Monday, March 30, 2009

I Fight Dragons - 'Cool Is Just a Number'

Using vintage video game sounds in rock music isn't necessarily a new concept, but it's safe to say few have done it as effectively or enthusiastically as up and coming Chicago band I Fight Dragons. The self-proclaimed "NES-rock band" recently released their debut EP, "Cool Is Just a Number," which matches Fountains of Wayne-esque sing-along rock with sound effects that will make you all nostalgic for the days when you rushed home from school to spend some quality time with your Nintendo Power Pad before dinner was ready.

It would be easy for I Fight Dragons to sound like nothing more than a novelty act, but the band manages to keep their video game indulgences from dominating the basic elements of the songs. Instead, they use the sound effects to enhance well-written, extremely catchy material. If the 8-bit flourishes were stripped from "The Faster the Treadmill," for example, it would still be a power pop anthem worth shouting along to, while "Money" is a solid rocker that's given even more life with bubbly, synthetic NES blips skittering throughout.

While the EP is worth checking out based on the songs alone, the band is as much of a visual act as one to listen to in the car, playing controllers, a Power Pad and other NES gear real-time during their gigs (check out this video to see how they do it). Even their MySpace page is more attention-grabbing than most, featuring 8-bit renditions of each band member and enough bright colors to make you feel like you've warped into Super Mario Bros. and should start stomping Goombas.

With infectious tunes and no shortage of entertainment value, I Fight Dragons is a Windy City act that's bound to attract a lot of attention. You can currently get a free digital download of "Cool Is Just a Number" by signing up for the I Fight Dragons mailing list here. You can also pick up a hard copy, or download it via iTunes. Catch the band live April 17 at Cubby Bear.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Five shows this weekend - March 27-29

Bloc Party

Friday, March 27

- Scotland Yard Gospel Choir and The Steak House Mints at The Cubby Bear - Two great local indie pop bands. The Steak House Mints are one of Chicago's most recently formed indie bands to note, featuring the eclectic pop songwriting of front man Billy Dave Sherman. Their debut CD, "Out of the Sky," is a mix of Zombies-inspired melodies and clever power pop. Check out my full review of the album here. Doors 8 p.m., show 9 p.m., $8, 21 and over. More info.

- Tiger Spirit, Village and Yuki at Darkroom - Pay close attention to Village, the new project from Steve Ucherek of The Living Blue, one of my favorite rock acts in the city in recent years. While that band is now inactive, they recently released a new album called "Walk, Talk, Rhythm, Roam" (reviewed here). If Village is anywhere near as good as The Living Blue, they'll be one not to miss. More info.

Saturday, March 28

- Bloc Party with Longwave at Aragon Ballroom - Two indie rock mainstays in one show. Bloc Party released their third LP, "Intimacy," late last year, and Longwave released their fourth, "Secrets are Sinister." Doors 6:30 p.m., $27.50, all ages. More info and tickets.

-Phil Angotti, The Handcuffs and Tiny Speakers at Quenchers - Triple dose of local rock and roll. 9 p.m., $5 donation, 21 and over. More info.

Sunday, March 29

- Blueblood, The Pack A.D. and Nones at Empty Bottle - 9:30 p.m., $3, 21 and over. More info and tickets.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New releases: Decemberists, Peter Doherty and more

The Decemberists - "The Hazards of Love" - The fifth album by the Portland indie rockers is a 17-track, British folk and prog rock inspired collection that "tells the tale of a woman named Margaret who is ravaged by a shape-shifting animal; her lover, William; a forest queen; and a cold-blooded, lascivious rake, who recounts with spine-tingling ease how he came 'to be living so easy and free.'"

Pete Doherty - "Grace/Wastelands" - Long-famous for being the front man of The Libertines and Babyshambles and for his heavily-publicized drug use, Doherty delivers his debut solo album with contributions from Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, Dot Allison and more.

Radiohead - "Pablo Honey," "The Bends" and "OK Computer" collector's editions - The band's classic first three albums are re-released in the form of 2-disc sets, with one disc containing the original albums and the second disc containing demos, live recordings and other rarities. All three are also available as "special collector's editions," which add DVDs of promo videos and live performances into the mix. Check out detailed reviews here.

Pearl Jam - "Ten": Legacy Edition -If the Radiohead releases aren't enough to satisfy your 90s nostalgia, check out the new reissue of Pearl Jam's debut album, "Ten," originally released in 1991. The 2-disc set offers a unique take on the concept of the reissue in that it not only includes the original album remastered, but also a remixed version of the album by Brendan O'Brien, who produced the albums that followed. "Deluxe" and "Super Deluxe" editions add in a DVD, vinyl LP and more. See here for a more detailed review and more information on what's included in each of the editions.

Chicago artists:

I Fight Dragons - "Cool is Just a Number" EP - What do you get when you mix vintage NES video game sounds with Fountains of Wayne-esque power pop? This band. You can currently download their debut EP for free by signing up for their mailing list here. Catch them live this Friday, March 27 at Martyrs'.

Vacations - "I Was Bikini" 7" - An offshoot of Chicago band Chin Up Chin Up, Vacations is a trio that just released a 7" single called "I Was Bikini." The vinyl comes with a 5-song download and is available via Flameshovel Records.

Jonny Rumble - "Courtney's Basement"/"To Foolishness" single (free download) - As the band works on an EP set for release in the Fall, they're offering two finished tracks, "Courtney's Basement" and "To Foolishness," for free download here. The very catchy "Courtney's Basement" represents a shift to a more melodic, slightly less punk-driven sound, while maintaining a raucous edge.

