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

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