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John Bellows is Chicago singer-songwriter working in the Jeff Mangum school of honesty, throwing in some self-deprecating humor to keep him grounded. His MySpace page contains the blurb “In transcendent moments of performance, I give back the energy that the audience gives to me in the flavor of raspberry truffle Godiva ice cream, and everyone in the room eats it up. Except for the people the don’t like ice cream, which is rare.”
While working in humor to his presentation, Bellows is obviously serious about his music – he’s got an LP out on Moniker Records and has two upcoming shows in October – The Turning Fork Supper Club on the 7th and Cafe Mustache on the 15th.
Earlier this Summer, John went over to Coach House Sounds and recorded a live session – CHIRP DJs will be spinning highlights from the session all week in anticipation of its release this coming Tuesday, October 12th, over at coachhousesounds.com.
What the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in a basement?
Envisioned myself as a famous, revolutionary rock star just for “being myself.” I was alone.
Tell me about a coach you had as a child. What did you learn from them?
I had a coach that looked like Abraham Lincoln in 8th grade. We had to do 40 push ups one day and as I rounded 35, he ran over and cheered me on up to the 40th. I learned that I had endurance in the face of hardship.
Describe a scenario where John Bellows could be someone’s life coach and the top 2 life lessons you’d teach them.
How to cook your own meals. And once for a week, I “band coached” 5 kids how to play Smells Like Teen Spirit. Those two things did a lot for my life!
What do you like about Chicago, and what makes it special to you?
Da’ Rent! I afford many luxuries in Chicago (groceries, shelter/studio, beer) with very little spending. Plus, it’s flat, and you can easily bike all over.
Tell me about your CHS session—what did you like about it? Was there anything that surprised you or was spontaneous that came out in the recording?
I get nervous when I’m being recorded cause it’s a moment set in stone. That’s one reason why I home record so much… so I can capture the appropriate mental state. But the Coach House has a stellar environment with plenty of mood lighting and I think that made for some warm recordings. Then biking on my way home, my pocket called Matt on the phone over 20 times!
What’s happening? What are your current/upcoming shows or releases?
I just purged 6 angry songs a few days ago. All written on bass guitar. I hope to purge 6 more and make an album called Verse Chorus DIE! Or maybe I could write six happy songs and call it Songs of Love and Hate.
Kid Static (born Moses Harris) recently moved from Chicago to Los Angeles but still maintains the many connections he made while living here. While in the Midwest, he recorded two albums with producer Yea Big and put together a spontaneous, outdoor hip hop party with Mr. Tastees called Pop Up Jam. He recently collaborated with Chicago DJ’s The Hood Internet and released an eponymous single titled The Hood Internet and Kid Static 7” out on Whistler Records.
Kid Static, always busy, always warm and personable, took his loop pedal and rhymes to Coach House Sounds and recorded seven tracks to analog. Read all about the partnership between CHS and CHIRP here, and tune in to CHIRP all week for exclusive preview streams of Kid Static’s CHS session before it goes live at www.coachhousesounds.com on Tuesday, September 21st.
What the dumbest thing you’ve ever done in a basement?
Define dumbest. I’ve done some pretty crazy things in basements but noone got hurt or died so I’m not sure if the dumb classification fits. I guess setting things on fire in the basement when I was a kid was pretty dumb.
Tell me about a coach you had as a child. What did you learn from them?
In high school I had a swim coach that was way too attractive to be the coach of a boys swim team. What did I learn from her? I learned that teenagers hitting on teachers only works at schools I don’t go to.
Describe a scenario where Kid Static could be someone’s life coach and the top 2 life lessons you’d teach them.
Don’t you have to have your own life figured out before you coach someone else? Cause ummm I don’t really know s**t about s**t. I can’t imagine a situation that would end with me being a life coach.
What’s your favorite of the 5 senses? (touch, smell, hearing, taste, site) When has one of your senses played a joke on you or other wised tripped you up?
By nature of what I do, I’m a really big fan of hearing. My senses are finely tuned instruments, the only time they trip me up is when thouroughly muted with intoxicating beverages. Is balance a sense?
Describe your favorite room in a house and tell me why it’s your favorite.
My living room. That’s where my drums are. I’m a fan of rocking out and watching really bad cinema. I’m talking Conan the Barbarian. I’m talking Tim Allen movies. There is nothing so horrible I won’t watch it.
