When I first brought the idea of Hasty Revelations to Rick Riggs at Handwritten, it was a purely selfish endeavor. How wonderful, I thought, to have bands that I love come in to the studio and play a song just for me. Of course, I would share these songs afterward, but for one hour, they were completely mine and no one else’s. Rick seemed to agree that the idea was good, and we figured there’d be no trouble since his studio is right across from Schubas (one of Newsweek’s 10 best music venues in the US!).
We got lucky right off the bat, landing a session with Langhorne Slim as our inaugural recording. I booked the studio for our agreed upon hour, and the band came in, played a song, and left. It took all of ten minutes. I had brought beers for the band to drink, got myself comfortable, Kari took some great pictures, and in a flash it was over. I have to admit it was thrilling and disappointing at the same time. The song they played was great, and it still hasn’t seen an official release, so I have one of two copies ever made. But they didn’t really want to be there. They were appreciative that I liked their music and wanted to share it, but who am I to them. It’s not like going to Daytrotter. And I agree. If I were a touring band, would I want to make time for someone who I’ve never heard of and whose readership could just be friends and family? I totally get that and I am very grateful that they came.
It did make me think, though. That was in August of 2011, and we didn’t book another session until mid-October. The second one was much more in line with what I thought it could be. Bhi Bhiman came in after playing the night before at Viaduct Theater, and he hugged me upon our meeting. He set himself up, played his song, listened back to it, and then hung out for almost an hour after he was done. Just talking whatever….baseball, pizza, normal stuff. These are the sessions I want to do, now and forever. I like being comfortable with the people we have in the studio.
So I decided, not immediately but soon after, that I only wanted to record bands that I personally like and bands whose music I want to see reach a broader audience. On top of getting some talented bands from around the country (Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes, Cheyenne Marie Mize) I narrowed my focus down to bands from the Chicago area-most of whom I had met or worked with in some capacity. These sessions became the ten songs I’ve included on the compilation being released today. Allow me to shed some light on how these recordings went down.
The Future Laureates album Fortress Sessions was about to come out, and I did an interview with them regarding their new tunes. I asked them if they’d want to come record something, and they agreed. Their live band in a five-piece, but for this sesh it was the core of Danny, Matt, and James playing a slightly different version of the song “Lovely,” arguably the best off that new record. This version debuted slightly ahead of the album, I think. So the fans got to hear an alternate take of one song a little early. They’re a fun group, and the best part of the recording was watching Matt try to come in at just the right moment on one of his vocal tracks. It was hysterical.
The Canoes session is the only one of these that I had to be away during. I was at a wedding, so Rick took full control. It came out great. As it turns out, “Wyatt Come Home” would be the last recording The Canoes would ever make. They broke up in December after a couple years making music together. My favorite section in this song is when lead singer Elliott Teller breaks out a very Mangum-esque nasally vocal on one of his “yeah yeah yeah” lines.
Vintage Blue took full advantage of the one hour, actually writing most of the song in the studio. It’s an acoustic love song from a band that can usually be found playing balls to the wall rock music. So that was fun to see: just a couple of acoustic guitars and a saxophone. As someone who isn’t a musician, it was interesting to watch the two guitarist/singers work out different lines and parts. And when they couldn’t figure it out it was up to multi-instrumentalist Matt Zimmerman, the groups musical theorist, to tell them what worked and what didn’t.
David McMillin of Fort Frances is a friend of mine. Of all the people we’ve had come record, he’s the one I think of first if I want to go get a drink or just hang out. We don’t do it very often because he’s a much busier guy than I am. I told him whenever he wanted to do a session we would be ready for him. He brought us “The City By The Sea” just a couple days after he had written it. He played it solo on the piano, and it’s a brilliant piece of work. This song, I’m told, will appear on the band’s next EP (though I have no idea what they’ve done with it since this was recorded quite a while ago).
Anyone who has ever read this site knows that up until last weekend when Chaperone decided to split after their show at the Burlington Bar, they were my favorite band in Chicago. I knew that getting the whole group together would be tough, so I asked lead singer Shaun Paul to come play for us. He came in with three songs that he had written ages ago but never recorded. They were all really good, so I actually included two in this collection. One of them, “Letters From Home,” is a companion piece to the Chaperone song “Letters To Home.” He doesn’t try to hit every note exactly, but my goodness his voice is expressive as hell. The emotions just rip you apart when you listen.
Gehring Miller of The Welcome was the first interview I did after starting this site. He’s actually a friend of David McMillin’s, so that’s how I was introduced to him. The Welcome have gone through some personnel changes in the past year or so, and I think right now they’re the strongest band they’ve ever been. Since we already knew each other they came in pretty confident and knowing what they wanted to do. They added a couple little things, like the chorus of voices singing “YEAH!” at one point. I think they also tacked on the xylophone part. This was one of two morning sessions we did throughout 2012-this one went much better. Plus they brought hummus and chips.
