Monday, November 23, 2009
Nobody can pin a lack of ambition on Chicago-formed alt-rock/pop trio Company of Thieves. In just a few short years as a unit, singer Genevieve Schatz, guitarist Marc Walloch and drummer Mike Ortiz have accumulated an impressive list of accomplishments and the sort of widespread attention that most bands would envy. Their debut record, Ordinary Riches (released in January on Wind-Up Records), led to extensive touring as well as radioplay and TV spots stretching well beyond the Windy City.
The band is getting ready to play their first hometown show in over a year on Saturday, November 28 at Logan Square Auditorium (also with Annuals, Big Science and Mike Maimone. 6:30 p.m., $12, tickets available here). In advance of the show, WCR caught up with Walloch to talk about the band's experiences to date and what's in store for the future.
WCR: Since releasing Ordinary Riches early this year, the record – the song “Oscar Wilde,” especially – has brought you quite a bit of widespread attention. What’s that been like? What’s been the biggest highlight so far?
MW: It’s hard to pinpoint one highlight. We have been working non-stop for three years and have had so many ups and downs and amazing experiences. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with any success or notoriety that we are receiving because we are always on the go and always trying to improve as a band. Although, every now and then we get a moment of clarity and realize how amazing our lives have become. We set specific goals a while ago and everything has gone to plan exactly the way we dreamt it to. That alone is the biggest highlight for me. There is no better feeling than to work so hard at something and have it pay off and touch other people.
As you know, Chicago is filled with indie bands struggling to get noticed, many times even within the local scene. What do you think has been the secret to COT’s success and what advice do you have for other bands trying to get people listening?
I think the biggest problem that we see is that many bands want everything to happen overnight. It takes so much commitment and dedication. There are so many bands in Chicago that are very amazing but never play and move forward. My only advice is to surround yourself with good people, be real and stop at nothing to get your music heard if you believe in it. Take risks! That has been our secret, I guess.
As a band from Chicago that’s been able to tour nationally and gain exposure outside of the area, how do you think Chicago’s music scene is unique and how do you think the city has influenced the band?
There is a different vibe from Midwestern bands in general. We have seen so many talented bands and artists all over the country, but after growing up in the Midwest music scene, you quickly see a difference in how bands work. On the coasts, bands seem much more relaxed about getting out there. When we were kids, it was very common for local bands to sell out House of Blues! Bands really hustle and do it independently to build a grassroots following vs. trying to go from 0-10 overnight. So, I guess, with that being said, there is a sense of urgency with Midwest bands. When you live in the Midwest, you experience many seasonal changes. That alone does something different in your blood.
In Chicago, there has always been a great community among bands and artists. I like to compare it to Greenwich Village in the 70s. Everyone is playing shows with each other and trying to help each other out. Bands are always going to see each others' shows for support and give feedback on the music. I don’t think that happens everywhere.
Tell us about the inspiration behind some of the songs on Ordinary Riches. Are there any band favorites, and how did they come to be?
We are inspired by so many different things; Music, movies, books, real life experiences, interesting people, etc. Most of the songs are about the ideals and view of the world and society while coming of age and all the changes that come with that. Some of my favorite songs on the record would have to be "Old Letters" and "The Fire Song." The Fire Song" was written when I was going through a horrible time and I just played that main riff over and over and I started to hum the opening melody. When I showed it to Genevieve she somehow related it to a time when she was younger and her house burned down to the ground in front of her and her family’s eyes! That song is about realizing that your home isn’t necessarily a physical building. Sometimes it's what you hold close to your heart no matter where you are. That’s how a lot of our songs came about. We wouldn’t really discuss content until later, but somehow the content matched how the music sounded. That happened with "The Tornado Song," too. I had no idea what the song was going to be about while writing it, but then it ended up sounding like a tornado!
Ordinary Riches is pop, but there’s a definite sense of sophistication and maturity running through it that gives the material a distinct sound. Is this a vibe you purposely set out to create? What’s the band’s writing process like?
I think one of the reasons why this record is so special to us is because we never had any plans to sound like anything specific. We were a bunch of lost kids who never wrote a song and we just pieced together a bunch of ideas like a puzzle, and three years later we are hearing sold out crowds scream the songs back to us around the country. It’s absolutely insane to us. We still live by that mentality, though. We make songs with no rules or boundaries. Anything goes. We don’t really have a writing process, either. It’s fun to write songs differently so they don’t start sounding the same. Sometimes I’ll write music and give it to Gen or vise-versa. Sometimes I’ll sing a melody to Gen and we will work on it together. Now that we have a family-oriented band, we will make a lot of the songs as a group effort, as well.
Some of the band’s influences – such as the Beatles, singer-songwriters in the vein of Fiona Apple and even jazz – come through clearly in the music. These might not be too shocking, but what would listeners likely be surprised has influenced the band?
We like to hold onto a lot of music that we grew up on in the early 90s. We still appreciate hard grungy rock such as Nirvana, STP, Weezer, Silverchair, The Smashing Pumpkins, and so on. We also love good hip-hop like Mos Def and The Fugees.
By now you guys have racked up an impressive list of live gigs. Are there any that stand out as being particularly memorable?
Still to this day one of our most memorable shows was our first CD release show back in 2007. We sold out the Beat Kitchen after working on our record for months. All of our family and friends that have been supporting us throughout that period were there and it felt great. I think another one might be when we went to San Diego for the first time and played to a sold out crowd of 700 people. It was very bizarre and surreal to never have played there and have all those people tear the roof off.
What’s a COT live show like? Do you think the band’s sound is best taken in on record or at a gig?
Our shows are very raw, energetic and exciting. We have played these songs so much and still find discoveries in the songs so there is always spontaneity. No matter what we are going through, our biggest goal is that every single person in the audience is having fun. I think that lately our sound is best taken live, but we hope to work on making a great record that captures who we are.
Now that Ordinary Riches has been out for a while, looking back is there anything you would do differently with the release if you could do it over?
It’s strange that I would have to say no. Even though we made many mistakes, each one was a huge learning experience and got us to where we are today.
On a similar note, what can people expect from future COT material? Can we expect it to go down a similar path to what we heard on Ordinary Riches or are there any new twists in the works?
I don’t know how we would make another Ordinary Riches even if we tried. We have grown so much so there will definitely be twists and things that might seem unexpected, but that’s what makes us Company of Thieves.