Ever dream of leaving the workaday world behind and liberating yourself from corporate control? Or have you ever wanted to put some of your life experiences to music, but it didn’t quite work out the way you’d envisioned? How about experiencing two full weeks of eating nothing but the best BBQ in the world? I sat down with Dave Smith to talk about these and other issues.
Mr. Smith is the author of “King Pignacious: A Swine’s Rise to Power,” a not-quite-rock-opera, decidedly multimedia entertainment extravaganza which chronicles a war between humans and pigs where pigs try to expose the hypocrisy of the for-profit health system and show average humans how their lives are being ruined by healthcare conglomerates and big business.
“King Pignacious: A Swine’s Rise to Power” has its third and final show at the Viaduct Theater this Saturday, September 11. The show starts at 9:30pm and the opening act is Fluid Minds. A portion of the sales will go to benefit CHIRP.
CHIRP: How did you come up with the idea for “King Pignacious?”
DS: The multimedia production that eventually became “King Pignacious” was a direct result of a two week trip I took to Tennessee a couple of years ago. I was looking for the world’s best BBQ and was told it was in this one specific area of Tennessee. I decided while I was there to travel around, sample as much BBQ as I could, and to make a documentary about my trip.
When I got home, I was working with Jeff Kowlakowski (Jeff plays keyboards in “King Pignacious”) and we wrote a song called “Tennessee” as theme music for the documentary. Basically, I never stopped writing music for my imagined documentary. Eventually, what I had was the beginnings of the rock opera/multimedia experience that became “King Pignacious.”
CHIRP: So it started initially as a celebration of barbecue?
DS: (laughs) Yeah, I guess you could say that. Although along the way, it morphed into something with political and social themes. The history of BBQ becomes very important. There’s a war between humans and pigs and the audience learns that BBQ actually came about because humans were torturing captive POW pigs by slowly roasting them and then eating them. Hence the slogan “Low and Slow” that you hear throughout the show.
CHIRP: Interesting. BBQ as torture. Are you a vegetarian?
DS: Surprisingly not. I still love BBQ.
CHIRP: I have to ask about any possible “Animal Farm” connection. The pigs and the political overtones—it seems very reminiscent of the book.
DS: Yeah, we all read that one in high school, but there’s no connection. King Pignacious and his Merry Swine try to liberate humans, not subvert other farm animals. So I guess he’s kind of a Marxist, but he’s no Trotsky.
CHIRP: Who exactly is King Pignacious?
DS: King Pignacious is not modeled after any specific character; rather, the character was inspired by the lyrics I wrote when I got back from Tennessee. It just seemed right to make him the leader of a revolution. As far as looks go, he’s kind of modeled on my English Bulldog.
CHIRP: Have you written any other shows like “King Pignacious” before?
DS: No. This is definitely my most ambitious project to date.
CHIRP: Tell me about the writing process.
DS: I wrote all of the songs myself, and recorded rough demos of the vocals and piano accompaniment. I played these tapes for people I was interested in working with and asked them to comment. Some people were excited about the project, others were not. Some were actually offended that I’d asked them to take part in something so “silly.” But those who were interested in the tapes are the people you see on stage in the show.
We’re all established musicians and we’re trying to do what we do and have fun in the process. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the audience, so I think those who joined the cast made a good decision.
CHIRP: You said that the cast is comprised of professional musicians. Have you played together before? Do you play the same style of music? How did the other musicians’ backgrounds influence the sound of “King Pignacious?”
DS: Some of us have played together before—mostly in jazz bands. But we all certainly knew each other before the show began. The Chicago music scene isn’t that big. We play a large variety of music in the show. There are about fourteen to fifteen songs and they run the gamut as far as genre goes. There’s punk, reggae, jazz, blues, country, pop, etc.
I was definitely inspired by “Joe’s Garage” by Frank Zappa, at least in the initial phases of writing. But in the show, all of the songs are different and we even have multiple singers. Improv is a big part of it.
CHIRP: So there’s no guarantee it will be the same show every night?
DS: Exactly. We wanted to make it kind of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book for the audience. What the audience reacts most to is what we play up. Plus, the show itself has evolved with time. For instance, I even added a song called “H1N1”. As the show keeps evolving, I hope people will come back and see it again because it really won’t be the same show they saw six months or even three months ago.