Bedroom Sons is a new band to the Chicago area-and really it’s just one person, Chris Dertz. He came here from NIU in DeKalb, and he’s one of the best things going in my mind. He shares some mutual friends with me in the Des Moines music scene, so it’s nice to have him up here in the big city. His session was probably the most impressive of all of them because there was so much involved. He played drums, five guitar tracks, bass, and sang two vocals. And he did it all in an hour. And made it sound good. From what I understand he recorded one of his EP’s in one night from midnight to 6am, so I guess he’s used to working quickly.
Dastardly is a pretty well-known band around these parts. And if they haven’t toured into your part of the country it isn’t for lack of trying. The lead singer/songwriter of the band, Gabe Liebowitz, has one of the best voices I’ve heard in a long, long time. I’m glad the song he chose to play for us features his vocals so much (albeit through a Morrisey haze). It’s funny, when he came in after playing the song I said something like “hey that’s really good. When did you write it?” “To which he replied, “Oh when I was in Manchester in England.” I didn’t realize it was a Smiths song (never was a huge fan). He opens all his solo shows with this one, and he does an amazing job with it.
The man known as Briar Rabbit has been playing around Chicago for a couple years now. I’d never met him before he came to the studio, but we’ve been tweeting back and forth for quite a while. We were both at the Childish Gambino show back in August and we seem to have pretty similar tastes. He did something really different with his time-played us a song that’s as close to gospel as we’re ever gonna get. I was forced to hop in and do some hand claps, certainly the weakest point of the song. This recording was impressive as well, because it sounds like there are multiple guys singing the song, but it’s just him. He played it normal, did a low, did a high, did another one normal, and they all sound great. A lot of work went into this for being under two minutes long.
So those are the artists behind the tracks on 60 Minutes Or Less. I hope you enjoy the record as much as I do. It’s pretty much the only thing I’ve listened to this week. I’m offering it up for free on Bandcamp, but if you love it and want some more of these sessions to happen feel free to pay a dollar or five. Whatever money we get from it goes straight toward making more recordings like these (I get a discount, but these sessions don’t pay for themselves).
Also, if you’re in the Chicago area, we are putting on a show January 29th at The Empty Bottle. It’s free with RSVP and features Gabe, Vintage Blue, Bedroom Sons, and The Welcome. Should be an exciting night! No excuse not to come! Get your ticket here!
Back in the first week of January I put up a list of some bands I thought you should keep your eye on for breakouts this year. Some of them were educated guesses, others hopes, and quite a few longshots. Now we’re about halfway through the year, and many of these bands have already delivered some good stuff. Not all of them, mind you, but a good amount. Let’s go over some of them in the order in which I originally listed them.
1. Dastardly-I put them at the top of the list for a couple reasons, chief among them being that I know they have the talent to be something special. At the beginning of the year they released an EP called Bury Me In The Country which featured “Brief Thoughts On Death,” one of my favorite songs of the year so far. In August they’re releasing another EP, Ballads In Blue. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear it already, and it is completely different from what I expected. I tried to describe it a few days ago, and I don’t think I made much sense. Basically I think it sounds like Rodgers & Hammerstein filtered through David Lynch…if that tells you anything.
2. Bhi Bhiman-The biggest success on the list by a large margin. When Bhiman, Bhi’s second album, came out it was met with great reviews by The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, NPR, and Paste among others. I called it the second he opened his mouth last year at SxSw that he was gonna make it. So far this year he’s opened for Josh Ritter, John Prine, Martin Sexton, Joe Pug, and Rosie Thomas and played headlining gigs at some well-known venues around the country. Next week he stops in Chicago for the fourth time since January.
3. Adam Arcuragi-Also garnering much critical acclaim was Like a fire that consumes all before it…Adam Arcuragi’s latest album that came at the end of January. This was my introduction to his style, which he refers to as “Death Gospel.” He toured the US in support of the album, then headed over to Europe for a streak of dates. He also put out a great Daytrotter session back in May that you can check out.
4. Sons Of An Illustrious Father-In 2011 they delivered the album of the year, One Body. They took a bit of a break for a while and now they’ve headed out on their first big tour. They’re hitting Chicago on July 20th with The Canoes and The Buddies, so I’m eagerly awaiting that. They are down a member, as Sofia Albam left to play with her new band Thorn & Shout.
Since we’re at that point now, and I’ve already run my top 25 albums and top 25 songs if the year so far, I figured we may as well finish out the trifecta and talk about some great concerts. Living in Chicago, there isn’t a shortage of amazing shows to see night in and night out. Obviously I don’t make it to all of them, and there have been some that I wish I hadn’t missed. For the most part, though, if I really want to get to a show, I do. It’s been a pretty great year so far, and looking at my calendar through September, the good times won’t be stopping any time soon.