Comasoft - "The Beautiful Departure" - The new CD from this local electro-rock act comes out March 28. Check out the CD release show Saturday at Subterranean.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lollapalooza: Lou Reed, Neko Case, Andrew Bird

If the recent news about Beastie Boys, Depeche Mode, Kings of Leon and Jane's Addiction likely headlining Lollapalooza didn't excite you, you might like to hear that New York rock legend Lou Reed and two singer-songwriters with genuine indie cred, Neko Case and Andrew Bird, are also expected to appear in the lineup.

Jim DeRogatis of the Sun-Times reported the news this morning, citing "industry sources cornered at SXSW" as sources.

Reed would be an excellent addition to the lineup, as genuine, tried and true rock legends are often in short supply at the festival.

Case and Bird, both with Chicago ties and recently-released, critically-acclaimed albums, would also be welcome players. Former Chicagoan Case has scored legions of fans through her work with Canadian pop band The New Pornographers as well as her solo efforts, including this month's release, "Middle Cyclone." Bird has also achieved worldwide acclaim and overwhelmingly positive reviews with his recent release, "Noble Beast."

What do you think of these likely additions?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Five shows this weekend - March 20-22

Primal Scream

Friday, March 20

- Jonny Rumble, Bailiff, Kid, You'll Move Mountains and Pretty Good Dance Moves at Empty Bottle - This Radio One showcase gives you the chance to catch three great Chicago bands as well as a DJ set from Pretty Good Dance Moves for only $8 ($6 if you print out and bring the flyer here). At the link, you'll also find details on all the bands. For further preparation, check out this Q&A I recently did with Bailiff. 9:30 p.m., $6 with flyer, $8 without, 21 and over. More info and tickets.

- Rue Royale with Begushkin at Hideout - Rue Royale is a husband-wife folk-pop duo that formed in Chicago, but are now currently based in the U.K. Although all their other upcoming tour dates are at locations throughout Europe, they'll hit up their home city Friday. Check out a recent interview with the Chicago Reader. 10 p.m., $8, 21 and over. More info and tickets.

Saturday, March 21

- Mr. Russia with Amrita, Raise High The Roof Beam and Surrender Dorothy at Abbey Pub - Mr. Russia is a recent Chicago band that seem to have been popping up everywhere lately, with a sound the band describes as "the bastard offspring of Iggy Pop and The White Stripes." Doors 8 p.m., show 9 p.m., $6 advance, $9 at door, 18 and over. More info and tickets.

- Call Me Lightning with Post Honeymoon, Hayweek and Liarbirds at Beat Kitchen - Hailing from Milwaukee, Call Me Lightning is an indie rock outfit that have released two LPs so far, most recently 2007's "Soft Skeletons." 10 p.m., $8, 21 and over. More info and tickets.

Sunday, March 22

- Primal Scream with Kuroma at Metro - Formed in 1982, Scottish alternative rockers Primal Scream have released nine studio albums, most recently last year's "Beautiful Future." Over the years, the band's sound has shifted from an indie pop base to include elements of garage rock, psychedelic rock and electro. 7 p.m., $27.50, 18 and over. More info and tickets.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Peacekeeper - 'Fireworks'

Local band Peacekeeper moved to Chicago from New Orleans in the summer of 2008, and have since released their debut LP, "Fireworks." The band describe themselves as part of a musical movement dubbed "gentleman rock," in which "a premium is put on good manners, cosmopolitanism and a generally genial attitude." "Just because you rock doesn't mean you have to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon in a filthy alleyway at 3 o'clock in the morning, right?," ask the band in their MySpace profile. You have to admire them simply for daring to refuse rock and roll cliches, but luckily their music is pretty great, too.

Although "gentlemen rock" could easily describe their sound as well as their attitude, overall Peacekeeper is one of those acts you can't easily categorize. Lead singer, songwriter and piano player Kevin Corcoran sounds comfortable dabbling in a variety of styles, all rooted in down to earth, classicist pop. The band is at their strongest when they lean toward breezy, upbeat melodies, with the title track, "Ship in a Bottle," "Girl" and "New House" offering up the most memorable hooks and sounding like the musical equivalent to a Sunday afternoon in July. "New House" features a particularly soaring, ear-catching chorus that makes it stand out as one of the disc's finest. Elsewhere, they expand their sound via old-time Americana ("Lonely Waltz"), jazzy lounge pop ("Is This Love") and Southern-style classic rock ("Don't Hold Me"), and while these tracks aren't quite as convincing, they are still enjoyable and add welcome variety.

"Fireworks" is the work of a band that isn't attempting to make your ears ring or rock your face off, but it's also a lot more than mere background music. Its best moments are examples of genuinely great, refreshing songwriting. If this is what gentlemen rock sounds like, hopefully we'll hear much more of it soon.

You can get "Fireworks" on iTunes and Amazon MP3, as well as at select record stores in Chicago. Check out Peacekeeper live at Phyllis' Musical Inn in Wicker Park on March 20 and April 25.