CHIRP: With the improvisation and the multimedia experience, would you say that “King Pignacious” is a little jarring to the senses?
DS: Well, we wanted it to be as over the top as possible. There’s a giant pig’s face that images are projected onto from multiple projectors, while at the same time, the pig’s eyes are old school television tubes that play other images. And we kind of mess with the images in the pig’s eyes using magnets to warp the picture and sound. Obviously, there’s music. There’s narration. There are sound effects. The experience could be considered jarring, but that’s kind of the goal. And it’s not jarring in a negative way. Like I said, we’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from the audience.
CHIRP: So now that you’ve written and are performing your first multimedia show, what are your future plans?
DS: I want to construct my own city of pigs. Not actual pigs, but pigs as they are portrayed in “King Pignacious.” People who are tired of corporations running everything in their lives. People who want to live off the grid. People who are tired of dealing with “The Man,” as it were.
CHIRP: Where would you build this city? Could anyone live there?
DS: Sure, anyone could live there, but at first it would probably just be the band and their loved ones. It would probably be out somewhere in Wyoming or Montana. Someplace without a lot of people. Actually, I think Montana would be best. It’s a much prettier natural environment. Wyoming is too desolate.
Sam Amidon is an experimental folk artist. His newest album I See the Sign has been praised for its unique interpretations of traditional folk songs. The album was produced and recorded by Valgeir Sigurdsson and features contributions from Shahzad Ismaily, Nico Muhly, and Beth Orton. Performing this Friday at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Sam took some time to answer some questions for CHIRP Radio.
You were born in Vermont but have been living in New York City, still making folk music. What’s folky about New York City?
New York City is like 40 little teeny villages off in the mountains all piled up on top of each other. A Village-Tower.
What do you see is the relationship between traditional folk (choirs, untreated guitar, vocal groups, etc.) and the recording studio? Is there a conflict with what you grew up with and technology?
No, because my sense of traditional folk has a lot more to do with what the songs are and how people interact with them, not so much what the sound of folk music is. The significance of technology in folk music is way more about how it affected the way people heard and learned and shared music. So the main thing is that once radio was invented, you didn’t need to play music in order to hear it.
And the other thing about it is that it took memory and its attendant faults out of the process. So with music that was learned by ear and not written down, i.e. folk music, the songs were created through this wonderful series of accidents and forgotten verses, which is less true now that you can go back and check the recording.
Your new album has been praised for its reinterpretations of other people’s songs. Can you respond to that? Was making these songs something else intentional? If so, how do you go about recreating something like that? Can you talk about one song in specific that you are most proud of and why?
The main thing about the folksongs is that they are not “other people’s songs,” they are songs that are slowly created by many people over time, including whoever is singing them at the moment. I do tend to change them around, and partially that’s to make them more personal, but in a way I don’t stress about that too much – if I realize I just prefer singing the song as I learned it, there’s nothing wrong with that.
But sometimes I work backwards – I will write a guitar part or some chord changes, and then realize that a folk melody will fit on top, or won’t quite fit, but that’s nice too.
R. Kelly has, despite his dubious personal life, remained revered in both pop and indie circles. On your new album, you cover his song “Relief.” What about him appeals to you? What about that particular song?
He’s the most prolific and most insane and most melodic songwriter of the decade! I guess that would make him our Bob Dylan. And if he is our Bob Dylan, then that is his “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
How are you dealing with the changing landscape of the music industry? Have there been any particular things you used to do that you can’t anymore? In general, are the way things are changing good for you?
Well, the Internet has made it much easier for my music to be flung farther afield – because of that I was able to start traveling to Europe much sooner than I would have otherwise, I think. And anything that results in traveling to far-fung places is good!
What were the last three records you purchased or downloaded?
“Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, Vol. 2”; John Coltrane, “Ascension,” The-Dream, “Love King.”
