Chicago indie-pop band Berry has been together since 2002. Since that time the band has separated physically but not musically. While several members have relocated to different cities, the group still makes music together. Their lagtest album Everything, Compromised was recorded in five different states and mixed in at least four different countries..!
Berry is performing tonight at Schubas Tavern (with The Icarians and Kodakrome) to finish up their first tour in seven years. To mark the occasion, Clarence Ewing spoke to Paul Goodenough about the band and what it's like to make music across three different time zones.
Clarence Ewing: Give us a history of Berry from 2007 to now.
Paul Goodenugh: The big obvious theme of the history is that in 2007 we existed as a band in the closest possible quarters--living together, recording constantly, touring intensely. Now we exist in three different time zones. There was a period from 2010-2014 when we had to take some time to focus on family, school, and life adventures. That was right after we released and toured for Blue Sky, Raging Sun (Joyful Noise). Once we settled after that transition period, we got the Berry-ball rolling again, but it took a while to gain momentum. An early collaborator of ours, Paul Klimson, basically kicked our asses and got us serious about recording and releasing music with some semblance of direction. For the last two years, we have been "practicing" weekly via conference call, and we usually spend a week together each summer to either record or tour.
CE: What's it like being a "long distance band?" What are the major challenges? Are there any benefits?
PG: Ha. Well, its just like a long distance relationship: awesome when you're together for that brief time and then the sad puppy dog feeling when you're away. Of course, there's the flipside to that comes with the monotony of "musical co-habitation." Ha ha. So having lived through both sides of it, we can say it is true that "the grass is always greener on the other side." The big drawback is that to rehearse for tour takes a significant chunk of time, and limits the number of shows we can do. Touring is such a different animal from recording. Maybe the greatest benefit is that we are forced to be very intentional about everything we do. Another benefit is that we have an abundance of influences--geographical, musical, social, etc--to draw from, given our different locations.
CE: Some bands feel like they're on a mission from God. Others just like to get together and jam. What's Berry's "purpose" to you?
PG: We each feel a variety of "inward" purposes and some "outward" purposes, as well. To begin with, we all have this basic burning desire to make music. It's an innate drive, that if we didn't do it, we'd probably go crazy. And then, we all recognize that a unique thing happens when we gather together. It's like we're each a different gear, and when you throw us all together, the gears align and the machine comes to life. That machine, even after all these years, remains mysteriously powerful to us. It calls to us in some way that our other musical projects don't. Another huge drive for us to make music that hopefully inspires our friends and becomes part of a larger musical conversation.
CE: How has the band's music changed since mid-2000s? How has it stayed the same?
PG: The thing that stays the same is that our music strives to be both mathy and poppy, challenging and ear-wormy. That means balancing things like odd-time signatures and white noise with lots of repetition and traditional pop song structures. With time, our lyrics have probably seen the most development. Essentially, it used to be, "Well, we've finished the basic tracks. Now, Joey, finish the melodies and lyrics." As a band, we've collaborated more on developing images in the lyrics. At some point, Joey went back to school for his MFA in poetry, and that has added a lot of depth and humor to the lyrics.
CE: Are there any other artists or bands you're currently listening to?
PG: We really like to be inspired by our friends and peers -- the musicians we respect in our various home towns who make music that we love. Samantha Crain released a great record this year, You Had Me at Goodbye. Cassie Morgan from St. Louis has been writing and recording some interesting stuff. Wichita's The Travel Guide is one of the hardest working bands we know. Cousins, in Chicago, write these catchy sing-alongs: All the dudes on stage sing, and their voices alone move a lot of air and seem to fill a room with sound. We're lucky to have so many talented friends and acquaintances.
CE: Your band's Web page describes how your lyrics can "juxtapose such disparate characters as literary heroes like Henry David Thoreau with pop culture villains like Martin Shkreli." How do you pick which figures to use? Are there certain kinds of characters you won't use?
PG: The characters appear very organically. We read the news. We read classics. We dig into obscure corners of the internet. Doesn't everybody? Recently, we've spent time as a band sharing images from our dreams. We've made a conscious choice to embrace the kind of surreal things that happen in our dreams, or daydreaming, or by playing with words. It isn't always easy. We all share a pretty conservative upbringing, and still live to various degrees in conservative worlds. So we are hoping to maybe find some redemption as we pay attention to those things that we once considered too dangerous for attention. There's a strong current of sarcasm that runs through this album, so when we imagine Thoreau going to a party and doing Ecstasy for the first time, we hope that listeners can appreciate the dark humor of it. And this is well-worn ground by now, but -- what could possibly be more grotesque than a President Trump and the coalition of people who continue to enable his reckless, disgusting behavior? We wrote about that.
CE: What do you see as your big challenges and opportunities down the road?
PG: We've got two babies due before the year's end! So adapting to that and finding the time and energy for creativity will be a huge challenge. Thankfully, the last 18 months or so have shown us how much we can still accomplish by showing up every week for each other, as bandmates, as friends, and as fellow human beings. Show up, start up the machine, and let it do its thing. We've got at least 8 more songs that are working their way through the assembly line right now. And hopefully it isn't another 7 years before our next tour.
[You can check out Berry's live-stream performance of their show at Schubas below!]