More Chicago music reviews:

The Steak House Mints - Out of the Sky

Pet Lions - Soft Right

Camera - Fire & Science

tenniscourts - Dig the New Sounds of tenniscourts

Monday, March 16, 2009

This week: Radio One showcase at Empty Bottle

Get set for WLUW's showcase of local bands at the Empty Bottle on Friday, March 20. The show starts at 9:30 p.m., and for a mere $8 ($6 if you print off and bring the flyer above, also available at offers up the chance to see four great Chicago bands: Jonny Rumble, Bailiff, Kid, You'll Move Mountains and Pretty Good Dance Moves. Here's a rundown of each of them to get you up to speed for the show:

Jonny Rumble

This band thinks the current state of rock is in sad shape, and are doing their part to breathe some life into it by summoning "the raw energy of punk and the intoxicating sensibility of early rock and roll." The four-piece released an LP called "Almost Dead" in 2008, and are getting set to follow it up with a highly catchy and energetic single called "Courtney's Basement," available March 24. You can check out both the single and tracks from the album on the band's MySpace site.


This band's style is often referred to as "progressive blues," and they are best known for their tight, all-around excellent live shows. They have released an EP, "Mm Hmm," and will soon record a debut LP. For more information, check out the Q&A I recently did with the band's singer and guitarist, Josh Siegel.

Kid, You'll Move Mountains

Featuring former members of local bands Troubled Hubble and Inspector Owl, Kid, You'll Move Mountains is one of the latest notable indie rock acts to come out of Chicago.This group has a big, epic sound that features a nice mix of male and female vocals.They recently releaed their debut LP, "Loomings." Check an interview with the band's Jim Hanke on a recent edition of the Chicago indie-focused Indiesomnia.

Pretty Good Dance Moves

"Taking a cue from Daft Punk — or Kraftwerk, if you want to be old school about it — electronic pop musicians Jimmy and Aaron are mysterious auteurs who shun last names, claim to divide their time between Chicago and New York and prefer to hide behind the collective identity of Pretty Good Dance Moves as they create an entrancing mix of organic and electronic sounds using vintage analog synthesizers as well as vibraphone, violin and guitar," commented Sun-Times rock critic Jim DeRogatis in a review of this duo's 2008 self-titled EP. You can check out the video to one of their tracks, "Demons Dancing," here.

Click here for tickets and more information

Friday, March 13, 2009

Q&A: Bailiff

Although Chicago is home of the blues, the city's indie rock and blues sounds typically dwell in very different worlds. Local band Bailiff is an exception. By building off a gritty, bluesy foundation and fleshing it out with a variety of rock and roll influences to create an original style, the band has already built a devoted following thanks to their tight, captivating live shows and a four-song EP, "Mm Hmm."

As the band gets gears up for their March 20 show at the Empty Bottle and to record their debut full-length this fall, guitarist and vocalist Josh Siegel took some time out to answer some questions about Bailiff's history, inspiration and future.

How would you describe Bailiff's sound to someone who has never heard the band?

I always have a hard time describing music, but the term “progressive blues” makes sense. We don’t consider ourselves a blues band, but you can definitely hear the soulful simplicity of that kind of music in what we do. What makes it progressive is that we often start with the blues format but experiment with other styles until we end up with something that sounds original.

How did Bailiff form?

I met our drummer, Ren Matthew, at a Green Mill jam session. We started talking about music and it turned out we were both looking to form a band that had those blues elements but was not a traditional blues band. We played as a trio for a year and parted ways with our former bassist in early 2008. It took us about 10 months to find the right bassist. We put up ads everywhere, handed out our CDs at live shows four nights a week and told everyone we knew. At one point I started wearing a t-shirt that read “Bailiff seeking bass player” and eventually we started offering a $200 reward to anyone who found us the right person. The word finally got down to Adam Schneider in Charleston, Illinois, about four hours south of Chicago. The music and personalities clicked as soon as we met up to try it out.

Was there any particular inspiration behind the name "Bailiff"?

We really liked names where you weren’t sure if it was a guy or a band, like Leadbelly or Pink Floyd. I came across the word “bailiff” in some article and liked the way it looked in print. It’s just one of those words everyone knows but hardly ever uses.

What are some of the main influences found in your music?

We love the explosiveness of Led Zeppelin and listening to The Beatles and Motown made it I clear to us that the melody and song writing have to be durable. We’re also really influenced by primitive tribal sounds like Native American war songs, African funk and Eastern Indian ragas. That stuff is all packed with tension yet has a hypnotizing effect.

Last year you were quoted in a Chicago Tribune article about the declining importance of record labels in indie musicians being able to make a living from their music. Tell us about how the DIY approach has worked so far for Bailiff. Would you sign with a label if the right opportunity came around? Why or why not?

So far it’s worked well, but has been hard to find the time to practice and do the promotion and booking ourselves - on top of paying for studio time. It’s going to get to a point where we need a team of people working on just the business side of making a band succeed. From what we’ve heard, major labels aren’t offering a good deal to musicians, but we’re interested in some of the indie ones. If a label still gave us artistic control and offered a good deal on royalties we would certainly consider it.

In Bailiff's online bio, Evan Sult of Bound Stems and Harvey Danger fame gives you some pretty high praise for being able to get devoted listeners out to your gigs from the very start of the band. Why do you think you've been successful in getting people to take notice?

Your friends will come to your shows because they’re your friends, but the only way they’ll bring their friends is if they really believe in the music, and we’ve been fortunate for that to happen to us. I think people come back because we have a unique sound that has catchy elements to it - but not in a pop format. We also don’t like to play the same set twice, and if you can get a reputation as a band that takes risks and pushes the musicianship, then it keeps things exciting.

What Chicago musicians would you most like to work with and why?

