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Eleanor Friedberger Takes a Victory Lap at the Bottle

“It’s been a bad couple of days. This song will help, I hope.”

That’s how Eleanor Friedberger introduced a muscled-up version of the track “Make Me a Song” halfway through her set on Friday night at the Empty Bottle. The same sentiment can be said of every song she played; whether a new track from her most recent album Rebound (out now on Frenchkiss) or something pulled off the bench from her excellent discography (both solo and with her former band The Fiery Furnaces), Eleanor Friedberger fashioned a fantastic set of music that was a balm for these troubling times.

WLUW DJ Phil Cerza was able to chat with Eleanor briefly before the music got underway on Friday. The two discussed the importance of Chicago & the Bottle to her as a touring stop, transitioning the synth-pop sound of Rebound to the stage, and what’s next for her & her band.

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You grew up in Oak Park. Does playing a show like tonight in Chicago after touring behind a record all Summer feel like a sort of a homecoming? 

Yeah, we literally just came from my childhood home and had dinner with my parents. (Laughs) I guess in that way, yes. My parents will be here tonight. I actually got a few messages from high school friends like, “We’re all out of town!” You know, I’ve played here so many times…it feels very familiar but there’s not like this “Oh, I’m with my people” feeling like that…

Does the Bottle have a lot of significance to you as a venue? 

Sure, I feel like I’ve played here more times than any other – definitely more than any place in Chicago, and maybe as many times as any place in New York. I played at the Hideout in November, I played at Lincoln Hall in May when the record came out, so this’ll be my third time in Chicago less than a year.

On Rebound you’re using more electronic & pop soundscapes than you have on your   other solo records; drum machines, programmed beats, Casio keyboards. How has   that sound translated to the live show? Has it been a challenge? 

Not at all! (Laughs)   We’re playing guitar, bass and drums. For me, that just is the most versatile way to play.   Eventhough I made this album, it’s just funny, I don’t feel like we’re missing any sound, you   know? I’m not missing that stuff.

 Have you revised any Fiery Furnaces songs for this tour? It seems a song like “Benton   Harbor Blues” might lend itself well to this setting. 

(Laughs) Yeah, no, it’s always tricky.   This is my fourth solo album. I have too many songs to choose from just from my own stuff.   Imagine, incorporating Fiery Furnaces stuff would be so difficult. But actually, a few weeks   ago it was the anniversary of our first album coming out, so we played a song called “Tropical   Ice-Land” that night. I played a bit of “My Egyptian Grammar” last night because someone   asked me to. We’ve played “Blueberry Boat” a few times, you know, just for fun.

Rebound is one of our favorite records of the year at WLUW. We played it all Summer and we’re still getting lots of play out of it into the Fall. What have you been listening to on the road? Any new releases you wanna hype? 

The new – well, it hasn’t come out yet…My friend Chris Cohen, he just finished his album. It’s coming out in April, but he sent it to me. I was like “I need something to listen to on the long drive!” So I was listening to that a bunch. And we were just listening to the brand new Deerhoof song tonight on our way over here.

What inspired you to create the handwritten lyric sheets you’re selling at your merch table? They’re so cool & really beautiful. 

Thank you. For one, it’s such a good way to occupy my time. Like, sitting in the van I’ve just been doodling and coloring and stuff. You always collect these free newspapers in little towns & motels, so I was collecting these papers and clipping them. I also had this big bill I had to pay for my van that we ended up leaving in California because it broke down, so I was trying to think of ways to make a little extra money at the merch table.

After this weekend you’re headed to the UK & Europe for a couple dates. The songs on Rebound were inspired by time you spent living in Greece. Are you planning on revisiting Greece on this trip? 

Yeah, in fact the last show I’m doing is in Athens at this cultural foundation, and I’m gonna play with a band that I was playing with when I went over there to start writing. We’re gonna have a string quartet and we’re gonna play the album in its entirety. Hopefully we’ll officially announce that show over the next week.

Will this be the first time you’ve been there since you finished & released the record? 

