade all of our merch (shirts, stickers, buttons…) and most of our CD’s. We aren’t a typical band in this respect. Three of the four of us run our own businesses-Brea is a highly-demanded photographer around the country; I run a nonprofit artist studio and gallery space; and Nate runs an art therapy center. We’ve put all of our profits from the band back into touring, recording, etc, so that we are essentially running a business that is currently making a profit. Our first tour was even profitable, which is unheard of. We are good at the things most bands need a label’s help with. At some point, it becomes a question of how much leverage a label will provide. If the exposure or distribution they provide outweighs the traditional costs involved, then it makes sense to sign. If not, we will continue our path. We are a career band. We try to build respect with our listeners and supporters and over time that grows and that can happen slowly or it can happen overnight. We just know this is what we should be doing. Beyond that, the business will get done.

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