Buddy Guy. His album “Sweet Tea” was a big inspiration for us and we loved not only the songs but the way it was recorded. He plays at his own club in Chicago during the month of January, and it would be a honor to open for him and be his back-up band for one night.

Best live show you’ve seen in the last year?

I saw the Holmes Brothers early last year and was completely floored. They played the most authentic Ray Charles-type R&B, except with three-part harmonies. I never thought I’d almost cry listening to “I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick, but the way they arranged it made it sound like a heartbroken love song by the Chi-lites.

What can we expect from Bailiff going forward?

We’re going to record our first full-length album this fall and are interested in finding a label to distribute it and promote it between now and then. We definitely want to be in a van on tour by the end of this year, once the CD has been released. And of course, we're looking forward to connecting with more people through our music.

How can people find out more about your music?

Anyone who likes what they’ve heard on our Web site,, will definitely get a lot more out of hearing us live because that’s what Bailiff is based on – playing live. We’re really excited about our upcoming show because it’s our first show with Adam on bass and this is definitely the strongest we’ve sounded. We’re also grateful to have been asked to play on the WLUW Showcase.* You can buy our EP, “Mm Hmm,” at our performances, on our site, or on iTunes.

*Bailiff is performing at The Empty Bottle on Friday, March 20 at 9:30 p.m in WLUW 88.7’s ‘Radio One Chicago’ Showcase featuring other bands such as, Johnny Rumble, Kid, You’ll Move Mountains and Pretty Good Dance Moves. The show is $6 if you bring the "World's Greatest Team Up" flyer available below or at, and $8 otherwise.

More Chicago music Q&As:



Lily Schaffer

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Five shows this weekend - March 13-15

Black Lips

Friday, March 13

- The Soundtrack of Our Lives with Outrageous Cherry and Pink Devil at Double Door - The Swedish rockers have been described as a mixture of The Who, The Kinks and Pink Floyd. Doors 9 p.m., show 10 p.m., $7, 21 and over. More info and tickets.

- Alice Russell with The O' My's at Schubas - Russell is a British singer known for her powerful, soulful vocals and incorporating a variety of styles into her material. 10:30 p.m., $14, 21 and over. More info and tickets.

Saturday, March 14

- Black Lips at Logan Square Auditorium - The garage punk band from Atlanta - notorious for their wild and unpredictable live shows - released their fifth album, "200 Million Thousand," in February. 8 p.m., $15, all ages. More info and tickets.

- Human Highway with The Magic and Cotton Jones at Empty Bottle - Canada's Human Highway features former Islands members Jim Guthrie and Nicholas Thorburn.The duo's debut album, "Moody Motorcycle," was released in 2008, inspired by AM pop of the 60s and 70s. 10 p.m., $8, 21 and over. More info and tickets.

Sunday, March 15

- Fiasco with Rabid Rabbit at Hideout - Fiasco is a three-piece from Brooklyn that draws inspiration from punk and noise rock. They have released two albums to date, 2005's "God Loves Fiasco" and 2008's "Native Canadians." 9 p.m., $8, 21 and over. More info and tickets.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kings of Leon expected to join list of Lollapalooza headliners

Last week it was revealed that Jane's Addiction, Depeche Mode and Beastie Boys are expected to headline this year's Lollapalooza, and now it looks like Kings of Leon will join the list. That leaves two headliners yet to be revealed.

Although the festival's promoters won't reveal the official lineup until April, $60 three day passes offered today sold out within minutes per usual, and "early bird" discounted tickets are set to go on sale March 31.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz!

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Yeah Yeah Yeahs vocalist Karen O referenced the band’s third LP, “It’s Blitz!,” as “Something new that we’ve never heard before from ourselves. Less angst and more positivity, man!” If that’s the difference between the new record and their previous output, it’s a bit hard not to hope they feel edgy again next time they enter the studio.

It’s not that there’s anything bad on “It’s Blitz!,” originally scheduled to drop in April, but pushed up to a March 10 digital release and March 31 physical release after it leaked online. It’s all very pleasant to listen to, from the disco-punk romp “Heads Will Roll” to the dreamy, subtle “Skeletons.” The problem is that aside from two standouts that are bound to go down as Yeah Yeah Yeahs classics, the infectious first single “Zero” and the sparkling, gorgeous “Hysteric,” there’s not much to latch onto.

On the band’s last LP, 2006’s “Show Your Bones,” the New York City-based trio achieved a solid balance of their flagship style of punky, swaggering rock and melodic pop. This time they decided to focus on an icy dance-rock vibe, loading the album with vintage synths. This actually sounds like a pretty good idea on paper - a band like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs needs to keep evolving to stay fresh – and the formula does succeed to a certain extent. The production sparkles, there's an occasional rocking moment and Karen O sounds as compelling as ever as a disco-rock vixen, but the material simply can’t keep up with the performances. Many of the tracks come and go without making much of an impact. You wait for them to kick into gear, but the climax never comes.

That said, there’s no doubt that “It’s Blitz!,” can be enjoyed on some level by any established fan of the band. Everything here is at least decent, and Karen O's distinctive vocal stylings are always worth a listen. For anyone looking to get into them for the first time, though, "Fever to Tell," "Show Your Bones," or the band's 2007 "Is Is" EP would make for a much more powerful introduction.

You can currently stream "It's Blitz!" in its entirety at The band will announce U.S. tour dates soon. Perhaps they'll hit up Chicago via a return slot at Lollapalooza?

