Wednesday, November 28 will be a special evening when Chicago lo-fi dream pop duo Zigtebra delivers an encore performance at CHIRP Night at the Whistler. The Andy Pratt Trio, which also has received extensive airplay on CHIRP-107.1 FM, opens the show.
This is the second time Zigtebra has performed at CHIRP Night at the Whistler, and after spending a good portion of 2018 touring the country, the duo is looking forward to performing before an appreciative hometown crowd.
Emily Rose and Joe Zeph met while performing with an LGBTQ dance troupe called Pure Magical Love. They began writing musicals and playing basement shows, before going on the road in 2017. While they were touring, they made a pact to write and record one new song and music video every month. Those songs were just released on a brand-new album called Major Crush, which is currently in the CHIRP rotation, and Zigtebra will play many of these songs on the Whistler stage. Tickets are free, but you will need to RSVP to this 21+ show.
I had the chance to sit down with Joe to discuss the upcoming show.
Q You and Emily have performed together since 2013, and CHIRP has played your music ever since. How did your work with Pure Magical Love turn into a musical duo?
A I met Emily while we were members of a Pilsen-based underground dance troupe called Pure Magical Love that morphed into a couple of other projects. We began writing our own musicals and one of the first was called the Parrot Pirate. It featured Emily and me performing in a clothing chest that we called the SS Zigtebra. Since then, we’ve collaborated on several other musicals, including one about Leonard Cohen, which we have performed live during some of our longer Zigtebra shows.
Q One year ago, you set a goal of writing and recording a song and video each month. Was that process successful?
A It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you hold yourselves accountable to meeting a big goal. Obviously, our objective was to write, record and produce a song and video each month, but sometimes, we didn’t get started until the 26th of the month. This probably happened eight of the 12 months, but since we were touring constantly, we used that time on the road to compose and record tracks.
I literally would be driving from Jackson Hole, Wyoming to another gig and Emily would be recording vocals; I would edit the electronic stuff when she drove. It was stressful but exhilarating and definitely is an experience that the two of us can look back on and say, “Wasn’t that great?” We produced ten of 12 videos ourselves. The other two were done by our friend, Chris Alvarez, who you’ll find bartending at the Owl five days a week.
Q Welcome back to Chicago! How long have you been on the road?
A The longest period was five months straight. We left in January and didn’t return to Chicago until June, and then left again. We just came back a few days ago. I love to tour. It’s great to perform your music in front of strangers, especially while you are working on new material. It really has an impact on the writing process, because you spend so much time on stage and find yourself thinking about these songs constantly. We kept asking ourselves, “What are these people going to like?”
Q Did you test songs that were works in progress on the audience?
A Absolutely. We were the only act at many of the clubs, where we were booked to play at 9 p.m. until the bar closed. One of our shows in Birmingham, Alabama began at midnight and we played until 4 a.m. Shows like this, where we are the only act on the bill, are incredible challenges. We would begin with our old stuff and then play our newest material, but still had two more hours to perform. That’s when we would improvise. We’d try new stuff on the audience, and let’s be honest, at 3 a.m., people are loving whatever the band is playing. Some of our improvisations would start with a bass pattern. Then we’d add snares, loops and play for ten minutes before adding vocals. This process helped us tighten up our songs, and you can hear that progression on Major Crush.
Q Do the two of you perform live as Zigtebra, or do you require additional musicians to fill out the sound?
A It’s usually just the two of us with our instruments, loop pedals and electronics. We sometimes record samples from the audience and loop that material. At some clubs, audience members asked if they could perform free-style raps or songs with us. Hey, we’re musicians and we are very comfortable improvising, so if someone wants to hand us $60 to play their song with them at the microphone, we’re all in. Sometimes these collaborations are magical; sometimes they’re disasters. One thing they aren’t is dull.
Q Your lyrics seem to be deeply personal. Do the two of you draw from life and relationships?
A When you are a musician who plays in bars every night of the week, you meet people and see the human condition played out in a million ways. I’m sure many bartenders feel the same way, and I bet some bartenders have written great songs by just observing their patrons. Emily works in the service industry, and she draws from that experience as well, but a lot of our songs chronicle what we’ve witnessed since we began playing together.
Q I noticed you used a spoken track in “Wildlife.” Did Emily record that track or was it a sample?
A That’s a sample from an old radio show called The Lonesome Gal, which was popular in the ‘40s. Emily scours government archives for royalty-free samples of old videos and radio shows and we loved The Lonesome Gal (which was created by producer Bill Rousseau and his wife, Jean King, and sponsored by Philip Morris and Bond Street Tobacco). King had a sultry voice that stopped male listeners in their tracks. “Sweetie, what’s your favorite time of the year? The ripe, golden days of summer? The soft promises of spring?” She had an incredible voice and, of course, always invited the listeners to smoke with her. It’s great stuff that works wonderfully with our music.
Q Let’s talk about the new album. I love the tracks “I Can Dance,” “Cut Me” and “I’ll Find You.”
A The album was recorded chronologically, and the newer songs are the most fleshed out. “I’ll Find You” is the one unreleased song that was not written during the last year. We’ve been playing “Cut Me” on the stages of Chicago for the last six years. I tried to capture that Nancy Sinatra rambling guitar style in that track. Audiences love “I Can Dance,” and we end most shows with that song. Emily usually goes into the crowd to dance because she used to be nervous about dancing on stage. So, she faced her fears and now jumps into the crowd to dance with them. And that’s why every Zigtebra show concludes as a killer dance party. Emily and I recorded the tracks in GarageBand, but we mixed the final songs with Michael Mac of Pallet Sound in Bridgeport. He made the album sound 100 times better.
Q What do you have planned for CHIRP Night at the Whistler?
A This is the second time we’ve been one of CHIRP’s featured acts at the Whistler, and we are really excited about this show. We are used to playing 30-45 minute sets, and will feature mostly tracks from our new LP, but if someone wants to hear something from one of our older EPs, we probably will accommodate them. We just printed awesome new Zigtebra posters for the show and will hand them out before and after our performance. It should be a great night!
Tickets for CHIRP Night at the Whistler featuring Zigtebra and the Andy Pratt Trio are free, but you must RSVP for this 21+ show. Performances usually start around 8:30 p.m.
You can listen to Mike Nikolich every Friday from noon to 3 pm on CHIRP-107.1 FM, or via its Apple or Android apps or the CHIRP website.