Yes, so that will be really special.

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Just a few hours later Eleanor took the stage at the Bottle, and it felt equally special. Joined by guitarist Ryan Dugre, bassist Ian Romer, and drummer Noah Hecht, Eleanor – as advertised in our interview – did not pull any punches with her arrangements on these songs. On Rebound tracks like “In Between Stars” and “Make Me A Song” are shimmering synth-pop jams, but in this full-band setting the songs took on new life as thrillingly amped-up krautrock guitar workouts in the vein of Can or Television.

They were joined on “My Mistakes” and the show closing “Roosevelt Island” by saxophonist Ben Jaffe of NYC band Pill, who opened the show with their stunning Sun Ra by-way-of Sonic Youth no-wave attack. Jaffe proved to be an adept player in multiple genres, his gorgeous trills in concert with Dugre’s leads adding both a pastoral loveliness and a sense of triumph to Eleanor’s songs.

In all, the whole evening felt very triumphant. If Eleanor doesn’t play Chicago for a while, this set was a fantastic send-off.

SETLIST: My Jesus Phase/ The Letter, Everything, When I Knew, Does Turquoise Work?, Blueberry Boat, Inn of The Seventh Ray, In Between Stars, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Open Season/ Sweetest Girl, Make Me A Song, My Mistakes (w/ Ben Jaffe), Are We Good?, It’s Hard, Stare At The Sun, Roosevelt Island (w/ Ben Jaffe)

Rebound is available now on Frenchkiss Records. Click HERE for tour dates and more info on Eleanor Friedberger!!!

-Phil Cerza

 

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Anna Burch talks touring and getting signed to Polyvinyl at The Pygmalion Festival 2018

Shortly after arriving into Champaign-Urbana, WLUW Programming Director Paul and I kicked off Pygmalion by heading over to the Blackbird to watch Anna Burch and Nectar.

 

The bar, Blackbird, was small and inviting. Entering through the beer garden, we grabbed drinks, shuffled to the front to stand in front of the backdrop of electronic slot machines and watch Nectar.

 

Nectar indulged in some dorky moments, their excitement about the latest season of Survivor and played songs that left us starry-eyed. Shortly after their set, we had the opportunity to chat with Anna Burch over her beer of choice, Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter.

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Paul Quinn: “Quit the Curse” was your debut album. How does it feel to put it out on a record label like Polyvinyl and then tour, basically, the world?

Anna Burch: Yea, it’s been definitely a more legitimate year than I thought I would have. So it feels great, yeah, it kind of caught me by surprise and I think I’ve been too busy to overanalyze it too much.

 

PQ: Being in Europe for the last month or two, what’s been your favorite part of being overseas?

AB: The hospitality is really great. Lot’s of free food & booze & places to stay...That’s been really nice. It’s a little bit of a tease sometimes because you know you go to a place you’ve never been before but you’re only there for like 18 hours, or something. So that can be a little bit of a bummer. But I mean I think European audiences are a little more appreciative.

 

PQ: What’s one European cuisine you’ve missed since coming back?

AB: I’ll tell you what I don’t miss, and It’s only been 2 days, the endless amounts of bread and cheese...My favorite European thing though is a soft boiled egg that you crack into from the top and spoon out...It’s so good–no one does that here.

 

Kaylie Plauche: So you worked with Paul Cherry on the album, how was that process?

AB:It was really casual, we were kind of just friends passing the time. He was in music school at the time doing a lot of self-recording, and I wasn’t really doing anything with music but we became friends while I was living in Chicago. Just kind of happened by accident. He asked if I had any songs we could work on and I had written like 1 song years prior, so we worked on a little demo together and it was really fun and (he was) supportive. (Paul Cherry) told me to write more songs and some back and we would work on a record together.

KP: You have a lyric in "What I Want" that’s, “I won’t play the victim, just because I can’t get what I want”, What did you mean by that? is there story behind that?