More music reviews:

The Steak House Mints - Out of the Sky

Pet Lions - Soft Right

Camera - Fire & Science

Friday, March 6, 2009

Lollapalooza 2009: Jane's Addiction, Beastie Boys, Depeche Mode expected to headline

Jane's Addiction

There has been a lot of speculation surrounding who is going to play this year's Lollapalooza, which is set for August 7 to 9 in Grant Park. Recently I guessed a number of bands likely to show up at the festival, and it looks like at least two of those predictions will come to pass.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Jane's Addiction, Beastie Boys and Depeche Mode will headline, with three other headliners yet to be revealed.

Per usual, Lolla seems to be covering its musical bases, with the three bands representing alternative rock, hip-hop and synth-pop.

The festival is expected to announce the full lineup next month.

What's your take on these headliners? Are you pumped, or praying for better acts to be announced come April?

Pitchfork Fest 2009 lineup to include The Jesus Lizard, Built to Spill

Last week, promoters for Pitchfork Music Festival announced that the fest will take place this year from July 17 to 19 in Chicago's Union Park, with tickets on sale March 13.

According to the Sun-Times and the Tribune, the fest has now announced a portion of its lineup, which includes Built to Spill, Yo La Tengo and Chicago favorites The Jesus Lizard and Tortoise on July 17. The Jesus Lizard performance will mark the first time the reunited band has played in their hometown for 11 years.

The second day of the fest is set to feature The National, Pharoahe Monch and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, while Grizzly Bear, The Walkmen and The Vivian Girls will play Sunday.

This year, anyone who buys a ticket to the fest will be able to vote online for what songs they'd like to hear in the bands' set lists.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Five shows this weekend: March 6-7

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

Friday, March 6

- SXSW Send Off Party (night one) featuring Thunders, TafkaVince & the Nuclear Power Pants and The Teaparty at Reggie's - All door sales and a portion of bar sales will go toward the bands' trips to South by Southwest in Austin. 7 p.m.,$7, 21 and over. More info and tickets.

- ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead with Funeral Party and Midnight Masses at Logan Square Auditorium - Last month the Austin-based art rockers released their sixth album, "The Century of Self." Catch them Friday at their only Chicago gig on their world tour to promote the album. 8 p.m., $15, all ages. More info and tickets.

Saturday, March 7

- SXSW Send Off Party (night two) featuring Blueblood, Chaperone, Invade Rome, The Last Good Year and Orphans at Reggie's - The second installment of Reggie's SXSW send-off celebration, featuring an assortment of Midwestern bands worth checking out. 7 p.m.,$7, 21 and over. More info and tickets.

- Tapes 'n Tapes with Wild Light at Metro - Taking cues from classic bands such as Pixies and Pavement, Minneapolis band Tapes 'n Tapes play jittery rock with a taste for experimentation. Doors 8 p.m., show 9 p.m., $16, 18 and over. More info and tickets.

- The Blamers at Miska's Venue - The local indie folk rock group will celebrate their one year anniversary with this show. The band is currently finishing up their debut EP, and you can get a sample of their sound on their MySpace site. 9 p.m., free show. More info.

Ten tips for self-promoting your indie band

Being in an indie band isn't just about writing and playing music. If you want to get people listening, you also have to be your own manager and promoter, usually on top of working a day job. With so much to do and so little time, it's no wonder so many talented indie musicians don't get the attention they deserve.

It's not impossible to DIY and succeed, though. If you're faced with the often daunting task of self-promoting your band, here are some tips to keep in mind to help get the best results.

1. Get organized - Before you reach out to anyone, make sure you have a bio sheet, sample tracks and everything a writer, DJ, or someone you want to book your band might need. Having an electronic press kit on can be extremely helpful to anyone thinking of writing about or playing your music.

As far as sending the music itself, ask if your contacts would rather receive a physical copy or digital files. A lot of people prefer to get album and song samples digitally, so always be prepared to have your music collected as mp3s in .zip files that you can easily upload for download on free file hosting sites such as, and Make sure all tracks are tagged and numbered properly so your contacts will know what they're listening to and won't have to struggle to find the details later.

2. Know who you are and have something to say - "I'm always amazed when I ask someone about their band or music and it becomes a struggle for them to describe it accurately in any way, shape, or form," says Rikk Currence, one-half of local duo JoyFocus. "If you don't know what your sound or band is all about, then how do you expect clubs, agents, managers, labels and most importantly, fans, to know? Take the time to really discover and then clarify your musical identity. Once you do that, the who, what, where and how of getting your music out there will become much clearer."

3. Use online social networking to the max - Pretty much every musician has a MySpace page, but now there's so much more available to promote your music online. Twitter, for example, lets musicians connect with fans on a more personal and casual basis through short updates and replies - just be sure not to sound too promotional., a community specifically for music lovers and artists, can give you access to a more targeted and musically-passionate group of people than general social networking sites. Starting a blog on popular, free services such as or - and updating it regularly - also helps ensure that you keep hold of people's attention.

Karl Ostby, singer and guitarist in Chicago indie rock band Pet Lions, recommends Facebook as a way to get people out to gigs. "I think Facebook events are basically the new word of mouth for local bands," Ostby says. "Those still help us spread the word about upcoming shows and they're a lot more convenient and more personal than putting up posters all over the city. Our friends can invite their friends and so on. We made sure to bring out some good crowds at out first few shows, and that made booking future gigs much easier."