So here we go. See if you can’t spot a couple of my favorite music venues.
10. Canasta 10th Anniversary Show, June 2 at Schubas
I feel like, more than anything, this was an education for me. I missed out on most of Canasta’s existence, but I made up for it by rocking front and center for this show.
9. Islands, March 1 at Lincoln Hall
Sometimes I just go to shows to enjoy them and not worry about writing a review. So I never wrote about this one. If I had, too much of it would have been filled with trash talk about the “fans” who had no idea what the new songs were even though the album had been out for a couple weeks already. I thought it was great.
8. First Aid Kit, April 6 at Lincoln Hall
One of my favorite surprises of 2012 has been First Aid Kit. I don’t understand how the Swedish have such a grasp on American folk music, but they do. Between these sisters and The Tallest Man On Earth, artists in the US need to step up their game to compete.
This past Saturday night we headed out to see Bhi Bhiman for the third time in five months. Though he makes his home in San Francisco, he’s been steadily touring in support of his most recent album, Bhiman. In January we caught him playing Park West, and in March we saw him at Schubas. At this rate I assume he’ll be back in June playing at Metro and then again in August to headline Lollapalooza (taking over the Black Sabbath spot). My point is, the guy is here a lot.
That seems to be helping get the word out about his record. The crowd at Lincoln Hall seemed to be aware of his work, singing along with a lot of the songs and applauding loudly after most. He was opening for Carolina Chocolate Drops, an americana/roots trio from North Carolina, so it was definitely an audience that would be into his brand of sweetly sung folk. This was definitely the most receptive group of people I’ve seen at one of his shows, and something about that puts a big smile on my face.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I went live with this website. The time has flown by thanks to all of the amazing people I’ve met and great times I’ve had working to bring some lesser-known bands to the foreground. There are so many thanks I’d like to give and so much respect I’d like to show for all those who have supported me in this endeavor.
When Kari and I came back from Austin last March after a few days at the SxSw music festival, I was excited to get back into the groove of writing about local bands, but I was also a little tired of being held up by others. There was a specific way things were done where I wrote before, and it wasn’t the way I liked. After a week or so of wrestling with my idea of loyalty and my desire to be able to write what I want and post it immediately, I decided to end my relationship with the other site and hopped on WordPress to start up my own thing.
Luckily I already had a couple things lined up at the time. I had cemented myself a spot on The Mountain Goats guestlist to review their show at The Vic. I had a show with local group Molehill at Bottom Lounge. And of course I had a show with Chaperone on the horizon. So I wasn’t worried about a lack of content, but I was a little worried about choosing a direction for the site.
After my initial run of shows, Record Store Day was here. I dedicated a whole week to it, talking about previous purchases and things I was looking forward to. It was a nice distraction for me to avoid thinking about what I really wanted to do. And then it dawned on me that the track I had been following-writing about Chicago bands almost exclusively, denying music from other cities their due, was idiotic. After I ran a piece I did with Neutral Uke Hotel (members of Golden Bloom and The Michael J Epstein Memorial Library), I started getting a lot of emails from people out of Boston.
Then I ran a special one-off little essay about The Hysterics. I was merely wondering what had happened to them, as I was astonished by their talent for such a young group, and it managed to find its way to former Hysterics member Oliver Ignatius. Based out of New York, he’s a producer and musician-talented as ever. He wrote to me and ended up doing a interview where he told the story of what happened to the band. So then I started getting a lot of music from New York. All of a sudden I was getting way more submissions from the east coast than I ever did in Chicago. Some time later I wrote about my friends in The Poison Control Center. And that got some notice from bands that played with them on the west coast. Out of nowhere my site was representing bands from all across the nation.
It’s been a lot to take in. Honestly, I never expected to reach anyone outside of Chicago. That I can look on my stat sheet and see that people from Malaysia and Cyprus are reading things that I’ve written is beyond my comprehension. Really, it’s just amazing. And like I said, there are a lot of people to thank for this.
First and foremost, of course, would be Kari. Not only has she been nothing but one hundred percent supportive, she’s also turned into a very talented photographer. Some of the shots she’s captured are really amazing, and in the future I’ll set up a separate site for her photos. For now, you can check most of them out on our facebook page.
Second, I’d like to thank all the bands for giving me the opportunity to work with such talented and courteous people. The ideas about musicians I had before I started writing about music were mainly formed from reading stories and watching movies, most of which were completely off. My biggest thanks goes to Miles and the rest of Chaperone for being such amazing people and letting us come to their shows for free and chatting with us. Same goes for Gabe and the crew of Dastardly. David McMillin of Fort Frances deserves a special shout out. Of all the bands that I’ve talked with and ended up getting along really well with, he’s the only one I hang out with somewhat regularly.