AB: It’s weird actually talking about this in the context of the last year, because it’s obviously a lot more loaded–the word victim particularly. What I meant was basically, if someone hurts your feelings, then it’s really easy to get defensive…Just put yourself in the role of the victim and it’s not a very productive way to go through life. Sometimes it just takes a little time to step away from something and think ‘yeah i contributed to this scenario, in my own way, and this person isn’t a bad guy. Not everything has to be so black and white.

KP: I really reconcile with that a lot. I was in a relationship where I started to victimize myself, but I realized I was just as much at fault, I said hurtful things too and I’m the bad guy just as much…

AB: I think there’s a lot of nuance that has gotten kind of skimmed over in some ways, in those dynamics and I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. Anytime you kind of put your life into this narrative of good and bad binary’s, it’s just not a good way to live.

 

PQ: Now that you’re back home and relatively close to Chicago, what’s one thing you’re looking forward to being back in the city again?

AB: Well, I’m not in Chicago. I live in Detroit. Actually, I didn’t move back to Detroit because I really never lived in Detroit–I grew up in Southwest Michigan, actually closer to Chicago than Detroit. But, yeah, I moved to Detroit like 4 years ago. I really miss Chicago a lot...The thing I miss most about Chicago is all the good movie theatres...Showing classic movies and screening 35mm and all that stuff...I love Music Box and Gene Siskel and Doc on the southside.

 

KP: Anywhere you’re looking forward to visiting specifically when you come back to Chicago for your show at The Empty Bottle?

AB: If I have time, I’ll actually try and catch a screening. But, it's the last date on a two and a half week tour, so it’ll probably depend on my band...But, I'm looking forward to the Bottle! Maybe get some breakfast at Bite Cafe.

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As we concluded our interview, Burch took the stage about 10 minutes later. With no introduction was needed for the fans present, she went straight in two tracks.“That song was the title track for an album released in February, on Polyvinyl,” Burch said to the audience, who cheered back with encouragement. She went on to say, “Pretty sure this is the Polyvinyl staff party” as the crowd chuckled at the underlying truth of the statement.

 

Burch went on to talk about the Champaign-Urbana based label and visiting their office just after returning from her 2 and month European tour 2 days prior. She thought aloud that “it’s like 6 am over there but [she’s] ready to party”, before playing her most popular track to date, “2 Cool 2 Care.”

 

Simmering down from the previously upbeat song, she took a momnent to announce, “This next song is about dating a drug dealer....It’s called ‘Asking 4 a Friend’.” With the lights dimmed, per request from Burch and the band, a seedier, intimate atmosphere became apparent. Taking notice to this, she claimed “We’re gonna slow it down a little bit, and play a country ballad,” whiler tuning her guitar  in preperation for the song “Belle Isle.”

 

She asked the members of the band to exit the stage before playing a newer, solo song to the close audience members. Burch invited band members back onstage to close out the show with her more emotional tracks, “What I Want” and “Tea Soaked letter.”

 

If you missed her at Pygmalion, make sure to catch Anna Burch co-headlining with Fred Thomas & Common Holly at The Empty Bottle on October 26th.

 

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Lala Lala

Lala Lala "The Lamb" Album Release Show at the Empty Bottle

This particular record release show felt really special :)

The three bands, Choral Reefr, Dehd and Lala Lala brought in a huge (and sold-out) crowd, all packed in tight. A ton of musicians from local bands came out to show support. I admittedly freaked a little bit when I saw Greta from Frankie Cosmos walking into the bottle.

The night began and the mood was set with funk covered synths and glittering guitars from Choral Reefer and Dehd, Lala Lala then took the stage at around midnight. She played her new album, The Lamb, straight through and most likely for the first time. You could tell she was excited but had a really humble stage presence.

Lille West’s voice is one of the most striking elements of Lala Lala. It’s deep but crystal clear, and the ends of her words curl over into sweet high-pitched notes. It was hard to decipher the lyrics live unless you knew the album, but The Lamb is worth a deep listen because her lyrics are both funny and elusive. The floors vibrated and so did I when I heard her play “Destroyer”. A heart wrenching song with sad lyrics and an impending sense of dread. “The flu” sounded like a grunge version of an 80’s pop ballad in a John Hughes films, but all distorted and slowed down.