4. Keep it fresh - Social networking and band Web sites can be highly effective, but only if you update frequently. "Give people a reason to come back to your Web site and MySpace page by updating your content," says Eric Georgevich, singer and guitarist in Chicago indie rock band King Sparrow. "Write a blog, add a new picture, or highlight an upcoming show. The trick is to spread out these updates so there is something new every couple of weeks."

5. Be patient and follow-up - Almost everyone has become used to expecting responses to e-mails right away, so it can be frustrating to submit your music or send a note to a writer and get no response. Be patient. "The reviewers are usually completely swamped with submissions, so it will probably take a while before they get to your CD," says Georgevich. Give them two to three weeks before your first follow-up and then follow-up weekly after that. Remember to be polite, professional and patient."

6. Send more than one copy - Georgevich also suggests sending music reviewers more than one copy of a CD. If they like it, they'll have one or two extra copies to pass on to someone else, which could lead to additional fans and promotional opportunities.

7. Don't fight comparisons - Unless you're in a cover band, it's safe to say that you want your band to sound original and have something new to bring to the scene. Comparisons to other bands, though, can be a necessary evil. They're what many people use to decide whether or not they want to listen to a particular band, and what writers use to get people to understand what they should expect. If someone compares your band to other bands, don't take it as an insult. When accurate and within reason, comparisons are more of a help than a hinderance.

8. Expect criticism - There's always going to be people who don't like your music, including journalists, DJs, bloggers, or anyone else you try to get listening. Even if your first review isn't positive, don't get discouraged. If you are confident in your music, you won't let the criticism get to you - it might even help you make your music better.

9. Ask for help - Just because you don't have a label to help out with promotion doesn't mean you have to fly solo. Friends, family members and fans are almost always willing to help, but they probably won't volunteer if you don't ask. Have a friend who loves writing? Get him to take a stab at a band bio or press sheet. Does one of your fans know a music blogger? Ask if she might be able to get your music reviewed. The DIY musicians who aren't afraid to ask for help are almost always the ones who get the furthest with promotion.

10. Keep up momentum - "Being stagnant is the worst thing that can happen to a band, other than breaking up," says Georgevich. "Come up with a business plan that spans out six months and clearly defines your band's goals. If possible, try to coordinate your shows, CD releases, studio time and press quotes so that you have something new going on every month."

Related reading:

Do labels still matter?

Bands on Twitter

Bands on Twitter, part 2

Five places to legally download free music

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

New releases: U2, Neko Case and more

U2 - "No Line on the Horizon" - The band's twelfth album, featuring lead single, "Get on Your Boots." The record is U2's first since their 2004 release, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." It is released in a variety of formats, including a standard CD, 2-disc vinyl LP, digipak and a box set that includes a DVD, poster and 64-page book.

Neko Case - "Middle Cyclone" - The one-time Chicago resident and Hideout bartender has gone on to worldwide success both as a solo artist and with The New Pornographers. "Middle Cyclone" is her newest effort, featuring 15 tracks and guest performances from M. Ward, members of the New Pornographers and more. She's set to play the Chicago Theatre on April 24 as part of her Spring tour promoting the record.

The Prodigy - "Invaders Must Die" - The fifth studio album from the British electronic trio, following-up 2004's "Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned."

Bell X1 - "Blue Lights on the Runway" - The fourth studio album from the Irish indie rockers. The band garnered international popularity from their last album, "Flock," with tracks such as "Rocky Took a Lover" and "Flame."

Fountains of Wayne - "No Better Place: Live in Chicago" (DVD) - The band's first ever DVD features a 2005 Chicago performance with hits such as "Stacy's Mom," "Sink to the Bottom" and "Radiation Vibe."

Chicago artists:

Mazes - Self-Titled LP - Mazes is a side project from Edward Anderson and Caroline Donovan from acclaimed Chicago folk-pop group The 1900s. The two are joined by Charles D’Autremont for a somewhat looser extension of the 1900s sound, with songs recorded "in various studios, bedrooms and basements over the past few years." Available from Parasol.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Q&A: JoyFocus

JoyFocus is the local duo of singer Holly Joy and multi-instrumentalist Rikk Currence, a husband-wife team that has been making music together since 1999. The two recently released a new LP, "Cyber Suburban Electro Rock Circus," which effectively brings across their desire to fuse a variety of sounds and influences, from melodic 80s pop to guitar-heavy rock. The album is full of hopeful, relatable pop songs with plenty of sincerity and no pretense.

Joy and Currence make no apologies for creating music that doesn't attempt to gel with the latest indie rock trends, or for outwardly dealing with their faith in their material. Combine that with their knack for writing a tune that ingrains itself in your head after just one listen, and you have a truly refreshing Windy City rock act.

The duo took time out to answer some questions about the new record, their place in the current Chicago rock scene and how their faith plays into their music. Read on.

JoyFocus has existed for around a decade, first releasing music in 2001. How has the music and overall project evolved over the years, and how is that reflected on your new album, “Cyber Suburban Electro Rock Circus”?

Rikk: With this record, we feel like we might have finally “arrived,” so to speak, as artists both musically and lyrically. We’ve been trying to etch out a very tangible & distinct “JoyFocus sound” over the years, and we feel we’re one step closer to achieving that with this album. We also feel that even though it’s not such a popular notion anymore, we’ve created a very cohesive and listenable album experience with “CSERC.” It’s not just a collection of singles, and it’s not one single with some filler around it. We feel it really is something you can listen to in its entirety and enjoy. We’ve poured our hearts and souls into this record, and hopefully it shows.