Third, and probably finally, I’d like to thank Rick at Handwritten Recordings for letting me use his studio and take up his time doing our Hasty Revelations sessions. Each one of them has been a triumph, and I don’t know that I could say that if we were at another venue. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to getting the sound you want, and he’s also just a hell of a nice guy. If you’re a band looking to record, definitely check them out.
I’d like to leave with some video highlights of the last year. There have been a lot of cool things I’ve been able to check out over the last twelve months, and I’m hoping it doesn’t end any time soon.
From the first time I saw Chaperone after starting the site, this is “Son Of Love Control.” Beforehand I saw them all sitting in a booth at Beat Kitchen and I let them know that I had broken away from my old site, and they were happy for me. Miles even went so far as to make a comment about it during his onstage banter. That was nice of him, but I’m sure everyone else in the crowd was wondering what the hell he was talking about.
Neutral Uke Hotel is one of those shows you just have to see to believe. When you hear it described, you think “That’s odd.” But when you get there and allow yourself to get into it, there’s nothing like it. We had been to Empty Bottle and seen them open for Warm Ones the year before, but on this night at Schubas, they were the main attraction. The way they were able to do it was actually really cool. Instead of just playing as NUH, they opened with separate sets by each members band. So The Michael J Epstein Memorial Library played, then Golden Bloom. On a normal night, those two sets would have been good enough. Standing with a couple hundred people all singing along to In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is something every music lover should do before they die.
A couple months later we were back at Schubas for a show with Dastardly. At this point the band was getting some good buzz, and they were about to embark on a tour to the west coast. I recorded the entire show and then broke it down song by song. If you’d like to see the rest, you can check out my YouTube channel.
At the end of June I was able to get a spot on the guestlist for Sleeper Agent‘s show in Chicago. They hadn’t released their album Celebrasion yet, and this single had just started making the rounds. They’re a good group of kids, and they have a good time making music together. Since this show, I think they’ve played Chicago three or four more times, so they’re definitely putting in the work.
My old friend from Des Moines, Patrick Tape-Fleming, also deserves a big thanks. His band The Poison Control Center has been kicking ass and taking names for a decade now, and he’s an inspiration to many DIY bands in the midwest. He allowed me the great honor of debuting a track from Stranger Ballet on my site, and he even wrote a nice piece about where the song came from and what it is about. This is not that song.
Lollapalooza returned to Chicago, as it does every year, in August. The lineup was atrocious (almost as bad as this year), so we didn’t go. Instead we bought tickets to two after shows. The first was Smith Westerns with Tennis as the opener. The show was awesome. If you haven’t already, check them out. Smith Westerns are so talented, and they’ve also had a bit of good fortune on their side, opening for Wilco and the Arctic Monkeys.
In November I got to try something I had been thinking about for awhile. I had done a lot of interviews with bands or artists, but that gets old after you do it a few times. I wanted to get a panel together to discuss something. Like a Charlie Rose-type discussion that went more in-depth than the average “What’s your new album sound like?” interview. I got my chance, kind of, with the Chicago Roots Collective. We had members of four bands up in the dressing area at Elbo Room to talk about the Collective and music in general. It didn’t go perfect, but I think we touched on some interesting things.
Very recently, two weeks ago in fact, we were at the Hard Rock Rising Battle of the Bands cheering on our old friends Molehill. They won the contest, moved on to the online voting portion, and were in the top ten when I last checked (go vote for them now!). It’s funny how a year later I’m right where I started. I’ve been lucky to work with bands who seem to like what I do and keep inviting me back for more. These guys are great, and I hope to see them many more times before they tire of me.
And lastly, just to show how powerful the internet can be, is Bhi Bhiman. When I was at SxSw last year, I saw him open a show with Josh Ritter. I thought they were both excellent, and I wrote a little thing (a very short thing, barely a blurb) about how good Bhi’s songwriting is. He found his way to it somehow and sent me a message on facebook letting me know that he appreciated it. I didn’t think much of it, just a guy being nice. Then I started up the Hasty Revelations sessions and I sent him a message about doing one. He came into town to play a festival and stopped by Handwritten to do a song. The thing is, he finished up recording and was happy with the way it turned out, then hung out for 45 minutes just chatting with us. Then I went and saw him open for Martin Sexton at Park West and the same thing happened. He might be the nicest guy in folk music. This video is from his most recent appearance in Chicago. Also featured are the members of Rosie Thomas’ band.
Thanks to everyone for reading! I appreciate your input, so if you love something or hate something, feel free to comment and let me know!