Her album takes a few listens to get into but once you do, you feel this instant connection with the writer, Lillie West. You’re immediately thrown into what sounds like her personal diary entries and the dread cuts you right up. A great show all in all, and one that many will think of fondly.

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He Kind of Sounds Like If Bryan Ferry Crawled Out of a Tar Pit - The Buttertones Play Beat Kitchen

Yesterday I ventured out into the suddenly chilly night, early in the is Fall of 2018 that saw the moon high and nearly full so the clouds around it lit like nightly fog. I went to see the Buttertones, from LA, when they rolled through Chicago in support of their 2018 album Midnight in a Moonless Dream. In years past, the band's output has typically been surfy leaning indie rock with a punk edge and romantic lyrics, but this last record saw them incorporating a bit of a darker tinge - a bit more howling at the moon, which hung nearly full over Chicago last night. 

The back room at Beat Kitchen was pretty full - of kids mostly, dressed in their own eclectic punk rock fantasy outfits, which is sometimes refreshing and relieving to see at a rock show today. So you know an extra layer of enthusiasm made the energy more fun and special, complete with dancing that wasn't so much a mosh pit as it was posession by the slightly derranged rock 'n' roll. It got a little hot and one thing I noticed within the enthused fans was a security guard, I guess you could call him, bald, looking like Rob Halford in 2005, hovering over these kids and watching, kicking a couple out - this I did not like.

WIld Wing was on first and played a set of twisted and twangy garage rock, country-fried punk, lyrics delivered with a manic texan drawl behind a swirl of dusty distortion and a fantastically picked bass. Pretty cool, I'd say. Cool enough that I bought their record Doomed II Repeat from them at the merch table. It's not too bad (I'm listening to it right now).

The Buttertones were next. They weaved through the packed in audience towards the stagw around 10:30, tuned and checked real quick, and started rolling. Allow me to describe their look first. Two guitarists (Dakota Böttcher and Richard Araiza, who also sings lead), a bass player (Sean Redman), drummer (Modeste Cobián, sax/keys (London Guzmån) to finish it up. All dressed in short sleeved, tucked in shirts buttoned all the way to the top, hair slicked back like GI Joes on leave - classic, but coupled with the music the Buttertones play, added was a layer of intensity that bordered the sexual, but ultimately remained fun.

Dominant in the set were tracks from the latest album - "Baby C4," "Midnoght in a Moonless Dream," and my favorite from the record "Brickhead." They played thier modenr classics, "Orpheus Under the Influence" and "Matador" but not their certainly even more modern classic "Darling, I Need More Time" off of the new album, despite it being shouted a couple times from the crowd. Oh well. Their musicianship is top notch - Böttcher's (who sang lead for a couple songs too) and Araiza's guitars chimed and sparkled, or skipped and gnarled along with Redman's pummeling bass that was more like a chugging motorcycle than a stringed instrument. What gives the Buttertones that extra slice of drama is the saxophone in almost every song, played last night like a melancholy screech that was oh so satisfying. Araiza's voice is another distinguishing secret weapon of the band. It's heavu with vibrato, it's emotive - he sounds like if Bryan Ferry crawled out of the tar pits in an Alabamian swamp, joined a garage band to croon at the moon, and he knows how to charm.

Sometimes a show is interesting enough to temporarily take the audience somewhere else. Last night, under the spooky moon and the pink string lights in Beat Kitchen's back room, we were no longer in 50 degree Chicago, we were in a truck stop, a bar, a basement in the South's goth rock and roll territory, just for a little bit. It was fun.

   <--- Midnight in a Moonless Dream is out on Innovative Leisure.

   <--- Doomed II Repeat is out on Mock Records.