Holly: Wow - decade already? I think JoyFocus has grown tremendously over the years. We have experienced so much in and around our lives in that time frame, obviously. I think ultimately the transition from band to duo has been the biggest push toward growth for us. We do everything ourselves, and we like it that way! I think what you will hear on this new record is a lot of the personal trial and triumph that we've been through. I also hope that people hear a glimpse of the hope we try to project in everything we do.

How does making music as a duo, or more specifically a husband-wife team, impact your music? Does it make the creative process easier, or are there certain challenges that come with being so close?

Rikk: I feel bad for Holly sometimes because married or not, I can be just plain difficult to work with as a musician. Seriously, I am not always fun to be around during the creative process – I am a control freak of epic proportions. Once I have an idea in my mind, until it’s been realized both musically & lyrically in a manner I deem perfect, I become a relentless diva on a quest for that perfection! I might need to get over myself!

That said, Holly would be any writer or producer’s dream to work with because she’s both mega talented and agreeable – a consummate professional in the studio at all times. She’s also very humble, which is one of the qualities I admire in her the most. She would definitely be Paul, I would be John (in personality only!), or she would be Roger and I would be Pete (although my mustache is cooler). I think you see the dynamic I’m talking about here.

I think our relationship does yield a chemistry that you can’t manufacture. We’re best friends, and have been for 17 years. As a husband and wife, we’ve been through the highest of highs and lowest of lows together. That fact alone makes our connection to one another through the music unique and powerful. Again, you can’t fake that sort of thing and it shows in the music.

Holly: I think making music as husband and wife is a tremendous advantage. That’s especially true when your partner is your best friend. We experience a lot the same things, the same way and can pour our hearts out in that very moment together. I think it’s a huge advantage in that we go through everything together – even though we may have a different perspective on the process. Also, if I'm feeling something and don't know quite how to articulate it, Rikk is really great at helping me find my voice. Are there also challenges? Sure, we have to remember to be professional and shake off any “married people " things we may be dealing with when we work together. It can be a really fine line that we have to walk, and that’s not always easy. But overall, I'd say we reap great benefits from working together!

Although there is an eclectic mix of styles on CSERC, it seems you are most often compared to female-fronted pop/rock acts from the 80s such as Roxette, Pat Benatar and Eurythmics. What’s the one band or musician people might be most shocked to learn is an influence?

Rikk: I’m a huge Frank Sinatra fan. I can also be a big jazz geek. If you were to come to our home, the big surprise would be the streaming Jazz music playing in the background as you walked in. It’s always happening in the background somewhere. Not to mention that as a child growing up in the suburbs of a major city, I have a wicked metal streak that runs rampant some of the time. Iron Maiden, Dio and Judas Priest rule. By the way, speaking of metal, do you watch Metalocalypse? OMG… you need to if you don’t, it’s amazing!

Holly: I think people would be shocked to hear that I'm influenced by Coheed and Cambria, as well as They Might Be Giants. The vocals that Claudio (of Coheed) delivers bring me to tears every flipping time! I cannot listen to any of their music without weeping. The minute his voice comes on, I'm putty. I find that kind of powerful delivery to be unbelievably life-changing.
As for TMBG, I love how they have such a quirky, fun vibe. They're so clever in the way they communicate music.

They’re sometimes subtle, but there are definite aspects of your music that draw upon religion and Christian beliefs. Do you find this has much, if any, effect on the way people react to the music when first hearing it, or even just after reading a review that mentions it?

Rikk: It’s a little weird because it’s always been a part of our musical fabric, but it’s just recently become a topic of serious conversation in reviews and interviews. Unfortunately, here in the western world, we’ve found that in many instances a musical association with Christianity alienates a lot of people and shuts our music out of a lot of situations.Understandable. The word “Christian” has been dragged through the mud in many social, political and even musical situations as of late by believers themselves. In many instances it’s just become another adjective to identify a marketing demographic. It’s quite sad, actually.

I don’t want my music to be boxed in or boxed out because of my personal lifestyle decisions. I’m a musician – it’s my skill. It would be the same as if I were a pizza maker – would every pizza I make be considered a “Christian pizza?” Would I have to make the pizzas in the shape of a “Jesus fish” once my beliefs were public knowledge? There are lots of believers in the world doing lots of things both big and small. I’m certain we’d all be surprised to find out how many have helped, served, or attended to us on a daily basis throughout the course of our lives without making a moral battle cry out of it.

We are who we are and do what we do. We believe in God and as such, feel since it’s a legitimate, functioning part of our life it is “fair game” and does serve as inspiration for some of our music and art. Again, we write what we know, and we know what our experience with God has been and how it plays into our lives.

I can’t vouch for anyone else’s beliefs or experiences but ours. I can tell you that Holly and I are just normal people trying to do our best to make the life we’ve been given the most it can be. You won’t find us protesting abortion clinics, asking for money on television, or telling you that if you’re a homosexual, God hates you. You also won’t find us telling you that if you’ll just go to church, everything is always going to be okay, either, because it won’t.

I swear frequently, smoke cigars regularly and speak my mind daily. I am arrogant, pride-filled and often present myself as the furthest thing the church would ever associate with a living God. I’m a broken human being who needs a savior, which is the entire point of Christianity to begin with. If I could do it alone and do it perfectly, I wouldn’t need a Savior – but I can’t, so I do! That is my belief – how anyone other than me feels about it is irrelevant. Knowing what I just told you about myself, wouldn’t you as an artist find that constant struggle and hope a big enough part of your life to write about? I do.

