CHIRP DJ Elizabeth Ramborger recently caught up with Shaun Paul of Chaperone as he was finishing a batch of ice cream at his day job at Bobtail ice cream. It was a white chocolate peanut butter cup. He admitted it wasn’t the best of his flavors, but good, noting the season St. Paddy’s Day Guinness batch.
It was a good start for a conversation with the lead singer of a band known for bringing cookies to its shows—and not just your standard chocolate chip. Salted caramel is likely to pop up as an ingredient. As it turns out, this level of hospitality is emblematic of one of the nicest local bands around.
Between recipes and putting out their self-released EP Cripple King in 2010, Chaperone has already recorded a yet-to-be-released 7-inch, played a ton of shows, and is getting ready for SXSW. You can see them on their home turf when they headline a CHIRP Practice Space series on Monday, February 28 at Schubas.
Elizabeth spoke with Shaun about desert, why Chicago is Milwaukee’s second city, and some post Valentine’s Day news.
Elizabeth: So the first time I saw you guys was your show at Quenchers. I was with two other people and we were in a post-holiday malaise and then we saw cookies and thought…this is going to be alright. Imagine our surprise when there were three different gourmet flavors to choose from. So what’s with the cookies?
Shaun: Well Miles [Chaperone’s bassist] does the baking—he’s the Betty Crocker of the group, mixed with January Jones from Mad Men.
Elizabeth: Does he wear an apron and everything?
Shaun: Of course. He’s pro! He’s gotta wear an apron. But yea, we made cookies for a show and people ate them up and he made them for the next show, and then it just became a thing. We’re thinking of moving into other deserts, like fudge. In fact, Miles is moving into the kettlecorn realm. [We have a certain] down homeness as a band and cookies are just a part of it.
Elizabeth: You’re a Chicago transplant. The Midwest certainly has a “down homeness.” Is that what drew you to the city, coming from North Carolina?
Shaun: Oh definitely. In fact, I was looking at several cities before I settled on Chicago. People have the same mentality here as the people at home [in North Carolina]. Chicago is kind and open as a people.
Elizabeth: Does that translate to the music scene?
Shaun: It’s contradictory. [The music scene is] definitely kind of cutthroat. Bands don’t support one another enough. Although we are close with some bands—we’re real close with Dastardly.
Elizabeth: Why do you think that is? Competitiveness? Laziness? The winter?
Shaun: The winter definitely factors in…
Elizabeth: How did you get your start in music and how did Chaperone come together?
Shaun: I played music down in North Carolina. I was in a couple of high school punk bands like everybody. I actually came up for Second City to pursue comedy. A couple of buddies came up from North Carolina and I started playing with them. It got to the point that I had to decide between the two of my interests, music and comedy, just from a time standpoint, and I love music. It’s just fun.
Elizabeth: What are the good aspects of the Chicago music scene?
Shaun: The clubs are great and the people that schedule bands, the bookers, are good people. It’s nice dealing with people that are kind and remember you. We really love Schubas.
Elizabeth: What local bands are you excited about?
Shaun: Gold Motel. Greta [Morgan] is real nice, we played with them in Milwaukee. I also love Catfish Haven but alas they’re not doing anything anymore. I see George Hunter on the street and he keeps telling me he’s got something in the works.
Elizabeth: Milwaukee is a pretty down home place itself.
Shaun: Oh yea. The thing about Milwaukee is that people are willing to go out and see who’s playing, whether they know anything about the band or not. In Chicago people have to know who the band is before they go out.
Also, in Milwaukee people will dance at a show in a way that they won’t in Chicago. Sure, sometimes one person in the [Chicago] audience will cut a rug, but we’re a bouncy, happy band. When we’re on a stage we dance around and we like the audience to enjoy it and dance around too. We love Milwaukee.
Elizabeth: You’ve been compared to Los Campesinos! A CHIRP reviewer compared Chaperone to Girls and Neutral Milk Hotel. How do you react to those comparisons?
Shaun: I never really got into the Girls albums. But there is a certain do-it-yourselfness about Girls that applies to Chaperone. We recorded our own EP without any outside help. We were real happy to say we did it ourselves.
Neutral Milk Hotel is my favorite band ever, so that makes me really happy to hear. They have a certain lo-finess that I relate to. There’s also an honesty to Neutral Milk Hotel that I strive for in Chaperone. Whatever I write, even if its fiction (people always ask whether the songs are true, did I run away with someone to the Everglades?), I try to make my songs feel honest and authentic.
Elizabeth: Who influences you?
Shaun: I love Okerville River. I’m real excited about their new album. Bright Eyes is the reason I started writing music in the first place. I thought if he can do it and put stuff out by himself, I could. Ryan Adams was an influence—he’s definitely influenced the country aspects of Chaperone! Of course, you can’t go full country…
Elizabeth: Isn’t that Gwenth Paltrow’s new movie—“A Little Bit Country?”
Elizabeth: Standard first job question—where do you see yourself as a band in five years? Are you just going along for the ride or do you have specific aspirations?
Shaun: Of course we have aspirations. We just finished a 7-inch—we got the master tracks back three days ago. Of course, vinyl is expensive so we’re saving up money to release it. We’re also shopping ourselves around, looking for a small label to release a full-length. We love recording! We get in and go—wow, an organ! That’s what this song needs—an organ! Ideally in five years we’ll ideally be touring Europe with a couple of full-lengths and 7-inches under our belt.
Elizabeth: Tell me a little bit about the rest of your band.
Shaun: Definitely! Miles [Doornbos] is our bassist. I played with him in an earlier band, Mountain Coming Down and we met through my job at Bobtail Ice Cream. We’re best friends. It’s always great to make music with your best friends.
Mark [Sheridan] is our keyboardist/boy genius. He’s 21 and he worked for me at Bobtail a couple of summers back. He’ll play anything we throw at him.
Elizabeth: Chaperone’s Conner Oberst?
Shaun: Yes! Shaylah [Kloska] is our glockenspiel and singer. We also write together…actually we got engaged last week.
Shaun: Thanks, yea! Actually, I was in a band with her ex-boyfriend. Our band broke up, we didn’t see one another for 2-3 years and then I ran into her at a show at the Bottle. We invited her to be a part of the band and things developed from here.
Elizabeth: Does a relationship change the dynamics for the band or your songwriting?
Shaun: I really hope it won’t change the dynamics. I definitely thought about that. But no, it hasn’t affected things. We used to drink wine at one another’s apartments and write songs and then go home after that. I was worried that would change, but we moved in together a year ago and things are great.
Elizabeth: Has the EP [self-released Cripple King] changed anything for the band or its approach?
Shaun: The EP’s been great for us. People I never would have imagined are listening to us. Things are really snowballing and the EP’s been effective.
The hardest thing for us over the past few months is that we lost our drummer [Tom des Enfants]. He decided to leave the band three months ago due to conflicting priorities. But we’ve got a new drummer. Schubas will be our first show with the new line-up. And we’ve got two day parties lined up for SXSW and we’re looking for some other gigs there.