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The CHIRP Blog

Nicole Oppenheim: Ear Candy writesSwine Rising: The Court of King Pignacious Comes to Viaduct Theater

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.

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Categorized: Event Previews, Interviews

Topics: interview

Erik Roldan writesA Conversation With Sam Amidon

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.”

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Categorized: Interviews

Topics: interview

Clarence Ewing: The Million Year Trip writesTonight: King Pignacious and His Merry Swine at The Viaduct Theater

Join us tonight at The Viaduct Theater as King Pignacious delivers an evening of “Modern-Day Multimedia Rock Opera.” The Four Star Brass Band opens.

Tickets are only $10 and one-third of that will help CHIRP in the fight for excellence in independent radio!

3111 N Western Ave.
Doors at 9pm. Show at 10pm. 21+

Read more and RSVP online!
http://www.myspace.com/kingpignacious
http://www.facebook.com/pages/King-Pignacious/184425784261

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Categorized: Event Previews

Clarence Ewing: The Million Year Trip writesTonight: The Hudson Branch at Metro

Tonight’s the night! Gapers Block & Chirp Radio welcome The Hudson Branch, Camera, Reds and Blue, and My My My to Metro for an 18+ show at 9:00pm.

Doors open at 8:00pm. Admission is free before 9:00pm or $6 after 9:00pm if you print out a copy of the attached picture (you can also get a copy at http://j.mp/cBwtty) and present it at the door OR sign up for text alerts from Metro and show your text message from the blast they will send out before the show.

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Categorized: Event Previews

Mike Bennett writesFriday iPod/MP3 Shuffle—Happy Birthday Steve Jones Edition

While Johnny and Sid got all the ink, Steve Jones was part of the backbone of the snotty roar that was the Sex Pistols. His beefy riffs powered the many classic tunes on their one proper album. After the Pistols fell apart, Jones didn’t rest on his laurels, doing everything from playing in The Professionals with fellow Pistol Paul Cook to backing Iggy Pop for a spell in the late ’80s. He gained new popularity with his fantastic radio show (broadcast from Los Angeles), showing off his great music taste and fun loving personality. While the ideal way to celebrate Jonesy’s birthday would be raising a pint with him, the next best thing would be taking out your iPod/MP3 player, hitting shuffle and sharing the first 10 songs that come up.

  1. Dolly Varden — Apple Doll (The Dumbest Magnets): This is where Dolly Varden, Chicago’s very own, went from being a nice, somewhat rootsy band, to an undefinablely wonderful adult pop band. While most of the band’s material is the product of the amazing Steve Dawson, his wife Diane Christiansen’s contributions are also key. Some of her best songs are reminiscent of Roseanne Cash. But this languid number, built around a simple guitar figure, is probably a bit closer to the more atmospheric Lucinda Williams’ material. It’s a beautiful song.
  2. Liz Phair — Johnny Feelgood (Whitechocolatespaceegg): Hey, another Chicago artist! This is from Phair’s last album before she decided to (unsuccessfully) become a pop star. Although the production values are better than Exile In Guyville, this song comes from the same sensibility, with Phair’s typically insightful take on female sexuality. It’s like she was a one woman Sex in the City, before there was a Sex in the City.
  3. The Beach Boys — When I Grow Up (To Be a Man) (Today!/Summer Days (And Summer Nights)): This song straddles between the surf-pop of early Beach Boys hits and Brian Wilson’s more sophisticated compositions. This is one of the band’s more clever lyrics and the mix of Mike Love’s lead vocal and Brian Wilson’s soaring falsetto in the chorus (with typically fantastic harmonies) is pretty classic.
  4. Santigold — My Superman (Santigold): One of the few tracks from Miss Santi White’s debut album that was not licensed for a television commercial. Maybe because this moody slice of new wavey synth-pop isn’t driving enough to sell beer or whatever. So what. While this isn’t one of the best tracks on the album, it’s closer to killer than filler. One thing I appreciate is White sounds like she’s having fun singing this song.
  5. The Saints — Crazy Googenheimer Blues (Prehistoric Sounds): This is a bit more playful than the typical Saints song from their early days. This is a bouncy R & B based number with the guitar in the background and a bouncy piano. When Ed Kuepper does break into a guitar solo, he throws in a little twang. This song really highlights the unique qualities of Chris Bailey’s lower range. It’s a bit forced, which shouldn’t work, yet somehow it does.
  6. The Fall — Two Steps Back (Live At The Witch Trials): Early lurching rant from Manchester’s finest. The song is built on a repetitive guitar riff, augmented by some keyboard noodling. The rhythm section moves things along, while Mark E. Smith still sounds young, yet he’s clearly already a curmudgeon.
  7. Kaiser Chiefs — Like It Too Much (Off With Their Heads): While not innovators by any stretch, Kaiser Chiefs come up with some fine Britpop nuggets on each album. They seem to have really studied past greats like XTC, Madness and Blur. This song works a simple riff in the verse but blossoms with a soaring melody, which provides an excellent contrast to what came before it. At their best, they make good songwriting seem fairly easy, which, of course, it isn’t.
  8. Thin Lizzy — Roisin Dubh (Black Rose) (Black Rose: A Rock Legend): Thin Lizzy had its first success with a boogie-fied take on the folk ballad “Whiskey In A Jar”. And Irish and English folk was a vital component of this great hard band’s sound. Ted Leo once noted that his seeming Thin Lizzy influence is more of a by-product of his trying to write in similar folk idioms. This track takes the Irish folk to the extreme, telling an Irish legend in classic Lizzy style, dual lead guitars and all, stretched to an epic length (with a shout out near the end to the aforementioned “Whiskey”). It’s a great closer to Lizzy’s best album.
  9. The Four Tops — Bernadette (The Singles +): This song seems to have escaped perpetual rotation on oldies radio, which is a shame, as it is one of the two or three best Four Tops’ songs. It is an insistent, driving number, in the vein of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Insistent and driving and Levi Stubbs go together like peanut butter and jelly, making for a perfect record.
  10. Motorhead — Rock ‘N’ Roll (Rock ‘N’ Roll): How could Motorhead screw up a song with this title? Guess what, they don’t. This is a two-chord song pounded into submission by Lemmy and crew. Sometimes simple is best.

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Categorized: Friday MP3 Shuffle

Topics: ipod, mp3

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