I want our music to be liked because it’s good and relatable, not because of its socio-moral label or association. If you don’t like our music, don’t like it because you aren’t into our style or don’t think it’s done well. Don’t dislike it because someone you don’t know gave it a label that it didn’t ask for or warrant. Plus, how could you not like our music? :-)

Recently you put a note up on your official Web site addressed to “Christians, churches and religious affiliates” that seems to be written to these groups to defend yourselves as both Christians and rock musicians. Can you fill us in on the circumstances that brought this on, and why you felt it was important to speak your minds?

Rikk: I’m a firm believer in the old adage “begin with the end in mind.” That is, setting proper expectations can better help you to succeed. Once our beliefs became a relative topic of conversation when discussing our music, I decided that instead of saying the same things over and over again, I’d say them once and leave it in a place it could be referenced time and time again. So, if you want some basic answers about us and our belief system go to and click on the FYI link. Read away. Just make sure you don’t bog yourself down with that and make sure while you’re at the site to listen to all of our music – that’s really what we’re about.

Holly: I think most definitely people react when they hear any tone of spirituality in our music. I also think that's a big part of the reason we put our FYI page up. I’d says the majority of folks don't want to hear any talk of God in their music, and I can totally understand why. The current genre of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) is known for being pretty cheesy and very “copy-cat.” We write what we know, and our relationship with God is reflected in our lives every day to some extent, so obviously it’s going to show up in our music as well. The FYI page is important to us because we want people to understand that we're coming from, which is what a lot of people would consider a different point of view.

CSERC includes a cover of the classic Eurythmics single, “Here Comes the Rain Again,” which is a very appropriate choice for your sound and style. Are there any other specific songs or artists you’d like to take on in the future?

Rikk: It’s funny you should ask. The plan for our next record is to have a limited edition version available that will not only be the album itself on CD, cassette and vinyl, but will also have an EP of covers exclusive to that package. All the covers will be songs that were popular from 1981 to 1989 – the golden age of popular music, in our opinion. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s going to be a great little bonus. We are also talking about recording some originals and covers later this year to be available as free downloads from our Web site.

It seems that it would be tough to recreate the sound of your recorded music in a live setting, especially as a duo. Do you ever get out to play live, and if so, how do you make it work?

Rikk: At the moment, we’re gearing up to hit the road – hopefully this summer or fall. As a rule, we don’t feel our music translates all that well just for the sake of “being played.” We normally only play live when there is a desire for people to see us. Trying to capture folk’s attention on a Tuesday night at the Beat Kitchen isn’t really our thing. Our music isn’t good background fodder or served well by being placed third in a six band bill. Our feeling is that our music requires an element of drama & majesty to be as effective as it is on record – it requires a “show.”
The musical direction of the show can vary depending on the venue or opportunity. Holly and I can do more intimate performances with just her voice and an acoustic guitar. We also have a show where it’s me playing multiple instruments as need be and we are accompanied by a computer augmenting the rest of the tracks. And yes, we do have a band that we can play with for big events or opportunities. We’ve got something musically we can do live to entertain at any level.

It’s safe to say that as a 80s pop/rock-influenced husband wife duo, JoyFocus holds a pretty unique place in the current Chicago indie music scene. Would you say this has made it easier or more difficult to get people to take notice?

Rikk: Well, it’s interesting. Chicago is known for a lot of musical genres - blues, power pop, metal, alternative, hip hop – but not really any combination or amalgamation of genres – which we clearly are. We aren’t the Pumpkins, Disturbed, Kanye, or Wilco, so it has been a little daunting to get people to take the type of notice we’re looking for. Then we have the whole “duo” thing to explain.

However, we did recently have a great piece done on our record by Jim DeRogatis of the Sun-Times, and national and international press have been raving about this record, so hopefully this could be the beginning of a new chapter for us. I think although our music makes us a unique entity in the Chicago indie scene, the scene itself may have some expectations that we aren’t going to meet. We’re not afraid to be liked or popular, which is not always the greatest attribute in vying for “indie street cred.” Many Chicago music fans like their new artists to be obscure and self loathing, which is pretty contradictory to what we do. See our dilemma? Couple that with the fact that our music has overt spiritual overtones and we like bands like Def Leppard and Queen and you realize Chicago’s current musical landscape can become very difficult for a vehicle like JoyFocus to navigate. Hopefully our music is strong enough to defy the norm and we’ll be playing sold out shows at the Riviera, Chicago Theatre, or Allstate Arena sometime in the foreseeable future.

Holly: I think any time you're as obviously different as we are, people will take notice, for better or for worse. I also think our sound, although different from what’s typically happening in the local scene here, has an element that feels familiar and accessible that a lot of music fans relate to.

What can people expect next from JoyFocus?

Rikk: Longevity. Like I mentioned, we’re hoping to tour this summer or fall. It would be great to land an opening slot on a major tour. Then we’re going to keep putting out records and making fans until we are physically unable or forcibly prohibited. Then, when we are unable to participate in music, we will let ourselves get fat, watch a lot of “Matlock” and “Antiques Road Show” and complain about whatever the current trends in pop culture and politics are at the time. Isn’t that the American dream? :-)

How can people find out more and pick up your music?

Rikk: “Cyber Suburban Electro Rock Circus” was released on February 14, 2009 and is available exclusively on iTunes worldwide for now. We’re currently looking for a physical distribution channel for the record, both nationally and internationally.

As always, everything JoyFocus happens at Please stop by, check out some music and say, “hello!”