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James Seminara will perform at July 25th's CHIRP Night at the Whistler (photo by Nicole Swanson)
If you are a fan of Chicago’s punk/art rock favorites So Pretty, then you already are familiar with bassist James Seminara. But while the band is on hiatus, he has a new project called Grumble, and it presents a totally different side of this talented musician.
Grumble is a lo-fi solo project that features Seminara on guitar and vocals. The eight songs on the new LP, Tough Times on Oakwood, are stripped down and earnest, and anything but dull. According to CHIRP Reviewer Sophie Holtzmann, the album is “funky, folk punk that warrants your full attention, because the songs are just so damn pleasant to listen to both in the musical quality and witty lyricism.”
You can hear Grumble live this Wednesday, July 25 at CHIRP Night at the Whistler. Grumble opens for Good At Bad. The 21+ show is free but RSVPs are encouraged.
I had the chance to share a couple of cold ones with Seminara and discuss what he has planned for the Whistler crowd.
Q Tough Times on Oakwood is a big departure from So Pretty’s two albums. What sparked your inspiration for this album?
A So Pretty is temporarily on hold because one of our two singers, Ashley Holman, is pregnant. I wanted to stay active musically and began writing songs on my guitar. The album chronicles my reflections from living on Oakwood Avenue in my hometown of Ingleside, Illinois.
Q What are some of the topics you cover?
A Oh, man, it’s all over the map. I cover death, Hell, poverty and a host of other societal issues. Lake County is perceived as being a wealthy area, but I grew up in a poor town, oblivious of my social status. Since I wasn’t hanging out in Lake Forest or Highland Park, it never occurred to me that I was poor. My house is on Oakwood Avenue, a typical street in small-town America. It wasn’t until I began hanging out with musicians outside of Ingleside that I realized how quiet and isolated this area is, and some of the problems people in poor rural areas face. I still own that home, but I recently moved to the Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago, in the same building as my sister, Rachel Manter, who is the other lead vocalist in So Pretty.
Q I’d describe your album as foul-mouthed fairy tales. Is that a fair description?
A Yes, that’s a great way to describe these songs. I use multiple voices to sing these songs and tried to make the lyrics playful, while addressing social and personal issues that were bothering me. “Stumble Bee” was written almost as a cartoon, with lyrics that sound more like a nursery rhyme. “Learn To Live Without” gives my perspective on being poor. Even though the songs cover some serious topics, I tried to keep things as uplifting as possible.
Q “Hell and Back” is an interesting song, where you take a trip to Hell and sing in multiple voices, including the Devil’s. What demons were you trying to exercise?
A I’ve always had an irrational fear of going to Hell. As a kid, Hell scared the crap out of me. This was a way for me to address those fears head on. I’m sleeping better now.
Q You like to sing in different voices. What inspired that?
A My Mom was a vocal coach. One of her students was Travis Dobbs of Ono. Mom taught me how to use my voice in different ways. I use different voices to add textures to the songs so that people will pay attention to the lyrics.
Q Did you come from a family of musicians?
A Mom played in various church bands, sang opera and played piano, and ran a small recording studio in town. She was a tremendous influence on me. My first instrument was a guitar and I took lessons from a local musician until he died. When I was 15, I took up the bass. A few years later, my sister Rachel started So Pretty with Ashley. They originally planned to have an all-girl band but were having trouble finding a bassist and drummer. She asked Stefan Lindgren and me to join the band and we’ve had a good run, so far.
Q How did you like composing songs for the guitar?
A It was a great experience, but I am having trouble with arthritis in my right hand, which makes it difficult to play for sustained periods. I am a tradesman during the day, and manual labor has taken a toll on my body. For some performances with So Pretty, I need to tape up my fingers before I play. It can be painful at times, but hey, no pain, no gain, right?
Q Are you involved in any projects other than Grumble and So Pretty?
A I have been playing with a local indie/folk artist out of Waukegan called Roaming Bear. This guy is an incredibly talented musician and producer and we played several shows in Illinois and Wisconsin this Spring.
Q What do you have planned for CHIRP Night at the Whistler?
A It will be just me and my guitar. I will play most of the cuts from Tough Times on Oakwood, as well as a couple of new songs I am working on.
Q What does the future look like for James Seminara?
A I am continuing to write songs for Grumble and would love to add a multi-instrumentalist to the mix. So Pretty is working on its third LP, and we have four solid songs already, plus more in the works. I’m trying to play two-to-three shows per month, either as Grumble or with Roaming Bear, so among these three music projects, I am keeping very busy.
If you’d like to check out this talented Chicago artist, make plans to see Grumble and Good At Bad on Wednesday, July 25 at “CHIRP Night at the Whistler.” Tickets are free, but you will need to RSVP to this 21+ show.
You can listen to Mike Nikolich every Friday from noon to 3 pm on CHIRP-107.1 FM
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