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WLUW chats with Jacob of Major Murphy

Do you ever wish you were on the beach? But it's the dead of winter and 10 degrees outside? A simple fix to those winter time blues is Major Murphy's music! The sunny and beachy trio hail from Grand Rapids, Michigan and played at Audiotree Music Festival this past weekend. They were a delight to watch and even more of a delight to chat with. WLUW sat down with Jacob, the vocalist and guitarist, from Major Murphy to hear what the groups been up to, where they're headed, and what inspires those easy summery tunes of theirs. 

Is this your first time at Audiotree? How does it feel to be performing?

Yes. I attended the first year, but this is my first time performing. It’s good, we’ve kind of like, taken the last month off, so I felt a little rusty but, and nervous just because it’s so exciting.

You’re a group hailing from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Did you all grow up there? How did you meet?

We all met in Grand Rapids, but Bud is from California, Jackie is from the Chicago area and I grew up in Traverse City, Michigan. Grand Rapids is where we came together just kind of through playing music.

Bud and I had been playing in quite a few bands in Grand Rapids together for like a couple years and Jackie was in another band in Grand Rapids that was super great. So, it was just kind of something we wanted to do for our own benefit almost or like a type of music that we wanted to try just for like, ourselves. To try something new for the sake of like, we’ve just never done this before, let’s give it a shot.

One of my favorite songs from the album No.1 is “Who Will I Be,” can you explain the inspiration behind that? Who writes the songs?

I am the songwriter of the group. So, it’s usually just me with like an acoustic guitar or like a Casio keyboard or something just kind of like working it out. I try to keep it as simple and as bare as possible so that by the time Jackie and Bud hear it, that they like, oh I can hear my own little part, not be like, oh, it’s already all figured out.

That song, that was probably written, was definitely after Trump was elected, so that was part of it. There’s a political energy to it, in my own mind, I don’t know if that comes through the song or not.

What have you been listening to music wise lately?

I love Steely Dan, I’m embarrassed to bring that up, but it’s just true. We freaking love, freaking Ariana Grande just came out with an album that’s amazing, Sweetener.

Do things other than music help inform what you write?

I think so. It’s hard to say necessarily. Music is like a, there are moods involved, so you might get a mood from like a visual piece. The mood would lead you to think about things, like if it’s a melancholy mood, it can lead you down roads.

There are some modern 70’s rock notes in Major Murphy’s sound- do you consciously do that, add in tones of the 70’s to your music?

It’s a style thing, but like with styles, you do do it consciously and unconsciously. It’s like you’re looking up to an older sibling or something, like aw, they’ve done this thing that I want to do and this is how they did so maybe I’ll try it.

It’s conscious, but you understand that those people weren’t doing a gimmick so you hope not to just do, you try not to get stuck on just one thing.

How was Major Murphy’s summer/what have they been doing leading up to Audiotree?

We play like a whole bunch locally, throughout the summer. That was nice. We played this show at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, that was really cool. It felt like a nod like, from the people of Grand Rapids, ‘Hey we see you, you’re a band.’

Traverse City, where you grew up, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I can only imagine that Michigan, the lake, things like that, have inspired some of your music.

I only have a suspicion, but...Bud is from Southern California. I feel like part of our connection as friends is understanding our relationship with like these huge bodies of water. You know, in the summertime, it’s like warm, it’s like Southern California. I feel like maybe because of that, we’re into surf rock because we kind of know what it’s like to surf.

Are there any future plans for Major Murphy?

We’ve got a bunch of songs, I’ve been writing a lot of music. We’ve been working on demo’s, so that’s exciting. We have an EP of demo’s, from the super early days. We started the band like three years ago so, you’ll recognize the songs but it’s like a different version, more or less. That’ll be out, probably in the spring, so I’m pretty excited about that. Kind of like a nostalgic piece, which is funny, like, can you be nostalgic after three years? It’s gonna be sick, we’re gonna do a vinyl for it and everything.

 

It was such a pleasure getting to talk with Jacob. Looking forward to Major Murphy’s upcoming EP!

 

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