David Perez is a Mexican-American living, breathing and loving theatre life in Chicago. Since 2006, Perez, along with several friends and collaborators, have been growing their company, Pavement Group with the intention of doing something different. As Artistic Director, Perez has used alternative loft spaces and stages, tackled sex, friendship and punk music for larger and larger audiences. In fact, the exposure has been so good that for their 2008 presentation of Lipstick Traces at the AV-aerie, opening night was shut down by the police and the run had to be completed speakeasy-style, with large signs on the front door that read “CANCELLED” and a suspicious looking person directing you to go around the back. Such is life in Chicago when you are trailblazing punk-rock theatre for independent-minded folks, I suppose. I emailed David to ask him a few questions about their current production punkplay, his love of music and being different in a city full of thespians. punkplay is a Steppenwolf Visiting Company Initiative and runs through Sunday April 25, 2010 in the Garage Theatre. On Saturday, March 27th people who attend punkplay are invited to a post-curtain celebration in the theatre with cast members, complimentary food, beverages and CHIRP DJ Mike Gibson spinning his picks of the best in punk, post-punk and hardcore.
Tickets are available at steppenwolf.org or by calling the box office at (312) 335-1650. Read on for the interview…
Erik Roldan: What is punk about theatre?
David Perez: Theatre at its best forces an audience to reorganize themselves around their taste and humanity. Good theatre can enrage you, revolt you, and inspire you to participate in your humanity. A good piece of music unlocks a conversation with yourself, and I think theatre is the same. I get the same rush reading a great play as I did the first time I heard Pixies “Doolittle.” And then there is the assumed vow of poverty. Really, we are all broke.
ER: punkplay is Pavement Group’s 2nd play about punk rock. Why have you chosen to tackle this subject again?
DP: Well firstly – we wanted a play that was in direct (or indirect) conversation with Lipstick Traces – a companion piece of sorts. We are fascinated and curious about culture and how we augment it – replicate it – assign it in ways to activate our lives. I think “punk” and music in general serve as a great point of entry into our generation’s humanity. As a demographic raised by TV – especially MTV, music serves as a way to anchor ourselves in memory and identity. While Lipstick Traces argued punk as an impulse and a vehicle into finding some sort of genuine interaction with the world around us, punkplay argues the genre as an identity system – a tarnished relic of what used to be – a total negation of the purity of the movement. The play is almost anti-punk in the way it warns us about the frailty of trying to assign our selves identity with fashion. The play tells us to go out into the world and be the people who we are supposed to be. Very punk. While both plays use punk as a point of entry, Lipstick Traces explores the intellectual implications of the movement, punkplay ponders the deeply personal and emotional territory.
ER: What is Pavement Group doing in Chicago that is different from other theater companies?
DP: This is an awesome question…and one we ask ourselves a ton. We founded on the new plays platform, but the second prong of our mission, the one I feel that gives us our unique brand, is that we speak directly to a non-theatre audience. I mean, you are reading this interview on the CHIRP website – not exactly the main line theatre environment. Our audience is comprised of folks who see two plays a year – and they are Pavement Group plays. Our core demographic usually uses their spending power on live music etc. We are proud to be changing peoples minds about the form.
ER: You’re still a relatively young company, and yet you’ve already partnered with About Face Theater and Steppenwolf. Tell me about your experience so far in Chicago and what your plans are for the future.
DP: Well were really fucking lucky. Steppenwolf has given us a tremendous opportunity this year, and given the PG founders are former Steppenwolf apprentices, were pretty happy to see this dream come true. AFT under the brilliant leadership of Bonnie Metzgar has really taken on the mission to engage the theatre community in ferocious conversation with the XYZ Festival, which we were thrilled to be a part of.
We are also lucky enough to be part of the unofficial league of itinerant theatre companies. Our friendship/sharing of resources with Sinnerman Ensemble, Theater 7, and 13 Pocket have really given us hope and pride in this community.
We are proud to be a Chicago Theatre. Lets not mince words: Fuck New York. Chicago is where the energy is put into the work, not into the orbiting egos around the work. We are lucky enough to be part of a collective pool of energy that supports and encourages discourse, regardless if your haircut and lack of a trust fund.
The future … well … let just say stay tuned. We have some very exciting news we want to share, but can’t just yet.
ER: Tell me your last 7 music downloads/purchases. What is your current favorite jam and why?
DP: The rest:
As for a jam. Totally not new, but I can not stop listening to Band of Horses “The Great Salt Lake.” I am a sucker for some nostalgia-anthemic-lonely boy music. I also am a Seattle transplant, and was a huge fan of their previous incarnation (Carissa’s Wierd). Life is all about changes for me right now…so anything that is unearthing the past and moving boldly into the future has a place on my ipod.